About Bores

BORES are a product of civilization, and therefore a more critical problem in Boston than in Chicago. For obvious reasons a bore could not survive in an uncivilized community; sometimes even in a civilized one they meet with disaster — Nero had Thrasea put to death for looking like a professor.

It is evidence that France was civilized earlier than England that the French had a word for ‘bore’ long before their island neighbors. Molière’s Les Fâcheux, produced in 1661, was copied in England with the title The Sullen Lovers, and a translation of Cardinal Richelieu’s LArt de plaisir dans la Conversation, published in London in 1722, renders the question, ’Quoi! vous pouvez excuser ces Fâcheux?’ by ‘You can, then, excuse these Troublesomes?’ Dean Swift, who was keenly sensitive to bores, does not have the word, and it is not in general use until the nineteenth century. Byron is among the first to use it as a noun: —

Society is now one polished horde,
Formed of two mighty tribes, the Bores and

Provost Salmon of Dublin once defined a bore as ‘a person who insists on talking to you about himself, while all the time you are wanting to talk to him about yourself,’ but this definition is more cynical than complete. An exalted position may be won by many and devious methods; the art of expression is not always one of them, but exalted persons will inevitably be called upon to ‘say a few words’ on great occasions. Thus ‘we have with us’ the Official Bore. When a distinguished Canon was making an exceptionally dull speech at a Commencement, Father Healy of Bray remarked that that was just as it should be, ‘the greater the canon, the greater the bore.’ Official speeches are probably the most oppressive form of the malady which we have to endure, though the ease with which officials can ignore facts often gives even to these utterances a peculiar charm.

It is, of course, true, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, that all men are bores except when you want them, yet there are some never wanted, who may therefore be classed as bores sui generis.

The dictionary holds the function of the bore to be ‘to weary by tedious conversation or simply by the failure to be interesting,’and most sufferers would agree with this statement so far as it goes. The bore is, in other words, the one who can compel attention but who cannot arouse interest. Dean Swift, in his ‘Hints toward an Essay on Conversation,’describes the bore at work with great accuracy. ‘Among such as deal in multitudes of words,’he writes, ‘none are comparable to the sober deliberate talker, who proceedeth with much thought and caution, maketh his preface, brancheth out into several digressions, findeth a hint that putteth him in mind of another story, which he promiseth to tell you when this is done; cometh back regularly to his subject, cannot regularly call to mind some person’s name, holdeth his head, complaineth of his memory; the whole company, all this while, in suspense; at length, says he, it is no matter, and so goes on. And to crown the business, it perhaps proveth at last a story the company hath heard fifty times before; or at least some insipid adventure of the relater.’

The word ‘bore’ is said to be derived from a French word which means to stuff or cram, and the true bore must be one who is full of something, himself or his children (a bachelor has been defined as a person who has no children to speak of), or his catarrh or his car; and it is because of this characteristic of bores that some have attempted their defense on the plea that it is our deficiency that is at fault: we are unable to receive of their fullness. But much depends on the nature of the fullness. There is one fullness of a wine jar, another of a soup tureen, and then there are teapots which are condemned as having ‘a bad pour.’ The perfect bore could not announce that an archangel had alighted on the back fence in such a way as to arouse interest.

Numerous remedies against bores have been proposed. Dr. Johnson suggested withdrawing the attention and thinking of Tom Thumb. This might be effective in some cases, — as when listening to important speeches, for example, — but there are bores who insert questions in the midst of their discourses, and the wandering attention is thus put to an open shame. One of the best remedies proposed is to make a collection of bores. To find after months of search that there is a greater bore than the wealthy and benevolent Babbitt is to triumph over circumstances, and even surpasses the excitement which a man once found in collecting dull stories. Another remedy suggested is to become a bore one’s self; a kind of homeopathic treatment, for the bore is himself never bored — not, at least, while he can find a victim. But this remedy requires time; a bore is not built in a day. It may even need some moral discipline — that is, if Dr. Jowett was correct in his belief that bores were generally good men.

The modern world is finding the remedy in substitution. It has abandoned the Art of Conversation as something entirely beyond its intellectual reach, and has substituted the phonograph, the radio, and bridge; but here the question must arise whether the remedy is not worse than the disease. The ancient symposium was worth the risk of an occasional bore.

The only cure for the disease is again the ancient rule of ‘Know Thyself. This is once more best expressed by Dean Swift: ‘Of such mighty importance every man is to himself and ready to think he is so to others, without once making the easy and obvious reflection, that his affairs can have no more weight with other men than theirs can have with him, and how little that is he is sensible enough.’