I'm having so much difficulties understanding the below paragraph. There are several parts that I am absolutely clueless.

"Should we really care for the greatest actors of the past could we have them before us? Should we find them too different from our accent of thought, of feeling, of speech, in a thousand minute particulars which are of the essence of all three? Dr. Doran's long and interesting records of the triumphs of Garrick, and other less familiar, but in their day hardly less astonishing, players, do not relieve one of the doubt. "

  1. What does 'could we have them before us?' mean in the first sentence? And what is the type of grammatical structure underneath? I just don't get how 'could' can come after 'past'.

  2. What does 'accent of thought' mean? This phrase sounds so abstract. What does 'accent' mean in particular?

  3. What does 'a thousand minute particulars' mean? I looked up the word 'particular' as a noun, which said 'specific detail' but it still doesn't make sense to me. Is it author's way of saying..perhaps 'theatre'?

  4. Is there a difference in meaning if I take out 'of' in front of 'a thousand minute particulars?'

  5. Because I have so much questions with the second sentence, could someone be so kind and rephrase that sentence (question) with easy words.

I didn't know English language could be so confusing and cryptic. T-T

2 Answers 2

  1. Could is short for "if we could". We can't have actors of the past to observe, but if we could, would we really favor them?

  2. It's "accent of thought, feeling, and speech." It means the way actors thought and felt and spoke about their roles.

  3. A "thousand minute particulars" means numerous small details. The past actors' "accents" of the above differ in many small but important ways from what we expect today.

  4. No, either way the cumulative effect of the many details makes up the essential part of the actors' "accents".

  5. In spite of the historical accounts of the greatness of the actors of the past, their way of acting was probably so different from out expectations of actors today that we probably wouldn't much like their performances.

The good news is that this is from an essay by the Victorian critic Walter Pater published in 1886 in the British newspaper The Guardian. Its vocabulary and diction are dated, particularly for Americans, which is why is seems so opaque. The bad news is that English can be vastly more confusing and cryptic than any essay Pater ever wrote.

  • Well done for discovering the authorship. In those days The Guardian would have been known as The Manchester Guardian and was a provincial liberal newspaper, emblematic of Britain's northern industrial powerhouse. But as a provincial newspaper it had not reached the dizzying heights it has today, where as The Guardian - together with the NYT and Le Monde - it represents the world's best in journalism as well as modern liberal values.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 11:01
  • Wow, too! Very surprised that understanding the authorship could make so much difference. Thank you so much deadrat for your clear, absolutely helpful answers and a word of advice. ;)
    – user148466
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 11:20

It is a poorly written, and excessively verbose, paragraph.

  1. The first sentence is not grammatical - which may be why you don't understand could we have them before us. I think what the author means is should we have them before us or were we able to have them before us (today).

2.Accent of thought is the author's coined expression, referring to the particular nuances of thought that were placed on ideas at the time they were playing.

3.A thousand minute particulars clearly means a thousand minute details.

  1. I do not understand your question here. Of does not appear in front of a thousand minute particulars.

  2. Try Would we find them different, in a thousand minute ways, to our own modes of thinking, feeling and speaking ?

  • Oops! I meant 'the essence of all three' in Q4.
    – user148466
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 11:20

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