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The following is taken from the novel Frankenstein:

At that age I became acquainted with the celebrated poets of our own country; but it was only when it had ceased to be in my power to derive its most important benefits from such a conviction that I perceived the necessity of becoming acquainted with more languages than that of my native country.

I'm wondering what such a conviction refers to. The context doesn't make it clear to me.

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  • I honestly can't work it out either, even after reading the longer passage in the link (which I thought the referent might be hiding). The best I can suggest is he's using conviction like dedication to mean "such a narrow focus". That, like a lemon well-squeezed, he'd got as much juice out as he could on his own, and so needed to branch out. But that's a stretch.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 25, 2016 at 14:10

2 Answers 2

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Conviction here means a strongly held belief or opinion, i.e., something one is convinced of. And you'll have to widen the context a bit to find a stated opinion.

But it is a still greater evil to me that I am self-educated: for the first fourteen years of my life I ran wild on a common, and read nothing but our uncle Thomas's books of voyages. At that age I became acquainted with the celebrated poets of our own country; but it was only when it had ceased to be in my power to derive its most important benefits from such a conviction that I perceived the necessity of becoming acquainted with more languages than that of my native country. Now I am twenty-eight, and am in reality more illiterate than many schoolboys of fifteen.

So the letter writer is convinced that the greater lack in his life is that he has no formal education, one that might have instructed him in languages other than his native tongue. But, alas, he has come to that realization too late for it to be of benefit: he's too old at age 28 for such study.

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I largely agree with deadrat's answer, but I believe that the referenced conviction is

the necessity of becoming acquainted with more languages than that of my native country

i.e., when he was young, sophomoric, and parochial, he believed that knowing his native language was all he needed.  Eventually he saw the wisdom in being more diversified, but by then he no longer had the mental flexibility to learn new languages.

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