Saturday, January 17, 2009

"If you love the man of letters, seek him in the privacies of his study."

After a very pleasant, but long, week of meetings, appointments, and professional conversations in my non-blogging life, I'm heartened by the following anecdotes from Isaac D'Israeli's "Men of Genius Deficient in Conversation", found in his Curiosities of Literature (1791).

{Not that I would by any stretch of the imagination ever claim to be a genius, mind you--I'm just tired of hearing myself talk . . .}
The great Peter Corneille, whose genius resembled that of our Shakespeare, and who has so forcibly expressed the sublime sentiments of the hero, had nothing in his exterior that indicated his genius; on the contrary, his conversation was so insipid that it never failed of wearying. Nature, who had lavished on him the gifts of genius, had forgotten to blend with them her more ordinary ones. He did not even speak correctly that language of which he was such a master.

When his friends represented to him how much more he might please by not disdaining to correct these trivial errors, he would smile, and say—“I am not the less Peter Corneille!

. . . .

The deficiencies of Addison in conversation are well known. He preserved a rigid silence amongst strangers; but if he was silent, it was the silence of meditation. How often, at that moment, he laboured at some future Spectator!

Mediocrity can talk; but it is for genius to observe.

The cynical Mandeville compared Addison, after having passed an evening in his company, to “a silent parson in a tie-wig.” It is no shame for an Addison to receive the censures of a Mandeville; he has only to blush when he calls down those of a Pope.

. . . .

Chaucer was more facetious in his tales than in his conversation; and the Countess of Pembroke used to rally him by saying that his silence was more agreeable to her than his conversation.
And now to the quiet of my house, and the next book on the pile.

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