On Friendship and Xxix Sonnets/On Friendship
MICHEL de MONTAIGNE
N CONSIDERING HOW A painter carries on his work, I have had a notion to imitate him. He chooses the best place in the middle of each wall to put there a picture elaborated with all his skill; and the space all around he fills up with grotesques, which are fantastic paintings, having no charm but in their variety and oddness. What else indeed are these writings, as a matter of fact, but grotesques and monstrous shapes, patched together of diverse limbs, without any exact figure, having no order, arrangement, or other than a haphazard proportion?
Desinit in piscam mulier formosa superne.
(A woman beautiful above ends in a fish below)
I can go along in this second point with my painter: but I fall short in the other and better part; for my skill.is not great enough to dare to undertake a rich and finished picture, formed after the rules of art. I have decided to borrow one from Estienne de La Boetie, which will shed honour on all the rest of this work: it is a treatise to which he gave the name of Voluntary Servitude; but those who did not know that, have since very properly re-baptized it, As against One. He wrote it as a sort of essay in his early youth, in honour of liberty as against tyrants. Since that time it passes about through the hands of intelligent people, not without great and well-deserved praise; because it is charming and as full as possible. Still one must say that it is not the best he could have done: and if at the more advanced age when I knew him, he had formed a design like mine to write down his fancies, we should have seen a good many rare things, which would very nearly have approached the glory of antiquity; for in this sort of natural gifts especially, I have known nobody comparable to him, But nothing of his has remained except this treatise,—and that only by chance, for I believe that he never saw it after it got away from him,—and some remarks on that January edict, famous through our civil wars, which shall perhaps still find a place somewhere. That is all I have been able to recover of his remains, I whom he left, with so loving a charge, death between his teeth, heir by will to his library and his papers, besides the little book of his works which I have had brought out. And I am moreover particularly obliged to this piece, in that it served as the means for our first being acquainted; for it was shown to me a long while before I ever saw him, and gave me my first knowledge of his name, thus starting that friendship, which, between us, we cherished, while God willed, so complete and so perfect, that certainly there are not many similar to be read of, and among our men of to-day no trace of them is seen in practice. So many things must come together to build one, that it is a good deal if destiny manages it once in three centuries.
There is nothing to which nature seems more to incline us than society; and Aristotle says that good lawmakers have taken more care for friendship than for justice. Now the supreme point of its perfection is such a one as that; for in general all those friendships that pleasure or profit, or public or private ends, forge and nourish, are just so much less lovely and generous, and just so much less friendships, as they mix another cause and purpose and fruit with friendship besides itself. Nor do those four antique sorts, natural, social, hospitable, venerean, suffice, either separately or conjointly.
From children to their parents, it is rather respect. Friendship feeds on confidence, and that cannot exist between them because of too great disparity, and perhaps it would interfere with their natural duties: for neither can all the secret thoughts of parents be confided to their children, for fear of creating an unseemly familiarity; nor can the advice and reproofs which are among the first offices of friendship, be exercised by children toward their parents. There have been nations where it was the custom for children to kill their parents, and others where the parents killed their children, to avoid the hinderance they may sometimes cause one another; and by nature one depends on the ruin of the other. Philosophers have been found who despised this natural tie: witness Aristippus, who, when importuned about the affection he owed his children as being issued from him, fell to spitting, saying that that was just as much issued from him; that we bred many lice and worms; and witness that other whom Plutarch tried to induce to make friends with his brother; “I don’t set any more by him,” said he, “ for having come out of the same hole.” It is, in truth, a beautiful name and delectable, that name of brother, and for that reason he and I made our alliance by it: but this mixture of property, these divisions, and the fact that the richness of one should be the poverty of the other, all that wonderfully weakens and relaxes the fraternal tie; since brothers must conduct the progress of their advancement in the same path and at the same rate, perforce they often interfere and collide. Moreover, why should the congeniality and relation that begets those real and perfect friendships, be found here? Father and son may be of entirely foreign dispositions, and brothers also: he is my son, he is my kinsman, but he is a savage person, a rascal, or a fool. And besides, in so far as these are friendships which law and natural obligation impose on us, they are so much the less of our own choice and free will; and our free will has no product more punctually its own than affection and friendship. It isn’t that I have not experienced in this direction all that can be found there, having had the best father that ever was, and the most indulgent even till his extreme old age; and being of a family famous from father to son, and exemplary, in this relation of brotherly concord:—
Notus in fratres animi paterni.
