Monday, 2 April 2012

Book 1, Chapter 27: Of Friendship (3 of 3)

In the final part of this moving essay on friendship, Montaigne compares the common friendship to the extraordinary, and discusses the differences between friends and acquaintances


I was so used to being his double in all places and in all things, that I feel no more than half of myself. There is no action or imagination of mine wherein I do not miss him
Cicero reports that when Blosius, best friend to Tiberius, was asked how much he would do for his friend, he replied, "All things". He was asked how he could say all things:
‘What if he commanded you to set fire to our temples?’
‘He would never ask me that," replied Blosius, ‘but if he did, I would obey him"
Those who think this answer is seditious do not understand the mystery, nor see that Blosius had Tiberius’s will in his sleeve, both by the power of friendship, and by the perfect knowledge he had of the man. They were more friends to one another than either enemies or friends to their country, or than friends to ambition and innovation. Having absolutely given up themselves to one another, each held completely the reins of the other's inclination.
Blosius’s answer was just as it should have been. If someone asked me, ‘If your will commanded you to kill your daughter, would you do it?’ What can I say except that I would? This expresses no consent to such an act, for I don’t have any suspicions of my own will. And just as little for Etienne. All the eloquence in the world cannot sway the certainty I have of the intentions and resolutions of my friend. Not one action of his, no matter what it is, could be presented to me, of which I could not immediately determine the moving cause. Our souls had drawn so unanimously together, they had considered each other with so ardent an affection, that I knew his as well as my own; and would have trusted my own interest much more willingly with him, than with myself.
Let no one compare a common friendship to mine with Etienne. I have experienced common friendships, even the most perfect ones, and no one should confuse the rules of the one and the other, for they would find themselves much deceived. In ordinary friendships, you have to be careful and thoughtful, because there is a possibility of the knot slipping. Chilo said, "Love him so as if you were one day to hate him; and hate him so as you were one day to love him." This precept, though abominable in the sovereign and perfect friendship I speak of, is nevertheless very sound as to the practice of the ordinary and customary ones. Aristotle often said, "O my friends, there is no friend".
In the friendship I speak of, presents and benefits by which other friendships are supported and maintained are not even mentioned. This is because our wills are one; the kindnesses that I give to myself, for example, do not affect my relationship with myself. I don’t feel obliged to myself for any service that I give myself. So it was with Etienne, with such truly perfect friends there is no idea of duties, no words of division and distinction, benefits, obligation, acknowledgment, entreaty, thanks, and the like. All things, wills, thoughts, opinions, goods, wives, children, honours, and lives, are in common. That absolute concurrence of affections is no other than one soul in two bodies (according to that very proper definition of Aristotle), they can neither lend nor give anything to one another. This is the reason why the lawgivers, to honour marriage with some resemblance of this divine alliance, forbid all gifts between man and wife, inferring that all should belong to each of them, and that they have nothing to divide or to give to each other.
If, in this kind of friendship, one gives to the other, the receiver of the benefit would be obliging his friend; because each wants, above all things, to be useful to the other. The receiver is thus giving his friend the satisfaction of doing that which he most desires. When the philosopher Diogenes wanted money, he used to say that he redemanded it of his friends, not that he demanded it. And to let you see the practical working of this, I will here produce an ancient and singular example. Eudamidas, a Corinthian, had two friends, Charixenus, a Sicyonian, and Areteus, a Corinthian. He was poor, and his two friends rich. When he was coming to die, he said in his will, "I bequeath to Areteus the maintenance of my mother, to support and provide for her in her old age; and to Charixenus I bequeath the care of marrying my daughter, and to give her as good a portion as he is able; and in case one of these chance to die, I hereby substitute the survivor in his place." They who first saw this will were amused at the contents: but the two friends accepted it with very great contentment, and when one of them, Charixenus, died within five days, Areteus nurtured the old woman with great care and tenderness, and he divided his estate in exactly half, giving one portion to his own daughter and the other to the daughter of Eudamidas. On one and the same day, he also solemnised both their nuptials.
This example is very full, but my only objection is that it speaks of more than one friend. In the perfect friendship I speak, each one gives himself so entirely to his friend, that he has nothing left to distribute to others. On the contrary, he is sorry that he is not double, treble, or quadruple, and that he has not many souls and many wills, to confer them all upon this one object. Common friendships will admit of division; one may love the beauty of this person, the good-humour of that, the liberality of a third, the paternal affection of a fourth, the fraternal love of a fifth, and so on, but this friendship that possesses the whole soul cannot possibly admit of a rival. If two at the same time should call to you for help, to which of them would you run? Should they require of you favours that are contrary, how could you serve them both? Should one urge you to keep something secret that you knew was of importance to the other to know, how would you disengage yourself? A unique and particular friendship dissolves all other obligations whatsoever. The secret I have sworn not to reveal to anyone else, I may without perjury communicate to him who is not another, but myself. It is enough of a miracle for a man to double himself, and those that talk of tripling don’t know what they’re saying.
These are effects that can’t be understood by those who have no experience of them. Though one may almost everywhere meet with men sufficiently qualified for a superficial acquaintance, yet in this, where a man is to deal from the very bottom of his heart, without any manner of reservation, it will be requisite that all the wards and springs be truly wrought and perfectly sure.
In relationships that hold a single purpose, we only have to worry about the imperfections that concern that purpose. It is of no importance to me what religion my doctor or lawyer is – that has nothing to do with the duties of friendship that they owe me. Similarly, I never inquire, when I am to take a footman, if he is chaste, I only ask whether he is diligent. I don’t care if my muleteer is a gambler, as long as if he is strong and able; or if my cook is a swearer, as long as he is a good cook. I don’t meddle in how other men raise their families, but only give an account of my method in my own. For table-talk, I prefer the pleasant and witty before the learned and serious; in bed, beauty before goodness; in common discourse the ablest speaker, whether or not he is sincere. 
Plutarch tells of a man who was found playing with his children on a rocking horse, who entreated the person who had surprised him in that posture to say nothing of it till he himself came to be a father, supposing that the fondness that would then possess his own soul, would render him a fairer judge of such an action. Like him, I also could wish to speak to those who have had experience of what I say: though, knowing how rarely it is to be found, I despair of meeting with any such judge. For even these discourses left us by antiquity upon this subject seem to me flat and poor, in comparison with the sense I have of it.
The ancient Menander declared him to be happy that had had the good fortune to meet with even the shadow of a friend. Doubtless, he had good reason to say so, especially if he spoke by experience, for in all honesty, if I compare all the rest of my life, as wonderful as it has been, with the four years I had the happiness to enjoy the sweet society of this excellent man, it is nothing but smoke, an obscure and tedious night. From the day that I lost him
I have only led a languishing life; and the very pleasures that present themselves to me, instead of acting as consolation, double my affliction for his loss. We were halves throughout, and to that degree, that I think, by outliving him, I defraud him of his part.
I was so used to being his double in all places and in all things, that I feel no more than half of myself. There is no action or imagination of mine wherein I do not miss him; as I know that he would have missed me: for as he surpassed me by infinite degrees in virtue and all other accomplishments, so he also did in the duties of friendship.

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