Study Guide

The Vanity of Human Wishes Pride

By Samuel Johnson

Pride

Then say how hope and fear, desire and hate,
O'erspread with snares the clouded maze of fate,
Where wav'ring man, betray'd by vent'rous pride,
To tread the dreary paths without a guide (5-8)

Emotions such as hope, fear, desire, and hate lead us into making bad judgements. Pride, especially, can mislead us by making us take the wrong decisions. This in turn leads to our downfall.

Speak thou, whose thoughts at humble peace repine,
Shall Wolsey's wealth, with Wolsey's end, be thine?
Or liv'st thou now, with safer pride content,
The wisest justice on the banks of Trent? (121-124)

Here the speaker warns us readers that we need to watch how proud we are. Cardinal Wolsey was too proud and too ambitious, and for this reason he came to a bad end. Instead, the speaker suggests that we should live with "safer" pride—with more humility—and in this way we may have a chance at avoiding such a bad end.

On what foundation stands the warrior's pride,
How just his hopes, let Swedish Charles decide (191-192)

Warrior-kings such as Charles XII were too proud. And the story of his life demonstrates, according to the speaker, the dangers of having too much pride. He didn't come to a good end, after all.

In gay hostility, and barb'rous pride,
With half mankind embattled at his side,
Great Xerxes comes to seize the certain prey (225-227)

The Persian King Xerxes was overcome by "barbarous" pride. This sort of aggressive, savage pride is dangerous. It ultimately also led to Xerxes' downfall.

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