I am reading "Quality" by John Galsworthy and there are some phrases and lines which I could not grasp. I thought that this site would be the perfect place to ask this question. Below are some lines from the story from the beginning.

I knew him from the days of my extreme youth, because he made my father's boots; inhabiting with his elder brother two little shops let into one, in a small by-street--now no more, but then most fashionably placed in the West End.

That tenement had a certain quiet distinction; there was no sign upon its face that he made for any of the Royal Family--merely his own German name of Gessler Brothers; and in the window a few pairs of boots.

I remember that it always troubled me to account for those unvarying boots in the window, for he made only what was ordered, reaching nothing down, and it seemed so inconceivable that what he made could ever have failed to fit. Had he bought them to put there? That, too, seemed inconceivable. He would never have tolerated in his house leather on which he had not worked himself.

Besides, they were too beautiful--the pair of pumps, so inexpressibly slim, the patent leathers with cloth tops, making water come into one's mouth, the tall brown riding boots with marvelous sooty glow, as if, though new, they had been worn a hundred years. Those pairs could only have been made by one who saw before him the Soul of Boot--so truly were they prototypes incarnating the very spirit of all foot-gear.

These thoughts, of course, came to me later, though even when I was promoted to him, at the age of perhaps fourteen, some inkling haunted me of the dignity of himself and brother. For to make boots--such boots as he made--seemed to me then, and still seems to me, mysterious and wonderful.

My Questions:

  1. What does the phrase "two little shops let into one" mean? Does it mean that Does it mean that the shop consisted of two "shops" and there was one entrance into the shop?

  2. What does the phrase "reaching nothing down" mean? I think it means that he did not make more shoes than required, that is, he only made what was required.

  3. What does "the tall brown riding boots with marvelous sooty glow, as if, though new, they had been worn a hundred years" mean? I think it means that by looking at those shoes one could understand that the shoes were the epitome of endurance.

  4. What does "These thoughts, of course, came to me later, though even when I was promoted to him, at the age of perhaps fourteen, some inkling haunted me of the dignity of himself and brother." mean? I am unsure of its meaning.

  5. What does "When one grew old and wild and ran up bills, one somehow never ran them up with Gessler Brothers. It would not have seemed becoming to go in there and stretch out one’s foot to that blue iron-spectacled glance, owing him for more than — say — two pairs, just the comfortable reassurance that one was still his client." mean? I think that the first sentence means that the shoes made by him were affordable so one never fell into debts with them. I am unsure of the second part of the paragraph.

Thanks for your help.

  • (iv): "promoted to him" means "introduced to him". Commented May 1, 2018 at 10:23
  • @kimchilover, i know that. I was asking about the second part.
    – MrAP
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 10:25
  • How about: "even at age 14 or so, when I was introduced to them, it was clear to me that they were worthy of respect" Commented May 1, 2018 at 10:30

1 Answer 1


Most of the difficulties can be resolved with a comprehensive dictionary. In this answer I’ll be quoting from the Oxford English Dictionary.

  1. ‘Let’ means:

    To grant the temporary possession and use of (land, buildings, rooms, movable property) to another in consideration of rent or hire.

    So originally there were two shops next door to each other. They were both let to the Gesslers, who joined them into single shop, by creating an opening between the two. Perhaps one shop was used for receiving customers and the other as a workshop.

  2. “Reach something down” means:

    to take down from a certain place or position

    for example, from a shelf. If the Gesslers had stocked ready-made boots on their shelves, then they would have been able to reach them down for their customers. But they did not do this: all their products were made to order.

  3. In the narrator’s imagination, the Gesslers’ riding boots have, when new, the colour and shine that an ordinary boot might develop after a hundred years of riding, cleaning and polishing. (I think this is quite fanciful, though: a real boot, even of the highest quality, would surely not survive a hundred years of use.)

  4. “These thoughts” refers to the ideas in the preceding paragraph (the “Soul of Boot” and so on). They came to the narrator at a later date than “the days of my extreme youth”. ‘Promote’ means:

    To publicize or advertise … to publish

    So to say that the narrator “was promoted to him” means that the narrator was advertized to him, which is a way of saying that he was introduced to him, but with the added nuance that a commercial transaction is in prospect: namely, that the narrator will be purchasing boots in the future.

    ‘Inkling’ means:

    A hint, a slight intimation, or suggestion

    and ‘haunt’ means:

    To visit frequently or habitually

    Putting this together, we might paraphrase the sentence like this: “After I was introduced to him, at the age of perhaps fourteen, I often felt a hint of the quality of him and his brother, and later I elaborated this into the idea that they might see the very Soul of Boot.”

    Note the use of “himself and brother” where we would normally write “him and his brother”. This is a feature of some English dialects, whereby kinship terms are used as if names. Or possibly the narrator is reflecting a peculiarity of the Gesslers’ speech.

  5. The narrator never incurred a large debt to the Gesslers, but not because the boots were affordable, rather because “it would not have seemed becoming” to do so. ‘Becoming’ means:

    Befitting, suitable … proper

    So if he had incurred a large debt with the Gesslers, the narrator would have felt it improper to request another pair, perhaps intimidated or embarrassed by the sense of dignity and quality that he identified in the brothers.

    It is not clear to me how the clause “just the comfortable reassurance that one was still his client” works grammatically with the rest of this sentence. Possibly some words have been omitted.

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