rise to the surface and as often

ericyan

Member
Chinese - China
"The really significant anecdote is often all that survives of a life ; and such anecdotes must be made to tell properly, instead of being hidden away in a wilderness of the commonplace; they should be a focus of interest, instead of a fallible extract for a book of miscellanies. How much would be lost of Johnson if we suppress the incident of the penance at Uttoxeter! It is such incidents that in books, as often in life, suddenly reveal to us whole regions of sentiment but never rise to the surface in the ordinary routine of our day."

(Source: Full text of "Men, books, and mountains: essays collected, and with an introd. By S.O.A. Ullmann")

I have two questions here:
a. Does "never rise to the surface in the ordinary rountine of our day" modify "such incidents" or "whole regions of sentiment"? Should we analyze it from the structure or the meaning?
b. Does "as often" here mean "usually"?

Any help would be appreciated.
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    in books, as often in life = in books, in the same way as [they] often [do] in life…

    “never rise to the surface [etc.]” doesn’t modify anything, It’s a second statement – joined to the first with the conjunction but – whose subject is “such incidents”.

    It is such incidents that ……
    (a) reveal to us whole regions of sentiment
    but
    (b) never rise to the surface in the ordinary routine of our day.
     

    ericyan

    Member
    Chinese - China
    in books, as often in life = in books, in the same way as [they] often [do] in life…

    “never rise to the surface [etc.]” doesn’t modify anything, It’s a second statement – joined to the first with the conjunction but – whose subject is “such incidents”.

    It is such incidents that ……
    (a) reveal to us whole regions of sentiment
    but
    (b) never rise to the surface in the ordinary routine of our day.
    I might have expressed in the wrong way; I should say the logical subject of "never rise to the surface...
    So the logical subject of (a) and (b) are both "such incidents", right?
    It is such incidents that reveal to us, but (it is such incidents) that never rise to the surface...?
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    That’s how the grammar works, yes. If but were replaced by that (as a relative pronoun), the verb phrase would then refer to “sentiments” — which, I must admit, seems to make more sense.
     

    ericyan

    Member
    Chinese - China
    That’s how the grammar works, yes. If but were replaced by that (as a relative pronoun), the verb phrase would then refer to “sentiments” — which, I must admit, seems to make more sense.
    That is also the point I try to make. Since the sentence first says " such incidents in books, as often in life", then it says such incidents never rise to the surface of our life. This seems to be a little bit paradoxical.

    But there is one difference, the last part say" rise to the surface". So I assume the author wants to say "such indicents actually take place in our life, just not on the surface. Only when we read books, can we realize these things that are connected with incidents happened in books."

    And what's your take on this?
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I don’t think you’ve understood it.

    Rise to the surface probably just means “crop up” – that is, pop into our minds, our thoughts. The incident in question is a very specific one (concerning Dr Johnson) and certainly isn’t something that could “happen” to anyone else, in their daily life or at all.
     

    ericyan

    Member
    Chinese - China
    I don’t think you’ve understood it.

    Rise to the surface probably just means “crop up” – that is, pop into our minds, our thoughts. The incident in question is a very specific one (concerning Dr Johnson) and certainly isn’t something that could “happen” to anyone else, in their daily life or at all.
    Thanks so much for your help. Always appreciated.
     
    Last edited:

    lentulax

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I think it's almost certain that 'but' is a mistake (by the original printer, or whoever put the text online) for 'that'; as lingobingo has observed, 'that' makes more sense, and to me 'but' makes none. Stephen's subject is 'Biography', and his general argument is that biographers should confine themselves to the significant details that enable us to really 'know' the subject, not provide a compilation of all the information known about a person - the Uttoxeter anecdote, recounted in Boswell's 'Life', tells us a great deal about Johnson's inner life , none of which we could get from knowing what he had for breakfast, whether he kept two pencils or three on his desk or what he paid for his wigs; just as in life, a person will on occasion behave in a way which reveals feelings you'd never suspect from acquaintance with his ordinary daily life.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top