This subject was forcibly presented to my mind by a conversation I recently heard in a party of young ladies, and which I take as a pattern and semblance of twenty other conversations I have heard in twenty similar parties. Friendship was (as it very often is) the subject of the discussion; and, though the words have escaped my memory, I can well recall the substance of the remarks. One lady boldly asserted that there was no such thing as friendship in the world, where all was insincerity and selfishness. I looked, but saw not in her youthful eye and unfurrowed cheeks any traces of the sorrow and ill-usage that I thought should alone have wrung from gentle lips so harsh a sentence, and I wondered where in twenty brief years she could have learned so hard a lesson. Have known it, she could not! therefore I concluded she had taken it upon trust from the poets, who are fain to tell all the ill they can of human nature, because it makes better poetry than good.
The remark was taken up, as might have been expected, by a young champion, who thought, or said without thinking, that friendship was—I really cannot undertake to say what, but all the things that young ladies usually put into their themes at school: something interminable, illimitable, and immutable. From this the discussion grew; and how it was, and what it was, went on to be discussed. I cannot pursue the thread of the discourse; but the amount of it was this:—One thought friendship was the summer portion only of the blessed; a flower for the brow of the prosperous, that the child of misfortune must never gather. Another thought that all interest being destructive to its very essence, it could not be trusted, unless there was an utter destitution of every thing that might recommend us to favor, or requite affection. This lady must have been brought to the depth of wretchedness ere she ever could be sure she had a friend. Some, I found, thought it was made up of a great deal of sensibility, vulgarly called jealousy; that was, to take umbrage at every seeming slight, to the indescribable torment of either party. Some betrayed, if they did not exactly say it, that they thought friendship such an absolute unity, that it would be a less crime to worship two gods than to love two friends! Therefore, to bring it to its perfection, it was necessary that all beside should be despised and disregarded.
Others, very young, and of course soon to grow wiser, thought it consisted in the exact disclosure of your own concerns and those of every body else with which you might chance to become acquainted; others, that it required such exact conformity in opinion, thought, and feeling, as should make it impossible to differ; and others, that it implied such generous interference, even with the feelings as well as affairs of its object, that it should spend itself in disinterested reproaches and unasked advice. But, however differing else, all were sure that friendship but usurped the name, unless it were purely disinterested, endlessly durable, and beyond the reach of time and circumstances to change it; and all were going forth in the full certainty of finding friends, each one after the pattern of her own imagination, the first speaker only excepted, who was fully determined never to find any, or never to trust them, if she did.