(And myself noted for my fatherly feeling toward my brothers)
One cannot compare to this our affection toward women, although that does spring from our own choice, nor can one put that into this rôle. Its flame, I confess it,—
Neque enim est dea nescia nostri,
Qua dulcem curis miscat amaritiam,—
who mingles a sweet bitterness with our pain)
is livelier, hotter, and sharper; but ’t is a daring and fickle flame, flickering and changeable, a fever flame, subject to increase and diminution, and touching us only at one corner. In friendship, there is a general and universal warmth, temperate moreover, and equable; a warmth that’s constant and serene, all sweetness and smoothness, with nothing sharp or poignant in it. Furthermore, in love, there is only a mad desire for what flees:—
Come segue la lepre il cacciatore
Al freddo, al caldo, alla montagna, al lito;
Ne pits Pestima poi che presa vede;
E sol dietro a chi fugge affretta il piede:
(So as the hunter follows on the hare
Through cold and heat, by mountains and the shore;
Nor prizes it when once ’t is made a prize;
And only presses hard on prey that flies)
as soon as it enters on terms of friendship, that is to say on an agreement of desires, it grows faint and languid; pleasure is lost, as having a carnal aim which is subject to satiety. Friendship, on the contrary, is enjoyed in the same measure that it is desired; nor does it begin, feed, and grow but through enjoyment, as being spiritual, and the soul being sharpened by usage.
Beneath the perfect friendship, these volatile affections formerly had their place with me, not to speak of him, who confesses it only too much in his verses: thus in me these two passions have come to a knowledge of each other, but to a comparison, never; the first keeping on its way in a high, proud flight, and disdainfully watching the other spread her wings very far below.
As for marriage, besides that it is a bargain whose entrance only is free, its duration being compelled and forced and dependent on circumstances beyond our choice, and a bargain too which is ordinarily made for other purposes, there come to light here many fortuitous kinks to disentangle, sufficient to break the thread and trouble the course of a lively affection: whereas in friendship, there is no other business or concern but friendship itself. Then too, to say the truth, the ordinary capacity of women is not sufficient for that confidence and self-disclosure which is the nurse of this sacred bond; and their souls seem not strong enough to sustain the pressure of a knot so tight and so lasting. And surely, except for that, if there might arise a free and voluntary relation, wherein not only the soul should have her entire enjoyment, but the body too have a share in the partnership, so that the whole man was engaged, it is certain that the friendship would be all the more full and complete; but the other sex has no example to show that it was ever able to attain to this, and is by the common consent of the ancient schools, rejected.
And that other Greek license is justly abhorrent to our customs: the which, moreover, since, by their practice, it required a so necessary disparity of age and difference of vocation between the lovers, also did not quite respond to the perfect union and agreement that we are here demanding: Quis est enim iste amor amicitia? Cur neque deformem adolescentem quisquam amat, neque formosum senem? (What then is this love in friendship? Why does nobody ever love an ill-favoured youth or a handsome old man?) For the picture the Academy itself gives will not, I think, contradict me, if I speak of it thus: that the first fury, inspired by the son of Venus in the lover’s heart at sight of a flower of tender youth, to which they permit all the insolent and passionate efforts that immoderate ardour can produce, was founded simply on an outward beauty, false image of corporal generation; for it could not be founded on the intelligence, whose pattern was still hidden, and which was only in its birth and before the age of budding: that if this fury seized upon a low character, the means of his pursuit would be riches, gifts, help to advancement in office, and such other vile merchandise, which they reprehend; if it hit upon a nobler character, his methods were accordingly noble, philosophic instruction, lessons in the reverence for religion, obedience to the laws, death for the good of one’s country, examples of bravery, prudence, justice; the lover studying to make himself acceptable by the grace and beauty of his soul, that of his body being faded, and hoping through this mental intercourse, to establish a stronger and more lasting partnership.
When this pursuit attained its end in due time (for whereas they do not require the lover to bring leisure and caution to his undertaking, they do strictly require it of the beloved, inasmuch as he had to judge of an inward beauty, difficult to know and dark to discover); then there arose in the beloved the desire of a spiritual conception by the agency of a spiritual beauty. This then was the principal thing; the bodily was accidental and secondary: just the opposite from the lover. For which reason they prefer the beloved, and prove that the gods also prefer him; and severely reprove the poet Æschylus because in the love of Achilles and Patroclus he gave the rôle of lover to Achilles, who was in the first beardless verdure of his youth and the most beautiful of the Greeks. After this general intimacy was arranged, the chief and worthiest part of it performing its duties and predominating, they say that there resulted fruits of great utility to the individuals concerned and to the public; that it was the strength of the countries that recognized the custom, and the principal defense of law and liberty: witness the salutary love of Harmodius and Aristogiton. Therefore they call it sacred and divine; and nothing, in their opinion, except the violence of tyrants and the cowardice of peoples is adverse to it. In a word, all one can admit in favour of the Academy, is to say that it was a love terminating in friendship; which does not agree badly with the Stoic definition of love: Amorem conatum esse amicitia faciende ex pulchritudinis specie. (Love is the endeavour to form friendship out of an appearance of beauty.)
