A STUDY FOR THE AWKWARD AND THE SHY

A shy awkward boy should be trained
in dancing, fencing, boxing;  he should be instructed
in music, elocution, and public speaking;
he should be sent into society,
as certainly as he should be sent to the dentist’s.

Who does not pity the trembling boy?
The color comes in spots on his face.
He sits down on the stairs and wishes he were dead.
A strange sensation is running down his back.
He is afraid to be afraid,
he is ashamed to be ashamed.
At the door of a parlor he feels himself
a drivelling idiot.  He assumes a courage,
if he has it not, and dashes into a room
as he would attack a forlorn hope.

Tea-parties are eternal:  they never end;
they are like the old-fashioned ideas of a future state
of torment–they grow hotter and more stifling.
As the evening advances towards eternity,
he upsets the cream-jug.   He summons
all his will-power, or he would run away.
No;  retreat is impossible.
One must die at the post of duty.
There is a very disagreeable feeling
in the back of his neck, and a spinning sensation
about the brain.  A queer rumbling
seizes his ears.  He sees the pitying eyes
of the woman to whom he is talking
turn away from his countenance.
“And this humiliation, too?” he asks of himself,
as she brings him the usual refuge of the awkward–
a portfolio of photographs to look at.

It adds much to his confusion
to see that poor little pretender, Tom Titmouse,
talking and laughing and making merry.
The grandfathers and grandmothers of Tom Titmouse
were not people of strong character;
they were a decorous race on both sides,
with no heavy intellectual burdens,
good enough people who wore well.
But does our bashful man know this?
No.  He simply remembers a passage
in the “Odyssey” which Tom Titmouse
could not construe, but which the bashful man read,
to the delight of the tutor:
O gods!  How beloved he is,
and how honored by all men
to whatsoever land or city he comes!
He brings much booty from Troy,
but we, having accomplished the same journey,
are returning home having empty hands!
And this messenger from Troy is Tom Titmouse!

Therefore, as you know how embarrassing
embarrassment is to everybody else,
strive not to be embarrassed.

~found in Manners and Social Usages,
by Mrs. John Sherwood (author of “A Transplanted Rose”)
1884, revised in 1897

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