It has often been remarked that the number of brilliant conversationalists bears a small proportion to the number of gifted men and women, even in Europe
, where conversation is still more cultivated as an art than in this country.
' Journal recently contained a very interesting article on this subject.
The author says:
The late William Hezlitt
, a man gifted with great powers of observation and expression, was of opinion that actors and authors were not fitted, generally speaking, to shine in conversation.
‘"Authors ought to be read and not heard;"’ and as to actors, they could not speak tragedies in the drawing-room, and their wit was likely to be comedy and farce at second hand.
The biography of men of letters, in a great measure, confirms this opinion.
Some of the greatest names in English and French literature, men who have filled books with an eloquence and truth that defy oblivion, were mere mutes before their fellowmen.
, the famous mathomatician, and philosopher; Lafontaine, celebrated for his witty fables, and Buffon
, the great naturalist, were all singularly deficient in the powers of conversation.
Marmontel, the novelist, was so dull in society that his friend said of him, after an interview: ‘"I must go and read his tales, to recompense me for the weariness of hearing him."’
As to Corneille
, the greatest dramatist of France
, he was completely lost in society — so absent and embarrassed that he wrote of himself a witty couplet, importing that he was never intelligible but through the mouth of another.
Wit on paper seems to be something widely different from that play of words in conversation, which, while it sparkles, dies; for Charles the II., the wittiest monarch that ever sat on the English
throne, was so charmed with the wisdom of ‘"Hudibras"’ that he caused himself to be introduced in the character of a private gentleman to Butler
The witty king found that author a very dull companion, and was of opinion, with many others, that so stupid a fellow could never have written so clever a book.
, whose classic elegance of style has long been considered the best model for young writers, was shy and absent in society, preserving, even before a single stranger, a stiff and dignified silence.
appeared, in company, to have no spark of that genius which alone shone forth so brightly in his works.
His address was awkward, his manner uncouth, his language unpolished; he hesitated when speaking, and was always unhappy if the conversation did not turn upon himself.
Nearer to our own time, we have many authors whose faculty told twice.
and Theodore Hook were men of infinite jest; they ‘"could set a table in a roar;"’ and fill pages with pathos and wit of such a quality that it makes their survivors think ‘"we could have spared better men."’ Burns
was famous for his colloquial powers; and Galt
is said to have been as skillful as the storytellers of the East
in fixing the attention.--Coleridge
was in the habit of pouring forth brilliant unbroken monologues of two or three hours duration to listeners so enchanted that, like Adam
, whose ears were filled with the eloquence of an arch-angel, they forget ‘"place, all seasons and their change."’ Washington Irving
, in the account he has given of his visit to Abbottsford, says of Sir Walter Scott
, that his conversation was frank, hearty, picturesque and dramatic.
He never talked for effect or display, but from the flow of spirits, the stores of his memory, and the vigor of his imagination.
He was as good a listener as talker; appreciated everything that others said, however humble might be their rank and pretensions, and was quick to testify his perception of any point in their discourse.--No one's concerns, no one's thoughts and opinions, no one's tastes and pleasures seemed beneath him. He made himself so thoroughly the companion of those with whom he happened to be, that they forgot, for a time, his superiority, and only recollected and wondered when all was over that it was Scott
in whose society they had felt so perfectly at ease.