The annihilator, as it turned out, was really a good-natured young man; but he soon went off to Cambridge; and with the rest, or some of them, I continued to wage war for nearly a year. And yet, for a word spoken with kindness, I would have resigned the peacock's feather in my cap as the merest of baubles. Undoubtedly praise sounded sweet in my ears also. But that was nothing by comparison with what stood on the other side. I detested distinctions that were connected with mortification to others. And, even if I could have got over that, the eternal feud fretted and tormented my nature. Love, that once in childhood had been so mere a necessity to me, that had long been a mere reflected ray from a departed sunset. But peace, and freedom from strife, if love were no longer possible (as so rarely it is in this world), was the absolute necessity of my heart. To contend with somebody was still my fate; how to escape the contention I could not see; and yet for itself, and the deadly passions into which it forced me, I hated and loathed it more than death. It added to the distraction and internal feud of my own mind, that I could not altogether condemn the upper boys. I was made a handle of humiliation to them. And, in the mean time, if I had an advantage in one accomplishment, which is all a matter of accident, or peculiar taste and feeling, they, on the other hand, had a great advantage over me in the more elaborate difficulties of Greek, and of choral Greek poetry. I could not altogether wonder at their hatred of myself. Yet still, as they had chosen to adopt this mode of conflict with me, I did not feel that I had any choice but to resist. The contest was terminated for me by my removal from the school, in consequence of a very threatening illness affecting my head; but it lasted nearly a year, and it did not close before several amongst my public enemies had become my private friends. They were much older, but they invited me to the houses of their friends, and showed me a respect which deeply affected me,− this respect having more reference, apparently, to the firmness I had exhibited, than to the splendor of my verses. And, indeed, these had rather drooped, from a natural accident; several persons of my own class had formed the practice of asking me to write verses for them. I could not refuse. But, as the subjects given out were the same for all of us, it was not possible to take so many crops off the ground without starving the quality of all.

-- Suspiria De Profundis, Thomas De Quincey

The bold sentence made me confused. I would write it down this way, "even if I could have got over that, the eternal feud would have fretted and tormented my nature."

If the main clause talks about a truth, it'll be OK to avoid using the "would have + past participle" construction in hypothetical contexts?

  • 2
    I suspect the reason you haven't received any answers yet is that you have four questions related only by their source material. Consider splitting this post into four separate posts. That way people who feel they have a good response to one of your questions can address just that one.
    – Adam
    Jan 14, 2015 at 17:34

1 Answer 1


Q1 - Merest means least valuable, and bauble is a trinket of little worth. The sentence is basically saying, "I value the peacock's feather in my cap, but kind words are much more valuable."

Q2 - You're technically correct, but since the eternal feud would have fretted and tormented my nature whether or not I could have got over that, the sentence as worded is also correct, and the wording is more smooth.

Q3 - The speaker becomes the handle of humiliation for them and becomes this handle due to work of some unspoken power, whereas "I made a handle of humiliation to them" sounds like the speaker made some other thing the handle of humiliation.

Q4 - "If" here is not interchangeable with "when". "If" means it may or may not happen (conditional), but "when" means it has happened, or will happen.

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