I return to my description of a more just and steady kind of friendship. Omnino amicitia, corroboratis jam confirmatisque et ingenis, et etatibus, judicanda sunt. (Friendships are to be considered entirely such, when the minds and the ages are both developed and settled.) For the rest, what we usually call friends and friendships are merely acquaintances and intimacies knit by some occasion or convenience, by means of which our souls speak together. In the friendship of which I write, they mix and blend in each other with so complete a mixing that they efface and never again find the seam that joined them. If you should press me to say why I loved him, I feel that it could be expressed only by answering, “Because it was he, because it was I.” There exists after all my discussing and all I can say to particularize, I know not what inexplicable and fatal force, the mediator of this union. We sought before we saw each other, by reason of reports we heard, which had more influence on our affections than reports should reasonably have; I believe ’t was by some divine ordinance. We embraced with our names: and at our first meeting, which was by chance at a great city feast, we found ourselves so captivated, so understood, so obliged by each other, that nothing from then on was so near to either of us as was the other. He wrote an excellent Latin satire, which is published, wherein he excuses and ex- plains the precipitancy of our mutual intelligence thus promptly arrived at perfection. Having so short a while to last, and having begun so late (for we were both grown men and he some years the elder), it had no time to lose; and needed not to conform itself to the pattern of the usual lax friendships, which require so many precautions of long preliminary conversation. This sort has no idea but of itself, and cannot be gauged elsewhere: it was not one especial consideration, or two, or three, or four, or a thousand : ’t was I know not what quintessence of all this mixture, which, seizing my whole will, led it to dive and disappear in his ; which, seizing his whole will, led it to dive and disappear in mine, with a like desire, a like consent: I say disappear truly, for we kept back nothing to be our own, to be either his or mine.
When Lælius, in presence of the Roman consuls, who, after the condemnation of Tiberius Gracchus, prosecuted all those that had been in his confidence, came to inquire of Caius Blossius (who was the chief of his friends), how much he would have been willing to do for him, and he had replied, “All things,” “How, all things?” he continued; “‘suppose he had bid you set fire to our temples?” “He would never have bidden it,” answered Blossius. “But if he had?” insisted Lælius. “I should have obeyed,” responded he. If he was so utterly the friend of Gracchus as the histories say, he had no call to offend the consuls by this last hardy admission; and should not have abandoned the assurance he had of what Gracchus would have desired. But at the same time those who accuse this reply of sedition, do not well understand this mystery, and do not presuppose, which is the truth, that he kept Gracchus’s desires in his pocket, both by power of friendship and by understanding him: they were more friends than citizens, more friends than friends or enemies of their country, than friends of ambition and of disturbance.
Having committed themselves entirely to each other, they entirely held the reins of each other’s inclination: and only let the equipage have been guided by virtue and driven by reason, and indeed it is quite impossible to harness it otherwise, the reply of Blossius is such as it should have been. If their actions flew off the handle, they were neither friends, by my measure, of each other, nor even friends to themselves. Besides which, this reply does not sound at all different from what mine would if somebody inquired of me: “Should your will command you to kill your daughter, would you kill her?” and I should admit it; for here is no testimony of consenting to the deed; because I am not in any doubt about my will, and in just as little about that of such a friend. Not all the arguments in the world have the power to dislodge me from the certitude I have as to the intentions and judgments of my friend; no one of his actions could be presented to me, under no matter what appearance, without my being able at once to find the cause. Our souls drove so uniformly together; they considered each other with so ardent an affection, and with equal affection sounded everything to the very bottom of each other’s innermost parts, that not only did I know his soul as well as my own, but I should certainly have more willingly trusted myself to him than to myself. Let nobody put the other common friendships in this rank; I know as much of them as anybody, and of the most perfect of their kind: but I do not advise anyone to confound the rules; he would be deceived. In these other friendships One must ride bridle in hand, with prudence and precaution; the knot isn’t fastened in such a manner that there is no room for distrust. “Love him,” said Chilon, “as bound some day to hate him; hate him, as bound to love him.” This precept, so abominable in that sovereign and supreme friendship, it is salutary to use in ordinary, customary friendships; in regard to which one must apply the saying that Aristotle so often repeated, “O my friends, there is no friend.” In this noble commerce, duties and benefits, nurses of the other friendships, do not merit even to be noticed; the entire confusion of our wills is the cause: for just as the friendship I have for myself is not aggravated by the assistance I give myself when in need, whatsoever the Stoics may say, and as I feel no gratitude for the service I do myself, so the union of such friends, being veritably perfect, makes them lose the sentiment of such duties, and hate and drive away those words of separation and difference, benefit, obligation, gratitude, entreaty, thankfulness, and the like. As everything is really common between them, desires, thoughts, opinions, property, wives, children, honour, and life, and their agreement gives them but one soul in two bodies, according to the very apt definition of Aristotle, they are not able to lend or give each other anything. That is why the lawmakers, to honour marriage with some likeness to this divine union, forbid donations between husband and wife ; inferring by this that everything should belong to them both and that they have nothing to divide and separate.
