He said that he would have a man knockt in the head that should write anything in Mathematiques that had been written of before. I think in order to understand this sentence one should have some background knowledge. Can anyone explain it?

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, Glorfindel, Nathan Tuggy, JavaLatte, Laure May 9 '17 at 18:46

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  • Yes, background knowledge. That's precisely why you should add more context to your question, please. – Glorfindel May 9 '17 at 14:01
  • Given that The Venerable Edward Davenant or D'Avenant lived from 1596–1679, I can't see how his archaic phrasing is relevant to the needs of people wishing to learn English today. – FumbleFingers May 9 '17 at 14:53
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because about archaic English – FumbleFingers May 9 '17 at 14:53
  • I read a textbook Probability and Measure that begins its preface with this quotation. – Joseph WANG May 9 '17 at 15:07
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    @FumbleFingers It's a very popular quotation among mathematicians, sort of a professional equivalent of the complaint in Ecclesiastes, Of making many books there is no end (12:12). – StoneyB May 9 '17 at 16:27

First, in case you've never encountered the construction HAVE Object + past participle, you should know that this is not a perfect but a causative. Have a man knocked in the head means cause [somebody unspecified] to knock a man in the head. We use the same construction in I'm having my car fixed.

Beyond this, your quote doesn't require any background knowledge in the subject, but it does require a little knowledge of 17th-century diction and orthography. Let's put it into modern spelling first:

... he would have a man knocked in the head that should write anything in mathematics that had been written of before.

There's no usage here that isn't still acceptable in present-day writing, but it's markedly old-fashioned. Today we would probably

  • say any man rather than a man
  • say something like hit over the head rather than knocked in the head
  • use the simple past form wrote for should write
  • say written about rather than written of

And we would probably move the relative clause immediately after its referent.

So paraphrase:

... he would have any man who wrote anything in mathematics that had been written about before hit over the head.

But Aubrey's version seems to me considerably more vigorous.

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    Interestingly, I recently watched some maths lectures from Gresham College. It seems to me that more than one of the speakers referred to how the Internet is shaking up their world, specifically in terms of it now being much easier to discover that other people have also been working on whatever you're interested in. Apparently the true aficionados don't mind finding that their great new idea has already been discovered, because they've still had the joy of finding it out for themselves anyway. – FumbleFingers May 9 '17 at 17:18

would have a man knockt in the head that should write anything in Mathematiques that had been written of before.

I've modernized the translation to make it easier to understand.

  • "knockt in the head" = beaten.
  • "a man ... that should write anything" = a man who writes something
  • "that had been written of before" = that has been written before (it's nothing new)

A: "I would have those men beaten."
B: "Which men are you talking about?"
A: "Any man who writes anything in Mathematiques that has already been added!"

In other words, if anyone thinks of writing something in Mathematiques a second time, he will make sure they get a beating for doing so.

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