(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XX, published 1892)

Passage 319

But before he was out of long clothes, the cloven foot began to show; he proved to be no Carthew, developed a taste for low pleasures and bad company, went birdnesting with a stable-boy before he was eleven, and when he was near twenty, and might have been expected to display at least some rudiments of the family gravity, rambled the country over with a knapsack, making sketches and keeping company in wayside inns. He had no pride about him, I was told; he would sit down with any man; and it was somewhat woundingly implied that I was indebted to this peculiarity for my own acquaintance with the hero. Unhappily, Mr. Norris was not only eccentric, he was fast. His debts were still remembered at the University; still more, it appeared, the highly humorous circumstances attending his expulsion. “He was always fond of his jest,” commented Mrs. Higgs.

“That he were!” observed her lord.

But it was after he went into the diplomatic service that the real trouble began.

“It seems, sir, that he went the pace extraordinary,” said the ex-butler, with a solemn gusto.

“His debts were somethink awful,” said the lady's-maid. “And as nice a young gentleman all the time as you would wish to see!”

Methinks the literal meaning doesn't work in this context - it seems to be a phrase. What does "he went the pace" mean there? Maybe it's obsolete usage.

  • 2
    I think this RLS book is getting a bit wearisome. I don't want to answer in case this question is booted: P.1.b. 1829– colloquial. to go the pace: to move at great speed in the course of a hunt, race, etc.; (hence) to proceed in a vigorous, energetic, or dissipated way. For some reason, it appeared: oed.com/dictionary/pace_n1
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 20:21
  • 4
    @philphil I suspected that before long you would be using outdated expressions such as methinks. I suggest you put RLS to one side, as you are plainly struggling with it anyway, and read something more contemporary. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 20:30
  • 1
    @WeatherVane The OED has labelled methinks as being both “archaic” as well as “poetic and literary”. It’s a rather interesting word, philologically speaking, for any number of reasons beyond the scope of this comment. And while its use has waned over time, it has not yet garnered the defunctory label “obsolete”, for even now they place it in their Frequency Band 4. ’Tisn’t e’en a mite unusual t’come ’pon it from time to time in daily life, ’specially for jocularities such as the OP’s. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 14:54
  • 1
    I think every who did any Shakespeare at all knows: 'The lady doth protest too much, methinks. usually misquoted. Somehow "methinks" just sticks in the brain and is still used by English speakers in jest.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 16:32
  • 1
    @tchrist yes, OP wrote it in italic text, presumably with a SOH :) Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 21:21

2 Answers 2


to go the pace

1829– colloquial. to go the pace: to move at great speed in the course of a hunt, race, etc.; (hence) to proceed in a vigorous, energetic, or dissipated way.

1905 “Well, you have been going the pace! We always knew you were a hot un, but really—”.
A. Bennett, Tales of Five Towns

extraordinary is just an intensifier adverb here.

  • OP presumably knows this: it's in the question title. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 20:42
  • @WeatherVane The OP does not know the meaning of go to the pace. which is why he asked for it, and the definition is not in the title.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 21:39
  • 1
    And I think extraordinary is the adjective being used as an adverb - 'to an extraordinary extent'. Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 9:25
  • 1
    It's reminiscent of the archaism 'trip the light fantastic'; I'd say it's an unusual postnominal positioning of an adjective: 'He made extraordinary progress'. //// Ah, just got to WV's answer. Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 15:00

It is a postpositive adjective or postnominal adjective, placed after the noun.

Some more common examples are

attorney general
queen regnant
matters financial
court martial

So 'pace extraordinary' means 'extraordinary pace' and I presume you can look up 'pace'.

In the context given, I think the idea is rather more than being 'fast', which apparently Norris was already known for. After going into the diplomatic service, 'fast' became the pace extraordinary and Norris lived beyond his means and got into debt. Perhaps in the modern idiom

He lived life in the fast lane.

Farlex has

A lifestyle in which one engages in energetic, pleasure-driven, and often risky behavior.

An exciting, competitive, high-pressure activity or life-style.

  • to go the pace is a colloquial idiom.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 16:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .