ACT Reading : Analyzing Authorial Tone and Method in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT Reading

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Example Question #1 : Tone, Audience, And Point Of View In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)

To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection. Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit. The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood.

When we speak of nature in this manner, we have a distinct but most poetical sense in the mind. We mean the integrity of impression made by manifold natural objects. It is this which distinguishes the stick of timber of the wood-cutter, from the tree of the poet. The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men's farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.

To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says,—he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent grief’s, he shall be glad with me. Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight; for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight. Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece. In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue. Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at whatever period of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,—no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances,—master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.

The author’s tone in this passage could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

arrogant and disrespectful 

satirical and mocking

angry and condemning 

critical and questioning

enlightened and inspiring 

Correct answer:

enlightened and inspiring 

Explanation:

The author is putting forward his views on nature, which are contrary to the traditional appreciation of nature. Their tone is in no way angry and although it could be seen as critical or disrespectful, it is obvious this was not the intention of the author.

Example Question #22 : Passage Wide Features Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from the Advertisement to Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth (1798)

It is the honorable characteristic of Poetry that its materials are to be found in every subject which can interest the human mind. The evidence of this fact is to be sought, not in the writings of Critics, but in those of Poets themselves.

The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure. Readers accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion, will perhaps frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness: they will look round for poetry, and will be induced to enquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted to assume that title. It is desirable that such readers, for their own sakes, should not suffer the solitary word Poetry, a word of very disputed meaning, to stand in the way of their gratification; but that, while they are perusing this book, they should ask themselves if it contains a natural delineation of human passions, human characters, and human incidents; and if the answer be favorable to the author's wishes, that they should consent to be pleased in spite of that most dreadful enemy to our pleasures, our own pre-established codes of decision.

Readers of superior judgement may disapprove of the style in which many of these pieces are executed it must be expected that many lines and phrases will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps appear to them, that wishing to avoid the prevalent fault of the day, the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity. It is apprehended, that the more conversant the reader is with our elder writers, and with those in modern times who have been the most successful in painting manners and passions, the fewer complaints of this kind will he have to make.

An accurate taste in poetry, and in all the other arts, Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed, is an acquired talent, which can only be produced by severe thought, and a long continued intercourse with the best models of composition. This is mentioned not with so ridiculous a purpose as to prevent the most inexperienced reader from judging for himself; but merely to temper the rashness of decision, and to suggest that if poetry be a subject on which much time has not been bestowed, the judgement may be erroneous, and that in many cases it necessarily will be so.

The tone of this passage could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

justifying and defensive 

rationalizing and adamant

apologetic and withdrawn

pleading and soliloquizing

decisive and condemning

Correct answer:

justifying and defensive 

Explanation:

The tone of the passage can be characterized by the constant justification of the work and by the knowledge that some or many reads may not like the poems. One could call the author defensive, as the author is trying to rationalize or justify the poems. The author isn't "pleading," "adamant," "condemning," or "withdrawn." They are to some extent "soliloquizing," "rationalizing," and "apologetic." The only truly correct answer is “justifying and defensive,” while “decisive and condemning” is the only answer that cannot be attained from the text even in part.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Authorial Tone And Method In Humanities Passages

Adapted from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume (1748)

Everyone will readily allow that there is a considerable difference between the perceptions of the mind, when a man feels the pain of excessive heat, or the pleasure of moderate warmth, and when he afterwards recalls to his memory this sensation, or anticipates it by his imagination. These faculties may mimic or copy the perceptions of the senses, but they never can entirely reach the force and vivacity of the original sentiment. The utmost we say of them, even when they operate with greatest vigor, is, that they represent their object in so lively a manner that we could almost say we feel or see it. But, except the mind be disordered by disease or madness, they never can arrive at such a pitch of vivacity as to render these perceptions altogether undistinguishable. All the colors of poetry, however splendid, can never paint natural objects in such a manner as to make the description be taken for a real landscape. The most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation.

We may observe a like distinction to run through all the other perceptions of the mind. A man in a fit of anger is actuated in a very different manner from one who only thinks of that emotion. If you tell me that any person is in love I easily understand your meaning, and form a just conception of his situation, but never can mistake that conception for the real disorders and agitations of the passion. When we reflect on our past sentiments and affections, our thought is a faithful mirror and copies its objects truly, but the colors which it employs are faint and dull in comparison of those in which our original perceptions were clothed. It requires no nice discernment or metaphysical head to mark the distinction between them.

