This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.
TheThe New Review, which started publication in June 1889, carried a two-part article by the editor, Archibald Grove, ‘Talk and Talkers of Today’, in the July and August issues. ‘Samuel’s’ judgment that it is ‘tolerably interesting’ is the best that can be said of it. About this time ‘Samuel’s Sentiments’ seems in the main to be written by two distinct writers with contrasting styles. One adopts a position of conscious superiority and pronounces on the supposed ‘correctness’ on ‘incorrectness’ of the speech and writing of others, like an old-fashioned schoolmaster. He is superior to the troubles and petty sins of the mass of the population and cannot escape pomposity. The other writes as an ‘average, sensual man’ who shares the worries and peccadillos of those around him, and is in this a follower of Charles Dickens. He shows just such ‘slang and verbal unorthodoxy’ as the first deplores. The first Samuel locates good conversation in gentlemen’s clubs, or after dinner, when the ladies have withdrawn, perhaps remembering Alfred Tennyson’s ‘The Miller’s Daughter’ (1842): : ‘In after-dinner talk /Across the walnuts and the wine’. The second, more socially inclusive Samuel is addressing all readers, many of whom cannot afford formal dinners, served by domestics. According to OED a ‘feeder’ in theatrical usage is a character which gives cues for another character to ‘score off’ (1886). —— David Skilton
The man who is all jaw.
ERE is in the current number of The New Review, sir, a tolerably interesting article entitled ‘Talk and Talkers of To-day,’ and in this the writer, even when he takes the very highest range, social, political, and artistic, of the [men?] of to-day, can only point out the merest few who are really good talkers. Possibly I may be asked to give my definition of a good talker. Well, to speak roughly, I should say that the really good talker is the man who can, without ever wearying anyone, enchain the attention of men and women of the most diversified sentiments, dispositions, and degrees – the said man to combine in his ‘talk’ both wit and wisdom. I have said that the New Reviewer [er] cannot even amongst the exalted of the earth in this country find many who can talk well, and how terribly hard it is in a lower sphere to point out any man who fulfils the requirements I have laid down. The art of conversation is virtually a lost one; few men even amongst the educated classes ever talk to really please others; they seldom in their hours of leisure lay themselves out to entertain and enchant with clever discourse, and the all-pervading characteristic modern utter selfishness that is a sign of the times seems to keep their tongues tied and to prevent their expending either wit or wisdom on others. After the labour of the day is over, they seem to suffer from a sort of intellectual apathy, and they never allow their fancy to take wing. It is a palpable fact that men nowadays only sit for the briefest possible space of time over their wine after the ladies have retired. And why is this? it may be asked. Well, no doubt partly because men drink less than they used to do on such occasions; partly because woman claims a greater degree of supremacy than she once did in such matters, but the chiefest reason is, in my opinion, the fact that there are so few men who are truly capable of talking without monopolising, instructing without boring, amusing without being vulgar, talking ahead without the impression ever being conveyed to the rest that the talker is having it all to himself. I hold this opinion very firmly, and I further regret the curtailment of the time ‘over the wall-nuts and the wine,’ because it will be the death-blow to such intellectual talkers as do exist. I am by no means, sir, a ‘whole-hog’ supporter of the system of clubs, but I do hold that these latter are about the only social institutions where the clever talker has a chance of meeting his intellectual compeers in what has been vulgarly called ‘a jawing match.’
Stride off – that’s the only way to treat the prolix story teller.
All conversation of to-day is carried on in a scrappy, disjointed, monosyllabic way, and slang and verbal unorthodoxy are everywhere rampant. Men no doubt are too busy; they live at too rapid a rate to be able to sort their words much, but even granting all this, how few men to be met at various social gatherings are there who are capable of talking entertainingly. Running through my mind all the men I know – and my acquaintance is, goodness knows, a very extensive and varied one – I cannot call to recollection above one solitary man who in any considerable degree fulfils the conditions I have laid down or of whom I could say – as did Shakespeare of that mad wag B[i]ron, created by him — that he delivered himself
. . . In such apt and gracious words
That aged ears play truant at his tales,
And younger hearings are quite ravished,
So sweet and voluble is his discourse. [
Take the case of men who try to tell anecdotes. How many do you meet in any company (I do not even except actors, of whom I intimately know hundreds) who can tell a story really well! Dreadfully prolix are 99 men out of every 100. They drivel on, and on and on, and they show not the smallest conception of the manner in which points are to be made and an ultimate climax of an effective kind arrived at. They never appreciate the importance of this final point at its due worth. Depend upon it, the men who leave all the true gist and importance of a letter to the postscript know human nature pretty well; it is this final touch that always impresses itself most fully on a man's mind. The topical singer works up to the last line of every verse and to the last verse itself; the playwright's endeavours, if he does not always succeed in them, all point to making his finale a strong one and to avoiding an anti-climax – he wants to bring down the curtain with a bang – oh that the average teller of anecdotes would learn something of a like artistic method[!] One of the most popular clergymen I ever knew, a man who was beloved by all, always had one method of parting with the people he met (yes, even the people he casually shook hands with in the street), and that was to leave them with a joke of some kind. Before the laugh had subsided he would hurry off and leave the impression of his merry nature on all, and in this way I have seen him silence the most cantankerous grumblers and inveterate bores that could be imagined. Few men can hurry along the ‘action’ of a story, give all the necessary bearings to it with a few verbal touches, and then come to an effective point. Few men ever choose their stories with any sense of discrimination, considering all the idiosyncrasies of the persons to whom they have to be told and their own powers. To instance this lack of discrimination, think how pitiable it is to a pronounced Cockney endeavouring to tell a Yorkshire dialect story, but yet hundreds of educated men in Yorkshire (which is rich in good yarns) persistently choose for the exercise of their powers as raconteurs stories in which Scotchmen and Irishmen, speaking their own particular dialects, have to figure. The result is dreary in the extreme.
The bore who ought to be muzzled in this way.
The man who boasted that he could hold his tongue in seven languages, and the man who said that speech was given us to conceal our thoughts were no doubt very cynical and spoke a good deal of truth, but there is a dreadful amount of human selfishness implied in both these utterances. A clever talker can increase the sum of human happiness amazingly; his pleasantries cheer many a man on life's weary journey; his wisdom helps men out of many a difficulty, and his very presence in any company seems to weld it together and to bring the units comprised in it close together. Silence is not necessarily wisdom – in fact, it never is when a man i[s] capable of saying anything clever, and there are few men who are capable of expounding originally and well on any theme but have an inclination to do so. Let us turn now to those very necessary concomitants of the clever talkers – the good listeners. It is impossible, of course, that all men should be good talkers, and the good listener has his distinct value. The really good listener is not the man who simply sits looking owl-ishly wise and never saying anything. On the contrary, he is the man who evinces his interest in any passing theme by timely observations and comments, which to the good talker act as so many finger-posts, directing in which way the conversation shall tend. The really good listener is an unconscious ‘feeder’ to the clever talker. Not so, however, the owl-ishly wise man, who is as selfish in his own way as the man who can talk and won't. He sits staring into vacancy whilst another man is diverting the company, and when he is wakened up from his reverie (which generally has for its subject some theme personal to himself), it is found that he does not know what subject is being discussed. There will always be good listeners where there are clever talkers – would that the latter kept pace with the former.
Last modified 11 March 2022