I am reading "Quality" by John Galsworthy and there are some phrases and lines which I could not grasp. I thought that this site would be the perfect place to ask this question. Below are some lines from the story from the beginning.

I knew him from the days of my extreme youth, because he made my father's boots; inhabiting with his elder brother two little shops let into one, in a small by-street--now no more, but then most fashionably placed in the West End.

That tenement had a certain quiet distinction; there was no sign upon its face that he made for any of the Royal Family–merely his own German name of Gessler Brothers; and in the window a few pairs of boots.

I remember that it always troubled me to account for those unvarying boots in the window, for he made only what was ordered, reaching nothing down, and it seemed so inconceivable that what he made could ever have failed to fit. Had he bought them to put there? That, too, seemed inconceivable. He would never have tolerated in his house leather on which he had not worked himself.

Besides, they were too beautiful–the pair of pumps, so inexpressibly slim, the patent leathers with cloth tops, making water come into one's mouth, the tall brown riding boots with marvelous sooty glow, as if, though new, they had been worn a hundred years. Those pairs could only have been made by one who saw before him the Soul of Boot–so truly were they prototypes incarnating the very spirit of all foot-gear.

These thoughts, of course, came to me later, though even when I was promoted to him, at the age of perhaps fourteen, some inkling haunted me of the dignity of himself and brother. For to make boots–such boots as he made–seemed to me then, and still seems to me, mysterious and wonderful.

My Questions:

  1. What does the phrase "reaching nothing down" mean? I think it means that he did not make more shoes than required, that is, he only made what was required.

  2. What does "These thoughts, of course, came to me later, though even when I was promoted to him, at the age of perhaps fourteen, some inkling haunted me of the dignity of himself and brother." mean? I am unsure of its meaning.

You can read the full story here: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/galsworthy/john/inn/chapter2.html

Thanks for your help.

  • Hello, MrAP. You should only ask one question at a time. Here, the second question is off-topic as it asks for an extended interpretation. The first is, I'd say, valid. To 'reach something down' is a fairly informal multi-word verb meaning to stretch out and bring something from a higher to a lower position (down from a shelf or hanger, say). Commented May 2, 2018 at 2:32
  • @edwin-ashworth How does that make sense in the context, though? Seems like an idiom... except I have been unable to find a record of it in the OED. Commented May 2, 2018 at 3:01
  • @linguisticturn It could here be being used as an extension of the 'off the peg' (as opposed to bespoke) metaphor-or-was-it-in-those-days (it was doubtless often literal). I'm aware of the not too dissimilar expression 'hand-me-down' (used for instance by J K Rowling in Harry Potter), but how much of a fixed expression 'reached nothing down' or 'reached-down' might have been around the time of writing, I've no idea. But again, HP provides a striking example: Olivander offering Harry wands to try for size. Commented May 2, 2018 at 7:57

1 Answer 1


As to your second question, that sentence means roughly this:

I became able to fully articulate these thoughts only when I was a bit older. However, already at the age of fourteen, I started to have a vague, recurrent notion that the Gessler brothers possessed a great deal of dignity. This was at about the time when my parents first decided that they should start ordering my footwear from Mr. Gessler.

When the author says he was promoted to the Gessler brothers, he means that in this sense: until he turned fourteen, his footwear was just unremarkable children's footwear. But at that point, his parents decided it was time he got footwear from a proper master, Mr. Gessler.

Inkling is a vague notion of something. That this inkling (i.e. vague notion) haunted me here means that this vague notion 'recurred to me constantly and spontaneously'.

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