C.N. Douglas, comp. Forty Thousand Quotations: Prose and Poetical. 1917.


The soul of conversation is sympathy.


Unconstraint is the grace of conversation.

Dr. Johnson.

Silence is one great art of conversation.


The less men think, the more they talk.


Many can argue, not many converse.

A. Bronson Alcott.

Conversation is a game of circles.


All men, well interrogated, answer well.


Debate is masculine; conversation is feminine.

A. Bronson Alcott.

With thee conversing I forget the way.


With thee conversing I forget all time.


Repose is as necessary in conversation as in a picture.


  • Be silent always, when you doubt your sense,
  • And speak, tho’ sure, with seeming diffidence.
  • Pope.

    The best of life is conversation.


    Discourse, the sweeter banquet of the mind.


    The secret of tiring is to say everything that can be said on the subject.


    Conceit causes more conversation than wit.

    La Rochefoucauld.

    Conversation is an abandonment to ideas, a surrender to persons.

    A. Bronson Alcott.

    Conversation is the vent of character as well as of thought.


    Reasonable men are the best dictionaries of conversation.


    Conversation is the laboratory and workshop of the student.


    Conversation is an art in which a man has all mankind for competitors.


    Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius.


    His conversation does not show the minute hand; but he strikes the hour very correctly.

    Sam’l Johnson.

    Speak little and well, if you wish to be considered as possessing merit.

    From the French.

    Good discourse sinks differences and seeks agreements.

    A. Bronson Alcott.

    It is good to rub and polish our brain against that of others.


    Egotists cannot converse, they talk to themselves only.

    A. Bronson Alcott.

    In conversation avoid the extremes of forwardness and reserve.


  • Form’d by thy converse, happily to steer
  • From grave to gay, from lively to severe.
  • Pope.

    Conversation, which, when it is best, is a series of intoxications.


    Questioning is not the mode of conversation among gentlemen.

    Sam’l Johnson.

    A great thing is a great book, but greater than all is the talk of a great man.

    Earl of Beaconsfield.

  • While we converse with her, we mark
  • No want of day, nor think it dark.
  • Waller.

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

    Sir W. Temple.

    In the sallies of badinage a polite fool shines; but in gravity he is as awkward as an elephant disporting.


    The perfection of conversational intercourse is when the breeding of high life is animated by the fervor of genius.

    Leigh Hunt.

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


    One of the first observations to make in conversation is the state, or the character, and the education of the person to whom we speak.

    Madame Necker.

    It is by speech that many of our best gains are made. A large part of the good we receive comes to us in conversation.

    Washington Gladden.

    Our companions please us less from the charms we find in their conversation than from those they find in ours.

    Lord Greville.

    Amongst such as out of cunning hear all and talk little, be sure to talk less; or if you must talk, say little.

    La Bruyère.

    There are three things in speech that ought to be considered before some things are spoken—the manner, the place and the time.


    Topics of conversation among the multitude are generally persons, sometimes things, scarcely ever principles.

    W. B. Clulow.

    Not only to say the right thing in the right place, but, far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.

    G. A. Sala.

    The perfection of conversation is not to play a regular sonata, but, like the Æolian harp, to await the inspiration of the passing breeze.


    A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years’ study of books.


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


    As it is the characteristic of great wits to say much in few words, so it is of small wits to talk much and say nothing.

    La Rochefoucauld.

    Method is not less requisite in ordinary conversation than in writing, provided a man would talk to make himself understood.


    Debate is angular, conversation circular and radiant of the underlying unity.

    A. Bronson Alcott.

    The extreme pleasure we take in talking of ourselves should make us fear that we give very little to those who listen to us.

    La Rochefoucauld.

    Conversation stock being a joint and common property, every one should take a share in it; and yet there may be societies in which silence will be our best contribution.

    Paul Chatfield, M.D.

    The fool only is troublesome. A man of sense perceives when he is agreeable or tiresome; he disappears the very minute before he would have been thought to have stayed too long.

    La Bruyère.

    The great charm of conversation consists less in the display of one’s own wit and intelligence than in the power to draw forth the resources of others.

    La Bruyère.

    You must originate, and you must sympathize; you must possess, at the same time, the habit of communicating and the habit of listening. The union is rather rare, but irresistible.


    No one will ever shine in conversation who thinks of saying fine things; to please, one must say many things indifferent, and many very bad.

    Francis Lockier.

    He who sedulously attends, pointedly asks, calmly speaks, coolly answers, and ceases when he has no more to say, is in possession of some of the best requisites of man.


    Never hold any one by the button or the hand in order to be heard out; for if people are unwilling to hear you, you had better hold your tongue than them.


    Conversation is interesting in proportion to the originality of the central ideas which serve as pivots, and the fitness of the little facts and observations which are contributed by the talkers.


