be it what it will

xern

Senior Member
Chinese Taiwan
Hello,

I have some questions about the following passage:

The mere outward sense, being passive in responding to the impression of the objects that come in its way and strike upon it, perhaps cannot help entertaining and taking notice of everything that address it, be it what it will, useful or unuesful; but in the exercise of his...(omitted)

Q: What is the sentence structure of “be it what it will”?

“The mere outward sense perhaps cannot help entertaining and taking notice of everything that address it,” Up to here, I can understand; but I cannot understand the rest part “be it what it will, useful or unuseful”.

In other words, I cannot understand the sentence structure of “that address it, be it what it will, useful or unseful”.

I can see that “that address it” is a relative clause modifies ‘everything’. But what’s this “be it what it will”? And what is “useful or unuseful” modify?

Sorry for the long questions and thank you in advance.
 
  • moo mouse

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hello xern.

    I think we need some context - what is 'it' in this passage? Where is the passage taken from?
    In general terms, 'be it what it will, useful or unuseful' would mean 'whether it is useful or not'.
     

    xern

    Senior Member
    Chinese Taiwan
    Hello xern.

    I think we need some context - what is 'it' in this passage? Where is the passage taken from?
    Hi, moo mouse,

    The passage given above is the beginning paragraph in the article which is written by Plutarch.

    In general terms, 'be it what it will, useful or unuseful' would mean 'whether it is useful or not'.
    I can understand the roughly meaning of 'be it what it will, useful or unuseful'; but what I need is the structure of it. Otherwise, I won't be able to understand why the sentence is in this way!
     

    xern

    Senior Member
    Chinese Taiwan
    Hello xern.

    I think we need some context - what is 'it' in this passage?

    By the way, because lacking the understanding of the sentence structure, I don't know what the 'it' in 'be it what it will' is referring to, either.

    Is it referring to the 'everthing' in 'cannot help entertaining and taking notice of everything'? Or, it is referring to 'the mere outward sense' in 'everything that address it'?

    Here is the more context:
    The mere outward sense, being passive in responding to the impression of the objects that come in its way ans strike upon it, perhaps cannot help entertaining and taking notice of everything that address it, be it what it will, useful or unuseful; but in the exercise of his mental perception, every man, if he chooses, has a natural power to turn himself upon all occasions, and to change and shift with the greatest ease to what he shall himself judge desirable.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hi xern

    First, I think we need to say that this is not 21st century English (it comes from a translation originally made in the 17th century, and revised in the 19th century).

    Stripping the sentence down a bit, we get:

    The mere outward sense ... perhaps cannot help entertaining and taking notice of every thing that addresses it, be it what it will, useful or unuseful

    in which the red it refers back to outward sense, and the two blue its refer to every thing {I am writing this as two words because it makes the linkage easier to see}.

    Looking specifically at the last part of the sentence, "be it what it will" is short for "be it what(ever) it will be"; which could also be expressed as "be it what(ever) it may be". "Useful or unuseful" means "useful or not useful".

    So the idea is:

    The outward sense cannot help taking notice of every thing that addresses it, be that thing whatever it may be, useful or not

    or
    The outward sense cannot help taking notice of every thing that addresses it, whether that thing is useful or not.

    I hope this helps

    Loob
     

    xern

    Senior Member
    Chinese Taiwan
    Hi xern

    First, I think we need to say that this is not 21st century English (it comes from a translation originally made in the 17th century, and revised in the 19th century).

    Thank you very much indeed! Loob.:) I didn't know it's archaic words. This essay is in a book which is a collection of essays. I only know the author is Plutarch.

    And thank you for the analysis. :)
     
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