If, in the friendship whereof I speak, one could give to the other, it would be he who received the favour that would oblige his fellow: because, since each seeks, more than aught else, to do good to the other, he who furnishes the occasion is the liberal one, giving his friend the satisfaction of effecting through him what he most desires. When the philosopher Diogenes had need of money, he used to say that he asked it back from his friends, not that he merely asked it. And to show how this is really practiced, I will recount a curious antique example. Eudamidas the Corinthian had two friends, Charixenus a Sicyonian and Areteus a Corinthian: being about to die, and being poor, and his two friends rich, he made this will: “I give and bequeath to Areteus to keep my mother and to care for her in her old age; to Charixenus to have my daughter marry and to give her the largest dowry he can: and in case one of them should die, I substitute the survivor in his place.” Those that first saw this will made fun of it; but when his heirs had been notified they accepted with peculiar satisfaction: and as one of them, Charixenus, expired five days later, the substitution being effected in favour of Areteus, he took the nicest care of the mother; and of five talents he had in his possession, he gave two and a half in marriage with his only daughter and two and a half for the marriage of Eudamidas’s daughter, whose weddings he celebrated the same day.
This example is very sufficient, if there were not one point to be excepted, which is the multitude of friends; for that perfect friendship I speak of is indivisible: each gives himself so wholly to his friend that he has nothing to bestow elsewhere; on the contrary, he is chagrined that he be not double, triple, or quadruple, and that he have not several selves and several souls, to confer them all on the one object. Common friendships one can divide; one can love in this person his good looks; in another, his ease of manner; in another, his generosity; in that person, his fatherliness; in the other his brotherliness, and so on: but the friendship which possesses the soul and rules her in full sovereignty, it is impossible for that to be double. If both demanded help at the same time, to which would you run? If they required conflicting favours of you, how would you arrange it? If one entrusted to your confidence something it were important to the other to know, how would you get out of that? The unique and principal friendship undoes all other obligations: the secret I have sworn not to disclose to another I may without perjury tell to him who is no other, but is myself. 'T is a fairly great miracle to double oneself; and they do not know the size of it who talk of trebling. Nothing is extreme that has a fellow: and whoever imagines that of two I can love one as much as the other, and that they can love each other and me as much as I love them, multiplies into a brotherhood the most single and unique of things, a thing of which even one is the rarest thing in the world to find. The rest of that story agrees very well with what I said: for Eudamidas holds it a kindness and favour to his friends to make use of them at need; he leaves them heirs to this liberality of his which consists of putting into their hands the means to do something for him: and without a doubt the strength of friendship is more richly shown in his action than in Areteus’s. After all, such events are unimaginable for him who has not tasted, and therefore I marvel and honour that young soldier’s reply to Cyrus, who had asked him for how much he would be willing to give a horse with which he had just won a prize in a race, and whether he would exchange it for a kingdom: “No indeed, sire; but I should willingly let it go to gain a friend, if I found a man worthy of such an alliance.” It wasn't bad, his saying, “if I found,” for we easily find men fit for a superficial acquaintance: but for this, wherein one negotiates the very bottom of oneself, wherein nothing is left over, certainly there is need for all the springs to be true and perfectly reliable.
In relations that hold together by only one end, we need not regard any imperfections except those that particularly concern that end. It makes no difference what my doctor’s religion is, and my lawyer’s; that consideration has nothing to do with the friendly offices they owe me: and in my domestic acquaintance with those that serve me, I act similarly, and make little inquiry about a footman as to whether he be chaste, but seek to learn whether he is diligent; and I dread less a muleteer who is a gambler than one who is weak, a cook who blasphemes than an ignorant one. I don’t take it upon me to say what the world should do, plenty of others take it upon themselves, but only what I doabout this.
