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The first sentence of the preface of the Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson is as follows

It is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward.

"It is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather ..."

  1. What does "toil at the lower employments of life" mean? is it talking about the people who work hard for long time to obtain low-level jobs?

  2. "It is the fate of those ....., to be driven by the fear of evil" In order for me to better understand the sentence, I try to change it a little bit. So, if I said "It is the fate of Carl/somebody to be driven crazy/something" Here I am saying that his fate is as follows. Am I right? So, in the original sentence, he is saying that these people who toil..., their fate is to be driven by... Is my interpretation right?

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"Those who toil at the lower employments of life" refers to people who have thankless, low-paying jobs with little hope of advancement of pay that affords you any extra above the bare minimum to survive.

I had to reread the section after the first comma once to get the flow of the sentence right, so it's a complicated structure even for formal language! The narrator is making a list of comparatives; he's saying "People such as these will do/feel/experience X rather than Y, A rather than B, 1 rather than 2" (where it is implied that the second option is preferred, and also experienced by those who do not have this type of job).

So if you have a job with compensation that affords you moderate luxuries, you will be rewarded for success, and driven to do well because you know you will be rewarded for it. If you have a low-paying job, you will instead be driven by fear; if you don't succeed, you know you will be punished. It's positive vs negative reinforcement (the carrot versus the stick).

  • Thank you for answering. But for my question 2. It says the fate of those, meaning that their fate is to be driven by.. Am I right? – Ghaith Alrestom Sep 11 '15 at 8:17
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    @GhaithAlrestom - I think you can paraphrase "It is the fate of those to..." as "These people are destined to..." I hope that helps. – J.R. Sep 11 '15 at 8:34

protected by Maulik V Dec 23 '15 at 9:02

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