The validity of the underlined ‘but’

The passage below is from The Library A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree.

Although there were few who could match Niccoli’s generous lending, it was expected that humanist scholars would open up their libraries to others. This was one of the crucial tenets of book collecting that the scholars passed on to their patrons, the political and ecclesiastical elite. The humanists could point to many examples from classical Rome that indicated the lengths to which

Roman generals and emperors had gone to amass great public collections. That these libraries were circumscribed by a limited notion of openness we have already seen, but to the Italian princelings, who believed their world to be Rome incarnate, the building of impressive libraries was a challenge that they readily accepted.

Conjunction ‘but’ is usually used to put two contrary ideas against each other. But in the last sentence with ‘but’ I don’t see any contrary ideas.

Let me explain my thought.

Of two ideas of the last sentence.

➀ Roman generals and emperors who built libraries seemed to limited the access of their collections to the public.

➁ The Italian princelings who were eager to model the Roman ancients were ready to accept to build impressive libraries.

(Of the two ideas, am I right?)

Now my confusion comes about from the fact that these two ideas don’t seem to have any opposing ideas.

Then why is there a BUT in this sentence? What does the purpose this BUT serve?

Thanks in advance.


The previous paragraphs discuss how difficult it was to assemble a reasonably large collection of manuscripts in the age before printing, and how costly it could be. The ancient Roman leaders amassed impressive libraries, which were largely closed to public view.

Nevertheless, (but) the Italian princelings, in their desire to reenact the great Roman libraries, took on the challenge of building large collections. Being humanists, they were eager to share their treasures with other scholars.

The contrast here (with "but") has to be seen not in this sentence or paragraph, but in the ideas the author has been developing in his text.


Hi, I think the main contrast is between Roman generals and emperors (and their notion of limited access), and Italian princelings (who saw themselves as representing Rome incarnate but had a humanist notion of access to books).

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He seems to be making referenece to something from earlier in the book, but I agree with you that "but" makes no sense in that sentence as it stands alone.

 AlpheccaStars's reply was promoted to an answer.

Thanks a lot as always, AlpheccaStars.

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Thanks a lot, cobra cpu 905.

Thanks a lot as always, anonymous.

Most welcome Stenka25. The sentence is not well constructed for clarity.
A point to remember is underlining a "but" is an echo of what's happening with the voice in the author's head, changing it into highly stressed word.

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