Meet us on:
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "To love deeply in one direction makes us more loving in all others."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Talk and Talkers

    • Rate it:
    • Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings
    • 1 Favorite on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter

    "Sir, we had a good talk."[1]--JOHNSON.

    "As we must account[2] for every idle word, so we must for every idle

    There can be no fairer ambition than to excel in talk; to be affable,
    gay, ready, clear and welcome; to have a fact, a thought, or an
    illustration, pat to every subject; and not only to cheer the flight
    of time among our intimates, but bear our part in that great
    international congress, always sitting, where public wrongs are first
    declared, public errors first corrected, and the course of public
    opinion shaped, day by day, a little nearer to the right. No measure
    comes before Parliament but it has been long ago prepared by the grand
    jury of the talkers; no book is written that has not been largely
    composed by their assistance. Literature in many of its branches is no
    other than the shadow of good talk; but the imitation falls far short
    of the original in life, freedom and effect. There are always two to a
    talk, giving and taking, comparing experience and according
    conclusions. Talk is fluid, tentative, continually "in further search
    and progress;" while written words remain fixed, become idols even to
    the writer, found wooden dogmatisms, and preserve flies of obvious
    error in the amber[3] of the truth. Last and chief, while literature,
    gagged with linsey-woolsey, can only deal with a fraction of the life
    of man, talk goes fancy free[4] and may call a spade a spade.[5] It
    cannot, even if it would, become merely aesthetic or merely classical
    like literature. A jest intervenes, the solemn humbug is dissolved in
    laughter, and speech runs forth out of the contemporary groove into
    the open fields of nature, cheery and cheering, like schoolboys out of
    school. And it is in talk alone that we can learn our period and
    ourselves. In short, the first duty of a man is to speak; that is his
    chief business in this world; and talk, which is the harmonious speech
    of two or more, is by far the most accessible of pleasures. It costs
    nothing in money; it is all profit; it completes our education, founds
    and fosters our friendships, and can be enjoyed at any age and in
    almost any state of health.

    The spice of life is battle; the friendliest relations are still a
    kind of contest; and if we would not forego all that is valuable in
    our lot, we must continually face some other person, eye to eye, and
    wrestle a fall whether in love or enmity. It is still by force of
    body, or power of character or intellect; that we attain to worthy
    pleasures. Men and women contend for each other in the lists of love,
    like rival mesmerists; the active and adroit decide their challenges
    in the sports of the body; and the sedentary sit down to chess or
    conversation. All sluggish and pacific pleasures are, to the same
    degree, solitary and selfish; and every durable bond between human
    beings is founded in or heightened by some element of competition.
    Now, the relation that has the least root in matter is undoubtedly
    that airy one of friendship; and hence, I suppose, it is that good
    talk most commonly arises among friends. Talk is, indeed, both the
    scene and instrument of friendship. It is in talk alone that the
    friends can measure strength, and enjoy that amicable
    counter-assertion of personality which is the gauge of relations and
    the sport of life.

    A good talk is not to be had for the asking. Humours must first be
    accorded in a kind of overture or prologue; hour, company and
    circumstance be suited; and then, at a fit juncture, the subject, the
    quarry of two heated minds, spring up like a deer out of the wood. Not
    that the talker has any of the hunter's pride, though he has all and
    more than all his ardour. The genuine artist follows the stream of
    conversation as an angler follows the windings of a brook, not
    dallying where he fails to "kill." He trusts implicitly to hazard; and
    he is rewarded by continual variety, continual pleasure, and those
    changing prospects of the truth that are the best of education. There
    is nothing in a subject, so called, that we should regard it as an
    idol, or follow it beyond the promptings of desire. Indeed, there are
    few subjects; and so far as they are truly talkable, more than the
    half of them may be reduced to three: that I am I, that you are you,
    and that there are other people dimly understood to be not quite the
    same as either. Wherever talk may range, it still runs half the time
    on these eternal lines. The theme being set, each plays on himself as
    on an instrument; asserts and justifies himself; ransacks his brain
    for instances and opinions, and brings them forth new-minted, to his
    own surprise and the admiration of his adversary. All natural talk is
    a festival of ostentation; and by the laws of the game each accepts
    and fans the vanity of the other. It is from that reason that we
    venture to lay ourselves so open, that we dare to be so warmly
    eloquent, and that we swell in each other's eyes to such a vast
    proportion. For talkers, once launched, begin to overflow the limits
    of their ordinary selves, tower up to the height of their secret
    pretensions, and give themselves out for the heroes, brave, pious,
    musical and wise, that in their most shining moments they aspire to
    be. So they weave for themselves with words and for a while inhabit a
    palace of delights, temple at once and theatre, where they fill the
    round of the world's dignities, and feast with the gods, exulting in
    Kudos. And when the talk is over, each goes his way, still flushed
    with vanity and admiration, still trailing clouds of glory;[6] each
    declines from the height of his ideal orgie, not in a moment, but by
    slow declension. I remember, in the _entr'acte_ of an afternoon
    performance, coming forth into the sunshine, in a beautiful green,
    gardened corner of a romantic city; and as I sat and smoked, the music
    moving in my blood, I seemed to sit there and evaporate _The Flying
    Dutchman_[7] (for it was that I had been hearing) with a wonderful
    sense of life, warmth, well-being and pride; and the noises of the
    city, voices, bells and marching feet, fell together in my ears like a
    symphonious orchestra. In the same way, the excitement of a good talk
    lives for a long while after in the blood, the heart still hot within
    you, the brain still simmering, and the physical earth swimming around
    you with the colours of the sunset.

    Natural talk, like ploughing, should turn up a large surface of life,
    rather than dig mines into geological strata. Masses of experience,
    anecdote, incident, cross-lights, quotation, historical instances, the
    whole flotsam and jetsam of two minds forced in and in upon the matter
    in hand from every point of the compass, and from every degree of
    mental elevation and abasement--these are the material with which talk
    is fortified, the food on which the talkers thrive. Such argument as
    is proper to the exercise should still be brief and seizing. Talk
    should proceed by instances; by the apposite, not the expository. It
    should keep close along the lines of humanity, near the bosoms and
    businesses of men, at the level where history, fiction and experience
    intersect and illuminate each other. I am I, and You are You, with all
    my heart; but conceive how these lean propositions change and brighten
    when, instead of words, the actual you and I sit cheek by jowl, the
    spirit housed in the live body, and the very clothes uttering voices
    to corroborate the story in the face. Not less surprising is the
    change when we leave off to speak of generalities--the bad, the good,
    the miser, and all the characters of Theophrastus[8]--and call up
    other men, by anecdote or instance, in their very trick and feature;
    or trading on a common knowledge, toss each other famous names, still
    glowing with the hues of life. Communication is no longer by words,
    but by the instancing of whole biographies, epics, systems of
    philosophy, and epochs of history, in bulk. That which is understood
    excels that which is spoken in quantity and quality alike; ideas thus
    figured and personified, change hands, as we may say, like coin; and
    the speakers imply without effort the most obscure and intricate
    thoughts. Strangers who have a large common ground of reading will,
    for this reason, come the sooner to the grapple of genuine converse.
    If they know Othello and Napoleon, Consuelo and Clarissa Harlowe,
    Vautrin and Steenie Steenson,[9] they can leave generalities and begin
    at once to speak by figures.

