In the French Salons of the eighteenth century, and in the coffeehouses and drawing-rooms of England, good conversation was regarded as a most desirable accomplishment, and was practised by many with extraordinary wit and skill. Swift's satire on _Polite Conversation_ (1738) as well as the number of times he discusses the art of conversation in other places, shows how seriously he actually regarded it. Stevenson, like many persons who are forced away from active life, loved a good talk. Good writers are perhaps now more common than good talkers.


[Note 1: _Sir, we had a good talk_. This remark was made by the Doctor in 1768, the morning after a memorable meeting at the Crown and Anchor tavern, where he had been engaged in conversation with seven or eight notable literary men. "When I called upon Dr. Johnson next morning," says Boswell, "I found him highly satisfied with his colloquial prowess the preceding evening. 'Well,' said he, 'we had good talk.' BOSWELL: 'Yes, sir, you tossed and gored several persons.'"]

[Note 2: _As we must account_. This remark of Franklin's occurs in _Poor Richard's Almanac_ for 1738.]

[Note 3: _Flies ... in the amber_. Bartlett gives Martial.]

"The bee enclosed and through the amber shown, Seems buried in the juice which was his own."

Bacon, Donne, Herrick, Pope and many other authors speak of flies in amber.]

[Note 4: _Fancy free_. See _Midsummer Night's Dream_, Act II, Sc. 2.

"And the imperial votaress passed on, In maiden meditation, fancy-free."

This has been called the most graceful among all the countless compliments received by Queen Elizabeth. The word "fancy" in the Shaksperian quotation means simply "love."]

[Note 5: _A spade a spade_. The phrase really comes from Aristophanes, and is quoted by Plutarch, as Philip's description of the rudeness of the Macedonians. _Kudos_. Greek word for "pride", used as slang by school-boys in England.]

[Note 6: _Trailing clouds of glory_. _Trailing with him clouds of glory._ This passage, from Wordsworth's _Ode on the Intimations of Immortality_ (1807), was a favorite one with Stevenson, and he quotes it several times in various essays.]

[Note 7: _The Flying Dutchman_. Wagner's _Der Fliegende Hollaender_ (1843), one of his earliest, shortest, and most beautiful operas. Many German performances are given in the afternoon, and many German theatres have pretty gardens attached, where, during the long intervals (_grosse Pause_) between the acts, one may refresh himself with food, drink, tobacco, and the open air. Germany and German art, however, did not have anything like the influence on Stevenson exerted by the French country, language, and literature.]

[Note 8: _Theophrastus_. A Greek philosopher who died 287-B.C. His most influential work was his _Characters_, which, subsequently translated into many modern languages, produced a whole school of literature known as the "Character Books," of which the best are perhaps Sir Thomas Overbury's _Characters_ (1614), John Earle's _Microcosmographie_ (1628), and the _Caracteres_ (1688) of the great French writer, La Bruyere.]

[Note 9: _Consuelo, Clarissa Harlowe, Vautrin, Steenie Steenson_. _Consuelo_ is the title of one of the most notable novels by the famous French authoress, George Sand, (1804-1876), whose real name was Aurore Dupin. _Consuelo_ appeared in 1842.... _Clarissa_ (1747-8) was the masterpiece of the novelist Samuel Richardson (1689-1761). This great novel, in seven fat volumes, was a warm favorite with Stevenson, as it has been with most English writers from Dr. Johnson to Macaulay. Writing to a friend in December 1877, Stevenson said, "Please, if you have not, and I don't suppose you have, already read it, institute a search in all Melbourne for one of the rarest and certainly one of the best of books--_Clarissa Harlowe._ For any man who takes an interest in the problems of the two sexes, that book is a perfect mine of documents. And it is written, sir, with the pen of an angel." (_Letters_, I, 141.) Editions of _Clarissa_ are not so scarce now as they were thirty years ago; several have appeared within the last few years....

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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