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Talkability Henry van Dyke

Theme--On A Small, Useful Virtue

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Then there is the English Sparrow! What an insufferable chatterbox, what an incurable scold, what a voluble and tiresome blackguard is this little feathered cockney. There is not a sweet or pleasant word in all his vocabulary.

I am convinced that he talks altogether of scandals and fights and street-sweepings.

The kingdom of ornithology is divided into two departments,--real birds and English sparrows. English sparrows are not real birds; they are little beasts.

There was a church in Brooklyn which was once covered with a great and spreading vine, in which the sparrows built innumerable nests. These ungodly little birds kept up such a din that it was impossible to hear the service of the sanctuary. The faithful clergy strained their voices to the verge of ministerial sore throat, but the people had no peace in their devotions until the vine was cut down, and the Anglican intruders were evicted.

A talkative person is like an English sparrow,--a bird that cannot sing, and will sing, and ought to be persuaded not to try to sing. But a talkable person has the gift that belongs to the wood thrush and the veery and the wren, the oriole and the white-throat and the rose-breasted grosbeak, the mockingbird and the robin (sometimes); and the brown thrush; yes, the brown thrush has it to perfection, if you can catch him alone,--the gift of being interesting, charming, delightful, in the most off-hand and various modes of utterance.

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Talkability is not at all the same thing as eloquence. The eloquent man surprises, overwhelms, and sometimes paralyzes us by the display of his power. Great orators are seldom good talkers. Oratory in exercise is masterful and jealous, and intolerant of all interruptions. Oratory in preparation is silent, self-centred, uncommunicative. The painful truth of this remark may he seen in the row of countenances along the president's table at a public banquet about nine o'clock in the evening. The bicycle-face seems unconstrained and merry by comparison with the after-dinner-speech-face. The flow of table-talk is corked by the anxious conception of post-prandial oratory.

Thackeray, in one of his ROUNDABOUT PAPERS, speaks of "the sin of tall-talking," which, he says, "is the sin of schoolmasters, governesses, critics, sermoners, and instructors of young or old people." But this is not in accord with my observation. I should say it was rather the sin of dilettanti who are ambitious of that high-stepping accomplishment which is called "conversational ability."

This has usually, to my mind, something set and artificial about it, although in its most perfect form the art almost succeeds in concealing itself. But, at all events, ''conversation'' is talk in evening dress, with perhaps a little powder and a touch of rouge. 'T is like one of those wise virgins who are said to look their best by lamplight. And doubtless this is an excellent thing, and not without its advantages. But for my part, commend me to one who loses nothing by the early morning illumination,--one who brings all her attractions with her when she comes down to breakfast,--she is a very pleasant maid.

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Fisherman's Luck
Henry van Dyke

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