Class 12th Free Reading Comprehension

1-The Famous Lake

In the southern part of Trinidad, about sixty miles from Port of Spain lies a lake that is famed throughout the world. Though some of its surfaces is a drab expanse of asphalt, it is, nevertheless, a lake. It has water and fishes and, until a few years ago, there were some alligators in it too. If we started to walk over the lake, we should have to wade sometimes through deep pools and be very careful not to step on one of the soft spots where the asphalt has not yet hardened, or we should stick fast. Coarse scrub and a few trees grow on the sloping banks around the lake and there are a few little islands with similar vegetation on the lake itself. The only birds to be seen are black vultures, known locally as curbs.

How was this remarkable lake formed? Thousands of years ago heavy, sticky oil started to bubble up through the bed of the lake from prehistoric rocks far below. This oily substance stayed on the bottom of the lake and mixed with the sandy sediment there. The mixing process was helped by the presence of gases whose movement stirred the sediment gently. Through the ages more oil seeped in, and the gentle churning process went on, until much of the lake was a thick emulsion which hardened when exposed to air.

The earliest description of the lake is that which Sir Walter Raleigh wrote in his diary after visiting Trinidad in 1617. Here is a part of it:

.. a piece of land of some 2 leagues long and a league broad, all of stone pitch of bitumen which rises out of the ground in little springs or fountains and so running a little way, it hardens in the air and covers all the plain. There are also many springs of water and in and among them freshwater fish.”

It was natural that Raleigh viewed the lake as a at that time none of the asphalt had been removed, and it spread over a surface far beyond the actual basin of the lake. plain, for Raleigh’s ships, like all other ships at that time, was made of wood, and he found the asphalt very useful for caulking the seams to make the ships watertight.

Men discovered, long ago, that asphalt had very strong binding qualities. In Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago, it was used in building to hold the bricks together. Perhaps the Babylonians used it when building that great tower which they hoped would reach the sky. The asphalt used by these carly builders was found in rock form in countries around the Mediterranean Sea. It is still mined in this form in Switzerland, France, Sicily and Germany. Only Trinidad has a lake of asphalt.

In the early part of the nineteenth century attempts were made to use the lake asphalt for various purposes. People tried to burn it as fuel, but this was not a success. Then they tried to extract the oil for use in lamps but, of course, it was not the right kind of oil for that. Strangely enough, the first experiment in the use of the lake asphalt for road-making was also unsuccessful. In 1815 Sir Ralph Woodward, who was then governor of Trinidad, was concerned at the rapid growth of weeds in the streets of Port of Spain. He decided that a layer of asphalt would kill the weeds and give a good road surface. The work was carried out but, instead of dying off, the weeds grew more luxuriantly than before. Probably the ground had been dug too deeply before the asphalt was applied, and the coating given was too thin. Experiments in refining the asphalt to make it suitable for pavements and roads continued, however, and in 1870 the first Trinidad asphalt pavement was laid in Newark, New Jersey, USA. By the end of the nineteenth century great quantities of asphalt were being dug out of the lake to be shipped to many overseas countries for use in road-making.

Tate Gallery in London is only one of many buildings in Britain’s capital city which has some lake asphalt in its roof. Indeed, there are few countries in the world in which one would not find some use being made of asphalt from the famous lake in Trinidad.

 Questions on the Story

  1. Where is the famous lake located? 
  2. Can you tell how the lake was formed?
  3. What did Sir Walter Raleigh use lake asphalt for?
  4. Asphalt was used in building in Old Testament times. Can you find out the name of the Babylonian high tower mentioned in biblical literature?
  5. Was the first asphalt road laid in Port of Spain a success? Explain what happened.
  6. (a) How was asphalt formerly dug from the lake?

(b) How is it dug out now? 

  1. How is asphalt refined or purified?
  2. Why are good roads so important nowadays?
  3. What makes the best surface for modern roads? 
  4. What famous building in London has lake asphalt in its roof?

2-The Young Poet

In the following extract from Young Walter Scott by E.J. Gray, the young budding writer, still a schoolboy, receives some encouragement from the reception given to his very first lines of verse.

Walter limped to his place in the Rector’s class and sat down. He was ninth. There were one hundred and seven boys behind him. He did not know just how it had happened, but Latin as Dr Adam taught it seemed to be the easier and more interesting, and he had mounted to the first form almost before he knew where he was. Now that he was here he was going to take good care to stay. He had a reputation to maintain now. The Rector had said of him, “Many of the lads understand the Latin better, but Gualterus Scott is behind few in following and enjoying the author’s meaning.”