    Conduct and art are the two subjects that arise most frequently and
    that embrace the widest range of facts. A few pleasures bear
    discussion for their own sake, but only those which are most social or
    most radically human; and even these can only be discussed among their
    devotees. A technicality is always welcome to the expert, whether in
    athletics, art or law; I have heard the best kind of talk on
    technicalities from such rare and happy persons as both know and love
    their business. No human being[10] ever spoke of scenery for above two
    minutes at a time, which makes me suspect we hear too much of it in
    literature. The weather is regarded as the very nadir and scoff of
    conversational topics. And yet the weather, the dramatic element in
    scenery, is far more tractable in language, and far more human both in
    import and suggestion than the stable features of the landscape.
    Sailors and shepherds, and the people generally of coast and mountain,
    talk well of it; and it is often excitingly presented in literature.
    But the tendency of all living talk draws it back and back into the
    common focus of humanity. Talk is a creature of the street and
    market-place, feeding on gossip; and its last resort is still in a
    discussion on morals. That is the heroic form of gossip; heroic in
    virtue of its high pretensions; but still gossip, because it turns on
    personalities. You can keep no men long, nor Scotchmen[11] at all, off
    moral or theological discussion. These are to all the world what law
    is to lawyers; they are everybody's technicalities; the medium through
    which all consider life, and the dialect in which they express their
    judgments. I knew three young men who walked together daily for some
    two months in a solemn and beautiful forest and in cloudless summer
    weather; daily they talked with unabated zest, and yet scarce wandered
    that whole time beyond two subjects--theology and love. And perhaps
    neither a court of love[12] nor an assembly of divines would have
    granted their premises or welcomed their conclusions.

    Conclusions, indeed, are not often reached by talk any more than by
    private thinking. That is not the profit. The profit is in the
    exercise, and above all in the experience; for when we reason at large
    on any subject, we review our state and history in life. From time to
    time, however, and specially, I think, in talking art, talk becomes
    effective, conquering like war, widening the boundaries of knowledge
    like an exploration. A point arises; the question takes a
    problematical, a baffling, yet a likely air; the talkers begin to feel
    lively presentiments of some conclusion near at hand; towards this
    they strive with emulous ardour, each by his own path, and struggling
    for first utterance; and then one leaps upon the summit of that matter
    with a shout, and almost at the same moment the other is beside him;
    and behold they are agreed. Like enough, the progress is illusory, a
    mere cat's cradle having been wound and unwound out of words. But the
    sense of joint discovery is none the less giddy and inspiring. And in
    the life of the talker such triumphs, though imaginary, are neither
    few nor far apart; they are attained with speed and pleasure, in the
    hour of mirth; and by the nature of the process, they are always
    worthily shared.

    There is a certain attitude, combative at once and deferential, eager
    to fight yet most averse to quarrel, which marks out at once the
    talkable man. It is not eloquence, not fairness, not obstinacy, but a
    certain proportion of all of these that I love to encounter in my
    amicable adversaries. They must not be pontiffs holding doctrine, but
    huntsmen questing after elements of truth. Neither must they be boys
    to be instructed, but fellow-teachers with whom I may, wrangle and
    agree on equal terms. We must reach some solution, some shadow of
    consent; for without that, eager talk becomes a torture. But we do not
    wish to reach it cheaply, or quickly, or without the tussle and effort
    wherein pleasure lies.

    The very best talker, with me, is one whom I shall call Spring-Heel'd
    Jack.[13] I say so, because I never knew anyone who mingled so largely
    the possible ingredients of converse. In the Spanish proverb, the
    fourth man necessary to compound a salad, is a madman to mix it: Jack
    is that madman. I know not what is more remarkable; the insane
    lucidity of his conclusions, the humorous eloquence of his language,
    or his power of method, bringing the whole of life into the focus of
    the subject treated, mixing the conversational salad like a drunken
    god. He doubles like the serpent, changes and flashes like the shaken
    kaleidoscope, transmigrates bodily into the views of others, and so,
    in the twinkling of an eye and with a heady rapture, turns questions
    inside out and flings them empty before you on the ground, like a
    triumphant conjuror. It is my common practice when a piece of conduct
    puzzles me, to attack it in the presence of Jack with such grossness,
    such partiality and such wearing iteration, as at length shall spur
    him up in its defence. In a moment he transmigrates, dons the required
    character, and with moonstruck philosophy justifies the act in
    question. I can fancy nothing to compare with the _vim_ of these
    impersonations, the strange scale of language, flying from Shakespeare
    to Kant, and from Kant to Major Dyngwell[14]--

    "As fast as a musician scatters sounds
    Out of an instrument--"

    the sudden, sweeping generalisations, the absurd irrelevant
    particularities, the wit, wisdom, folly, humour, eloquence and bathos,
    each startling in its kind, and yet all luminous in the admired
    disorder of their combination. A talker of a different calibre, though
    belonging to the same school, is Burly.[15] Burly is a man of great
    presence; he commands a larger atmosphere, gives the impression of a
    grosser mass of character than most men. It has been said of him that
    his presence could be felt in a room you entered blindfold; and the
    same, I think, has been said of other powerful constitutions condemned
    to much physical inaction. There is something boisterous and piratic
    in Burly's manner of talk which suits well enough with this
    impression. He will roar you down, he will bury his face in his hands,
    he will undergo passions of revolt and agony; and meanwhile his
    attitude of mind is really both conciliatory and receptive; and after
    Pistol has been out-Pistol'd,[16] and the welkin rung for hours, you
    begin to perceive a certain subsidence in these spring torrents,
    points of agreement issue, and you end arm-in-arm, and in a glow of
    mutual admiration. The outcry only serves to make your final union the
    more unexpected and precious. Throughout there has been perfect
    sincerity, perfect intelligence, a desire to hear although not always
    to listen, and an unaffected eagerness to meet concessions. You have,
    with Burly, none of the dangers that attend debate with Spring-Heel'd
    Jack; who may at any moment turn his powers of transmigration on
    yourself, create for you a view you never held, and then furiously
    fall on you for holding it. These, at least, are my two favourites,
    and both are loud, copious intolerant talkers. This argues that I
    myself am in the same category; for if we love talking at all, we love
    a bright, fierce adversary, who will hold his ground, foot by foot, in
    much our own manner, sell his attention dearly, and give us our full
    measure of the dust and exertion of battle. Both these men can be beat
    from a position, but it takes six hours to do it; a high and hard
    adventure, worth attempting. With both you can pass days in an
    enchanted country of the mind, with people, scenery and manners of its
    own; live a life apart, more arduous, active and glowing than any real
    existence; and come forth again when the talk is over, as out of a
    theatre or a dream, to find the east wind still blowing and the
    chimney-pots of the old battered city still around you. Jack has the
    far finer mind, Burly the far more honest; Jack gives us the animated
    poetry, Burly the romantic prose, of similar themes; the one glances
    high like a meteor and makes a light in darkness; the other, with many
    changing hues of fire, burns at the sea-level, like a conflagration;
    but both have the same humour and artistic interests, the same
    unquenched ardour in pursuit, the same gusts of talk and thunderclaps
    of contradiction.

