I am quoting from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Musgrave Ritual by Arthur Conan Doyle:

  • 'Mr Musgrave, sir' he cried, in a voice which was hoarse with emotion, 'I can't bear disgrace, sir. I've always been proud above my station in life, and disgrace would kill me.'

I am confused by the usage of 'above' in this sentence. I usually use 'of' or 'about' after the adjective 'proud' but never 'above'. could you throw some light please?


4 Answers 4


A fuller quotation, repeated in at least two sources, is:

I was surprised to find that the butler had returned, and was standing before me.

“Mr. Musgrave, sir,” he cried, in a voice which was hoarse with emotion, “I can’t bear disgrace, sir. I’ve always been proud above my station in life, and disgrace would kill me. My blood will be on your head, sir—it will, indeed—if you drive me to despair. If you cannot keep me after what has passed, then for God’s sake let me give you notice and leave in a month, as if of my own free will. I could stand that, Mr. Musgrave, but not to be cast out before all the folk that I know so well.”

Project Gutenberg or see: Lit2Go

At that time (late 1800s) it was common for people to refer to their "station in life". The notion was based on the proposition that people had a position relative to others determined by any or all of their role, wealth, background, employment, qualifications, nature and family connections.

One of the concise definitions is:

station = Standing, Rank: "a woman of high station"

Merriam Webster

Hence the butler would have been aware of, and would have valued, his status in life as a butler. It would probably have been a position reached with some pride after a progression through the roles of servant, footman, under-butler. In this quotation he says that he is proud above his station, implying that his self-respect extends above the status of a butler and that he believes he might reasonably occupy an even higher station were he to have opportunity.

We find similar positional prepositional usage in idioms such as "living beyond our means" or having "ideas above our station".

The term is still in contemporary use with the same meaning. For example:

"If Prince Charles is implying that we are all born to a particular station in life then his comment seems to reveal a profound ignorance of English social history."

"People should get above their stations. I absolutely welcome as much social mobility and aspiration as possible. We have to create more room for people to express their genuine talents. The world is not just a plaything for a few people."

The Independent

  • 1
    After careful consideration, I feel that this explanation is correct. But: although 'living beyond our means' uses the PP adverbially and 'ideas above our station' uses the PP in what many would analyse as a reduced relative clause, 'proud above my station' uses a different construction. There are examples of such PP modification of adjectives, for instance 'angry beyond reason', the odd 'angry above measure'. 'Proud above' (in a Google search for ["proud above" -stand -standing -stands]) returns no early relevant hits. I'd say this is extremely rare. Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 15:39
  • @EdwinAshworth Your comment is a welcome and illuminating commentary on my argument. Thank you.
    – Anton
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 15:52

“I've always been proud above my station in life, and disgrace would kill me.” The word “above” does not have a special meaning when used with “proud”, so “above my station in life” should be interpreted as an adjunct providing additional clarifying information to the basic statement “I've always been proud”. It means something like “I've always been proud to a greater extent than is warranted by my station in life.”


Given that it's a butler who says this, then the meaning is obvious: after all, one would expect a butler not to have much to be proud about. However, he is saying that he is proud "above his station in life", because he is prouder than many people would expect him to be, given his station (that is status) in life. It all seems perfectly obvious and not at all "confusing".

  • But mistakes are common, so this is not at all obvuous (sic). A misprint for 'about' seems a sensible alternative explanation; there are very few examples of being 'proud above one's station', 'proud above one's social standing' etc on the internet. Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 16:02
  • @Edwin Ashworth: Given the context of the sentence either could work. Besides, I would imagine that given Conan's Doyle writerly interest in the intensely forensic Sherlock Holmes he would be careful with his prose. Plus, publishing has copy editors and that look for such mistakes or 'typos'. Unlike here, where one is one's own editor. So I'm inclined to think that Conan Doyle knew exactly what he was writing. Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 16:06
  • Notice that 'proud' was originally 'pround'. OP's 'quote' was apparently originally a misquote. How does one test provenance? Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 17:30

"...the notion.."

I fail to see why a tenable fact, should be anymore whimsical in inception, than what is "always", as a definitive precursor.

There is no notion therefore, unless a whimsical BELIEF is contrary to upward mobility, unless the absolute fact now, and factually so, stands on its own.

The butler in title, always believed himself personally to be above his lot in life, therefore, credibility is the adjunct premise, rather than nobility.

The butler on the proverbial witness stand is not credible... says the nobility!


since now differentiated by the stated absolute ALWAYS!...a compelled,


indefensible claim of credibility above his nobility, is what the butler is trying to attain in confession finally,

as station in life be it,

is no more notion, than a acceptable fact of life exemplified in codified natural order.

It's either one or the other, belief vs believe and just because the strong or good does not always triumph...well, the stated fact either stands in or within its own relative station of fact.

  • 2
    This does not seem to answer the question which is I've always been proud above my station in life I am confused by the usage of 'above' in this sentence. ... could you throw some light please?," Your answer appears to be a comment on an earlier answer.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 0:10
  • No... APPARENTLY the answer can never suffice those, BELOW my station....imagine CLOWNS perhaps....yes.
    – Paulcouto
    Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 3:16

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