Here, therefore, we may divide all the perceptions of the mind into two classes or species, which are distinguished by their different degrees of force and vivacity. The less forcible and lively are commonly denominated "thoughts" or "ideas." The other species want a name in our language, and in most others; I suppose because it was not requisite for any but philosophical purposes to rank them under a general term or appellation. Let us, therefore, use a little freedom, and call them "impressions," employing that word in a sense somewhat different from the usual. By the term "impression," then, I mean all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will. And impressions are distinguished from ideas, which are the less lively perceptions, of which we are conscious when we reflect on any of those sensations or movements above mentioned.

The tone of this passage could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

ponderous 

disdainful

inane

reprehensible 

dilatory

Correct answer:

ponderous 

Explanation:

The only answer which fits the passage is “ponderous,” as “dilatory” would mean slow or characterized by procrastination in this context, whereas “ponderous” more captures the thoughtful nature of the passage. The author is not “disdainful,” or showing contempt, towards his subject. Likewise he is not “inane," meaning foolish, or “reprehensible,” which would mean deplorable or morally wrong.

Example Question #3 : Tone, Audience, And Point Of View In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Thoughts on Man (1831) by William Godwin

It is, in reality, obvious that man and woman, as they come from the hands of nature, are so much upon a par with each other as not to afford the best subjects between whom to graft a habit of entire, unalterable affection. In the scenes of vulgar and ordinary society, a permanent connection between persons of opposite sexes is too apt to degenerate into a scene of warfare, where each party is forever engaged in a struggle for superiority, and neither will give way. A penetrating observer, with whom in former days I used intimately to converse, was accustomed to say that there was generally more jarring and ill blood between the two parties in the first year of their marriage than during all the remainder of their lives. It is at length found necessary, as between equally matched belligerents on the theatre of history, that they should come to terms, make a treaty of peace, or at least settle certain laws of warfare that they may not waste their strength in idle hostilities.

There is nothing in which the superiority of modern times over the ancient has been more conspicuous than in our sentiments and practices on this subject. This superiority, as well as several other of our most valuable acquisitions, took its rise in what we call the dark ages. Chivalry was, for the most part, the invention of the eleventh century. Its principle was built upon a theory of the sexes, giving to each a relative importance, and assigning to both functions full of honor and grace. The knights (and every gentleman during that period in due time became a knight) were taught, as the main features of their vocation, the "love of God and the ladies." The ladies in return were regarded as the genuine censors of the deeds of knighthood. From these principles arose a thousand lessons of humanity. The ladies regarded it as their glory to assist their champions to arm and to disarm, to perform for them even menial services, to attend to them in sickness, and to dress their wounds. They bestowed on them their colors, and sent them forth to the field hallowed with their benedictions. The knights on the other hand considered any slight toward the fair sex as an indelible stain to their order; they contemplated the graceful patronesses of their valor with a feeling that partook of religious homage and veneration, and esteemed it as perhaps the first duty of their profession to relieve the wrongs and avenge the injuries of the less powerful sex.

This simple outline as to the relative position of the one sex and the other gave a new face to the whole scheme and arrangements of civil society. It is, like those admirable principles in the order of the material universe or those grand discoveries brought to light from time to time by superior genius, so obvious and simple that we wonder the most common understanding could have missed them, yet so pregnant with results that they seem at once to put a new life and inspire a new character into every part of a mighty and all-comprehensive mass.

The passion between the sexes, in its grosser sense, is a momentary impulse merely. There was danger that, when the fit and violence of the passion was over, the whole would subside into inconstancy and a roving disposition, or at least into indifference and almost brutal neglect. But the institutions of chivalry immediately gave a new face to this. Either sex conceived a deep and permanent interest in the other. In the unsettled state of society which characterized the period when these institutions arose, the defenseless were liable to assaults of multiplied kinds and the fair perpetually stood in need of a protector and a champion. The knights, on the other hand, were taught to derive their fame and their honor from the suffrages of the ladies. Each sex stood in need of the other and the basis of their union was mutual esteem.

