I <would have> spoken out if it went against him at the Assizes

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thetazuo

Senior Member
Chinese - China
The old man sank his face in his hands. “God help me!” he cried. “But I would not have let the young man come to harm. I give you my word that I would have spoken out if it went against him at the Assizes.”

The Boscombe Valley Mystery, short story

Hi. The context is that the old man was the real murderer but the young man was wrongly charged with murder instead of the old man. The young man was going to be tried by the Assizes.

Question: since the young man hasn’t been tried at the time when the quoted sentence is uttered, why is “would have” used here? Shouldn’t it be “would”?

Thank you.
 
  • RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    He obviously won't know the results of the trial, and therefore whether he needs to speak out or not, until after it is over.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    It's a hypothetical spoken from a point of view in the future looking back at the recent past, "If A had happened I would have done B."
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    It's the recent past from the future point of view he's picturing. He imagines himself in the future learning the person had been convicted. If he was in that future position he knows he would say something about what had just occurred in the past of that future position.
     

    thetazuo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - China
    It's the recent past from the future point of view he's picturing. He imagines himself in the future learning the person had been convicted. If he was in that future position he knows he would say something about what had just occurred in the past of that future position.
    Thank you again. This idea is a bit difficult for me to grasp. Could you please give me a more common and general example to illustrate the above idea?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    I don't understand this at all. I cannot imagine the underlined sentence spoken before the trial has taken place. I can only imagine it said after the trial, with the young man having not been found guilty. The old man had not spoken out in favour of the young man because it wasn't necessary, but is now trying to reassure someone else that if the young man had been found guilty, then he would not have let him come to any harm, and would have spoken out in his favour (presumably by confessing that he himself was the guilty party).

    If he had said this before the trial, he should have said "I give you my word that I will speak out if it goes against him at the Assizes."
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think some of the eccentricities of tense use in Conan Doyle must stem from his Scottish upbringing and university education in Edinburgh.

    John Turner uses elsewhere tenses which sound strange to us today - it will break her heart when she hears that I am arrested (said while he was free).
     

    thetazuo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - China
    Thank you, Edinburgher and TT.
    If he had said this before the trial, he should have said "I give you my word that I will speak out if it goes against him at the Assizes."
    I would use this too. So the original version is incorrect by modern English standards?
    I think some of the eccentricities of tense use in Conan Doyle must stem from his Scottish upbringing and university education in Edinburgh.
    Oh, I see. I didn’t know the Scottish used tenses this different from other native speakers.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    If he had said this before the trial, he should have said "I give you my word that I will speak out if it goes against him at the Assizes."
    But that trial is never going to happen now. The old man has been identified as the murderer, which will free the young man from the burden of a trial.

    I give you my word that I would have spoken out if it went against him at the Assizes.”

    We're now into hypothetical territory. The old man is saying, "Yes, (if I hadn't been caught) I would have let the trial go forward. I would have watched as the young man was tried. If he was found not guilty, I would have kept my mouth shut because there would have been no need for me to speak. I wasn't going to incriminate myself unnecessarily. But if the young man had been found guilty at that trial I promise you that I would have stepped forward and confessed to the crime to prevent him from going to jail/prison/the gallows. I might be a murderer but I'm not so terrible as to allow another man to pay dearly for a crime I committed."

    To me it seems like perfectly normal modern English. You could substitute "had gone" for "went".
     
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    thetazuo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - China
    Thank you, kentix.
    But that trial is never going to happen now. The old man has been identified as the murderer, which will free the young man from the burden of a trial.
    This is the ending of the short story:
    James McCarthy was acquitted at the Assizes on the strength of a number of objections which had been drawn out by Holmes and submitted to the defending counsel. Old Turner lived for seven months after our interview, but he is now dead; and there is every prospect that the son and daughter may come to live happily together in ignorance of the black cloud which rests upon their past.
    James McCarthy was the young man and Old Turner was the old man.
    According to the underlined part, there was still a trial by the Assizes, where the young man was acquitted of murder.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    My guess then is that Holmes was trying to protect the reputation of the old man (and/or his family) by not turning him in - probably because he didn't have long to live anyway. So you see Holmes took the old man's place in assuring that the young man was not wrongfully convicted and sentenced -- by supplying the evidence that proved he was not guilty.

    What the old man said is still true at the time he said it. If he hadn't been caught by Holmes, had the young man been convicted, he would have confessed. He had no way of knowing at the time he spoke that Holmes wasn't going to turn him over to the police. That's what a normal person would have done. But Holmes, being Holmes, worked out another plan where justice was done -- but the downside was the young man still had to go through the ordeal of a trial. You can decide whether putting him through that trial unnecessarily was the right decision.

    there is every prospect that the son and daughter may come to live happily together in ignorance of the black cloud which rests upon their past.

    The reason for Holmes' decision is in the quote above but I don't know the details of the story and therefore don't understand exactly what it means and what was at stake.
     
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    thetazuo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - China
    Thank you again, kentix.
    My guess then is that Holmes was trying to protect the reputation of the old man (and/or his family) by not turning him in - probably because he didn't have long to live anyway. So you see Holmes took the old man's place in assuring that the young man was not wrongfully convicted and sentenced -- by supplying the evidence that proved he was not guilty.
    Yes, your guess is right.
    To me it seems like perfectly normal modern English. You could substitute "had gone" for "went".
    If he hadn't been caught by Holmes, had the young man been convicted, he would have confessed.
    So the op example is just a normal type 3 conditional referring to future? Just like “If I hadn't started out yesterday, I wouldn't have reached my destination tomorrow”? But it still seems a bit strange to me that the author should have use simple past instead of past perfect in the if clause.:oops:
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    You'll have to get an answer from someone who is more of a linguist than I am.
     

    thetazuo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - China
    You'll have to get an answer from someone who is more of a linguist than I am.
    Fair enough. :)
    By the way, is the underlined sentence in post 13 the same usage as the op example? If not, do you have a similar but more common example of this kind of usage?
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I give you my word that I would have spoken out if it went against him at the Assizes.”
    if [the case] went (subjunctive -> were to go) against him at the Assizes, I give you my word that I would, under those circumstances, have spoken out

    If he were (subjunctive) found guilty, I would have given my evidence
    If he is found guilty, I would have given my evidence.


    The point being that he no longer is needed to give his evidence.
    It's the recent past from the future point of view he's picturing. He imagines himself in the future learning the person had been convicted. If he was in that future position he knows he would say something about what had just occurred in the past of that future position.
    :thumbsup:
     
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    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    By the way, is the underlined sentence in post 13 the same usage as the op example?
    That sentence doesn't make sense to me logically. I don't know if it makes it grammatically wrong but it does make it incomprehensible. It would make sense substituting today for tomorrow.
     

    thetazuo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - China
    Thank you all.
    if [the case] went (subjunctive -> were to go) against him at the Assizes. I give you my word that I would, under those circumstances, have spoken out
    But why does simple past work well here? Shouldn’t “had gone” be used? I know a type 3 conditional can refer to a future impossibility. But a mixed conditional...:confused:

    That sentence doesn't make sense to me logically. I don't know if it makes it grammatically wrong but it does make it incomprehensible. It would make sense substituting today for tomorrow.
    I see. But I’m still in want of a more common and everyday example of this kind of usage.
     
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