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The following question is motivated by another question, now removed by the OP, and that I feel it didn't received enough attention.

More than a decade later, about the time that our feudalism was in the last throes of existence, Carl Marx, writing his Capital, called the attention of his readers to the peculiar advantage of studying the social and political institutions of feudalism, as then to be seen in living form only in Japan. Source

In the text above, I found very confusing the use of "to be seen" to refer to a current fact. From the context, I imagine the meaning of this phrase is:

as then seen to be in living form only in Japan

or simply:

as then seen in living form only in Japan

This ngram hints that "as to be" is an expression falling in disuse.

I have tried to locate similar uses, but this has proven to be a "find a needle in a haystack" job because of other more common uses of "as to":

  • so as to do something "she had put her hair up so as to look older"

  • so good as to do something "Would you be so kind as to do this for me?

  • such a way as to be "Under these conditions, the communications from the more powerful person is structured in such a way as to be totally inconsistent"

For this question, I'm hoping someone can shed some light on:

  • the use of "as to be"
  • and perhaps some of the history behind this use.
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    The usage in your top example is a bit of an archaism (that is, an old-fashioned use), and archaisms are, unfortunately, as much an affectation in "academic" writing as twisted an unnecessary neologisms (new words or phrases that do not have a well-established meaning yet). The first two of your other examples are regionalisms, found commonly in some areas and almost unheard of in others. The final example is a standard and current use of that combination of words. That said, this is a more appropriate question for English Language and Usage. – Stan Rogers Mar 24 '14 at 14:42
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    I think I had a stab at an answer to this some time ago. I know no history behind the phrase so answering it wouldn't be a decent use of anyone's time. ...I may also add (so as to cause confusion) that I commonly say this so as to sound more verbose in conversation. – MMJZ Mar 24 '14 at 17:51
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This is a confusion of two different expressions:

  1. as seen, which has a variety of uses:

    Chopin, as seen by his pupils ... = how his pupils saw Chopin
    Professor Hunt discusses Keats' relation as a poet to his Elizabethan forerunners, as seen in his love of nature ... = which may be discerned in his love of nature
    As seen on television ... = the same one or of the sort you see on television

  2. to be seen, which as used here means approximately which may be seen

    Uccello's violent one-point perspective, to be seen in his Battle of Romano series.

The author of this passage was not a native speaker; but he was highly educated and a very literate writer. I think his mistake arose because he was trying to say two things at once: that in Marx' day feudalism as a living form was to be seen only in Japan, and that Marx was inviting his readers to examine feudalism of the sort you see in Japan.


By the way: I think you can ignore that Ngram. I glanced at fifty or so the hits and they were all components of different constructions, mostly so as to be = in order to be or so ADJ as to be = so ADJ that it was.

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  • When I try to use "to be seen" in the quoted text: "called the attention of his readers to the peculiar advantage of studying the social and political institutions of feudalism, then to be seen in living form only in Japan", still gives me the impression of having the wrong tense. I understand "then to be seen" as something not seen yet. What am I missing? – Nico Mar 26 '14 at 1:05
  • then to be seen only in Japan means which then could be seen only in Japan. To VERB constructions have no tense, they are non-finite and take their temporal reference from the context. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 26 '14 at 2:16
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as then to be seen = as it was then to be seen

Let me rephrase it for you:

called the attention of his readers to the peculiar advantage of studying the social and political institutions of feudalism, the type of which you could see in living form only in Japan at the time.

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  • When I read "as it was then to be seen" I understand that before then it was not seen, i.e. it was only seen afterwards; which isn't meaning used in the quoted text. – Nico Mar 26 '14 at 0:59
  • Hi Nico, it is possible that that's what the author wanted to express. Having said that, "as it was then to be seen": you can break it up into two parts if that helps: as it was then = the way it was, back then to be seen = possible to observe So there's two ideas within that one phrase (like StoneyB pointed out, although I don't agree that there is grammatical confusion). – Alex Mar 26 '14 at 11:30

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