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The Art Of Conversation:
Introduction To Conversation
Principles Of Conversation
If You Can Talk Well
Culture By Conversation
Rules For Conversation
Reflections On Conversation
Happiness Through Conversation
Conversation And Courtesy
( Originally Published 1913 )
Several epochs in modern history have been productive of brilliant conversationalists. In Shakespeare's time, for example, we know that congenial spirits found greatest pleasure in conversing and it may be taken for granted that a keen wit and ready response characterized the sparkling flow of language.
Dr. Johnson and his coterie of friends passed many delightful hours in interchange of ideas at the coffee houses; if it be said that it happened frequently that Johnson talked and the rest listened, it must be remembered that good conversation presupposes sympathetic listeners as well as clever talkers. Johnson's expression for having spent a pleasant evening invariably was: "We had a good talk." To a friend who would lead him away to inviting country scenes, this lover of men had an answer ready: "When you have seen one lane, you've seen all lanes. I like men. Come, let us walk down Piccadilly." This profound interest in humanity doubtless accounts for the delight he found in mingling with them and extracting their differences and similarities of thought.
During the empire in France, the salons were filled with men and women who talked well. Madame de Stael, although never looked upon favorably by Napoleon, was always the center of brilliant conversation.
It is frequently said that this art is passing away. One who scans the prevalent articles written to advise debutantes upon entrance into society would think it might. Their bur den is: "Talk, talk, talk-no matter whether you say anything or not." The cynic might well observe that one generation of adherence to such counsel would bring to all conversational efforts a well deserved end. But not so; the old maxim about not being able to mislead all the people all of the time prevails; there are those remaining who have matters to talk about and who can talk of them acceptably on any occasion. However, it must be admitted that the profusion of light literature and circulating journals have removed the necessity of finding easiest diversion in discussions and in chat.
Selfishness lies at the bottom of present day disinclination to enter often into converse with others; intent upon personal concerns, each has less desire to make himself agreeable than was the case before life became so strenuous and competitive. Unless men can talk with some hope of gain, for the promotion of business interests or personal advantage, they evince less eagerness to carry on prolonged conversations than did the men of Johnson's generation.
The present ebb in the conversational tide has drawn out much timely criticism which has its attraction for the opening years of the new century.