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From A Tale of two Cities, chapter 2:

Reins and whip and coachman and guard, however, in combination, had read that article of war which forbade a purpose otherwise strongly in favour of the argument, that some brute animals are endued with Reason; and the team had capitulated and returned to their duty.

What does purpose mean in that sentence?

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  • @Lambie In the edition I could get on the web it is "endued", this verb being a synonym of "endow".
    – LPH
    Apr 22, 2023 at 19:21
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    @Lambie — endued is a word (look it up), and it is the word that Dickens used here. Apr 23, 2023 at 0:59

3 Answers 3

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I’m having a hard time fitting these pieces into the places of modern grammar and style, so this is just one take . . .

First, purpose means aim or goal here:

purpose, n.
1. a. That which a person sets out to do or attain; an object in view; a determined intention or aim.
Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

The set up:

. . . the hill, and the harness, and the mud, and the mail, were all so heavy, that the horses had three times already come to a stop, besides once drawing the coach across the road, with the mutinous intent of taking it back to Blackheath.

My interpretation of what follows:

The drivers prevent horse mutiny by goading the horses onward with reins and whip, reminding the horses (as if they could reason) of the deadly consequences of the crime of mutiny.

At this point, it is clear that the goal of turning around (which, mutiny not withstanding, would be a good idea for horses and humans alike) proves that the horses have good powers of reason.

And since they can reason, they must also avert the consequences of mutiny and return to duty.

As footnote 1 reminds us in this guide to A Tale of Two Cities:

Eighteenth-century Enlightenment philosophers emphasized mankind’s possession of reason, which was worshiped as a goddess during the Revolution. Here Dickens’s horses are clearly more reasonable than their human masters.

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It was the Dover road that lay, on a Friday night late in November, before the first of the persons with whom this history has business. The Dover road lay, as to him, beyond the Dover mail, as it lumbered up Shooter’s Hill. He walked up hill in the mire by the side of the mail, as the rest of the passengers did; not because they had the least relish for walking exercise, under the circumstances, but because the hill, and the harness, and the mud, and the mail, were all so heavy, that the horses had three times already come to a stop, besides once drawing the coach across the road, with the mutinous intent of taking it back to Blackheath. Reins and whip and coachman and guard, however, in combination, had read that article of war which forbade a purpose otherwise strongly in favour of the argument, that some brute animals are endued with Reason; and the team had capitulated and returned to their duty.

(SOED) purpose 2 The action or fact of intending to do something; resolution, determination. [since] Middle English

(SOED) resolution IV 13 A formal decision or expression of opinion by a legislative assembly, committee, public meeting etc.; a formulation of this; Also, gen. (now rare), a statement, a decision, a verdict [since] mid 16th century.

The sentence means that the inflexible coachman and guard—humouristic assimilation of lifeless implements to those two individuals with the intent of strengthening the idea of their unswerving deciciveness—, had in such circumstances of having to contend with the stubborness of carriage animals the definite knowledge that no allowance should be tolerated, and that this determination of theirs was of a ruthless sort—here again, this fact being humouristically imparted to the reader, that is by pretending that the coachman and the guard went by the rigid articles of war, in particular that one which says that the verdict that some brute animals have reason was forbidden, a fact which, if accepted, would usher in convincingly the idea of allowing the team to go back the way they came.

( "argument, that some brute animals are endued with Reason" cannot be read as "the argument is that some brute animals are endued with Reason"; a comma after "argument" wouldn't have been used. The reading has to be, apparently "a purpose that some brute animals are endued with Reason". "Argument" has a referent that one must construct in one's mind, I think: it is the argument that it would have been best to listen to the animals and go back to Blackheath.)

Roughly, "purpose" could be rendered by "verdict".

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    A 130-word sentence: Dickens would have been proud. :)
    – Greybeard
    Apr 22, 2023 at 21:47
  • ??????????????? Apr 23, 2023 at 2:37
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    @TinfoilHat You don't agree? Tell us why, we might learn something!
    – LPH
    Apr 23, 2023 at 7:24
  • To start, resolution, as it pertains to purpose, means resolve or steadfastness of purpose — not a legislative decision. Everything after that is so opaque that I can neither agree nor disagree. Apr 23, 2023 at 14:02
  • @TinfoilHat I think it is obvious that I did not choose "législative decision", but instead the rare meaning with general import. Why should Dickens have used only words that were not rare? I must confess though that I did not know that word myself, but that it made much sense from the définitions in the dictionary.
    – LPH
    Apr 23, 2023 at 17:47
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In a simplified version:

They (the coachman, etc), had read the rule which forbade a purpose (intention, aim, goal (that the horses had decided upon)) that would have justified the claim that some brute animals can think for themselves; and the team [of horses] had capitulated and returned to their duty.

The purpose (intention, aim, goal) of the team’s turning would have been, as mentioned, to return to Blackheath.

OED Purpose

1.a. That which a person [or sentient being] sets out to do or attain; an object in view; a determined intention or aim.

a1898 H. Bessemer Autobiogr. (1905) i. 14 Though he made no secret of his purpose, he published nothing upon the subject.

1998 Artist Mar. 28/1 I have moved away from using hard hogs hair brushes to softer bristle brushes which serve my purpose better.

2002 J. Cunliffe Encycl. Dog Breeds (new ed.) 184/1 Such terriers worked with audacity and noisy clamour, never failing to achieve their purpose.

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