As foils that rather set off than blemish (Joseph Addison)

sb70012

Senior Member
Azerbaijani/Persian
I was yesterday very much surprised to hear my old friend, in the midst of the service, calling out to one John Mattews to mind what he was about, and not disturb the congregation. This John Matthews, it seems, is remarkable for being an idle fellow, and at that time was kicking his heels for his diversion. This authority of the knight, thought exerted in that odd manner which accompanies him in all circumstances of life, has a very good effect upon the parish, who are not polite enough to see anything ridiculous in his behavior; besides that the general good sense and worthiness of his character makes his friends observe these little singularities as foils that rather set off than blemish his good qualities.

Source: Joseph Addison's Sir Roger at Church (1672-1719)

Hi,

What does the red sentence mean?

Many thanks in advance.
 
  • Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It means that his friends regard these pieces of strange behaviour as surprising things which augment rather than diminish the good sides of his character.

    This interesting and difficult word here is foil, the meaning derived from something which shows the brilliance of a gemstone by backing it with thin metal sheet.

    The idea is that these antics, though in contrast to the knight's ordinary behaviour, show its good side rather than detracting from it.
     

    sb70012

    Senior Member
    Azerbaijani/Persian
    Doesn't foil mean a sword in my text?

    What does set off mean in my text?
     
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