SAT Critical Reading : Summarizing and Describing Humanities Passage Content

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

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Example Question #2 : Drawing Generalizations About Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Why a Classic is a Classic" in Literary Taste: How to Form It by Arnold Bennet (1909)

The large majority of our fellow-citizens care as much about literature as they care about airplanes or the policies of the Legislature. They do not ignore it; they are not quite indifferent to it. But their interest in it is faint and perfunctory; or, if their interest happens to be violent, it is spasmodic. Ask the two hundred thousand persons whose enthusiasm made the vogue of a popular novel ten years ago what they think of that novel now, and you will gather that they have utterly forgotten it, and that they would no more dream of reading it again than of reading Bishop Stubbs's Select Charters. Probably if they did read it again they would not enjoy it—not because the said novel is worse now than it was ten years ago; not because their taste has improved—but because they have not had sufficient practice to be able to rely on their taste as a means of permanent pleasure. They simply don't know from one day to the next what will please them.

In the face of this one may ask: Why does the great and universal fame of classical authors continue? The answer is that the fame of classical authors is entirely independent of the majority. Do you suppose that if the fame of Shakespeare depended on the man in the street it would survive a fortnight? The fame of classical authors is originally made, and it is maintained, by a passionate few. Even when a first-class author has enjoyed immense success during his lifetime, the majority have never appreciated him as sincerely as they have appreciated second-rate men. He has always been reinforced by the ardor of the passionate few. And in the case of an author who has emerged into glory after his death the happy sequel has been due solely to the obstinate perseverance of the few. They could not leave him alone; they would not. They kept on savoring him, and talking about him, and buying him, and they generally behaved with such eager zeal, and they were so authoritative and sure of themselves, that at last the majority grew accustomed to the sound of his name and placidly agreed to the proposition that he was a genius; the majority really did not care very much either way.

And it is by the passionate few that the renown of genius is kept alive from one generation to another. These few are always at work. They are always rediscovering genius. Their curiosity and enthusiasm are exhaustless, so that there is little chance of genius being ignored. And, moreover, they are always working either for or against the verdicts of the majority. The majority can make a reputation, but it is too careless to maintain it. If, by accident, the passionate few agree with the majority in a particular instance, they will frequently remind the majority that such and such a reputation has been made, and the majority will idly concur: "Ah, yes. By the way, we must not forget that such and such a reputation exists." Without that persistent memory-jogging the reputation would quickly fall into the oblivion which is death. The passionate few only have their way by reason of the fact that they are genuinely interested in literature, that literature matters to them. They conquer by their obstinacy alone, by their eternal repetition of the same statements. Do you suppose they could prove to the man in the street that Shakespeare was a great artist? The said man would not even understand the terms they employed. But when he is told ten thousand times, and generation after generation, that Shakespeare was a great artist, the said man believes--not by reason, but by faith. And he too repeats that Shakespeare was a great artist, and he buys the complete works of Shakespeare and puts them on his shelves, and he goes to see the marvelous stage-effects which accompany King Lear or Hamlet, and comes back religiously convinced that Shakespeare was a great artist. All because the passionate few could not keep their admiration of Shakespeare to themselves. This is not cynicism; but truth. And it is important that those who wish to form their literary taste should grasp it.

From the context of the first paragraph what characteristic does the author attribute to the tastes of the majority?

Possible Answers:

Temporary

Informal 

Demeaning 

Consistent

Lucid

Correct answer:

Temporary

Explanation:

The author describes the tastes of the majority as lacking direction and permanence. The author states that the majority of individuals would not enjoy a book they had previously enjoyed because they have no consistency to their understanding of what brings them pleasure. Their tastes and pleasures are temporary. The author uses this example to create a contrast between the majority and their appreciations, with the minority who appreciate the classics and never waver in their devotion to the works of geniuses. Evidence for this can be found in lines 8–9 where the author states: “They have not had sufficient practice to be able to rely on their taste as a means of permanent pleasure. They simply don't know from one day to the next what will please them.”

