"I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America."

Alexis De Tocqueville


"Few men are more to be shunned than those who have time, but know not how to improve it and so spend it in wasting the time of their neighbors, talking forever though they have nothing to say."

Tryon Edwards


"The art of conversation is to be prompt without being stubborn; to refute without argument, and to clothe great matters in a motley garb."



"Many can argue; not many converse."



"Only if we can restrain ourselves is conversation possible. Good talk rises upon much self-discipline"

-John Erskine  The Complete Life


"Talk is seldom more than foreplay-or, if you prefer, coitus interruptus-an act of communication that never achieves its end. People spill damning confessions without waiting for responses from their listeners, and then abruptly switch gears....

-New York Times, Friday, Nov 7, 2008 Review by Ben Brantley of Theatre "Mouth to Mouth by Kevin Elyot


"It is an excellent rule to be observed in all discussions, that men should give soft words and hard arguments; that they should not so much strive to silence or vex, as to convince their opponents."



"All noise is waste. So cultivate quietness in your speech, in your thoughts, in your emotions. Speak habitually low. wait for attention and then your low words will be charged with dynamite."

-Elbert Hubbard


"Discreetly keep most of your radical opinions to yourself. When with people be a listener large part of the time. Be considerate in every word and act, and resist the tendency to say clever things. The best evidence of your culture is the tone and temper of your conversation."

-Grenville Kleiser


"Talk is by far the most accessible of pleasures. It costs nothing in money, it is all profit, it completes our education , founds and fosters our friendships, and can be enjoyed at any age and in almost any state of health."

-Robert Louis Stevenson


"I would travel 500 leagues to talk to an intelligent man."

                                     Germaine de Stael

(Emerson said he'd walk a hundred miles through a snowstorm for one good conversation)


"That character in conversation which commonly passes for agreeable is made up of civility and falsehood."

-Alexander Pope


"....if, by some mischance, people understood each other, they would never be able to reach agreement."

-Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Journals


"It is ironic that in the United States, the hotbed of democracy, egalitarian salons were virtually unheard of until the early twentieth century. Ironic, too, that the first "American" salons actually took place in France."

                                            Jaida N'Ha Sandra

                             The Joy of Conversation: A complete guide to Salons.....


   "Of all these arts, it is the art of conversation-society's art par excellence-that we miss most and that most demands our admiration, just as it commanded the appreciation of La Bruyere and Talleyrand. Developed as an entertaining end in itself, as a game for shared pleasure, conversation obeyed strict laws that guaranteed harmony based on perfect equality. These were laws of clarity, measure, elegance, and regard for the self-respect of others. A talent for listening was more appreciated than one for speaking. Exquisite courtesy restrained vehemence and prevented quarrels."

-Benedetta Craveri

The Age Of Conversation


"To every man alive, one must hope, it has in some manner happened that he has talked with his more fascinating friends round a table on some night when all the numerous personalities unfolded themselves like great tropical flowers.



" the art of never appearing a bore, of knowing how to  say everything interestingly, to entertain with no matter what, to be charming with nothing at all."

-Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893)


"Good conversation demanded attention, discrimination, appreciation-all forms of expenditure which the mean are apt to grudge."


"Intellectual conversation, whether grave or humorous, is only fit for intellectual society, it is downright abhorrent to ordinary people, to please whom it is absolutely necessary to be commonplace and dull. This demands an act of severe self-denial; we have to forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to become like other people."



"There is no arena in which vanity displays itself under such  a variety of forms as in conversation."



"The great gift of conversation lies less in displaying it ourselves than in drawing it out of others. He who leaves your company pleased with himself and his own cleverness is perfectly well pleased with you."



"It's the height of folly to want to be the only wise one."

                        Francois La Rochefoucauld


Conversation is not the exchange of views, but the sifting of opinions. The ‘exchange ‘ view is a correct description of modern practice: A delivers an opinion while B thinks of the one he will inject as soon as he can. The genuine exercise or true conversation sifts opinions, that is, tries to develop tenable positions by alternate statements, objections, modifications, examples, arguments, distinctions, expressed with the aid of the rhetorical arts-irony, exaggeratia, and the rest.


"The first ingredient in conversation is truth; the next, good sense; the third, good humor; and the fourth, wit."

