The two papers on Talk and Talkers first appeared in the Cornhill Magazine, for April and for August, 1882, Vol. XLV, pp. 410-418, Vol. XLVI, pp. 151-158. The second paper had the title, Talk and Talkers. (A Sequel.) For Stevenson’s relations with the Editor, see our note to An Apology for Idlers. With the publication of the second part, Stevenson’s connection with the Cornhill ceased, as the magazine in 1883 passed from the hands of Leslie Stephen into those of James Payn. The two papers next appeared in the volume Memories and Portraits (1887). The first was composed during the winter of 1881-2 at Davos in the Alps, whither he had gone for his health, the second a few months later. Writing to Charles Baxter, 22 Feb. 1882, he said, “In an article which will appear sometime in the Cornhill, ’Talk and Talkers,’ and where I have full-lengthened the conversation of Bob, Henley, Jenkin, Simpson, Symonds, and Gosse, I have at the end one single word about yourself. It may amuse you to see it.” (Letters, I, 268.) Writing from Bournemouth, England, in February 1885 to Sidney Colvin, he said, “See how my ‘Talk and Talkers’ went; every one liked his own portrait, and shrieked about other people’s; so it will be with yours. If you are the least true to the essential, the sitter will be pleased; very likely not his friends, and that from various motives.” (Letters, I, 413.) In a letter to his mother from Davos, dated 9 April 1882, he gives the real names opposite each character in the first paper, and adds, “But pray regard these as secrets.”
The art of conversation, like the art of letter-writing, reached its highest point in the eighteenth century; cheap postage destroyed the latter, and the hurly-burly of modern life has been almost too strong for the former. In the French Salons of the eighteenth century, and in the coffeehouses and drawing-rooms of England, good conversation was regarded as a most desirable accomplishment, and was practised by many with extraordinary wit and skill. Swift’s satire on Polite Conversation (1738) as well as the number of times he discusses the art of conversation in other places, shows how seriously he actually regarded it. Stevenson, like many persons who are forced away from active life, loved a good talk. Good writers are perhaps now more common than good talkers.