By HUGH BLACK
With an Introductory Note by
W. ROBERTSON NICOLL, D.D.
FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY
Copyright, 1898, 1903, by
FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY
To MY FRIEND
HECTOR MUNRO FERGUSON
AND TO MANY OTHER FRIENDS WHO HAVE MADE LIFE RICH
Equidem, ex omnibus rebus, quas mihi aut Fortuna aut Natura tribuit, nihil habeo quod cum amicitia Scipionis possum, comparare.
Intreat me not to leave thee, And to return from following after thee: For whither thou guest, I will go; And where thou lodgest, I will lodge; Thy people shall be my people, And thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, And there will I be buried: The Lord do so to me, and more also, If aught but death part thee and me.
BOOK OF RUTH.
BY SIR WM. ROBERTSON NICOLL, D.D.
Mr. Hugh Black's wise and charming little book on Friendship is full of good things winningly expressed, and, though very simply written, is the result of real thought and experience. Mr. Black's is the art that conceals art. For young men, especially, this volume will be a golden possession, and it can hardly fail to affect their after lives. Mr. Black says well that the subject of friendship is less thought of among us now than it was in the old world. Marriage has come to mean infinitely more. Communion with God in Christ has become to multitudes the primal fact of life. Nevertheless the need for friendship remains.—"British Weekly."
Friendship is to be valued for what there is in it, not for what can be gotten out of it. When two people appreciate each other because each has found the other convenient to have around, they are not friends, they are simply acquaintances with a business understanding. To seek friendship for its utility is as futile as to seek the end of a rainbow for its bag of gold. A true friend is always useful in the highest sense; but we should beware of thinking of our friends as brother members of a mutual-benefit association, with its periodical demands and threats of suspension for non-payment of dues.
THE MIRACLE OF FRIENDSHIP
THE CULTURE OF FRIENDSHIP
THE FRUITS OF FRIENDSHIP
THE CHOICE OF FRIENDSHIP
THE ECLIPSE OF FRIENDSHIP
THE WRECK OF FRIENDSHIP
THE RENEWING OF FRIENDSHIP
THE LIMITS OF FRIENDSHIP
THE HIGHER FRIENDSHIP
The Miracle of Friendship
But, far away from these, another sort Of lovers linked in true heart's consent; Which loved not as these for like intent, But on chaste virtue grounded their desire, Far from all fraud or feigned blandishment; Which, in their spirits kindling zealous fire, Brave thoughts and noble deeds did evermore aspire.
Such were great Hercules and Hylas dear, True Jonathan and David trusty tried; Stout Theseus and Pirithoeus his fere; Pylades and Orestes by his side; Mild Titus and Gesippus without pride; Damon and Pythias, whom death could not sever; All these, and all that ever had been tied In bands of friendship, there did live forever; Whose lives although decay'd, yet loves decayed never.
SPENSER, The Faerie Queene.
The Miracle of Friendship
The idea, so common in the ancient writers, is not all a poetic conceit, that the soul of a man is only a fragment of a larger whole, and goes out in search of other souls in which it will find its true completion. We walk among worlds unrealized, until we have learned the secret of love. We know this, and in our sincerest moments admit this, even though we are seeking to fill up our lives with other ambitions and other hopes.
It is more than a dream of youth that there may be here a satisfaction of the heart, without which, and in comparison with which, all worldly success is failure. In spite of the selfishness which seems to blight all life, our hearts tell us that there is possible a nobler relationship of disinterestedness and devotion. Friendship in its accepted sense is not the highest of the different grades in that relationship, but it has its place in the kingdom of love, and through it we bring ourselves into training for a still larger love. The natural man may be self-absorbed and self-centred, but in a truer sense it is natural for him to give up self and link his life on to others. Hence the joy with which he makes the great discovery, that he is something to another and another is everything to him. It is the higher-natural for which he has hitherto existed. It is a miracle, but it happens.
The cynic may speak of the now obsolete sentiment of friendship, and he can find much to justify his cynicism. Indeed, on the first blush, if we look at the relative place the subject holds in ancient as compared with modern literature, we might say that friendship is a sentiment that is rapidly becoming obsolete. In Pagan writers friendship takes a much larger place than it now receives. The subject bulks largely in the works of Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Cicero. And among modern writers it gets most importance in the writings of the more Pagan-spirited, such as Montaigne. In all the ancient systems of philosophy, friendship was treated as an integral part of the system. To the Stoic it was a blessed occasion for the display of nobility and the native virtues of the human mind. To the Epicurean it was the most refined of the pleasures which made life worth living. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle makes it the culminating point, and out of ten books gives two to the discussion of Friendship. He makes it even the link of connection between his treatise on Ethics and his companion treatise on Politics. It is to him both the perfection of the individual life, and the bond that holds states together. Friendship is not only a beautiful and noble thing for a man, but the realization of it is also the ideal for the state; for if citizens be friends, then justice, which is the great concern of all organized societies, is more than secured. Friendship is thus made the flower of Ethics, and the root of Politics.
Plato also makes friendship the ideal of the state, where all have common interests and mutual confidence. And apart from its place of prominence in systems of thought, perhaps a finer list of beautiful sayings about friendship could be culled from ancient writers than from modern. Classical mythology also is full of instances of great friendship, which almost assumed the place of a religion itself.
It is not easy to explain why its part in Christian ethics is so small in comparison. The change is due to an enlarging of the thought and life of man. Modern ideals are wider and more impersonal, just as the modern conception of the state is wider. The Christian ideal of love even for enemies has swallowed up the narrower ideal of philosophic friendship. Then possibly also the instinct finds satisfaction elsewhere in the modern man. For example, marriage, in more cases now than ever before, supplies the need of friendship. Men and women are nearer in intellectual pursuits and in common tastes than they have ever been, and can be in a truer sense companions. And the deepest explanation of all is that the heart of man receives a religious satisfaction impossible before. Spiritual communion makes a man less dependent on human intercourse. When the heaven is as brass and makes no sign, men are thrown back on themselves to eke out their small stores of love.
At the same time friendship is not an obsolete sentiment. It is as true now as in Aristotle's time that no one would care to live without friends, though he had all other good things. It is still necessary to our life in its largest sense. The danger of sneering at friendship is that it may be discarded or neglected, not in the interests of a more spiritual affection, but to minister to a debased cynical self-indulgence. There is possible to-day, as ever, a generous friendship which forgets self. The history of the heart-life of man proves this. What records we have of such in the literature of every country! Peradventure for a good man men have even dared to die. Mankind has been glorified by countless silent heroisms, by unselfish service, and sacrificing love. Christ, who always took the highest ground in His estimate of men and never once put man's capacity for the noble on a low level, made the high-water mark of human friendship the standard of His own great action, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." This high-water mark has often been reached. Men have given themselves to each other, with nothing to gain, with no self-interest to serve, and with no keeping back part of the price. It is false to history to base life on selfishness, to leave out of the list of human motives the highest of all. The miracle of friendship has been too often enacted on this dull earth of ours, to suffer us to doubt either its possibility or its wondrous beauty.
The classic instance of David and Jonathan represents the typical friendship. They met, and at the meeting knew each other to be nearer than kindred. By subtle elective affinity they felt that they belonged to each other. Out of all the chaos of the time and the disorder of their lives, there arose for these two souls a new and beautiful world, where there reigned peace, and love, and sweet content. It was the miracle of the death of self. Jonathan forgot his pride, and David his ambition. It was as the smile of God which changed the world to them. One of them it saved from the temptations of a squalid court, and the other from the sourness of an exile's life. Jonathan's princely soul had no room for envy or jealousy. David's frank nature rose to meet the magnanimity of his friend.
In the kingdom of love there was no disparity between the king's son and the shepherd boy. Such a gift as each gave and received is not to be bought or sold. It was the fruit of the innate nobility of both: it softened and tempered a very trying time for both. Jonathan withstood his father's anger to shield his friend: David was patient with Saul for his son's sake. They agreed to be true to each other in their difficult position. Close and tender must have been the bond, which had such fruit in princely generosity and mutual loyalty of soul. Fitting was the beautiful lament, when David's heart was bereaved at tragic Gilboa, "I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women." Love is always wonderful, a new creation, fair and fresh to every loving soul. It is the miracle of spring to the cold dull earth.