Example Question #1 : Summarizing And Describing Humanities Passage Content

Adapted from “How I Conquered Stage Fright” by Mark Twain (1906)

My heart goes out in sympathy to anyone who is making his first appearance before an audience of human beings. I recall the occasion of my first appearance. San Francisco knew me then only as a reporter, and I was to make my bow to San Francisco as a lecturer. I knew that nothing short of compulsion would get me to the theater. So I bound myself by a hard-and-fast contract so that I could not escape. I got to the theater forty-five minutes before the hour set for the lecture. My knees were shaking so that I didn't know whether I could stand up. If there is an awful, horrible malady in the world, it is stage-fright--and seasickness. They are a pair. I had stage-fright then for the first and last time. I was only seasick once, too. It was on a little ship on which there were two hundred other passengers. I--was--sick. I was so sick that there wasn't any left for those other two hundred passengers.

It was dark and lonely behind the scenes in that theater, and I peeked through the little peek holes they have in theater curtains and looked into the big auditorium. That was dark and empty, too. By and by it lighted up, and the audience began to arrive. I had got a number of friends of mine, stalwart men, to sprinkle themselves through the audience armed with big clubs. Every time I said anything they could possibly guess I intended to be funny, they were to pound those clubs on the floor. Then there was a kind lady in a box up there, also a good friend of mine, the wife of the governor. She was to watch me intently, and whenever I glanced toward her she was going to deliver a gubernatorial laugh that would lead the whole audience into applause.

At last I began. I had the manuscript tucked under a United States flag in front of me where I could get at it in case of need. But I managed to get started without it. I walked up and down--I was young in those days and needed the exercise--and talked and talked. Right in the middle of the speech I had placed a gem. I had put in a moving, pathetic part which was to get at the hearts and souls of my hearers. When I delivered it they did just what I hoped and expected. They sat silent and awed. I had touched them. Then I happened to glance up at the box where the Governor's wife was--you know what happened.

Well, after the first agonizing five minutes, my stage fright left me, never to return. I know if I was going to be hanged I could get up and make a good showing, and I intend to. But I shall never forget my feelings before the agony left me, and I got up here to thank you for her for helping my daughter, by your kindness, to live through her first appearance. And I want to thank you for your appreciation of her singing, which is, by the way, hereditary.

Which of the following best characterizes the author’s feelings towards his audience?

Possible Answers:

Disgust 

Gratitude 

Ambivalence 

Hatred

Apathy 

Correct answer:

Gratitude 

Explanation:

The author of this passage demonstrates his feelings for the audience in the conclusion when he says: “I got up here to thank you for her for helping my daughter, by your kindness, to live through her first appearance. And I want to thank you for your appreciation of her singing, which is, by the way, hereditary.” The author is expressing his appreciation for the kindness of the audience, which is closest in meaning to gratitude (which means a feeling of being thankful). Ambivalence means uncertainty; apathy means not caring.  

Example Question #1 : Summarizing And Describing Humanities Passage Content

Adapted from “Coddling in Education” by Henry Seidel Canby (1922)

American minds have been coddled in school and college for at least a generation. There are two kinds of mental coddling. The first belongs to the public schools, and is one of the defects of our educational system that we abuse privately and largely keep out of print. It is democratic coddling. I mean, of course, the failure to hold up standards, the willingness to let youth wobble upward, knowing little and that inaccurately, passing nothing well, graduating with an education that hits and misses like an old typewriter with a torn ribbon. America is full of "sloppy thinking," of inaccuracy, of half-baked misinformation, of sentimentalism, especially sentimentalism, as a result of coddling by schools that cater to an easy-going democracy.

A dozen causes are responsible for this condition, and among them, I suspect, one, which if not major, at least deserves careful pondering. The teacher and the taught have somehow drifted apart. His function in the large has been to teach an ideal, a tradition. He is content, he has to be content, with partial results. In the mind of the student a dim conception has entered, that this education--all education--is a garment merely, to be doffed for the struggle with realities. The will is dulled. Interest slackens.

But it is in aristocratic coddling that the effects of our educational attitude gleam out to the least observant understanding. The teaching in the best American preparatory schools and colleges is as careful and as conscientious as any in the world. That one gladly asserts. Indeed, an American boy in a good boarding-school is handled like a rare microbe in a research laboratory. He is ticketed; every instant of his time is planned and scrutinized; he is dieted with brain food, predigested, and weighed before application. I sometimes wonder if a moron could not be made into an Abraham Lincoln by such a system--if the system were sound.

