Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Friendship's fatal disease

Samuel Johnson in Idler 23:
Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than that of friendship. It is painful to consider that this sublime enjoyment may be impaired or destroyed by innumerable causes, and that there is no human possession of which the duration is less certain. Many have talked in very exalted language of the perpetuity of friendship, of invincible constancy, and unalienable kindness; and some examples have been seen of men who have continued faithful to their earliest choice, and whose affection has predominated over changes of fortune and contrariety of opinion. But these instances are memorable because they are rare.  ....

.... A dispute begun in jest, upon a subject which a moment before was on both parts regarded with careless indifference is continued by the desire of conquest till vanity kindles into rage, and opposition rankles into enmity. Against this hasty mischief I know not what security can be obtained; men will be sometimes surprised into quarrels, and though they might both hasten to reconciliation, as soon as their tumult has subsided, yet two minds will seldom be found together which can at once subdue their discontent or immediately enjoy the sweets of peace without remembering the wounds of the conflict. ....

The most fatal disease of friendship is gradual decay, or dislike hourly increased by causes too slender for complaint and too numerous for removal. Those who are angry may be reconciled; those who have been injured may receive a recompense; but when the desire of pleasing and willingness to be pleased are silently diminished, the renovation of friendship is hopeless, as when the vital powers sink into languor there is no longer any use of the physician.
Thanks to Alan Jacobs for referring to this essay.