The poems "To Sir John Lade, on His Coming of Age" and "When I Was one and Twenty" by Samuel Johnson and A. E. Houseman respectively, address the qualities of adulthood, specifically the age of twenty-one. Written in different eras, each poem offers a different viewpoint on the nature of one's coming of age. While Johnson's description is lavish, congratulatory, and high-spirited, Housman's is somewhat somber and much more restrained.
The speaker of "To Sir John Lade, on His Coming of Age" begins the poem lauding the young John Lade, now an adult, telling him to take "pride and plenty" in his coming of age. Unlike the speaker in "When I Was One and Twenty," the speaker in Johnson's poem is not the one coming of age. Instead he is an onlooker who has supposedly already experienced the "pomp and pleasure" of being twenty one. As such, he adopts a much happier tone than the speaker of Housman's poem.
The speaker of Johnson's poem describes adulthood as a release from the binds of childhood, a loosening "from the minor's tether." His view of adulthood as a time of freedom and power in youth is further characterized by the status of the twenty-one year old in question. Apparently he is "an heir" of his sire and grandsire, and possessing of great wealth, with "pockets full." The speaker here is able to tell this young man to enjoy adult life almost heedlessly, because of his wealth and privilege, something the speaker of Housman's poem is advised against.
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In "When I Was One and Twenty" the speaker claims a wise man told him to "give away pounds and guineas," but "not your heart." This is an immediate contrast from the attitude of the speaker in Johnson's poem. While the speaker in "John Lade" bade the new adult to spend lavishly to his heart's content, never emphasizing the importance of restraint and self-worth, the wise man of "One and Twenty" advises the speaker should make use of his wealth but always keep his heart in the right place.
Another noteworthy difference is the diction used regarding the usage of wealth. In Johnson's poem the speaker tells the young man to let his wealth wander frivolously, but in Housman's poem, the wise man tells the speaker to "give away" his source of wealth as if in a charitable sense. The speaker being the one coming of age in "One and Twenty" also allows Johnson to give insight into the speaker's reaction to the advice he is given. He claims that the wise counseling he received was of "no use" to him because of his inexperience. Later in the poem however, he claims the wise man's advice was "true, tis true" but only after he had 'matured,' turning twenty-two. The speaker did not heed the wise man's advice, and as a result discovered that giving away his "heart," his sense of self and duty, was indeed a mistake, "paid with sights of pity" and "sold for endless rue." While the speaker in "John Lade" advocates hedonistic enjoyment of young adulthood, the speaker of "One and Twenty" is much more wise to the truth of the matter.
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A Comparison of Adulthood in To Sir John Lade on His Coming of Age and When I Was One and Twenty by Samuel Johnson and A. E. Housman. (2023, Jan 05). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/a-comparison-of-adulthood-in-to-sir-john-lade-on-his-coming-of-age-and-when-i-was-one-and-twenty-by-samuel-johnson-and-a-e-housman/