It is not sound. The boys and girls, especially the boys, are coddled for entrance examinations, coddled through freshman year, coddled oftentimes for graduation. And they too frequently go out into the world fireproof against anything but intellectual coddling. Such men and women can read only writing especially prepared for brains that will take only selected ideas. They can think only on simple lines. They can live happily only in a life where no intellectual or esthetic experience lies too far outside the range of their curriculum. A world where one reads the news and skips the editorials; goes to musical comedies, but omits the plays; looks at illustrated magazines, but seldom at books; talks business, sports, and politics, but never economics, social welfare, and statesmanship--that is the world for which we coddle the best of our youth. Many indeed escape the evil effects by their own innate originality; more bear the marks to the grave.

What does the author of this passage describe as “hits and misses like an old typewriter with a torn ribbon”?

Possible Answers:

Political expression

The school system

The knowledge of educated men

The wisdom of the common man

The relationship between the teacher and the student

Correct answer:

The knowledge of educated men

Explanation:

The author of this passage employs the metaphor of an old typewriter to describe the limitations and lack of reliability that can be attributed to the knowledge of educated men. The author actually goes further with the metaphor when he says that the typewriter has a “torn ribbon,” it is not just old, but ineffectual. This is meant to highlight the ineffectiveness of education.

Example Question #11 : Passage Reasoning In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from The Spoiled Children of Civilization (1912) by Samuel McChord Crothers

To spoil a child is no easy task, for Nature is all the time working on behalf of the childish virtues and veracities, and is gently correcting the abnormalities of education. Still it can be done. The secret of it is never to let the child alone, and to insist on doing for him all that he would otherwise do for himself—and more.

In that "more" is the spoiling power. The child must be early made acquainted with the feeling of satiety. There must be too much of everything. If he were left to himself to any extent, this would be an unknown experience. For he is a hungry little creature, with a growing appetite, and naturally is busy ministering to his own needs. He is always doing something for himself, and enjoys the exercise. The little egoist, even when he has "no language but a cry," uses that language to make known to the world that he wants something and wants it very much. As his wants increase, his exertions increase also. Arms and legs, fingers and toes, muscles and nerves and busy brain are all at work to get something which he desires. He is a mechanic fashioning his little world to his own uses. He is a despot who insists on his divine right to rule the subservient creatures around him. He is an inventor devising ways and means to secure all the ends which he has the wit to see. That these great works on which he has set his heart end in self is obvious enough, but we forgive him. Altruism will come in its own time if we can train ourselves.

According to this passage, what is most responsible for spoiling a child?

Possible Answers:

Language

Human indulgence

Self-reliance

Nature

The school system 

Correct answer:

Human indulgence

Explanation:

The author states that the spoiling quality is giving a child “more” than he or she needs. The author states: “The child must be early made acquainted with the feeling of satiety. There must be too much of everything. If he were left to himself to any extent, this would be an unknown experience.” If you do not know satiety means feeling satisfied or overly satisfied. Reading the whole of the passage will reveal that the author feels providing a child with too great a level of comfort and needs-fulfillment will cause the child to be spoiled. It is human indulgence that causes the child to be spoiled. The author does make some mention of the spoiling properties of education, but here the author does not mean the literal education enforced in the school system. Rather the author means the impact of social education given to children by humans who minister to their needs.

Example Question #111 : Act Reading

Passage adapted from "Of One Defect in Our Government" in Essays of Michael, Seigneur de Montaigne in The Complete Works of Michael de Montaigne (1580, trans. C. Cotton, ed. W. Hazlitt 1842)

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in need of anything might repair, and have their business entered by an officer appointed for that purpose. As for example: I want a chapman to buy my pearls; I want one that has pearls to sell; such a one wants company to go to Paris; such a one seeks a servant of such a quality; such a one a master; such a one such an artificer; some inquiring for one thing, some for another, every one according to what he wants. And doubtless, these mutual advertisements would be of no contemptible advantage to the public correspondence and intelligence: for there are evermore conditions that hunt after one another, and for want of knowing one another's occasions leave men in very great necessity.

I have heard, to the great shame of the age we live in, that in our very sight two most excellent men for learning died so poor that they had scarce bread to put in their mouths: Lilius Gregorius Giraldus in Italy and Sebastianus Castalio in Germany: and I believe there are a thousand men would have invited them into their families, with very advantageous conditions, or have relieved them where they were, had they known their wants. The world is not so generally corrupted, but that I know a man that would heartily wish the estate his ancestors have left him might be employed, so long as it shall please fortune to give him leave to enjoy it, to secure rare and remarkable persons of any kind, whom misfortune sometimes persecutes to the last degree, from the dangers of necessity; and at least place them in such a condition that they must be very hard to please, if they are not contented.

