Thursday, May 5, 2011

On Conversation

"No style is more extensively acceptable than the narrative, because this does not carry an air of superiority over the rest of the company; and, therefore, is most likely to please them. For this purpose we should store our memory with short anecdotes and entertaining pieces of history. Almost every one listens with eagerness to extemporary history. Vanity often co-operates with curiosity; for he that is a hearer in one place wishes to qualify himself to be a principal speaker in some inferior company; and therefore more attention is given to narrations than anything else in conversation. It is true, indeed, that sallies of wit and quick replies are very pleasing in conversation; but they frequently tend to raise envy in some of the company: but the narrative way neither raises this, nor any other evil passion, but keeps all the company nearly upon an equality, and, if judiciously managed, will at once entertain and improve them all."  Dr Samuel Johnson, quoted in Book of Household Management

Other tips from the book:
If the mistress be a wife, never let an account of her husband's failings pass her lips
small disappointments,petty annoyances, and other every-day incidents, should never be mentioned to your friends. The extreme injudiciousness of repeating these will be at once apparent, when we reflect on the unsatisfactory discussions which they too frequently occasion, and on the load of advice which they are the cause of being tendered, and which is, too often, of a kind neither to be useful nor agreeable.
Greater events, whether of joy or sorrow, should be communicated to friends; and, on such occasions, their sympathy gratifies and comforts.
Also, conversation, according to the poet Cowper

"Should flow like water after summer showers,
Not as if raised by mere mechanic powers."

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