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I still have a question about the phrase "but of tea not a glimpse" from the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

I rang for the tea, and the waiter, reappearing with his magic clew, brought in by degrees some fifty adjuncts to that refreshment, but of tea not a glimpse. A teaboard, cups and saucers, plates, knives and forks (including carvers), spoons (various), saltcellars, a meek little muffin confined with the utmost precaution under a strong iron cover, Moses in the bulrushes typified by a soft bit of butter in a quantity of parsley, a pale loaf with a powdered head, two proof impressions of the bars of the kitchen fireplace on triangular bits of bread, and ultimately a fat family urn; which the waiter staggered in with, expressing in his countenance burden and suffering. After a prolonged absence at this stage of the entertainment, he at length came back with a casket of precious appearance containing twigs. These I steeped in hot water, and so from the whole of these appliances extracted one cup of I don’t know what for Estella.

Below is the sentence about which I still have a question.

I rang for the tea, and the waiter, reappearing with his magic clew, brought in by degrees some fifty adjuncts to that refreshment, but of tea not a glimpse.

  1. Does the word "of" mean "with respect to" in the phrase "but of tea not a glimpse"?
  2. Does "not a glimpse" mean "the protagonist of the novel saw and inspected all of the fifty adjuncts that were brought by the waiter, and the protagonist of the novel didn't glimpse all of the fifty adjuncts, and the protagonist of the novel saw all of the fifty adjuncts very carefully, and then the protagonist of the novel found that all of the fifty adjuncts were with respect to the tea" in the sentence "but of tea not a glimpse"?
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    What you refer to as a sentenc eis not a sentence. You have cut off the subject (the waiter), which makes the remainder impossible to understand. Basically it says The waiter brought in fifty things that had to do with tea, but he brought no tea. Bring in means bring into the room.
    – oerkelens
    Sep 6, 2016 at 11:44
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    I think you may understand it if it were written in the normal word order: ..., but not a glimpse of tea. Sep 7, 2016 at 12:15
  • Should be merged with ell.stackexchange.com/questions/102829/… Sep 7, 2016 at 14:15

3 Answers 3

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Several words have been elided from the sentence's syntax, and the word order is unfamiliar to modern ears.

Here we'll add two words back which are implicit in Dickens's work:

I rang for the tea, and the waiter, reappearing with his magic clew, brought in by degrees some fifty adjuncts to that refreshment, but of tea there was not a glimpse.

We can make it clearer still for today's readers by rearranging the order:

... but there was not a glimpse of tea.

Dickens would have expected his readers (those of mid-19th century England) to understand his elisions and word order with no trouble.

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  • Post it to the duplicate, if you see this? Nice to see you. Otherwise, hopefully a mod can merge them to preserve this answer. Sep 7, 2016 at 14:17
  • I think you started to write mid 1800's but muscle memory took over. Sep 7, 2016 at 18:05
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The sentence means that the waiter brought in about 50 things related to serving the tea. Because there were so many, they had to be brought in a bit at a time. Possibly several trips were needed to bring it all in.

When referring to "that refreshement", Dickens means the tea itself. He is saying that there were about 50 things related to serving tea, not including the tea itself. By adding "not a glimpse", Dickens is saying that tea was not included amongst the various things that were brought in.

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When author asked to waiter for tea, waiter

Brought in by degrees (one by one)

some fifty adjuncts (i.e teaboard, cups and saucers, plates, knives and forks (including carvers), etc.)

to that refreshment (to tea), but no tea

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