Love And Friendship
( Originally Published 1892 )
Love stands alone in the solar system of the affections like the sun, unmated and incomparable. From it all the other emotions derive their worth, yet they must not expect to imitate its light, warmth, or power.
Our friendships are the stars next in magnitude to the orb of light. There can be but one true love, as there is but one sun visible to the earth. But there may be as many orders of friendship as there are varieties of stars in the firmament, though few, to be sure, of the first magnitude.
A great nature can enjoy and be loyal to a great number of friends. It is time to do away with that old idea, grounded in human selfishness, that a man should have but one friend. I have studied the persons who are fond of proclaiming, "I care but for few people," and I have found them at the core selfish, narrow and unsympathetic. The broad-gauged and noble-hearted man goes out spontaneously to his fellow beings, and gives affection and loyality to many. He attracts as many true friends as his varied characteristics render him capable of enjoying.
You appeal to his intellect, and are a mental comrade; in the association he grows fond of you, and interested in your personal life, but you can not expect him to shut out from his heart another who amuses and entertains him with a flow of cheerful spirits which you lack. You show no evidence of affection if you are jealous of this other friend. You simply show a narrow mindedness, grounded in self-love. You have your own sphere in that man's life and can not be crowded by another, any more than one star crowds another in the heavens.
The moment my friend says to me "I must be first in your affection, no matter what other claiments for your regard come knocking at your door," I reply:
"My friend, it is yourself you love, not me; the absolute friend asks only for what I choose to give, and, confident of his own worth, never doubts his true place in my affections. Were you my true friend you would rejoice to see me enriched by other friends. It is yourself you love, and you desire me to add fuel to the flame which is already consuming you. But I can only bestow what you inspire. Look to it that you inspire the best within me and it will be yours.
With each new friend I think our capabilities of affection increase."
Love is to the human heart what the Koran is to the Mohammedan, or the Bible to the Christian. There can be but one. But we may have as many choice friends as we have choice books in our library, if our heart wealth is great enough to procure them. I need not appreciate Dickens less because I enjoy Thackeray also. I do no wrong to the prose authors, because I revel in the poets. There are moods when the humorist cheers and entertains me, and and again I need the philosopher, and all are equally admired and esteemed by me, and there is no one I could spare.
I once heard a person say, "I love my friends so intensely I am jealous of any ray of light that falls upon their paths, save through me." This is not friendship. It is self-worship, self-aggrandizement — self to the core. Distrust any act of kindness shown you by such a friend. It is done, not to give you happiness, but to win your gratitude. The real friend never thinks of gratitude, though he would be hurt by your ingratitude. But he would as soon bestow a favor unknown to you, and he rejoices to see you. benefited by others, and takes pleasure in anything which helps you no matter how remote it may be front his own interests.
Old friends endeared by years of memories are best. Yet I have no right to reproach my old friend. if he outgrows me in his tastes and habits, and I have no right to call him changeable, if he finds new friends who are more congenial in these things, and who keep step with him. He may have found me sufficent for him when we both studied simple fractions together, but if he has passed into higher mathematics I have no right to complain if he no longer enjoys singing the multiplication table to the air of "Yankee-Doodle" with me as in our early school days. I had better blame myself for not making at least sufficient progress to appreciate him, even if I can not enter into full sympathy with his higher development. If I am worthy the name of a true "old friend," I will rejoice to see him speed on and up even if our paths of necessity diverge.
Not long ago I heard a thinking woman say that she could forgive the sin of commission in a friend far sooner than a sin of omission. "An unkind act or word may spring from a hasty temper or a mistake of judgment, but the friend who sits still and silent when I need a defender or a mentor, commits an unpardonable sin," she said, and said truly.
While I would prefer my friend to be the first to praise me for well doing, I can excuse him for being the last, if he is the first to warn me when I am doing wrong. He is no friend if he sees me drifting towards the rocks and does not tell me so; if he sees me preparing for the battle with a flaw in my armor, and does not point it out to me before the fray begins. If he has not discovered it until we are in the thick of battle, then the true and wise friend will keep silent, lest the sudden consciousness of my weak point should unnerve me; but he will keep his own eye upon it, and stand ready to come to my assistance if the flaw proves my failure.
I do not want my friend to feed and clothe me,for that would enervate my strength and rob me of my self-reliance. I do not want him to carry my burdens unless he sees my strength failing me. Let him not perform my tasks for me, but rather stimulate me to labor; instead of doing my work let him encourage in me a belief of my own ability. Let him chide me for my idleness, and spur me to achieve results with my own powers.
In Charles Kingsley's delightful little book, the "Water Babies," there is a wonderful weird water-sprite who makes people make themselves; she does not create anything but she teaches things how to create themselves; this is the office of the true friend—to tell us how to create ourselves and to urge us to action.
My true friend never comes to me with the belittleing and causeless gossip which he hears about me. He never says, "I know you will not care—" and then relate some vicious lie invented by the mind of envy. He never tells me anything disagreeable unless it is to warn me or put me on my guard against a secret enemy or against my own imprudence. He tells me the kind and pleasant words he hears spoken of me and takes as much pleasure in hearing them as I do. And he defends me in my absence even against an army of accusers.
He will say things to my face which he would not say or permit to be said behind my back.
Friendship of the highest order should banish all wearisome restrictions and formalities. If I happen to drop in on my nearest friend as she is preparing to go out with another, she should feel free to go with no fear that I will be hurt or feel slighted. The moment this fear of wounding our friends in such matters creeps in it is no longer, or not yet an absolute friendship.
We can bear with the tyrannies and anxieties, fears and turmoils of love, because the joys and raptures repay us for all it makes us suffer; but the calmer pleasures of friendship are jeopardized if we permit these other emotions to mar them.
Love is like the mid-ocean, grand, beautiful, and terrible, full of delight and danger; and friendship should be like the calm bay where we rest, and do not fear; it can not give us the exhilaration of love, and it must not give us the anxieties.
We feel rested and strengthened after an interview with a real friend, never irritated or worried.
The worthy and worth-while friend never chides us for not loving him enough nor begs to be loved more; he makes himself so deserving and so unobtrusive that we needs must give him gratitude and affection.
The wise friend never weights us with his friendship--never burdens us with feelings that he can not live without our constant devotion. It is the privilege of love alone to do that.
Love may lean and cling forever, And forever grow more dear.
But friendship must sometimes stand upon its own feet, or we tire of it.
If my friendship is absolute, I will stand by my friend in trouble, danger and disgrace—not upholding him in the latter, but holding him from sinking lower. If he resents my restraint, however, and is determined to sink, I do not prove my friendship by sinking with him, I only prove my own moral weakness. Better let go my hold and save my strength to assist another who wants my help. If he will not heed my advice or counsel, but insists upon associations and actions which injure him, I only blacken my own record and weaken my power to aid others, if I stand by him. Friendship to one's higher self should not be sacrificed in a mistaken sense of devotion to another. Neither should I ask my friend to go down into the valley of despair with me—he will be a truer friend if he stands above in the sunlight and strives to lift me up beside him.
I do not want my friend to constantly urge me to accept favors, but when, in my hour of need, I ask a favor, I want him to grant it with the air of one who is the recipient rather than the giver. Neither do I want him to refuse favors on the ground of being unable to repay me. Since real friendship finds payments in the bestowing of favors. And always I want him loyal, trusting and sincere in word and act; as liberal as loving, as free from jealousy as he is full of justice, ready to praise and not afraid to reprove.