I'm reading a book by Horace Walpole called The Castle of Otranto now. And I found the last part of this long sentence confusing:

Yet whether provoked at the peasant having observed the resemblance between the two helmets, and thereby led to the farther discovery of the absence of that in the church; or wishing to bury any such rumour under so impertinent a supposition; he [Manfred] gravely pronounced that the young man was certainly a necromancer, and that till the church could take cognizance of the affair, he [Manfred] would have the Magician, whom they had thus detected, kept prisoner under the helmet itself, which he ordered his attendants to raise, and place the young man under it; declaring he should be kept there without food, with which his own infernal art might furnish him.

To me "with which" (in the last line) is confusing.

I understood this sentence as "His own infernal art might furnish him with food" and "with which" refers to food...

But I don't understand this usage logically because when I see the meaning, it's like saying "He should be kept there without food, which infernal art might give him." but why would he put him there when his infernal art could give him food anyway?

Maybe I'm not interpreting it correctly, and that's why it doesn't make sense. So I want your help now.

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    Please supply the complete sentence (or better still, the entire paragraph that contains it), plus the name of the author. The more context there is for a question like yours, the better. – Erik Kowal Jan 3 '15 at 7:53
  • @SvenYargs - Thanks for editing the question to include that extra information. :) – Erik Kowal Jan 3 '15 at 11:13
  • Thank you for editing it! that was my mistake not to google it before I made a question – BangolPhoenix Jan 7 '15 at 6:34

You're correct regarding the meaning of the phrase. It's a slightly archaic equivalent of "... which his own infernal art might furnish him with."

So, yes, this sentence boils down to "Shove him in a cell and forget him. If he can make food magically appear, fine; that would prove that we're right to keep him imprisoned. If not, let him starve."

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  • Thank you for your explanation it made me fully understand the king' logic:) – BangolPhoenix Jan 4 '15 at 1:26

The answer is that for reasons of expediency, Manfred says the young man is a necromancer, and must therefore be imprisoned till the church can make up its mind what to do about him; but because the young man is a necromancer, no food needs to be given to him: his own powers of sorcery will enable him to provide himself with whatever food he will require during his imprisonment.

Your confusion probably arises from the now-archaic usage of 'might' in the clause "...with which his own infernal art might furnish him"; most modern writers would probably have phrased it something like "...which his own powers of sorcery would provide him with".

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    Many writers today still avoid ending a sentence with with, whatever the reason may be. And might here is surely the equivalent of could, not would. – Tim Lymington Jan 3 '15 at 11:58
  • @TimLymington - I do not subscribe to the 'do not end a sentence with with' superstition and therefore do not regard it as an issue to be taken seriously. Regarding your other point, both 'could' and 'would' are possible interpretations, but the context points to the 'would' interpretaton being more plausible (the reason being Manfred's apparent certainty that the young man will be able to use his own powers to supply himself with food; presumably eating will still be a necessity for the prisoner, not merely a lifestyle choice.) – Erik Kowal Jan 3 '15 at 12:03
  • Thank u so much! I think I missed so much when I interpret what the author intended to say – BangolPhoenix Jan 4 '15 at 1:25

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