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But between ourselves, Windibank, it was as cruel and selfish and heartless a trick in a petty way as ever came before me.

A Case of Identity, short story, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Hi. I’d like to make some changes to this sentence. Are the following versions correct?

1. it was as cruel and selfish and heartless a trick in a petty way as I have ever seen

2. the trick was as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as I have ever seen

3. the trick was as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as I have ever seen it

Thank you.

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zuotengdazuo1. it was as cruel and selfish and heartless a trick in a petty way as I have ever seen

OK.

zuotengdazuo2. the trick was as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as I have ever seen

In normal reading, this reads acceptably to me. Under very close scrutiny, there is a suggestion of the problem that arises in (3).

zuotengdazuo3. the trick was as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as I have ever seen it

Assuming "it" refers to "trick", this implies that the same trick varies in cruelness/heartlessness, which is not the intended meaning of the original sentence.

Comments  
zuotengdazuo1. it was as cruel and selfish and heartless a trick in a petty way as I have ever seen

OK.

zuotengdazuo2. the trick was as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as I have ever seen

No. You no longer say what it is you have seen before. Maybe "the trick was one as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as I have ever seen."

zuotengdazuo3. the trick was as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as I have ever seen it

No. "It" can only refer to this one trick, and you are talking about tricks in general.

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 GPY's reply was promoted to an answer.
GPY
zuotengdazuo2. the trick was as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as I have ever seen

In normal reading, this reads acceptably to me. Under very close scrutiny, there is a suggestion of the problem that arises in (3).

Thank you, GPY. But how could 2 possibly work?

For example, it’s not OK to say “His face was as anguished as I have ever seen.”, if it is not wrong.

From this thread: https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/as-i-have-ever-seen-it.2272029/#post-18446887

I think it makes more sense to say “the trick was as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as any I have ever seen”, which means the same as the original version in that short story, right?

GPY

zuotengdazuo3. the trick was as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as I have ever seen it

Assuming "it" refers to "trick", this implies that the same trick varies in cruelness/heartlessness, which is not the intended meaning of the original sentence.

OK, I see. So 3 would only work if the meaning is “I have never seen the trick appear more cruel, etc. than it was”, which is a strange idea, right?

zuotengdazuoThank you, GPY. But how could 2 possibly work?

I would say that there is enough wiggle-room in the "as X as I have ever seen" pattern for us to adapt it to what we expect the meaning to be, especially in a relatively complicated sentence such as yours. In a shorter sentence, or a sentence where the intended meaning is not so clear, it may be more apparent that there is an issue.

zuotengdazuoFor example, it’s not OK to say “His face was as anguished as I have ever seen.”, if it is not wrong.

If you are talking only about how you have seen his face, it is clearer, in my opinion, to put "it" at the end. This avoids any possibility of ambiguity.

zuotengdazuoI think it makes more sense to say “the trick was as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as any I have ever seen”, which means the same as the original version in that short story, right?

That's preferable, yes.

zuotengdazuoOK, I see. So 3 would only work if the meaning is “I have never seen the trick appear more cruel, etc. than it was”, which is a strange idea, right?

It implies that he has seen the same trick played multiple times, and this time it was the most cruel. This is not necessarily always a strange idea, but it is not what was intended in the original context.

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GPY
zuotengdazuoI think it makes more sense to say “the trick was as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as any I have ever seen”, which means the same as the original version in that short story, right?

That's preferable, yes.

Thank you again. I think, in order to mean the same as the original, the word “ever” should be included in “the trick was as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as any I have ever seen”. If we remove “ever”, then the meaning would change.

For example,

“he should be provided with as large and as fertile a tract of land as any of the settlers” means “he should be provided wth a tract of land that is no less (at least as) large and fertile as that which is provided to any of the settlers".

But if we say “he should be provided with as large and as fertile a tract of land as any of the settlers were ever provided with”, then its meaning would change into “no settlers were provided with a tract of land larger and more fertile than he was entitled to”.

Does it make sense?

zuotengdazuoThank you again. I think, in order to mean the same as the original, the word “ever” should be included in “the trick was as cruel and selfish and heartless in a petty way as any I have ever seen”. If we remove “ever”, then the meaning would change.

"ever" is not essential to the meaning here. It reinforces the idea of "over all time", but we understand this anyway, even if "ever" is omitted. In the original sentence, "ever" is more important to understanding the meaning.

zuotengdazuo“he should be provided with as large and as fertile a tract of land as any of the settlers” means “he should be provided wth a tract of land that is no less (at least as) large and fertile as that which is provided to any of the settlers". But if we say “he should be provided with as large and as fertile a tract of land as any of the settlers were ever provided with”, then its meaning would change into “no settlers were provided with a tract of land larger and more fertile than he was entitled to”.
Does it make sense?

Not to me, no. The difference is that “he should be provided with as large and as fertile a tract of land as any of the settlers” compares his allocation with the settlers' present allocation, while “he should be provided with as large and as fertile a tract of land as any of the settlers were ever provided with” compares his allocation with what the settlers were awarded over a past period of time.