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poet*. Goldsmith himself was generally an indifferent and blundering converser. Horace Walpole called him" an inspired idiot.” Garrick said, that “ He wrote like an angel and talked like poor
Poll.” But he blurted out occasionally many admirable sayings, which would have made the fortune of any other man who did not neutralize their effect with similar failings. His printed compositions are as remarkable for grace and perspicuity as was his conversation for that hurry and confusion which are generally considered characteristic of his countrymen. The most amusing anecdote that we have of his conversation is his singularly infelicitous attempt to repeat a good pun. Some one directed a servant to take a dish of bad-coloured peas to a particular place. When asked his reason for sending them in that direction, he replied that it was the way to turn 'em green (Turnham green). Goldsmith, desirous to shine, though in borrowed plumes, endeavoured to repeat the pun in another company. A similar question was put to him. “Oh!” said he, “ that is the way to make them green.” There have been other authors who were as much out of their element in society as Goldsmith, but I still doubt if there are not a greater number of good talkers amongst literary men than are to be found in any other class.
Some artists are delightful talkers. Barry Cornwall (Proctor) represents Haydon's as singularly vivid and picturesque. He had heard him describe Edinburgh in a shower of rain in a way that made it palpably visible to the imagination.
* Charles Butler in his Reminiscences thus characterises the conversation of Fox, Pitt, and Burke :-" In familiar conversation, these three great men equally excelled, but even the most intimate friends of Mr. Fox complained of his too frequent ruminating silence. Mr, Pitt talked ;--and his talk was fascinating. A good judge said of him, that he was the only person he had known, who possessed the talent of condescension, Yet his loftiness never forsook him ; still one might be sooner seduced to take liberties with him than with Mr. Fox. Mr. Burke's conversation was rambling, but splendid, rich and instructive beyond comparison,
Montaigne asserts of himself that he spoke much better than he wrote. If he did, he must have been a divine companion. With such a man “conversing," we might well “ forget all time, all seasons and their change.”
" His wit
Julian and Maddalo.
Beattie was delighted with the conversation of Gray. was happy," he observes, " in a singular facility of expression. His conversation abounded in original observations, delivered with no appearance of sententious formality, and seeming to arise spontaneously without study or premeditation.”
The conversation of authors, says Hazlitt, is not so good as might be imagined, but such as it is (and with rare exceptions) it is better than any other. His own was acute, original, and profound. He “ threw a light as from a painted window" on the dreariest subject, and untwisted the knot of a complicated argument with a magical dexterity. His delivery was sometimes difficult and irregular, but his matter was so rich that his companions could well afford to overlook the manner. If they could think at all, he charmed them as with a spell, and when he was once thoroughly interested in some important subject, his eloquent words flowed as rapidly as his thoughts, and he gave his hearers good reason to exclaim,
How charming is divine philosophy!
But musical as is Apollo's lute.
“ Hunt has a fine vinous spirit about him. He sits at the head of a party with great gaiety and grace; has an elegant manner and turn of features; has continual sportive sallies
of wit or fancy; tells a story capitally : mimics an actor or an acquaintance to admiration ; laughs with great glee and good humour at his own and other people's jokes : understands the point of an equivoque or an observation immediately; has a taste for, and knowledge of, books, of music, of medals ; manages an argument adroitly; is genteel and gallant, and has a set of byephrases and quaint allusions always at hand to produce a laugh." Shelley has described Leigh Hunt in a poetical epistle.
“ You will see H-t; one of those happy souls
Which are the salt of the earth, and without whom
And brighter wreaths in neat disorder flung.” Keats has also done due honor to Leigh Hunt's refined yet frank and social conversation.
“ He who elegantly chats and talks,
The wronged Libertas—who has told you stories
Wordsworth is said to be an eloquent and instructive talker, especially on poetical subjects. He is not however fond of mere gossip, as may be gathered from the following very curious sonnet.
“ I am not one who much or oft delight
To season my fireside with personal talk
Better than such discourse doth silence long,
Or kettle whispering its faint under-song." It is said of Charles Lamb, in the Plain Speaker, that he is the most delightful, the most provoking, the most witty and sensible of men. He always makes the best pun and the best remark in the course of the evening. His serious conversation, like his serious writing, is his best. No one ever stammered out such fine, piquant, deep, eloquent things in half a dozen half sen. tences as he does.” Horne Tooke was a master of the intellectual foils ; so were Dr. Parr and Professor Porson. Sir Walter Scott was narrative and entertaining, but I suspect he did not shine in wit or argument. Thomas Campbell's conversation is that of a scholar, a poet and a warm-hearted man. “He is one of the few,” says Leigh Hunt, “ with whom I could at any time walk a dozen miles through the snow to spend an afternoon." Rogers, according to the testimony of Lord Byron, is silent and severe ; but when he does talk, he talks well, and on all subjects of taste, his delicacy of expression is pure as his poetry. Moore's conversation is also as brilliant as his verses. Byron's was unequal, but occasionally spirited and delightful. It would be easy to extend this list of authors who have excelled in colloquial intercourse, and it would be equally easy to adduce a number of striking exceptions*. But this article is already too long, and I must
"Mr. Hume's writings were so superior to his conversation, that I frequently said he understood nothing till he had written upon it."- Horace Walpole.
“If I am obliged to speak I infallibly talk nonsense. What is still worse, instead of learning to be silent, when I have absolutely nothing to say, it is generally at such times that I have a violent inclination for talking; and endeavouring to pay my debt of conversation as speedily as possible, I hastily gabble a number of words without ideas, happy when they only chance to mean nothing: thus endeavouring to conquer or hide my incapacity, I rarely fail to show it."Rousseau's Confessions.
content myself with adding, that the best proof of the general superiority of the conversation of authors is the fact already alluded to, that it would in most instances bear to be recorded in a book, which is not the case with the conversation of other men, who, though they may seem to talk with considerable brilliancy, would very rarely have occasion to congratulate themselves on the appearance of their Table Talk in a printed form.
There are no mortal limits to the sway