Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Etiquette and Dinner Conversation

The tongue is the best member we possess, potentially not only an artist, but a philosopher, philanthropist, reformer and nurse all in one.
“The best of life is conversation.” –  Emerson    

The prosperous-appearing, but unhappy-looking, quartet pictured here have not received news of a distressing bereavement, nor are they brooding after a quarrel. Owing to their lack of ability to entertain each other by conversation, they are simply bored to death. Sounds from the restaurant orchestra, hidden under the palms, having ceased temporarily, they are so deficient in the quality of self-entertainment, they look and act as if life had no future attraction for them.

For this scene in actual life, look any night in the restaurants and hotel dining-rooms where people congregate. The decline in the art of conversation has made necessary the modern “eating orchestra,” which helps diners to fill up the gaps between noise in gabbling about fashion, gossip, scandal, etc. Once such topics are exhausted, the ordinary dining party is stumped and at the end of its intellectual rope.

Music, a sacred thing, capable of inspiring the understanding and lifting it to a realm which it could not reach if left to itself, is degraded when made the aid of gluttony and intemperance, and is being forced to take the place of conversation in the dining-room only because of a universal neglect to train the faculty of speech, a condition found and rapidly grown worse in all the civilized countries of the world.

Civilization has brought innumerable blessings and also many penalties. Few things in life are simple any more. The more we get, the more quarrelsome we become, and the more we desire. We fight not only for life, but for its superfluities —for the things money alone can buy; and this contest is taking us away from many of the finer enjoyments which, because being free as air to all who would seek them, are neglected. With the progress of civilization has gone the decline of conversation as an art.

Speech is the chief evolution of the mind and the first form it takes; the rapid advance of the art of printing; the cheapness of all forms of daily, weekly and montlily publications, have caused people to depend for their opinions on science, art, literature, religion, business, politics, etc., on a favorite paper, instead of measuring for themselves the facts presented, and through intellectual conversation at home, or in society, get the varied lights and viewpoints which would lead them to accurate personal judgment which might indeed not be different but more satisfactory.

Conversation, which has been described as the music of the mind, is an orchestra in which all instruments have an equal part but do not play together, and was in former days the principal means of knowledge, and might in our day, if encouraged and cultivated, be one of the greatest helps to pleasure and social intimacy. An old Hebrew poet said that the tongue is the best member we possess, potentially not only an artist, but a philosopher, philanthropist, reformer and nurse all in one. – From “The Lost Art of Conversation,” 1909

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia 

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