The Scholar's Complaint of his Own Bashfulness by Samuel Johnson.

The Scholar's Complaint of his Own Bashfulness is an essay by Samuel Johnson first published in The Ramber in September 1751. It is, as the title suggests, an essay on Johnson's (or the narrator's) shyness and social awkwardness. It begins,
Though one of your correspondents has presumed to mention with some contempt that presence of attention and easiness of address, which the polite have long agreed to celebrate and esteem, yet I cannot be persuaded to think them unworthy of regard or cultivation; but am inclined to believe that, as we seldom value rightly what we have never known the misery of wanting, his judgement has been vitiated by his happiness; and that a natural exuberance of assurance has hindered him from discovering its excellence and use.
He goes on to describe how his young life had been devoted to learning and virtue, which he continued through his university years (Johnson was educated at Pembroke College, Oxford, but was not unable to complete his degree, though he was awarded a Master of Arts in 1755, an honorary doctorate in 1765 by Trinity College Dublin and, in 1775, by Oxford). On leaving university however this sheltered did not serve him well, and he tells of the awkwardness of a wedding he'd been invited to. He describes his excitement at the thought of a room full of people to educate and finds he was absolutely no social skills:
I felt no sense of my own insufficiency, till, going up stairs to the dining-room, I heard the mingled roar of obstreperous merriment. I was, however, disgusted rather than terrified, and went forward without dejection. The whole company rose at my entrance; but when I saw so many eyes fixed at once upon me, I was blasted with a sudden imbecility, I was quelled by some nameless power which I found impossible to be resisted. My sight was dazzled, my cheeks glowed, my perceptions were confounded; I was harassed by the multitude of eager salutations, and returned the common civilities with hesitation and impropriety; the sense of my own blunders increased my confusion, and, before the exchange of ceremonies allowed me to sit down, I was ready to sink under the oppression of surprise; my voice grew weak, and my knees trembled.
It gets worse: Johnson found himself with nothing to say and unable to contribute to the discussion which, to his shock, had gone beyond the realm of books. The humiliation doesn't end there either: Johnson manages to spill his tea, scald a lapdog, and stain a petticoat of one of the ladies. He finishes,
But is this misery, Mr. Rambler, never to cease; have I spent my life in study only to become the sport of the ignorant, and debarred myself from all the common enjoyments of youth to collect ideas which must sleep in silence, and form opinions which I must not divulge? Inform me, dear Sir, by what means I may rescue my faculties from these shackles of cowardice, how I may rise to a level with my fellow-beings, recall myself from this langour of involuntary subjection to the free exertion of my intellects, and add to the power of reasoning the liberty of speech.
Poor Johnson! It's a sad essay more than a funny one, and an interesting one on the limits of books: the old university vs. university of life debate. I haven't read Johnson in quite some time, so it was good to return to him.

And that was my 22nd title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: Campaspe by John Lyly.

Comments

  1. i know exactly whereof the good Doctor speaks, having oft been there myself... some of us just never figure out exactly what's involved in the social milieu...

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    Replies
    1. Same here. Socially awkward AND I have a habit of replaying all my social awkwardness before I go to sleep!

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