My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate), namely, that besides the day-book or memorial of household affairs, where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand, were entered, and which a steward always had in custody, he ordered him whom he employed to write for him, to keep a journal, and in it to set down all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house: very pleasant to look over, when time begins to wear things out of memory, and very useful sometimes to put us out of doubt when such a thing was begun, when ended; what visitors came, and when they went; our travels, absences, marriages, and deaths; the reception of good or ill news; the change of principal servants, and the like. An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it.

Based on the passage, which of the following is true?

Possible Answers:

The narrator's father was a financial supporter of several prominent intellectuals. 

The narrator thinks that keeping a journal of household accounts is a great idea, yet he has not done so himself.

Lilius Gregorius Giraldus was an Italian scientist, and Sebastianus Castalio a German professor of philosophy.

The narrator's father organized the public resource to help people learn of each other's needs described in the first paragraph.

Small accounts, payments, and disbursements must be recorded by a secretary.

Correct answer:

The narrator thinks that keeping a journal of household accounts is a great idea, yet he has not done so himself.

Explanation:

Nowhere in the passage does it say that the narrator's father supported prominent intellectuals; the narrator discusses his father in the first paragraph and the support of prominent intellectuals in the second, and the ideas do not overlap in this way. The narrator's father also did not actually implement or organize the plan for the public resource to help people learn of each other's needs that is described in the first paragraph; we're told that he "that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice," but we're not told that he accomplished this. "Small accounts, payments, and disbursements must be recorded by a secretary" is false, as the passage describes these as, "small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand." Finally, "Lilius Gregorius Giraldus was an Italian scientist, and Sebastianus Castalio a German professor of philosophy" is false because the passage doesn't tell us that Giraldus was a scientist or Italian, or that Castalio was a professor of philosophy or German. The countries are mentioned as where each man died, but have nothing to do with his citizenship or background. The only remaining answer choice is the correct one: "The narrator thinks that keeping a journal of household accounts is a great idea, yet he has not done so himself." This is supported by two parts of the last paragraph: its introduction, "My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate)," and its conclusion, "An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it."

Example Question #2 : Summarizing And Describing Humanities Passage Content

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 passage states that which of the following is true?

Possible Answers:

Coleridge is unimportant.

Coleridge lacks understanding but not willpower.

Coleridge is a dabbler. 

Coleridge is a plagiarist.

Coleridge is fastidious.

Correct answer:

Coleridge is a dabbler. 

Explanation:

We can assume that Coleridge is not unimportant, as the author has deigned to write about him. We can tell, however, that Coleridge does not fix upon one subject, but studies many subjects incompletely: “There is no subject on which he has not touched, none on which he has rested.” He is therefore, according to the passage, a dabbler. To “dabble” is to try a little bit in a wide variety of areas

Example Question #91 : Act Reading

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 second paragraph establishes all of the following EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

Lyrical Ballads was well received.

Lyrical Ballads is a blend of the simple and the obscure.

The age in which both the author and his subject are writing is perceived as revolutionary.

Wordsworth experiments with poetry were modeled on the contemporary changes in politics.

The contents of Lyrical Ballads are intensely thoughtful.

Correct answer:

Lyrical Ballads was well received.

Explanation:

The line “Fools have laughed at, and wise men scarcely understand, them” establishes that Lyrical Ballads was not well received. The other answers are supported by different lines in the last paragraph, namely: “the unaccountable mixture of seeming simplicity and real abstruseness,” “the revolutionary movement of our age: the political changes of the day were the model on which he formed and conducted his poetical experiments” and “the reflections are profound.”

