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In chapter 12 of The Just Men of Cordova (1917) by Edgar Wallace, the author was describing a crowd in a horse racing:

There were regular followers of the game who had known no holiday, and had followed the jumping season with religious attention. There were rich men and comparatively poor men; little tradesmen who found this the most delightful of their holidays; members of Parliament who had snatched a day from the dreariness of the Parliamentary debates; sharpers on the look-out for possible victims; these latter quiet, unobtrusive men whose eyes were constantly on the move for a likely subject. There was a sprinkling of journalists, cheery and sceptical, young men and old men, farmers in their gaiters—all drawn together in one great brotherhood by a love of the sport of kings.

Actually this statement is a bit obscure for me because of the arrangement of commas; I mean that it should have been written "cheery and sceptical young men and old men" without the second comma, if it refers to the young men and old men, right?

And if it refers to the journalists, then I can't get why would the author describe the journalists as such?!

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From the context of reading the whole quote, the author is trying to describe the diversity of the crowd. As such, to my reading the four clauses separated by commas are each self-contained. I read it like this:

  • There were people from optimistic (cheery) through to pessimistic (sceptical)

  • All ages of men were there

  • He saw all sorts of people from different walks of life: different professions / different classes / from both country and city

He includes journalists as an example of modern, intellectual city dwellers, and farmers as traditional, manual-working country folk. Remember this was written more than 100 years ago, before farming was industrialised and when journalism was probably a cutting edge profession of "modernity" and the contrast is even more stark.

Combine this with tradesmen, politicians, and "sharpers" (con-men) from the previous sentence to build up the broad range of the "great brotherhood" that he is describing.

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  • Thank you so much. Comprehensive explanation. Nov 5 '20 at 12:52
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The adjective group "cheery and skeptical" refers back to the journalists. I assume the reason for putting it after "journalists" instead of before it has to do with rhythm. Compare the rhythm with Wallace's version with the alternative:

Wallace:

There was a sprinkling of journalists, | cheery and sceptical, | young men and old men, | farmers in their gaiters (...)

Alternative version:

There was a sprinkling of cheery and sceptical journalists, | young men and old men, | farmers in their gaiters (...)

In Wallace's version, you have a subtle pause after each word group, each of which is balanced: "sprinkling of journalists" (two substantives on each side of "of"), "cheery and sceptical" (two adjectives on each side of "and"), "young men and old men" (an adjective-noun combination on each side of "and")and "farmers in their gaiters" (two nouns on each side of "in their"). In each group, the words that carry meaning (nouns and adjectives) are nicely balanced around the words in between them. After each group, the reader can pause briefly (and, if reading aloud, breathe in again during any of these breaks).

When you look at the alternative version, "a sprinkling of cheery and sceptical journalists" becomes a long phrase without the balance or the breaks that you see in Wallace's version. In addition, putting the adjectives before "journalists" would give them more prominence, which may not have been the author's intent. By putting them after the noun, they become less prominent, even almost an afterthought.

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  • That makes more sense. Thank you so much. Nov 4 '20 at 15:25

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