But if the subject of debate be something in the air, an abstraction, an excuse for talk, a logical Aunt Sally, then may the male debater instantly abandon hope; he may employ reason, adduce facts, be supple, be smiling, be angry, all shall avail him nothing; what the woman said first, that (unless she has forgotten it) she will repeat at the end. Hence, at the very junctures when a talk between men grows brighter and quicker and begins to promise to bear fruit, talk between the sexes is menaced with dissolution. The point of difference, the point of interest, is evaded by the brilliant woman, under a shower of irrelevant conversational rockets; it is bridged by the discreet woman with a rustle of silk, as she passes smoothly forward to the nearest point of safety. And this sort of prestidigitation, juggling the dangerous topic out of sight until it can be reintroduced with safety in an altered shape, is a piece of tactics among the true drawing-room queens.

The drawing-room is, indeed, an artificial place; it is so by our choice and for our sins. The subjection of women; the ideal imposed upon them from the cradle; and worn, like a hair-shirt, with so much constancy; their motherly, superior tenderness to man's vanity and self-importance; their managing arts--the arts of a civilised slave among good-natured barbarians--are all painful ingredients and all help to falsify relations. It is not till we get clear of that amusing artificial scene that genuine relations are founded, or ideas honestly compared. In the garden, on the road or the hillside, or _tete-a-tete_ and apart from interruptions, occasions arise when we may learn much from any single woman; and nowhere more often than in, married life. Marriage is one long conversation, chequered by disputes. The disputes are valueless; they but ingrain the difference; the heroic heart of woman prompting her at once to nail her colours to the mast. But in the intervals, almost unconsciously and with no desire to shine, the whole material of life is turned over and over, ideas are struck out and shared, the two persons more and more adapt their notions one to suit the other, and in process of time, without sound of trumpet, they conduct each, other into new worlds of thought.

NOTES

The two papers on _Talk and Talkers_ first appeared in the _Cornhill Magazine_, for April and for August, 1882, Vol. XLV, pp. 410-418, Vol. XLVI, pp. 151-158. The second paper had the title, _Talk and Talkers_. (_A Sequel_.) For Stevenson's relations with the Editor, see our note to _An Apology for Idlers_. With the publication of the second part, Stevenson's connection with the _Cornhill_ ceased, as the magazine in 1883 passed from the hands of Leslie Stephen into those of James Payn. The two papers next appeared in the volume _Memories and Portraits_ (1887). The first was composed during the winter of 1881-2 at Davos in the Alps, whither he had gone for his health, the second a few months later. Writing to Charles Baxter, 22 Feb. 1882, he said, "In an article which will appear sometime in the Cornhill, 'Talk and Talkers,' and where I have full-lengthened the conversation of Bob, Henley, Jenkin, Simpson, Symonds, and Gosse, I have at the end one single word about yourself. It may amuse you to see it." (_Letters_, I, 268.) Writing from Bournemouth, England, in February 1885 to Sidney Colvin, he said, "See how my 'Talk and Talkers' went; every one liked his own portrait, and shrieked about other people's; so it will be with yours. If you are the least true to the essential, the sitter will be pleased; very likely not his friends, and that from various motives." (_Letters_, I, 413.) In a letter to his mother from Davos, dated 9 April 1882, he gives the real names opposite each character in the first paper, and adds, "But pray regard these as secrets."

The art of conversation, like the art of letter-writing, reached its highest point in the eighteenth century; cheap postage destroyed the latter, and the hurly-burly of modern life has been almost too strong for the former.

Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson Page 39

Robert Louis Stevenson

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book