To Sir John Lade On His Coming Of Age

I need someone to provide an in-depth explanation for Samuel's Johnson poem, "To Sir John Lade, On His Coming of Age."

Here is the poem :

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
You can hang or drown at last.

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Samuel's Johnson poem, "To Sir John Lade, On His Coming of Age" can be more easily understood when broken down stanza by stanza.

In poetry, [a] stanza refers to a grouping of lines, set off by a space, that usually has a set pattern of meter and rhyme.

The meter is a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables; this particular poem is written in a trochaic meter, where stress is placed on the first syllable of each pair.

Johnson's work is an example of lyric poetry.

...a short poem with one speaker (not necessarily the poet) who expresses thought and feeling.

The first stanza is addressed to Sir John Lade, and has been written to "celebrate" his twenty-first birthday which has followed a long and "lingering" year of anticipation on Lade's part.

The second stanza relates that Lade is no longer a minor (under twenty-one); he is now legally eligible to mortgage and sell his land, may live as wildly as he wants, and no longer must be thrifty (frugal) with his money, which he probably had to do before turning twenty-one.

In the third stanza, Johnson notes that Lade may call upon the company of any number of different women (anyone who chooses to live as carefree as he), to spend without thought the inheritance (seemingly a sizable one) that he has finally received, left to him by his grandfather. The line " the spirit of an heir" may simply refer to the way an heir might casually spend that which he did not have to work hard to earn and/or protect.

The fourth stanza is about things in life that "prey" on "vice and folly" (immoral behavior and foolishness), which are joyful to see money flying around. And while the "gamester" (gambler) is having a wonderful time, the moneylender sits quietly by, waiting for the foolish gambler to lose all his money.

Johnson, in stanza five, observes that money was made to "be spread around," and encourages Lade to do so. He should spend money on horse racing (jockey) and prostitutes ("pander" meaning "pimp"), allowing them to take their share of his wealth.

Stanza six explains that when a blade ("jaunty young man") goes out "partying," with a full wallet and high spirits, land and houses are nothing more than piles of dirt—of little importance whether wet or dry. (The inference is that a wiser man would see the value of houses and land, as investments, worth a great deal more a piece of ground.)

Samuel Johnson's seventh and final stanza notes that the young heir may have a guardian or mother who will try to point out the danger of wasting his money, but that Lade should scorn their advice. Johnson ends his poem by stating that the young man will drown or hang in the end. This is a dire note: essentially, once the young man has spent all his money and sold all his holdings (including land and houses) in order to pay his gambling debts, he will probably commit suicide by hanging or drowning. (This was not an uncommon occurrence for members of the aristocracy when confronted by the inevitability of living not only beneath the means to which they were accustomed, but most likely in poverty.)

Samuel Johnson is writing with a sense of irony here. He does not support Lade's lifestyle, though I doubt this was written as a warning—most likely Lade would have ignored it. However, perhaps Johnson hoped to catch the attention of another young man in a similar situation; certainly Lade's behavior would not have been unusual at that time.