James Buchan was dux. He had kept first place ever since Wattie had been coming to the High School. No use trying to dislodge him. Ninth was good enough. Ninth, or maybe eighth.

Dr Adam came in with his gown billowing out behind him, his cheeks red and his hair slightly ruffled by the wind, and sat down at his desk on the platform. For a moment his thin fine hands were busy among his papers and piles of books, then he looked up and gazed out lovingly over his flock. Walter’s breath quickened, he felt the class behind him stir attentively. Today was the day.

“Yes,” pronounced the Rector, “I have read your verses, the verse of those of you who were interested enough to make this additional effort. I think you will find when you grow older that no effort which you put into your schoolwork ever fails to bear fruit far beyond the due and fit but still limited rewards of the classroom. I have been teaching boys since I was a young man of nineteen and I am acquainted with the subsequent history of every lad who has passed under my control, and I say to you that I could have prophesied in advance what their several fates would be, for invariably those who were diligent in school have prospered in afterlife and those who were idle and inattentive in their lessons have failed signally in the greatest tasks of life.”

The good doctor was off on his hobbyhorse. He would go on until he felt the attention of the lads slacken and then he would switch abruptly back to the matter in hand. His wide grey eyes with the twinkle at the corners saw every shade of expression that passed over their faces.

“I have read your papers carefully, in which you have turned passages of Virgil into English verse, and I have chosen two, one to receive the prize and one to receive honorable mention.”

Now was the moment.

“The prize is awarded to Colin Mackenzie for Dido’s speech. After I have read the piece, the author of it will please step forward to the platform.”

He read the poem carefully, with the kinds of emphasis necessary to make the meter come out right, and Walter said to himself thoughtfully that it was very fine indeed. He wouldn’t have thought old Colin had it in him.

He looked very handsome when he went up to receive his prize, which all, craning their necks, perceived at once to be nothing but a calendar. His face, pale from excitement, was in striking contrast to his dark eyes and dark hair; he was tall and slender and even in his school clothes he had a look of elegance.

As he climbed over Wattie to get back to his place, Walter gave him a congratulatory thump on the shoulder.

The Rector picked up another sheet of paper. “Gualterus Scott receives honorable mention for a description of Mount Etna:

“In awful ruins Etna thunders high, And sends in pitchy whirlwinds to the sky Black clouds of smoke….” 

Watts felt silly, sitting there while his poem was being readout. His face flamed and his fingers were damp in his pockets. And yet, deep in his heart was a solid core of contentment. Never before had anything sounded quite so good in his ears.

“The stones made liquid as the huge mass flies, (The end was almost reached now) Then back again with greater weight recoils While Etna thundering from the bottom boils.”

He limped forward and received his paper and a handshake from the Rector. The class clapped and stamped – more, he felt, because they seized any excuse for making a racket than because they wished to pay honest tribute to literary achievement – until they were firmly ordered to cease.

He presented the poem to his mother that evening. After she had read it over twice and commented on its merits, she wrote on it, “My Walter’s first lines, 1782,” and put it away carefully in a drawer in her bureau.

“Why’d you write that?” he asked curiously.

“Because I think they’ll not be your last. These were a translation. One of these days you’ll be writing something out of your own head.”

