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  Talkability Henry van Dyke

Variations--On A Pleasant Phrase From Montaigne

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Montaigne has given as our text, "Goodness, freedom, gayety, and friendship,"--these are the conditions which produce talkability. And on this fourfold theme we may embroider a few variations, by way of exposition and enlargement.

GOODNESS is the first thing and the most needful. An ugly, envious, irritable disposition is not fitted for talk. The occasions for offence are too numerous, and the way into strife is too short and easy. A touch of good-natured combativeness, a fondness for brisk argument, a readiness to try a friendly bout with any comer, on any ground, is a decided advantage in a talker. It breaks up the offensive monotony of polite concurrence, and makes things lively. But quarrelsomeness is quite another affair, and very fatal.

I am always a little uneasy in a discourse with the Reverend Bellicosus Macduff. It is like playing golf on links liable to earthquakes. One never knows when the landscape will be thrown into convulsions. Macduff has a tendency to regard a difference of opinion as a personal insult. If he makes a bad stroke he seems to think that the way to retrieve it is to deliver the next one on the head of the other player. He does not tarry for the invitation to lay on; and before you know what has happened you find yourself in a position where you are obliged to cry, "Hold, enough!" and to be liberally damned without any bargain to that effect. This is discouraging, and calculated to make one wish that human intercourse might be put, as far as Macduff is concerned, upon the gold basis of silence.

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On the other hand, what a delight it was to talk with that old worthy, Chancellor Howard Crosby. He was a fighting man for four or five generations hack, Dutch on one side, English on the other. But there was not one little drop of gall in his blood. His opinions were fixed to a degree; he loved to do battle for them; he never changed them--at least never in the course of the same discussion. He admired and respected a gallant adversary, and urged him on, with quips and puns and daring assaults and unqualified statements, to do his best. Easy victories were not to his taste. Even if he joined with you in laying out some common falsehood for burial, you might be sure that before the affair was concluded there would be every prospect of what an Irishman would call "an elegant wake." If you stood up against him on one of his favorite subjects of discussion you must be prepared for hot work. You would have to take off your coat. But when the combat was over he would be the man to help you on with it again; and you would walk home together arm in arm, through the twilight, smoking the pipe of peace. Talk like that does good. It quickens the beating of the heart, and leaves no scars upon it.

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Fisherman's Luck
Henry van Dyke

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