It is reported that Abû Bakr Al-Matû’î said:

I sat in the circle of Abû ‘Abdillâh Ahmad b. Hanbal for twelve years while he read the Musnad to his children, and I never wrote a single hadîth, I only looked at his behavior, character and etiquette.

Ibn Al-Jawzî, Manâqib Ahmad, article 210.

It is reported that Al-Hasan b. Ismâ’îl said, ‘I heard my father say:

There would gather in the circle of Ahmad five thousand people or more; less than five hundred would write, the rest would learn from him good manners and behavior.’

Ibid.

It is reported that Sufyân Al-Thawrî said:

A man who wanted to write hadîth would [learn] manners and worship for twenty years before starting.

Abû Nu’aym, Hilyatu Al-Awliyâ`, 6:361.