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God's creatures. It is a curious and wonderful contrivance this, by which the fleeting breath becomes the index of the soul, the divulger and interpreter of the invisible thought, and the great bond and medium of social intercourse.
We emit a few simple sounds, and those about us are instantly apprized of what is passing within us; they know our thoughts, our desires, our purposes. We listen to the voice of another, and from the accents floating on the air we imbibe intelligence, advice, consolation. We see multitudes gathered together for grave debate on matters of common interest, and their conflicting views are reconciled, their diverging efforts concentrated, by the words of wisdom and eloquence uttered by a solitary and unaided individual.
We enter the retired circle, and we behold an enlightened company hanging with ecstasy on the lips of some gifted one, who possesses the power of communicating an interest to every topic on which he discourses. He touches nothing that he does not illustrate and adorn. By the melody of his tones, and the fascination of his manner, the most barren subject is made fruitful of instruction and entertainment. By this enchanting faculty, he exercises an unlimited, though unacknowledged, control over the minds of his hearers; and, while he imparts delight and knowledge, he bends their flexible wills to an accordance with his own, and stamps on their intellectual and moral characters his peculiar sentiments and biases. He throws the coloring of his thought and temper on every subject which becomes the theme of conversation, and, through the channel of an insinuating address, instils principles and views which may have an influence far beyond the little hour or circle in which they were uttered.
The exercise of a faculty so noble, so delightful, so powerful as this, should be guarded with extreme jealousy and In proportion to its dignity, and the variety and extent of its influence, should be your solicitude that it be not degraded nor abused. You are aware that it is a faculty
peculiarly liable to be perverted. The tongue, it is true, is a little member; but it is a voluble and unruly one. You are called upon, every hour and every moment, to employ it for business or pleasure, for instruction or amusement. "Speech," I adopt the language of the profound Barrow, speech is the rudder that steereth human affairs, — the spring that setteth the wheels of action on going. It is the profession and trade of many, it is the practice of all men, to be in a manner continually talking. Whatever great or small is done in the court or in the hall, in the church or at the exchange, in the school or in the shop, it is the tongue alone that doeth it; it is the force of this little machine that turneth all the human world about."
Now, as the province of speech is so large, and the tongue is so versatile a member, vibrating with the least breath of thought, it must needs be that, unless kept under a watchful and habitual restraint, it will sometimes speak amiss. Not to sin, is difficult; not to trifle with idle words, is next to impossible. Every day's observation confirms this fact, and assures you that the management of the tongue is an important branch of self-government. In no way, indeed, are the diversities of character among men more strikingly exhibited than in their various uses of this instrument. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man.
I have said that the great purpose of speech is to serve as a medium of intercourse among men. It is designed to be the image of the invisible thought, the transcript of the unseen emotion. You will admit, then, that its value consists in furnishing a correct image and an exact transcript. The portrait is good for nothing, if it do not reflect the air and features of the original; the transcript is a vain labor, if it do not accurately represent the instrument it professes to copy. The currency of language is founded upon the tacit promise which every individual is supposed to make, when he converses with another, that he will speak the truth. It
is only upon this supposed assurance, that any sensible man would listen for a moment to your conversation.
One might as well hearken to the wind, as attend to words which he has reason to suspect do not express your real thoughts and feelings. Destroy the confiding, the credulous disposition, which seems to be a part of our very nature, and you may as well destroy language too. Let the number of liars so increase as to bear any considerable proportion to the number of those who speak the truth, and farewell to the joys of social communion! farewell to the sweet courtesies of life! farewell to the occupations of this busy scene! The cement of society is gone. The golden chain, which bound man to his brother man by such strong, though invisible links, is broken.
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Thoughts on Conversation.
I AM sometimes asked what musical instrument I prefer. My answer is, the human voice. By this, I do not mean the human voice as heard in singing, (though no earthly tones are to be compared with those of a fine singer,) but in conversation. The tongue discourses a music sweeter to my ears than the vibrations of a harp-string, or the warblings of a flute. It is an instrument of unbounded variety and incalculable power. It can dimple with smiles the cheek
GEORGE S. HILLARD.
stained with the traces of tears, called up by its witchery from the deepest fountains of the heart. It can express the passions that sweep like prostrating whirlwinds over the mind, and the quiet feelings, the household affections, whose influence upon the character is as noiseless and as blessed as that of the sunshine and the dew upon the outward world. Its compass is infinite, extending from the low, tremulous accents which lovers breathe in the glow of twilight, to those tones of grandeur and power which make a strong man tremble, and the hearts of uncounted multitudes melt and run together into one glowing and plastic mass. It can speak the language of hope or despair; it can encourage and reward; it can give energy to our best resolves, and add strength to our worst impulses.
This noble instrument, the human voice, so liberally bestowed upon us, should be cultivated, so that all its powers may be brought out. Are we not guilty of a practical inconsistency, in taking so much pains, and incurring so much expense, in teaching our children an artificial music, while we neglect this natural music, which is capable of giving us a far higher and more enduring pleasure? There is nothing that exerts a more bewitching fascination over us than fine conversation. Personal beauty is not to be compared to it. The young and the beautiful will cluster round an eloquent talker, while Apollo himself, if he be silent, will be left to admire his own face in the glass. There is an unbought grace, a natural charm, in conversation, which wins our confidence, and opens a way to our hearts.
To be in the presence of a cultivated and accomplished man, who tasks his faculties to entertain us, seems like the enjoyment of the gifts of fairies. We have but to listen, and the treasures of learning, reflection, and experience, are poured into our souls. In one moment, the beautiful web which has taken a life to weave, is unrolled under our eyes. A succession of lovely pictures is made, as if by magic, to pass before our minds; our faculties are roused into the most
exhilarating activity; unexpected combinations of wit startle us with electric surprise; our souls expand beneath the rich rays of humour; our taste is charmed by harmonious periods, well-chosen language, and musical intonation; and all this is effected by so little a thing as the human tongue. But little as it is, it is a mighty instrument for good or for evil; and, in saying this, I leave out of the question the power of an eloquent public orator, and speak of its effects, merely in colloquial intercourse.
It was in conversation that Socrates uttered those discourses upon the nature of Beauty and Truth, which Plato and Xenophon have recorded. Dr. Johnson owes the better part of his fame to the indefatigable chronicler of his talk. His Life, by Boswell, will be read long after his Rambler is forgotten. Mr. Burke put forth all the treasures of his magnificent mind in conversation. It was said that you could not stop with him under a shed, to escape the rain, for five minutes, without going away with the impression that he was the greatest man in England. Mr. Jefferson says of Franklin, that no one could be in his presence, for however short a time, without learning something valuable — a remark eminently true, from all accounts, of Mr. Jefferson himself. And, to come a little nearer to our own times, Sir James Mackintosh and Madame de Staël were instances of persons of the highest order of minds, who regarded conversation as a noble, intellectual exercise, affording ample scope to the most creative genius, and the proper vehicle for the most profound and original thoughts.
What are the qualifications necessary to form a good talker? In the first place, he must have a full mind; for he can no more talk well without it, than a river can flow to the ocean without a fountain. Let me not be understood to say, that he must be a learned man. It matters not from what sources intellectual wealth be derived; it comes equally well from reflecting and observing, as from reading. Some have a luxuriant creativeness of mind, so