Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Quote of the Day (Honore de Balzac, on the Conversational Charms of a Parisian Salon)

“Ingenious repartee, subtle observations, sparkling gibes, pictures painted with brilliant clarity came thick and fast in a spontaneous, effervescent rush, offered up without arrogance or artifice, spoken with sincerity, and savored with delight. Above all, the guests shone by their refinement and their inventiveness, which were nothing short of artistic. You will find elegant manners elsewhere in Europe—you will find cordiality, bonhomie, sophistication—but only in Paris, in this salon, and in those of whom I’ve just spoken, does there flourish the special wit that gives all these social virtues a pleasing, multifaceted unity, a sort of fluvial momentum by which that profusion of musings, aphorisms, tales, and pages from history wend their way in an easy and untrammeled flow. Paris alone, the capital of taste, possesses the secret that makes of conversation a joust, in which every temperament is encapsulated in a quip, in which each has his say, all his experience condensed in a word, in which all find amusement, refreshment, and exercise. And only there, too, will you truly exchange your ideas; there you will not, like the dolphin in the fable, carry a monkey on your shoulders; there you will be understood, with no danger of wagering gold against pot metal. Secrets artfully betrayed, exchanges both light and deep, everything undulates, spins, changes luster and color with each passing sentence. Keen judgments and breathless narrations follow one upon the next. Every eye listens, every gesture is a question, every glance an answer…. Never did the phenomenon of speech, to which, when carefully studied and skillfully wielded, an actor or storyteller owes his glory, cast so overpowering a spell on me….But if these things are told with all their candor intact, all their natural forthrightness, all their illusory aimlessness, perhaps you will fully grasp the charm of a true French party, captured at the moment when the sweetest companionship makes everyone forget his own interests, his exclusive self-love, or, if you like, his pretensions.”—French novelist Honore de Balzac (1799-1850), “Another Study of Womankind” (1842, translated by Jordan Stump) in The Human Comedy: Selected Stories (2014)

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