+0
Here is a famous passage from a famous book.

Who that cares much to know the history of man, and how the mysterious mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time, has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa, has not smiled with some gentleness at the thought of the little girl walking forth one morning hand-in-hand with her still smaller brother......

Could you tell me why
has not dwelt, at least briefly, = means = has dwelt briefly....

Is it an old form? Wouldn't it be better to switch at least to except?

I think it means ....... has not dwelt, except briefly,.....

Is it a common thing with at least when it means except?
+0
TicceCould you tell me why
has not dwelt, at least briefly, = means = has dwelt briefly..
= has not lived even for a short period of time.
+0
TicceCould you tell me why
has not dwelt, at least briefly, = means = has dwelt briefly..
It doesn't mean that.
TicceIs it an old form?
No.
TicceWouldn't it be better to switch at least to except?
There is no good reason to do so, and besides, the meaning would change if you made that switch.
TicceI think it means ....... has not dwelt, except briefly,.....
No. The meaning is not the same.
TicceIs it a common thing with at least when it means except?
I don't think they are the same.

I think the fact that this is a rhetorical question in the negative may be creating some difficulties. The following sentences have the same feature but, being shorter and simpler, they may help you to see the difficulties.

Hasn't everyone thought about the nature of love, at least once?
(once or more than once; a minimum of one time, possibly more times)

*Hasn't everyone thought about the nature of love, except once?
[difficult to assign any meaning to this]
_____________

Negative "who" and "what" questions in English are often meant to illicit affirmative answers, even though no answer is actually expected. This is done by reasoning through a sort of double negative, thus:

(That movie has been around for years.)
Who hasn't seen that movie?
(No one. No one hasn't seen it.
So: Everybody has seen that movie.)

(He loves to eat. He seems to like all kinds of food.)
What doesn't he eat?
(Nothing. There is nothing that he doesn't eat.
So: He eats everything.)

(He is always getting into trouble.)
What hasn't he done that hasn't got him into trouble?
(Nothing. He hasn't done anything that hasn't got him into trouble.
So: Everything he has done has got him into trouble.)

CJ
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
Comments  
Philip, that's what I would think too. But I was reading the book in Russian transation and they translate it as he (one) did dwell on Teresa's life. (George Eliot, Middlemarch)

"...хотя бы кратко ознакомился с жизнью святой Терезы.... " just in case you know Russian

BWT, this translation makes sense in the context of the story as it shows when one's reading is getting advanced. However, if we take this sentence out of the context I don't see how it can be translated the way it is. May be it is a wrong translation..... well, I don't know as it fits there..... will need to think more about it......
has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa = Has not thought about, even briefly, the life of ST.
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
 CalifJim's reply was promoted to an answer.
TicceI was reading the book in Russian transation and they translate it as he (one) did dwell on Teresa's life.
Translations are almost never literal. Don't be surprised if the phrasing in one language is different from that in another.

The rhetorical question:

Who that is interested in history has not wondered about the frequency of warfare between nations?

can easily be translated as the statement the reader is to infer from the question:

[Anyone / Everyone] who is interested in history has (certainly) wondered about the frequency of warfare between nations.

I strongly suspect that's why there's a negative in the English version and not in the Russian version.

CJ