The point of view from which the passage is told can best be described as that of a __________.

Possible Answers:

historian

philosopher

poet

dramatist

psychologist

Correct answer:

philosopher

Explanation:

Although the main portion of the passage is concerned with the history of the relationship between men and women, the actual subject is the relationship, not its history. The author's statements are usually assumptive and are more opinionated than factual. We can therefore say that the author is talking about the historical philosophy behind interactions between men and women.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Authorial Tone And Method In Humanities Passages

Educators often speak of the “Depth of Knowledge” chart. This is a chart that breaks down all academic exercises into four categories that ascend in difficulty. The first category is “memorization.” The second is the basic processing of memorization, which consists of things like “comparing and contrasting.” Once students have been able to compare and contrast two things about which they’ve memorized facts, they will then be able to do things like “formulate hypotheses” based on the information they have. This is the third step. When students can use information to formulate hypotheses or make inferences, they can then move into the “analyze” or “design” phase, using the information to create new ideas, experiments, or stories. 

One part of the problem is that for many years now, educators have focused solely on the last two steps of this taxonomy because it is thought that this brings about higher level thinking abilities in students. I believe the job market has disproved this theory. The United States is losing its science and technology jobs to overseas markets, people that are more capable of these higher level cognitive skills in realistic areas such as math and science. We might be focusing on projects and statements that start with key words like “analyze” and “predict,” but we are still failing to produce students that can actually do those things in real analytical situations. 

The other part of this problem is the advent of immediate knowledge at our fingertips: the portable internet. Many educators feel that they can now skip the first two categories of academic exercises because the information is so readily available. Students don’t need to memorize or compare and contrast basic information because at any and all times, they can search anything online to access any and all information they don’t have memorized. We just need to teach them what to do with it. 

As new, better, and more accessible technologies become the norm, students are finding less and less motivation to undergo the basic exercises that a human brain must experience to truly expand, grow, and analyze. The problem with not teaching and not requiring students to achieve rote memorization is that when students do “create” and “synthesize,” all they are really doing is building upon emotion and sentiment. Without the basic principles of memorizing necessary facts and figures, a student cannot truly build anything of worth. A home cannot be built without a foundation, and no matter how flashy and beautiful the finished product would be, it would not function without the concrete foundation poured into the mud and clay of the earth. The nitty-gritty must take place before the art can be appreciated. 

Education must turn its eyes ground-ward if it ever wants to build something skyward that will last any sort of time. Requiring students to master basic functions even though they might be less interesting is necessary. Good teachers don’t skip those steps because they might be boring. Good teachers require those steps but find ways to motivate students to put in the effort and to make it fun.

Why would the author include the description “mud-and-clay” when referring to the earth analogy in paragraph 4?

Possible Answers:

The author feels that education is necessary to help students succeed in construction and architectural positions.  

The author feels that taking soil samples before building anything is vital to avoid a structural collapse later.

The author is making a comparison between the mud and clay that must be molded into a foundation and the important role of teachers in a child's early life.

The author is making the concession that the memorization and comparing and contrasting like ideas are less glamorous in education, but they are essential. 

The author feels that memorization and comparison and constrast are outdated, "dirty" jobs.  They are not as essential as other exercises.

Correct answer:

The author is making the concession that the memorization and comparing and contrasting like ideas are less glamorous in education, but they are essential. 

Explanation:

The "mud-and-clay" is part of a metaphor the author is using to describe the beginning steps in cognitive development such as memorization and comparing and contrasting.  It represents the fact that for most beautiful things (such as a building that is safe and functional), there is ground work to be done that is difficult and less desirable.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Authorial Tone And Method In Humanities Passages

Educators often speak of the “Depth of Knowledge” chart. This is a chart that breaks down all academic exercises into four categories that ascend in difficulty. The first category is “memorization.” The second is the basic processing of memorization, which consists of things like “comparing and contrasting.” Once students have been able to compare and contrast two things about which they’ve memorized facts, they will then be able to do things like “formulate hypotheses” based on the information they have. This is the third step. When students can use information to formulate hypotheses or make inferences, they can then move into the “analyze” or “design” phase, using the information to create new ideas, experiments, or stories. 

