I have called you friends. Jesus.
The fountains of my hidden life Are through thy friendship fair. Emerson.
In his entire being man stands related to many things. First, he comes in contact with a material world. With his feet he presses upon the unyielding earth. His hands grasp a hundred tangible objects. The sense of hearing opens doors to a whole world of sound. Sight rolls up curtains revealing a visible universe.
But these are only the first and rudimentary powers of human beings; and they possess them in common with all other sentient creatures. Having recited them, the catalogue is not exhausted. All around the material world, and intermingled with it, is a world not material. To this, also, human beings are related. Sooner or later, in their advancing career, they are apprised of a realm of beauty, with which, coming in contact, yields perennial delight. Something within them recognizes goodness and is affected by its insistent demands. There is something that links them to truth. By will they are coupled with action. In the higher and finer grades of being, there is some power to apprehend that which is purely spiritual.
There are moments in which, transcending all barriers, the soul seems to ascend and ascend until it seems to come in conscious contact with infinite Being. Thus, from a creature that eats and breathes and hears and sees, to one that thinks and hopes and aspires and adores, man is a series of expanding relations.
Out of this entanglement of body and mind with the material and spiritual worlds, affection arises. As in number and complexity human relations far surpass those of plant or animal, so powers and opportunities and duties are more numerous and more complex. Plants only feel attachment to earth and sunshine. Taken away from these thy droop and die. Animals are attached to a place and a few of their companions. Removed from these, they have a regret and loneliness. But man’s attachments are far more numerous and far more lasting. Wherever the mind discovers a new empire, thither the heart hastens and unfurls its flag. From loving his own family, one may enlarge his affection until it includes every living creature. Cowper became tender and tearful when looking at the portrait of his mother. He wrote :
“O that those lips had language! Life has passed
With me but roughly since I heard thee last.
Those lips are thine; thy own sweet smile I see,
The same that oft in childhood solaced me.”
But, at another time, his heart went out in pity for the slave. Then he wrote :
“Thus man devotes his brother, and destroys ;
Chains him, and tasks him, and exacts his toil
With stripes that Mercy, with a bleeding heart,
Weeps when she sees inflicted on a beast.”
Thus it seems much easier to find the limits of reason than the limits of affection. Richter said : “I love God and little children.” This confession includes an immense range of being.
In general terms it may be said that friendship exists between two persons ; but it has a more comprehensive meaning than that. The heart may be-come deeply attached to inanimate objects. Let one live for many years among accustomed books, and how dear they become to him ! Every morning they seem to give him a cheerful greeting. The feeling called home-sickness comes partly from the sense of separation between the heart and parents or brothers and sisters, and partly from the absence of dearly loved and accustomed objects. Surrounded by strange scenes, one night lying awake in a military camp in Tennessee, a lonesome young man found a temporary relief from his sadness in remembering that his mother and sisters could see the same moon which was then shining down on him through the branches of the pine trees. The accustomed songs : “Woodman Spare That Tree,” and “The Old Oaken Bucket,” are full of pathos for all who have left their childhood far behind them, because, in vanished years, the scenes and objects described in the simple verses were so deeply loved as to have become inextricably inwoven with their life. After speaking of its greatness and power, Byron says :
“And I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne like a bubble onward; from a boy
I wantoned with thy breakers,-they to me
Were a delight; and if the freshening wind
Made them a terror, ’twas a pleasing fear.”
Furthermore, the heart may become so attached to a principle that it over-balances love of life itself. The impassioned Virginia Patriot said: “Give me liberty, or give me death.” There are instances in which devotion to a purpose is stronger than love of domes-tic comfort and happiness. A famous painter, asked why he did not marry, replied : “Art is my bride ; my pictures are my children.” Attachment to an abstract sentiment sometimes masters attachment to a concrete person. Hence the verse : “To Lucasta On Going to War.”
“Yet this inconstancy is such
As you, too, should adore ;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much
Loved I not honor more.”
The heart throbs more rapidly and the cheek flushes with unwonted warmth whenever memory recalls two young heroes, one* of whom, when his comrades were bearing him mortally wounded from the battle of Kenesaw Mountain said: “Win the battle, and then look after me”; and the other, having gone down before the leaden storm at Shiloh, said : “Tell mother how I love her; but I am glad to give my life for my country.”
These incidents serve to illustrate how broad and various is the empire of affection. It includes a moss-covered bucket and a fatherland; an old house, standing on a hill-side among apple trees, and art and liberty and humanity. How expansive the heart ! In childhood it holds love for a flower and a mother; in after years, without casting out the flower or the mother, it makes room for the love of a world and a God.
