This is a sentence from another question asked here today:

And from all these things the soft light proceeded, like the glimmering of pearls in the depth of water, like the phosphorescent light that moves of itself on the night surface of southern seas, or shines round the heaving shoals, milky-white over their silver darts, in our own dark Channel.

The lyrical and metaphorical image that this sentence presents seems clear to me. What bothers me is the phrase "moves of itself". Does "of itself" here mean the same thing as and come from "in and of itself"? If so, is this a strange/stilted usage? Doesn't "in and of itself" mean something considered alone and appear mostly in legal/philosophical texts?

It seems the sentence could have been written as "the phosphorescent light that moves on the night surface of southern seas". What does "of itself" do in this sentence?

1 Answer 1


Your phrase

moves of itself

is a stylized way of saying

moves by itself

to say

of itself

and plays on images of

of its own volition

gives the light's movements a certain animation and consciousness.

  • This interpretation makes sense. The bone I still gotta pick (with the original text) is I can find no attestations like this on Google Books. All move(d) of itself hits point to the passive voice be moved of itself. It seems no one has used "move of itself" this way as the author of this sentence. In contrast, by itself, as you mention, not only is idiomatic but also shows volition.
    – Eddie Kal
    Sep 3, 2018 at 23:02
  • @Deansue I've found plenty of attestations on Google Books (I searched for "moves of itself"). I'm not a native speaker of English, but to me this turn of phrase sounds unremarkable, if old-fashioned/antiquated. The OED (2nd edition) contains the following definition (12. b.) of of oneself: "by one's own impetus or motion, spontaneously, without the instigation or aid of another." E.g., from 1707: The Goats..would many of them come of themselves to be milked. : )
    – user3395
    Sep 4, 2018 at 8:56

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