Example Question #1 : Drawing Generalizations About Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Poe on Headley and Channing" in Vol. XVI, no. 10 of the Southern Literary Messenger by Edgar Allan Poe (October 1850)

To be serious, then; as we always wish to be if possible. Mr. Channing (whom we suppose to be a very young man, since we are precluded from supposing him a very old one,) appears to have been inoculated, at the same moment, with virus from Tennyson and from Carlyle. And here we do not wish to be misunderstood. For Tennyson, as for a man imbued with the richest and rarest poetic impulses, we have an admiration—a reverence unbounded. His “Morte D’Arthur,” his “Locksley Hall,” his “Sleeping Beauty,” his “Lady of Shalott,” his “Lotos Eaters,” his “Ænone,” and many other poems, are not surpassed, in all that gives to Poetry its distinctive value, by the compositions of any one living or dead. And his leading error—that error which renders him unpopular—a point, to be sure, of no particular importance—that very error, we say, is founded in truth—in a keen perception of the elements of poetic beauty. We allude to his quaintness—to what the world chooses to term his affectation. No true poet—no critic whose approbation is worth even a copy of the volume we now hold in our hand—will deny that he feels impressed, sometimes even to tears, by many of those very affectations which he is impelled by the prejudice of his education, or by the cant of his reason, to condemn. He should thus be led to examine the extent of the one, and to be wary of the deductions of the other. In fact, the profound intuition of Lord Bacon has supplied, in one of his immortal apothegms, the whole philosophy of the point at issue. “There is no exquisite beauty,” he truly says, “without some strangeness in its proportions.” We maintain, then, that Tennyson errs, not in his occasional quaintness, but in its continual and obtrusive excess. And, in accusing Mr. Channing of having been inoculated with virus from Tennyson, we merely mean to say that he has adopted and exaggerated that noble poet’s characteristic defect, having mistaken it for his principal merit.

Mr. Tennyson is quaint only; he is never, as some have supposed him, obscure—except, indeed, to the uneducated, whom he does not address. Mr. Carlyle, on the other hand, is obscure only; he is seldom, as some have imagined him, quaint. So far he is right; for although quaintness, employed by a man of judgment and genius, may be made auxiliary to a poem, whose true thesis is beauty, and beauty alone, it is grossly, and even ridiculously, out of place in a work of prose. But in his obscurity it is scarcely necessary to say that he is wrong. Either a man intends to be understood, or he does not. If he write a book which he intends not to be understood, we shall be very happy indeed not to understand it; but if he write a book which he means to be understood, and, in this book, be at all possible pains to prevent us from understanding it, we can only say that he is an ass—and this, to be brief, is our private opinion of Mr. Carlyle, which we now take the liberty of making public.

From a general reading of this passage, we can conclude that Poe __________.

Possible Answers:

mostly admires Carlyle but not Tennyson

mostly admires Tennyson but doesn't admire Carlyle at all

most admires both Tennyson and Carlyle, despite their faults

likes neither Tennyson nor Carlyle because of their faults

Correct answer:

mostly admires Tennyson but doesn't admire Carlyle at all

Explanation:

Poe says he has "a reverence unbound" for Tennyson, whereas he calls Carlyle "an ass," so he mostly admires Tennyson despite his faults but seems not to like Carlyle at all.

Example Question #2 : Summarizing And Describing Humanities Passage Content

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.

Which of the following sentences best summarizes the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The essence of poetry is a secret only poets know, and to ask a critic where the inspiration for a poem comes from is a foolish thing to do.

Inspiration for poetry is found in anything the poet cares to think about and their poetry attests to this being a fact. 

The longer the poem, the more materials a poet can use, although only critics can certify this.

Poetry is derived from all things and the work of critics proves this.

Those who criticize do not understand the nature of poetry or the specificity with which inspiration is chosen.

Correct answer:

Inspiration for poetry is found in anything the poet cares to think about and their poetry attests to this being a fact. 

Explanation:

The author is suggesting in the first paragraph that inspiration or “the materials” with which poetry is made are found in everything and that it is better to seek validation of this as a fact within the work of poets instead of in the work of critics. Therefore, only poetry can attest that it can be inspired by anything. The work of critics is misleading, as it could suggest that poetry should only be about certain subjects.

Example Question #25 : Humanities

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.

Which of the following best describes the passage as a whole?

Possible Answers:

An advertisement for a collection of poetry written for a bookshop sales magazine

A list of the honorable features of poetry and the poems in which these features appear

A criticism of the literary world and a manifesto for change in poetry

A vindication of modern poetry and a statement of literary modernization

A discussion of the author's work and a justification of it in a contemporary context

Correct answer:

A discussion of the author's work and a justification of it in a contemporary context

Explanation:

It is obvious from the passage that the author is justifying the “following poems” and that they are trying to justify them in a "modern," or contemporary, context. The author goes to some length to discuss the work and how readers might react to it.

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