This section of the book is from the "Household Companion: The Home Book Of Etiquette" book.
To one who would make his way in the society of intelligent people, a well-selected fund of information and anecdote is a highly important prerequisite. An enlightened understanding and a store of interesting knowledge are essential to him who would shine in conversation. None can hope to make small talk go far with people of culture, and all who wish to win credit in social circles will need something deeper and more enduring than chat on passing trifles and local events.
The faculty of communicating thought is, in a great measure, peculiar to man, and the pleasure which he derives from the interchange of ideas is one of his leading elements of enjoyment. There is nothing more agreeable to most persons than pleasant, sprightly, fluent conversation, spiced with anecdote, and seasoned with the results of good reading, and we are all happily constituted to take delight in the mutual interchange of thoughts.
The best rule of conversation undoubtedly is, to "adapt yourself to your company." Thus commercial men enjoy conversation on subjects having some relation to affairs of business; men of pleasure, whose thoughts are given only to entertainment, prefer light talk on pastimes or social events; and professional men love to dwell on new books, the discoveries of scientists, the latest doings in the arts, and similar learned subjects.
Attention to these suggestions will be of use in helping men of learning and men of pleasure alike to derive mutual advantage from their different qualifications, and we need but say further that those who wish to please should be well informed on subjects of most general interest, whether this interest be of temporary or permanent character. An accurate and extensive knowledge on learned subjects is far from being sufficient for conversational needs, and may lead to prosy and wearisome talk in the opinion of less erudite people; one must also have a ready knowledge of the common occurrences of life, and of important events which are arising day after day, must know something of the fine art of chatting, and how to spice heavy subjects with anecdote and illustration. The art of conversation is a difficult one to acquire, and fine conversers must be born with a native faculty in that direction.