I fly to my book as the opium-smoker to his pipe. I would sooner read the catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores than nothing at all. At one time I never went out without a secondhand bookseller's list in my pocket. I know no reading more fruity. Of course to read in this way is as reprehensive as doping, and I never cease to wonder at the impertience of great readers who, becouse they are such, look down on the illiterate. From the standpoint of what eternity is it better to have read a thousand books than to have ploughed a million furrows?

Hello, MrP.

How do you interpret 'from the standpoint of what eternity' here?
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Comments  (Page 2) 
Hi Taka,
This is getting a tad philosophical, but that can be interesting.

I checked my dictionary, and it too has 'absolute truth' as one meaning of 'eternities'. I've never heard it used that way before. I would perhaps have said 'verities' for such a meaning.
We do occasionally find the phrase 'eternal verities'.

It's Somerset Maugham who raised the thought of more than one eternity, in other words eternities, in his rhetoric, and he clearly wasn't using the meaning of 'absolute truths'.

I guess 'eternity' seems so all-encompassing to me that it seems hard to see the difference between one eternity and, say, three eternities. I have the same trouble with the idea of multiple universes.

(Hope you don't mind my mentioning my name is spelled ....
Oh dear. Never let grammarians loose near poetical writing! Of course Clive is quite right. Mr.P is also right to say that it "is a slightly sarcastic rhetorical question", but of course any comparison looks pretty pointless from the "standpoint of eternity", as far as we can make out what that is. The phrase "from the standpoint of what eternity" is a slightly silly, a little fey, and probably that is meant to reflect the daftness of the people who think that books of whatever stamp are sacred items.
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I can't pretend to any special understanding either of poetical writings or grammar, unfortunately. But in answer to Taka's last question:

In some contexts, it would be better (e.g. more advantageous) to have read a 1000 books. In other contexts, it would be better (e.g. more advantageous) to have ploughed 1m furrows. These however would be temporal contexts. 'In the context of eternity', i.e. non-temporally, neither activity is 'better' than the other, because 'betterness' is a temporal concept (something must be 'better' for 'someone or 'some purpose'; and 'someone' or 'some purpose' must be temporal).

This is of course a relativistic, rather than an absolutist position. (I believe that Maugham would have tended to the former.)

Hi Taka,

From Webster

1 : the quality or state of being eternal
2 : infinite time
AGE 3b: the length of an existence extending from the beginning to any given time (a boy 10 years of age) d : LIFETIME
4 : the state after death : IMMORTALITY
5 : a seemingly endless or immeasurable time

Synonyms: infinity, perpetuity
Related Words: boundlessness, endlessness, interminableness, permanence, timelessness

[n] a state of eternal existence believed in some religions to characterize the afterlife
[n] time without end
[n] a seemingly endless time interval

Cambridge advanced learners'

1 time which never ends or which has no limits:


Indefinite continuance; indefinite time; without beginning; without end;time felt as endless, or indefinitely remote; timelessness; the condition which begins at death; the future life.

I have found no definition of "eternities" as 'absolute truth', though 'an eternal truth' may be defined as such.
Clive (Sorry for spelling your name wrong).
I guess 'eternity' seems so all-encompassing to me that it seems hard to see the difference between one eternity and, say, three eternities.

So, what do you think the writer's 'eternity' is? Do you think it's the same as MrP's 'non-temporally'? Or is it something else?


I know those definitions. Thank you. And my question is, why did you interpret the 'eternity' as 'from the beginning to the end of time', which seems to be quite opposite to the definitions in dictionaries?

Never let grammarians loose near poetical writing!

I like that comment!
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Maybe I was thinking of 'eternity' in terms of this definition, Taka, which is amongst those I sent you.

"existence extending from the beginning to any given time "
I see, abbie.
Hi Taka,
I think the writer's 'eternity' is essentially a literary device.

I have a little trouble conceptualizing 'non-temporal' in this discussion. I think the context of 'time' is hard-wired into our brains. That's why we often speak of the beginning or the end of eternity.

Obviously, eternity is also a religious concept. That's why an alternate meaning of 'temporal' is 'secular as compared to ecclesiastical'.

In everyday English, we often say things like 'The class was really boring. It went on for an eternity'.

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This will no doubt complicate matters still further; but when I see Maugham's phrase 'from the standpoint of what eternity', I'm reminded of the philosophical catchphrase sub specie æternitatis, i.e. 'from eternity's point of view', which is (or rather, was once) used in discussions such as the one Maugham invokes here (learning vs practical accomplishments).

For this reason, I spoke of 'temporal contexts'. It is sometimes argued that 'from eternity's point of view', it is not possible to speak of temporal things, because temporal things have a beginning and an end, which imply change; whereas 'eternity' is incompatible with change, and has no beginning and no end.

This is something of a philosophical byway, and I wouldn't care to press the point, or indeed the interpretation I gave before; on the other hand, Maugham was no stranger to philosophical byways.

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