Lord Chesterfield on Friendship

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

I find myself in a common predicament these days. I have an abundance of friends when I have no real need of them and few friends when I do.  What, pray, is the difference between a true friend and friend to pass the time, and why, when in most cases companionship is not wanting, should I care?

Adrift and Addlepated

Dear Adrift and Addlepated,

People of your age have, commonly, an unguarded frankness about them; which makes them the easy prey and bubbles of the artful and the inexperienced: they look upon every knave, or fool, who tells them that he is their friend, to be really so; and pay that profession of simulated friendship, with an indiscreet and unbounded confidence, always to their loss, often to their ruin.  Beware, therefore, now that you are coming into the world, of these proffered friendships.  Receive them with great civility, but with great incredulity too; and pay them with compliments, but not with confidence.  Do not let your vanity, and self-love, make you suppose that people become your friends at first sight, or even upon a short acquaintance.  Real friendship is a slow grower; and never thrives, unless ingrafted upon a stock of known and reciprocal merit.

There is another kind of nominal friendship, among young people, which is warm for a time, but, by good luck, of short duration.  This friendship is hastily produced, by their being accidentally thrown together, and pursuing the same course of riot and debauchery.  A fine friendship, truly! and well cemented by drunkeness and lewdness.  It should rather be called a conspiracy against morals and good manners, and be punished as such by the civil magistrate.  However, they have the impudence, and folly, to call this confederacy a friendship.  They lend one another money, for bad purposes; they engage in quarrels, offensive and defensive, for their accomplices; they tell one another all they know, and often more too; when, of a sudden, some incident disperses them, and they think no more of each other, unless it be to betray and laugh at their imprudent confidence.  Remember to make a great difference between companions and friends, for a very complaisant and agreeable companion may, and often does, prove a very improper and a very dangerous friend.

Adieu!

From London, October 9, O.S. 1747.

Come back tomorrow for Lord Chesterfield on Giving Compliments!

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