One part of the problem is that for many years now, educators have focused solely on the last two steps of this taxonomy because it is thought that this brings about higher level thinking abilities in students. I believe the job market has disproved this theory. The United States is losing its science and technology jobs to overseas markets, people that are more capable of these higher level cognitive skills in realistic areas such as math and science. We might be focusing on projects and statements that start with key words like “analyze” and “predict,” but we are still failing to produce students that can actually do those things in real analytical situations. 

The other part of this problem is the advent of immediate knowledge at our fingertips: the portable internet. Many educators feel that they can now skip the first two categories of academic exercises because the information is so readily available. Students don’t need to memorize or compare and contrast basic information because at any and all times, they can search anything online to access any and all information they don’t have memorized. We just need to teach them what to do with it. 

As new, better, and more accessible technologies become the norm, students are finding less and less motivation to undergo the basic exercises that a human brain must experience to truly expand, grow, and analyze. The problem with not teaching and not requiring students to achieve rote memorization is that when students do “create” and “synthesize,” all they are really doing is building upon emotion and sentiment. Without the basic principles of memorizing necessary facts and figures, a student cannot truly build anything of worth. A home cannot be built without a foundation, and no matter how flashy and beautiful the finished product would be, it would not function without the concrete foundation poured into the mud and clay of the earth. The nitty-gritty must take place before the art can be appreciated. 

Education must turn its eyes ground-ward if it ever wants to build something skyward that will last any sort of time. Requiring students to master basic functions even though they might be less interesting is necessary. Good teachers don’t skip those steps because they might be boring. Good teachers require those steps but find ways to motivate students to put in the effort and to make it fun.

Who is most likely the author of this passage?

Possible Answers:

A politician giving a speech about how he plans to improve education if he is elected.

An adult who works in some position in the field of education.

A student who is very gifted in communication arts but struggles in math and science classes.

A parent of a student with special needs.

An adult volunteer for a football team that needs his players to memorize plays.

Correct answer:

An adult who works in some position in the field of education.

Explanation:

The author exhibits intimate knowledge of the US education system and feels prepared enough to identify problems within that system.  Therefore, it is more likely that the author works in education than it is that he is a parent, volunteer, or politician.  

Example Question #13 : Passage Wide Features Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Mr. Coleridge" from The Spirit of the Age by William Hazlitt (1825)

The present is an age of talkers, and not of doers, and the reason is, that the world is growing old. We are so far advanced in the Arts and Sciences, that we live in retrospect, and dote on past achievements. The accumulation of knowledge has been so great that we are lost in wonder at the height it has reached, instead of attempting to climb or add to it, while the variety of objects distracts and dazzles the looker-on. What niche remains unoccupied? What path untried? What is the use of doing anything, unless we could do better than all those who have gone before us? What hope is there of this? We are like those who have been to see some noble monument of art, who are content to admire without thinking of rivaling it; or like guests after a feast, who praise the hospitality of the donor "and thank the bounteous Pan"—perhaps carrying away some trifling fragments; or like the spectators of a mighty battle, who still hear its sound afar off, and the clashing of armor and the neighing of the war-horse and the shout of victory is in their ears, like the rushing of innumerable waters!

Mr. Coleridge has "a mind reflecting ages past”; his voice is like the echo of the congregated roar of the "dark rearward and abyss" of thought. He who has seen a mouldering tower by the side of a crystal lake, hid by the mist, but glittering in the wave below, may conceive the dim, gleaming, uncertain intelligence of his eye; he who has marked the evening clouds up rolled (a world of vapors), has seen the picture of his mind: unearthly, unsubstantial, with gorgeous tints and ever-varying forms.

