Page images


“ Of all the heavenly gifts, that mortal men commend,
What trusty treasure in the world can countervail a friend ?"

Nicholas Grimoald*. “In the morning, after the priest had given him the last sacraments, he said

there is nothing that is meritorious but virtue and friendship, and indeed friendship itself is only a part of virtue.'”

Spence's Anecdotes of Pope. “ Oh! what a rare thing is a friend! How true is that old saying ; that the use

of a friend is more pleasing and necessary than the elements of fire and water.”

Montaigne. “ The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hooks of steel."

Shakspeare. Most men flatter themselves that they are not only capable of friendship, but that they have many friends. To a superficial observer, human life appears to abound in friendships ; but it presents a very different aspect to those who can penetrate beneath the surface. “Friendship is so rare," observes Sir Philip Sidney, " that it is almost doubtful, whether it is a thing indeed, or a mere word.” Poets and moralists have concurred in eulogising its advantages, and lamenting its uncertainty. A familiar anecdote on the subject has been versified by Cowper :

“ Horatio's servant once, with bow and cringe

Swinging the parlour door upon its hinge,
Dreading a negative, and over-awed
Lest he should trespass, begged to go

Go fellow! whither !--turning short about--
Nay. Stay at home--you're always going out.

An old English Poet--the second writer of blank-verse after Surrey. He flourished in the early part of the 16th century.

'Tis but a step, sir, just at the street's end.
For what ?--An please your sir, to see a friend.
A friend ! Horatio cried, and seemed to start-
Yea, marry shalt thou, and with all my heart.
And fetch my cloak ; for, though the night be raw,

I'll see him too--the first I ever saw !" “ It is with friends as with ghosts," says Rochefoucault; things that every body talks of, and scarcely any hath seen."

But, however rare may be real friendship, men are so little formed to live alone, that when they cannot grasp its substance, they love to cheat themselves with its shadow. They who have the fewest friends have often the most acquaintances. The latter are a kind of proxies for the former, and usually bear the same name, though they are really of a very different character. Perhaps faith in some matters is less involuntary than philosophers have supposed; as nothing seems more common than for men to believe according to their wishes, and to reject what is opposed to their vanity or their interest. Thus we frequently find a person of shrewdness and good sense congratulating himself on a long list of supposed friends, who in reality, are heartless and selfish beings, whose characters are as clear as daylight to all the rest of the world. Men protect themselves from the fear of infidelity in friendship, and the horror of discovering that they are alone in the world, by a voluntary blindness. The greatest optimist in friendship is indisposed to put the truth and constancy of his friends to a very

He dreads to be undeceived. It is generally consi. dered a very dangerous thing to borrow money from a friend, or to rival him in love or fame. That which is commonly called friendship would not stand the test. Goldsmith's story of Alcander and Septimius, in which one friend resigns the hand of his mistress to the other, with such a magnanimous self-sacrifice, is a pretty romance, but has no counterpart in common life.

Mr. Landor in his “Imaginary Conversations” makes Cicero thus express himself—“Could I begin my existence again, and

severe trial.

what is equally impossible, could I see before me all I have seen, I would have few acquaintances, fewer friendships, no familiarities. This rubbish, for such it generally is, collecting at the base of an elevated mind, lessens its height and impairs its character." There is no doubt that the being linked by the mere forms and courtesies of society to a very extensive circle, must be injurious alike to a man's ease, purity, and independence. He has too many different opinions to study, and too many tastes to satisfy, to be able to indulge his own particular impulses. Instead of standing out boldly and prominently as an individual, he becomes only an insignificant part of the great mass, and is whirled away like a mere straw, amidst the general refuse that soils the stream of life. A man of eminent intellectual and moral worth cannot long mingle harmoniously with the crowd without a sacrifice of character. The delicate bloom of virtue is soon rubbed off by a close contact with the world, and the finest thoughts and speculations are exchanged for more vulgar and sordid interests. Unless a man lowers himself to the level of those about him by unworthy compliances, he is regarded with a jealous eye. His superiority is a tacit censure on the rest of the world. They call his integrity churlishness, and his genius eccentricity.

