I've got sentences I'm not sure about in The Musgrave Ritual by Conan Doyle. Can someone clear it up?

In this case the matter was simplified by Brunton's intelligence being quite first-rate, so that it was unnecessary to make any allowance for the personal equation, as the astronomers have dubbed it.

(Emphasis mine.)

This is when Holmes tried to simulate in his head which steps the villain had taken. The sentences looks like Holmes is presenting a fact, but I guess the sentence shows a setting like subjunctive mood, doesn't it?

A: Brunton's intelligence WAS first rate, so my simulation was simplified by the FACT. B: The matter was simplified (by me) by (considering) Brunton's intelligence being quite first-rate, so that it was(=would be) unnecessary to make any allowance for the personal equation.

Is is possible to take the quoted sentence as B? Because I thought "so that" usually means purpose, intention, right? I know "so that" can mean "so, that's why". Do I have to interpret "so that" in the quoted sentence as just "so" if this case, if A is the correct one? Thank you.

  • I edited this to add a hyperlinked citation and use a block quote—as well as adding text making it clear that the bold text is not part of the original. Sep 9 '18 at 6:49
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    Giraffe, please make the title say the part of English you're not sure about (perhaps "What is the word being here?" or "What does so that mean here?"). It's the title which is the hook for knowledgeable answerers.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 9 '18 at 11:10
  • In A: do you mean "Brunton's intelligence was first rate, so my simulation was simplified by that fact", or something else? In B: no. The matter was simplified not "by me" but "for me" by the fact of Brunton's intelligence being first-rate. It was therefore unnecessary to make any allowance for the personal equation. Aug 23 at 23:11

The exact grammar is tricky. In part, this is because ‘-ing’ words are tricky. It is not always certain whether they are functioning as adjectives (and so are called participles) or as nouns (and so should be called gerunds).

If Conan Doyle intended a participle, he could have made it clear by using a comma after ‘intelligence’.

The matter was simplified by Brunton’s intelligence, being * quite first rate.

If he intended a so-called ‘gerund’, he could have made that clear by adding an apostrophe to the word ‘intelligence’.

.... by B’s intelligence**’s** being quite first rate.

In terms of meaning, I cannot see any difference. Holmes is making an inference from B’s first rate intelligence.

But each alternative construal has an objection. I should be surprised if Doyle, at the time he wrote, would have omitted a comma after ‘intelligence’, if he had intended “being quite first rate” to be a participle phrase, qualifying ‘intelligence’, Every schoolmaster in his day was very fussy about that sort of thing.

The same objection applies to the alternative. In Doyle’s time, The omission of the possessive ‘apostrophe ess’ after ‘intelligence’ would bring down the scorn of many a reader on his head.

Of course, there is a reason to avoid this latter option. It lead’s to a horrible double possessive.

... Brunton’s intelligence’s being quite first rate. (yuck! He would never do that.

Where does that leave us? Well, we could just ignore it. It makes no difference to our understanding. My guess, for what it is worth, is that there is a comma missing. I cannot imagine Doyle, living when he did, either omitting to write “...intelligence**’s** being ...” or tolerating the cacophony of “Brunton’s intelligence’s being first rate.”.

So my searchlight would switch to the version of the text you are using. Doyle is out of copyright; anyone can publish; many cheap internet editions circulate; fewer editors have the old fashioned grammar that might lead them to spot an error and check. Ironically, the combination of universal literacy, computing and the internet has taken us back to how it was in late antiquity and the early middle ages, when hosts of monastic scribes were copying Latin texts, riddled with little errors of this sort.

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