SAT reading comprehension practice test 09

Passage 1 is taken from the introduction to Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson, one of the most famous biographies in the English language, and first published in 1791. The second extract, written a hundred years later, is from an essay by L. Stephen on the subject of autobiography.

Passage 1

    Had Dr. Johnson written his own Life, in
    conformity with the opinion which he has given, that
    every man's life may be best written by himself; had
    he employed in the preservation of his own history,
5   that clearness of narration and elegance of language in
    which he has embalmed so many eminent persons, the
    world would probably have had the most perfect
    example of biography that was ever exhibited. But
    although he at different times, in a desultory manner,
10  committed to writing many particulars of the progress
    of his mind and fortunes, he never had persevering
    diligence enough to form them into a regular
    composition. Of these memorials a few have been
    preserved; but the greater part was consigned by him
15  to the flames, a few days before his death.

    As I had the honour and happiness of enjoying
    his friendship for upwards of twenty years; as I had
    the scheme of writing his life constantly in view; as
    he was well apprised of this circumstance, and from
20  time to time obligingly satisfied my enquiries, by
    communicating to me the incidents of his early years;
    as I acquired a facility in recollecting, and was very
    assiduous in recording, his conversation, of which the
    extraordinary vigour and vivacity constituted one of
25  the first features of his character; and as I have spared
    no pains in obtaining materials concerning him, from
    every quarter where I could discover that they were to
    be found, and have been favoured with the most
    liberal communications by his friends; I flatter myself
30  that few biographers have entered upon such a work
    as this, with more advantages; independent of literary
    abilities, in which I am not vain enough to compare
    myself with some great names who have gone before
    me in this kind of writing.

35  Wherever narrative is necessary to explain,
    connect, and supply, I furnish it to the best of my
    abilities; but in the chronological series of Johnson's
    life, which I trace as distinctly as I can, year by year, I
    produce, wherever it is in my power, his own minutes,
40  letters, or conversation, being convinced that this
    mode is more lively, and will make my readers better
    acquainted with him, than even most of those were
    who actually knew him, but could know him only
    partially; whereas there is here an accumulation of
45  intelligence from various points, by which his
    character is more fully understood and illustrated.

    Indeed I cannot conceive a more perfect mode
    of writing any man's life, than not only relating all the
    most important events of it in their order, but
50  interweaving what he privately wrote, and said, and
    thought; by which mankind are enabled as it were to
    see him alive, and to 'live over each scene' with him,
    as he actually advanced through the several stages of
    his life. Had his other friends been as diligent and
55  ardent as I was, he might have been almost entirely
    preserved. As it is, I will venture to say that he will be
    seen in this work more completely than any man who
    has ever yet lived.

    And he will be seen as he really was, for I
60  profess to write, not his panegyric, which must be all
    praise, but his Life; which, great and good as he was,
    must not be supposed to be entirely perfect. To be as
    he was, is indeed subject of panegyric enough to any
    man in this state of being; but in every picture there
65  should be shade as well as light, and when I delineate
    him without reserve, I do what he himself
    recommended, both by his precept and his example:

    'If the biographer writes from personal
    knowledge, and makes haste to gratify the public
70  curiosity, there is danger lest his interest, his fear, his
    gratitude, or his tenderness, overpower his fidelity,
    and tempt him to conceal, if not to invent. There are
    many who think it an act of piety to hide the faults or
    failings of their friends, even when they can no longer
75  suffer by their detection; we therefore see whole ranks
    of characters adorned with uniform panegyric, and not
    to be known from one another but by extrinsic and
    casual circumstances. If we owe regard to the memory
    of the dead, there is yet more respect to be paid to
80  knowledge, to virtue, and to truth.'

