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Talk and Talkers of To-day., Issue 8006, 7 September 1889, Supplement
Talk and Talkers of To-day.
In the July number of the ' New Review' there is an interesting article entitled ' Talk and Talkers of To-day,' in which the writer stoutly denies that the art of conversation is extinct in London society.
SOME GOOD PROVINCIAL TALKERS. Who are our best talkers ? In answering this question, we shall first exclude from our purview all provincial conversation. , We are, of course, well aware that in so doing we exclude much that is well worth close attention. No doubt there is plenty that is valuable and interesting to be heard in those academic circles, where men still cherish ttu icy sneers of the late Master of Trinity, awl encourage the snappish impertinences of the present Master of Balliol—even, we believe, in the " cultured " quarters of manufacturing districts, and in the villas where the literary ladies of Edgbas-,, . ton gather round the mystic tripod of Mr Shorthouae. But all this conversation we exclude, simply because its heroes are little -. ~ known in London, and we wish to illustrate the virtues and vices of conversation by reference to familiar examples. MR CHARLES VILLIERS. And now, when we come to consider and to analyse the best conversation of to-day, we obey a natural instinct when we think first of Mr Charles Villiere. His venerable age alone would entitle him lo this preeminence, for has he not been one of the best talkers in London for something like seventy years ? He has a delicate sense, of fun, a keen eye for incongruities and absurdities, and that genuine cynicism which springs not from the poor desire to be , thought worldly wise, but from a life-long acquaintance with the foibles of political men.
Mr Gladstone's talk with the queen. We have instanced Mr Villiers as an eminent talker. We now turn to an eminent man who talks—Mr Gladstone. An absurd story has long been current among stupid people with rampant prejudices that Mr Gladstone is habitually uncivil to the Queen. As a matter of fact the story is so ' ridiculously wide of the mark that it deserves mention only because, in itself false, it is founded on a truth which illustrates our subject. "I," said the Duke of Wellington on a memorable occasion, "have no small talk, and Peel has no manners." Mr Gladstone has manners, but no small talk. Hence, we believe, the genesis of the absurd story just quoted about his demeanor to the Queen. The astute Lord Beaconsfield used to engage Her Majesty in conversation about water-color drawing and the third-cousinships of German princes. Mr Gladstone harangues her about the polity of the Hittites, or the relations between the Athanasian Creed and Homer. The Queen, perplexed and uncomfortable, seeks to make a digression addresses a remark to a daughter, or offers a biscuit to a begging terrier. Mr Gladstone restrains himself with an effort, waits till the princess has answered or the dog has sat down, and then promptly resumes—" As I was saying——." SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN A GOOD TALKER.
After noticing Lord Granville's wellknown eminence as a good talker, the' writer adds that another politician who excels in conversation is Sir George Trevelyan. Whenever he touches an historical or literary theme, Sir George's whole being seems to undergo a transformation. The real man flashes out through his twinkling eyes. As he muses the fire burns, ' ' and he speaks with his tongue. Facts, • dates, details, rumors, traditions, cantos of poetry (original and quoted), reams of prose, English and Latin and Greek and French, come tumbling out in headlong but' not disorderly array. He jumps at an opening, seizes an allusion, replies with lightning quickness to a conversational challenge, and is ready, on a moment's notice, to decide any literary or historical . controversy in a measured tone of deliberate emphasis which ia not wholly free from exaggeration. For the rest, Sir George is delightful company; light-hearted as a boy, full of autobiographical chit-chat; never bald, never flat, never stale. MB JOHN MORLEY'S "DIGNIFIED AUSTEBITT." Mr Morley's agreeableness in conversation is of a different kind. His leading characteristic is a certain dignified austerity of demeanor which repels familiarity, and . tends to keep conversation on a high level; but each time one meets him there is less formality and less restraint, and the grave courtesy, which never fails, is soon touched with friendliness and frank good humor, is a singularly attractive fashion. He talks not much, but remarkably well. His sentences ' are deliberate, clear-cut, often eloquent. His quotations are apt and original. His fine taste and varied culture enable him to hold his own in many fields where the mere professional politician ',, is apt to be terribly astray. He ' never obtrudes his own opinions; never introduces debateable matter; never lays ' down tho law. But he is always ready to ' take up the gauntlet—especially if a Tory ■■:' throws it down; and may be baoked to meet -* rude dogmatism or ill-informed assertion ; with a quick fervor and robustness of tone, ,,r * before which the aggressor will beat a hasty retreat. His kindness to social and literary beginners is one of Mr Morley's most engag- * ing traits. He invariably finds something, pleasant to say about the most immature and unpromising efforts, and he has the knack of so handling his own early experience as to '' make it an encouragement and a stimulus, * and not (as is the manner of egotists) a ' burden and a dread. -
LORD SALISBURY AS JEKTLL AND lIYDE. .< v , Lord Srlisbury goes so little into general society that his qualities as a talker are not • familiarly known. Yet no one can listen, even casually, to his conversation without, appreciating the fine manner, full both of> dignity and courtesy, the perfect freedom, from pomposity, formality, and self-assertion, and the dash of cynicism which modifies, though it never masks, the flavor of his fun.' The combination of go much amiability,,-? frankness, and politeness in the intercourse of society with the inartistic insolence and ,< > unmannerly personalities which mark Lord '. Salisbury's public utterances, suggests the leading idea of a novel of Mr Louis Steven- ' son's, to which it is a point of literary honor not more directly to allude. '
Talk and Talkers of To-day., Issue 8006, 7 September 1889, Supplement
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