Our author's mind is (as he himself might express it) tangential. There is no subject on which he has not touched, none on which he has rested. With an understanding fertile, subtle, expansive, "quick, forgetive, apprehensive," beyond all living precedent, few traces of it will perhaps remain. He lends himself to all impressions alike; he gives up his mind and liberty of thought to none. He is a general lover of art and science, and wedded to no one in particular. He pursues knowledge as a mistress, with outstretched hands and winged speed; but as he is about to embrace her, his Daphne turns—alas! not to a laurel! Hardly a speculation has been left on record from the earliest time, but it is loosely folded up in Mr. Coleridge's memory, like a rich, but somewhat tattered piece of tapestry; we might add (with more seeming than real extravagance), that scarce a thought can pass through the mind of man, but its sound has at some time or other passed over his head with rustling pinions. On whatever question or author you speak, he is prepared to take up the theme with advantage—from Peter Abelard down to Thomas Moore, from the subtlest metaphysics to the politics of the Courier. There is no man of genius, in whose praise he descants, but the critic seems to stand above the author, and "what in him is weak, to strengthen, what is low, to raise and support”; nor is there any work of genius that does not come out of his hands like an Illuminated Missal, sparkling even in its defects. If Mr. Coleridge had not been the most impressive talker of his age, he would probably have been the finest writer; but he lays down his pen to make sure of an auditor, and mortgages the admiration of posterity for the stare of an idler. If he had not been a poet, he would have been a powerful logician; if he had not dipped his wing in the Unitarian controversy, he might have soared to the very summit of fancy. But in writing verse, he is trying to subject the Muse to transcendental theories: in his abstract reasoning, he misses his way by strewing it with flowers. All that he has done of moment, he had done twenty years ago: since then, he may be said to have lived on the sound of his own voice. Mr. Coleridge is too rich in intellectual wealth to need to task himself to any drudgery: he has only to draw the sliders of his imagination, and a thousand subjects expand before him, startling him with their brilliancy, or losing themselves in endless obscurity.

The tone of this passage could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

audacious 

critical 

humble

taunting 

sarcastic

Correct answer:

critical 

Explanation:

While there is not much balance to the piece out of all of the options, “critical” is the best compromise. It is slightly taunting, yet the author does refer to Coleridge as a genius at points. He criticizes him for not living up to his talents. The best option is therefore “critical” due to the few points of balance. To provide further help, “taunting” means mocking or making fun of, and “audacious” means bold.

Example Question #2 : Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Mr. Coleridge" from The Spirit of the Age by William Hazlitt (1825)

The present is an age of talkers, and not of doers, and the reason is, that the world is growing old. We are so far advanced in the Arts and Sciences, that we live in retrospect, and dote on past achievements. The accumulation of knowledge has been so great that we are lost in wonder at the height it has reached, instead of attempting to climb or add to it, while the variety of objects distracts and dazzles the looker-on. What niche remains unoccupied? What path untried? What is the use of doing anything, unless we could do better than all those who have gone before us? What hope is there of this? We are like those who have been to see some noble monument of art, who are content to admire without thinking of rivaling it; or like guests after a feast, who praise the hospitality of the donor "and thank the bounteous Pan"—perhaps carrying away some trifling fragments; or like the spectators of a mighty battle, who still hear its sound afar off, and the clashing of armor and the neighing of the war-horse and the shout of victory is in their ears, like the rushing of innumerable waters!

Mr. Coleridge has "a mind reflecting ages past”; his voice is like the echo of the congregated roar of the "dark rearward and abyss" of thought. He who has seen a mouldering tower by the side of a crystal lake, hid by the mist, but glittering in the wave below, may conceive the dim, gleaming, uncertain intelligence of his eye; he who has marked the evening clouds up rolled (a world of vapors), has seen the picture of his mind: unearthly, unsubstantial, with gorgeous tints and ever-varying forms.