Sir William Temple


"The emphasis upon competition in modern life is connected with a general decay of civilized standards such as must have occurred in Rome after the Augustan age. Man and women appear to have become incapable of enjoying the more intellectual pleasures. The art of general conversation, for example, brought to perfection in the French salons of the 18th century, was still a living tradition forty years ago. It was a very exquisite art, bringing the highest faculties into play for the sake of something completely evanescent. But who in our age cares for anything so leisurely?"

Bertrand Russell

The Conquest of Happiness



"Conversation in this country has fallen upon evil days….It is drowned out in singing commercials by the world’s most productive economy that has so little to say for itself it has to hum it. It is hushed and shushed in dimly lighted parlors by television audiences who used to read, argue, and even play bridge, an old-fashioned card game requiring speech."

Rufus Wilmot Griswold


"We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get a chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that its all gone."

Robert M. Pirsig

Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


"Do you know that conversation is one of the greatest pleasures in life? But it wants leisure."

W. Somerset Maugham


"Whoever interrupts the conversation of others to make a display of his fund of knowledge, makes notorious his own stock of ignorance."

Sa’Di Gulistan (1258)


"To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of Conversation."

La Rochefoucauld (1655)



"A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet."

Truman Capote

Music for Chameleons


"The art of conversation, or the qualification for a good companion, is a certain self-control, which now holds the subject, now lets it go, with a respect for the emergencies of the moment."


Journals (1854)


The best of life is conversation, and the greatest success is confidence, or perfect understanding between sincere people."



"Conversation should be loved; it constitutes good society; friendships are formed and preserved through it."

-Richelet's dictionary


"The development of ideas has, for a century, been entirely directed by conversation."

-Mme de Stael


   "The feeling of satisfaction that characterizes an animated conversation does not so much consist of its subject matter. Neither the ideas nor the knowledge that may emerge within it are of primary interest. Rather, it is a certain manner in which some people have an effect on others; of reciprocally and rapidly giving one another pleasure; of speaking just as quickly as one thinks; of spontaneously enjoying oneself; of being applauded without working; of displaying one's wit through all the nuances of accent, gesture, and look, in order to produce at will a sort of electricity that causes sparks to fly, and that relieves some people of the burden of their excess vivacity and awakens others from a state of painful apathy."

-Mme de Stael

De l'Aleemagne


"Never speak of yourself to others; make them talk about themselves instead; therein lies the whole art of pleasing. Everyone knows it and everyone forgets it."

Edmond and Jules De Goncourt (1866)


"Good, old-fashioned conversation has enormous social and psychological benefits, but certain attitudes and technologies are eliminating the leisurely, face-to-face chat, even among friends and family. If people are not careful, this "devoicing" may cause both Westerners and Easterners to become more isolated, distrustful, and unhappy warns communications expert John L. Locke in his new book, The DeVoicing of Society: Why we don’t talk to each other Anymore

The Futurist, Feb 1999


"Conversation requires a kind of academic and moral leisure that is practically nonexistent in any university of my acquaintance. It is true that we have to work to have leisure. But it is also true that until  we recognize the limit of work, we will think that work is our human destiny. That's what the Marxists thought, and we know what happened to them."

Javes V. Schall S.J.

On the Unserious ness of Human Affairs


"With what delicacy are human opinions tossed about in Paris!....But above all, with what ease is one subject moved onto from another, and how many things are discussed in so few hours! It must be admitted that conversation in Paris, has been perfected to a point where there is none other like it in the rest of the world. Each flash of wit is like the stroke of an oar, both light and deep. The same subject is not long considered; but there is a general tone-whereby every idea is relevant to the matter in question. The pros and the cons are discussed with singular speed. It is a delicate pleasure that can belong only to an extremely polished society that has laid down refined rules that are always observed. A man lacking this tact, although he has wit, is as dumb as he is deaf. It is impossible to say how the subject changes so rapidly from the analysis of a play to a discussion of (the American Revolution). The links are imperceptible; but they are there for the attentive listener. The connections, however tenuous, are nonetheless real; and if one is born to think, it is impossible not to perceive that everything is linked, that everything touches everything else, and that a multitude of ideas is needed to produce one good one."

