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Talkability Henry van Dyke

Theme--On A Small, Useful Virtue

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Talk is that form of human speech which is exempt from all duties, foreign and domestic. It is the nearest thing in the world to thinking and feeling aloud. It is necessarily not for publication,-- solely an evidence of good faith and mutual kindness. You tell me what you have seen and what you are thinking about, because you take it for granted that it will interest and entertain me; and you listen to my replies and the recital of my adventures and opinions, because you know I like to tell them, and because you find something in them, of one kind or another, that you care to hear. It is a nice game, with easy, simple rules, and endless possibilities of variation. And if we go into it with the right spirit, and play it for love, without heavy stakes, the chances are that if we happen to be fairly talkable people we shall have one of the best things in the world,--a mighty good talk.

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What is there in this anxious, hide-bound, tiresome existence of ours, more restful and remunerative? Montaigne says, "The use of it is more sweet than of any other action of life; and for that reason it is that, if I were compelled to choose, I should sooner, I think, consent to lose my sight than my hearing and speech." The very aimlessness with which it proceeds, the serene disregard of all considerations of profit and propriety with which it follows its wandering course, and brings up anywhere or nowhere, to camp for the night, is one of its attractions. It is like a day's fishing, not valuable chiefly for the fish you bring home, but for the pleasant country through which it leads you, and the state of personal well-being and health in which it leaves you, warmed, and cheered, and content with life and friendship.

The order in which you set out upon a talk, the path which you pursue, the rules which you observe or disregard, make but little difference in the end. You may follow the advice of Immanuel Kant if you like, and begin with the weather and the roads, and go on to current events, and wind up with history, art, and philosophy. Or you may reverse the order if you prefer, like that admirable talker Clarence King, who usually set sail on some highly abstract paradox, such as "Civilization is a nervous disease," and landed in a tale of adventure in Mexico or the Rocky Mountains. Or you may follow the example of Edward Eggleston, who started in at the middle and worked out at either end, and sometimes at both. It makes no difference. If the thing is in you at all, you will find good matter for talk anywhere along the route. Hear what Montaigne says again: "In our discourse all subjects are alike to me; let there be neither weight nor depth, 't is all one; there is yet grace and pertinence; all there is tented with a mature and constant judgment, and mixed with goodness, freedom, gayety, and friendship."

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Fisherman's Luck
Henry van Dyke

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