(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XIX, published 1892)

Passage 294

The conjunction of these planets seeming ominous, I drew near; but it seemed Bellairs had done his business; he vanished in the crowd, and I found my officer alone.

“Do you know whom you have been talking to, Mr. Sebright?” I began.

“No,” said he; “I don't know him from Adam. Anything wrong?”

“He is a disreputable lawyer, recently disbarred,” said I. “I wish I had seen you in time. I trust you told him nothing about Carthew?”

He flushed to his ears. “I'm awfully sorry,” he said. “He seemed civil, and I wanted to get rid of him. It was only the address he asked.”

“And you gave it?” I cried.

“I'm really awfully sorry,” said Sebright. “I'm afraid I did.”

“God forgive you!” was my only comment, and I turned my back upon the blunderer.

The fat was in the fire now: Bellairs had the address, and I was the more deceived or Carthew would have news of him. So strong was this impression, and so painful, that the next morning I had the curiosity to pay the lawyer's den a visit. An old woman was scrubbing the stair, and the board was down.

Is the word 'deceived' a substantive there or is it the past participle (a verb)? Is this sentence structure natural or is it obsolete? I don't really understand this sentence; could you rephrase it or tell me what is meant by it, please.

  • 4
    It's an odd way of expressing it, but it appears to mean "unless I was much mistaken, Bellairs would make contact with Carthew" - that is, he almost certainly would. Nov 23, 2023 at 10:12
  • Rather curiously, it seems that the Past Tense version as used by Stevenson here has always been about as common as the "much mistaken" alternative. But in the Present Tense, "more deceived" has never had any currency compared to "much mistaken". Nov 23, 2023 at 12:07
  • @FumbleFingers: We don't usually realize until later that we have been deceived, but we can always wonder if we are mistaken.
    – TimR
    Nov 23, 2023 at 12:43
  • @TimR: I don;t think that level of detailed logical analysis is relevant. The cited usage is a hopelessly outdated idiom, and Kate's suggested unless I was much mistaken is exactly what we say today in such contexts. Nov 23, 2023 at 12:49
  • 1
    Bellairs had the address, and either Mr. Sebright lied about having shared Carthew’s address, or Carthew would soon be visited by Bellairs. Nov 25, 2023 at 1:18

1 Answer 1


You will note that the speaker has already been deceived by a disreputable lawyer.

The fat was in the fire now: Bellairs had the address, and I was the more deceived or Carthew would have news of him. =

The fat was in the fire now: Bellairs had the address, and either I was even more deceived (i.e. I was wrong again) or [it was true that] Carthew would have [received] news of him.

In this, "the" is an adverb modifying the adjectival "more deceived"


the (adv.)

1.a.used with a following comparative adjective or adverb to emphasize the effect of circumstances indicated by the context.

The circumstances are sometimes expressed by a phrase introduced by for, e.g. he is much the better for it, he looks the better for his holiday.

1938 This record is the more remarkable when we remember the defective eyesight by which..Dr. Garvie has been handicapped. - Manchester Guardian 8 March 8/1

2014 She wouldn't really be any the wiser. - K. Fforde, Christmas Feast 289

  • No. 'Either I was even more deceived than Sebright had been, or ....' Nov 23, 2023 at 12:15
  • @EdwinAshworth Hmm: "The fat was in the fire now: Bellairs had the address," (i) He realises he has been deceived by the lawyer... (ii) He feels that he must be more deceived (i.e. further deceived) if what he supposes is not true.
    – Greybeard
    Nov 23, 2023 at 12:29
  • 'The more deceived' default-refers to 'the blunderer' as comparator. Any other interpretation is fanciful. Nov 23, 2023 at 12:36
  • You may wish to look at the OED's examples... He has been [possibly] deceived to a greater extent. Which is what I said.
    – Greybeard
    Nov 23, 2023 at 12:43
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth 'The more deceived' default-refers to 'the blunderer' as comparator." Yes! And the man (the narrator) who is "the more deceived" has already been deceived.
    – Greybeard
    Nov 24, 2023 at 10:55

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