Our author's mind is (as he himself might express it) tangential. There is no subject on which he has not touched, none on which he has rested. With an understanding fertile, subtle, expansive, "quick, forgetive, apprehensive," beyond all living precedent, few traces of it will perhaps remain. He lends himself to all impressions alike; he gives up his mind and liberty of thought to none. He is a general lover of art and science, and wedded to no one in particular. He pursues knowledge as a mistress, with outstretched hands and winged speed; but as he is about to embrace her, his Daphne turns—alas! not to a laurel! Hardly a speculation has been left on record from the earliest time, but it is loosely folded up in Mr. Coleridge's memory, like a rich, but somewhat tattered piece of tapestry; we might add (with more seeming than real extravagance), that scarce a thought can pass through the mind of man, but its sound has at some time or other passed over his head with rustling pinions. On whatever question or author you speak, he is prepared to take up the theme with advantage—from Peter Abelard down to Thomas Moore, from the subtlest metaphysics to the politics of the Courier. There is no man of genius, in whose praise he descants, but the critic seems to stand above the author, and "what in him is weak, to strengthen, what is low, to raise and support”; nor is there any work of genius that does not come out of his hands like an Illuminated Missal, sparkling even in its defects. If Mr. Coleridge had not been the most impressive talker of his age, he would probably have been the finest writer; but he lays down his pen to make sure of an auditor, and mortgages the admiration of posterity for the stare of an idler. If he had not been a poet, he would have been a powerful logician; if he had not dipped his wing in the Unitarian controversy, he might have soared to the very summit of fancy. But in writing verse, he is trying to subject the Muse to transcendental theories: in his abstract reasoning, he misses his way by strewing it with flowers. All that he has done of moment, he had done twenty years ago: since then, he may be said to have lived on the sound of his own voice. Mr. Coleridge is too rich in intellectual wealth to need to task himself to any drudgery: he has only to draw the sliders of his imagination, and a thousand subjects expand before him, startling him with their brilliancy, or losing themselves in endless obscurity.

The point of view from which the passage is told can best be described as that of __________.

Possible Answers:

Coleridge's biographer

an enemy of Coleridge

Coleridge's friend

a contemporary of Coleridge

Coleridge's father

Correct answer:

a contemporary of Coleridge

Explanation:

We can tell that the writer is writing about Coleridge at the same time that Coleridge is writing from phrases like “The present is an age of talkers, and not of doers,” and the fact that the author uses the present tense to talk about him. The author is obviously a critic, but as a “peer,” or fellow writer, we can call him a “contemporary,” even though the author's writing is critical and Coleridge's is poetic.

Example Question #1 : Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Mr. Wordsworth" in The Spirit of the Age: or Contemporary Portraits by William Hazlitt (1825)

Mr. Wordsworth’s genius is a pure emanation of the Spirit of the Age. Had he lived in any other period of the world, he would never have been heard of. As it is, he has some difficulty to contend with the lethargy of his intellect, and the meanness of his subject. With him “lowliness is young ambition’s ladder;” but he finds it a toil to climb in this way the steep of Fame. His homely Muse can hardly raise her wing from the ground, nor spread her hidden glories to the sun. He has “no figures nor no fantasies, which busy passion draws in the brains of men:” neither the gorgeous machinery of mythological lore, nor the splendid colors of poetic diction. His style is vernacular: he delivers household truths. He sees nothing loftier than human hopes; nothing deeper than the human heart. This he probes, this he tampers with, this he poises, with all its incalculable weight of thought and feeling, in his hands, and at the same time calms the throbbing pulses of his own heart, by keeping his eye ever fixed on the face of nature. If he can make the life-blood flow from the wounded breast, this is the living coloring with which he paints his verse: if he can assuage the pain or close up the wound with the balm of solitary musing, or the healing power of plants and herbs and “skyey influences,” this is the sole triumph of his art. He takes the simplest elements of nature and of the human mind, the mere abstract conditions inseparable from our being, and tries to compound a new system of poetry from them; and has perhaps succeeded as well as anyone could. “Nihil humani a me alienum puto” (I consider nothing that is human alien to me)—is the motto of his works. He thinks nothing low or indifferent of which this can be affirmed: everything that professes to be more than this, that is not an absolute essence of truth and feeling, he holds to be vitiated, false, and spurious. In a word, his poetry is founded on setting up an opposition (and pushing it to the utmost length) between the natural and the artificial: between the spirit of humanity, and the spirit of fashion and of the world!

It is one of the innovations of the time. It partakes of, and is carried along with, the revolutionary movement of our age: the political changes of the day were the model on which he formed and conducted his poetical experiments. His Muse (it cannot be denied, and without this we cannot explain its character at all) is a leveling one. It proceeds on a principle of equality, and strives to reduce all things to the same standard. It is distinguished by a proud humility. It relies upon its own resources, and disdains external show and relief. It takes the commonest events and objects, as a test to prove that nature is always interesting from its inherent truth and beauty, without any of the ornaments of dress or pomp of circumstances to set it off. Hence the unaccountable mixture of seeming simplicity and real abstruseness in the Lyrical Ballads. Fools have laughed at, and wise men scarcely understand, them. He takes a subject or a story merely as pegs or loops to hang thought and feeling on; the incidents are trifling, in proportion to his contempt for imposing appearances; the reflections are profound, according to the gravity and aspiring pretensions of his mind.