When Montaigne wrote his essay on Friendship, he could do little but tell the story of his friend. The essay continually reverts to this, with joy that he had been privileged to have such a friend, with sorrow at his loss. It is a chapter of his heart. There was an element of necessity about it, as there is about all the great things of life. He could not account for it. It came to him without effort or choice. It was a miracle, but it happened. "If a man should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I can only answer, because it was he, because it was I." It was as some secret appointment of heaven. They were both grown men when they first met, and death separated them soon. "If I should compare all my life with the four years I had the happiness to enjoy the sweet society of this excellent man, it is nothing but smoke; an obscure and tedious night from the day that I lost him. I have led a sorrowful and languishing life ever since. I was so accustomed to be always his second in all places and in all interests, that methinks I am now no more than half a man, and have but half a being." We would hardly expect such passion of love and regret from the easy-going, genial, garrulous essayist.
The joy that comes from a true communion of heart with another is perhaps one of the purest and greatest in the world, but its function is not exhausted by merely giving pleasure. Though we may not be conscious of it, there is a deeper purpose in it, an education in the highest arts of living. We may be enticed by the pleasure it affords, but its greatest good is got by the way. Even intellectually it means the opening of a door into the mystery of life. Only love understands after all. It gives insight. We cannot truly know anything without sympathy, without getting out of self and entering into others. A man cannot be a true naturalist, and observe the ways of birds and insects accurately, unless he can watch long and lovingly. We can never know children, unless we love them. Many of the chambers of the house of life are forever locked to us, until love gives us the key.
To learn to love all kinds of nobleness gives insight into the true significance of things, and gives a standard to settle their relative importance. An uninterested spectator sees nothing; or, what is worse, sees wrongly. Most of our mean estimates of human nature in modern literature, and our false realisms in art, and our stupid pessimisms in philosophy, are due to an unintelligent reading of surface facts. Men set out to note and collate impressions, and make perhaps a scientific study of slumdom, without genuine interest in the lives they see, and therefore without true insight into them. They miss the inwardness, which love alone can supply. If we look without love we can only see the outside, the mere form and expression of the subject studied. Only with tender compassion and loving sympathy can we see the beauty even in the eye dull with weeping and in the fixed face pale with care. We will often see noble patience shining through them, and loyalty to duty, and virtues and graces unsuspected by others.
The divine meaning of a true friendship is that it is often the first unveiling of the secret of love. It is not an end in itself, but has most of its worth in what it leads to, the priceless gift of seeing with the heart rather than with the eyes. To love one soul for its beauty and grace and truth is to open the way to appreciate all beautiful and true and gracious souls, and to recognize spiritual beauty wherever it is seen.
The possibility at least of friendship must be a faith with us. The cynical attitude is an offence. It is possible to find in the world true-hearted, leal, and faithful dealing between man and man. To doubt this is to doubt the divine in life. Faith in man is essential to faith in God. In spite of all deceptions and disillusionments, in spite of all the sham fellowships, in spite of the flagrant cases of self-interest and callous cruelty, we must keep clear and bright our faith in the possibilities of our nature. The man who hardens his heart because he has been imposed on has no real belief in virtue, and with suitable circumstances could become the deceiver instead of the deceived. The great miracle of friendship with its infinite wonder and beauty may be denied to us, and yet we may believe in it. To believe that it is possible is enough, even though in its superbest form it has never come to us. To possess it, is to have one of the world's sweetest gifts.
Aristotle defines friendship as one soul abiding in two bodies. There is no explaining such a relationship, but there is no denying it. It has not deserted the world since Aristotle's time. Some of our modern poets have sung of it with as brave a faith as ever poet of old. What splendid monuments to friendship we possess in Milton's Lycidas and Tennyson's In Memoriam! In both there is the recognition of the spiritual power of it, as well as the joy and comfort it brought. The grief is tempered by an awed wonder and a glad memory.
The finest feature of Rudyard Kipling's work and it is a constant feature of it, is the comradeship between commonplace soldiers of no high moral or spiritual attainment, and yet it is the strongest force in their lives, and on occasion makes heroes of them. We feel that their faithfulness to each other is almost the only point at which their souls are reached. The threefold cord of his soldiers, vulgar in mind and common in thought as they are, is a cord which we feel is not easily broken, and it is their friendship and loyalty to each other which save them from utter vulgarity.
In Walt Whitman there is the same insight into the force of friendship in ordinary life, with added wonder at the miracle of it. He is the poet of comrades, and sings the song of companionship more than any other theme. He ever comes back to the lifelong love of comrades. The mystery and the beauty of it impressed him.
O tan-faced prairie-boy, Before you came to camp came many a welcome gift, Praises and presents came and nourishing food, till at last among the recruits You came, taciturn, with nothing to give—we but looked on each other, When lo! more than all the gifts of the world you gave me.
After all, in spite of the vulgar materialism of our day, we do feel that the spiritual side of life is the most important, and brings the only true joy. And friendship in its essence is spiritual. It is the free, spontaneous outflow of the heart, and is a gift from the great Giver.
Friends are born, not made. At least it is so with the higher sort. The marriage of souls is a heavenly mystery, which we cannot explain, and which we need not try to explain. The method by which it is brought about differs very much, and depends largely on temperament. Some friendships grow, and ripen slowly and steadily with the years. We cannot tell where they began, or how. They have become part of our lives, and we just accept them with sweet content and glad confidence. We have discovered that somehow we are rested, and inspired, by a certain companionship; that we understand and are understood easily.
Or it may come like love at first sight, by the thrill of elective affinity. This latter is the more uncertain, and needs to be tested and corrected by the trial of the years that follow. It has to be found out whether it is really spiritual kinship, or mere emotional impulse. It is a matter of temper and character. A naturally reserved person finds it hard to open his heart, even when his instinct prompts him; while a sociable, responsive nature is easily companionable. It is not always this quick attachment, however, which wears best, and that is the reason why youthful friendships have the character of being so fickle. They are due to a natural instinctive delight in society. Most young people find it easy to be agreeable, and are ready to place themselves under new influences.
But whatever be the method by which a true friendship is formed, whether the growth of time or the birth of sudden sympathy, there seems, on looking back, to have been an element of necessity. It is a sort of predestined spiritual relationship. We speak of a man meeting his fate, and we speak truly. When we look back we see it to be like destiny; life converged to life, and there was no getting out of it even if we wished it. It is not that we made a choice, but that the choice made us. If it has come gradually, we waken to the presence of the force which has been in our lives, and has come into them never hasting but never resting, till now we know it to be an eternal possession. Or, as we are going about other business, never dreaming of the thing which occurs, the unexpected happens; on the road a light shines on us, and life is never the same again.
In one of its aspects, faith is the recognition of the inevitableness of providence; and when it is understood and accepted, it brings a great consoling power into the life. We feel that we are in the hands of a Love that orders our ways, and the knowledge means serenity and peace. The fatality of friendship is gratefully accepted, as the fatality of birth. To the faith which sees love in all creation, all life becomes harmony, and all sorts of loving relationships among men seem to be part of the natural order of the world. Indeed, such miracles are only to be looked for, and if absent from the life of man would make it hard to believe in the love of God.
The world thinks we idealize our friend, and tells us that love is proverbially blind. Not so: it is only love that sees, and thus can "win the secret of a weed's plain heart." We only see what dull eyes never see at all. If we wonder what another man sees in his friend, it should be the wonder of humility, not the supercilious wonder of pride. He sees something which we are not permitted to witness. Beneath and amongst what looks only like worthless slag, there may glitter the pure gold of a fair character. That anybody in the world should be got to love us, and to see in us not what colder eyes see, not even what we are but what we may be, should of itself make us humble and gentle in our criticism of others' friendships. Our friends see the best in us, and by that very fact call forth the best from us.
The great difficulty in this whole subject is that the relationship of friendship should so often be one-sided. It seems strange that there should be so much unrequited affection in the world. It seems almost impossible to get a completely balanced union. One gives so much more, and has to be content to get so much less. One of the most humiliating things in life is when another seems to offer his friendship lavishly, and we are unable to respond. So much love seems to go a-begging. So few attachments seem complete. So much affection seems unrequited.
