I love conversation (with the proper company), no longer drink, and never smoked, but otherwise heartily endorse Arthur Ransome’s prescription in Bohemia in London (1907) for a civilized gathering. The English are better at this sort of thing than we Americans. Perhaps it’s our inveterate one-upmanship. Especially among men, conversation soon turns competitive and boastful, often in an un-playful manner. As one person speaks, the other treads water, waiting to rebut what his friend hasn’t yet finished saying. Conversation with women is always easier and usually more interesting.
Ransome suggests we adjourn to a coffee-house or tavern: “Get you and your company into a cosy room, with a bright fire and a closed door, where you may be free before the universe.” Freedom: that’s the essential ingredient for a successful kaffeeklatsch or kegger of conversation. No censors or dullards, no scripts, no policing for political correctness. What I’m describing is an exclusionary democracy, where the First Amendment applies only to those already admitted to the club. Ransome channels Charles Lamb:
“Then may your words express the mood you feel, the liquor hearten you, and the smoke soothe you in argument; and if with that you are not happy, why, then, the devil fly away with you for a puritanical, melancholiac spoilsport, whom I would not see with my book in his hands, no, not for four shillings and sixpence on the nail.”
There are such places. One is literature. Another is its anteroom, the more bookish precincts of the blogosphere. I work for a university and so have few opportunities to meet happily well-read, well-spoken people. Instead, I look to the blog roll on the left. No excuses for dull company accepted. Ransome writes:
“What an illustrious company is ours: Ben Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, Herrick, Congreve—the list would fill the book.”