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I am reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and finally reached the last few pages, but I am stuck with the following paragraph.

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

I can't quite figure out the "quite as well that -- as have--" part. My guess is that it means something like "he thought it just as well that they wrinkle up their eyes in grins, rather than making their faces look uglier", but I might be wrong. Could someone explain the meaning of this sentence and the grammar used here? Thanks!

Edit: I think I'm starting to grasp the meaning now, but I still don't get the grammar...why can "as" mean "rather than"? Is this usage of "as well--as" explained in dictionaries?

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  • ...he thought it quite that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins as well as have the malady in less attractive forms. (?) – Ram Pillai May 3 '20 at 10:57
  • He thought it better that... rather than... – Bitter dreggs. May 3 '20 at 10:59
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    "... he thought it was better that they should half close their eyes because they were grinning, than have this expression in less attractive forms (such as wrinkling them in disapproval or because of their being short-sighted). His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him." – Greybeard May 3 '20 at 11:11
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    “As have” doesn’t replace “rather than”. The “have” goes with “malady” one has a malady. The restatement should be “rather than have” – Jim May 3 '20 at 18:02
  • Imagine that they should repeated before "have" to see the coordinated structure. – Colin Fine May 3 '20 at 18:14
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Here's a modern English sentence that uses essentially the same construct: "It would be just as good to walk as to drive." In other words, walking would be as good as driving.

Now I'll transform this sentence, step by step, into Dickens' sentence.

First, he meaning stays the same if we change "just as good" to "quite as well": "It would be quite as well to walk as to drive."

It's still the same if we replace the infinitive verbs with subordinate clauses: "It would be quite as well that we should walk, as that we should drive."

Of course, Dickens is talking about "them", not "us": "It would be quite as well that they should walk, as that they should drive."

Dickens also phrases it as a thought that Scrooge is having: "He thought it quite as well that they should walk, as that they should drive."

And, of course, the verbs that Dickens uses are not "walk" and "drive", but "wrinkle up their eyes in grins" and "have the malady in less attractive forms". So: "He thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as that they should have the malady in less attractive forms."

Finally, Dickens simply omits the subject and auxiliary verb from the second subordinate clause: "He thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms."

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  • This is very helpful! Thank you. Do you also agree with other comments and answers that the implication of "quite as well" is "at least as good (and probably better)"? Or do you think the meaning stays the same ("just as good")? – normanmo May 4 '20 at 6:30
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    @normanmo Given the use of the phrase "less attractive forms", I think that although the literal meaning is "just as good", the implication is probably "better". – Tanner Swett May 4 '20 at 11:56
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In the modern idiomatic usage, we say it's just as well [things turns out the way they did], not quite. In this usage, the implication is usually approbatory at least as good (and probably better), rather than just a neutral "equally good".

Note that there are still quite a few contexts where just / quite are effectively interchangeable (exclamatory I can just/quite imagine!, for example). But there are others, such as the preceding sentence here, where any such switch would significantly alter the meaning.

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Since the sentence in question is rather long and involved, I will break it down into more manageable logical pieces, paraphrasing rather freely into language that is more natural for me, although admittedly bulky and unattractive in comparison:

Some people laughed to see the alteration in him [Scrooge]. He let them laugh, and [did not pay much attention to them]. He was wise enough to know that [for every good thing that] ever happened on this [earth] some people would [laugh a lot about it] in the outset. He knew that such [people] as these [who laughed because Scrooge had changed for the better] would be blind anyway (that is they would not see further or deeper than the surface). He thought [that it was just as good for them to] wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as to [be blind] in less attractive forms (for example, they could be blind and wear an ugly frown). His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

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