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TOWARDS

AN ESSAY

ON

CONVERSATION.

HAVE observed few obvious subjects

to have been so feldom, or, at least, so slightly handled as this; and, indeed, I know few so difficult, to be treated as it ought, nor yet upon which there seemeth so much to be said,

Most things, pursued by men for the happiness of public or private life, our wit or folly have so refined, that they feldom sublift but in idea ; a true friend, a good marriage, a perfect form of government, with some others, require so many ingredients, so good in their several kinds, and so much niceness in mixing them, that for some thousands of years men have despaired of reducing their schemes to perfection: But, in conversa

tion, it is, or might be otherwise; for here we are only to avoid a multitude of errors, which, although a matter of fome difficulty, may be in every

man's

power, for want of which it remaineth as mere an idea as the other. Therefore it feemeth to me, that the truest way to understand conversation, is to know the faults and errors to which it is subject, and from thence every man to form maxims to himself whereby it may be regulated, because it requireth few talents to which moft men are not born, or at least may not acquire without any great genius or ftudy. For nature hath left every man a capacity of being agreeable, though not of shining in company; and there are an hundred men fufficiently qualified for both, who, by a very few faults, that they might correct in half an hour, are not lo much as tolerable.

I was prompted to write my thoughts upon this subject by mere indignation, to reflect that so useful and innocent a pleasure, so fited for every period and condition of life, and so much in all men's

power,

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power, should be so much neglected and abused.

And in this discourse it will be necefsary to note those errors that are obvious, as well as others which are feldomer obferved, fince there are few so obvious, or acknowledged, into which most men, some time or other, are not apt to run.

For instance: Nothing is more generally exploded than the folly of talking too much; yet I rarely remember to have feen five people together, where some one among them hath not been predominant in that kind, to the great constraint and disgust of all the rest. But among

fuch as deal in multitudes of words, none are comparable to the fober deliberate talker, who proceedeth with much thought and caution, maketh his preface, brancheth out into several digressions, findeth a hint that putteth him in mind of another story, which he promiseth to tell you when this is done; cometh back regularly to his subject, cannot readily call to mind some person's name, holding his head, complaineth of his memory; the whole company all this while in suspence; at

'ngth

on.

length fays, it is no matter, and so goes

And, to crown the business, it perhaps proveth at last a story the company hath heard fifty times before; or, at best, some insipid adventure of the relater.

Another general fault in conversation is, that of those who affect to talk of themselves: Some, without any ceremony, will run over the history of their lives; will relate the annals of their diseases, with the several symptoms and circumstances of them; will enumerate the hardships and injustice they have suffered in court, in parliament, in love, or in law. Others are more dexterous, and with great art will lie on the watch to hook in their own praise: They will call a witness to remember, they always foretold what would happen in such a case, but none would believe them; they advised such a man from the beginning, and told him the consequences, just as they happened; but he would have his

Others make a vanity of telling their faults; they are the strangest men in the world; they cannot diffemble; they own it is a folly; they have

loft

own way.

loft abundance of advantages by it; but, if you would give them the world, they cannot help it; there is something in their nature that abhors insincerity and constraint; with many other insufferable topicks of the same altitude.

Of such mighty importance every man is to himself, and ready to think he is so to others; without once making this easy and obvious reflexion, that his affairs can have no more weight with other men, than their's have with him; and how little that is, he is sensible enough.

Where company hath met, I often have observed two persons discover, by some accident, that they were bred together at the same school or university, after which the rest are condemned to filence, and to listen while these two are refreshing each other's memory with the arch tricks and passages of themselves and their comrades.

I know a great officer of the army, who will fit for some time with a supercilious and impatient silence, full of anger and contempt for those who are talking; at length of a sudden demand audience, Vol. XIII. Z

decide

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