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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Art of Story-Telling
By Sir Richard Steele (1672–1729)
 
From the Guardian

I HAVE often thought that a story-teller is born, as well as a poet. It is, I think, certain that some men have such a peculiar cast of mind, that they see things in another light than men of grave dispositions. Men of a lively imagination and a mirthful temper will represent things to their hearers in the same manner as they themselves were affected with them; and whereas serious spirits might perhaps have been disgusted at the sight of some odd occurrences in life, yet the very same occurrences shall please them in a well-told story, where the disagreeable parts of the images are concealed, and those only which are pleasing exhibited to the fancy. Story-telling is therefore not an art, but what we call a “knack”; it does not so much subsist upon wit as upon humor; and I will add that it is not perfect without proper gesticulations of the body, which naturally attend such merry emotions of the mind. I know very well that a certain gravity of countenance sets some stories off to advantage, where the hearer is to be surprised in the end: but this is by no means a general rule; for it is frequently convenient to aid and assist by cheerful looks and whimsical agitations. I will go yet further; and affirm that the success of a story very often depends upon the make of the body, and formation of the features, of him who relates it. I have been of this opinion ever since I criticized upon the chin of Dick Dewlap. I very often had the weakness to repine at the prosperity of his conceits, which made him pass for a wit with the widow at the coffee-house, and the ordinary mechanics that frequent it; nor could I myself forbear laughing at them most heartily, though upon examination I thought most of them very flat and insipid. I found, after some time, that the merit of his wit was founded upon the shaking of a fat paunch, and the tossing up of a pair of rosy jowls. Poor Dick had a fit of sickness which robbed him of his fat and his fame at once; and it was full three months before he regained his reputation, which rose in proportion to his floridity. He is now very jolly and ingenious, and hath a good constitution for wit.  1
  Those who are thus adorned with the gifts of nature are apt to show their parts with too much ostentation: I would therefore advise all the professors of this art never to tell stories but as they seem to grow out of the subject-matter of the conversation, or as they serve to illustrate or enliven it. Stories that are very common are generally irksome; but may be aptly introduced, provided they be only hinted at, and mentioned by way of allusion. Those that are altogether new should never be ushered in without a short and pertinent character of the chief persons concerned, because by that means you make the company acquainted with them; and it is a certain rule, that slight and trivial accounts of those who are familiar to us administer more mirth than the brightest points of wit in unknown characters.  2
 
 
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