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( Originally Published 1902 )
To one who would make his way in the society of intelligent people, a well-selected fund of information and anecdote is a highly important prerequisite. An enlightened understanding and a store of interesting knowledge are essential to him who would shine in conversation. None can hope to make small talk go far with people of culture, and all who wish to win credit in social circles will need something deeper and more enduring than chat on passing trifles and local events.
The faculty of communicating thought is, in a great measure, peculiar to man, and the pleasure which he derives from the interchange of ideas is one of his leading elemen ts of enj oyment. There is nothing more agreeable to most persons than pleasant, sprightly, fluent conversation, spiced with anecdote, and seasoned with the results of good reading, and we are all happily constituted to take delight in the mutual interchange of thoughts.
The best rule of conversation undoubtedly is, to "adapt yourself to your company." Thus commercial men enjoy conversation on subjects having some relation to affairs of business; men of pleasure, whose thoughts are given only to entertainment, prefer light talk on pastimes or social events; and professional men love to dwell on new books, the discoveries of scientists, the latest doings in the arts, and similar learned subjects.
Attention to these suggestions will be of use in helping men of learning and men of pleasure alike to derive mutual advantage from their different qualifications, and we need but say further that those who wish to please should be well informed on subjects of most general interest, whether this interest be of temporary or permanent character. An accurate and extensive knowledge on learned subjects is far from being sufficient for conversational needs, and may lead to prosy and wearisome talk in the opinion of less erudite people; one must also have a ready knowledge of the common occurrences of life, and of important events which are arising day after day, must know something of the fine art of chatting, and how to spice heavy subjects with anecdote and illustration. The art of conversation is a difficult one to acquire, and fine conversers must be born with a native faculty in that direction.
Avoid Heated Argument.
Speech is so vital an element of social intercourse that too much attention cannot be given to its requisites, or too much study to its cultivation.
In conversation it is of high importance to avoid heated argument. Difference of opinion is likely to arise very frequently, but one should always express his views
calmly and gently, and avoid all eager or loud assertion. It is not so important that you should force your auditors to accept your special views. If your antagonist begins to grow warm, you should at once put an end to the argument by a quiet turn ing of the. conversation. Disputes severely try the temper of many men, and are likely to end in the mortification of one disputant, generally with no advantage to the victor. They should, therefore, be avoided.
Yet no one is called upon, for the sake of avoiding argument, to give a general assent to all that is said in company. As sent without conviction indicates a mean and subservient spirit, and may tend to confirm others in wrong opinions. Yet it is wise to oppose calmly and correct with gentleness, and, while showing that you have a mind of your own, to show that you respect the opinions of your companions.
Consider the Feelings of Others.
Do not speak in a loud voice or assume a dictatorial tone, and if a statement is made which you know to be incorrect, be careful of the manner in which you correct the speaker. Suggest a correction, rather than make it; and if the matter is unimportant it is far better to let it pass unnoticed. There is nothing more unwise than to insist on trifles. Those who go abroad to correct the world's mistakes are apt to find themselves very frequently in hot water. If addressed in an offensive tone, it is the part of wisdom not to notice it; an intention even to insult or annoy can safely be passed over for the time being. One should consider the feelings of the other persons present, and not annoy them with personal affairs of a disagreeable character, nor permit others to force him into a quarrel in company. There is, of course, a limit of insult which a self-respecting man can not let pass; but to bear and forbear is the part of good manners. Quarrels can be left to bide their time, and there is no better way of repelling an inuendo than by ignoring it or treating it as unworthy of notice. Such a thing as a "scene" in society is, above all things, to be avoided. It is the insulter who loses social caste, not the insulted.