Perhaps it was the opium talking, but Thomas de Quincey once wrote that an evening in the company of Samuel Coleridge was “like some great river”. The poet “swept at once into a continuous strain of dissertation, certainly the most novel, the most finely illustrated, and traversing the most spacious fields of thought, by transitions the most just and logical, that it was possible to conceive”.
Most of us have hopefully felt the unmoored elation of staying up all night talking with a friend. But Coleridge was that rare thing, a conversationalist: eloquent, witty, with a seemingly bottomless reservoir of cultural knowledge. Nor was he the only one back then who could claim his company was a performance art. David Hume once engaged in so much raillery at a dinner party he left Jean-Jacques Rousseau clinging to a table leg.
What makes a good conversationalist has changed little over the years. The basics remain the same as when Cicero became the first scholar to write down some rules, which were summarised in 2006 by The Economist:
“Speak clearly; speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn; do not interrupt; be courteous; deal seriously with serious matters and gracefully with lighter ones; never criticise people behind their backs; stick to subjects of general interest; do not talk about yourself; and, above all, never lose your temper.”
John McDermott in FT Magazine. More Here and Here