But are we sure it is unrequited? The difficulty is caused by our common selfish standards. Most people, if they had their choice, would prefer to be loved rather than to love, if only one of the alternatives were permitted. That springs from the root of selfishness in human nature, which makes us think that possession brings happiness. But the glory of life is to love, not to be loved; to give, not to get; to serve, not to be served. It may not be our fault that we cannot respond to the offer of friendship or love, but it is our misfortune. The secret is revealed to the other, and hid from us. The gain is to the other, and the loss is to us. The miracle is the love, and to the lover comes the wonder of it, and the joy.
The Culture of Friendship
How were Friendship possible? In mutual devotedness to the Good and True: otherwise impossible, except as Armed Neutrality, or hollow Commercial League. A man, be the Heavens ever praised, is sufficient for himself; yet were ten men, united in Love, capable of being and of doing what ten thousand singly would fail in. Infinite is the help man can yield to man.
CARLYLE, Sartor Resartus.
The Culture of Friendship
The Book of Proverbs might almost be called a treatise on Friendship, so full is it of advice about the sort of person a young man should consort with, and the sort of person he should avoid. It is full of shrewd, and prudent, and wise, sometimes almost worldly-wise, counsel. It is caustic in its satire about false friends, and about the way in which friendships are broken. "The rich hath many friends," with an easily understood implication concerning their quality. "Every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts," is its sarcastic comment on the ordinary motives of mean men. Its picture of the plausible, fickle, lip-praising, and time-serving man, who blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, is a delicate piece of satire. The fragile connections among men, as easily broken as mended pottery, get illustration in the mischief-maker who loves to divide men. "A whisperer separateth chief friends." There is keen irony here over the quality of ordinary friendship, as well as condemnation of the tale-bearer and his sordid soul.
This cynical attitude is so common that we hardly expect such a shrewd book to speak heartily of the possibilities of human friendship. Its object rather is to put youth on its guard against the dangers and pitfalls of social life. It gives sound commercial advice about avoiding becoming surety for a friend. It warms [Transcriber's note: warns?] against the tricks, and cheats, and bad faith, which swarmed in the streets of a city then, as they do still. It laughs, a little bitterly, at the thought that friendship can be as common as the eager, generous heart of youth imagines. It almost sneers at the gullibility of men in this whole matter. "He that maketh many friends doeth it to his own destruction."
And yet there is no book, even in classical literature, which so exalts the idea of friendship, and is so anxious to have it truly valued, and carefully kept. The worldly-wise warnings are after all in the interests of true friendship. To condemn hypocrisy is not, as is so often imagined, to condemn religion. To spurn the spurious is not to reject the true. A sneer at folly may be only a covert argument for wisdom. Satire is negative truth. The unfortunate thing is that most men, who begin with the prudential worldly-wise philosophy, end there. They never get past the sneer. Not so this wise book. In spite of its insight into the weakness of man, in spite of its frank denunciation of the common masquerade of friendship, it speaks of the true kind in words of beauty that have never been surpassed in all the many appraisements of this subject. "A friend loveth at all times, and is a brother born for adversity. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart, so doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel. Thine own friend and thy father's friend forsake not." These are not the words of a cynic, who has lost faith in man.
True, this golden friendship is not a common thing to be picked up in the street. It would not be worth much if it were. Like wisdom it must be sought for as for hid treasures, and to keep it demands care and thought. To think that every goose is a swan, that every new comrade is the man of your own heart, is to have a very shallow heart. Every casual acquaintance is not a hero. There are pearls of the heart, which cannot be thrown to swine. Till we learn what a sacred thing a true friendship is, it is futile to speak of the culture of friendship. The man who wears his heart on his sleeve cannot wonder if daws peck at it. There ought to be a sanctuary, to which few receive admittance. It is great innocence, or great folly, and in this connection the terms are almost synonymous, to open our arms to everybody to whom we are introduced. The Book of Proverbs, as a manual on friendship, gives as shrewd and caustic warnings as are needed, but it does not go to the other extreme, and say that all men are liars, that there are no truth and faithfulness to be found. To say so is to speak in haste. There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother, says this wisest of books. There is possible such a blessed relationship, a state of love and trust and generous comradehood, where a man feels safe to be himself, because he knows that he will not easily be misunderstood.
The word friendship has been abased by applying it to low and unworthy uses, and so there is plenty of copy still to be got from life by the cynic and the satirist. The sacred name of friend has been bandied about till it runs the risk of losing its true meaning. Rossetti's versicle finds its point in life—
"Was it a friend or foe that spread these lies?" "Nay, who but infants question in such wise? 'T was one of my most intimate enemies."
It is useless to speak of cultivating the great gift of friendship unless we make clear to ourselves what we mean by a friend. We make connections and acquaintances, and call them friends. We have few friendships, because we are not willing to pay the price of friendship.
If we think it is not worth the price, that is another matter, and is quite an intelligible position, but we must not use the word in different senses, and then rail at fate because there is no miracle of beauty and joy about our sort of friendship. Like all other spiritual blessings it comes to all of us at some time or other, and like them is often let slip. We have the opportunities, but we do not make use of them. Most men make friends easily enough: few keep them. They do not give the subject the care, and thought, and trouble, it requires and deserves. We want the pleasure of society, without the duty. We would like to get the good of our friends, without burdening ourselves with any responsibility about keeping them friends. The commonest mistake we make is that we spread our intercourse over a mass, and have no depth of heart left. We lament that we have no stanch and faithful friend, when we have really not expended the love which produces such. We want to reap where we have not sown, the fatuousness of which we should see as soon as it is mentioned. "She that asks her dear five hundred friends" (as Cowper satirically describes a well-known type) cannot expect the exclusive affection, which she has not given.
The secret of friendship is just the secret of all spiritual blessing. The way to get is to give. The selfish in the end can never get anything but selfishness. The hard find hardness everywhere. As you mete, it is meted out to you.
Some men have a genius for friendship. That is because they are open and responsive, and unselfish. They truly make the most of life; for apart from their special joys, even intellect is sharpened by the development of the affections. No material success in life is comparable to success in friendship. We really do ourselves harm by our selfish standards. There is an old Latin proverb, expressing the worldly view, which says that it is not possible for a man to love and at the same time to be wise. This is only true when wisdom is made equal to prudence and selfishness, and when love is made the same. Rather it is never given to a man to be wise in the true and noble sense, until he is carried out of himself in the purifying passion of love, or the generosity of friendship. The self-centred being cannot keep friends, even when he makes them; his selfish sensitiveness is always in the way, like a diseased nerve ready to be irritated.
The culture of friendship is a duty, as every gift represents a responsibility. It is also a necessity; for without watchful care it can no more remain with us than can any other gift. Without culture it is at best only a potentiality. We may let it slip, or we can use it to bless our lives. The miracle of friendship, which came at first with its infinite wonder and beauty, wears off, and the glory fades into the light of common day. The early charm passes, and the soul forgets the first exaltation. We are always in danger of mistaking the common for the commonplace. We must not look upon it merely as the great luxury of life, or it will cease to be even that. It begins with emotion, but if it is to remain it must become a habit. Habit is fixed when an accustomed thing is organized into life; and, whatever be the genesis of friendship, it must become a habit, or it is in danger of passing away as other impressions have done before.
Friendship needs delicate handling. We can ruin it by stupid blundering at the very birth, and we can kill it by neglect. It is not every flower that has vitality enough to grow in stony ground. Lack of reticence, which is only the outward sign of lack of reverence, is responsible for the death of many a fair friendship. Worse still, it is often blighted at the very beginning by the insatiable desire for piquancy in talk, which can forget the sacredness of confidence. "An acquaintance grilled, scored, devilled, and served with mustard and cayenne pepper, excites the appetite; whereas a slice of old friend with currant jelly is but a sickly, unrelishing meat."  Nothing is given to the man who is not worthy to possess it, and the shallow heart can never know the joy of a friendship, for the keeping of which he is not able to fulfil the essential conditions. Here also it is true that from the man that hath not, is taken away even that which he hath.