    Cockshot[17] is a different article, but vastly entertaining, and has
    been meat and drink to me for many a long evening. His manner is dry,
    brisk and pertinacious, and the choice of words not much. The point
    about him is his extraordinary readiness and spirit. You can propound
    nothing but he has either a theory about it ready-made, or will have
    one instantly on the stocks, and proceed to lay its timbers and launch
    it in your presence. "Let me see," he will say. "Give me a moment. I
    _should_ have some theory for that." A blither spectacle than the
    vigour with which he sets about the task, it were hard to fancy. He is
    possessed by a demoniac energy, welding the elements for his life, and
    bending ideas, as an athlete bends a horseshoe, with a visible and
    lively effort. He has, in theorising, a compass, an art; what I would
    call the synthetic gusto; something of a Herbert Spencer,[18] who
    should see the fun of the thing. You are not bound, and no more is he,
    to place your faith in these brand-new opinions. But some of them are
    right enough, durable even for life; and the poorest serve for a
    cock-shy--as when idle people, after picnics, float a bottle on a pond
    and have an hour's diversion ere it sinks. Whichever they are, serious
    opinions or humours of the moment, he still defends his ventures with
    indefatigable wit and spirit, hitting savagely himself, but taking
    punishment like a man. He knows and never forgets that people talk,
    first of all, for the sake of talking; conducts himself in the ring,
    to use the old slang, like a thorough "glutton,"[19] and honestly
    enjoys a telling facer from his adversary. Cockshot is bottled
    effervescency, the sworn foe of sleep. Three-in-the-morning Cockshot,
    says a victim. His talk is like the driest of all imaginable dry
    champagnes. Sleight of hand and inimitable quickness are the qualities
    by which he lives. Athelred,[20] on the other hand, presents you with
    the spectacle of a sincere and somewhat slow nature thinking aloud. He
    is the most unready man I ever knew to shine in conversation. You may
    see him sometimes wrestle with a refractory jest for a minute or two
    together, and perhaps fail to throw it in the end. And there is
    something singularly engaging, often instructive, in the simplicity
    with which he thus exposes the process as well as the result, the
    works as well as the dial of the clock. Withal he has his hours of
    inspiration. Apt words come to him as if by accident, and, coming from
    deeper down, they smack the more personally, they have the more of
    fine old crusted humanity, rich in sediment and humour. There are
    sayings of his in which he has stamped himself into the very grain of
    the language; you would think he must have worn the words next his
    skin and slept with them. Yet it is not as a sayer of particular good
    things that Athelred is most to be regarded, rather as the stalwart
    woodman of thought. I have pulled on a light cord often enough, while
    he has been wielding the broad-axe; and between us, on this unequal
    division, many a specious fallacy has fallen. I have known him to
    battle the same question night after night for years, keeping it in
    the reign of talk, constantly applying it and re-applying it to life
    with humorous or grave intention, and all the while, never hurrying,
    nor flagging, nor taking an unfair advantage of the facts. Jack at a
    given moment, when arising, as it were, from the tripod, can be more
    radiantly just to those from whom he differs; but then the tenor of
    his thoughts is even calumnious; while Athelred, slower to forge
    excuses, is yet slower to condemn, and sits over the welter of the
    world, vacillating but still judicial, and still faithfully contending
    with his doubts.

    Both the last talkers deal much in points of conduct and religion
    studied in the "dry light"[21] of prose. Indirectly and as if against
    his will the same elements from time to time appear in the troubled
    and poetic talk of Opalstein.[22] His various and exotic knowledge,
    complete although unready sympathies, and fine, full, discriminative
    flow of language, fit him out to be the best of talkers; so perhaps he
    is with some, not _quite_ with me--_proxime accessit_,[23] I should
    say. He sings the praises of the earth and the arts, flowers and
    jewels, wine and music, in a moonlight, serenading manner, as to the
    light guitar; even wisdom comes from his tongue like singing; no one
    is, indeed, more tuneful in the upper notes. But even while he sings
    the song of the Sirens, he still hearkens to the barking of the
    Sphinx. Jarring Byronic notes interrupt the flow of his Horatian
    humours. His mirth has something of the tragedy of the world for its
    perpetual background; and he feasts like Don Giovanni to a double
    orchestra, one lightly sounding for the dance, one pealing
    Beethoven[24] in the distance. He is not truly reconciled either with
    life or with himself; and this instant war in his members sometimes
    divides the man's attention. He does not always, perhaps not often,
    frankly surrender himself in conversation. He brings into the talk
    other thoughts than those which he expresses; you are conscious that
    he keeps an eye on something else, that he does not shake off the
    world, nor quite forget himself. Hence arise occasional
    disappointments; even an occasional unfairness for his companions, who
    find themselves one day giving too much, and the next, when they are
    wary out of season, giving perhaps too little. Purcel[25] is in
    another class from any I have mentioned. He is no debater, but appears
    in conversation, as occasion rises, in two distinct characters, one of
    which I admire and fear, and the other love. In the first, he is
    radiantly civil and rather silent, sits on a high, courtly hilltop,
    and from that vantage-ground drops you his remarks like favours. He
    seems not to share in our sublunary contentions; he wears no sign of
    interest; when on a sudden there falls in a crystal of wit, so
    polished that the dull do not perceive it, but so right that the
    sensitive are silenced. True talk should have more body and blood,
    should be louder, vainer and more declaratory of the man; the true
    talker should not hold so steady an advantage over whom he speaks
    with; and that is one reason out of a score why I prefer my Purcel in
    his second character, when he unbends into a strain of graceful
    gossip, singing like the fireside kettle. In these moods he has an
    elegant homeliness that rings of the true Queen Anne. I know another
    person[26] who attains, in his moments, to the insolence of a
    Restoration comedy, speaking, I declare, as Congreve[27] wrote; but
    that is a sport of nature, and scarce falls under the rubric, for
    there is none, alas! to give him answer.

    One last remark occurs: It is the mark of genuine conversation that
    the sayings can scarce be quoted with their full effect beyond the
    circle of common friends. To have their proper weight they should
    appear in a biography, and with the portrait of the speaker. Good talk
    is dramatic; it is like an impromptu piece of acting where each should
    represent himself to the greatest advantage; and that is the best kind
    of talk where each speaker is most fully and candidly himself, and
    where, if you were to shift the speeches round from one to another,
    there would be the greatest loss in significance and perspicuity. It
    is for this reason that talk depends so wholly on our company. We
    should like to introduce Falstaff and Mercutio, or Falstaff and Sir
    Toby; but Falstaff in talk with Cordelia seems even painful. Most of
    us, by the Protean[28] quality of man, can talk to some degree with
    all; but the true talk, that strikes out all the slumbering best of
    us, comes only with the peculiar brethren of our spirits, is founded
    as deep as love in the constitution of our being, and is a thing to
    relish with all our energy, while, yet we have it, and to be grateful
    for forever.


    In the last paper there was perhaps too much about mere debate; and
    there was nothing said at all about that kind of talk which is merely
    luminous and restful, a higher power of silence, the quiet of the
    evening shared by ruminating friends. There is something, aside from
    personal preference, to be alleged in support of this omission. Those
    who are no chimney-cornerers, who rejoice in the social thunderstorm,
    have a ground in reason for their choice. They get little rest indeed;
    but restfulness is a quality for cattle; the virtues are all active,
    life is alert, and it is in repose that men prepare themselves for
    evil. On the other hand, they are bruised into a knowledge of
    themselves and others; they have in a high degree the fencer's
    pleasure in dexterity displayed and proved; what they get they get
    upon life's terms, paying for it as they go; and once the talk is
    launched, they are assured of honest dealing from an adversary eager
    like themselves. The aboriginal man within us, the cave-dweller, still
    lusty as when he fought tooth and nail for roots and berries, scents
    this kind of equal battle from afar; it is like his old primaeval days
    upon the crags, a return to the sincerity of savage life from the
    comfortable fictions of the civilised. And if it be delightful to the
    Old Man, it is none the less profitable to his younger brother, the
    conscientious gentleman. I feel never quite sure of your urbane and
    smiling coteries; I fear they indulge a man's vanities in silence,
    suffer him to encroach, encourage him on to be an ass, and send him
    forth again, not merely contemned for the moment, but radically more
    contemptible than when he entered. But if I have a flushed, blustering
    fellow for my opposite, bent on carrying a point, my vanity is sure to
    have its ears rubbed, once at least, in the course of the debate. He
    will not spare me when we differ; he will not fear to demonstrate my
    folly to my face.

