10 DecThe Agreeable Regency Gentleman and His Conversation

Regency Romance Era GentlemenSMALL TALK AND SMALL ACCOMPLISHMENTS, OR HOW TO MAKE YOURSELF AGREEABLE.  Conversation, like a shuttlecock, should not be suffered to remain with one person, but ought to pass in turn to all. But as few people think for themselves, so few people talk for themselves, and a colloquial monopoly is as common and as disagreeable as any other. Yet when we observe how much these rattles are caressed, ’tis wonderful there are so few.

Talent is by no means indispensable, and is the more valuable in proportion as it is flimsy or superficial. The great art lies in the choice of a subject. Let it be some liaison in the beau monde—the appearance of a new singer or actress—the detail of a recent duel, with particulars and embellishments, and your fortune is made at once. Do not affect any thing like a literary character, for scholars are reckoned bores. The only matters of this sort with which you can safely meddle are the fashionable novels—satirical poems—the magazines, and newspapers (eschewing the political articles as vulgar). It is absolutely necessary to be familiar with the names of all the editors in town, and these can easily be picked up from any of the tatterdemalions who prowl about police offices for the purpose of reporting the trials at a penny per line, which is, in most cases, exactly a penny per line too much.

You must drop the complimentary Mr., and say, “A. of the Chronicle and I—the last time I saw B. of the Globe—C. of the Spectator told me t’other day,” and so on. Of course it is not of the slightest consequence whether you ever saw one of the parties. You must also affect to be intimate with the theatrical lions, and be aware of the true state of all managerial squabbles for the season. Swear you have dined a dozen times with Sontag. En passant, the idea of a singer’s patronizing a nation wholesale, as she has done in the case of the Silesians, is rather too good. Be indignant with Price for forfeiting Ellen Tree three several times in the sum of thirty pounds, and suppress the fact of his having remitted the penalty in the two first instances. Assume a mysterious air of “I could if I would,” when Miss Love’s elopement is mentioned, and state with heroic confidence that the Vesuvius scene in “Masaniello” at Astley’s beat Drury by thirteen bricks and two ounces of Greek fire. You must pretend to know the salaries of all the employés in every establishment, and be able to describe the plot of every new piece the moment it is underlined. You can obtain sufficient information to enable you to pass muster on this subject any evening at the Garrick’s Head. It would be of great service if you could contrive to be seen in conversation with a respectable actor now and then.

You must have seen every sight and exhibited at every exhibition in town, and be able to discuss their several merits or demerits with a “learned spirit.” A knowledge of the principal nobility—by person at least—is a sine qua non, for how else should you be able to recount the names of those you saw in the Park on Sunday last? Keep a list of the ages and portions of as many young ladies as possible, and be cautious how you dispose of your information on this score. These, I think, are the principal topics; and the best advice I can give is, “Never be quiet: speak on ad infinitum.”

The man who inwardly digests these rules will be a treasure at any dinner party. The awful silence which prevails on the removal of the tablecloth—and an awful silence it surely is—will be dispelled. No ordinary man thinks of speaking, except in monosyllables, till he gets a little “elevated,” and then he speaks nonsense as a matter of course. You must keep sober—for people will occasionally get “mellow,” even in good society—and this you will easily manage to do by thinking of the immense superiority you will thus secure on joining the ladies in the drawing-room. You will be able to hand some blushing fair her coffee without pitching cup and contents into her lap, and stoop to pick up her fan or handkerchief without incurring the risk of breaking your nose. Should quadrilles be proposed, you will also be able to avoid those little dos-à-dos accidents which are by no means agreeable, and be qualified to pronounce, with tolerable certainty, which is your own partner.

Sharpe’s Magazine.

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