The method for the culture of friendship finds its best and briefest summary in the Golden Rule. To do to, and for, your friend what you would have him do to, and for, you, is a simple compendium of the whole duty of friendship. The very first principle of friendship is that it is a mutual thing, as among spiritual equals, and therefore it claims reciprocity, mutual confidence and faithfulness. There must be sympathy to keep in touch with each other, but sympathy needs to be constantly exercised. It is a channel of communication, which has to be kept open, or it will soon be clogged and closed.
The practice of sympathy may mean the cultivation of similar tastes, though that will almost naturally follow from the fellowship. But to cultivate similar tastes does not imply either absorption of one of the partners, or the identity of both. Rather, part of the charm of the intercourse lies in the difference, which exists in the midst of agreement. What is essential is that there should be a real desire and a genuine effort to understand each other. It is well worth while taking pains to preserve a relationship so full of blessing to both.
Here, as in all connections among men, there is also ample scope for patience. When we think of our own need for the constant exercise of this virtue, we will admit its necessity for others. After the first flush of communion has passed, we must see in a friend things which detract from his worth, and perhaps things which irritate us. This is only to say that no man is perfect. With tact, and tenderness and patience, it may be given us to help to remove what may be flaws in a fine character, and in any case it is foolish to forget the great virtues of our friend in fretful irritation at a few blemishes. We can keep the first ideal in our memory, even if we know that it is not yet an actual fact. We must not let our intercourse be coarsened, but must keep it sweet and delicate, that it may remain a refuge from the coarse world, a sanctuary where we leave criticism outside, and can breathe freely.
Trust is the first requisite for making a friend. How can we be anything but alone, if our attitude to men is one of armed neutrality, if we are suspicious, and assertive, and querulous, and over-cautious in our advances? Suspicion kills friendship. There must be some magnanimity and openness of mind, before a friendship can be formed. We must be willing to give ourselves freely and unreservedly.
Some find it easier than others to make advances, because they are naturally more trustful. A beginning has to be made somehow, and if we are moved to enter into personal association with another, we must not be too cautious in displaying our feeling. If we stand off in cold reserve, the ice, which trembled to thawing, is gripped again by the black hand of frost. There may be a golden moment which has been lost through a foolish reserve. We are so afraid of giving ourselves away cheaply—and it is a proper enough feeling, the value of which we learn through sad experience—but on the whole perhaps the warm nature, which acts on impulse, is of a higher type, than the over-cautious nature, ever on the watch lest it commit itself. We can do nothing with each other, we cannot even do business with each other, without a certain amount of trust. Much more necessary is it in the beginning of a deeper intercourse.
And if trust is the first requisite for making a friend, faithfulness is the first requisite for keeping him. The way to have a friend is to be a friend. Faithfulness is the fruit of trust. We must be ready to lay hold of every opportunity which occurs of serving our friend. Life is made up to most of us of little things, and many a friendship withers through sheer neglect. Hearts are alienated, because each is waiting for some great occasion for displaying affection. The great spiritual value of friendship lies in the opportunities it affords for service, and if these are neglected it is only to be expected that the gift should be taken from us. Friendship, which begins with sentiment, will not live and thrive on sentiment. There must be loyalty, which finds expression in service. It is not the greatness of the help, or the intrinsic value of the gift, which gives it its worth, but the evidence it is of love and thoughtfulness.
Attention to detail is the secret of success in every sphere of life, and little kindnesses, little acts of considerateness, little appreciations, little confidences, are all that most of us are called on to perform, but they are all that are needed to keep a friendship sweet. Such thoughtfulness keeps our sentiment in evidence to both parties. If we never show our kind feeling, what guarantee has our friend, or even ourself, that it exists? Faithfulness in deed is the outward result of constancy of soul, which is the rarest, and the greatest, of virtues. If there has come to us the miracle of friendship, if there is a soul to which our soul has been drawn, it is surely worth while being loyal and true. Through the little occasions for helpfulness, we are training for the great trial, if it should ever come, when the fabric of friendship will be tested to the very foundation. The culture of friendship, and its abiding worth, never found nobler expression than in the beautiful proverb, "A friend loveth at all times, and is a brother born for adversity."
Most men do not deserve such a gift from heaven. They look upon it as a convenience, and accept the privilege of love without the responsibility of it. They even use their friends for their own selfish purposes, and so never have true friends. Some men shed friends at every step they rise in the social scale. It is mean and contemptible to merely use men, so long as they further one's personal interests. But there is a nemesis on such heartlessness. To such can never come the ecstasy and comfort of mutual trust. This worldly policy can never truly succeed. It stands to reason that they cannot have brothers born for adversity, and cannot count on the joy of the love that loveth at all times; for they do not possess the quality which secures it. To act on the worldly policy, to treat a friend as if he might become an enemy, is of course to be friendless. To sacrifice a tried and trusted friend for any personal advantage of gain or position, is to deprive our own heart of the capacity for friendship.
The passion for novelty will sometimes lead a man to act like this. Some shallow minds are ever afflicted by a craving for new experiences. They sit very loosely to the past. They are the easy victims of the untried, and yearn perpetually for novel sensations. In this matter of friendship they are ready to forsake the old for the new. They are always finding a swan in every goose they meet. They have their reward in a widowed heart. Says Shakespeare in his great manner,—
The friends thou hast and their adoption tried Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel, But do not dull thy palm with entertainment Of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade.
The culture of friendship must pass into the consecration of friendship, if it is to reach its goal. It is a natural evolution. Friendship cannot be permanent unless it becomes spiritual. There must be fellowship in the deepest things of the soul, community in the highest thoughts, sympathy with the best endeavors. We are bartering the priceless boon, if we are looking on friendship merely as a luxury, and not as a spiritual opportunity. It is, or can be, an occasion for growing in grace, for learning love, for training the heart to patience and faith, for knowing the joy of humble service. We are throwing away our chance, if we are not striving to be an inspiring and healthful environment to our friend. We are called to be our best to our friend, that he may be his best to us, bringing out what is highest and deepest in the nature of both.
The culture of friendship is one of the approved instruments of culture of the heart, without which a man has not truly come into his kingdom. It is often only the beginning, but through tender and careful culture it may be an education for the larger life of love. It broadens out in ever-widening circles, from the particular to the general, and from the general to the universal—from the individual to the social, and from the social to God. The test of religion is ultimately a very simple one. If we do not love those whom we have seen, we cannot love those whom we have not seen. All our sentiment about people at a distance, and our heart-stirrings for the distressed and oppressed, and our prayers for the heathen, are pointless and fraudulent, if we are neglecting the occasions for service lying to our hand. If we do not love our brethren here, how can we love our brethren elsewhere, except as a pious sentimentality? And if we do not love those we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen?
This is the highest function of friendship, and is the reason why it needs thoughtful culture. We should be led to God by the joy of our lives as well as by the sorrow, by the light as well as by the darkness, by human intercourse as well as by human loneliness. He is the Giver of every good gift. We wound His heart of love, when we sin against love. The more we know of Christ's spirit, and the more we think of the meaning of God's fathomless grace, the more will we be convinced that the way to please the Father and to follow the Son is to cultivate the graces of kindliness and gentleness and tenderness, to give ourselves to the culture of the heart. Not in the ecclesiastical arena, not in polemic for a creed, not in self-assertion and disputings, do we please our Master best, but in the simple service of love. To seek the good of men is to seek the glory of God. They are not two things, but one and the same. To be a strong hand in the dark to another in the time of need, to be a cup of strength to a human soul in a crisis of weakness, is to know the glory of life. To be a true friend, saving his faith in man, and making him believe in the existence of love, is to save his faith in God. And such service is possible for all. We need not wait for the great occasion and for the exceptional opportunity. We can never be without our chance, if we are ready to keep the miracle of love green in our hearts by humble service.
The primal duties shine aloft like stars. The charities that soothe and heal and bless, Are scattered at the feet of man like flowers.
 Non simul cuiquam conceditur, amare et sapere.
 Thackeray, Roundabout Papers.
 Proverbs xvii. 17, R. V. margin.
The Fruits of Friendship
Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.—ECCLESIASTES.
O friend, my bosom said, Through thee alone the sky is arched, Through thee the rose is red, All things through thee take nobler form And look beyond the earth, And is the mill-round of our fate, A sun-path in thy worth. Me too thy nobleness has taught To master my despair; The fountains of my hidden life Are through thy friendship fair.
