mistook them for the golden ore of wisdom

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Is the expression "mistook them for the golden ore of wisdom" a way of commending? But something here is contradictory: If the man's speculations clear the speaker's foggy ideas about metaphysics, then they do have some characteristics of golden ore of wisdom, and so not mistaking happens here.

So, how to understand the expression properly? My best guess for now is that "mistook them" means "mistook the sparkling sands of poetry", not "mistook his speculations."

I felt a wonderful self-complacency at being on such excellent terms with a man whom I considered on a parallel with the sages of antiquity, and looked down with a sentiment of pity on the feebler intellects of my sisters, who could comprehend nothing of metaphysics. It is true, when I attempted to study them by myself, I was apt to get in a fog; but when Glencoe came to my aid, everything was soon as clear to me as day. My ear drank in the beauty of his words; my imagination was dazzled with the splendor of his illustrations. It caught up the sparkling sands of poetry that glittered through his speculations, and mistook them for the golden ore of wisdom.

Source: Rip Van Winkle and other stories by Washington Irving
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    He mistook sparkling sand for gold, but that metaphor is undermining the commendatory tone. Clearly the writer, at the time of writing, does not think this was good or important metaphysics, and is describing his own earlier errors of understanding. (This rather ponderous irony is typical of earlier nineteenth-century writers, I find.)

    Why do I know 'them' refers to 'sands', not the nearer and plausible 'speculations'? I think it's because the two are metaphors in parallel: sands and ore. He wouldn't use a sand metaphor, drop it for a literal word, then use another mineral metaphor. They must be connected.


    Senior Member
    English - England
    Is the expression "mistook them for the golden ore of wisdom" a way of commending?
    What the narrator is saying is that he absorbed all that Glencoe taught him and assumed that he (the narrator) now possessed a source of wisdom.

    Golden - precious; valuable
    ore of wisdom - from which wisdom might be extracted

    However, if you read on, this is not the case.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I would have guessed "nugget" in place of "ore".

    A nugget is solid metal; ore is stone from which metal can be extracted.
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