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Autobiography

anything unusual at my age. If I accidentally had my attention drawn to the fact that some
other boy knew less than myself--which happened less often than might be imagined--I
concluded, not that I knew much, but that he, for some reason or other, knew little, or that
his knowledge was of a different kind from mine. My state of mind was not humility, but
neither was it arrogance. I never thought of saying to myself, I am, or I can do, so and so.
I neither estimated myself highly nor lowly: I did not estimate myself at all. If I thought
anything about myself, it was that I was rather backward in my studies, since I always
found myself so, in comparison with what my father expected from me. I assert this with
confidence, though it was not the impression of various persons who saw me in my
childhood. They, as I have since found, thought me greatly and disagreeably self-
conceited; probably because I was disputatious, and did not scruple to give direct
contradictions to things which I heard said. I suppose I acquired this bad habit from
having been encouraged in an unusual degree to talk on matters beyond my age, and with
grown persons, while I never had inculcated on me the usual respect for them. My father
did not correct this ill-breeding and impertinence, probably from not being aware of it,
for I was always too much in awe of him to be otherwise than extremely subdued and
quiet in his presence. Yet with all this I had no notion of any superiority in myself; and
well was it for me that I had not. I remember the very place in Hyde Park where, in my
fourteenth year, on the eve of leaving my father's house for a long absence, he told me
that I should find, as I got acquainted with new people, that I had been taught many
things which youths of my age did not commonly know; and that many persons would be
disposed to talk to me of this, and to compliment me upon it. What other things he said
on this topic I remember very imperfectly; but he wound up by saying, that whatever I
knew more than others, could not be ascribed to any merit in me, but to the very unusual
advantage which had fallen to my lot, of having a father who was able to teach me, and
willing to give the necessary trouble and time; that it was no matter of praise to me, if I
knew more than those who had not had a similar advantage, but the deepest disgrace to
me if I did not. I have a distinct remembrance, that the suggestion thus for the first time
made to me, that I knew more than other youths who were considered well educated, was
to me a piece of information, to which, as to all other things which my father told me, I
gave implicit credence, but which did not at all impress me as a personal matter. I felt no
disposition to glorify myself upon the circumstance that there were other persons who did
not know what I knew; nor had I ever flattered myself that my acquirements, whatever
they might be, were any merit of mine: but, now when my attention was called to the
subject, I felt that what my father had said respecting my peculiar advantages was exactly
the truth and common sense of the matter, and it fixed my opinion and feeling from that
time forward.
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