    For many natures there is not much charm in the still, chambered
    society, the circle of bland countenances, the digestive silence, the
    admired remark, the flutter of affectionate approval. They demand more
    atmosphere and exercise; "a gale upon their spirits," as our pious
    ancestors would phrase it; to have their wits well breathed in an
    uproarious Valhalla.[30] And I suspect that the choice, given their
    character and faults, is one to be defended. The purely wise are
    silenced by facts; they talk in a clear atmosphere, problems lying
    around them like a view in nature; if they can be shown to be somewhat
    in the wrong, they digest the reproof like a thrashing, and make
    better intellectual blood. They stand corrected by a whisper; a word
    or a glance reminds them of the great eternal law. But it is not so
    with all. Others in conversation seek rather contact with their
    fellow-men than increase of knowledge or clarity of thought. The
    drama, not the philosophy, of life is the sphere of their intellectual
    activity. Even when they pursue truth, they desire as much as possible
    of what we may call human scenery along the road they follow. They
    dwell in the heart of life; the blood sounding in their ears, their
    eyes laying hold of what delights them with a brutal avidity that
    makes them blind to all besides, their interest riveted on people,
    living, loving, talking, tangible people. To a man of this
    description, the sphere of argument seems very pale and ghostly. By a
    strong expression, a perturbed countenance, floods of tears, an insult
    which his conscience obliges him to swallow, he is brought round to
    knowledge which no syllogism would have conveyed to him. His own
    experience is so vivid, he is so superlatively conscious of himself,
    that if, day after day, he is allowed to hector and hear nothing but
    approving echoes, he will lose his hold on the soberness of things and
    take himself in earnest for a god. Talk might be to such an one the
    very way of moral ruin; the school where he might learn to be at once
    intolerable and ridiculous.

    This character is perhaps commoner than philosophers suppose. And for
    persons of that stamp to learn much by conversation, they must speak
    with their superiors, not in intellect, for that is a superiority that
    must be proved, but in station. If they cannot find a friend to bully
    them for their good, they must find either an old man, a woman, or
    some one so far below them in the artificial order of society, that
    courtesy may be particularly exercised.

    The best teachers are the aged. To the old our mouths are always
    partly closed; we must swallow our obvious retorts and listen. They
    sit above our heads, on life's raised dais, and appeal at once to our
    respect and pity. A flavour of the old school, a touch of something
    different in their manner--which is freer and rounder, if they come of
    what is called a good family, and often more timid and precise if they
    are of the middle class--serves, in these days, to accentuate the
    difference of age and add a distinction to gray hairs. But their
    superiority is founded more deeply than by outward marks or gestures.
    They are before us in the march of man; they have more or less solved
    the irking problem; they have battled through the equinox of life; in
    good and evil they have held their course; and now, without open
    shame, they near the crown and harbour. It may be we have been struck
    with one of fortune's darts; we can scarce be civil, so cruelly is our
    spirit tossed. Yet long before we were so much as thought upon, the
    like calamity befell the old man or woman that now, with pleasant
    humour, rallies us upon our inattention, sitting composed in the holy
    evening of man's life, in the clear shining after rain. We grow
    ashamed of our distresses new and hot and coarse, like villainous
    roadside brandy; we see life in aerial perspective, under the heavens
    of faith; and out of the worst, in the mere presence of contented
    elders, look forward and take patience. Fear shrinks before them "like
    a thing reproved," not the flitting and ineffectual fear of death, but
    the instant, dwelling terror of the responsibilities and revenges of
    life. Their speech, indeed, is timid; they report lions in the path;
    they counsel a meticulous[31] footing; but their serene, marred faces
    are more eloquent and tell another story. Where they have gone, we
    will go also, not very greatly fearing; what they have endured
    unbroken, we also, God helping us, will make a shift to bear.

    Not only is the presence of the aged in itself remedial, but their
    minds are stored with antidotes, wisdom's simples, plain
    considerations overlooked by youth. They have matter to communicate,
    be they never so stupid. Their talk is not merely literature, it is
    great literature; classic in virtue of the speaker's detachment,
    studded, like a book of travel, with things we should not otherwise
    have learnt. In virtue, I have said, of the speaker's detachment--and
    this is why, of two old men, the one who is not your father speaks to
    you with the more sensible authority; for in the paternal relation the
    oldest have lively interests and remain still young. Thus I have known
    two young men great friends; each swore by the other's father; the
    father of each swore by the other lad; and yet each pair of parent and
    child were perpetually by the ears. This is typical: it reads like the
    germ of some kindly[32] comedy.

