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I don't really understand what this passage means....I especially(.... does particularly sound better?) don't understand why 'At least' suddenly comes out....The first sentence is quite a mystery as well...

' Ladies, what man's love is there that would stand a year's nursing of the object of his affection? Whereas a nurse will stand by you for ten pounds a quarter, and we think her too highly paid. At least Mr Crawley grumbled a good deal about paying half as much to Miss Hester for her constand attendance upon the Baronet his father.'

Thank you very much to everybody who are giving up their precious time to read this and answer my questions.....^^
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'What man would be willing to take care of his sick wife or mistress for a year? And yet, a nurse will take care of us for £40 a year, and we even consider that expensive. Mr. Crawley may not have felt exactly this way, but at least he complained about paying Hester £20 a year to take care of his father.'
Thank you.....now I understand the first sentence perfectly. BUT I still don't understand why 'At least' came out. Even in your version 'we' complain about paying £40 a year. Mr.Crawley doesn't exactly feel this way but complained about paying £20 a year.

What doesn't Mr.Crawley feel 'this way'? £40 a year being a lot or willingness to take care of his sick father?

Thanks
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If you don't mind my jumping in, I have an idea about "at least". The general idea is that people complain about the cost of nurses. The specific idea is that Mr. Crawley complained about the cost of a particular nurse.

There is a general tendency to use "at least" between a general statement and a specific example that illustrates the generality. The idea of the "at least" is that maybe the general statement is not really universally true, but there is (at least) one example that supports the general statement.

People are stupid. At least my brother is!
Trips by train are horribly uncomfortable. At least my train trip through southern Italy was.
New Yorkers are a rude lot. At least the doorman at the Waldorf was rude to us.
Everyone loves roast beef -- at least everyone in our family.

Nurses are really too highly paid for what they do. At least Mr. Crawley thought so, since he complained about paying for nursing service for his father.

Emotion: smile
At least Mr Crawley grumbled a good deal about paying half as much to Miss Hester for her constant attendance upon the Baronet his father.

The meaning of "at least" in the above sentence is equivalent to "certainly".

Certainly Mr Crawley grumbled a good deal about paying half as much to Miss Hester for her constant attendance upon the Baronet his father.

The function of "at least" or "certainly" in these sentences is to set off a specific example that adds additional weight to a prior assertion.

People are stupid. At least my brother is!
People are stupid. My brother certainly is!

Trips by train are horribly uncomfortable. At least my train trip through southern Italy was.
Trips by train are horribly uncomfortable. My train trip through southern Italy certainly was.

Everyone loves roast beef -- at least everyone in our family.
Everyone loves roast beef -- certainly everyone in our family.
Hello all

I find a sense of ellipsis here; the 'at least' and 'certainly' versions seem to be slightly different derivatives of the 'full' version, where 'certainly' ~ 'it is the case that':

'People are stupid. It is at least the case that my brother is.'

I read the 'at least' version as a 'step back' from a too-general assertion:

'People are stupid. At least, my brother is.' ('I realize that my original assertion was perhaps over-emphatic. I now give at least one example, to demonstrate that it wasn't just a wild generalisation.')

Whereas the 'certainly' version denotes an aggressive strengthening of the position:

'People are stupid. Certainly my brother is!' ('I realize that you may think my original assertion was too emphatic. I disagree. I hereby strengthen it with an undeniable example.')

At least, that's what I think.

MrP
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Thanks everyone, I am so grateful for all your interests in my question.

Another question,

1.how does 'taking out your time' sound?

2.how does 'I am so grateful for all your interests in my question' sound?

Thanks to everyone
I agree with MrP's point, which I summarize as follows:

1. "At least", though it emphasizes an assertion by way of an example, has the sense of "stepping back" out of fear that the original statement may have been overly inclusive.

2. "Certainly" is used to introduce an example that adds further weight to an assertion without - or less of - the sense of "stepping back".

My thanks to MrP for his keen semantic observation.
To answer JK's last question:

1. Sorry, I'm not sure what "taking our your time" is intended to mean.

2. I would write it as: "I am so grateful to all of you for your interest in my question". Note that "interest" is usually a non-count noun, so should not be pluralized.
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