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and which his reason would make use of if it came into his mind.” Many of the wild absurdities in which theorists and metaphysicians have occasionally indulged, would probably have never found their way into print if they had been previously well canvassed in conversation. It is wonderful how much more plain good sense is diffused throughout society than is generally supposed. There is no opinion, however extravagant and ridiculous, which has not been countenanced and supported by some individual author, who would perhaps have been ashamed of its advocacy had it been freely discussed in his presence in an intelligent private circle. When called upon to explain his ideas in conversation, a man is obliged to give the very pith of the question. His hearers have no time or patience for extraneous details, or elaborate and ingenious mystification.
“ The most fruitful and natural exercise of the mind,” says Montaigne, “is conversation, the use of which I find to be more agreeable than any other exercise in life.
For this reason, were I now forced to make my choice, I think I would rather lose my sight, than my hearing or my speech.”
It is not good for man to be alone, and such is the force of the social principle, that even those who have willingly immured themselves for a time in the secret depths of solitude, are stirred with an irrepressible yearning towards the first human face that breaks like a gleam of sunshine upon their unnatural isolation. Men who meet in a coffee-house at London with cold and uneasy reserve, would fly into each other's arms in the deserts of Arabia.
They who in crowded cities lead a lonely life, are only reconciled to their position by the consciousness of the proximity of their fellow-men. They would make as melancholy Robinson Crusoes as the most constant haunters of balls and parties. We are never so truly happy as in the interchange of thoughts and feelings with each other, and the retired student is not less ambitious of the sympathy and esteem of his fellow-creatures than those who revel in the enjoyments of social life. His craving after the regard of the world is, in fact, far more vehement and intense ; for not contented with the admiration and love of a comparatively narrow circle of associates, he demands the sympathy of the public mind. He hears the distant echoes of his fame, and exults in that supremacy of intellect, compared to which the power of a king is of a limited and vulgar nature. Silent reserve and an air of coldness are by no means infallible indications of apathy or selfishness. There is perhaps no man, for example, so little understood or so ill appreciated in general society, as the poet, whose excellence in his art is a proof of an impassioned temperament. But often while his heart overflows with social love, he is apparently the most unsocial of human beings. Deep feelings do not rise rapidly to the lips, and are rather checked than encouraged by the trivial forms and ceremonies of worldly intercourse. The most essential attribute of the true poet is a profound sympathy with human nature, and with the whole external world. It is the intensity of his emotions that compels him to “ wreak himself upon expression,” and appeal to the hearts of his fellow-creatures. As the passionate outpouring of his feelings would be ridiculous and unseasonable in the crowded hall, he retires to his study. When his companions in society are struck with his seeming apathy, his soul perhaps is tossed upon a sea of thought, or involved in a tempest of wild and incommunicable dreams. From being in some measure unfitted by his deep abstractions for the ordinary intercourse of life, he devotes himself more exclusively to the cultivation of his divine art, by which he is enabled even in his retirement to touch the general pulse with the contagious passion of his own heart. In his remotest solitude he clings to human ties, and rejoices in stirring with kindred feelings the breasts of thousands to whom he is personally unknown. He feeds his inmost spirit with the
manna of praise. He lives on the public breath. When he fails to impart delight, he is himself incapable of receiving it. His existence is inseparably connected with that of his fellow-creatures, and a mental isolation would be worse than death.
His pride is in the power he possesses over the human heart.
How glorious is the might of that magician, who, thus shrouded in personal obscurity, causes the waves of human passion to rise and fall at his command; who fires countless multitudes with his own enthusiasm, and stamps immortality on every burning word !
There are poets who have expressed a contempt for the public, and an indifference to fame : but this is an unworthy affectation, and is strangely at variance with the general tenor of their lives, Epictetus has exposed the inconsistency of the ambitious with a just severity.
you walk as if you had swallowed a bar of iron? Who are those by whom you would be admired? Are they not the very people whom you were wont to say were mad ? Would you then be admired by madmen ?"
It has often been a subject of dispute, whether reading or conversation be attended with the greater benefit. The combination of both is of course more instructive than either separate. Mon. taigne has remarked that “ The study of books is a languid and feeble motion, that does not warm : whereas conversation at once instructs and exercises." " Reading," says Lord Bacon, “maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” The three advantages combined, supposing the accompaniment of intellect and virtue, would make a perfect man.
Sir William Temple has a remark which bears on the same subject. “Study," says he, “ gives strength to the mind; conversation grace.
The first is apt to give stiffness, the other suppleness.” Locke is a great advocate for conversation, and warns the learned not to think there is no truth but in the sciences that they study, or the books that they read. Plato preferred conversation to books; and Seneca says, that “
writing answers a good purpose, but conversation a better."
If all men were philosophers, the advantages of conversation could not easily be overrated; but when we recollect how few are competent to raise its tone with important speculations, and that it too generally turns on trivial topics, or treats the weightiest with an impatient flippancy and a shallow dogmatism, it deserves not that high rank in our estimation which is rightly conceded to the deliberate and lasting wisdom enshrined in books. The conversation of ardent and original thinkers, is indeed
“ The feast of reason and the flow of soul;"
but how rarely do such men meet together! It is strictly true, as I have before admitted, that the conversation even of inferior persons has often the effect of raising new trains of thought, of refreshing the mind by an occasional change of its position, and of increasing our knowledge of human life; but these benefits, great and unquestionable as they are, by no means equal that elegant and profound instruction which literature affords. The word conversation is rather vague. Were we to limit its meaning to the actual interchange of ideas and sentiments, it would be easy to enlarge upon its vast utility and its exquisite enjoyments; but unhappily it is often applied to that glittering nonsense which passes from the mind like rain-drops from the wings of birds. Dr. Johnson would not allow that to be styled conversation in which nothing is discussed.
The French are generally esteemed more skilful in colloquial intercourse than the English, but their excellence lies rather in chit-chat than conversation. They do not so much converse as talk. In readiness and fluency of speech they certainly surpass us, but not in depth or originality of thought. As there is a greater variety and force of character in our own countrymen,
they would be far more rich and entertaining in conversation than the French, if they were only half as communicative and polite. Profound thinkers, however, are sometimes dull in company, for when they have to dive as it were to the bottom of their souls for the treasures which they would communicate to others, they cannot keep pace with those ready speakers whose thoughts lie upon the surface. “Men,” says Sir William Temple, without thinking, and think without talking.” The same writer has quaintly remarked that “ women, some sort of fools and madmen, are the greatest talkers.” Authors, who are silent in society, seem to take a pleasure in revenging themselves in print on the garrulous and the noisy in conversation. Butler has humorously observed that those who talk on trifles speak with the greatest fluency, because the tongue is like a race-horse which runs the faster the lesser weight it carries. Jeremy Taylor remarks, that great knowledge, if it be without vanity, is the most severe bridle of the tongue. In the case of a fool, he says, “the tongue is hung loose, being like a bell in which there is nothing but tongue and noise.” Cowper, whose timid and painful reserve rendered one of the finest minded men in the world the worst of companions, and who painted from himself in the following couplet
“ Our sensibilities are so acute,
has omitted no occasion of sneering at voluble and ready talkers.
“Where others toil with philosophic force
Their nimble nonsense takes a different course,
"I know a lady, that loves talking so incessantly that she will not give an echo fair play; she has that everlasting rotation of tongue that an echo must wait till she dies, before it can