    The old appear in conversation in two characters: the critically
    silent and the garrulous anecdotic. The last is perhaps what we look
    for; it is perhaps the more instructive. An old gentleman, well on in
    years, sits handsomely and naturally in the bow-window of his age,
    scanning experience with reverted eye; and chirping and smiling,
    communicates the accidents and reads the lesson of his long career.
    Opinions are strengthened, indeed, but they are also weeded out in the
    course of years. What remains steadily present to the eye of the
    retired veteran in his hermitage, what still ministers to his content,
    what still quickens his old honest heart--these are "the real
    long-lived things"[33] that Whitman tells us to prefer. Where youth
    agrees with age, not where they differ, wisdom lies; and it is when
    the young disciple finds his heart to beat in tune with his
    grey-bearded teacher's that a lesson may be learned. I have known one
    old gentleman, whom I may name, for he is now gathered to his
    stock--Robert Hunter, Sheriff of Dumbarton,[34] and author of an
    excellent law-book still re-edited and republished. Whether he was
    originally big or little is more than I can guess. When I knew him he
    was all fallen away and fallen in; crooked and shrunken; buckled into
    a stiff waistcoat for support; troubled by ailments, which kept him
    hobbling in and out of the room; one foot gouty; a wig for decency,
    not for deception, on his head; close shaved, except under his
    chin--and for that he never failed to apologise, for it went sore
    against the traditions of his life. You can imagine how he would fare
    in a novel by Miss Mather;[35] yet this rag of a Chelsea[36] veteran
    lived to his last year in the plenitude of all that is best in man,
    brimming with human kindness, and staunch as a Roman soldier under his
    manifold infirmities. You could not say that he had lost his memory,
    for he would repeat Shakespeare and Webster and Jeremy Taylor and
    Burke[37] by the page together; but the parchment was filled up, there
    was no room for fresh inscriptions, and he was capable of repeating
    the same anecdote on many successive visits. His voice survived in its
    full power, and he took a pride in using it. On his last voyage as
    Commissioner of Lighthouses, he hailed a ship at sea and made himself
    clearly audible without a speaking trumpet, ruffing the while with a
    proper vanity in his achievement. He had a habit of eking out his
    words with interrogative hems, which was puzzling and a little
    wearisome, suited ill with his appearance, and seemed a survival from
    some former stage of bodily portliness. Of yore, when he was a great
    pedestrian and no enemy to good claret, he may have pointed with these
    minute guns his allocutions to the bench. His humour was perfectly
    equable, set beyond the reach of fate; gout, rheumatism, stone and
    gravel might have combined their forces against that frail tabernacle,
    but when I came round on Sunday evening, he would lay aside Jeremy
    Taylor's _Life of Christ_ and greet me with the same open brow, the
    same kind formality of manner. His opinions and sympathies dated the
    man almost to a decade. He had begun life, under his mother's
    influence, as an admirer of Junius,[38] but on maturer knowledge had
    transferred his admiration to Burke. He cautioned me, with entire
    gravity, to be punctilious in writing English; never to forget that I
    was a Scotchman, that English was a foreign tongue, and that if I
    attempted the colloquial, I should certainly be shamed: the remark was
    apposite, I suppose, in the days of David Hume.[39] Scott was too new
    for him; he had known the author--known him, too, for a Tory; and to
    the genuine classic a contemporary is always something of a trouble.
    He had the old, serious love of the play; had even, as he was proud to
    tell, played a certain part in the history of Shakespearian revivals,
    for he had successfully pressed on Murray, of the old Edinburgh
    Theatre, the idea of producing Shakespeare's fairy pieces with great
    scenic display.[40] A moderate in religion, he was much struck in the
    last years of his life by a conversation with two young lads,
    revivalists. "H'm," he would say--"new to me. I have had--h'm--no such
    experience." It struck him, not with pain, rather with a solemn
    philosophic interest, that he, a Christian as he hoped, and a
    Christian of so old a standing, should hear these young fellows
    talking of his own subject, his own weapons that he had fought the
    battle of life with,--"and--h'm--not understand." In this wise and
    grateful attitude he did justice to himself and others, reposed
    unshaken in his old beliefs, and recognised their limits without anger
    or alarm. His last recorded remark, on the last night of his life, was
    after he had been arguing against Calvinism[41] with his minister and
    was interrupted by an intolerable pang. "After all," he said, "of all
    the 'isms, I know none so bad as rheumatism." My own last sight of him
    was some time before, when we dined together at an inn; he had been on
    circuit, for he stuck to his duties like a chief part of his
    existence; and I remember it as the only occasion on which he ever
    soiled his lips with slang--a thing he loathed. We were both Roberts;
    and as we took our places at table, he addressed me with a twinkle:
    "We are just what you would call two bob."[42] He offered me port, I
    remember, as the proper milk of youth; spoke of "twenty-shilling
    notes"; and throughout the meal was full of old-world pleasantry and
    quaintness, like an ancient boy on a holiday. But what I recall
    chiefly was his confession that he had never read _Othello_ to an
    end.[43] Shakespeare was his continual study. He loved nothing better
    than to display his knowledge and memory by adducing parallel passages
    from Shakespeare, passages where the same word was employed, or the
    same idea differently treated. But _Othello_ had beaten him. "That
    noble gentleman and that noble lady--h'm--too painful for me." The
    same night the boardings were covered with posters, "Burlesque of
    _Othello_," and the contrast blazed up in my mind like a bonfire. An
    unforgettable look it gave me into that kind man's soul. His
    acquaintance was indeed a liberal and pious education.[44] All the
    humanities were taught in that bare dining-room beside his gouty
    footstool. He was a piece of good advice; he was himself the instance
    that pointed and adorned his various talk. Nor could a young man have
    found elsewhere a place so set apart from envy, fear, discontent, or
    any of the passions that debase; a life so honest and composed; a soul
    like an ancient violin, so subdued to harmony, responding to a touch
    in music--as in that dining-room, with Mr. Hunter chatting at the
    eleventh hour, under the shadow of eternity, fearless and gentle.

    The second class of old people are not anecdotic; they are rather
    hearers than talkers, listening to the young with an amused and
    critical attention. To have this sort of intercourse to perfection, I
    think we must go to old ladies. Women are better hearers than men, to
    begin with; they learn, I fear in anguish, to bear with the tedious
    and infantile vanity of the other sex; and we will take more from a
    woman than even from the oldest man in the way of biting comment.
    Biting comment is the chief part, whether for profit or amusement, in
    this business. The old lady that I have in my eye is a very caustic
    speaker, her tongue, after years of practice, in absolute command,
    whether for silence or attack. If she chance to dislike you, you will
    be tempted to curse the malignity of age. But if you chance to please
    even slightly, you will be listened to with a particular laughing
    grace of sympathy, and from time to time chastised, as if in play,
    with a parasol as heavy as a pole-axe. It requires a singular art, as
    well as the vantage-ground of age, to deal these stunning corrections
    among the coxcombs of the young. The pill is disguised in sugar of
    wit; it is administered as a compliment--if you had not pleased, you
    would not have been censured; it is a personal affair--a hyphen, _a
    trait d'union,_[45] between you and your censor; age's philandering,
    for her pleasure and your good. Incontestably the young man feels very
    much of a fool; but he must be a perfect Malvolio,[46] sick with
    self-love, if he cannot take an open buffet and still smile. The
    correction of silence is what kills; when you know you have
    transgressed, and your friend says nothing and avoids your eye. If a
    man were made of gutta-percha, his heart would quail at such a moment.
    But when the word is out, the worst is over; and a fellow with any
    good-humour at all may pass through a perfect hail of witty criticism,
    every bare place on his soul hit to the quick with a shrewd missile,
    and reappear, as if after a dive, tingling with a fine moral reaction,
    and ready, with a shrinking readiness, one-third loath, for a
    repetition of the discipline.

    There are few women, not well sunned and ripened, and perhaps
    toughened, who can thus stand apart from a man and say the true thing
    with a kind of genial cruelty. Still there are some--and I doubt if
    there be any man who can return the compliment.

    The class of men represented by Vernon Whitford in _The Egoist_,[47]
    says, indeed, the true thing, but he says it stockishly. Vernon is a
    noble fellow, and makes, by the way, a noble and instructive contrast
    to Daniel Deronda; his conduct is the conduct of a man of honour; but
    we agree with him, against our consciences, when he remorsefully
    considers "its astonishing dryness." He is the best of men, but the
    best of women manage to combine all that and something more. Their
    very faults assist them; they are helped even by the falseness of
    their position in life. They can retire into the fortified camp of the
    proprieties. They can touch a subject and suppress it. The most adroit
    employ a somewhat elaborate reserve as a means to be frank, much as
    they wear gloves when they shake hands. But a man has the full
    responsibility of his freedom, cannot evade a question, can scarce be
    silent without rudeness, must answer for his words upon the moment,
    and is not seldom left face to face with a damning choice, between the
    more or less dishonourable wriggling of Deronda and the downright
    woodenness of Vernon Whitford.

    But the superiority of women is perpetually menaced; they do not sit
    throned on infirmities like the old; they are suitors as well as
    sovereigns; their vanity is engaged, their affections are too apt to
    follow; and hence much of the talk between the sexes degenerates into
    something unworthy of the name. The desire to please, to shine with a
    certain softness of lustre and to draw a fascinating picture of
    oneself, banishes from conversation all that is sterling and most of
    what is humorous. As soon as a strong current of mutual admiration
    begins to flow, the human interest triumphs entirely over the
    intellectual, and the commerce of words, consciously or not, becomes
    secondary to the commercing of eyes. But even where this ridiculous
    danger is avoided, and a man and woman converse equally and honestly,
    something in their nature or their education falsifies the strain. An
    instinct prompts them to agree; and where that is impossible, to agree
    to differ. Should they neglect the warning, at the first suspicion of
    an argument, they find themselves in different hemispheres. About any
    point of business or conduct, any actual affair demanding settlement,
    a woman will speak and listen, hear and answer arguments, not only
    with natural wisdom, but with candour and logical honesty. But if the
    subject of debate be something in the air, an abstraction, an excuse
    for talk, a logical Aunt Sally, then may the male debater instantly
    abandon hope; he may employ reason, adduce facts, be supple, be
    smiling, be angry, all shall avail him nothing; what the woman said
    first, that (unless she has forgotten it) she will repeat at the end.
    Hence, at the very junctures when a talk between men grows brighter
    and quicker and begins to promise to bear fruit, talk between the
    sexes is menaced with dissolution. The point of difference, the point
    of interest, is evaded by the brilliant woman, under a shower of
    irrelevant conversational rockets; it is bridged by the discreet woman
    with a rustle of silk, as she passes smoothly forward to the nearest
    point of safety. And this sort of prestidigitation, juggling the
    dangerous topic out of sight until it can be reintroduced with safety
    in an altered shape, is a piece of tactics among the true drawing-room

