Oh, what flowery and majestic rhetoric flows from the pen of Ralph Waldo Emerson in this essay on friendship! Emerson was a transcendentalist and his views colour nearly every sentence of this beautiful yet perhaps rather hyperbolic essay on friendship.
Wikipedia's definition of transcendentalism states:
Transcendentalism is a religious and philosophical movement that developed during the late 1820s and '30s in the Eastern region of the United States as a protest against the general state of spirituality and, in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrine of the Unitarian church as taught at Harvard Divinity School.
Among the transcendentalists' core beliefs was the inherent goodness of both people and nature. They believe that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupt the purity of the individual. They have faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.
I knew almost nothing about Emerson before I read this essay. I had the vague idea that he was a naturalist and perhaps a deist, and the only thing I knew for sure was that he was one of Pa Ingalls favourite authors. I had expected his writing to be rather sparse and serious, so l was rather amazed at the waxing lyrical prose to which I was treated!
|Good Friends (1927)
This essay on friendship, I believe, was written by Emerson in honour of his dear friend, Henry David Thoreau. Emerson's rhapsodic sentences impact the reader right from the start, as he elevates friendship to the platform of one of the greatest gifts of life. As soon as we're drawn into the bonds of deep friendship, our soul is engaged and we function almost on a different plane.
“Delicious is a just and firm encounter of two, in a thought, in a feeling. How beautiful, on their approach to this beating heart, the steps and forms of the gifted and true! The moment we indulge our affections, the earth is metamorphosed: there is no winter, and no night: all tragedies, all ennuis vanish; -- all duties even; nothing fills the proceeding eternity but the forms all radiant of beloved persons …”
While Emerson lauds the benefits of friends, he also is cognizant of the fluctuations in friendship, but rather than lamenting over the lows, we should see them as a natural rhythm of life.
“ …. Thou art not my soul, but a picture and effigy of that. Thou hast come to me lately, and already thou art seizing thy hat and cloak. Is it not that the soul puts forth friends, as the tree puts forth leaves, and presently, but the germination of new buds, extrudes the old leaf? The law of nature is alternation forevermore ….. The soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude; and it goes alone, for a season, that it may exalt its conversation or society ……”
|Portrait of Two Friends (1522)
“Our friendships hurry to short and poor conclusions, because we have made them a texture of wine and dreams, instead of the trough of the human heart.”
"But I find this law of one to one, peremptory of conversation, which is the practice and consummation of friendship. Do not mix waters too much. The best mix as ill as good and bad. You shall have very useful and cheering discourse at several times with two several men, but let all three of you come together, and you shall not have one new and hearty word. Two may talk and one may hear, but three cannot take part in a conversation of the most sincere and searchng sort ........ Now this convention, which good sense demands, destroys the high freedom of great conversation, which requires an absolute running of two souls into one."