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Beauty and sadness always go together. Nature thought beauty too rich to go forth upon the earth without a meet alloy. (George MacDonald)

The last part of the quote doesn't seem to make sense

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4 Answers 4

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Nature thought beauty too rich to go forth upon the earth without a meet alloy.

Several words here are omitted for style. Restoring them we get:

Nature thought [that] beauty [was] too rich to go forth upon the earth without a meet alloy.

The key ideas here are:

rich is used metaphorically, to indicate that beauty is too wonderful and powerful to leave alone.

to go forth upon the earth is just a poetic way of saying "to go out" or "to go free".

meet here is an adjective (not a verb!) that means "fitting" or "suitable". This usage of the word "meet" is very archaic and poetic.

alloy is used metaphorically as well, to mean something like "companion".

So a colloquial translation would be something like "Nature thought beauty was too great to be let out alone without something to accompany it."

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2  
+1 for simplifying it to "Nature thought beauty was too great to be let out alone without something to accompany it." - well done. –  NickC May 24 '11 at 1:35

meet adj.

precisely adapted to a particular situation, need, or circumstance : very proper

alloy n. (4th definition)

a compound, mixture, or union of different things <an ethnic alloy of many peoples>

So a "meet alloy" would mean a "very proper union":

Nature thought beauty too rich to go forth upon the earth without a very proper mixture

It's grammatically correct. But the structure of the sentence seems to specify that the alloy is possessed by beauty, which would be incorrect, since an alloy refers to the combination itself — including "beauty". Companion or a similar word seems to fit better.

Instead of this being incorrect though, I more think that the author meant to imply that the alloy was to be provided alongside, not possessed, by beauty.

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In this case 'meet' is not a verb it is an archaic adjective for expressing 'fitting'.

Meet: archaic proper, fitting, or correct

An alloy is a mixture of two metals, usually with one being of lesser value.

In others words, "beauty was too powerful to go into the world without another baser element to corrupt it." (beauty would just be too attractive without a downside.)

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In the movie Jane Eyre (and maybe the book, too), a character tells Jane, "I wonder if we do not share the same alloy." In context, alloy here means grief.

I wonder if this is the same usage, of a complement to something good or so.

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Welcome to ELU, Ros. Unfortunately, you have proved more of a comment than an answer proper. Once you gai na few more reputation points on the site, you will be able to post comments in the actual comment area. –  tchrist Dec 26 '13 at 2:33
2  
That looks like a good find. Have you anything to show that alloy means 'grief', other than 'by context'? In fact, I do not see how 'grief' could be implied in the context. If you provide more substantiating information, this could be a good answer. (Which it at present it is not.) –  Kris Dec 26 '13 at 6:35
    
A Google search indicates the phrase only occurs in the film. It's always good to include the context too; and needed here because it's not in the book. –  Andrew Leach Dec 26 '13 at 9:25
    
(forgive me for not knowing how to use the website properly yet...) Sure, the context is: Jane Eyre goes to work to St John Rivers, he asks her if she feels solitude, she says she doesn't. He replies that she then might be "dwelling on things past", and then says: St John: But I counsel you to resist firmly every temptation to look back. Jane Eyre: That's what I intend to do. St John: A year ago, I was myself intensely miserable. I scorned this weakness, fought hard against it and won. I wonder if we do not share the same alloy. –  Ros Dec 26 '13 at 12:20
    
Furthermore, please go to www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/bronte/jane-eyre.pdf and search the word alloy. It appears in other phrases and it might help us understand the meaning properly. –  Ros Dec 26 '13 at 12:24

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