Essay Epilogue

The theory of conversation here attempted seems to be completely contained in the foregoing paragraphs, so far as the author has been able to investigate it. No doubt many of his readers will wonder that a subject so interesting can be made so dry, and will complain (in spite of § 5) that he has not given at least a few specimens of what he approves. If he is unable to compose them, why not cull them from the best novel literature of the day? It is, of course, quite easy to give such examples, which can be found in thousands from the comedies of Sheridan to the stories of Lever—who was himself, like Sheridan, a great master of conversation. But who ever profited directly in his own conversation by reading conversations? Who could ever transfer to ordinary intercourse the imaginary dialogues 173of romance? They may be elaborate and studied, like those of Walter Scott’s heroines, and indeed the lovers’ dialogues of almost all novelists; or they may be perfectly natural and easy, like those of Charles Lever just referred to. But in either case they are stereotyped in their book, and are useless even as models. One may quote from them an occasional brilliant or foolish remark, as one may from any book, but that is all.

There is always this difficulty about any practice, which has never been reduced to rule, that the laws of it, when set forth in order, seem trivial and dull; nor will the student believe that such valuable and complicated results can be derived from mere truisms. We are quite accustomed to that surprise in the case of logic. The whole system of human reasoning in all its wonderful intricacy is built up from a few general principles in themselves perfectly and 174necessarily obvious, just as the prose of Ruskin and the poetry of Browning are expressed in combinations of twenty-six letters. But as in this case the theory of composing words is easy enough, and yet the art a mystery, which only very few can ever attain in perfection,—each, too, after his own fashion, and stamped with his own genius,—so the theory of conversation may be reduced to a small number of general observations, and yet the perfect practice of it is a mystery, which defies analysis—one of the myriad manifestations of human genius which all can admire but no one can ever explain.

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