  • A dearth of words a woman need not fear;
  • But ’tis a task indeed to learn to hear:
  • In that the skill of conversation lies;
  • That shows or makes you both polite and wise.
  • Young.

    Conversation never sits easier upon us than when we now and then discharge ourselves in a symphony of laughter, which may not improperly be called the chorus of conversation.


    In conversation, humor is more than wit, easiness more than knowledge; few desire to learn, or think they need it; all desire to be pleased, or, at least, to be easy.

    Sir W. Temple.

    Those who speak always and those who never speak are equally unfit for friendship. A good proportion of the talent of listening and speaking is the base of social virtues.


    The fullest instruction, and the fullest enjoyment are never derived from books, till we have ventilated the ideas thus obtained, in free and easy chat with others.

    Wm. Matthews.

    They would talk of nothing but high life and high-lived company, with other fashionable topics, such as pictures, taste, Shakespeare, and the musical glasses.


    Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood.


    To speak well supposes a habit of attention which shows itself in the thought; by language we learn to think, and above all to develop thought.


    Men of great conversational powers almost universally practice a sort of lively sophistry and exaggeration which deceives for the moment both themselves and their auditors.


  • But conversation, choose what theme we may,
  • And chiefly when religion leads the way,
  • Should flow, like waters after summer show’rs,
  • Not as if raised by mere mechanic powers.
  • Cowper.

    In private conversation between intimate friends, the wisest men very often talk like the weakest; for indeed the talking with a friend is nothing else but thinking aloud.


    There is nothing by which a man exasperates most people more than by displaying a superior ability or brilliancy in conversation. They seem pleased at the time, but their envy makes them curse him at their hearts.


  • I never, with important air,
  • In conversation overbear.
  • *****
  • My tongue within my lips I rein;
  • For who talks much must talk in vain.
  • Gay.

    If it were not for respect for human opinions, I would not open my window to see the Bay of Naples for the first time, whilst I would go five hundred leagues to talk with a man of genius whom I had not seen.

    Mme. de Staël.

    One of the best rules in conversation is, never say a thing which any of the company can reasonably wish we had rather left unsaid. Let the sage reflections of these philosophic minds be cherished.


    If conversation be an art, like painting, sculpture, and literature, it owes its most powerful charm to nature; and the least shade of formality or artifice destroys the effect of the best collection of words.


    The secret of pleasing in conversation is not to explain too much everything; to say them half and leave a little for divination is a mark of the good opinion we have of others, and nothing flatters their self-love more.

    La Rochefoucauld.

    One thing which makes us find so few people who appear reasonable and agreeable in conversation is, that there is scarcely any one who does not think more of what he is about to say than of answering precisely what is said to him.

    La Rochefoucauld.

    Silence is one great art of conversation. He is not a fool who knows when to hold his tongue; and a person may gain credit for sense, eloquence, wit, who merely says nothing to lessen the opinion which others have of these qualities in themselves.


    Jeffrey, in conversation, was like a skilful swordsman flourishing his weapon in the air; while Mackintosh, with a thin sharp rapier, in the middle of his evolutions, ran him through the body.

    Sir A. Alison.

    Among the arts of conversation no one pleases more than mutual deference or civility, which leads us to resign our own inclinations to those of our companions, and to curb and conceal that presumption and arrogance so natural to the human mind.


    The great secret of succeeding in conversation is to admire little, to hear much; always to distrust our own reason, and sometimes that of our friends; never to pretend to wit, but to make that of others appear as much as possibly we can; to hearken to what is said, and to answer to the purpose.

    Benjamin Franklin.

    It is given to few persons to keep this secret well. Those who lay down rules too often break them, and the safest we are able to give is to listen much, to speak little, and to say nothing that will ever give ground for regret.

    La Rochefoucauld.

    When we are in the company of sensible men, we ought to be doubly cautious of talking too much, lest we lose two good things, their good opinion and our own improvement; for what we have to say we know, but what they have to say we know not.


    Some men are very entertaining for a first interview, but after that they are exhausted, and run out; on a second meeting we shall find them flat and monotonous; like hand-organs, we have heard all their tunes.


    Abstruse and mystic thoughts you must express with painful care, but seeming easiness.

    Wentworth Dillon.

    It is a secret known but to few, yet of no small use in the conduct of life, that when you fall into a man’s conversation, the first thing you should consider is, whether he has a greater inclination to hear you, or that you should hear him.


    There is nothing so delightful as the hearing, or the speaking of truth. For this reason, there is no conversation so agreeable as that of the man of integrity, who hears without any intention to betray, and speaks without any intention to deceive.


  • These high wild hills and rough uneven ways,
  • Draw out our miles and make them wearisome;
  • And yet your fair discourse hath been as sugar,
  • Making the hard way sweet and delectable.
  • Shakespeare.