As preparation for writing this sketch the pages of Cicero, Plutarch, Montaigne, and Emerson, bearing on friendship, were re-read. They are the recognized classics on the subject, and, as literature lie beyond criticism. Nevertheless, that which was experienced at the first, was experienced at the last reading, namely, a certain dissatisfaction with what is written. Of course the inadequacy of statement is not so much in the personal limitations of the writers as in the limitless nature of the theme itself. Even those masters of expression could not describe the indescribable. Friendship is like beauty. It has many forms and they are constantly changing. Who can adequately describe a sunrise? or an orchard in bloom? or the tints in a seashell? or the hues painted by the flames on a cloisonné vase? or the opaline lustre on a dove’s neck? So hard is it to describe the heart’s affections. Just when we think we have caught and imprisoned them in words, lo ! they are seen flying beyond our reach. Let us listen to Juliet :
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep : the more I give to thee
The more I have; for both are infinite.”
Friendship is not only between two persons, but it may exist between the soul and nature. There is not only eloquence, but pathos in the words of the New England orator : “When my eyes shall be turned to behold, for the last time, the sun in heaven.” Who does not pity the blind Milton in his lament?
“Thus with the year
Seasons return; but not to me returns,
Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer’s rose,
Or flocks or herds, or human face divine.”
The fame of Wordsworth and many another poet rises, in part, from friendship for nature. In various forms nature reciprocates this affection. That mistress understands all the varying moods of her lover.
Recalling David and Jonathan, or Damon and Pythias, or Orestes and Pylades we think we have found illustration of perfect friendship. Then memory instantly recalls the dog of Ulysses. Penelope herself was not more constant. Nor was the returning hero insensible to the faithfulness of his dumb friend. Seeing him dead, the man of much wandering and many battles wept. Sir Bedivere wrung his hands in despair when the flower decked barge was bearing King Arthur away. He cried out that, with-out him, life could not be lived. But, in Edinburgh, is a monument erected in memory of a dog that died upon his friend’s grave. Affection of Dante for Beatrice, of Petrarch for Laura, of Angelo for Vittoria Colonna may have been higher, but it was no more constant and disinterested. Ships carrying food to a famine stricken land sail in the name of human friendship. But, when St. Francis or Walter Von Der Vogelweid feeds birds in winter, friendship overflows the banks marked human. The story is told of a boy, who, on the day before his brother was to be buried, went along the road leading to the cemetery and removed all the stones from the track, that no jar might come to the loved, but lifeless clay. But, when children are seen tenderly burying a favorite bird, or other pet, the presence of an affection sweeping beyond the usual limitations is clearly discernible.
If it is said that friendship can exist only between similars, the statement needs some amendments. If it is said that it is only possible among civilized persons,”that the savage hates,”the terms civilization and savagery must be adjusted to fit the assertion. The Indian Girl, Pocahontas, was a member of a savage tribe ; but she, herself, in some respects, was far from being a savage. She not only interposed to save the life of an enemy of her people, but many a time, when the snow lay deep in the woods between the York river and Jamestown, at the head of a company of Indians she carried food to the half-starved settlers. Had it not been for those savages, civilization would have perished in the Virginia forest during that dreadful winter. In the African jungle, black savage women brought food to Mungo Park and sang a song whose burden was pity for the man who was so far away from his white mother. Logan, chief of the Mingoes, had not only the eloquence, but the benevolence of civilization, when he said :
“I appeal to any white man to say if he ever entered Logan’s cabin hungry and he gave him not meat; if he ever came cold and naked and he clothed him not. During the long and bloody war, Logan remained idle in his cabin an advocate of peace. Such was my love for the whites that my countrymen pointed as they passed and said, Logan is the friend of the white man.”
In its true sense friendship is not regulated by race or color, but by the quality of the individual heart. A savage may be incapable of a universal affection, but not all savages live in the wilderness. In the midst of civilization a group of ladies and gentlemen will sometimes chase a tame fox to death. In the sport called “rabbit coursing” in England, when the little creatures are let out of the bag, the master of the game sometimes puts out one of their eyes that they may not see all the dogs of the chase. Such hearts are not civilized. Once there was a horrible theology which made a part of the happiness of the elect in heaven to consist in their seeing the suffering of the non-elect in hell. But that speculative doctrine was harmless compared with the actual fact that there are persons who can turn the pain of any creature into their own pleasure. The hells of theory sometimes pale in presence of the hells of practice.
