The Charm of the Commonplace
JUST at present there is need of a combined and resolute effort on the part of the public to discourage brilliancy and cleverness. Of late years the fondness for that sort of thing has grown to such alarming proportions, that it has become a positive nuisance to people of wholesome intellectual tastes.
A quick-witted person who frequently says an original or a bright thing is a social prize, and is to a dinner party what the mustard is to a salad; but too much of the intellectual seasoning is as ruinous to the enjoyment of conversation as the too liberal and indiscriminate use of cayenne and curry would be to that of a dinner. Cleverness has become so much the fashion that half the people one knows unconsciously attempt to comply with the demand by adopting unusual forms of expression. Perversions of words from their proper meanings, phrases whose wit lies in their inappropriateness, and all manner of extravagance of speech are so rife that simple talk, free from any effort for effect, is a rarity and a blessed relief.
Nothing is so tiresome as the habitual use of the striking or uncommon. People who essay to be sparkling in conversation seldom escape falling into certain stereotyped modes of expression, which are as familiar to their friends as their faces. These eccentricities of speech, which may have charmed us when they were spontaneous, become insufferably tedious after they have degenerated into a mannerism. A monotony of the uncommon is more tiresome than a monotony of the commonplace.
The companionship of a person who is intelligent, sympathetic, broad in his interests, and with some appreciation of humor will always be enjoyable, though he may seldom say a quotable thing. Your brilliant conversationalist, on the contrary, may be stimulating and delightful for an occasional hour, but he must have a rare balance of qualities if he is not to pall on us as a steady diet. With Mr. Le Gallienne, for daily intercourse we sigh for “ simple, quiet, garden-loving” men and women.
The superabundance of cleverness in dialogue is the vice of half the modern novels. Conversation is keyed to concert pitch, and is artificial and strained in thought and manner. Isabel Carnaby, one of the most tiresome heroines of this modern school, voices the unwholesome taste of her class when she says, “ Personally I prefer talking about hearts and souls and ideals, to discussing silos and reaping machines and land bills ; but Wrexham dotes upon the latter.” The reader’s sympathies are entirely upon Wrexham’s side in this differentiation. Hearts and souls and ideals are too much cheapened by being made common topics of conversation by Miss Carnaby and her like. Silos, reaping machines, and the other every-day interests of life are more to the liking of sensible people upon ordinary occasions. After all, a sound, unperverted nature must shrink from the discussion of its deepest interests except at rare and fit seasons, and a taste that is not decadent will prefer simple, straightforward expression to any conversational pyrotechnics.