The Fruits of Friendship
In our utilitarian age things are judged by their practical value. Men ask of everything, What is its use? Nothing is held to be outside criticism, neither the law because of its authority, nor religion because of its sacredness. Every relationship in life also has been questioned, and is asked to show the reason of its existence. Even some relationships like marriage, for long held to be above question, are put into the crucible.
On the whole it is a good spirit, though it can be abused and carried to an absurd extreme. Criticism is inevitable, and ought to be welcomed, provided we are careful about the true standard to apply. When we judge a thing by its use, we must not have a narrow view of what utility is. Usefulness to man is not confined to mere material values. The common standards of the market-place cannot be applied to the whole of life. The things which cannot be bought cannot be sold, and the keenest valuator would be puzzled to put a price on some of these unmarketable wares.
When we seek to show what are the fruits of friendship, we may be said to put ourselves in line with the critical spirit of our age. But even if it were proven that a man could make more of his life materially by himself, if he gave no hostages to fortune, it would not follow that it is well to disentangle oneself from the common human bonds; for our caveat would here apply, that utility is larger than mere material gain.
But even from this point of view friendship justifies itself. Two are better than one; for they have a good reward for their labor. The principle of association in business is now accepted universally. It is found even to pay, to share work and profit. Most of the world's business is done by companies, or partnerships, or associated endeavor of some kind. And the closer the intimacy between the men so engaged, the intimacy of common desires and common purposes, and mutual respect and confidence, and, if possible, friendship, the better chance there is for success. Two are better than one from the point of view even of the reward of each, and a threefold cord is not quickly broken, when a single strand would snap.
When men first learned, even in its most rudimentary sense, that union is strength, the dawn of civilization began. For offence and for defence, the principle of association early proved itself the fittest for survival. The future is always with Isaac, not with Ishmael—with Jacob, not with Esau. In everything this is seen, in the struggle of races, or trade, or ideas. Even as a religious method to make an impact on the world, it is true. John of the Desert touched here a life, and there a life; Jesus of Nazareth, seeking disciples, founding a society, moved the world to its heart.
It is not necessary to labor this point, that two are better than one, to a commercial age like ours, which, whatever it does not know, at least knows its arithmetic. We would say that it is self-evident, that by the law of addition it is double, and by the law of multiplication twice the number. But it is not so exact as that, nor so self-evident. When we are dealing with men, our ready-reckoner rules do not work out correctly. In this region one and one are not always two. They are sometimes more than two, and sometimes less than two. Union of all kinds, which may be strength, may be weakness. It was not till Gideon weeded out his army, once and twice, that he was promised victory. The fruits of friendship may be corrupting, and unspeakably evil to the life. The reward of the labor of two may be less than that of one. The boy pulling a barrow is lucky if he get another boy to shove behind, but if the boy behind not only ceases to shove, but sits on the barrow, the last end is worse than the first. A threefold cord with two of the strands rotten is worse than a single sound strand, for it deceives into putting too much weight on it.
In social economics it is evident that society is not merely the sum of the units that compose it. Two are better than one, not merely because the force is doubled. It may even be said that two are better than two. Two together mean more than two added singly; for a new element is introduced which increases the power of each individually. When the man Friday came into the life of Robinson Crusoe, he brought with him a great deal more than his own individual value, which with his lower civilization would not be very much. But to Robinson Crusoe he represented society, and all the possibilities of social polity. It meant also the satisfaction of the social instincts, the play of the affections, and made Crusoe a different man. The two living together were more than the two living on different desert islands.
The truth of this strange contradiction of the multiplication table is seen in the relationship of friends. Each gives to the other, and each receives, and the fruit of the intercourse is more than either in himself possesses. Every individual relationship has contact with a universal. To reach out to the fuller life of love is a divine enchantment, because it leads to more than itself, and is the open door into the mystery of life. We feel ourselves united to the race and no longer isolated units, but in the sweep of the great social forces which mould mankind. Every bond which binds man to man is a new argument for the permanence of life itself, and gives a new insight into its meaning. Love is the pledge and the promise of the future.
Besides this cosmic and perhaps somewhat shadowy benefit, there are many practical fruits of friendship to the individual. These may be classified and subdivided almost endlessly, and indeed in every special friendship the fruits of it will differ according to the character and closeness of the tie, and according to the particular gifts of each of the partners. One man can give to his friend some quality of sympathy, or some kind of help, or can supply some social need which is lacking in his character or circumstances. Perhaps it is not possible to get a better division of the subject than the three noble fruits of friendship which Bacon enumerates—peace in the affections, support of the judgment, and aid in all actions and occasions.
First of all there is the satisfaction of the heart. We cannot live a self-centred life, without feeling that we are missing the true glory of life. We were made for social intercourse, if only that the highest qualities of our nature might have an opportunity for development. The joy, which a true friendship gives, reveals the existence of the want of it, perhaps previously unfelt. It is a sin against ourselves to let our affections wither. This sense of incompleteness is an argument in favor of its possible satisfaction; our need is an argument for its fulfilment. Our hearts demand love, as truly as our bodies demand food. We cannot live among men, suspicious, and careful of our own interests, and fighting for our own hand, without doing dishonor and hurt to our own nature. To be for ourselves puts the whole world against us. To harden our heart hardens the heart of the universe.
We need sympathy, and therefore we crave for friendship. Even the most perfect of the sons of men felt this need of intercourse of the heart. Christ, in one aspect the most self-contained of men, showed this human longing all through His life. He ever desired opportunities for enlargement of heart—in His disciples, in an inner circle within the circle, in the household of Bethany. "Will ye also go away?" He asked in the crisis of His career. "Could ye not watch with Me one hour?" He sighed in His great agony. He was perfectly human, and therefore felt the lack of friendship. The higher our relationships with each other are, the closer is the intercourse demanded. Highest of all in the things of the soul, we feel that the true Christian life cannot be lived in the desert, but must be a life among men, and this because it is a life of joy as well as of service. We feel that, for the founding of our life and the completion of our powers, we need intercourse with our kind. Stunted affections dwarf the whole man. We live by admiration, hope, and love, and these can be developed only in the social life.
The sweetest and most stable pleasures also are never selfish. They are derived from fellowship, from common tastes, and mutual sympathy. Sympathy is not a quality merely needed in adversity. It is needed as much when the sun shines. Indeed, it is more easily obtained in adversity than in prosperity. It is comparatively easy to sympathize with a friend's failure, when we are not so true-hearted about his success. When a man is down in his luck, he can be sure of at least a certain amount of good-fellowship to which he can appeal. It is difficult to keep a little touch of malice, or envy, out of congratulations. It is sometimes easier to weep with those who weep, than to rejoice with those who rejoice. This difficulty is felt not with people above us, or with little connection with us, but with our equals. When a friend succeeds, there may be a certain regret which has not always an evil root, but is due to a fear that he is getting beyond our reach, passing out of our sphere, and perhaps will not need or desire our friendship so much as before. It is a dangerous feeling to give way to, but up to a certain point is natural and legitimate. A perfect friendship would not have room for such grudging sympathy, but would rejoice more for the other's success than for his own. The envious, jealous man never can be a friend. His mean spirit of detraction and insinuating ill-will kills friendship at its birth. Plutarch records a witty remark about Plistarchus, who was told that a notorious railer had spoken well of him. "I'll lay my life," said he, "somebody has told him I am dead, for he can speak well of no man living."
For true satisfaction of the heart, there must be a fount of sympathy from which to draw in all the vicissitudes of life. Sorrow asks for sympathy, aches to let its griefs be known and shared by a kindred spirit. To find such, is to dispel the loneliness from life. To have a heart which we can trust, and into which we can pour our griefs and our doubts and our fears, is already to take the edge from grief, and the sting from doubt, and the shade from fear.
Joy also demands that its joy should be shared. The man who has found his sheep that was lost calls together his neighbors, and bids them rejoice with him because he has found the sheep that was lost. Joy is more social than grief. Some forms of grief desire only to creep away into solitude like a wounded beast to its lair, to suffer alone and to die alone. But joy finds its counterpart in the sunshine and the flowers and the birds and the little children, and enters easily into all the movements of life. Sympathy will respond to a friend's gladness, as well as vibrate to his grief. A simple generous friendship will thus add to the joy, and will divide the sorrow.
