Description of a Conversazione

Mr Vignoles


Some evenings ago I was invited by a friend to accompany him to an evening party, which he styled a Conversazione. Curious to be present at such a meeting where (from his account) I was to expect real wit & humor, and hear read pieces of poetry in which I should be at a loss whether to admire most the beauty of thought or the elegance of expression, I went.

We arrived before the tea table was removed and while he entered into conversation with one of the company I took a survey of the assembled group.

The master of the house Mr xxxx was a gentleman polite and agreeable in his manners, pleasing in his conversation & diverting with his wit, but his remarks were dry and satirical, he had a magisterial cough, and in using his handkerchief he always made a motion more than any one else; in seating himself in his chair the toe of his right foot described on the carpet a semicircle with the other.

His wife was a lady highly accomplished, the urbanity of whose manners & the sweetness of whose disposition made her loved by all who knew; her observations were conveyed under the mask of compliment.

A young lady apparently between 15 & 16 (whom I understand was their daughter) next engaged my attention. The naïveté of her manners, her witty & pleasant replies, diverted me. As she past along her pockets, for she was unfashionable enough to wear them, rattled about. In searching for a key she displayed upon a side table her whole stock. I took a glance at the heap. It consisted of pencils of various lengths, indian rubber, penknives & bunches of keys without number, and auctioneer’s small hammer: boxes for money hardcounters: another box, the lid of which coming off, out rolled a piece of rout cake: “She is very fond of sweet things,” said I to myself. There was however no scissors, no housewife, no thimble. All these things were in one pocket, whether anything or what was in the other I am ignorant. My friend Mr Bxxx informed me she understood Greek, made verses, wrote epigrams, and abused the very ancient and honorable societies of Lincolns Inn, the Temple, & Doctor Commons.

“Hum,” said I, “did she understand or play music well?” Mr Bxxx shook his head. “What a pity,” thought I, that Apollo so seldom sets to music the compositions of the Muses.

The sister of this young lady was married & with three or four ladies amused themselves (I observed) in peeping over each others’ heads when they were seated on the sofa to find out whether their caps were made by themselves or by Madame Lanchester or some other great fashionable milliner. And as everyone was in mourning on account of the late lamentable loss in the Royal Family, looked very close at each other to see if their gowns were new or seven years old. When tired of this they directed their quizzical observations towards the young men, nor did they spare the elderly folks.

Miss xxxx now took a seat before a table on which stood a small box entitled “The Salt Box”. She commenced reading some poetry which was very fine to be sure but whenever a comic passage occurred she mingled so much laughter with the words that I seldom understood.

The little hammer was now taken from her pocket and when the sound of talking was heard its tremendous vociferation soon silenced the weaker female noise. She seemed to want it all to centre on her.

A dance followed the readings & I found that my worthy host’s daughter was a follower of Terpsichore very fond of tripping

“on the light fantastic toe”

She certainly understood beating time to the music, than beating music to time.

Supper, jests & an abundant mixture of satire filled up the time till one o’clock in the morning. I departed with my full share of the vocal observations & perhaps may at the next meeting be set down in black & white as

An Odd Fellow