“ Great wit," especially of that kind which renders a man unfit to mingle with the throng, is always held to be very “nearly allied to madness.” He who mixes with the world, and yet endeavours to breast the stream of popular opinion, is considered more odd than wise. Thus a man who has many friends has generally very few worth having, nor does he deserve to have better ones ; for it is only by a dishonorable flexibility in his own character that he can surround himself with a host of intimates, all differing more or less from himself, and from each other. The friendship that is of any value consists in a close communion of mind, as well as heart, and such is the selfishness of most men, the inequality of human capacities, and the endless variety of dispositions, that

nothing is so rare as the union of congenial spirits. A man may pass through a long life without meeting with one companion, into whose breast he could safely pour the secrets of his soul, or from whom he might expect a perfect and disinterested sympathy. Montaigne has some excellent observations on the rarity of friendship, and relates the anecdote of a young soldier, who, when asked by Cyrus, what he would take for a horse with which he had just won the prize at a race, and whether he would exchange him for a kingdom, replied, “No, truly, sir ; but I would freely part with him to gain a friend, could I find a man worthy of such a relation.” When Socrates was asked why he had built so small a house—“Small as it is,” he replied, “I wish I had friends enough to fill it.”

Rochefoucault, who studied human nature closely, observed, that in the misfortunes of our best friends we always find something that does not displease us. Swift has confirmed the truth of this maxim, and has illustrated it by his verses on his own death, in which he anticipates the observations of his surviving friends with great sagacity and a caustic humour. To those who neither analyze their own feelings, nor dive into the hearts of others, this view of human nature may seem as untrue as it is shocking. They perceive not with what eager and indecent haste unhappy intelligence is communicated by friends, and how transparent is the veil of sadness that is worn on such occasions. A keen eye may often detect an ill-suppressed smile beneath it, like the sunlight behind an April cloud. I have seen instances in which it has broken out into actual laughter. People are sometimes heard to express a sense of horror at their own indifference to the afflictions of their friends, and half-conscious of a strange internal pleasure, are unable to account for it. It is truly said, that the most difficult of all knowledge is the knowledge of our own hearts. This secret satisfaction arising from the distresses of others is owing to the sense of superior fortune, increased by contrast, and not to any natural malignity of disposition, as might be superficially imagined. All happiness is comparative, and we measure our own lot by that of others. This view of the subject in some degree blunts the edge of Rochefoucault's remark, which would otherwise seem a terrible sarcasm against human nature. To enable us to overcome the disposition to congratulate ourselves on our own good fortune at the expense of others, our friendship must be strong indeed, Those who think they have many friends of such truth and fervour indulge in a very gross delusion.

A gentleman once gave me a few odd pages, which he got by mere accident, of a work entitled The Journal of a Self-Observer,” being the diary of the inmost thoughts and feelings of the celebrated Lavater, a keen student of his own heart and the hearts of others. The Journal was not originally intended for publication. “ Lest I should deceive myself,” says the author, I will make a firm resolution never to show these remarks to any person whatever.” And he undertakes to put down every thing as truly and as carefully as if he had to read the Journal to his God. The following passage may be given as a specimen of his confessions (more genuine than those of Rousseau), and as a curious evidence of his severe and searching self-study. The book would have delighted Rochefoucault.

at H

[ocr errors]

Sunday, January the seventh. When I awoke, a messenger was waiting for me, delivering a letter from my friend ****,

who entreated me to pay him a visit, if possible, for he was very ill.

“ I was frightened, and yet this intelligence hud something pleasing in it, though, God knows! I love my friend sincerely; his death would grieve me much. It is not the first time that my fright occasioned by afflicting intelligence, seemed to be mixed with secret joy. I recollect to have felt once on a sudden alarm of fire, something so very pleasing, that, on cool reflection, makes me shudder. Was this sensation the effect of the novelty, and the suddenness of the alarm, or of the presentiment of the concern which those with whom I should have an opportunity of conversing on that incident would show, and which is always somewhat flattering to the

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »