26 MARCH 1910, Page 9


SOME men lack the human instinct to talk. They volun- teer nothing. Their silence is tempered only by replies. They never speak until some one else has thought. Very often their replies are better worth hearing than the words which called them forth. It is very seldom indeed that such persons are silly. Nobody says only a few silly things. Like Miss Bates in "Emma," they are not able to observe any reasonable limitation. Nevertheless they neither get nor deserve much credit for their good sense, or even for their wit, because their interlocutors cannot help reflecting that they have chosen an easy part. A.ny one who is not actually " wanting " can make a sensible reply unless he is paralysed by shyness. Moreover, the man who does not volunteer seems always to be occupying the seat of the critic. He accepts no conversational responsibility, but he makes every one who does accept it self-conscious. This sort of semi- silence is a marked peculiarity, and, unless it be attributable to sheer shyness, it is the badge of those who do not require sympathy. They no more wish to pour out their thoughts than their troubles. They had rather contend with both in their own breasts. They think out their own problems without help, suffer without complaint, watch the stage without comment, and collect impressions for their own delectation. They are very often both strong and able, though they never reach the greatest heights either of strength or ability. "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth." It is only second-rate fortunes which are built up wholly by economies. On the other hand, the economical man is safe against bankruptcy. The silent man has always some reserve of strength, and is always proud of his silence. The pleasure of life does not consist for him, he says to himself, in talking it over. This type of man is capable of a strange intellectual feat; he is capable of holding a creed alone. He is never subject to intellectual panic. But he falls an easy prey to intellectual prejudice. He never brings his experiences or opinions to the test of comparison ; consequently he cannot calculate their worth. He has no instinct for mental trade. His ideas are his own ; he imparts them grudgingly, and never asks an exchange. All that can be wrung from his receptacle for mental savings, from his metaphorical stocking, is worth the wringing, but there is not much to be got.

In matters unconnected with the intellect he shows the same tendency. He cannot ask for sympathy in trouble. An anxiety put into words has taken, to his mind, a more awful shape, and regrets are burned in by expression. In the same manner his happiness is lessened rather than increased by congratulation. He would rather keep it secret. His amuse- ment evaporates when it comes into contact with another man's laughter, and his mental pictures fade if exposed

to the light of another man's eyes. His hopes flourish in the 'dark; they expire in the light of day. He does as he would be done by, and offers no sympathy to his friends and acquaintances. On the other hand, he will occasionally give it when he is asked for it. His action in this case is of the nature of a reply. The atmosphere of silence in which he lives is not favourable to geniality, but it does not preclude a good heart. Not only will he assist in silence those who suffer in silence, but he will be kind sometimes to those who demand only his fellow-feeling. He will give the commisera- tion and congratulation which he could not bring himself to receive, and he will listen appreciatively to the outpourings of another man's mind and let drop an enlightening criticism. He lacks entirely one attribute of the selfish; he never wants to talk about himself. The sad thing is that he leaves the applicant for his sympathy with a sense of debt upon him. He has asked, he has accepted; he can never repay.

After all, many people who require sympathy and will not go without it have less sympathy to give than has the man who repulses it. There are those who can only think out loud and in company, who do not care a straw what any one else thinks. They enjoy their own mental processes only while they are explaining them. The con. urre nce of other minds is necessary to them at every turn. All the same, they do not take the slightest interest in what any one says but themselves, unless insomuch as it provokes them to more thought. They look upon every word that is said to them as a contribution; they are grateful, but they never subscribe. They are born preachers, and for them the whole world lies in pews. Now and then such men show a kind of egoistic force. At a pinch, though ever mindful of an audience, they act promptly, independently, and effectually. More often, however, they expect to be carried at every bad turn in the road. 'They simply cannot get through any difficulty or face any trying situation alone, and having faced it in company they must discuss it in other company. They cannot even look back upon danger undefended by sympathy. Nevertheless, they dismiss other people's troubles very quickly, not because they wish to be unkind, but because they have not the leisure of mind to contemplate them. In this world there is always a time-limit.

A few people who crave for sympathy have also a strong nstinet to give it. They are great talkers. They care to know nothing, see nothing, and hear nothing which they must not talk of. They are also admirable listeners, overflowing with mental generosity. When not in trouble they are excellent company. In distress, alas ! they cannot stand alone ; they will turn to any one, accept help from any one, lean on any one. They are like children in the dark. Their greatest enemy becomes a friend. The strong people who lend them a hand very often despise them for asking for it, and they themselves when times are better con- template their own importunity with shame. The best of them is that, when not rendered wholly ineffectual by their ill-borne and sometimes half-imaginary sufferings, they are able to distil from shame and gratitude a peculiar sort of sympathy which very few people have to give. Their kindness is untainted by the slightest condescension. They are not afraid to offer it; not frightened, though they can be silenced, by a rebuff. No one ever feels when they are gone : "I wish that I had not been seen in that moment of perplexity, of misery, or loss of self-command." They themselves feel a sort of gratitude towards the sufferer who has permitted them to pay back a vicarious debt, and thereby restored their self-respect.

But it may be said: "Surely you deduce too much from a tendency to taciturnity or talk It is not really much indication as to character." No doubt it is not infallible.

True social talent—which is only an elegant preparation of receptiveness and sympathy—may exist with much or little determination of words to the mouth. We cannot justify a man as sympathetic for his much talking, nor condemn him as unsympathetic for his silence. Roughly speaking, however, the self-contained man is self-absorbed, and there is little polish on the generosity of him who has never desired a gift; as a rule there is none at all where sympathy is concerned.