The religious life, in spite of all the unnatural experiments of monasticism and all its kindred ascetic forms, is preeminently a life of friendship. It is individual in its root, and social in its fruits. It is when two or three are gathered together that religion becomes a fact for the world. The joy of religion will not be hid and buried in a man's own heart. "Come, see a man that told me all that ever I did," is the natural outcome of the first wonder and the first faith. It spreads from soul to soul by the impact of soul on soul, from the original impact of the great soul of God.
Christ's ideal is the ideal of a Kingdom, men banded together in a common cause, under common laws, serving the same purpose of love. It is meant to take effect upon man in all his social relationships, in the home, in the city, in the state. Its greatest triumphs have been made through friendship, and it in turn has ennobled and sanctified the bond. The growth of the Kingdom depends on the sanctified working of the natural ties among men. It was so at the very start; John the Baptist pointed out the Christ to John the future Apostle and to Andrew; Andrew findeth his own brother Simon Peter; Philip findeth Nathanael; and so society through its network of relations took into its heart the new message. The man who has been healed must go and tell those who are at home, must declare it to his friends, and seek that they also should share in his great discovery.
The very existence of the Church as a body of believers is due to this necessity of our nature, which demands opportunity for the interchange of Christian sentiment. The deeper the feeling, the greater is the joy of sharing it with another. There is a strange felicity, a wondrous enchantment, which comes from true intimacy of heart, and close communion of soul, and the result is more than mere fleeting joy. When it is shared in the deepest thoughts and highest aspirations, when it is built on a common faith, and lives by a common hope, it brings perfect peace. No friendship has done its work until it reaches the supremest satisfaction of spiritual communion.
Besides this satisfaction of the heart, friendship also gives satisfaction of the mind. Most men have a certain natural diffidence in coming to conclusions and forming opinions for themselves. We rarely feel confident, until we have secured the agreement of others in whom we trust. There is always a personal equation in all our judgments, so that we feel that they require to be amended by comparison with those of others. Doctors ask for a consultation, when a case becomes critical. We all realize the advantage of taking counsel. To ask for advice is a benefit, whether we follow the advice or no. Indeed, the best benefit often comes from the opportunity of testing our own opinion and finding it valid. Sometimes the very statement of the case is enough to prove it one thing or the other. An advantage is reaped from a sympathetic listener, even although our friend be unable to elucidate the matter by his special sagacity or experience. Friends in counsel gain much intellectually. They acquire something approaching to a standard of judgment, and are enabled to classify opinions, and to make up the mind more accurately and securely. Through talking a subject over with another, one gets fresh side-lights into it, new avenues open up, and the whole question becomes larger and richer. Bacon says, "Friendship maketh daylight in the understanding, out of darkness and confusion of thoughts: neither is this to be understood only of faithful counsel, which a man receiveth from his friend; but before you come to that, certain it is, that whosoever hath his mind fraught with many thoughts, his wits and understanding do clarify and break up in the communicating and discoursing with another; he tosseth his thoughts more easily; he marshalleth them more orderly; he seeth how they look when they are turned into words; finally he waxeth wiser than himself; and that more by an hour's discourse than by a day's meditation."
We must have been struck with the brilliancy of our own conversation and the profundity of our own thoughts, when we shared them with one, with whom we were in sympathy at the time. The brilliancy was not ours; it was the reflex action which was the result of the communion. That is why the effect of different people upon us is different, one making us creep into our shell and making us unable almost to utter a word; another through some strange magnetism enlarging the bounds of our whole being and drawing the best out of us. The true insight after all is love. It clarifies the intellect, and opens the eyes to much that was obscure.
Besides the subjective influence, there may be the great gain of honest counsel. A faithful friend can be trusted not to speak merely soft words of flattery. It is often the spectator who sees most of the game, and, if the spectator is at the same time keenly interested in us, he can have a more unbiased opinion than we can possibly have. He may have to say that which may wound our self-esteem; he may have to speak for correction rather than for commendation; but "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." The flatterer will take good care not to offend our susceptibilities by too many shocks of wholesome truth-telling; but a friend will seek our good, even if he must say the thing we hate to hear at the time.
This does not mean that a friend should always be what is called plain-spoken. Many take advantage of what they call a true interest in our welfare, in order to rub gall into our wounds. The man who boasts of his frankness and of his hatred of flattery, is usually not frank—but only brutal. A true friend will never needlessly hurt, but also will never let slip occasions through cowardice. To speak the truth in love takes off the edge of unpleasantness, which so often is found in truth-speaking. And however the wound may smart, in the end we are thankful for the faithfulness which caused it. "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head."
In our relations with each other, there is usually more advantage to be reaped from friendly encouragement, than from friendly correction. True criticism does not consist, as so many critics seem to think, in depreciation, but in appreciation; in putting oneself sympathetically in another's position, and seeking to value the real worth of his work. There are more lives spoiled by undue harshness, than by undue gentleness. More good work is lost from want of appreciation than from too much of it; and certainly it is not the function of friendship to do the critic's work. Unless carefully repressed, such a spirit becomes censorious, or, worse still, spiteful, and has often been the means of losing a friend. It is possible to be kind, without giving crooked counsel, or oily flattery; and it is possible to be true, without magnifying faults, and indulging in cruel rebukes.
Besides the joy of friendship, and its aid in matters of counsel, a third of its noble fruits is the direct help it can give us in the difficulties of life. It gives strength to the character. It sobers and steadies through the responsibility for each other which it means. When men face the world together, and are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder, the sense of comradeship makes each strong. This help may not often be called into play, but just to know that it is there if needed is a great comfort, to know that if one fall the other will lift him up. The very word friendship suggests kindly help and aid in distress. Shakespeare applies the word in King Lear to an inanimate thing with this meaning of helpfulness,—
Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel; Some friendship will it lend you 'gainst the tempest.
Sentiment does not amount to much, if it is not an inspiring force to lead to gentle and to generous deeds, when there is need. The fight is not so hard, when we know that we are not alone, but that there are some who think of us, and pray for us, and would gladly help us if they get the opportunity.
Comradeship is one of the finest facts, and one of the strongest forces in life. A mere strong man, however capable, and however singly successful, is of little account by himself. There is no glamour of romance in his career. The kingdom of Romance belongs to David, not to Samson—to David, with his eager, impetuous, affectionate nature, for whom three men went in the jeopardy of life to bring him a drink of water; and all for love of him. It is not the self-centred, self-contained hero, who lays hold of us; it is ever the comradeship of heroes. Dumas' Three Musketeers (and the Gascon who made a greater fourth), with their oath, "Each for all, and all for each," inherit that kingdom of Romance, with all that ever have been tied in bands of love.
Robertson of Brighton in one of his letters tells how a friend of his had, through cowardice or carelessness, missed an opportunity of putting him right on a point with which he was charged, and so left him defenceless against a slander. With his native sweetness of soul, he contents himself with the exclamation, "How rare it is to have a friend who will defend you thoroughly and boldly!" Yet that is just one of the loyal things a friend can do, sometimes when it would be impossible for a man himself to do himself justice with others. Some things, needful to be said or done under certain circumstances, cannot be undertaken without indelicacy by the person concerned, and the keen instinct of a friend should tell him that he is needed. A little thoughtfulness would often suggest things that could be done for our friends, that would make them feel that the tie which binds us to them is a real one. That man is rich indeed, who possesses thoughtful, tactful friends, with whom he feels safe when present, and in whose hands his honor is secure when absent. If there be no loyalty, there can be no great friendship. Most of our friendships lack the distinction of greatness, because we are not ready for little acts of service. Without these our love dwindles down to a mere sentiment, and ceases to be the inspiring force for good to both lives, which it was at the beginning.
The aid we may receive from friendship may be of an even more powerful, because of a more subtle, nature than material help. It may be a safeguard against temptation. The recollection of a friend whom we admire is a great force to save us from evil, and to prompt us to good. The thought of his sorrow in any moral break-down of ours will often nerve us to stand firm. What would my friend think of me, if I did this, or consented to this meanness? Could I look him in the face again, and meet the calm pure gaze of his eye? Would it not be a blot on our friendship, and draw a veil over our intercourse? No friendship is worth the name which does not elevate, and does not help to nobility of conduct and to strength of character. It should give a new zest to duty, and a new inspiration to all that is good.
