The Passage

With hopes like these [detailed in the previous paragraph], he sallies jocund into life; to little purpose is he told,

that the condition of humanity admits no pure and unmingled happiness;

that the exuberant gaiety of youth ends in poverty or disease;

that uncommon qualifications and contrarieties of excellence, produce envy equally with applause;

that whatever admiration and fondness may promise him, he must marry a wife like the wives of others, with some virtues and some faults, and be as often disgusted by her vices, as delighted by her elegance;

that if he adventures into the circle of action, he must expect to encounter men as (a) artful, as (b) daring, as (c) resolute as himself; [triple]

that of his children, (a) some may be deformed, and (b) others vicious; (a) some may disgrace him by their follies, (b) some offend him by their insolence, and (c) some exhaust him by their profusion. [triple]

[conclusion] He hears all this with obstinate incredulity, and wonders by what malignity old age is influenced, that it cannot forbear to fill his ears with predictions of misery.

Questions and observations

  1. Noun-of-noun constructions: "the condition of humanity," "the exuberant gaiety of youth," "the circle of action."
  2. Note how the function of all the clauses that follow "that" resemble similarly structured ones in Swift's "Modest Proposal."
  3. Why is Johnson's punctuation rhetorical rather than grammatical.
  4. Note how many times he uses alliteration to reinforce parallels and clarify clausal structure.
  5. When does he use triple, as opposed to double, repetition? What is its effect?

11 February 2002