-Louis Sebastien Mercier   1780


"What a singular thing is conversation, especially when the company is numerous. See what digressions we made; a delirious man's dreams could not be more irregular. However, since there is nothing disconnected, either in the head of a man who dreams or in that of a madman, everything also holds together in conversation; but it would sometimes be impossible to find the imperceptible threads that have drawn together so many disparate ideas. A man throws out a word that he has detached from what went before and follows it in his mind; another does the same, then catch it who can. Only one physical quality can guide the mind, which concerns itself with an infinity of different things. Let us take a color-yellow for example: gold is yellow, silk is yellow, care is yellow, bile is yellow, straw is yellow; and to how many other threads is this thread attached? Madness, dreaming, the unraveled nature of conversation consists in passing from one subject to another by way of a common quality."

-Diderot 1760


William Penn (1644-1718) Fruits of Solitude

Rules of Conversation

"Avoid Company where it is not profitable or necessary; and in those Occasions speak little, and last.

Silence is Wisdom, where Speaking is Folly; and always safe.

Some are so Foolish as to interrupt and anticipate those that speak, instead of hearing and thinking before they answer; which is uncivil as well as silly.

If thou thinkest twice, before thou speakest once, thou wilt speak twice the better for it.

Better say nothing than not to the Purpose. And to speak pertinently, consider both what is fit, and when it is fit to speak.

In all Debates, let Truth be thy Aim, not Victory, or an unjust Interest: And endeavor to gain, rather than to expose they Antagonist.

Give no Advantage in Argument, nor lose any that is offered. This is a Benefit which arises from Temper

Don't use thy self to dispute against thine own Judgment, to shew Wit, lest it prepare thee to be too indifferent from what is Right: Nor against another Man, to vex him, or for mere Trial of Skill; since to inform , or to be informed, ought to be the End of all Conferences.

Men are too apt to be concerned for their Credit, more than for the Cause...


   "So long as success in life depended on military strength, or noble birth, or having a patron to protect one, 'to converse' was understood to mean 'to live with, to frequent, to belong to the circle of someone powerful', with no need for speech beyond proclaiming one's obedience and loyalty. Etiquette books for courtiers advised them to concentrate on defending their reputation, with military metaphors to guide them in fortifying their pride: form alliances, use words as weapons and insults as ammunition against your rivals, show your strength by your readiness to accept confrontations, to start a quarrel, to employ bluff. The language of courtiers for long remained coarse, their demeanor ostentatious, their model strutting cocks. But then the ladies of the courts grew tired of this routine, and first in Italy, then in France and England, and finally throughout Europe and beyond, a new ideal of how a human being should behave was invented, demanding the opposite-politeness, gentleness, tact and culture. The model whom everyone ultimately copied was Madame de Rambouillet (nee Pisani, she was half Italian). Just as Marilyn Monroe taught a whole generation what it meant to be sexy, Madame de Rambouillet showed what it meant to be sociable in the most refined way, so that it no longer mattered how rich, or how well born, or how physically beautiful one was, provided one knew how to take part in a conversation.

   She organized conversation in an entirely new way. A salon was the opposite of the large, royal or baronial hall; its characteristic was intimacy, a dozen people perhaps, two dozen at most; some-times called an alcove, it was presided over by a lady with a talent for drawing out the best from talented people, whom she invited not on the basis of their status, but because they had interesting things to say, and because in the company she created, they said them even better. Socrates invented the conversational duet. Madame Rambouillet did not try to create a chamber orchestra of talk, because each individual spoke his own words; rather she provided a theatre in which each could judge the effect of those words and receive a reaction. People of all classes and nationalities met in her salon-and in the many other salons which imitated hers-for conversations which looked at life with the same distance as Socrates had favored, but instead of torturing themselves with self-questioning, they concentrated on expressing their thoughts with elegance."

Theodore Zeldin

An Intimate History of Humanity


   "Understanding, not knowledge, is what we're aiming at in most conversations. Philosophers have told us for a couple of millennia that knowing is the highest of human mental activities, but that's because you don't become a philosopher unless you're interested in getting past the mere opinions of those around you to find what's truly worthy of belief. It's like asking a  chef which is the greatest of the senses or a libertine what's the greatest thing two people can do together. Philosophers after Socrates have tended to sit in a room by themselves as they write things on paper, but most of us think by talking with others. In a conversation's shared ground there are things we know-or assume we know-but they're precisely what's not interesting to talk about. In conversation we think out loud together, trying to understand."