Jesus once said : “I have called you friends. Legend and history combine to show how inclusive was the affirmation. His immediate Disciples might say : “He called us friends.” The sick, the sorrowful, the lonely, the sinful might say : “He called us friends.” The rugged hills ; the quiet lake among the hills ; the paths among the vineyards and olive orchards and the vines and olive trees themselves ; grass ; lilies ; birds ; Syrian sky, with its mid-day azure and midnight brilliancy; rose-burst of dawn and flame tipped clouds of sunset,all might say : “He called us friends.” His pronoun “you” included the world.
In meditative mood, listening to the “Moonlight Sonata,” a gradually enlarging scene rises before the mind. First there is a humble cottage ; within it is a simple instrument, before which a form is seen. Through an open window come soft, melodious sounds. By a tree, out in the white moonbeams, stands a wistful listener. Then one’s own life experience appears ; his childhood ; his youthful dreams ; his years of toil ; his home ; his mother ; his companions of the playgrounds ; his joys and heartaches ;then earth’s multitudes, with all their toils and ambitions, triumphs and despairs ; and then the promised felicities of heaven all crowd upon the scene. Thus should the picture of friendship enlarge. First it contains the home ; then the community ; then humanity ; then fields and forests and all that lives within them. Friendship should take sunlight for its symbol ; it shines upon ocean’s expanse and glitters in a drop of dew.
Old and new, transient and permanent, how many friends we have had and yet have !
Apollo was fated to be born on a barren island; but, forewarned, heaven made preparation for his arrival. Food was furnished, and shelter, and a soft couch. Themis and her attendant train conferred celestial gifts and the rocky island covered itself with flowers.
Which is a fable of our life. Helpless on this island of earth, heaven anticipated us and, waking, we found ourselves befriended. Food, shelter, couch and cradle song were all ours. Sunshine to cheer; blithe air to invigorate was given us without our asking. Stirring day called us to action ; quiet night soothed us to repose. Passing from the home, society took us in charge. We had been expected. Roads had been built for us ; and railroads. Laws had been enacted for our guidance and protection. School-houses and teachers were waiting for us; and libraries. Here, too, was religion ; and here were pictures, music, and romance. Did kings from the Orient being gifts to the manger? Well, all time and all lands came and laid their treasures at our feet. Being so befriended, shall we not befriend all?
In a little cemetery near a Rhine hamlet a youthful traveler once found a humble head-stone which, beneath a name, bore the words : “Er hatte viele Freunde.” The inscription is an open door to the character of him who slumbers beneath it. He must have been a gentle, faithful, helpful man, moving among his simple neighbors with a heart full of kindness. Who has many friends? He who is a friend to many. Who loves much, is much loved. The music of Orpheus took hatred out of savage beasts and stilled the fierce clamor of Hades. Every heart is furnished with a harp as wonderful. One of the divinest arts set before life is that of learning how to play upon it.
In the application of Christianity to the world there has always been a partial failure in producing expected results. But why is this ? Perhaps one reason is because its ruling motive has been too much omitted. Force has been tried. Theology has been tried. Ecclesiasticism has been tried. Sectarianism has been tried. Everything except Christianity itself has been tried. The genius of Christianity is a great friendship. One of its greatest sentences is: “God so loved the world.” Another is: “God is Love.” A New Testament writer intimates that because God has loved us we ought to love each other ; and if we do not love those whom we have seen, he pertinently asks, how can we love Him whom we have not seen? Is it not true that, in some true sense, love for the visible world is love for its invisible Creator? It seems unaccountably strange that the church used to warn its members against too great devotion to their children, or to parents, or to nature. Such warning was not only irrational, but irreligious. The more the heart loves those in the home, the better fitted it is to love all that is high and holy. Love for fields and woods leads to reverence for the Cause of fields and woods. Seeing her bending over him, dying, Baron Bunsen said to his wife: “In thine eyes I behold the Eternal.” Raising him a little, that he might die more easily, a soldier said to the hospital nurse : “Underneath me are the everlasting arms.” Is this idolatry? Then let us all be idolaters.
With delight we read that the Roman Senate decreed an altar to Friendship. While it stood, no other shrine had more devout worshipers ; no statue was crowned with richer garlands. It crumbled in the general ruin which overtook Rome in after years ; but it only fell there to rise elsewhere and in other forms. In the legends of Brittany we read of two knights, who, inseparable in life, were found after a battle lying dead with arms entwined.
“For Lancelot loved Arthur more than fame,
And Arthur more than life loved Lancelot.”
There have been countless friendships as close and as constant as that between Tennyson and Arthur Hallam, only no shrine equal to “In Memoriam” has been erected to celebrate them.
