CONJUNCTIONS. But passes from "except" to "only" when the negative is omittedBut passes naturally from "except" to "only," when the negative is omitted. ("No-but" or "nobbut" is still used provincially for "only.") Thus:
becomes "but that."
“No more but that,
i.e. "no more but that one tree," or "only that one tree."
“Glouc. What, and wouldst climb a tree?
Simple. But that in all my life.
i.e. "not except stirr'd," "only if stirr'd."
“Cleo. Antony will be himself.
Ant. But stirr'd by Cleopatra.
“But sea-room, and (if Fol.) the brine and billow kiss the
moon, I care not.
i.e. "Where Brutus can (do nothing) but find it," i.e., as we say, "cannot but find it." Possibly, however, but (see 129) may be transposed, and the meaning may be "Brutus only," i.e. "Brutus alone may find it."
“Where Brutus may but find it.
i.e. "simply in that he speaks," "merely for speaking." The effect of the negative on but is illustrated by
“He that shall speak for her is afar off guilty
But that he speaks.
Here, at first, but might seem to mean "only," but the subsequent negative gives it the force of "except." But perhaps means "only" in
“But on this day let seamen fear no wreck.
i.e. "I have it merely on his own report, and I believe it too." There is, perhaps, a studied ambiguity in the reply of Hamlet:
“He boasts himself
To have a worthy feeding: but I have it
Upon his own report, and I believe it.
The ellipsis of the negative explains "neither" in the following difficult passage:
“Guild. What should we say, my lord?
Hamlet. Anything but to the purpose.
"Neither" for our "either" is in Shakespeare's manner, after a negative expressed or implied. But means "setting aside" in
“To divide him inventorily would dizzy the authentic of memory
and yet but yaw neither (i.e. do nothing but lag clumsily behind
neither) in respect of his quick sail.
Such instances as this, where but follows not a negative but a superlative, are rare:
“What would my lord, but that (which) he may not have,
Wherein Olivia may seem serviceable.
But seems used for "but now" in “No wink, sir, all this night,
“Pistol. Sweet knight, thou art now one of the greatest men in
Silent. By're lady, I think 'a be, but goodman Puff of Barson.
Nor yesterday: but (but now) slumbers.” B. J. Fox, i. 1.