How To Become Conversable

However beautiful or fashionably dressed a lady may be, she can never gain permanent hold upon society, without that peculiar talent for conversation, which is the well-known specialite of French women—and which depends more upon a variety of information, and a certain intuitive tact in the use of it, than in any specially developed accomplishment, as a virtuoso or a blur. Men of intelligence and of experience in the world, who are familiar with all great artists, and cannot but be bored by the grand scenas and arias attempted in private society, derive an ever fresh and exquisite pleasure from the conversation of a well-taught, observant, and appreciative woman.

Our correspondent, Laura, who writes us on this subject, says that she has been brought up in the country; but, being now resident in town, she feels herself miserably deficient in general information. How can she acquire the requisite amount of it? Every individual has a private gift, “mission,” capacity, and stock of information. No two individuals can be educated alike. They may learn the same lessons, and read the same books, and see the same society, and yet they will grow up very different characters. Their impressions are different—their reminiscences are different—their imaginations and passions arc different; and the more original they are, the more unlike others who have been educated along with them.

The best of all information for general chit-chat society is, viva voce, or live information; and this is only to be had in society itself. Therefore, those who see most society, are best fitted, because best trained for it. Nevertheless, to finish the lady and gentleman, reading is indispensable; and the fashion of the day prescribes the character of the reading, if you wish to be à la mode. Poetry, the drama, the opera, and music, in general, are indispensable for, ladies. If you would be learned in their history, you may read Schlegel’s Lectures on Dramatic Literature; Hazlitt’s Criticisms; Madame do Stall’s Germany, (infinitely superior to her Corinne;) Miss Strickland’s Queens of England; Hogarth’s History of Music; Fetis’ History of Music.

With those, you may do very well, in respect to music and the drama. As to painting, we are sorry to say that we know of no American work that gives any adequate view of the art of artists of this country. America has made such rapid advances in painting, that our own artists furnish the staple for this species of conversation. Our correspondent, however, will do well to read Dunlap’s Lives of the Painters, and Allan Cunningham’s Biography of Painters and Sculptors. In regard to ancient art, it is necessary to have Pilkington’s Dictionary of Painting, which contains brief biographies of all the great masters, with very correct and dear explanations respecting the different periods, styles, schools, nationalities, etc. It is an invaluable work.

Modern history is a frequent topic of conversation, now-a-days, with both sexes; and we advise our correspondent, if she is (as every American girl of course ought to be) familiar with the history of her own country, to make herself acquainted with the leading incidents of the French Revolution, (Lamartine’s History of the Girondists, or Thiers’ History of the French Revolution, will furnish the means) and especially with the fall, captivity and death of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and with the grand era of Napoleon I, without a pretty good knowledge of which, one is not safe in a modern drawing-room. For this, we would recommend the Memoirs of the Duchess d1 AbranUs, Miohelot’s Women of the Revolution, and anything and everything about Bonaparte, that can be got hold of—not forgetting the minute record of Las Cases. For the principal military events in the great Emperor’s career, Mr. Abbott’s work will answer the superficial needs of conversation.

As to a knowledge of contemporary light literature, the Reviews and Magazines are the great resource. With Graham, and the four British Reviews, republished in New York, our Correspondent need never be at a loss. If she reads French, she had better subscribe to the Semaine Litteraire and the Courrier des Etats Unis, in New York.

We have thus, as we think, laid out the mental programme for our unknown correspondent, which, if she follow, she will at the end of a few months find herself able at least to maintain an easy and respectable position in any society—and to rise as far above that as her natural intellectual gifts will allow her. All that we have above set down, is an easy task, and can be achieved by a resolute, ambitious girl, in six months, in the intervals of dressing, shopping, visiting and flirting. But should she find it necessary to encroach upon any of these employments, let her begin by curtailing, or altogether abolishing, the last.

Further reading:
Graham’s American Monthly Magazine of Literature, Art, and Fashion, Volumi 46-47

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