    Conversation opens our views, and gives our faculties a more vigorous play; it puts us upon turning our notions on every side, and holds them up to a light that discovers those latent flaws which would probably have lain concealed in the gloom of unagitated abstraction.


    The tone of good conversation is brilliant and natural; it is neither tedious nor frivolous; it is instructive without pedantry, gay without tumultuousness, polished without affectation, gallant without insipidity, waggish without equivocation.


  • He is so full of pleasant anecdote;
  • So rich, so gay, so poignant in his wit,
  • Time vanishes before him as he speaks,
  • And ruddy morning through the lattice peeps
  • Ere night seems well begun.
  • Joanna Baillie.

    Wise, cultivated, genial conversation is the last flower of civilization, and the best result which life has to offer us,—a cup for gods, which has no repentance. Conversation is our account of ourselves. All we have, all we can, all we know, is brought into play, and as the reproduction in finer form, of all our havings.


    Discretion of speech is more than eloquence; and to speak agreeably to him with whom we deal, is more than to speak in good words or in good order. A good continued speech, without a good speech of interlocution, shows slowness; and a good reply, or second speech, without a good settled speech, showeth shallowness and weakness.


    One would think that the larger the company is in which we are engaged, the greater variety of thoughts and subjects would be started into discourse; but, instead of this we find that conversation is never so much straightened and confined, as in numerous assemblies.


  • With good and gentle-humored hearts
  • I choose to chat where’er I come
  • Whate’er the subject be that starts.
  • But if I get among the glum
  • I hold my tongue to tell the truth
  • And keep my breath to cool my broth.
  • John Byrom.

    There is a sort of knowledge beyond the power of learning to bestow, and this is to be had in conversation; so necessary is this to the understanding the characters of men, that none are more ignorant of them than those learned pedants whose lives have been entirely consumed in colleges and among books; for however exquisitely human nature may have been described by writers the true practical system can be learned only in the world.


    In my whole life I have only known ten or twelve persons with whom it was pleasant to speak,—i.e., who keep to the subject, do not repeat themselves, and do not talk of themselves; men who do not listen to their own voice, who are cultivated enough not to lose themselves in commonplaces, and, lastly, who possess tact and good taste enough not to elevate their own persons above their subjects.


    There is speaking well, speaking easily, speaking justly and speaking seasonably: It is offending against the last, to speak of entertainments before the indigent; of sound limbs and health before the infirm; of houses and lands before one who has not so much as a dwelling; in a word, to speak of your prosperity before the miserable; this conversation is cruel, and the comparison which naturally arises in them betwixt their condition and yours is excruciating.

    La Bruyère.

    One could take down a book from a shelf ten times more wise and witty than almost any man’s conversation. Bacon is wiser, Swift more humorous, than any person one is likely to meet with; but they cannot chime in with the exact frame of thought in which we happen to take them down from our shelves. Therein lies the luxury of conversation; and when a living speaker does not yield us that luxury, he becomes only a book on two legs.


    Solitary reading will enable a man to stuff himself with information; but, without conversation, his mind will become like a pond without an outlet—a mass of unhealthy stagnature. It is not enough to harvest knowledge by study; the wind of talk must winnow it, and blow away the chaff; then will the clear, bright grains of wisdom be garnered, for our own use or that of others.

    Wm. Matthews.

    The progress of a private conversation betwixt two persons of different sexes is often decisive of their fate, and gives it a turn very distinct perhaps from what they themselves anticipated. Gallantry becomes mingled with conversation, and affection and passion come gradually to mix with gallantry. Nobles, as well as shepherd swains, will, in such a trying moment, say more than they intended; and queens, like village maidens, will listen longer than they should.

    Walter Scott.

    Conversation is the music of the mind, an intellectual orchestra, where all the instruments should bear a part, but where none should play together. Each of the performers should have a just appreciation of his own powers, otherwise an unskilful novice who might usurp the first fiddle, would infallibly get into a scrape. To prevent these mistakes, a good master of the band will be very particular in the assortment of the performers; if too dissimilar, there will be no harmony, if too few, there will be no variety; and if too numerous, there will be no order, for the presumption of one prater, might silence the eloquence of a Burke, or the wit of a Sheridan, as a single kettle-drum would drown the finest solo of a Gionowich or a Jordini.


    He that questioneth much shall learn much, and content much; but especially if he apply his questions to the skill of the persons whom he asketh; for he shall give them occasion to please themselves in speaking, and himself shall continually gather knowledge; but let his questions not be troublesome, for that is fit for a poser; and let him be sure to leave other men their turn to speak; nay, if there be any that would reign and take up all the time, let them find means to take them off, and bring others on,—as musicians used to do with those that dance too long galliards. If you dissemble sometimes your knowledge of that you are thought to know, you shall be thought, another time, to know that you know not.