After an experience of years, as related to many things, in what condition do we find ourselves? Intellect has grown weary beating against bars it cannot break and becomes content to abandon all attempts to solve unsolvable problems. Many a youthful ambition is for-sworn. Fame and power no longer invite pursuit. Mere admiration is discounted and praise is parried. Is there, then, nothing of value left for us in age? O yes, much is left. There is a larger sense of justice. There is an increased love for truth and goodness and beauty. There is still a zest for toil, and satisfaction in completing a task to which the best endeavors have been brought. There is constant exhilaration in beholding the hopefulness, the alertness, the outreaching mind of youth.
But more than a private experience is recited when we affirm that the richest treasures the years have given and do not take away are our friendships. Retrospect furnishes no greater joy than the knowledge that, from childhood, we have moved forward in an atmosphere of affection. Back yonder was a mother who was a sweet and tender Providence; and a father who was an embodiment of integrity and wisdom. There, too, were brothers and sisters whose lives were so in-wrought that if one suffered all suffered, and if one died, for a time all seemed to droop and wither. Then there are those others encountered all along the way; the strong, the faithful, the incorruptible; whose completeness shamed our incompleteness ; who always knew our motives and never asked for explanation; who held us to our best and fended us from our baser selves; who rejoiced over our triumphs and wept over our failures. What could we have been, what could we have done without our friends, old and new? Life is rich in proportion to the affection it has garnered. An unloved and unloving old age is an Arctic night.
How do we find our friends? In didactic and authoritative fashion this question cannot be answered. Therefore, we must resort to indirection and suggestion.
Uncanny persons were once thought to be able to brew love potions and supply amulets to attract alien hearts. It was superstition. But it may not be superstitious to believe that a heart has a magnet of its own with power to attract from the mass that which belongs to it. Our friends are born,not of our wills, or our whims, or our street, or our card-baskets,but of our characters. Novelists have so overused and misused and vulgarized the term “elective affinity” that it is employed with misgivings. Nevertheless there is a certain spiritual gravitation that determines friendships. My own will come to me, and I shall know him for what he is and esteem him for what he is. It will not be his position, or his reputation, or his learning, or his dinners, but himself that will master me. Let us maintain that there is something sacred, inviolable in friendship. To meet an acquaintance we may descend but not to meet our friends. This demands ascent. Olympus is none too inspiring nor Horeb too holy for a meeting place of those who, measuring the full import of their words, say to each other : “I call you Friend.”
Of course this is idealizing; and we are fully aware that, while no one contends that he who idealizes is guilty of an indictable offense, yet there are those who covertly think he, at least, furnishes a case for a lunacy commission. Knowing this, the temptation is very great to place the inferior limit upon all things; to compel the soul to furl its wings and be content to walk along the beaten path among plain, cold facts. But, when considering certain things, this cannot be done. In spite of all training by a practical and calculating age, the soul throws off its blinding hood, slips its restraining leash and soars away in its original freedom. Then it sees things from above and not from beneath; it sees their superior meaning; and esteems them, not for their material profit, but for their spiritual delight.
When this occurs it is seen that, like truth, like goodness, like beauty, friendship possesses something undefined and unattained. It invites to an endless advance. Perhaps no one is yet worthy of a perfect friendship. Those who love us ascribe to us nobler qualities than we actually possess. Doubtless we do the same thing for those whom we love. Nevertheless, let us persist in making this divine mistake. The over-estimation of our friends in us becomes a powerful incentive. Noblesse oblige. We are not too young to have had, nor are we so old as to have forgotten a time when all things were invested by an atmosphere of enchantment. Dust suddenly became gold; dull pebbles, brilliant gems. Then what brave resolves were made ! What vows were registered ! My aims are not lofty, my courage is not unfaltering, and my motives are not unselfish ; but, so help me God, for thy dear sake, O my Beloved, I will try to make them so! What thou thinkest I am, that I am determined to be. All the way from orange blossoms to rue and rosemary, though fifty years lie between, a true lover will try to pay that vow.
Thus have we attempted to sound a few detached notes of a universal anthem. Love is the only human power that seems to be unbounded. To him who makes enmities fewer and more fleeting, friendships more numerous, more lasting and more inclusive, life will continue to come in holier and happier form. With him the world will deal more and more kindly. Loving flowers, at last he will lie down to rest among them. Loving birds, they will come and sing around his couch. Loving his fellow mortals, young and old, when he sleeps they will tread softly and speak of him gently while they smile and weep. Loving God, angels will awaken him and he shall hear a voice from above saying: “I am thy Friend.”