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eatch her last words ;-" This sentence from Congreve would apply to the character of Madame de Staël, though her brilliancy made amends for her rapidity. Schiller, in a letter to Goëthe, says of her that the worst thing about her, is “the marvellous rapidity of her tongue; for in order to follow her, one must absolutely convert himself wholly into an organ of hearing.” Byron describes her with more severity. “I admire her abili. ties,” says his Lordship, “but really her society is overwhelming—an avalanche that buries one in glittering nonsense—all snow and sophistry.” Swift has observed with his usual shrewd. ness and love of satire, that “the common fluency of speech in many men and most women, is owing to scarcity of matter, and a scarcity of words ; for whoever is a master of language and has a mind full of ideas, will be apt in speaking to hesitate upon the choice of both ; whereas common speakers have only one set of ideas and one set of words to clothe them in ; and these are always ready at the mouth; so people come faster out of a church when it is almost empty, than when a crowd is at the door.” This apt and striking illustration reminds me of a similar passage in Montaigne. "The solicitude," says he, " of performing well, and the effort of the mind too far strained, and too intent upon its undertaking, break the chain of thought, and hinder its progress, as is the case with water which being pressed by its force and quantity, passes with difficulty out of the neck of a full bottle*.” Shakspeare, who painted almost every diversity of human character, and touched upon almost every subject with equal happiness, has hit off the great talker with admirable truth and spirit :-“ Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man in all Venice; his reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff; you shall seek all day ere you find them; and when you have them, they are not worth the search.” There is an Italian proverb which says, that an eternal talker would be more agreeable company. if the lock on his door were placed upon his mouth.
* This illustration is given a different turn by Pope, who says " it is with narrow-souled people as with narrow-necked bottles; the less they have in them, the more noise they make in pouring it out."
The fair sex are usually great talkers, but I shall not be so ungallant as to infer that they talk too much. Their tones and looks can render even nonsense agreeable. Words pass through lovely lips like water through a sugared tube.
“ So sweet a language from so fair a mouth
Ah! to what effort would it not persuade !" “ The heavenly rhetoric” of a radiant eye casts a light upon the dullest subject, as the sun turns the dreariest vapours into clouds of gold.
Great talkers amongst the women, independently of their other manifold advantages “ 'gainst which the world can ne'er hold argument,” are generally superior in sense and shrewdness to the same class amongst the men. If they are not in general very profound or extensive in their views, they observe the lighter characteristics of human nature with a more subtle vision than the sterner sex, Their quickness of observation in small personal matters, their delicate tact, the harmony of their voices, the sweetness of their looks, and the life, grace, and animation diffused over their entire manner, often render their conversation inexpressibly enchanting. I do not of course allude to those who are below the general intellectual standard, or who confine their conversation to frivolous gossip and ill-natured scandal. It would be grossly unjust to characterize the whole sex by such exceptions. Addison and Steele, though they generally affect an air of great gallantry towards the ladies, seem to take rather too much pleasure in exposing the failings of the weakest portion of the sex. It has been said,” observes a writer in the Tatler, “ in praise of some men, that they could talk whole hours upon any
thing ; but it must be owned to the honour of the ladies, that they can talk whole hours together upon nothing.” If a clever poem has been written upon Nothing," why should not female conversation occasionally turn upon it ? for the accompaniments of a fair face, bewitching smiles, and oral music are more delightful than even the embellishments of verse. The lively nonsense of an intelligent and lovely woman, who is known to be capable of better things at the proper season, is a most delicious relief to a man exhausted with the toil of thought.
Lord Bacon recommends a slow and cautious mode of speaking in preference to rapid and unceasing rattle. “ In all kinds of speech," says he, " either pleasant, grave, severe, or ordinary, it is convenient to speak leisurely, and rather drawlingly than hastily : because hasty speech confounds the memory, and oftentimes, besides the unseemliness, drives a man either to stammering, a nonplus or harping upon that which should follow; whereas a slow speech confirmeth the memory, addeth a conceit of wisdom to the hearers, besides a seemliness of speech and countenance."
We may not only speak with too great rapidity, but at too much length; and this latter fault is far more intolerable than the former, particularly if the subject be unattractive or unseasonable in itself. An error of this nature betrays a lamentable want of tact and good breeding. A man who possesses the slightest knowledge of life, and is really desirous to please his company, is not likely to weary them with the sound of his own voice, or disgust them with unwelcome topics. He does not run incessantly without directing his attention to the looks and manners of his hearers, who, if he be neither particularly rich nor powerful, will speedily betray their real feelings. When his best jokes are received with solemn gravity, or met with forced smiles that rapidly disappear like the cold gleams of a winter sun, the fact of his having said rather more than is necessary or agreeable requires no additional illustration. The great art under
such circumstances is to make a sudden stop with grace and spirit, like the halt of a generous steed, and not betray by any uneasy and ungainly movement, the slightest anger, disappointment or confusion. We should be careful not to interrupt others, and should try to make them regret when we have done. There are men who have so little knowledge or reflection, that they imagine they can interest even strangers and mixed companies with minute details of their bodily ailments. They talk as if every hearer were their physician. It is only the most intimate and the warmest friend to whom such conversation can be interesting. But the broadest rebuffs are no check to these egotistical invalids. Their most particular and pathetic narratives are generally interrupted by some trivial remark about the weather, or some careless inquiry about the daily news. Even those, who prompted by a considerate politeness, are most ready to feign an appearance of interest and attention, usually turn their questions rather on the cause than the nature of the complaints. All men are more or less concerned in the origin of disease, because they know not how soon they may be themselves afflicted, and are naturally anxious to guard themselves as much as possible from the ills of others by tracing their causes and the indications of their first approach. But nothing can possibly be less entertaining or agreeable to the generality of hearers, than elaborate disquisitions upon the actual condition of another person's body; and no one whose faculty of observation is not blinded by the most egregious self-love, could fail to remark the indifference or distaste with which such particulars are usually received. Cow. per, whose admirable poem on Conversation shall furnish me with a few further illustrations, has described a valetudinarian bore with his wonted humour.
“ Some men employ their health, an ugly trick,
In making known how often they've been sick,
Relate how many weeks they kept their bed,
A worthy and even talented and well-read man may be very disagreeable in conversation, if he has no knowledge of the world, and is unable to accommodate himself to the taste and the mode of the society into which he happens to be thrown. It requires some tact to know when to speak and in what manner, and when to be silent, or to see how far we may introduce our own favourite subjects. It is generally a mark of imbecility or narrowness of mind when a man is unable to dismount from his hobby, or to direct his thoughts into new channels. Some literary men talk as they would write, forgetting that in a private circle they cannot always reckon upon the proper class of hearers, or find them in a congenial mood. We can do what we please with a book. We can take it up when we will, and reject it at other times without offence. It is an unobtrusive companion. But a talker is our master, and has us at a manifest advantage. The rules of society compel us to listen, with a "sad civility.” We have but one painful alternative, to be guilty of a species of rudeness which no man can forgive, or to endure the affliction with the best grace we can*. The class of
* Lockhart tells us, that Scott was fond of repeating the following verses of the Dean of St. Patrick, and that Scott himself furnished a happy exemplification of the rules which they embody.
Conversation is but carving, -