What does "but that most" mean in this sentence by Richard Hooker: "People imagine that anything would help them; but that most, which they least have tried"?
It's an awkward construction that is taking some liberties.
What it's saying can be better understood if the sentence is paraphrased:
People imagine that anything would help them; but [they imagine that what would help them the] most [is that] which they have tried [the] least.
Even when understanding the sentence, however, the meaning behind it is still open to interpretation.
One possibility is equating this with "the right solution is always the one tried last," which is kind of like saying that nothing comes easily, that you always have to struggle to succeed, or that you're simply unlucky.
I saw this and I had to take a crack at it...Thanks for the challenge!
"but that most" is creating a double negative as it were:
but that most...least (snip) tried
This is old English phraseology; reworded in modern English it would read like this:
"People imagine (or dream) of a way to resolve their particular problems; leaving unconsidered the one thing they have tried the least."
- or -
"People imagine that anything would help; while failing to notice the one thing they have tried the least."
Preserving most of the original text:
"People imagine that anything would help them; but one the thing they have tried the least." ~ Richard Hooker