I'm reading the self-help book Pushing to the front by Orison Swett Marden. I need help to get the full meaning of this sentence. In chapter 38 entitled "The will and the way" it says:

Webster was very poor even after he entered Dartmouth College. A friend sent him a recipe for greasing his boots. Webster wrote and thanked him, and added: "But my boots needs other doctoring, for they not only admit water, but even peas and gravel-stones." Yet he became one of the greatest men in the world.

Is Webster saying that he cannot afford the suggested ingredients, or he says that he needs to constantly put his boots on and make use of them?, or maybe some other meaning...

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    Webster is saying that his boots need to have other, more serious, problems fixed before they are waterproofed.
    – EllieK
    Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 17:54
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    @FumbleFingers The mistake exists in the quote - it's not obviously a typo and I don't think it should be corrected. (if only because it makes it easier to search for the context in the text)
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 17:59
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    @ColleenV: My mistake. I was preoccupied with reassuring myself that it would be okay to correct OP's own errors (noting that some people have suggested we should leave such things alone, as they give some indication of the poster's command of English generally). Actually, it's probably fair to say Johnson's usage there was deliberately and facetiously ungrammatical, to match the rather curious (but not inherently ungrammatical) construction other doctoring. Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 18:20
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    @FumbleFingers I think if the question is about meaning, it makes sense to do a bit more correction than if the question is about grammaticality. Every situation is a bit different though.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 18:36
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    @ColleenV: This GB search seems to locate a syntactically valid version from 1894. So I now think the version actually cited here really is just an OCR error. Besides which, I may be mistaken, but I've no recollection of Johnson ever flippantly playing with "ungrammatical" constructions (I'm sure that like everyone else, he did; maybe just not often on the record). Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 12:37

1 Answer 1


"A recipe for greasing his boots" means a procedure for making his boots waterproof. Webster says his boots "not only admit water, but even peas and gravel-stones", which means his boots have holes in them large enough to admit (allow in) small rocks. It doesn't make sense to make the leather waterproof if there are holes that are big enough for "gravel-stones" to get through.

The implication is that Webster is too poor to buy new boots, so his current boots are worn out and full of holes. Even if he could afford the ingredients, he would need to get new shoes for the recipe to be useful.

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