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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

Seneca's Reflections On Conversation

( Originally Published 1913 )

You say well, that in speaking, the very ordering of the voice (to say nothing of the actions, countenances, and other circumstances that accompany it) is a consideration worthy of a wise man. There are that prescribe certain modes of rising and falling; nay, if you will be governed by them, you shall not speak a word, move a step, or eat a bit, but by a rule; and these perhaps are too critical. Do not understand me yet as if I made no difference betwixt entering upon a discourse, loud or soft; for the affections do naturally rise by degrees; and in all disputes or pleadings, whether public or private, a man should properly begin with modesty and temper; and so advance by little and little, if need be, into clamor and vociferation. And as the voice rises by degrees, let it fall so, too; not snapping off upon a sudden, but abating as upon moderation; the other is unmannerly and rude. He that has a precipitate speech is commonly violent in his manners; besides that there is in it much of vanity and emptiness; and no man takes satisfaction in a flux of words without choice, where the noise is more than the value. Fabius was a man eminent both for his life and his learning, and no less for his eloquence; his speech was rather easy and sliding than quick; which he accounted to be not only liable to many errors, but to a suspicion of immodesty. Nay, let a man have words never so much at will, he will no more speak fast than he will run, for fear his tongue should get before his wit. The speech of a philosopher should be, like his life, composed, without pressing or stumbling; which is fitter for a mountebank than a man of sobriety and business. And then, to drop one word after another is as bad on the other side: the interruption is tedious, and tires out the auditor with expectation. Truth and morality should be delivered in words plain, and without affectation; for, like remedies, unless they stay with us, we are never the better for them. He that would work upon his hearers, must no more expect to do it upon the post, than a physician to cure his patients only in passing by them. Not but that I would have a wise man, in some cases, to raise himself, and mend his pace, but still with a regard to the dignity of his manners; though there may be a great force also in moderation. I would have his discourse smooth and flowing, like a river; not impetuous, like a torrent. There is a rapid, lawless, and irrevocable velocity of speech, which I would scarce allow even to an orator; for if he be transported with passion or ostentation, a man's attention can hardly keep him company. It is not the quantity, but the pertinence, that does the business. Let the words of an ancient man flow soft and gentle; let those of an orator come off round and powerful; but not run on without fear or wit, as if the whole declamation were to be but one period. Cicero wrote with care, and that which will forever stand the test. All public languages are according to the humor of the age. A wantonness and effeminacy of speech denotes luxury; for the wit follows the mind: if the latter be sound, composed, temperate, and grave, the wit is dry and sober, too; but if the one be corrupted, the other is likewise unsound. Do we not see when a man's mind is heavy, how he creeps and draws his legs after him? A finical temper is read in the very gestures and clothes; if a man be choleric and violent, it is also discovered in his motions. An angry man speaks short and quick; the speech of an effeminate man is loose and melting. A quaint and solicitous way of speaking is the sign of a weak mind; but a great man speaks with ease and freedom; and with more assurance; though less care. Speech is an index of the mind; when you see a man dress and set his clothes in print, you shall be sure to find his words so, too, and nothing in them that is firm and weighty: it does not become a man to be delicate. As it is in drink, the tongue never trips till the mind be overborne, so it is with speech; so long as the mind is whole and sound, the speech is masculine and strong, but if one fails, the other follows. -Morals

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