Mihi sic usus est ; tibt, ut opus est facto, face.
(My way is thus: do you, as you think well)
For table-companions I choose agreeable people, not prudent ones; in bed, beauty before goodness; for social conversation, ability even without wisdom: similarly elsewhere. Like the man who was discovered astride a stick playing with his children, and begged that person who surprised him to say nothing about it until he was a father himself, believing that the passion which would then spring up in his soul would make him a fair judge of such actions, I should wish also to speak to people who have experienced what I am saying: but knowing how remote such a friendship is from ordinary customs, and how rare it is, I do not expect to find any good judge; for even the writings antiquity has left us on this subject seem weak to me compared with the feeling I have; and on this point experience surpasses even the precepts of philosophy.
Nil ego contulerim jucundo sanus amico.
(Nothing will I compare, while sane, to a
Old Menander called that man happy who had been able to find even the shadow of a friend: he was certainly right in saying this, especially as he had had a chance to try. For, in truth, if I compare all the rest of my life, although by the grace of God I have passed a pleasant one, easy, and save for the loss of such a friend, exempt from heavy affliction, full of tranquillity of spirit, for I have accepted my natural and individual advantages, without seeking others, if, I say, I compare it all with the four years it was given me to enjoy the sweet company and society of that person, it is only smoke, it is only dark and tedious night. Since the day I lost him,
Quem semper acerbum,
Semper honoratum (sic di voluistis!) habebo,
(Which I shall always keep,
Bitter but honoured,—thus ye willed it, gods!)
all I do is to drag along languidly; and the very pleasures that offer themselves to me, instead of consoling me, redouble my regret for his loss: we were halves in everything; it seems to me that Irob him of his part.
Nec fas esse ulla me voluptate bic frui
Decrevi, tantisper dum ille abest meus particeps.
(Indulgence in a pleasure were not right,
I judge, so long as my partaker’s gone)
I was already so trained and habituated to being his second everywhere, that I feel myself no more than a half.
Illam mee si partem anime tulit
Maturior vis, quid moror altera?
Nec carus aque, nec superstes
Integer. Ille dies utramque
(If death has prematurely snatched away
One half my soul, why should the other stay?
The part remaining of my soul
Is not so dear and not so whole.
One day did ruin both—)
In every action and thought I miss him; as he would also have me: for just as he surpassed me by an infinite distance in every other capacity and virtue, so did he in the duties of friendship.
Quis desiderio sit pudor, aut modus
Tam cari capitis?
(What shame or measure shall there be to grief
For so beloved a life?)
O misero frater adempte mibi !
Omnia tecum una perierunt gaudia nostra,
Que tuus in vita dulcis alebat amor.
Tu mea, tu moriens fregisti commoda, frater;
Tecum una tota est nostra sepulta anima:
Cujus ego interitu tota de mente fugavi.
Hae studia, atque omnes delicias animi,
Alloquar ? audiero nunquam tua verba loquentem?
Nunquam ego te, vita frater amabiltr,
Adspiciam posthac? At certe semper amabo.
(O brother taken away from wretched me !)
Every one of our pleasures perished when you were taken,
All when you were living nourished with
your sweet love.
You, yes, you, by dying destroyed all my comforts, my brother;
All the soul of us both is buried along with you:
Thereupon I with a total destruction of wit went fleeing,
Leaving all our studies and all the joys of the mind.
Shall I speak? Shall I listen never to another word you are saying?
Shall I never, brother of mine, more pleasant to me than life,
Shall I never again behold you? At least I shall not cease loving.)
But let us hear this lad of sixteen speak a little.
Because I have discovered that this work has since been made public, and for an evil purpose, by those who seek to upset and alter the form of our government, without caring whether they better it, and that they have mingled it with other writings from their own mill, I have decided not to place it here. And in order that the author’s memory be not injured for those who have not been able to learn his opinions and actions for themselves, I will inform them that this topic was
treated of by him in his boyhood by way of exercise only, as being a common theme and one abused in a thousand places in the books. I have no doubt but that he believed what he wrote; for he was conscientious enough not to lie even at his play: and I know moreover that had he had the choice, he would rather have been born in Venice than at Sarlac; and with good reason. But he had another maxim also sovereignly imprinted on his soul, to obey and to submit religiously to the laws under which he had been born, There was never a better citizen, or one more devoted to his country’s tranquillity, or more an enemy to the disturbances and innovations of his epoch; he would much rather have bent his talents to extinguishing them than to furnishing means to further them: he had a character moulded in the fashion of other ages than these. But, in lieu of this serious piece of work, I will substitute another, produced in the same season of his age, gayer and more playful.