SAT Critical Reading : Language in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #31 : Language In 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.

Which of these is the best antonym to the underline word “inherent”?

Possible Answers:

spurious 

vain 

illegitimate

extrinsic 

superficial 

Correct answer:

extrinsic 

Explanation:

“Inherent," in this and most contexts, means something that is derived from the nature or habit of a thing or something that is involved in the constitution or essential character of something. Thus, the only answer choice which is a good antonym is “extrinsic,” which would suggest being an outside characteristic. You can find the answer by looking at the prefixes: “ex-” (having to do with the outside) means the opposite of “in-" (having to do with the inside), in most cases. To provide some additional help, “superficial” means not important or based on a focus on petty things, “vain” means self-obsessed, “illegitimate” means not legitimate, not genuine, or not acceptable, and “spurious” means false

Example Question #32 : Language In 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.

We can infer that the underlined word “vernacular” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

ugly 

rare

pompous 

common 

pontificating 

Correct answer:

common 

Explanation:

To infer the meaning of "vernacular," we must look at the whole sentence in which it is used: “His style is vernacular: he delivers household truths.” The words “household truths” give us a sense of what is “vernacular,” or informal, as these are truths which occur in the home. "Vernacular" is therefore not synonymous with “rare,” “pompous,” or “pontificating.” We can eliminate “ugly” as it does not fit with the idea of the passage, whereas “common” does in the sense of informality. To help, “pontificating” means conveying one's opinions pompously and as if they are the only correct views, and “pompous” means obnoxious and proud.

Example Question #33 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" by Mark Twain (1895)

Cooper's gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it, he was pleased with the effects, and indeed he did some quite sweet things with it. In his little box of stage-properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, artifices for his savages and woodsmen to deceive and circumvent each other with, and he was never so happy as when he was working these innocent things and seeing them go. A favorite one was to make a moccasined person tread in the tracks of a moccasined enemy, and thus hide his own trail. Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick. Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was the broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn't step on a dry twig and alarm all the Indians and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn't satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can't do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.

I am sorry that there is not room to put in a few dozen instances of the delicate art of the forest, as practiced by Natty Bumppo and some of the other Cooperian experts. Perhaps we may venture two or three samples. Cooper was a sailor—a naval officer; yet he gravely tells us how a vessel, driving toward a lee shore in a gale, is steered for a particular spot by her skipper because he knows of an undertow there which will hold her back against the gale and save her. For just pure woodcraft, or sailorcraft, or whatever it is, isn't that neat? For several years, Cooper was daily in the society of artillery, and he ought to have noticed that when a cannon-ball strikes the ground it either buries itself or skips a hundred feet or so; skips again a hundred feet or so—and so on, till finally it gets tired and rolls. Now in one place he loses some "females"—as he always calls women—in the edge of a wood near a plain at night in a fog, on purpose to give Bumppo a chance to show off the delicate art of the forest before the reader. These mislaid people are hunting for a fort. They hear a cannon-blast, and a cannon-ball presently comes rolling into the wood and stops at their feet. To the females this suggests nothing. The case is very different with the admirable Bumppo. I wish I may never know peace again if he doesn't strike out promptly and follow the track of that cannon-ball across the plain in the dense fog and find the fort. Isn't it a daisy? If Cooper had any real knowledge of Nature's ways of doing things, he had a most delicate art in concealing the fact. For instance: one of his acute Indian experts, Chingachgook (pronounced Chicago, I think), has lost the trail of a person he is tracking through the forest. Apparently that trail is hopelessly lost. Neither you nor I could ever have guessed the way to find it. It was very different with Chicago. Chicago was not stumped for long. He turned a running stream out of its course, and there, in the slush in its old bed, were that person's moccasin tracks. The current did not wash them away, as it would have done in all other like cases—no, even the eternal laws of Nature have to vacate when Cooper wants to put up a delicate job of woodcraft on the reader.

The underlined word "circumvent" as Twain uses it in the first paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

dodge

avoid

outwit

bypass

Correct answer:

outwit

Explanation:

While all of the answer choices are synonyms of "circumvent," the older meaning of "outwit" is likely what Twain intends here, given its coupling with the verb "deceive" in the passage.

