in it and by it only

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Senior Member
Mandarin / the Shanghai Dialect

“As they stand they are like the figures in an old tapestry; they do not separate themselves from the background, and at a distance seem to lose their pattern, so that you have little but a pleasing piece of colour. My only excuse is that the impression they made on me was no other. There was just that shadowiness about them which you find in people whose lives are part of the social organism, so that they exist in it and by it only. They are like cells in the body, essential, but, so long as they remain healthy, engulfed in the momentous whole.”

From W. Somerset Maugham: The Moon and Sixpence (1919)

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham: Chapter 8 - The Literature Page

Could you explain the meaning of “in it and by it only”?

“In it” means they are in it. Does “by it” means they depend on it?
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