the best of old fellows, the soul of honour

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Senior Member
What does Joseph Conrad mean by "the best of old fellows, the soul of honour" in this sentence?

The director had been a Conway boy, the accountant had served four years at sea, the lawyer—a fine crusted Tory, High Churchman, the best of old fellows, the soul of honour—had been chief officer in the P. & O. service in the good old days when mail-boats were square-rigged at least on two masts, and used to come down the China Sea before a fair monsoon with stun’-sails set alow and aloft. We all began life in the merchant service.
  • Barque

    He seems to be saying the lawyer was a stereotypical English upper-class man of that period, someone who gave a lot of importance to doing the right thing. "Old fellow" is a phrase that was used by some upper-class Englishmen of that period (19th century to early 20th) to address other men. He might have meant it a little mockingly, suggesting the lawyer wasn't actually as honourable as he seemed to be.

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Not upper class (in English society of the time, that would have meant being a member of the aristocracy, but there is no suggestion of that here). The narrator and the lawyer probably both belong to the upper middle class, and the narrator is expressing his respect for the lawyer using terms that English public schoolboys might use. "The best of old fellows" really means "the best of men", with "old fellows" being something of an affectation when used in the third person (though, as Barque points out, "old fellow" as a form of address was quite common among the educated English of the time). "The soul of honour" means very honourable (and "honourable" here means trustworthy, or dependable on to do the right thing, not having an elevated social status). "The soul of..." is still current English usage to emphasise a virtue. From what I can tell (I have not read the story), both terms should be taken at face value.
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