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I find the following sentence very puzzling. Could someone "translate" it into plain English? The whole context is here: Here

Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth.

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    This question has been inappropriately and carelessly closed. Admittedly the title refers to the inversion (given in context within the question) but the question refers to the sentence and asks about the whole meaning, not just about the inversion. I am astonished at such a closure, especially when applied to a newcomer to the site. This is surely the way to deter new entrants.
    – Anton
    Jun 18, 2022 at 18:09

4 Answers 4

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The usage of assort may have changed a little since the times of Dickens but one meaning is relevant:

Merriam Webster
assort:
transitive verb
to distribute into groups of a like kind : classify

Previous to your quotation, Dickens describes in great adjectival detail the distasteful features of fog and mud as experienced in London.

He then goes on to invite the reader to imagine even more extreme conditions than ever experienced (“never can there come …”).

He concludes by saying that no imagined extreme condition of fog and mud can be so bad as to be likened to (classified with, in the Merriam Webster sense] the (unimaginably bad) operations of the High Court of Chancery.

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    The general thrust of this answer is correct, but the definition of "assort" cited is not the correct one. "Assort with X" is intransitive, using a prepositional phrase, so on the same Merriam-Webster link, intransitive definition #1, "to agree in kind", is the one that applies here. The fits even better with the provided explanation, that there is no fog as awful as Chancery Court. But note that this definition is no less archaic than the transitive definition. I can't think of any use of the verb "assort" that isn't archaic and a bit confusing.
    – JonathanZ
    Jun 19, 2022 at 1:29
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    A minor quibble: Dickens is saying here there is no fog or mud worse than the operations of the court. I think the implication is that the court is just as bad as the worst possible fog, mud, or mire.
    – David K
    Jun 19, 2022 at 1:51
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Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth.

Translation:

In the sight of heaven and earth, the floundering and groping condition this High Court of Chancery has is so bad it cannot be classified with the thickest fog or the deepest mire and mud.

floundering and groping makes one think of a person who is sinking and cannot swim. Think of a person who falls in the water and cannot swim. It is the metaphor for a person who cannot control his/her body.

The difficulty, in my view, for a non-native speaker is the idea of:
The High Court of Chancery holds a condition in the sight of heaven and earth. The verb hold there just means "has".

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  • Groping continues the fog comparison; it's saying that they have to search or "grope" with their hands because they can't see (Merriam-Webster: "to feel one's way"). It doesn't have anything to do with swimming. (The floundering is because of the mud.) Jun 19, 2022 at 6:25
  • @BrianMcCutchon My idea is that it is like swimming. Sure, the mud. Fine.
    – Lambie
    Jun 19, 2022 at 15:18
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"Never can there come" uses a device called inversion, where the normal word order is altered for artistic or poetical effect.

https://www.britannica.com/art/inversion-literature

In this case, Dickens puts "never" first, in order to emphasise it.

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This is exaggerated satire of the conditions of the court in place, back then. He is describing the worst of all possible conditions in which the court might make its judgements. He is satirically stating that the court on its worst day, fog, mud and pestilence notwithstanding, should not rule as they did. But of course they did.

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