Example Question #34 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Review of Wyandotté, or The Hutted Knoll” in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe—Vol. XI: Literary Criticism by Edgar Allan Poe (1843; ed. 1902)

It will be at once seen that there is nothing original in this story. On the contrary, it is even excessively common-place. The lover, for example, rescued from captivity by the mistress; the Knoll carried through the treachery of an inmate; and the salvation of the besieged, at the very last moment, by a reinforcement arriving, in consequence of a message borne to a friend by one of the besieged, without the cognizance of the others; these, we say, are incidents which have been the common property of every novelist since the invention of letters. And as for plot, there has been no attempt at any thing of the kind. The tale is a mere succession of events, scarcely any one of which has any necessary dependence upon any one other. Plot, however, is, at best, an artificial effect, requiring, like music, not only a natural bias, but long cultivation of taste for its full appreciation; some of the finest narratives in the world—Gil-Blas and Robinson Crusoe, for example—have been written without its employment; and The Hutted Knoll, like all the sea and forest novels of Cooper, has been made deeply interesting, although depending upon this peculiar source of interest not at all. Thus the absence of plot can never be critically regarded as a defect; although its judicious use, in all cases aiding and in no case injuring other effects, must be regarded as of a very high order of merit.

There are one or two points, however, in the mere conduct of the story now before us, which may, perhaps, be considered as defective. For instance, there is too much obviousness in all that appertains to the hanging of the large gate. In more than a dozen instances, Mrs. Willoughby is made to allude to the delay in the hanging; so that the reader is too positively and pointedly forced to perceive that this delay is to result in the capture of the Knoll. As we are never in doubt of the fact, we feel diminished interest when it actually happens. A single vague allusion, well-managed, would have been in the true artistical spirit.

Again; we see too plainly, from the first, that Beekman is to marry Beulah, and that Robert Willoughby is to marry Maud. The killing of Beulah, of Mrs. Willoughby, and Jamie Allen, produces, too, a painful impression which does not properly appertain to the right fiction. Their deaths affect us as revolting and supererogatory; since the purposes of the story are not thereby furthered in any regard. To Willoughby’s murder, however distressing, the reader makes no similar objection; merely because in his decease is fulfilled a species of poetical justice. We may observe here, nevertheless, that his repeated references to his flogging [another character] seem unnatural, because we have otherwise no reason to think him a fool, or a madman, and these references, under the circumstances, are absolutely insensate. We object, also, to the manner in which the general interest is dragged out, or suspended. The besieging party are kept before the Knoll so long, while so little is done, and so many opportunities of action are lost, that the reader takes it for granted that nothing of consequence will occur—that the besieged will be finally delivered. He gets so accustomed to the presence of danger that its excitement, at length, departs. The action is not sufficiently rapid. There is too much procrastination. There is too much mere talk for talk’s sake. The interminable discussions between Woods and Captain Willoughby are, perhaps, the worst feature of the book, for they have not even the merit of referring to the matters on hand. In general, there is quite too much colloquy for the purpose of manifesting character, and too little for the explanation of motive. The characters of the drama would have been better made out by action; while the motives to action, the reasons for the different courses of conduct adopted by the dramatis personae, might have been made to proceed more satisfactorily from their own mouths, in casual conversations, than from that of the author in person. To conclude our remarks upon the head of ill-conduct in the story, we may mention occasional incidents of the merest melodramatic absurdity: as, for example, at page 156, of the second volume, where “Willoughby had an arm round the waist of Maud, and bore her forward with a rapidity to which her own strength was entirely unequal.” We may be permitted to doubt whether a young lady of sound health and limbs, exists, within the limits of Christendom, who could not run faster, on her own proper feet, for any considerable distance, than she could be carried upon one arm of either the Cretan Milo or of the Hercules Farnese. 

The underlined word "employment" as Poe uses it in the first paragraph is most likely to mean __________.

Possible Answers:

use

business

work

job

Correct answer:

use

Explanation:

Poe is using the word "employment" in the same sense of "use," as in the use of a plot.

Example Question #31 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Review of Wyandotté, or The Hutted Knoll” in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe—Vol. XI: Literary Criticism by Edgar Allan Poe (1843; ed. 1902)

It will be at once seen that there is nothing original in this story. On the contrary, it is even excessively common-place. The lover, for example, rescued from captivity by the mistress; the Knoll carried through the treachery of an inmate; and the salvation of the besieged, at the very last moment, by a reinforcement arriving, in consequence of a message borne to a friend by one of the besieged, without the cognizance of the others; these, we say, are incidents which have been the common property of every novelist since the invention of letters. And as for plot, there has been no attempt at any thing of the kind. The tale is a mere succession of events, scarcely any one of which has any necessary dependence upon any one other. Plot, however, is, at best, an artificial effect, requiring, like music, not only a natural bias, but long cultivation of taste for its full appreciation; some of the finest narratives in the world—Gil-Blas and Robinson Crusoe, for example—have been written without its employment; and The Hutted Knoll, like all the sea and forest novels of Cooper, has been made deeply interesting, although depending upon this peculiar source of interest not at all. Thus the absence of plot can never be critically regarded as a defect; although its judicious use, in all cases aiding and in no case injuring other effects, must be regarded as of a very high order of merit.