The point of view from which this passage is written could best be described as that of __________.

Possible Answers:

a biographer

a witness to a crime

a psychologist describing a patient

an enthusiast

a literary critic 

Correct answer:

a literary critic 

Explanation:

The writer is discussing the works of Wordsworth. The numerous references to his works of poetry and the constant weighing of pros and cons of the work produced by Wordsworth would suggest the writer is a literary critic. The answer of an enthusiast is not fully fulfilled as the writer criticizes as well as praises Wordsworth's poetry. We cannot say the writer is a biographer, as there is not much discussion of events in Wordsworth's life apart from his works.

Example Question #21 : Passage Wide Features Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Mr. Wordsworth" in The Spirit of the Age: or Contemporary Portraits by William Hazlitt (1825)

Mr. Wordsworth’s genius is a pure emanation of the Spirit of the Age. Had he lived in any other period of the world, he would never have been heard of. As it is, he has some difficulty to contend with the lethargy of his intellect, and the meanness of his subject. With him “lowliness is young ambition’s ladder;” but he finds it a toil to climb in this way the steep of Fame. His homely Muse can hardly raise her wing from the ground, nor spread her hidden glories to the sun. He has “no figures nor no fantasies, which busy passion draws in the brains of men:” neither the gorgeous machinery of mythological lore, nor the splendid colors of poetic diction. His style is vernacular: he delivers household truths. He sees nothing loftier than human hopes; nothing deeper than the human heart. This he probes, this he tampers with, this he poises, with all its incalculable weight of thought and feeling, in his hands, and at the same time calms the throbbing pulses of his own heart, by keeping his eye ever fixed on the face of nature. If he can make the life-blood flow from the wounded breast, this is the living coloring with which he paints his verse: if he can assuage the pain or close up the wound with the balm of solitary musing, or the healing power of plants and herbs and “skyey influences,” this is the sole triumph of his art. He takes the simplest elements of nature and of the human mind, the mere abstract conditions inseparable from our being, and tries to compound a new system of poetry from them; and has perhaps succeeded as well as anyone could. “Nihil humani a me alienum puto” (I consider nothing that is human alien to me)—is the motto of his works. He thinks nothing low or indifferent of which this can be affirmed: everything that professes to be more than this, that is not an absolute essence of truth and feeling, he holds to be vitiated, false, and spurious. In a word, his poetry is founded on setting up an opposition (and pushing it to the utmost length) between the natural and the artificial: between the spirit of humanity, and the spirit of fashion and of the world!

It is one of the innovations of the time. It partakes of, and is carried along with, the revolutionary movement of our age: the political changes of the day were the model on which he formed and conducted his poetical experiments. His Muse (it cannot be denied, and without this we cannot explain its character at all) is a leveling one. It proceeds on a principle of equality, and strives to reduce all things to the same standard. It is distinguished by a proud humility. It relies upon its own resources, and disdains external show and relief. It takes the commonest events and objects, as a test to prove that nature is always interesting from its inherent truth and beauty, without any of the ornaments of dress or pomp of circumstances to set it off. Hence the unaccountable mixture of seeming simplicity and real abstruseness in the Lyrical Ballads. Fools have laughed at, and wise men scarcely understand, them. He takes a subject or a story merely as pegs or loops to hang thought and feeling on; the incidents are trifling, in proportion to his contempt for imposing appearances; the reflections are profound, according to the gravity and aspiring pretensions of his mind.

The author’s tone in this passage could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

complimentary

choleric

cynical

balanced

haughty

Correct answer:

haughty

Explanation:

Although the passage shows examples of balance towards Wordsworth, the author is largely haughty in their use of language and attitude towards his subject. His tone is particularly haughty in some of its condescending sentences like “Had he lived in any other period of the world, he would never have been heard of,” and “he has some difficulty to contend with the lethargy of his intellect, and the meanness of his subject.” Despite being complimentary at times, the author is attempting to be critical from a superior point to his subject. To provide a little extra help, “choleric” means angry or bad-tempered.

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