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TALK-STOPPERS

WE hear a great deal of lamentation now-
a-days, proceeding mostly from elderly people,
on the decline of the Art of Conversation
among us. Old ladies and gentlemen with
vivid recollections of the charms of society
fifty years ago, are constantly asking each
other why the great talkers of their youthful
days have found no successors in this inferior
present time. Wherethey inquire mournfully
where are the illustrious men and
women gifted with a capacity for perpetual
outpouring from the tongue, who used to
keep enraptured audiences deluged in a flow
of eloquent monologue for hours together?
Where are the solo talkers in this degenerate
age of nothing but choral conversation?
Embalmed in social tradition, or imperfectly
preserved in books for the benefit of an
ungrateful posterity, which reviles their
surviving contemporaries, and would perhaps
even have reviled them as Bores. What a
change seems indeed to have passed over the
face of society since the days of the great
talkers! If they could rise from the dead,
and wag their unresting tongues among us
now, would they win their reputations anew,
just as easily as ever? Would they even get
listeners? Would they be actually allowed
to talk? I should venture to say, decidedly
not. They would surely be interrupted and
contradicted; they would have their nearest
neighbours at the dinner-table talking across
them; they would find impatient people opposite,
dropping things noisily, and ostentatiously
picking them up; they would hear
confidential whispering, and perpetual fidgeting
in distant corners, before they had got
through their first half–dozen of eloquent
opening sentences. Nothing appears to me so
wonderful as that none of these interruptions
(if we are to believe report) should ever
have occurred in the good old times of the
great talkers. I read long biographies of
that large class of illustrious individuals
whose fame is confined to the select circle of
their own acquaintance, and I find that they
were to a man, whatever other differences
may have existed between them, all delightful
talkers. I am informed that they held
forth entrancingly for hours together, at all
times and seasons, and that I, the gentle,
constant, and patient reader, am one of the
most unfortunate and pitiable of human
beings in never having enjoyed the luxury of
hearing them: but, strangely enough, I am
never told whether they were occasionally
interrupted or not in the course of their
outpourings. I am left to infer that their
friends sat under them just as a congregation
sits under a pulpit; and I ask myself
amazedly (remembering what society is at the
present day), whether human nature can
have changed altogether since that time.
Either the reports in the biographies are one-
sided and imperfect, or the race of people
whom I frequently meet with now, and
whom I venture to call Talk-stoppers,
because their business in life seems to be the
obstructing, confusing, and interrupting of
all conversation, must be the peculiar and
portentous growth of our own degenerate
era.

Perplexed by this dilemma, when I am
reading in long biographies about great
talkers, I do not find myself lamenting, like
my seniors, that they have left no successors
in our day, or doubting irreverently, like my
juniors, whether the famous performers of
conversational solos were really as well
worth hearing as eulogistic report would
fain have us believe. The one invariable
question that I put to myself under these
circumstances runs thus, Could the great
talkers, if they had lived in my time, have
talked at all? And the answer I receive
is, In the vast majority of cases, certainly
not.

Let me not offensively and unnecessarily
mention names, but let me ask, for example,
if some such famous talker as saythe Great
Glibcould have discoursed uninterruptedly
for five minutes together in the presence of
my friend Colonel Hopkirk. The colonel
goes a great deal into society; he is the kindest
and gentlest of men; but he unconsciously
stops, or confuses conversation everywhere,
solely in consequence of his own sociable
horror of ever differing in opinion with
anybody. If A. should begin by declaring black
to be black, Colonel Hopkirk would be sure
to agree with him, before he had half done.
If B. followed, and declared black to be white,
the colonel would be on his side of the
question,before he had argued it out; and, if C.

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