The long awaited moment at last came and we set out for station, as merry a band of children as I had ever seen before or since.

What is the meaning of the highlighted text? I think it means We were as happy as a band of children that we have never been before or since.

Am I right?

  • Your "revised" version is grammatically valid, but semantically it wouldn't actually make sense in any context I can imagine. It's fine to make a comparison to something unknown in a usage such as Look at this! It's like nothing [that] you've ever seen before!, but that's not really the same construction. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 23 '18 at 12:11
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    ...The actual cited text is just a dated / poetic way of saying neither before nor since have I ever seen a band of children more merry than we were at that moment. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 23 '18 at 12:17

"..as merry a band of children as I had ever seen before or since".

Your evaluation is correct, in this instance "merry" means "happy".

The word is used less frequently in modern English than perhaps it once was, except perhaps at Christmas. It is sometimes used idiomatically to describe someone who is slightly drunk.

Its use in your example though is also idiomatic because it appears alongside the term "band" (meaning group), and "merry band" is a recognisable old-fashioned term that is sometimes used. I suspect it may be a reference to the legend of Robin Hood and his band of merry men.

So in its entirety it means that the writer has never seen such a happy group of children before; that is to say they were the happiest children he had ever seen, not the happiest that he had seen that particular group.

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