Influence is the greatest of all human gifts, and we all have it in some measure. There are some to whom we are something, if not everything. There are some, who are grappled to us with hoops of steel. There are some, over whom we have ascendency, or at least to whom we have access, who have opened the gates of the City of Mansoul to us, some we can sway with a word, a touch, a look. It must always be a solemn thing for a man to ask what he has done with this dread power of influence. For what has our friend to be indebted to us—for good or for evil? Have we put on his armor, and sent him out with courage and strength to the battle? Or have we dragged him down from the heights to which he once aspired? We are face to face here with the tragic possibilities of human intercourse. In all friendship we open the gates of the city, and those who have entered must be either allies in the fight, or treacherous foes.
All the fruits of friendship, be they blessed or baneful, spring from this root of influence, and influence in the long run is the impress of our real character on other lives. Influence cannot rise above the level of our lives. The result of our friendship on others will ultimately be conditioned by the sort of persons we are. It adds a very sacred responsibility to life. Here, as in other regions, a good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
The Choice of Friendship
If thou findest a good man, rise up early in the morning to go to him, and let thy feet wear the steps of his door.
THE APOCRYPHAL BOOK OF ECCLESIASTICUS.
Whereof the man, that with me trod This planet, was a noble type, Appearing ere the times were ripe, That friend of mine who lives with God.
The Choice of Friendship
Our responsibility for our friendships is not confined to making sure that our influence over others is for good. We have also a duty to ourselves. As we possess the gift of influence over others, so we in turn are affected by every life which touches ours. Influence is like an atmosphere exhaled by each separate personality. Some men seem neutral and colorless, with no atmosphere to speak of. Some have a bad atmosphere, like the rank poisonous odor of noxious weeds, breeding malaria. If our moral sense were only keen and true, we would instinctively know them, as some children do, and dread their company. Others have a good atmosphere; we can breathe there in safety, and have a joyful sense of security. With some of these it is a local delicate environment, sweet, suggestive, like the aroma of wild violets: we have to look, and sometimes to stoop, to get into its range. With some it is like a pine forest, or a eucalyptus grove of warmer climes, which perfumes a whole country side. It is well to know such, Christ's little ones and Christ's great ones. They put oxygen into the moral atmosphere, and we breathe more freely for it. They give us new insight, and fresh courage, and purer faith, and by the impulse of their example inspire us to nobler life.
There is nothing so important as the choice of friendship; for it both reflects character and affects it. A man is known by the company he keeps. This is an infallible test; for his thoughts, and desires, and ambitions, and loves are revealed here. He gravitates naturally to his congenial sphere. And it affects character; for it is the atmosphere he breathes. It enters his blood and makes the circuit of his veins. "All love assimilates to what it loves." A man is moulded into likeness of the lives that come nearest him. It is at the point of the emotions that he is most impressionable. The material surroundings, the outside lot of a man, affects him, but after all that is mostly on the outside; for the higher functions of life may be served in almost any external circumstances. But the environment of other lives, the communion of other souls, are far more potent facts. The nearer people are to each other, and the less disguise there is in their relationship, the more invariably will the law of spiritual environment act.
It seems a tragedy that people, who see each other as they are, become like each other; and often it is a tragedy. But the law carries as much hope in it as despair. If through it evil works havoc, through it also good persists. If we are hindered by the weakness of our associates, we are often helped by their goodness and sweetness. Contact with a strong nature inspires us with strength. Some one once asked Kingsley what was the secret of his strong joyous life, and he answered, "I had a friend." If every evil man is a centre of contagion, every good man is a centre of healing. He provides an environment in which others can see God. Goodness creates an atmosphere for other souls to be good. It is a priestly garment that has virtue even for the finger that touches it. The earth has its salt, and the world has its light, in the sweet souls, and winsome lives, and Christ-like characters to be found in it. The choice of friends is therefore one of the most serious affairs in life, just because a man becomes moulden into the likeness of what he loves in his friend.
From the purely selfish standard, every fresh tie we form means giving a new hostage to fortune, and adding a new risk to our happiness. Apart from any moral evil, every intimacy is a danger of another blow to the heart. But if we desire fulness of life, we cannot help ourselves. A man may make many a friendship to his own hurt, but the isolated life is a greater danger still. Societas est mater discordiarum, which Scott in his humorous pathetic account of the law-suits of Peter Peebles versus Plainstanes in "Redgauntlet," translates, Partnership oft makes pleaship. Every relationship means risk, but we must take the risk; for while nearly all our sorrows come from our connection with others, nearly all our joys have the same source. We cannot help ourselves; for it is part of the great discipline of life. Rather, we need knowledge, and care, and forethought to enable us to make the best use of the necessities of our nature. And foremost of these for importance is our choice of friends.
We may err on the one side by being too cautious, and too exclusive in our attachments. We may be supercilious, and disdainful in our estimate of men. Contempt always blinds the eyes. Every man is vulnerable somewhere, if only like Achilles in the heel. The true secret of insight is not contempt, but sympathy. Such disdain usually means putting all the eggs into one basket, when a smash spells ruin.
The other extreme is the attitude, which easily makes many friends, without much consideration of quality. We know the type of man, who is friendly with everybody, and a friend of none. He is Hail fellow well met! with every passing stranger, a boon companion of every wayfarer. He takes up with every sort of casual comrade, and seeks to be on good terms with everybody. He makes what is called, with a little contempt, good company, and is a favorite on all light occasions. His affections spread themselves out over a large expanse. He is easily consoled for a loss, and easily attracted by a new attachment. And as he deals, so is he dealt with. Many like him; few quite trust him. He makes many friends, and is not particular about their quality. The law of spiritual environment plays upon him with its relentless force. He gives himself away too cheaply, and opens himself to all sorts of influence. He is constantly laying himself in the way of temptation. His mind takes on the opinions of his set: his character assimilates itself to the forces that act on it. The evil example of some of his intimates gradually breaks down the barriers of past training and teaching. The desire to please a crowd means that principle is let slip, and conscience ceases to be the standard of action. His very friends are not true friends, being mostly of the fair-weather quality.
Though it may seem difficult to avoid either of these two extremes, it will not do to refuse to choose at all, and leave things to chance. We drift into many of our connections with men, but the art of seamanship is tested by sailing not by drifting. The subject of the choice of friendship is not advanced much by just letting them choose us. That is to become the victim, not the master of our circumstances. And while it is true that we are acted on as much as we act, and are chosen as much as we choose, it is not permitted to any one merely to be passive, except at great cost.
At the same time in the mystery of friendship we cannot say that we went about with a touchstone testing all we met, till we found the ore that would respond to our particular magnet. It is not that we said to ourselves, Go to, we will choose a friend, and straightway made a distinct election to the vacant throne of our heart. From one point of view we were absolutely passive. Things arranged themselves without effort, and by some subtle affinity we learned that we had gained a friend. The history of every true friendship is the brief description of Emerson, "My friends have come to me unsought; the great God gave them to me." There was an element of necessity in this, as in all crises of life.
Does it therefore seem absurd and useless to speak about the choice of friendship at all? By no means, because the principles we set before ourselves will determine the kind of friends we have, as truly as if the whole initiative lay with us. We are chosen for the same reason for which we would choose. To try to separate the two processes is to make the same futile distinction, on a lower scale, so often made between choosing God and being chosen by Him. It is futile, because the distinction cannot be maintained.
Besides, the value of having some definite principle by which to test friendship is not confined to the positive attachments made. The necessity for a system of selection is largely due to the necessity for rejection. The good and great intimacies of our life will perhaps come to us, as the wind bloweth, we cannot tell how. But by regulating our course wisely, we will escape from hampering our life by mistakes, and weakening it with false connections. We ought to be courteous, and kind, and gentle with all, but not to all can we open the sanctuary of our heart.