    The drawing-room is, indeed, an artificial place; it is so by our
    choice and for our sins. The subjection of women; the ideal imposed
    upon them from the cradle; and worn, like a hair-shirt, with so much
    constancy; their motherly, superior tenderness to man's vanity and
    self-importance; their managing arts--the arts of a civilised slave
    among good-natured barbarians--are all painful ingredients and all
    help to falsify relations. It is not till we get clear of that amusing
    artificial scene that genuine relations are founded, or ideas honestly
    compared. In the garden, on the road or the hillside, or _tête-à-tête_
    and apart from interruptions, occasions arise when we may learn much
    from any single woman; and nowhere more often than in, married life.
    Marriage is one long conversation, chequered by disputes. The disputes
    are valueless; they but ingrain the difference; the heroic heart of
    woman prompting her at once to nail her colours to the mast. But in
    the intervals, almost unconsciously and with no desire to shine, the
    whole material of life is turned over and over, ideas are struck out
    and shared, the two persons more and more adapt their notions one to
    suit the other, and in process of time, without sound of trumpet, they
    conduct each, other into new worlds of thought.


    The two papers on _Talk and Talkers_ first appeared in the _Cornhill
    Magazine_, for April and for August, 1882, Vol. XLV, pp. 410-418, Vol.
    XLVI, pp. 151-158. The second paper had the title, _Talk and Talkers_.
    (_A Sequel_.) For Stevenson's relations with the Editor, see our note
    to _An Apology for Idlers_. With the publication of the second part,
    Stevenson's connection with the _Cornhill_ ceased, as the magazine in
    1883 passed from the hands of Leslie Stephen into those of James Payn.
    The two papers next appeared in the volume _Memories and Portraits_
    (1887). The first was composed during the winter of 1881-2 at Davos in
    the Alps, whither he had gone for his health, the second a few months
    later. Writing to Charles Baxter, 22 Feb. 1882, he said, "In an
    article which will appear sometime in the Cornhill, 'Talk and
    Talkers,' and where I have full-lengthened the conversation of Bob,
    Henley, Jenkin, Simpson, Symonds, and Gosse, I have at the end one
    single word about yourself. It may amuse you to see it." (_Letters_,
    I, 268.) Writing from Bournemouth, England, in February 1885 to Sidney
    Colvin, he said, "See how my 'Talk and Talkers' went; every one liked
    his own portrait, and shrieked about other people's; so it will be
    with yours. If you are the least true to the essential, the sitter
    will be pleased; very likely not his friends, and that from various
    motives." (_Letters_, I, 413.) In a letter to his mother from Davos,
    dated 9 April 1882, he gives the real names opposite each character in
    the first paper, and adds, "But pray regard these as secrets."

    The art of conversation, like the art of letter-writing, reached its
    highest point in the eighteenth century; cheap postage destroyed the
    latter, and the hurly-burly of modern life has been almost too strong
    for the former. In the French Salons of the eighteenth century, and in
    the coffeehouses and drawing-rooms of England, good conversation was
    regarded as a most desirable accomplishment, and was practised by many
    with extraordinary wit and skill. Swift's satire on _Polite
    Conversation_ (1738) as well as the number of times he discusses the
    art of conversation in other places, shows how seriously he actually
    regarded it. Stevenson, like many persons who are forced away from
    active life, loved a good talk. Good writers are perhaps now more
    common than good talkers.


    [Note 1: _Sir, we had a good talk_. This remark was made by the Doctor
    in 1768, the morning after a memorable meeting at the Crown and Anchor
    tavern, where he had been engaged in conversation with seven or eight
    notable literary men. "When I called upon Dr. Johnson next morning,"
    says Boswell, "I found him highly satisfied with his colloquial
    prowess the preceding evening. 'Well,' said he, 'we had good talk.'
    BOSWELL: 'Yes, sir, you tossed and gored several persons.'"]

    [Note 2: _As we must account_. This remark of Franklin's occurs in
    _Poor Richard's Almanac_ for 1738.]

    [Note 3: _Flies ... in the amber_. Bartlett gives Martial.]

    "The bee enclosed and through the amber shown,
    Seems buried in the juice which was his own."

    Bacon, Donne, Herrick, Pope and many other authors speak of flies in

    [Note 4: _Fancy free_. See _Midsummer Night's Dream_, Act II, Sc. 2.

    "And the imperial votaress passed on,
    In maiden meditation, fancy-free."

    This has been called the most graceful among all the countless
    compliments received by Queen Elizabeth. The word "fancy" in the
    Shaksperian quotation means simply "love."]

    [Note 5: _A spade a spade_. The phrase really comes from Aristophanes,
    and is quoted by Plutarch, as Philip's description of the rudeness of
    the Macedonians. _Kudos_. Greek word for "pride", used as slang by
    school-boys in England.]

    [Note 6: _Trailing clouds of glory_. _Trailing with him clouds of
    glory._ This passage, from Wordsworth's _Ode on the Intimations of
    Immortality_ (1807), was a favorite one with Stevenson, and he quotes
    it several times in various essays.]

    [Note 7: _The Flying Dutchman_. Wagner's _Der Fliegende Holländer_
    (1843), one of his earliest, shortest, and most beautiful operas. Many
    German performances are given in the afternoon, and many German
    theatres have pretty gardens attached, where, during the long
    intervals (_grosse Pause_) between the acts, one may refresh himself
    with food, drink, tobacco, and the open air. Germany and German art,
    however, did not have anything like the influence on Stevenson exerted
    by the French country, language, and literature.]

    [Note 8: _Theophrastus_. A Greek philosopher who died 287-B.C. His
    most influential work was his _Characters_, which, subsequently
    translated into many modern languages, produced a whole school of
    literature known as the "Character Books," of which the best are
    perhaps Sir Thomas Overbury's _Characters_ (1614), John Earle's
    _Microcosmographie_ (1628), and the _Caractères_ (1688) of the great
    French writer, La Bruyère.]

    [Note 9: _Consuelo, Clarissa Harlowe, Vautrin, Steenie Steenson_.
    _Consuelo_ is the title of one of the most notable novels by the
    famous French authoress, George Sand, (1804-1876), whose real name was
    Aurore Dupin. _Consuelo_ appeared in 1842.... _Clarissa_ (1747-8) was
    the masterpiece of the novelist Samuel Richardson (1689-1761). This
    great novel, in seven fat volumes, was a warm favorite with Stevenson,
    as it has been with most English writers from Dr. Johnson to Macaulay.
    Writing to a friend in December 1877, Stevenson said, "Please, if you
    have not, and I don't suppose you have, already read it, institute a
    search in all Melbourne for one of the rarest and certainly one of the
    best of books--_Clarissa Harlowe._ For any man who takes an interest
    in the problems of the two sexes, that book is a perfect mine of
    documents. And it is written, sir, with the pen of an angel."
    (_Letters_, I, 141.) Editions of _Clarissa_ are not so scarce now as
    they were thirty years ago; several have appeared within the last few
    years.... _Vautrin_ is one of the most remarkable characters in
    several novels of Balzac; see especially _Pere Goriot_ (1834) ...
    _Steenie Steenson_ in Scott's novel _Redgauntlet_ (1824).]

