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Young puts the loss of a friend in a still stronger light :
“ When friends part 'Tis the survivor dies.” It is this kind of social intercourse which is described by Seneca. “Friendship,” says he," lays all things common, and nothing can be good to the one that is ill to the other. I do not speak of such a community as to destroy one another's propriety; but as the father and mother have two childern, not one a piece, but each of them two." When we consider what are the real claims of friendship, and look around us in the world in search of a true friend, we may well despair of success. He who has one such treasure may think himself supremely fortunate. Ordinary connections in society are merely supported by an interchange of interests, which is interrupted at the first inequality. This commerce of benefits is attended with as much selfishness and mean arithmetic on both sides as the negociations of the lowest traders. It resolves itself into the simple question of profit and loss. general craving for society and intolerance of solitude is not so much traceable to a spirit of sociality as to an uneasy vacancy of mind, and the absence of internal and independent sources of amusement. Most men are anxious to escape from their own thoughts, and dread the dulness of a self-conversation. They find their own company insupportable, and are sometimes compelled to fly for relief even to those whom they despise. Thus, “ kings," as Burke says, are fond of low company,” because in such society they can best forget their own wearisome identity, and throw off that uneasy weight of satiety and care which is peculiar to their isolated condition. The friendship which seems so abundant in general society is a sad illusion, and nothing can be more contradictory and absurd than the manner in which the mass of people speak, in their absence, of those whom they call their friends. They should ask themselves how far they would be ready to sacrifice their own immediate interest for the benefit of these dear associates. If the life of one of them depended on an expensive voyage that was beyond his means, would they pay the cost ? If he were to die, would it deprive them of any portion of their usual appetite or sleep? “Not a jot!” Dr. Johnson, who was at least as capable of the virtue of friendship as the generality of men, has very candidly confessed the small extent of his own sympathy in the fate of others. If he had not the requisite fervour and disinterestedness of genuine friendship, he was at all events no hypocrite, and was equally willing to read his own heart, and to lay it open to the gaze of others. When he was asked, what his feelings would be if one of his friends were apprehended for an offence for which he might be hanged: he replied, " I should do what I could to bail him, and give him any other assistance; but if he were once fairly hanged I should not suffer." “ Would you eat your dinner that day, sir ?" inquired Boswell. “ Yes, sir; and eat it as if he were eating with me. Why, there's Baretti, who is to be tried for his life to-morrow; friends have risen up for him on all sides ; yet if he should be hanged, none of them will eat a slice of plum-pudding the less. Sir, that sympathetic feeling goes a very little way in depressing the mind." This seems a disheartening account of human nature; but I am afraid it is the true one. Those who have more sympathy for their fellows are perhaps but rare exceptions to the general character of mankind. Dr. Johnson, cursed as he was with a hypochondriacal temperament, had a deep sense of the necessity of friendship. After the loss of many friends, whose praise he valued, he makes a touching allusion to his desolate condition, in the preface to his Dictionary. “I may surely,” says he, "be contented without the praise of perfection, which if I could obtain in this gloom of solitude, what would it avail me?” But the death of friends made little impression upon him when he had the means of supplying their place with other associates. He used to talk of the necessity of repairing his friendships with new
acquaintances, a cold and mechanical notion, which shows how little he understood of the depth, and holiness, and continuity of a true affection*. His friendship was selfish and one-sided. He was merely his own friend. The loss of a friend who deserves the name is utterly irreparable. It is a terrible laceration of the heart which never heals.
Thy last sigh
There is nothing which throws so dark a horror over death as the parting with a dear friend; and the dreadful thought that we may never meet again, even in a future state, is almost insupportable. The great and awful change which must take place in our nature may annihilate the materials of friendship.
It must be remembered, however, that even Cicero, in his Essay on Friendship, recommends us to repair the loss of old friends by new acquisitions. And Shenstone acknowledges that it was a maxim with him that whenever be lost a person's friendship to engage a fresh friend in his place. But it is not so easy, to engage a friend, as you would a servant, just as you require him. There is a pleasant stanza on this subject in Don Juan.
“O Job! you had two friends : one's quite enough,
Especially when we are ill at ease;
Doctors less famous for their cures than fees.
As they will do like leaves at the first breeze :
Go to the Coffee House and take another."
“ But this is not my maxim : had it been,
Some heart-aches had been spared me." The thought of going to a Coffee House for a new friend was suggested to Lord Byron by a passage in Swift's or Walpole's letters, he did not remember which, where it is mentioned that somebody regretting the loss of a friend was answered, “When I lose one, I go to the St. James's Coffee House, and take another."
The ancients carried more of this world into their idea of a future state than we do, and cheered their last hours with the hope of again meeting those they loved with much the same personal feeling as that with which they parted. Modern philosophy is on this point perhaps more refined; but while it renders our future prospect less palpable, it is also less congenial to human associations.
(ON THE DEATH OF HIS WIFE, A FEW MONTHS AFTER MARRIAGE.)
A Gloom hath gathered round thee now that will not pass away, Like gray mist from the mountain's peak, or storms from April's
day; There is a shade upon thy brow, a tempest in thy soul, No ray of earthly hope can cheer, no mortal voice control.
II. For she, the charm, the life of life, hath vanished from the scene, And thou art left to mourn in vain how brief her sway hath been ;Alas ! too, like a meteor fair from some celestial clime, That bright but transient vision touched the dusky wings of Time!
Thy path is lone and desolate, and grief shall haunt thy breast,
LINES WRITTEN IN A LADY'S ALBUM.
LADY—though no poetic fire