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In Hardy's The Distracted Preacher, the first page has this really long sentence:

But when those of the inhabitants who styled themselves of his connection became acquainted with him, they were rather pleased with the substitute than otherwise, though he had scarcely as yet acquired ballast of character sufficient to steady the consciences of the hundred-and-forty Methodists of pure blood who, at this time, lived in Nether-Moynton, and to give in addition supplementary support to the mixed race which went to church in the morning and chapel in the evening, or when there was a tea--as many as a hundred-and-ten people more, all told, and including the parish-clerk in the winter-time, when it was too dark for the vicar to observe who passed up the street at seven o'clock--which, to be just to him, he was never anxious to do.

This is probably a really simple answer, but given the length of this sentence I'm having trouble determining what "he was never anxious to do"? Is it go to a tea? Is it steadying the consciences of / giving supplementary support to the people in the town? Is it becoming acquainted with the inhabitants?

Also curious whether this technically qualifies as a run-on sentence? It's certainly one of the longest ones I've seen, and I'm assuming it is included for comedic effect. I haven't yet read other works of Hardy's, so I don't know if this is a common occurrence.

  • You have ruled out the possibility that he has never anxious to observe who passed up the street at seven o'clock? – user14111 Nov 26 at 1:13
  • Well I pretty much ignored the em dash aside in the middle of the sentence because the part in question appears outside of it. Guess the formatting is not rendered faithfully here. And upon further review, it doesn’t make much sense to me that way. But if you think that’s it you could post it as an answer? – shim Nov 26 at 2:05
  • To me it feels like he was never anxious to "steady the consciences of the 140 Methodists..." and "to give in addition supplementary support to...", i.e. function as a preacher to those parts of the congregation. But I agree that it is debatable. – Jos Nov 26 at 12:50
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In the winter, the Parish Clerk goes to tea with the Methodists. The vicar turns a blind eye to this:

in the winter-time, when it was too dark for the vicar to observe [...] which [...] he was never anxious to do.

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    This seems correct. To address what the OP said in comments to rule out this interpretation: it seems that the two em dashes do not mark off an aside from the main sentence, but rather they are independent, marking an aside and then a further aside within the aside. – Rand al'Thor Nov 28 at 17:46
  • So, the vicar is not anxious to be looking out at the street so late in the evening? Why does he care who is in the street? He wouldn't be pleased with the preacher mixing in with the wrong crowd? Are teas only happening in the winter time? – shim Nov 29 at 0:34

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