    [Note 10: _No human being, etc_. Stevenson loved action in novels, and
    was impatient, as many readers are, when long-drawn descriptions of
    scenery were introduced. Furthermore, the love for wild scenery has
    become as fashionable as the love for music; the result being a very
    general hypocrisy in assumed ecstatic raptures.]

    [Note 11: _You can keep no men long, nor Scotchmen at all_. Every
    Scotchman is a born theologian. Franklin says in his _Autobiography_,
    "I had caught this by reading my father's books of dispute on
    Religion. Persons of good sense, I have since observed seldom fall
    into it, except lawyers, university men, and generally men of all
    sorts who have been bred at Edinburgh." (Chap. I.)]

    [Note 12: _A court of love_. A mediaeval institution of chivalry,
    where questions of knight-errantry, constancy in love, etc., were
    discussed and for the time being, decided.]

    [Note 13: _Spring-Heel'd Jack_. This is Stevenson's cousin "Bob,"
    Robert Alan Mowbray Stevenson (1847-1900), an artist and later
    Professor of Fine Arts at University College, Liverpool. He was one of
    the best conversationalists in England. Stevenson said of him,

    "My cousin Bob, ... is the man likest and most unlike to me that I
    have ever met.... What was specially his, and genuine, was his
    faculty for turning over a subject in conversation. There was an
    insane lucidity in his conclusions; a singular, humorous eloquence
    in his language, and a power of method, bringing the whole of life
    into the focus of the subject under hand; none of which I have ever
    heard equalled or even approached by any other talker." (Balfour's
    _Life of Stevenson_, I, 103. For further remarks on the cousin, see
    note to page 104 of the _Life_.)]

    [Note 14: _From Shakespeare to Kant, from Kant to Major Dyngwell_.
    Immanuel Kant, the foremost philosopher of the eighteenth century,
    born at Königsberg in 1724, died 1804. His greatest work, the
    _Critique of Pure Reason_ (_Kritick der reinen Vernunft_, 1781),
    produced about the same revolutionary effect on metaphysics as that
    produced by Copernicus in astronomy, or by Darwin in natural
    science.... _Major Dyngwell I know not_.]

    [Note 15: _Burly_. Burly is Stevenson's friend, the poet William
    Ernest Henley, who died in 1903. His sonnet on our author may be found
    in the introduction to this book. Leslie Stephen introduced the two
    men on 13 Feb. 1875, when Henley was in the hospital, and a very close
    and intimate friendship began. Henley's personality was exceedingly
    robust, in contrast with his health, and in his writings and talk he
    delighted in shocking people. His philosophy of life is seen clearly
    in his most characteristic poem:

    "Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever Gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the Captain of my soul."

    After the publication of Balfour's _Life of Stevenson_ (1901), Mr.
    Henley contributed to the _Pall Mall Magazine_ in December of that
    year an article called _R.L.S._, which made a tremendous sensation. It
    was regarded by many of Stevenson's friends as a wanton assault on his
    private character. Whether justified or not, it certainly damaged
    Henley more than the dead author. For further accounts of the
    relations between the two men, see index to Balfour's _Life_, under
    the title _Henley_.]

    [Note 16: _Pistol has been out-Pistol'd_. The burlesque character in
    Shakspere's _King Henry IV_ and _V_.]

    [Note 17: _Cockshot_. (The Late Fleeming Jenkin.) As the note says,
    this was Professor Fleeming Jenkin, who died 12 June 1885. He
    exercised a great influence over the younger man. Stevenson paid the
    debt of gratitude he owed him by writing the _Memoir of Fleeming
    Jenkin_, published first in America by Charles Scribner's Sons, in

    [Note 18: _Synthetic gusto; something of a Herbert Spencer_. The
    English philosopher, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), whose many volumes
    in various fields of science and metaphysics were called by their
    author the _Synthetic Philosophy_. His most popular book is _First
    Principles_ (1862), which has exercised an enormous influence in the
    direction of agnosticism. His _Autobiography_, two big volumes, was
    published in 1904, and fell rather flat.]

    [Note 19: _Like a thorough "glutton."_ This is still the slang of the
    prize-ring. When a man is able to stand a great deal of punching
    without losing consciousness or courage, he is called a "glutton for

    [Note 20: _Athelred_. Sir Walter Simpson, who was Stevenson's
    companion on the _Inland Voyage_. For a good account of him, see
    Balfour's _Life of Stevenson_, I, 106.]

    [Note 21: "_Dry light_." "The more perfect soul," says Heraclitus, "is
    a dry light, which flies out of the body as lightning breaks from a
    cloud." Plutarch, _Life of Romulus_.]

    [Note 22: _Opalstein_. This was the writer and art critic, John
    Addington Symonds (1840-1893). Like Stevenson, he was afflicted with
    lung trouble, and spent much of his time at Davos, Switzerland, where
    a good part of his literary work was done. "The great feature of the
    place for Stevenson was the presence of John Addington Symonds, who,
    having come there three years before on his way to Egypt, had taken up
    his abode in Davos, and was now building himself a house. To him the
    newcomer bore a letter of introduction from Mr. Gosse. On November 5th
    (1880) Louis wrote to his mother: 'We got to Davos last evening; and I
    feel sure we shall like it greatly. I saw Symonds this morning, and
    already like him; it is such sport to have a literary man around....
    Symonds is like a Tait to me; eternal interest in the same topics,
    eternal cross-causewaying of special knowledge. That makes hours to
    fly.' And a little later he wrote: 'Beyond its splendid climate, Davos
    has but one advantage--the neighbourhood of J.A. Symonds. I dare say
    you know his work, but the man is far more interesting.'" (Balfour's
    _Life of Stevenson_, I, 214.) When Symonds first read the essay _Talk
    and Talkers_, he pretended to be angry, and said, "Louis Stevenson,
    what do you mean by describing me as a moonlight serenader?" (_Life_,
    I, 233.)]

    [Note 23: _Proxime accessit_. "He comes very near to it."]

    [Note 24: _Sirens ... Sphinx Byronic ... Horatian ... Don Giovanni ...
    Beethoven_. The Sirens were the famous women of Greek mythology, who
    lured mariners to destruction by the overpowering sweetness of their
    songs. How Ulysses outwitted them is well-known to all readers of the
    _Odyssey_. One of Tennyson's earlier poems, _The Sea-Fairies_, deals
    with the same theme, and indeed it has appeared constantly in the
    literature of the world.... The _Sphinx_, a familiar subject in
    Egyptian art, had a lion's body, the head of some other animal
    (sometimes man) and wings. It was a symbolical figure. The most famous
    example is of course the gigantic Sphinx near the Pyramids in Egypt,
    which has proved to be an inexhaustible theme for speculation and for
    poetry.... The theatrically tragic mood of _Byron_ is contrasted with
    the easy-going, somewhat cynical epicureanism of Horace.... _Don
    Giovanni_ (1787) the greatest opera of the great composer Mozart
    (1756-1791), tells the same story told by Molière and so many others.
    The French composer, Gounod, said that Mozart's _Don Giovanni_ was the
    greatest musical composition that the world has ever seen....
    _Beethoven_ (1770-1827) occupies in general estimation about the same
    place in the history of music that Shakspere fills in the history of

    [Note 25: _Purcel_. This stands for Mr. Edmund Gosse (born 1849), a
    poet and critic of some note, who writes pleasantly on many topics.
    Many of Stevenson's letters were addressed to him. The two friends
    first met in London in 1877, and the impression made by the novelist
    on the critic may be seen in Mr. Gosse's book of essays, _Critical
    Kitcats_ (1896).]

