Ourselves Volume 4 Book II Chapter 5



Ordered Friendship


          A Sane and Generous Friendship.—But there are a thousand records of temperate, wholesome, and noble friendships for one of feeble excess. The classic friendships are too well known to be quoted. But here is a companionship of a healthy kind:—
          “Are you not my only friend? and have you not acquired a right to share my wealth? Answer me that, Alan Fairford. When I was brought from the solitude of my mother’s dwelling into the tumult of the Gaits’ class at the High School—when I was mocked for my English accent—salted with show as a Southern—rolled in the gutter for a Saxon pock-pudding,—who with stout arguments, and stouter blows, stood forth my defender?—Why, Alan Fairford. Who beat me soundly when I brought the arrogance of an only son, and of course, a spoilt urchin, to the forms of the little republic?—Why, Alan. . . . You taught me to keep my fingers off the weak, and to clench my fist against the strong—to carry no tales out of school—to stand forth like a true man—obey the stern order of a Pande manum,
and endure my pawmies without wincing, like one that is determined not to be the better for them. In a word, before I knew thee I knew nothing. At college it was the same. When I was incorrigibly idle, your example and encouragement roused me to mental exertion and showed me the way to intellectual enjoyment. You made me an historian, a metaphysician (invita Minerva)—nay, by Heaven! you had almost made an advocate of me, as well as of yourself.”[1]
          Though a temperate friendship, that between Alan Fairford and Darsie Latimer was no alliance of the loose, commonplace sort. Friendship was subordinated to duty while things went well. Alan prepared earnestly for his career, and was a dutiful and affectionate son to a rather exacting father. But when his friend is in danger, this canny Alan throws up his chances and endangers his life with uncalculating ardour. The young advocate has made his first appearance with marked success in a difficult case. He is carrying the court with him when the strip of paper reaches him which tells of Darsie’s danger. “He stopped short in his harangue—gazed on the paper with a look of surprise and horror—uttered an exclamation, and flinging down the brief which he had in his hand, hurried out of court without returning a single word of answer to the various questions, ‘What was the matter?’—‘Was he taken unwell?’—“Should not a chair be called?’ etc., etc.” He leaves the following lines for his father: “You will not, I trust, be surprised, nor perhaps very much displeased, to learn that I am on my way to Dumfriesshire, to learn, by my own personal investigation, the present state of my dear friend, and afford him
such relief as may be in my power, and which, I trust, will be effectual. . . . I can only say, in further apology, that if anything unhappy, which heaven forbid! shall have occurred to the person who, next to yourself, is dearest to me in this world,I shall have on my heart a subject of eternal regret.”

          A Friendship loyal in spite of Disillusion.—Mrs Gaskell,[2] with the grace and sincerity which distinguish her style, tells us of the friendship between Molly Gibson and Cynthia Fitzgerald. Molly is a charming English girl, sound of heart and sound of head, to whom comes the vision of Cynthia, beautiful and bewitching. Of course she fell in love with her half-sister (it is a mistake to suppose that girls fall in love with men only); while Cynthia was equally attracted by Molly’s freshness and simplicity. Pleasant hours are passed in Mrs Gibson’s drawing-room in chat and work. Both girls are kind, and each has a care for the interests of the other. There is the give-and-take of friendship between them; and, indeed, poor Molly is severely tired: Cynthia involves herself with men, and Molly endures many things to get her out of a dilemma. But she does endure them, without losing her own integrity; while Cynthia endures being obliged by her friend. But it is impossible to describe this natural friendship, not to be shattered by disillusion, in a few lines.

          Friends brought to us by the Circumstances of Life.—It is a common error of youth to suppose that a friend must be a perfect person, and that the duty of loyalty ceases so soon as little failings show themselves. David Copperfield[3] offers a fine
study of the loyalties of life. David has a promiscuous collection of friends brought to him by the circumstances of his life; but how ready he is for the occasions of every one of them! With what simple good-humour he accepts Mr Micawber’s description of him as ‘the friend of my youth,’ and Mrs Micawber’s domestic confidences, when he himself was but a person of ten: how the Micawbers turn up at all sorts of inconvenient moments, and how they are always welcome to their friend: Traddles, too—what a nice person Traddles is; and what a sound and generous friendship exists between him and David! The list of friendships is a long one, the gradual ingathering of a life,—Peggotty, Mr Dick, Ham, Dr Strong, Mrs Peggotty, and the rest; in all he finds delight; all of them he honours, serves, and cherishes with entire loyalty. But not one of these friends dominates him or makes exclusive claims on his love. One friend he had with whom he lost his own individuality, who carried his heart by sheer fascination. Alas, this was Steerforth, and all the loyalty he could keep for him was that of a great sorrow over his friend’s shame rather than over his death.
          It is not the friends of our election who have exclusive claims upon us; the friends brought to us here and there by the circumstances of life all claim our loyalty, and from these we get, as did David Copperfield, kindness for kindness, service for service, loyalty for loyalty, full measure, heaped together and running over. One could hardly have a better guide in such matters than this charming tale of a life full of generous and loyal friendships, of fine chastity of soul, and containing, alas, the warning of a great unchastity!

[1] Redgauntlet, by Sir Walter Scott.

[2] Wives and Daughters, by Mrs Gaskell.

[3] David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens.