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I came across a sentence in an English book of the eighteenth century which compelled me to puzzle about its word usage. The context behind this sentence is the story about the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, who being on his deathbed, appeals to his son to reign in such a way to deserve sincere affections of the citizens and make use of no cruelty. In particular, he says:

Such alone, as obey with good-will, and not from necessity, are to be confided in, and will obey their prince, or suffer for him, without flattery and dissimulation.

Even though I am able to recognize the general meaning of the sentence, still the bolded words go over my head:

  1. What does such alone mean here? I can't find this word combination in the internet at all.
  2. May as be used as a relative pronoun (instead of which/that)? Does it sound OK in the modern (formal) English?
  3. Nowadays one should say 'I do something (out) of necessity', but here the preposition from put in action. Does it sound old-fashioned/formal today?

1 Answer 1

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Such alone, as obey with good-will, and not from necessity, are to be confided in, and will obey their prince, or suffer for him, without flattery and dissimulation.

In modern English we would replace "such alone, as" with "only those that" or "only those who":

Only those who obey with goodwill, and not from necessity, are to be confided in, and will obey their prince, or suffer for him, without flattery and dissimulation.

It would also read better if "with goodwill" and "from necessity" used the same preposition - for instance, "out of goodwill and not out of necessity".

The dictionaries record this use of "such as" / "as":

Such as archaic Those who. ‘such as alter in a moment, win not credit in a month’ (Lexico)

And "as" can indeed be regarded as a pronoun here:

As (Entry 3 of 9) pronoun 1 : that, who, which —used after same or such: tears such as angels weep …— John Milton - and chiefly dialect after a substantive not modified by same or such: … that kind of fruit as maids call medlars …— William Shakespeare (Merriam-Webster)

In modern formal English you could still use "such as" this way, though it is not a common usage. That said, to use "such as" as the subject of this type of non-interrogative clause (as in the original sentence "such alone as obey...") is not possible in modern-day English. But neither can "who" be used there any more - we have to say "those who". Except for a few fixed expressions like "who dares wins", modern standard English requires "those who" in this type of sentence. "Whoever" can stand alone, but "who" normally can't: "whoever finds it can keep it" is standard English, but "who finds it can keep it" is dialectal or archaic.

I agree that "out of necessity" is more usual, but "from necessity" is still in use today.

  • "It may not be recommended, but, from necessity or choice, many of us find ourselves working from [bed]" (Guardian)
  • "From necessity, they adopted a guerrilla campaign." (BBC)
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  • @Mergasov Another common construction is "by necessity." This ngram shows that both "from" and "by" used to be more common than they are today, that "out of" has grown in popularity in modern times, but that "by" has survived better than "from." Nov 6, 2021 at 20:01

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