I read this phrase in Alan Bennett’s Diary years ago and found it so unusual I’ve never forgotten it. Italics mine:
8 December. Trying to find someone a Meccano set for Christmas, I’m reminded of a couple, friends of Russell H., who had a son of twelve or so who they were worried might be growing up gay. However, they were greatly heartened when the boy said that what he wanted for Christmas was a Meccano set. Delighted by what they saw as an access of butchness, they bought him the biggest set they could find …
The Free Dictionary provides this fifth and final definition for the noun access: 5. An outburst or onset: an access of rage.
And Dictionary.com this: 5. an attack or onset, as of a disease.
My Shorter OED lists ten definitions of access, of which: 1. A (sudden) coming on of illness b. spec an Ague fit (LME-L19) and 10. An outburst of anger or other emotion.
In four decades of extensive reading in English, I have never come across “access of” until this reading. Given the definitions, whether outburst or onset, I think Bennett’s use of it in context is brilliant.
I’m curious to find other examples of this usage. Is it archaic? Precious? Fully contemporary? Is it more British, more American? Doing an internet search for “access of” does not lead to obvious examples. Typically you’ll find “access of (subject) to (object).” This has me thinking it must be used more in literary contexts. And if so, does anyone have any contemporary examples of its use?