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Talk and Talkers


"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.]

Robert Louis Stevenson

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