There are one or two points, however, in the mere conduct of the story now before us, which may, perhaps, be considered as defective. For instance, there is too much obviousness in all that appertains to the hanging of the large gate. In more than a dozen instances, Mrs. Willoughby is made to allude to the delay in the hanging; so that the reader is too positively and pointedly forced to perceive that this delay is to result in the capture of the Knoll. As we are never in doubt of the fact, we feel diminished interest when it actually happens. A single vague allusion, well-managed, would have been in the true artistical spirit.

Again; we see too plainly, from the first, that Beekman is to marry Beulah, and that Robert Willoughby is to marry Maud. The killing of Beulah, of Mrs. Willoughby, and Jamie Allen, produces, too, a painful impression which does not properly appertain to the right fiction. Their deaths affect us as revolting and supererogatory; since the purposes of the story are not thereby furthered in any regard. To Willoughby’s murder, however distressing, the reader makes no similar objection; merely because in his decease is fulfilled a species of poetical justice. We may observe here, nevertheless, that his repeated references to his flogging [another character] seem unnatural, because we have otherwise no reason to think him a fool, or a madman, and these references, under the circumstances, are absolutely insensate. We object, also, to the manner in which the general interest is dragged out, or suspended. The besieging party are kept before the Knoll so long, while so little is done, and so many opportunities of action are lost, that the reader takes it for granted that nothing of consequence will occur—that the besieged will be finally delivered. He gets so accustomed to the presence of danger that its excitement, at length, departs. The action is not sufficiently rapid. There is too much procrastination. There is too much mere talk for talk’s sake. The interminable discussions between Woods and Captain Willoughby are, perhaps, the worst feature of the book, for they have not even the merit of referring to the matters on hand. In general, there is quite too much colloquy for the purpose of manifesting character, and too little for the explanation of motive. The characters of the drama would have been better made out by action; while the motives to action, the reasons for the different courses of conduct adopted by the dramatis personae, might have been made to proceed more satisfactorily from their own mouths, in casual conversations, than from that of the author in person. To conclude our remarks upon the head of ill-conduct in the story, we may mention occasional incidents of the merest melodramatic absurdity: as, for example, at page 156, of the second volume, where “Willoughby had an arm round the waist of Maud, and bore her forward with a rapidity to which her own strength was entirely unequal.” We may be permitted to doubt whether a young lady of sound health and limbs, exists, within the limits of Christendom, who could not run faster, on her own proper feet, for any considerable distance, than she could be carried upon one arm of either the Cretan Milo or of the Hercules Farnese. 

The underlined word "supererogatory" as Poe uses it in the third paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

supernatural

supplemental

superfluous

superior

Correct answer:

superfluous

Explanation:

The word "supererogatory" is an older form of the word "superfluous," which means extra and unnecessary. You can deduce this meaning from the word's context because it is followed by since Poe claims that the characters' deaths are supererogatory "since the purposes of the story are not thereby furthered in any regard."

Example Question #32 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In 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.

When Poe says that a poet "should thus be led to examine the extent of the one, and to be wary of the deductions of the other," the words "one" and "other" refer respectively to __________.

Possible Answers:

his tears and his affectations

his predjudice due to educational training and his reason

the true poet and any decent critic

his impressions and his affectations

Correct answer:

his predjudice due to educational training and his reason

Explanation:

The phrase refers to the previous sentence in which Poe says that a poet or critic is often impressed by the affectations in a poem that "the prejudice of his education, or . . . the cant of his reason" would generally lead him to criticize.

Example Question #33 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In 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.

Based on how the word is used in this passage, Poe would likely define "quaintness" as __________.

Possible Answers:

charm and homeyness

strangeness and unusualness in an old-fashioned and charming way

inauthenticity and unoriginality

excessive ornateness

Correct answer:

strangeness and unusualness in an old-fashioned and charming way

Explanation:

Poe is using "quaint" in the sense of something that is both unusual and odd but in an old-fashioned and charming way.

Example Question #34 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In 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.

The underlined word "approbation" as Poe uses it in the first paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

worthiness

approval 

condemnation 

criticism

Correct answer:

approval 

Explanation:

"Approbation" is a word meaning approval or praise. A poet would surely want approbation from a critic such as Poe.

Example Question #35 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In 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.

Another word for the underlined word "apothegms" that Poe uses in this passage would likely be __________.

Possible Answers:

maxims

rules

poems

morals

Correct answer:

maxims

Explanation:

The word "apothegm" generally refers to a saying or a maxim like the one Poe quotes from Bacon.

Example Question #36 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In 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.

The underlined word "obscure" as Poe uses it twice in the passage most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

uncertain

unknown

vague

difficult to understand

Correct answer:

difficult to understand

Explanation:

The word "obscure" here means difficult to understand, as Poe feels that some of Tennyson's work is and nearly all of Carlyle's work is.

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