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was no sooner seated, but the parrot fixed his horny beak, as sharp as a pair of shears, in one of my heels, just above the shoe. I sprung from the place with an unusual agility, and so, being within the monkey's reach, he snatches off my new bob-wig, and throws it upon two apples that were roasting by a sullen seacoal fire. I was nimble enough to save it from any further damage than singeing the foretop. I put it on; and composing myself as well as I could, I drew my chair towards the other side of the chimney. The good lady, as as she had recovered breath, employed it in making a thousand apologies, and, with great eloquence, and a numerous train of words, lamented my misfortune. In the middle of her harangue, I felt something scratching near my knee, and feeling what it should be, found the squirrel had got into my coat pocket. As I endeavoured to remove him from his burrow, he made his teeth meet through the fleshy part of my forefinger. This gave me an inexpressible pain. The Hungary water was immediately brought to bathe it, and goldbeaters' skin applied to stop the blood. The lady renewed her excuses ; but being now out of all patience, I abruptly took my leave, and hobbling downstairs with heedless haste, I set my foot full in a pail of water, and down we came to the bottom together.' Here my friend concluded his narrative, and, with a composed countenance, I began to make him compliments of condolence; but he started from his chair, and said, * Isaac, you may spare your speeches, I expect no reply. When I told you this, I knew you would laugh at me; but the next woman that makes me ridiculous shall be a young one.'
[Tatler, No. 266.
The Art of Story-telling
TOM LIZARD told us a story the other day, of some persons which our family know very well, with so much humour and life, that it caused a great deal of mirth at the tea-table. His brother Will, the Templar, was highly delighted with it, and the next day being with some of his Inns of Court acquaintance, resolved (whether out of the benevolence, or the pride of his heart, I will not determine) to entertain them with what he called ' a pleasant humour enough. I was in great pain for him when I heard him begin, and was not at all surprised to find the company very little moved by it. Will blushed, looked round the room, and with a forced laugh, ‘Faith, gentlemen,' said he, 'I do not know what makes you look so grave, it was an admirable story when I heard it.'
When I came home I fell into a profound contemplation upon story-telling, and as I have nothing so much at heart as the good of my country, I resolved to lay down some precautions upon this subject.
I have often thought that a story-teller is born, as well as a poet. It is, I think, certain, that some men have such a peculiar cast of mind, that they see things in another light, than men of grave dispositions. Men of a lively imagination, and a mirthful temper, will represent things to their hearers in the same manner
as they themselves were affected with them ; and whereas serious spirits might perhaps have been disgusted at the sight of some odd occurrences in life ; yet the very same occurrences shall please them in a well-told story, where the disagreeable parts of the images are concealed, and those only which are pleasing exhibited to the fancy. Story-telling is therefore not an art, but what we call a 'knack'; it doth not so much subsist upon wit as upon humour; and I will add, that it is not perfect without proper gesticulations of the body, which naturally attend such merry emotions of the mind. I know very well, that a certain gravity of countenance sets some stories off to advantage, where the hearer is to be surprised in the end ; but this is by no means a general rule ; for it is frequently convenient to aid and assist by cheerful looks, and whimsical agitations. I will go yet further, and affirm that the success of a story very often depends upon the make of the body, and formation of the features, of him who relates it. I have been of this opinion ever since I criticised upon the chin of Dick Dewlap. I very often had the weakness to repine at the prosperity of his conceits, which made him pass for a wit with the widow at the coffee-house, and the ordinary mechanics that frequent it; nor could I myself forbear laughing at them most heartily, though upon examination I thought most of them very flat and insipid. I found after some time, that the merit of his wit was founded upon the shaking of a fat paunch, and the tossing up of a pair of rosy jowls. Poor Dick had a fit of sickness, which robbed him of his fat and his fame at once; and it was full three months before he regained his reputation, which rose
in proportion to his floridity. He is now very jolly and ingenious, and hath a good constitution for wit.
Those who are thus adorned with the gifts of nature are apt to show their parts with too much ostentation: I would therefore advise all the professors of this art never to tell stories but as they seem to grow out of the subject-matter of the conversation, or as they serve to illustrate, or enliven it. Stories, that are very common, are generally irksome ; but may be aptly introduced, provided they be only hinted at, and mentioned by way of allusion. Those, that are altogether new, should never be ushered in, without a short and pertinent character of the chief persons concerned ; because, by that means, you make the company acquainted with them ; and it is a certain rule, that slight and trivial accounts of those who are familiar to us administer more mirth, than the brightest points of wit in unknown characters. A little circumstance, in the complexion or dress of the man you are talking of, sets his image before the hearer, if it be chosen aptly for the story. Thus, I remember Tom Lizard, after having made his sisters merry with an account of a formal old man's way of complimenting, owned very frankly, that his story would not have been worth one farthing, if he had made the hat of him whom he represented one inch narrower. Besides the marking distinct characters, and selecting pertinent circumstances, it is likewise necessary to leave off in time, and end smartly. So that there is a kind of drama in the forming of a story, and the manner of conducting and pointing it is the same as in an epigram. It is a miserable thing, after one hath raised the expectation of the company by humorous characters, and a pretty
conceit, to pursue the matter too far. There is no retreating, and how poor is it for a story-teller to end his relation by saying, “That's all’!
As the choosing of pertinent circumstances is the life of a story, and that wherein humour principally consists; so the collectors of impertinent particulars are the very bane and opiates of conversation. Old men are great transgressors this way. Poor Ned Poppy-he's gone-was a very honest man, but was so excessively tedious over his pipe, that he was not to be endured. He knew so exactly what they had for dinner, when such a thing happened ; in what ditch his bay stone-horse had his sprain at that time, and how his man John,-no! it was William, started a hare in the common-field ; that he never got to the end of his tale. Then he was extremely particular in marriages and inter-marriages, and cousins twice or thrice removed ; and whether such a thing happened at the latter end of July, or the beginning of August. He had a marvellous tendency likewise to digressions; insomuch that if a considerable person was mentioned in his story, he would straightway launch out into an episode on him ; and again, if in that person's story he had occasion to remember a third man, he broke off, and gave us his history, and so on. He always put me in mind of what Sir William Temple informs us of the tale-tellers in the north of Ireland, who are hired to tell stories of giants and enchanters to lull people asleep. These historians are obliged, by their bargain, to go on without stopping ; so that after the patient hath by this benefit enjoyed a long nap, he is sure to find the operator proceeding in his work. Ned procured the like effect in me the last time I was with