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That tyrant was Miltiades !
O that the present hour would lend
Trust not for freedom to the Franks
They have a king who buys and sells
The only hope of courage dwells ;
Place me on Sunium's marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
There, swan-like, let me sing and die; A land of slaves shall ne'er be mine Dash down yon cup of Samian wine!
What is genius? 'Tis a flame
100. Subjects of Conversation.
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SUBJECTS of conversation are sometimes exceedingly difficult to be had. I have known many a company of welldressed men and women feel themselves most awkwardly situated for want of something to talk about. The weather, which is said to be a never-failing subject, cannot hold out above a few minutes at a time. It will stand a round or two, but not more. It is then laid aside for the evening, and cannot with decency be again brought forward. Being thus disposed of, the subject of "news" is introduced ; but, as a matter of course, there being no “news stirring,” a word,” “nothing in the papers,” that subject is soon also despatched.
If there happen to be any very remarkable occurrence worth mentioning, what a blessing it is on such occasions! It is food for the company a whole night, and may
be again and again brought forward for their entertainment. But it much more frequently happens that there is no exciting event to talk about, and then the condition of the company is truly miserable. There being ladies present, or there being two factions in the room, politics are proscribed.
Failing in every attempt to get up a topic, the company look into the fire, or in each other's faces, or begin to examine with much interest the pattern of the carpet; and the silence which ensues is truly terrific. A slight whisper is the only sound in the apartment, and is caught at or watched by the company, for it may chance to be the commencement of a conversation in which they may join without exciting particular attention. But it, too, dies away. It was only a passing under-current of remark between two married ladies in blue and white turbans, on the dearth of coals, the difficulty of
getting good servants, or the utility of keeping children muffled in flannel night-gowns from October till March.
At length, some good soul makes an effort to brush away his diffidence. He projects a remark across the room to
wards the little man with the smirking countenance, about Mr. This or Miss That, or Signor Such-a-thing, who are at present enlivening the town with their exhibitions. The remark is in itself a very ordinary remark, but it has its use; it quickens the intellects of those who hear it, and the tongues of a number of individuals are set a-going upon the subject of theatrical amusements, or singing in the Assembly Rooms; upon Pasta, Paganini, and private parties, - thus, the original remark is lost sight of, and the company go on pretty well for perhaps half an hour. All these topics being exhausted, another horrible silence
The company again look into the fire, or in one another's faces, and once more examine the carpet. What is to be said next? All think upon saying something, yet nobody speaks. Awkward bashfulness is now displayed to the height of its perfection. The agony of the company, however, approaches its crisis. The awful stillness is broken, and in a most natural and unexpected manner. man in the starched cravat sitting in a corner of the room, near the end of the piano, who has been thinking, for the last half hour, what he should say or do, finally comes to a decision; he rises and snuffs the candles, going through the self-imposed duty in as neat and elegant a style as he can possibly affect.
The snuffing of the candles is an operation which every member of the company has seen performed ten thousand times; but it affords interest for even the ten thousandth and first time. It may not intrinsically be worth heeding, yet, in a case of this nature, it is of very great importance. It suggests a new theme, and that is exactly what was wanted, for one subject invariably leads to the discussion of half a dozen others.
The operation of snuffing the candles, therefore, induces some one to remark, how beautiful gas-light is. Then this brings on a disquisition on the danger of introducing it into private houses; its cost in comparison with oil is next touched upon; then follows an observation about the last
illumination; which leads to reminiscences of similar displays on the occasions of the great naval victories — the victories lead to Nelson — Nelson to his biographer Southey - Southey to poetry - poetry to Byron — and Byron to Greece. This whirl of conversation, however, also runs out; an accident jars it, and it is all over. Suddenly the speakers pause, as if they had received a galvanic shock; one small voice alone is left prominent above the silence; but finding itself unsupported, it is immediately lowered to a whisper, and the whisper subsides to a dead silence.
I have often pitied the host or hostess on occasions of this nature; but I could not help blaming them for not providing against such dismal pauses in the conversation of their parties. To guard against these occurrences, I would recommend them to bring forward what I have remarked to be a never-failing source of conversational entertainment, tolerably good-looking cat, a lap-dog, or a child. The last is the best. It ought to be about two years of age, and be able to walk. If adroitly played off, or permitted to play, it will amuse the party for an hour at least. It must be placed on the hearth-rug, so as to attract all eyes; and while in the room, no other subject will be thought of. Any endeavor to draw off attention by the relation of some entertaining anecdote, will be deemed sedition against the majesty of the household.
If a cat, a dog, or an interesting child, cannot be conveniently had, then it will be best to invite some one who has a loud voice, and the happy effrontery of speaking incessantly, however ridiculously, on all subjects - a person who can speak nonsense to any extent, and has the reputation of being a most agreeable companion. This man is of vast use in introducing subjects; for he has no diffidence or modesty, and has a knack of turning every observation to account. His voice also serves as a cover to much by-conversation; there being hundreds who would speak fluently enough, provided a bagpipe were kept playing beside them, or they could have their voices drowned by some other species of noise. The loud and voluble talker is therefore an excellent shelter for those of weaker nerves, and will be found a useful ingredient in all mixed companies.
101. The Last Days of Herculaneum.
What thought can reach,
So passed the time;
But miserable above all were they,