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A Victorian Scrapbook

A Scrapbook of Newspaper Articles Compiled by George Burgess (1829-1905)

Victorian Politics and History

The Dullness of Great Men

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Transcript from original newspaper article: -

…. THE DULLNESS OF GREAT MEN. – Descartes, the famous mathematician and philosopher; a Fontaine, celebrated for his witty fables; Buffon, the great naturalist, were all singularly deficient in the powers of conversation. Marmontel, the novelist, was so dull in society that his friends said of him, after an interview, “I must go and read his titles, to recompense myself for the weariness of sparing him.” As to Corneille, the greatest dramatist in France, he was completely lost in society – So absent and embarrassed, that he wrote of himself a witty couplet, importing that he never was intelligible but through the mouth of another. Wit on paper seems to be something widely different from that play of words in conversation, which, while it sparkles, dies; for Charles II., the wittiest monarch that ever sat on the English throne, was so charmed with the humor of “Hudibras,” that he caused himself to be introduced, in the character of a primate gentleman, to Butler, its author. The witty king found the author a very dull companion, and was of the opinion, with many others, that so stupid a fellow could never have written so clever a book. Addison, whose classic elegance has long been considered the model of style, was shy and absent in society, preserving, even before a single stranger, stiff and dignified silence. In conversation, Dante was taciturn and satirical. Gray or Alfieri seldom talked or smiled. Rousseau was remarkably trite in conversation; not a word of fancy or eloquence warmed him. Milton was unsocial, and even irritable, when much pressed by the talk of others.


The Famous People Discussed in this Article
Name of Famous Person BD Dates Nationality Famous for Dull for
Joseph Addison 1672–1719 English Poet and Playwright Shy and absent in society
Vittorio Alfieri
1749-1803 Italian Dramatist Seldom talked or smiled
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon 1707-1788 French Naturalist Deficient in the powers of conversation
Samuel Butler
1612-1680 English Author of Hudibras King Charles II (1630-1685), charmed by the works of Samuel, when introduced found him to be a very dull person
Pierre Corneille 1606-1684 French Dramatist Completely lost in society, absent and embarrassed
Dante Alighieri 1265-1321 Italian Poet and writer Taciturn (habitually silent, reserved, or uncommunicative; therefore not inclined to conversation) and satirical
Rene Descartes 1595-1650 French Mathematician and philosopher Deficient in the powers of conversation
Jean de La Fontaine
1621-1695
French Witty Fables Deficient in the powers of conversation
Jean-François Marmontel 1723-1799 French Novelist and Historian Dull in society
John Milton
1608-1674 English Poet Unsocial and irritable in society
Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778 Genevan (Switzerland) Philosopher Trite (overuse or repetition of words) and not a word of fancy or eloquence in conversation