Excerpts from William Hazlitt's essay The Shyness of Scholars
, first published in The New Monthly Magazine
, December 1827:
That a life of privacy and obscurity should render its votaries bashful and awkward, or unfit them for the routine of society, from the want both of a habit of going into society and from ignorance of its usages, is obvious to remark.
The scholar having to encounter doubts and difficulties on all hands, and indeed to apply by way of preference to those subjects which are most beset with mystery, becomes hesitating, sceptical, irresolute, absent, dull. All the processes of his mind are slow, cautious, circuitous, instead of being prompt, heedless, straightforward.
The inquirer after truth learns to take nothing for granted; least of all, to make an assumption of his own superior merits. He would have nothing proceed without proper proofs and an exact scrutiny; and would neither be imposed upon himself, nor impose upon others by shallow and hasty appearances. It takes years of patient toil and devoted enthusiasm to master any art or science; and after all, the success is doubtful. He infers that other triumphs must be prepared in like manner at an humble distance: he cannot conceive that any object worth seizing on or deserving of regard, can be carried by a coup de main. So far from being proud or puffed up by them, he would be ashamed and degraded in his own opinion by any advantages that were to be obtained by such cheap and vulgar means as putting a good face on the matter, as strutting and vapouring about his own pretensions.
It never once enters his head (till it is too late) that impudence is the current coin in the affairs of life; that he who doubts his own merit, never has credit given him by others; that Fortune does not stay to have her overtures canvassed; that he who neglects opportunity, can seldom command it a second time; that the world judge by appearances, not by realities; and that they sympathize more readily with those who are prompt to do themselves justice, and to show off their various qualifications or enforce their pretensions to the utmost, than those who wait for others to award their claims, and carry their fastidious refinement into helplessness and imbecility.
He who has spent the best part of his time and wasted his best powers in endeavouring to answer the question -- 'What is truth?' -- scorns a lie, and every thing making the smallest approach to one. His mind by habit has become tenacious of, devoted to the truth. The grossness and vulgarity of falsehood shock the delicacy of his perceptions, as much as it would shock the finest artist to be obliged to daub in a sign-post, or scrawl a caricature. He cannot make up his mind to derive any benefit from so pitiful and disgusting a source.