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Some questions

Posted by Smokey Stover on May 15, 2004

In Reply to: Some questions posted by Natty on May 15, 2004

: 1. What is the meaning of the last phrase ("And they didn't have to skip anything either, or he'd know the reason why") in the following paragraph:

: They had been in the habit of reading to him - good books with an elevating tendency. But now he put his foot down upon that sort of thing. He said he didn't want Sunday-school rubbish at his time of life. What he liked was something spicy. And he made them read him French novels and sea-faring tales, containing realistic language. *And they didn't have to skip anything either, or he'd know the reason why*.

: 2. Does "instruction upon the use of the Prayer-book" in the following passage mean "teach how actually to use it" or "to read a lecture on how useful it is"?

: ...and I remember my poor grandmother once incidentally observing, in the course of an
: instruction upon the use of the Prayer-book, that it was highly improbable that I should ever do much that I ought not to do, but that she felt convinced beyond a doubt that I should leave undone pretty well everything that I ought to do.

: 3. What is the meaning of "Heaven help me!" in the following paragraph (continuation of the previous):

: I am afraid I have somewhat belied half the dear old lady's prophecy. Heaven help me! I have done a good many things that I ought not to have done, in spite of my laziness. But I have fully confirmed the accuracy of her judgment so far as neglecting much that I ought not to have neglected is concerned.

: 4. What is the meaning of "heavy years" in the following paragraph:

: Old men sit and gaze at withered flowers till their sight is dimmed by the mist of tears.
: Little dainty maidens wait and watch at open casements; but "he cometh not," and the heavy years roll by and the sunny gold tresses wear white and thin.

: Thank you!

1. "Do this or that or I'll know the reason why!" That's a way of saying, do it, or I'll make you tell me why not! It's a sort of threat.
2. The author's family are devout members (possibly mostly female) of the Church of England, of which the most important document after the Bible (or perhaps before!) is the Book of Common Prayer, something every devout Anglican owns and uses. First authorized in 1549, it has been revised frequently, most importantly in 1552 and again in 1662 (as backlash against the Puritans). Granny is holding a little prayer meeting with him, showing him what to do with the Book of Common Prayer, but more importantly (for your excerpt), she uses language from the Book to try to instill in him a sense of obligation. Lord, help me to do that which ought to be done, and keep me from doing that which ought not to be done. (That's not exact language, but I'm not an Anglican.) Granny is skeptical about the author's ability to live up to these rules.

3. Heaven help me! That's an evocation of God and His power that may or may not be sincere. In any case, the author recognizes that Granny was right to be skeptical. He has left undone what he ought to have done, and done what he ought not to have done, at least to some degree.

4. Our disappointments make our years weigh heavily on us as we grow old. Dainty maidens, waiting in vain for him who "cometh not" are still waiting as their hair grows thin and white. For those thus sitting and endlessly waiting, the waiting becomes a burden, the years long. What are you reading? SS