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Regarding Samuel Johnson's "To Sir John Lade, On His Coming of Age," can someone give...

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mercure | Honors

Posted December 17, 2010 at 7:46 PM via web

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Regarding Samuel Johnson's "To Sir John Lade, On His Coming of Age," can someone give a detailed explanation?

"To Sir John Lade, On His Coming of Age" (‘A Short Song of Congratulation’) by Samuel Johnson

Long-expected one and twenty
Lingering year at last is flown
Pomp and pleasure, pride and plenty
Great Sir John, are all your own.
Loosened from the minor’s tether,
Free to mortgage or to sell,
Wild as wind, and light as feather,
Bid the slaves of thrift farewell.
Call the Bettys, Kates, and Jennys,
Every name that laughs at care,
Lavish of your grandsire’s guineas,
Show the spirit of an heir.
All that prey on vice and folly
Joy to see their quarry fly,
Here the gamester light and jolly,
There the lender grave and sly.
Wealth, Sir John, was made to wander,
Let it wander as it will;
See the jockey, see the pander,
Bid them come, and take their fill.
When the bonny blade carouses,
Pockets full, and spirits high,
What are acres? What are houses?
Only dirt, or wet or dry.
If the guardian or the mother
Tell the woes of wilful waste,
Scorn their counsel and their pother*                      (=fuss)
You can hang or drown at last.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 19, 2010 at 11:42 AM (Answer #1)

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With regard to Samuel Johnson's poem, "To Sir John Lade, On His Coming of Age," whether Johnson speaks of the senior or junior, he is definitely finding great fault with Lade's behavior upon coming of age.

The poem begins by referring to the passing of Sir John's birthday where he not only obtains the age of twenty-one (also known as his "majority,") but it is the occasion when he also comes into an inheritance from his grandfather, and it must be a rather handsome one.

Loosened from the minor’s tether,
Free to mortgage or to sell,
Wild as wind, and light as feather,
Bid the slaves of thrift farewell.

The passage above describes that Lade is no longer a minor (underage), and that now, according to his "adult" status, he may mortgage what he has or sell it; this infers that instead of protecting his assets for later life or for his own children, Lade can get easy cash to better enjoy his life. The "slaves of thrift" would refer to having to pinch his pennies and live frugally, which he most probably has had to do perviously, perhaps surviving off an allowance, certainly NOT from working.

The image Johnson next presents is one of Lade seeking out the company of many women, anyone who lives as he, without a care or sense of responsibility. The reference to, "Here the gamester light and jolly, / There the lender grave and sly" is describing a man at the gaming (gambling) tables, throwing his money away, while the moneylender, silent and sneakily (sounding almost like Death), waits in the "wings" until the gambler has lost all his money.

(It was not unusual for "gambling addicts" of that day to lose all their money and then work through their holdings—land and houses—putting them up for collateral with the moneylenders. It was also not unusual for a member of the nobility, having no further resources, to take his own life.)

Johnson advises...

Wealth, Sir John, was made to wander,
Let it wander as it will...

...into the pockets of the [horse] jockey or pimp ("pander"). Lacking any sense (it would seem), Lade has no regard for the true value of owning land or a home.

At the end of the poem, Johnson lets the reader know that Lade has a guardian (who has obviously protected his holdings for him until his "majority"), and a mother—both of whom will futilely advise him against his wasteful spending. He counsels Lade to ignore them both.

The last line, "You can hang or drown at last" probably refers to suicide. (Had he been sent to debtor's prison he would not have been executed, as a dead prisoner who owed too much money to pay back was of little use. Ironically, however, remaining in prison also provided the prisoner with no way to find a way to settle his debts.)

Johnson by no means supports Lade's flagrant dissipation; however, he will, no doubt, have seen this kind of behavior before. For Johnson, and other more mature and responsible members of English society at the time, Lade's behavior would have been seen not only as "bad form" or "common," but also tragic.

I would doubt Johnson expected Lade to pay attention to this piece, but perhaps Johnson hoped it would make a difference in another young heir's life.

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