    [Note 26: _I know another person_. This is undoubtedly Stevenson's
    friend Charles Baxter. See the quotation from a letter to him in our
    introductory note to this essay. Compare what Stevenson elsewhere said
    of him: "I cannot characterise a personality so unusual in the little
    space that I can here afford. I have never known one of so mingled a
    strain.... He is the only man I ever heard of who could give and take
    in conversation with the wit and polish of style that we find in
    Congreve's comedies." (Balfour's _Life of Stevenson_, I, 105.)]

    [Note 27: _Restoration comedy ... Congreve_. Restoration comedy is a
    general name applied to the plays acted in England between 1660, the
    year of the restoration of Charles II to the throne, and 1700, the
    year of the death of Dryden. This comedy is as remarkable for the
    brilliant wit of its dialogue as for its gross licentiousness. Perhaps
    the wittiest dramatist of the whole group was William Congreve

    [Note 28: _Falstaff ... Mercutio ... Sir Toby ... Cordelia ...
    Protean_. Sir John Falstaff, who appears in Shakspere's _King Henry
    IV_, and again in the _Merry Wives of Windsor_, is generally regarded
    as the greatest comic character in literature.... _Mercutio_, the
    friend of Romeo; one of the most marvellous of all Shakspere's
    gentlemen. He is the Hotspur of comedy, and his taking off by Tybalt
    "eclipsed the gaiety of nations."... _Sir Toby Belch_ is the genial
    character in _Twelfth Night_, fond of singing and drinking, but no
    fool withal. A conversation between Falstaff, Mercutio, and Sir Toby
    would have taxed even the resources of a Shakspere, and would have
    been intolerably excellent.... _Cordelia_, the daughter of King Lear,
    whose sincerity and tenderness combined make her one of the greatest
    women in the history of poetry.... _Protean_, something that
    constantly assumes different forms. In mythology, Proteus was the son
    of Oceanus and Tethys, whose special power was his faculty for
    lightning changes.

    "Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea."--Wordsworth.]

    [Note 29: This sequel was called forth by an excellent article in _The
    Spectator_, for 1 April 1882, and bore the title, _The Restfulness of
    Talk_. The opening words of this article were as follows:--"The fine
    paper on 'Talk,' by 'R.L.S.,' in the _Cornhill_ for April, a paper
    which a century since would, by itself, have made a literary
    reputation, does not cover the whole field."]

    [Note 30: _Valhalla_. In Scandinavian mythology, this was the heaven
    for the brave who fell in battle. Here they had an eternity of
    fighting and drinking.]

    [Note 31: _Meticulous_. Timid. From the Latin, _meticulosus_.]

    [Note 32: _Kindly_. Here used in the old sense of "natural." Compare
    the Litany, "the kindly fruits of the earth."]

    [Note 33: "_The real long-lived things_." For Whitman, see our Note 12
    of Chapter III above.]

    [Note 34: _Robert Hunter, Sheriff of Dumbarton_. Hunter recognised the
    genius in Stevenson long before the latter became known to the world,
    and gave him much friendly encouragement. Dumbarton is a town about 16
    miles north-west of Glasgow, in Scotland. It contains a castle famous
    in history and in literature.]

    [Note 35: _A novel by Miss Mather_. The name should be "Mathers."
    Helen Mathers (Mrs. Henry Reeves), born in 1853, has written a long
    series of novels, of which _My Lady Greensleeves, The Sin of Hagar_
    and _Venus Victrix_ are perhaps as well-known as they deserve to be.]

    [Note 36: _Chelsea_. Formerly a suburb, now a part of London, to the
    S.W. It is famous for its literary associations. Swift, Thomas
    Carlyle, Leigh Hunt, George Eliot, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and many
    other distinguished writers lived in Chelsea at various times. It
    contains a great hospital, to which Stevenson seems to refer here.]

    [Note 37: _Webster, Jeremy Taylor, Burke_. John Webster was one of the
    Elizabethan dramatists, who, in felicity of diction, approached more
    nearly to Shakspere than most of his contemporaries. His greatest play
    was _The Duchess of Malfi_ (acted in 1616). Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667),
    often called the "Shakspere of Divines," was one of the greatest
    pulpit orators in English history. His most famous work, still a
    classic, is _Holy Living and Holy Dying_ (1650-1). Edmund Burke
    (1729-1797) the parliamentary orator and author of the _Sublime and
    Beautiful_ (1756), whose speeches on America are only too familiar to
    American schoolboys.]

    [Note 38: _Junius_. No one knows yet who "Junius" was. In the _Public
    Advertiser_ from 21 Jan. 1769 to 21 Jan. 1772, appeared letters signed
    by this name, which made a sensation. The identity of the author was a
    favorite matter for dispute during many years.]

    [Note 39: _David Hume_. The great Scotch skeptic and philosopher

    [Note 40: _Shakespeare's fairy pieces with great scenic display._ So
    far from this being a novelty to-day, it has become rather nauseating,
    and there are evidences of a reaction in favour of _hearing_ Shakspere
    on the stage rather than _seeing_ him.]

    [Note 41: _Calvinism_. If this word does not need a note yet, it
    certainly will before long. The founder of the theological system
    Calvinism was John Calvin, born in France in 1509. The chief doctrines
    are Predestination, the Atonement (by which the blood of Christ
    appeased the wrath of God toward those persons only who had been
    previously chosen for salvation--on all others the sacrifice was
    ineffectual), Original Sin, and the Perseverance of the Saints (once
    saved, one could not fall from grace). These doctrines remained intact
    in the creed of Presbyterian churches in America until a year or two

    [Note 42: _Two bob_. A pun, for "bob" is slang for "shilling."]

    [Note 43: _Never read Othello to an end_. In _A Gossip on a Novel of
    Dumas's,_ Stevenson confessed that there were four plays of Shakspere
    he had never been able to read through, though for a different reason:
    they were _Richard III, Henry VI, Titus Andronicus_, and _All's Well
    that Ends Well_. It is still an open question as to whether or not
    Shakspere wrote _Titus_.]

    [Note 44: _A liberal and pious education_. It was Sir Richard Steele
    who made the phrase, in _The Tatler_, No. 49: "to love her (Lady
    Elizabeth Hastings) was a liberal education."]

    [Note 45: _Trait d'union_. The French expression simply means
    "hyphen": literally, "mark of connection."]

    [Note 46: _Malvolio_. The conceited but not wholly contemptible
    character in _Twelfth Night_.]

    [Note 47: _The Egoist_. _The Egoist_ (1879) is one of the best-known
    novels of Mr. George Meredith, born 1828. It had been published only a
    very short time before Stevenson wrote this essay, so he is commenting
    on one of the "newest" books. Stevenson's enthusiasm for Meredith knew
    no bounds, and he regarded the _Egoist_ and _Richard Feverel_ (1859),
    as among the masterpieces of English literature. _Daniel Deronda_, the
    last and by no means the best novel of George Eliot (1820-1880), had
    appeared in 1876.]
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Robert Louis Stevenson essay and need some advice, post your Robert Louis Stevenson essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?