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good breeding. Cowper has happily described a blustering and positive talker, and the mode in which he should be treated.
"Vociferated logic kills me quite,
A noisy man is always in the right:
I twirl my thumbs, fall back into my chair,
And, when I hope his blunders are all out,
The wit who follows up his anecdote or pun with noisy laughter, and is ever on the watch for double meanings, seizing your smallest phrases as certain animals snap at flies, in fact a mere "word-catcher that lives on syllables," is a heavy check upon all sensible conversation. It is impossible to continue a discussion with any gravity, confidence or feeling, while some one is laying in wait for an expression which he may convert into an equivoque or an epigram. Professed wits always make us serious, though they may prevent us from pursuing the discussion of a serious subject. The best of them must fail so much oftener than they succeed, that, if they are not particularly discreet, they soon weary and annoy their hearers. Even when they do succeed, their listeners have generally either anticipated something still better, or have been so long on the look out, that they are too much exhausted for any real enjoyment. The mood which is necessary to a full relish of a witticism is rarely of long continuance. A succession of surprises decreases in force at every fresh shock, and the wit that is anticipated loses half its power. The wit that is most effective is that which is least looked for, or that seems naturally suggested and is pertinently applied. It is then a great enlivener of conversation. Even the butt of conversation soon wearies us, unless, like Falstaff, he is witty in himself as well as the cause of wit in others. If he can give as well as take, he affords a delightful treat to those who are merrily inclined. A man of real humour will not make a butt of a mere fool who can give him no play.
A skilful angler only exults in his sport when he has a strong and troublesome fish upon his hook, that puts him on his mettle, and requires all the power of his art. Goldsmith has somewhere very justly observed, that though the company of fools may amuse us for awhile, it never fails to leave us melancholy in the end. Professed wits are generally too ambitious of display to think for a moment of the comfort or disposition of their hearers. I am very far from insisting on an objection to wit and humour, if preserved within reasonable bounds. When introduced in season, and tempered by good taste and good feeling, they constitute very charming embellishments to conversation. Joanna Baillie has given us a good description of a fascinating companion in her tragedy of De Montford.
"He is so full of pleasant anecdote,
So rich, so gay, so poignant is his wit,
And ruddy morning through the lattice peeps
The following sketch from the hand of Shakspeare, was once applied to Garrick by his friend Mr. Langton. If the application was a just and happy one, as we have every reason to believe, that celebrated actor must have been as delightful in the parlour as on the stage.
"A merrier man,
It is not an easy matter to argue on subjects of deep interest in a calm and methodical manner. An argument is too generally a dispute, and combatants becoming violent and confused supply the place of reason with an excess of anger. At such a moment the best friends are often changed into bitter enemies, for a contemptuous sneer or a severe expression cuts deeper than the sharpest weapon.
Flattery, even when gross, is generally acceptable, because though its sincerity may be doubted, it is certain that the flatterer thinks us worthy of his art. He would not labour to please any one about whose good will or good opinion he was indifferent. We are but too apt to encourage a flatterer, however much we may despise him. But of all compliments, that of deference, implied rather than expressed, is the most delicate and delightful. Its effect is irresistible. When this species of respect is paid to us in the presence of others by a person of respectability and judgment, it is especially agreeable. Lavater has very shrewdly remarked that he should set that man down as an inferior, who would listen to him in a téte-à-téte, but contradict him in the presence of a third person.
The Guardian recommends it as good policy to prepare ourselves for conversation, by looking further than our neighbours into the reigning subject. This method is not a bad one, though as the writer himself admits, a man coming full charged into company would be eager to unload at all risks, whether he had a handsome opportunity or not. Without exquisite good sense and discretion such a proceeding would involve him in many difficulties, which if he were less ambitious he might easily escape. A memory well stored with personal anecdotes and adventures is a glorious armoury for a talker, if he knows how to handle his weapons. But the worst of this species of triumph is its brevity. The best memory is soon exhausted, and though the anecdote-monger be delightful to new friends he is very
wearisome to old ones.
A thrice told tale is an abomination not easily endured. An anecdote or story that is new, brief, and pertinent is of course always agreeable.
"But sedentary weavers of long tales,
Give me the fidgets, and my patience fails.
The repetition makes attention lame;
Johnson observes that Swift told stories with great facility, and delighted in doing what he knew himself to do well; but being captivated by the respectful silence of a steady listener, he told the same tales too often.
Excessive laughter (especially in the wrong place, which it often must be, for it is rarely indeed that there is occasion for its constant repetition) is the mark of great weakness and shallowness of mind. It is very painful to be obliged to return it with a grave look, or to feign a sympathy. But of all nuisances, the practical jokers are the most disgusting. Unhappily it requires so little capital to set up in this line, that there is scarcely a merry company in which one of these humble humourists is not to be met with. Any body can steal your handkerchief, or draw your seat from under you when you have occasion to rise. But such easy tricks are surely beneath the ambition of a gentleman. His groom would at least equal him in similar buffoonery. Such conduct inevitably leads to too much familiarity, and an old proverb may inform us of its ultimate effect. Amongst the greatest sins in conversation is that of scandal. I have been grieved to see how much this vile propensity is encouraged amongst our fair country. women in India. This is a sore point, and I content myself with
bare allusion to it. Its odious nature requires no illustra ion. The fair sex have generally too much good sense and good feeling not to admit, that to be hated it needs but to be brought to their serious notice, though in their thoughtless an unguarded moments too many of them are apt to indulge in it themselves, and to countenance it in others. But if the ladies sometimes fall into this ungenerous and unworthy practice, the men in this country are but too apt to fall into another still more disgraceful. I have been in the company of men of first-rate talents and acquirements, who seemed to act on the principle of Sir Robert Walpole, who always introduced obscenity into conversation, because he thought it was the only subject which all men could understand, and in which they could be deeply interested without falling into bickerings and disputes. This sentiment is If I an insult to human nature, and is as false as it is offensive. notice these two occasional defects in Indian society, it is not because I have not seen much more in it to commend than to censure. In Calcutta especially, I have heard as refined and intellectual conversation as the most fastidious could desire.
It is generally observed that conversation is not excellent or varied in proportion to the largeness of the company, but that on the contrary it is limited and restrained from more or less of a sense of embarrassment in some speakers, and an eagerness to talk and a desire to shine in others, and the necessity of introducing only those general discussions in which all can join. Any thing approaching to the sentimental, the impassioned or the confidential is quite unseasonable in a large company. Perhaps the most delightful conversation is between two or three individuals of similar pursuits and interests, who agreeing in all broad views differ only on particular points, and who are sufficiently intimate (without being too familiar) to be able to pour forth. their genuine feelings and give expression to their inmost thoughts. Conversation is always flat, frivolous and uneasy at