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In the quote, "He is to resist the vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever to barbarism"

What does resist mean?

  • to tolerate
  • to protest

What does vulgar prosperity mean?

  • obscene prosperity
  • ill mannered prosperity

What does ever mean?

  • always
  • occasionally

What does retrogrades mean?

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The options are... peculiar. Is this homework? – RegDwigнt Jul 5 '11 at 10:17
No, This is not a homework, I picked up the options from "English To Hindi" dictionary and then translated those "Hindi" words to "English" again, because until I see the word in my own language, I don't understand the meaning properly. – teenup Jul 6 '11 at 6:39
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Let's bring in a little context.

"He is to find consolation in exercising the highest functions of human nature. He is one, who raises himself from private considerations, and breathes and lives on public and illustrious thoughts. He is the world’s eye. He is the world’s heart. He is to resist the vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever to barbarism, by preserving and communicating heroic sentiments, noble biographies, melodious verse, and the conclusions of history." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

The speaker suggests that his subject should avoid succumbing to the temptations presented by the cheap thrills provided to him, which lead him back to a more barbaric state of being, instead aspiring to something better.

To resist here is to avoid temptations/inclinations.

Vulgar prosperity here is presumably vulgar in its lack of artfulness and illustriousness, by being common and unenlightened by history and the arts.

Ever suggests that succumbing to the aforementioned vulgar prosperity will always lead back to barbarism.

Retrograde here means to reverse or revert, working with the notion that barbarism is a primal human state.

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What does resist mean?

To resist. To abstain by force of will.

What does vulgar prosperity mean?

Common, or unenlightened. In this context, "prosperity for ones self which does not take into consideration the well being of others or society."

What does ever mean?

Always and continuously.

What does retrogrades mean?

Descends. That is, descending from an enlightened person to a savage or barbarian.

He is to resist the vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever to barbarism.

He should always resist the temptation to take what he wants at the expense of others, otherwise he will descend from a civilized human into an animal.

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I just want to add that vulgar here means:

Characteristic of or belonging to the masses

As this is talking about the "American Scholar", he is to "avoid the prosperity characteristic of the masses". (of the masses meaning the common people).

"Prosperity" here has an implication of "complacency" due to the easy living that "prosperity" brings.

Thus, the sentence would mean:

He(the scholar) must avoid complacency common to general people, because this complacency will always(ever) deteriorate (retrograde) to barbarism.

Hope that helps.

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I think we can rely on others to explain the full expression, but I can't help pointing out that vulgar prosperity may simply mean prosperity the speaker doesn't have.

In other words, there may be a touch of envy in there.

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I don't think there's a touch of envy, considering the context. – Andrew Lambert Jul 5 '11 at 3:17
and I'm not one to find envy where it doesn't exist, I just think it's a possibility, given the high-flown language. – pavium Jul 5 '11 at 3:24
Commencement addresses are notorious for high-flown language ;) – Andrew Lambert Jul 5 '11 at 3:27
@Amazed.. I see now it's from a Commencement address (which wasn't there when I first answered), so envy is unlikely to be a factor. – pavium Jul 5 '11 at 3:32

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