Interesting Facts about Sir Walter Scott

  1. Scotland, despite its small size on the map, can boast of many writers whose works are still known and read all over the world including Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. Scott was born in Edinburgh in 1771, although his ancestors hailed from the Borders, the region with which we usually associate him. While a baby, young Walter suffered a severe bout of infantile paralysis which left his right leg partially lame for the rest of his life. From an early age Scott was deeply fascinated by the past, by tales of feuds and battles, knights in shining armor and ladies in distress, by the Jacobite Rebellions and by Bonnie Prince Charlie.
  2. After a period at the Royal High School of Edinburgh, Scott entered college to study law, and, in the summer of 1792, he passed his final examinations to qualify as an advocate. By this time Scott’s learning was tremendous – he had read everything of note in English literature, while he also read easily in French, German, Spanish and Italian. Latin he also knew soundly, though it was always a source of regret to him that he never took up Greek. As well as book learning, however, Scott liked to see things for himself, and each year he would explore the countryside, if not in the Borders, in the Highlands. He would mix with the common people there who could tell him tales of long ago, and recite to him the old traditional ballads which he collected and later published.
  3. Not satisfied, however, with merely writing down other people’s poetry, Scott set out to compose his own. Before long he had won a great reputation as a narrative poet all over the British Isles. He was introduced to Robert Burns, was entertained by King George IV, and was actually asked if he would become Poet Laureate. He refused this high honor, however, and the English poet Robert Southey was appointed instead. By 1811, Scott was making by his poetry over £1,000 a year, a very great income in those days. His poems are long but full of action and very exciting, the most famous being The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion and The Lady of the Lake.
  4. In 1811, Scott, now enjoying great fame and wealth, paid out the colossal sum of £4,000 for a piece of land near Melrose (a small town in the Scottish Borders), beautifully situated, on which he intended to build a new home. Abbotsford, as he called it, is still a fascinating place to visit. The great house, which replaced the older farmhouse, was begun in 1822 and represents all Scott lived for. It is a real treasure-chest of the past, containing such things as the Wallace chair, made from wood taken from the house in which the great Scottish patriot Sir William Wallace was betrayed, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s drinking cup

as well as a lock of his hair, Napolean’s pistols, the swords of Rob Roy the Highland outlaw and of the famous Marquis of Montrose, Burn’s tumbler and a writing desk made from pieces of wood from the ships of the Spanish Armada.

  1. In due course Scott turned to writing historical novels, a task for which he was especially suited. First, he had this intense interest in the past, which was allied with great learning. Secondly, he possessed a great and human understanding of people. For this last gift his training as an advocate and subsequent experience in court, where he came into contact with all sorts. of memorable characters, were partly responsible. The years that followed saw some truly great novels flow from his pen, beginning with Waverley (1814), an exciting story of the Forty-five Rebellion and Bonnie Prince Charlie. At first, Scott was content to leave these novels unsigned, but, before long, people realized only he could have been the author.
  2. The Waverley Novels, as they are called, are among the most famous works in prose in the whole field of English literature. Waverley itself was followed in turn by Guy Mannering (1815), The Antiquary (1816), Old Mortality (1816), Rob Roy (1818), The Heart of Midlothian (1818), and Ivanhoe (1820). One great book followed another, and Scott was now at the height of his reputation; indeed, he was made a baronet in 1818. These novels are distinguished first and foremost by the unforgettable characters they contain, such as the ruthless Balfour of Burley in Old Mortality and the demented, wild-eyed Meg Merrilees of Guy Mannering. Scott’s power of vivid description is another great quality; scenes such as the marshaling of the two armies at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge or the storming of the castle in Ivanhoe are in their descriptiveness. 
  3. Sir Walter, as he became, was always very interested in animals, especially dogs. He writes that he found his dogs Maida, a big deerhound, Hamlet, a black greyhound and the dandies, Pepper, Mustard and Ketchup – a great source of comfort to him during a hard day’s work. He would pause for a while in the middle of a sentence, lay down his pen and pat them fondly as they lay about his feet. Of course, they also accompanied him as he walked away along the banks of the Tweed or in the shadow of the Eildon Hills. In Abbotsford to this day a beautiful painting of Scott with Maida beside him by the famous artist Sir Henry Raeburn hangs on the wall of the drawing room.
  4. Many of Scott’s most famous novels were written in great bodily pain, a sickness which afflicted him increasingly from 1817 onward. Many a lesser man would have given in to this, but showing great spirit, Sir Walter struggled on. An even greater disaster, however, occurred in 1826 when Scott’s publisher, the firm of James Ballantyne, went bankrupt to the extent of over £250,000, and Scott himself was almost ruined. It was then that he wrote the famous sentence “My own right hand shall pay my debt”, meaning that he would write on until he had paid back all he felt he owed. A further misfortune was the death of his wife the same year. Despite all these tremendous shocks, Scott’s courage triumphed in the end, for, with such books as Woodstock, The Fair Maid of Perth, the popular Tales of a Grandfather, and Anne of Geierstein all his debts were, by the time of his death, successfully paid. 
  5. In struggling to pay off his debts, Scott literally worked himself to death; but not before this picture of the great man bravely fighting against hard times had caught hold of the imagination of the general public. So much so that when the government heard of Sir Walter’s plans to spend the winter of 1831 abroad in a last desperate attempt to improve his health, they put a frigate of the Royal Navy at his disposal. The journey ended, however, with a rapid worsening of Scott’s condition. The whole country prayed for his recovery, but he knew within himself that he was dying and longed to get home to Abbotsford. Built into the wall that flanks the road from Galashiels to Melrose there is a small plaque which records that it was at that point Sir Walter halted the carriage to gaze for the very last time down his beloved valley of the Tweed.
  6. Sir Walter Scott died on September 21st, 1832, and was buried in the ruined Abbey of Dryburgh. A visitor to his grave today will probably be struck by the peaceful beauty around and also by the fact that this ancient abbey is indeed a fitting last resting place since it breathes an atmosphere of the past, just such an atmosphere as this Wizard of the North came to cherish so fondly.

