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CONJUNCTIONS. But meaning prevention

"But" signifying prevention. The following passages illustrate the "preventive" meaning of but:

“Have you no countermand for Claudio yet
But he must die to-morrow?

i.e. "to prevent that he must die." If "but" were the ordinary adversative, it would be "but must he die?"

“That song to-night
Will not go from my mind: I have much to do
But (to prevent myself) to go hang my head all at one side
And sing it, like poor Barbara.

“Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty but to gabble like
tinkers at this time of night?

i.e. "to prevent you from gabbling," or, as Shakespeare could write, "to gabble." See 349.

After verbs of "denying" and "doubting" which convey a notion of hindrance, but is often thus used:

“I doubt not but to ride as fast as York.

"I have no doubt (i.e. fear) about being prevented from riding." So 1 Hen. IV. ii. 2. 14:

“It must not be denied but I am a plain dealing villain.

"There must be no denial to prevent my being supposed a plain-dealing villain." In the last passage, however, but is used transitionally, almost as an adversative. Compare

“It cannot be but I am pigeon-livered,

which approximates to "It cannot be (that I am otherwise than a coward)," i.e. "it cannot be that I am courageous; on the contrary (but adversative), I am pigeon-liver'd."

The variable nature of but is illustrated by the fact that "believe not but," and "doubt not but," are used in the same signification:

“We doubt not but every rub is smoothed.

i.e. "we have no doubt of a nature to prevent our believing that," &c. So Rich. II. v. 2. 115. But, on the other hand,

“I'll not believe but they ascend the sky.

i.e. "I'll not believe anything except (or 'otherwise than') that they ascend."

In the first of these passages but is semi-adversative.

“She is not so divine
But with as humble lowliness of mind
She is content to be at your command.

i.e. "not so divine as to prevent that she should be content."

"But" and "but that" are still thus used.

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