Passage 2

    Nobody ever wrote a dull autobiography. If one may
    make such a bull, the very dullness would be
    interesting. The autobiographer has two qualifications
    of supreme importance in all literary work. He is
85  writing about a topic in which he is keenly interested,
    and about a topic upon which he is the highest living
    authority. It may he reckoned, too, as a special felicity
    that an autobiography, alone of all books, may be
    more valuable in proportion to the amount of
90  misrepresentation which it contains. We do not
    wonder when a man gives a false character to his
    neighbour, but it is always curious to see how a man
    contrives to present a false testimonial to himself. It is
    pleasant to he admitted behind the scenes and trace
95  the growth of that singular phantom which is the
    man's own shadow cast upon the coloured and
    distorting mists of memory. Autobiography for these
    reasons is so generally interesting, that I have
    frequently thought with the admirable Benvenuto
100  Cellini that it should be considered as a duty by all
    eminent men; and, indeed, by men not eminent. As
    every sensible man is exhorted to make his will, he
    should also be bound to leave to his descendants some
    account of his experience of life. The dullest of us
105  would in spite of themselves say something
    profoundly interesting, if only by explaining how they
    came to be so dull--a circumstance which is
    sometimes in great need of explanation. On reflection,
    however, we must admit that autobiography done
110  under compulsion would he in danger of losing the
    essential charm of spontaneity. The true
    autobiography is written by one who feels an
    irresistible longing for confidential expansion; who is
    forced by his innate constitution to unbosom himself
115  to the public of the kind of matter generally reserved
    for our closest intimacy.

Passage 1 adapted from: The Life of Samuel Johnson, Boswell (1791)
Passage 2 adapted from an essay by L Stephen (1907)

1. It can be inferred that Dr. Johnson

A. wrote many biographies
B. wrote his own autobiography
C. was opposed to autobiography
D. did not want Boswell to write about him
E. encouraged Boswell to destroy his papers

2. In passage I, the author, Boswell, seems most proud of his

A. literary abilities
B. friendship with an eminent man
C. thoroughness in obtaining biographical materials
D. good memory
E. personal knowledge of the life of Johnson

3. The writer of passage I apparently believes all of the following except

A. it is difficult for any individual to know any man completely
B. letters and conversations are especially interesting
C. other friends should also have recorded Johnson’s conversation
D. Johnson was a great man despite his faults
E. it is not necessary to follow a chronological approach to biography

4. ‘Panegyric’ (line 60) most nearly means

A. eulogy
B. myth
C. fame
D. portrait
E. caricature

5. In the quotation in the last paragraph of passage1, Dr. Johnson is concerned that biographers sometimes tend to do all of the following except

A. fabricate details of a man’s life
B. put pleasing the public too high in their priorities
C. conceal facts out of a false sense of respect
D. tend to over-praise their subjects
E. speak ill of the dead

6. The word ‘bull’ (line 82) would most likely mean

A. generalization
B. paradoxical statement
C. general rule
D. confession
E. ridiculous assertion

7. The ‘phantom’ (line 95) is a person’s

A. uniquely clear perception of himself
B. distortion of his memories to suit the impression he wishes to create
C. tendency to denigrate others
D. enhancement of autobiography by authentic memories
E. growing awareness of his own importance

8. The author of passage II mentions Cellini (line 100) as

A. an eminent yet dull man
B. a biographer of distinction
C. a confidant of the author
D. an authority who has advocated the writing of autobiography
E. a lawyer who thought that wills should contain autobiographical information

9. The author of passage 2 seems to think that misrepresentation in an autobiography

I is to be expected
II adds to the interest
III reveals insight into character

A. I only
B. II only
C. I and II only
D. II and III only
E. I, II and III

10. In the sentence ‘On reflection...’, (lines 108-110) the author

A. qualifies his opinion stated earlier
B. defines the most important attribute of biography
C. introduces his main point
D. enlarges on his theme
E. identifies a problem

11. The author of passage 2 and Dr. Johnson would probably have agreed that

I an autobiographer is the greatest authority on his own life
II autobiography is always misleading
III biography tends to over-praise

A. I only
B. II only
C. III only
D. I and II only
E. II and III only

12. It can be inferred that Boswell would be most surprised by the contention of the author of passage 2 that

A. all eminent men should write an autobiography
B. people may misrepresent the character of others
C. dull men can be profoundly interesting
D. a man is the highest authority on his own life
E. autobiographies are profoundly interesting

13. Boswell and the author of passage two differ in tone and attitude to their subjects in that Boswell

A. is more objective whereas Stephen is more rhetorical
B. is more confident whereas Stephen is more hesitant
C. writes more impersonally, whereas Stephen writes formally
D. is more pompous, whereas Stephen does not always expect to be taken seriously
E. writes in a more literary style, whereas Stephen’s writing is more expository

Test information

Q 13 questions

Time 15 minutes

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