Essays and Reviews

by Archibald Lampman

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley




Friendship, in the old heroic sense of the term," says Carlyle, "no longer exists; it is in reality no longer expected or recognized as a virtue among men." How true is this indeed. Where civilization, that restless march of the intellect over the ruins of the rude greatness of the past—glorious ruins, amid whose flowers and mosses there has ever been much that is tender and beautiful, though their shattered fragments have been very nearly all borne away, like the great stones at Carnac, and built into some more modern specimen, of cold symmetry—where this civilization wields an influence uninterrupted by these political storms, which bring with them long continued fear and doubt, and danger, true friendship, such friendship as prompts men who feel it to sacrifice advantage, property, even life for those they love, is, in the ordinary positions in which men are placed, almost an impossible thing. Man’s life runs evenly on from boyhood to old age: his aims are selfish: he is striving for wealth, or power, or fame: there are no great and sudden dangers to beset him, such dangers as in a semi-barbarous state of society make the future full of uncertainty and dread: he lives on calmly and contentedly, happy in the accomplishment of his purposes, and confident in the belief that no dangers can fall upon him which he is not capable of meeting. It is an age of pride, independence, and self-reliance. Men feel not the necessity of friendship, and it springs up very tardily in their hearts. Gratitude is uncultivated; indeed it is a very age of ingrat[it]ude; for men, calm, and cold in the stiffness of the unendangered pursuit of their own selfish aims, in the stiffness of their hard, false pride, stoop not to receive kindness, and thus put themselves under obligation to others, while those benefits which are forced upon them, perhaps in an hour of adversity, when prosperity returns they pass by in contempt. In the olden time it was different. Governments were unsettled. Dangers were on every side. People were brought together by common interest into small communities. A man’s life and property were liable to destruction at any moment. The future was a great cloud of gloom, doubt, and peril into which he marched in fear and trembling. Then it was that one man was obliged to cling to another for comfort and support, and knew well how to shew gratitude for services of which he would perhaps very soon be in need again. Those were ages of suffering, anxiety, and oppression; but yet a man possessed that one very great source of happiness—confidence in the faithful attachment of his friends and a knowledge that in an hour of reverse a trusty arm would be uplifted to save him, something really risked out of true friendship for him. In our time he has not the dangers and anxieties of an age of feudal vassalage to bear up against, and he has a contentment in the steady uninterrupted course of prosperity which civilization allows him, but he has lost and can never know that most perfect happiness that rises out of faith in the attachment of those who would call themselves his friends. Even the ties of relationship bind men no longer. Brothers go forth into the vast Babel of life; are separated far apart and enter upon the pursuit of different schemes of ambition. If one fails and sinks with a cry for help upon his lips beneath a burden too heavy for him to bear, the rest content themselves with a few cold words of feigned pity, and leaving him to his fate, pass on with the ceaseless stream of human activity and remember him no more. Thus it has been in every age in which a high standard of civilization has been attained— friendship and gratitude have been for the most part unknown. When the great Italian Republics, the wonder of the Middle Ages, first cast off the irksome rule of the German Emperors, and every member of a community was obliged to bring his property and his life, and lay them at the feet of his country, when war and discord desolated the whole country from end to end, then people stood manfully by each other, for no man could order his course of life for himself from one week to another, and ingratitude was a crime which brought with it hatred and contempt. But when the wholesome hostility of the emperors was withdrawn, and these gifted republicans at peace with one another, turned their energies to the acquisition of wealth and power, and of refinement in arts and literature, then this blessed tenderness of heart was lost, and every man’s heart was hardened against his brother in the selfish strife for success. A state of civilization was indeed attained which made Italy a magnificent enchanted land of wonder and beauty to the semi-barbarians who visited her from the rude North lands. And yet, I know not but that I would have preferred the hazardous life of those who dwelt under the despotic rulers beyond the Alps. For in Italy, with all its civilization, the restless, selfish, yet refined march to prosperity and power, in which every man was engaged, produced a state of society in which no man could trust his brother, or knew his friend from his foe. Thus it will always be. And in our age he who rushes into the great world, restless with its countless multitudes of cold selfishly-struggling, ever changing beings, filled with the hope that he may find some faithful soul from whose unfailing attachment he may receive confidence and counsel in prosperity; and comfort, assistance and purest happiness in the hour of distress, let him not look for such an one amid the din of enterprise and life, as it is called, the home of pleasure and ambition, for he can find naught but neglect and contempt, and will have to make his own way coldly and sternly to the front till he grows as selfish and immovable as the rest; but let him cho[o]se the man, if he can find such an one, who cares little for the world, and knows less, one who has never ventured to elbow his way among the merciless crowd, whose heart is unclouded by its sophistries, whose feelings are free to turn the way that nature would lead them. And when he has found such an one, let him cling to him as a drowning man clings to his rescuer, for if he lose that greatest of all blessings a mortal can have, he may never find another.