Would to Heaven we had lost her!


I wonder if you can help me understand, in other words, what this expression means:

Would to heaven we had lost her!

The sentence is:

There could be no doubt, notwithstanding the slight inaccuracy, that our young friend had turned up; and so she had. Would to heaven we had lost her!


Would to heaven we had lost her! = I wish we had lost her.

I find this one a bit puzzling. To me, “Would to heaven we had lost her!” means exactly what Mister Micawber said, yet when you read the surrounding text at e.g. sff.net/people/doylemacdonald/carm_12.htm it seems that the speaker has actually been searching hard for her and is pleased that she has been found. It doesn’t seem to make sense.

Just compare:
I would to heaven that I were so much clay,

As I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling -

Because at least the past were passed away -

And for the future - (but I write this reeling,

Having got drunk exceedingly today,

So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling)

I say - the future is a serious matter -

And so - for God’s sake - hock and soda water!


It seems, slightly different meaning, don’t you think?

I would to heaven that I were so much clay = I wish I were just clay.

My second guess: As the book was written back in 1872, by an Irish, one must take into account that facts trying to interpret some things.
“Would to heaven” may have borne different meaning then (and there).


I think the difference is the lack of the pronoun/noun preceding the phrase.

"We would to heaven that ’ - we wish that …
"Would to heaven that ’ - imagine that…

@Eugene: an Irishman, not an Irish.

The “imagine that” interpretation seems to make more sense in context, but I’m not sure about the explanation of why it should mean that. For example, “Would that it were true” doesn’t have a noun or pronoun preceding it, yet surely means “I wish it were true”, not “imagine that it were true”?

It’s not the same phrase, but why can’t it mean ‘Imagine that it were true?’ as a form of wishful thinking anyway?


I really appreciate your comments and I think that the meaning Mr. Micawber gave to the expression is the most adequate in this case, because, even if in the text the speaker is searching hard for her and is pleased that she has been found, the incidents that happened afterwards with her were not so happy for him and his family. So, when he is narrating the story to other people, he is remembering what happened and this expression stand out his wish of having lost her at that moment instead of having found her.

When I asked for help to understand the expression, I was confused, because I thought that this expression was about thanking God for not having lost her. But when I continued reading the story, I found out that she was a bad woman and the speaker regretted having found her. So his wish now was to have lost her, as Mr. Micawber said.

I hope you understand my English, and if something is not correctly expressed, I would appreciate it was corrected.


Aha. That would make perfect sense. Sorry if I confused matters with my inadequate understanding of the storyline.

Proving that context is everything.