PREPOSITIONS. By, original and derived meaningsBy (original meaning "near"). Hence our "to come by a thing," i.e. "to come near" or "attain."
“(How) cam'st thou by this ill tidings?
By is used in a manner approaching its original meaning in “Fed his flocks
“I'll come by (i.e. acquire) Naples.
By (on) the fat plains of fruitful Thessaly.” B. and F. Fair Sh. i. 1.
So Wickliffe: "By (on) everi Saboth," Acts xiii. 27. Somewhat similar is our present colloquial "by this" of time; an expression which is found in
“At a fair vestal throned by the west.
; Lear, iv. 6. 45. This is illustrated by the play on "by your favour," where favour means also "complexion," "face," in
“Of the poor suppliant who by this I know
Is here attending.
Compare also the puns in T. N. iii. 1. 2-10. Hence "about," "concerning."
“Duke. Thine eye
Hath stay'd upon some favour that it loves,
Hath it not, boy?
Viola. A little, by your favour.
“How say you by the French lord?
“Tell me, sirrah, but tell me true, I charge you,
By him and by this woman here what know you?
"I know nothing by myself," 1 Cor. iv. 4 (no harm about myself).
“I would not have him know so much by me.
Compare B. J. Poetast. v. 1:
“Many may be meant by (to refer to) the fool multitude.
Lupus. Is not that eagle meant by Cæsar, ha? . . . . Cœsar. Who was it, Lupus, that inform'd you first This should be meant by us?Hence from near came the meaning like, according to.
“It lies you on to speak
Not by your own instruction, nor by the matter
Which your own heart prompts you.
i.e. "according to their oath."
“And him by oath they duly honoured.
i.e. "in accordance with his wish," "to his heart's content."
“Not friended by his wish, to your high person
His will is most malignant.
“If my brother wrought by my pity it should not be so.
So, where we say "to the sound of:"
“I will believe you by the syllable
Of what you shall deliver.
Sound all the lofty instruments of war, And by that music let us all embrace.By seems to mean "near," hence "with," in
Perhaps we may thus explain:
“(My daughter) hath his solicitings,
As they fell out by time, by means and place,
All given to mine ear.
i.e. "in accordance with, to suit, my leisure." The use of by in
“I'll trust by leisure him that mocks me once.
is the same as in
“The people . . . by numbers swarm to us,
By, in the sense of "near," like our "about" (Acts xiii. 21, Wick. "by fourti yeeris," the rest "about"), Greek κατά, was used from the first in rough distributive measurements in E. E.: "He smote to the ground by three, by four," "by nine and ten," "by one and one." So
“By ones, by twos, by threes.
i.e. "in lengthening out by little and little." Hence, perhaps, from "by one by one" sprang our shorter form, "one by one," "little by little;" though it is possible that "one by one" means "one next to or after one." By is used as a noun in the expression "on the by" (as one passes by).--B. J. 746. We still use by as an adverb after "close," "hard," &c., but we should scarcely say,
“I play the torturer by small and small
To lengthen out the worst that must be said.
“I stole into a neighbour thicket by.