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I found this on Sherlock Holmes "A Study in Scarlet"

"For days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night. On these occasions I have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion"

Here I can't get the proper meaning connecting the highlighted phrase to the italic sentence.

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    You might never have learned to interpret this scrap of English, had not kind individuals responded constructively to your post. Commented Jun 18 at 13:58
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    Compare the opening two lines from Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress: “Had we but world enough and time, // This coyness, lady, were no crime.” We would express this thought in 21st-century prose by, “If time weren’t fleeting, then your coyness would be no problem.” Commented Jun 18 at 14:02
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    We could add that Sherlock's opium use was a situation that Watson saw but didn't want to see. So the had not serves a bit to hide the meaning, or soften it - for politeness. Commented Jun 18 at 14:02
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    Ok, @Lambie, did you read something of the pejorative into my phrase? Heck, Marvell’s poem—and largely because of its first two lines—is a marvel. Commented Jun 18 at 14:05
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    @Lambie, of course you know the term a scrap of. What I don’t know is what you should have found objectionable about my referring to some lovely phraseology that can be very useful as a “scrap of English.” It was intended quite neutrally, but you seem to have read into it something of the pejorative. So I ask more explicitly, wherein does mea culpa lie? Commented Jun 18 at 16:11

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Sample utterance: had not is a literary and formal use of a phrase. It can sometimes be somewhat old-fashioned. It can be used to avoid using a normal if clause.

[the first part is not relevant to this analysis]:

I might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion

had not is a replacement mechanism for: if the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life had not forbidden such a notion.

Also, notice that had not forbidden follows the verb might have suspected in the simple past. had not is placed at the beginning of the clause with the past participle [forbidden] after the subject. had not the temperance and cleanliness forbidden, instead of if the temperance and cleanliness had not forbidden. had not forbidden would be the standard order.

Another example: The boy would/might/could have drowned in the river had not his brother jumped in to save him just in time.

That is the same as: The boy would have drowned in the river if his brother had not jumped in to save him just in time.

In such cases, the verb had not forbidden [a transitive verb] is separated into two parts and the subject of the sentence is placed after had not.

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    Very clear to me. thank you
    – M.Hasitha
    Commented Jun 18 at 13:57
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    @M.Hasitha By the way, note that this is a bit of an old-fashioned usage. It's important to understand it, but the un-inverted version "if [noun] had not [verbed]" would be more common today. Commented Jun 18 at 15:23
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In this context, "had not" introduces a clause that specifies what prevented the outcome previously described.

For days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night. On these occasions I have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion.

In this instance, the voice says that something "might have" happened" if something "had not" been the case.

"Had not" could be substituted with 'if', although that can also be used for future conditions. "Had not" emphasises something that already existed or had been proven to be the case.

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It's an unusual sentence construction. You will typically see sentences written like this only in literature.

"had not X been true" can be rewritten in more modern conversational English as "if X had not been true".

This allows you to reword the sentence like this: "I have noticed such a vacant expression that I might have suspected him of narcotic addiction if his temperance had not forbidden it." Or even more plainly, "He looks like he's on drugs, but I don't suspect him of that because he lives a clean life overall."

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  • You have repeated what I say in my answer.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 18 at 14:08

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