From A Father To His Child – Comprehension


Wren and Martin Comprehension Exercise 147

You seemed at first to take no notice of your school-fellows, or rather to set yourself against them because they were strangers to you. They knew as little of you as you did of them; so that this would have been the reason for their keeping aloof, from you as well, which you would have felt as a hardship. Learn never to conceive a prejudice against other because you know nothing of them. It is bad reasoning, and makes enemies of half the world. Do not think ill of them till they behave ill to you; and then strive to avoid the faults which you see in them. This will disarm their hostility sooner than pique or resentment or complaint. I thought you were disposed to criticize the dress of some of the boys as not so good as your own. Never despise any one for anything that he cannot help – least of all, for his poverty. I would wish you to keep up appearances yourself as a defence against the idle sneers of the world, but I would not have you value yourself upon them. I hope you will neither be the dupe nor victim of vulgar prejudices. Instead of saying above “Never despise anyone for anything that he cannot help,” I might have said, “Never despise anyone at all”; for contempt implies a triumph over and pleasure in the ill of another. It means that you are glad and congratulate yourself on their failings or misfortunes. You have hitherto been a spoilt child, and have been used to have your own way a good deal, both in the house and among your playfellows, with whom you were too fond of being a leader; but you have good nature and good sense, and will get the better of this in time. You have now got among other boys who are your equals, or bigger and stronger than yourself and who have something else to attend to besides humouring your whims and fancies, and you feel this as a repulse or piece of injustice. But the first lesson to learn is that there are other people in the world besides yourself. The more airs of childish self-importance you. give yourself, you will only expose yourself to be the more thwarted and laughed at. True equality is the only true morality or wisdom. Remember always that you are but one among others and you can hardly mistake your place in society. In your father’s house you might do as you pleased; in the world you will find competitors at every turn. You are not born a king’s son, to destroy or dictate to millions; you can only expect to share their fate, or settle your differences amicably with them. You already find it so all school, and I wish you to be reconciled to your situation as soon and with as little pain as you can.
– William Hazlitt

1. Can you tell who is writing to whom in this passage? What would you call this kind of writing – a speech, a diary, a letter, a sermon?
Father is writing to his son. The sentence “In your father’s house you might do as you pleased” gives the clue. This kind of writing can aptly be called a sermon.

2. What reasons does the author give for not harboring a prejudice against others?
As no one knows anything about others in a new school, children keep themselves away from one another.

3. What are some of the blessings of living with others in the same class or the same school?
It is somewhat psychological that we grow some prejudices or form ill-founded opinions against those whom we do not know. The other party also does the same. Thus we lose the opportunity of befriending most of the people.

4. Paraphrase:-
(a) True equality is the only true morality or true wisdom.
(b) To be the dupe or victim of vulgar prejudices.
(c) Settle your differences amicably with them.

  • The wise and the moral do not discriminate.
  • To suffer of from severe prejudices.
  • Straight talk.

5. “Contempt implies a triumph over and pleasure in the ill of another.” Who are those who feel like this and why ?
There are contemptuous people who feel triumphant over holding someone in contempt. They derive pleasure by causing harm to people.

6. The author says that “in the world you will find competitors at every turn.” But competition is a very good thing. Why does he seem to warn his son about it?
Competition is indeed a very good thing. But, if we fail in it, we will be laughed at. This is why, the author warns about competition.