-David Weinberger

Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder.


   "This ideal of conversation, which managed to marry lightheartedness with depth, elegance with pleasure, and the search for truth with a tolerant respect for the opinions of others, has never lost its appeal. The more the realities of the present day distance us from it, the more we miss it. It is no longer the ideal of a whole society, but has become a "lieu de memoire"-a realm of memory. No conciliatory powers can revive it under unfavorable conditions; today it leads a clandestine existence and is the territory of the few. Yet there is no reason why it and its pleasures might not one day be revived."

-Benedetta Craveri

The Age of Conversation


   "So much attention is given to the moral importance of our deeds and their effect. Those who seek to live the higher life also come to understand the oft-ignored moral power of our words.

   One of the clearest marks for the moral life is right speech. Perfecting our speech is one of the keystones of an authentic spiritual program.

   First and foremost, think before you speak to make sure you are speaking with good purpose. Glib talk disrespects others. Breezy self-disclosure disrespects yourself. So many people feel compelled to give voice to any passing feeling, thought, or impression they have. They randomly dump the contents of their minds without regard to the consequences. This is practically and morally dangerous. If we babble about every idea that occurs to us-big and small-we can easily fritter away in the the trivial currents of mindless talk ideas that have true merit. Unchecked speech is like a vehicle wildly lurching out of control and destined for a ditch.

   If need be, be mostly silent or speak sparingly. Speech itself is neither good nor evil, but it is so commonly used carelessly that you need to be on your guard. Frivolous talk is hurtful talk; besides, it is unbecoming to be a chatterbox.

   Enter into discussions when social or professional occasion call's for it, be be cautious that the spirit and intent of the discussion and its content remain worthy. Prattle is seductive. Stay out of its clutches.

   It's not necessary to restrict yourself to lofty subjects or philosophy all the time, but be aware that the common babbling that passes for worthwhile discussion has a corrosive effect on your higher purpose. When we blather about trivial things, we ourselves become trivial, for our attention gets taken up with trivialities. You become what you give your attention to.

   We become small-minded if we engage in discussion about other people. In particular, avoid blaming, praising, or comparing people.

   Try whenever possible, if you notice the conversation around you decaying into palaver, to see if you can subtly lead the conversation back to more constructive subjects. If, however, you find yourself among indifferent strangers, you can simply remain silent.

   Be of good humor and enjoy a good laugh when it is apt, but avoid the kind of unrestrained barroom laughter that easily degenerates into vulgarity or malevolence. Laugh with , but never laugh at.

   If you can, avoid making idle promises whenever possible."

-Epictetus   79 A.D

The Art of Living


"I've another French tutor now. Gribouille is patient and considerate, never interrupts, and always lets you finish what you want to say, He gives you time to pause, to reflect, to search in your head for the best word, for the mot juste, and then lets you enunciate it clearly and carefully. He looks at me as I speak and twirls his ears. he does it to be rid of the flies; but I know he's listening. I speak better in his company. I don't feel the need to rush it out, to hurry a phrase, to spit it out garbled or clipped. With a donkey, you speak correctement. If only every human encounter was like that! No matter what language. I'm all ears, too, little human ears, for his wisdom, and for his needs. He seems to instill patience in me, someone who's not always the best listener."

-Andy Merrifield

The Wisdom of Donkeys


"To expand your circle of friends and colleagues, you must start engaging strangers and acquaintances in conversation. There is no other way. Strangers have the potential to become good friends, long-term clients, valued associates, and bridges to new experiences and other people. Start thinking of strangers as people who can bring new dimensions to your life`````, not as persons to be feared."

-Deborah Fine

The fine Art of Small Talk



Book: "The Joy of Conversation" J. N’Ha Sandra & the eds of Utne Reader

Book: "Conversation: A History of a Declining Art" by Stephen Miller

Book: "The Art of Conversation" by Peter Burke

Book: "fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & In Life, One Conversation at a Time" by Susan Scott

Book: "The art of Civilized Conversation: A Guide to Expressing Yourself With Style and Grace" by Margaret Shepherd & Sharon Hogan

Book: "Conversation: A History of a Declining Art" by Stephen Miller


© 2007




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