We have a graduated scale of intimacy, from introduction, and nodding acquaintance, and speaking acquaintance, through an endless series of kinds of intercourse to the perfect friendship. In counting up our gains and our resources, we cannot give them all the same value, without deceiving ourselves. To expect loyalty and devotion from all alike is to court disappointment. Most misanthropical and cynical estimates of man are due to this mingled ignorance and conceit. We cannot look for undying affection from the crowd we may happen to have entertained to dinner, or have rubbed shoulders with at business resorts or at social gatherings. Many men in life, as many are depicted in literature, have played the misanthrope, because they have discovered through adversity how many of their associates were fair-weather friends. In their prosperity they encouraged toadying and sycophancy. They liked to have hangers-on, who would flatter, and when the east wind blows they are indignant that their circle should prefer to avoid it.
Shakespeare's Timon of Athens is a typical misanthrope in his virtuous indignation at the cat-like love of men for comfort. In his prosperity crowds of glass-faced flatterers bent before him, and were made rich in Timon's nod. He wasted his substance in presents and hospitality, and bred a fine race of parasites and trencher-friends. When he spent all and began to be in want, no man gave unto him. The winter shower drove away the summer flies. He had loved the reputation for splendid liberality, and lavish generosity, and had sought to be a little god among men, bestowing favors and receiving homage, all of which was only a more subtle form of selfishness. When the brief day of prosperity passed, men shut their doors against the setting sun. The smooth and smilling crowd dropped off with a shrug, and Timon went to the other extreme of misanthropy, declaimed against friendship, and cursed men for their ingratitude. But after all he got what he had paid for. He thought he had been buying the hearts of men, and found that he had only bought their mouths, and tongues, and eyes.
"He that loves to be flattered is worthy of the flatterer." For moral value there is not much to choose between them. Rats are said to desert the sinking ship, which is not to be wondered at in rats. The choice of friendship does not mean the indiscriminate acceptance of all who are willing to assume the name of friend. A touch of east wind is good, not only to weed out the false and test the true, but also to brace a man to the stern realities of life. When we find that some of our intimates are dispersed by adversity, instead of raving against the world's ingratitude like Timon, we should be glad that now we know whom exactly we can trust.
Another common way of choosing friends, and one which also meets with its own fitting reward, is the selfish method of valuing men according to their usefulness to us. To add to their credit, or reputation, some are willing to include anybody in their list of intimates. For business purposes even, men will sometimes run risks, by endangering the peace of their home and the highest interests of those they love; they are ready to introduce into their family circle men whom they distrust morally, because they think they can make some gain out of the connection.
All the stupid snobbishness, and mean tuft-hunting so common, are due to the same desire to make use of people in some way or other. It is an abuse of the word friendship to apply it to such social scrambling. Of course, even tuft-hunting may be only a perverted desire after what we think the best, a longing to get near those we consider of nobler nature and larger mind than common associates. It may be an instinctive agreement with Plato's definition of the wise man, as ever wanting to be with him who is better than himself. But in its usual form it becomes an unspeakable degradation, inducing servility, and lick-spittle humility, and all the vices of the servile mind. There can never be true friendship without self-respect, and unless soul meets soul free from self-seeking. If we had higher standards for ourselves, if we lived to God and not to men, we would also find that in the truest sense we would live with men. We need not go out of our way to ingratiate ourselves with anybody. Nothing can make up for the loss of independence and native dignity of soul. It is not for a man, made in the image of God, to grovel, and demean himself before his fellow creatures.
After all it defeats itself; for there can only be friendship between equals. This does not mean equals in what is called social position, nor even in intellectual attainments, though these naturally have weight, but it means equality which has a spiritual source. Can two walk together, except they be agreed? Nor does it mean identity, nor even likeness. Indeed, for the highest unity there must be difference, the difference of free beings, with will, and conscience, and mind unhampered. We often make much of our differences, forgetting that really we differ, and can differ, only because we agree. Without many points of contact, there could be no divergence from these. Argument and contradiction of opinion are the outcome of difference, and yet for argument there is needed a common basis. We cannot even discuss, unless we meet on some mental ground common to both disputants. So there may be, nay, for the highest union there must be, a great general conformity behind the distinctions, a deep underlying common basis beneath the unlikeness. And for true union of hearts, this equality must have a spiritual source. If then there must be some spiritual affinity, agreement in what is best and highest in each, we can see the futility of most of the selfish attempts to make capital out of our intercourse. Our friends will be, because they must be, our equals. We can never have a nobler intimacy, until we are made fit for it.
All connections based on selfishness, either on personal pleasure or on usefulness, are accidental. They are easily dissolved, because, when the pleasure or the utility ceases, the bond ceases. When the motive of the friendship is removed, the friendship itself disappears. The perfect friendship is grounded on what is permanent, on goodness, on character. It is of much slower growth, since it takes some time to really find out the truly lovable things in a life, but it is lasting, since the foundation is stable.
The most important point, then, about the choice of friendship is that we should know what to reject. Countless attractions come to us on the lower plane. A man may be attracted by what his own conscience tells him to be unworthy. He may have slipped gradually into companionship with some, whose influence is even evil. He may have got, almost without his own will, into a set which is deteriorating his life and character. He knows the fruits of his weakness, in the lowering of the moral tone, in the slackening grip of the conscience, in the looser flow of the blood. He has become pliant in will, feeble in purpose, and flaccid in character. Every man has a duty to himself to be his own best self, and he can never be that under the spell of evil companionship.
Some men mix in doubtful company, and say that they have no Pharisaic exclusiveness, and even sometimes defend themselves by Christ's example, who received sinners and ate with them. The comparison borders on blasphemy. It depends on the purpose, for which sinners are received. Christ never joined in their sin, but went to save them from their sin; and wickedness could not lift its head in His presence. Some seek to be initiated into the mysteries of iniquity, in idle or morbid curiosity, perhaps to write a realistic book, or to see life, as it is called. There is often a prurient desire to explore the tracts of sin, as if information on such subjects meant wisdom. If men are honest with themselves, they will admit that they join the company of sinners, for the relish they have for the sin. We must first obey the moral command to come out from among them and be separate, before it is possible for us to meet them like Christ. Separateness of soul is the law of holiness. Of Christ, of whom it was said that this man receiveth sinners, it was also said that He was separate from sinners. The knowledge of wickedness is not wisdom, neither is the counsel of sinners prudence. Most young men know the temptation here referred to, the curiosity to learn the hidden things, and to have the air of those who know the world.
If we have gone wrong here, and have admitted into the sanctuary of our lives influences that make for evil, we must break away from them at all costs. The sweeter and truer relationships of our life should arm us for the struggle, the prayers of a mother, the sorrow of true friends. This is the fear, countless times, in the hearts of the folks at home when their boy leaves them to win his way in the city, the deadly fear lest he should fall into evil habits, and into the clutches of evil men. They know that there are men whose touch, whose words, whose very look, is contamination. To give them entrance into our lives is to submit ourselves to the contagion of sin.
Friends should be chosen by a higher principle of selection than any worldly one, of pleasure, or usefulness, or by weak submission to the evil influences of our lot. They should be chosen for character, for goodness, for truth and trustworthiness, because they have sympathy with us in our best thoughts and holiest aspirations, because they have community of mind in the things of the soul. All other connections are fleeting and imperfect from the nature of the case. A relationship based on the physical withers when the first bloom fades: a relationship founded on the intellectual is only a little more secure, as it too is subject to caprice. All purely earthly partnerships, like all earthly treasures, are exposed to decay, the bite of the moth and the stain of the rust; and they must all have an end.
A young man may get opposing advice from two equally trusted counsellors. One will advise him to cultivate the friendship of the clever, because they will afterward occupy places of power in the world: the other will advise him to cultivate the friendship of the good, because if they do not inherit the earth, they aspire to the heavens. If he knows the character of the two counsellors, he will understand why they should look upon life from such different standpoints; and later on he will find that while some of his friends were both clever and good, not one of the purely intellectual friendships remains to him. It does not afford a sufficient basis of agreement, to stand the tear and wear of life. The basis of friendship must be community of soul.
The only permanent severance of heart comes through lack of a common spiritual footing. If one soul goes up the mountain top, and the other stays down among the shadows, if the two have not the same high thoughts, and pure desires, and ideals of service, they cannot remain together except in form. Friends need not be identical in temperament and capacity, but they must be alike in sympathy. An unequal yoke becomes either an intolerable burden, or will drag one of the partners away from the path his soul at its best would have loved to tread.