Questions on the Story

  1. What was Walter’s place in class?
  2. To what did he attribute his improvement? 
  3. How did the Rector describe Walter’s knowledge of Latin?
  4. Who was dux?
  5. Was the verse competition compulsory? 
  6. At what age did Dr Adam begin teaching?
  7. In what way could he forecast how his pupils would fare when they left school?
  8. Who was the Latin author to be translated? 
  9. One was to receive a prize; what was the other to receive?
  10. Who won the prize?
  11. What passage had the winner translated? 
  12. Describe how the Rector read the winning poem.
  13. What was presented as first prize?
  14. What was the contrast in the winner’s appearance that struck Walter?
  15. What was the subject of Walter’s poem? 
  16. What was the main reason for the class making a noise? 
  17. How many times did Walter’s mother read his poem?
  18. In what year was the poem written?
  19. Where did Mrs Scott put the poem?
  20. What did she forecast?

 Questions on the Interesting Facts 

  1. Name two major Scottish writers.
  2. What was the profession Scott chose to follow?
  3. (a) Name three honors that came Scott’s way.

(b) Who was appointed Poet Laureate instead of Scott?

(c) Name three of Scott’s narrative poems. 

  1. Near what Border town is Abbotsford situated?
  2. What objects of historical interest can be seen there?
  3. Give two reasons for Scott eventually turning to historical novels and for his great success in that field.
  4. (a) What was the name given to his first great novel?

(b) Give one reason why Scott’s novels are so famous. 

(c) Name one of his famous characters.

  1. (a) What breed of dog was Maida?

(b) Who painted the great picture of Scott and Maida?

(c) Where can this be seen today? 

  1. Describe briefly each of the three misfortunes which befell Sir Walter from 1817 to his death. 
  2. (a) In what way did the government show great respect for Scott?

(b) What occasion does the wall-plaque record? 

(c) Where is Sir Walter Scott buried?

Development Exercises

  1. Burns is regarded as the great Scottish poet, Scott as the great Scottish novelist. Find out where Burns was born. Limiting your answer to the lives of the men themselves, what strikes you as a great difference between the two writers?
  2. What counties make up the region of Scotland called the Borders?
  3. Give the names of two English ballads and two Scottish ones.
  4. Scott refused to accept the position of Poet Laureate. Who is the present Poet Laureate of England?
  5. Abbotsford is the house associated with Sir Walter Scott. What famous people are associated with the following buildings?

(a) 10 Downing Street (b) The White House

(c) No. 221B Baker Street (d) Chartwell

(e) Sandringham House

  1. Who was the commander of the English fleet which defeated the Spanish Armada?
  2. “Old Mortality” is a story about the Covenanters. Who were the Covenanters?
  3. Meg Merrilees is one of Scott’s most famous characters. Who created the following characters?

(a) Fagin (b) Gulliver

(c) Macbeth (d) Peter Pan

(d) Huckleberry Finn (f) Gandalf


Child, how happy you are sitting in the dust, playing with a broken twig all the morning.

I smile at your play with that little bit of a broken twig. 

I am busy with my accounts, adding up figures by the hour. 

Perhaps you glance at me and think, “What a stupid game to spoil your morning with!” 

Child, I have forgotten the art of being absorbed in sticks and mud-pies. 

I seek out costly playthings, and gather lumps of gold and silver.

With whatever find you you create your glad games, I spend both my time and my strength over things I never can obtain.

In my frail canoe I struggle to cross the sea of desire, and forget that I too am playing a game. Rabindranath Tagore

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