Reading difficult text deciphering complex text

When reading complex text, our poor, tired, overworked brains have to deal simultaneously with vocabulary, punctuation, sentence structure, and overall organization. Sometimes it’s more work than pleasure.

However, don’t despair! Momentary spurts of inspiration notwithstanding, good sustained writing is consciously planned and organized so that there is one idea per part.

Text is easier to understand when you are aware of it’s topic components.

From A New English Grammar for Schools, by Thomas Harvey:


In the following extract from Sydney Smith, a short exposition is given about wit. It is organized according to the following topics: —
1. Occurrence
    a. general belief.
    b. reality.
2. Usual accompaniments.
3. Effect
    a. upon different individuals.
    b. upon society.
4. Value.
Wit And Wisdom
There is an association in men’s minds between dullness and wisdom, amusement and folly, which has a very powerful influence in decision upon character, and is not overcome without considerable difficulty. The reason is, that the outward signs of a dull man and a wise man are the same, and so are the outward signs of a frivolous man and a witty man; and we are not to expect that the majority will be disposed to look to much more than the outward signs.
I believe the fact to be, that wit is very seldom the only eminent quality which resides in the mind of any man; it is commonly accompanied by many other talents of every description, and ought to be considered as a strong evidence of a fertile and superior understanding. Almost all the great poets, orators, and statesmen of all times have been witty.
The meaning of an extraordinary man is, that he is eight men, not one man; that he has as much wit as if he had no sense, and as much sense as if he had no wit; that his conduct is as judicious as if he were the dullest of human beings, and his imagination as brilliant as if he were irretrievably ruined. But when wit is combined with sense and information; when it is softened by benevolence, and restrained by strong principle; when it is in the hands of a man who can use it and despise it, who can be witty, and something much better than witty, who loves honor, justice, decency, good nature, morality, and religion, ten thousand times better than wit; — wit is then a beautiful and delightful part of our nature.
There is no more interesting spectacle than to see the effects of wit upon the different characters of men; than to observe it expanding caution, relaxing dignity, unfreezing coldness, — teaching age and care and pain to smile, — extorting reluctant gleams of pleasure from melancholy, and charming even the pangs of grief. It is pleasant to observe how it penetrates through the coldness and awkwardness of society, gradually bringing men nearer together, and, like the combined force of wine and oil, giving every man a glad heart and a shining countenance.
Genuine and innocent wit like this is surely the flavor of the mind! Man could direct his ways by plain reason, and support his life by tasteless food; but God has given us wit and flavor and laughter and perfumes to enliven the days of man’s pilgrimage, and to “charm his painful steps over the burning marl.”
Read each topic and tell what corresponds to it in the extract. 

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