« ElőzőTovább »
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. Why do 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. Montaigne 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
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 ch 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, " talk 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,
The fear of being silent makes us mute,"
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
catch 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 overwhelm. ing an avalanche that buries one in glittering nonsense-all snow and sophistry." Swift has observed with his usual shrewdness 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
This illustration is given a different turn bye, who says" narrow-souled people as with narrow-necked bo them, the more noise they make in pouring it out."
the less the
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.
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-
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