Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2021: Friendship – Pt. 3 – Liabilities

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover, quotes, and images are from Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2021: Friendship, except where noted.]
[Click or right-click on a photo may give the option to open it separately.]
[NEW to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 50+ LQ summaries I jump right in.]

[This is a READING section, for those who might stumble in looking for photography. My edits/summaries of the L.Q. historical journal continue.]

As long as the link is available, the Table of Contents can be found, or a sampling of extracts can be found at Voices In Time online.

The three sections of Voices In Time this issue are Assets, Liabilities, and Equity.

This section might also be called MELANCHOLIA, or How Friendships Don’t Work at All. They are depicted as fragile, tenuous, fickle, and difficult. It is a ‘good read’. Unfortunately, not many of the extracts are available free online.

Liabilities as friendship as Liabilities. We segued at the end of Assets:

“…in [year] 65 Seneca was forced to take his own life for alleged complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero, in which he was likely to have been innocent.[3]” (Wikipedia)

The section starts with Norimitsu Onishi’s real-life account of elderly Japanese living alone in tiny apartments with high-rise towers. Many don’t communicate with neighbors and their deaths may only be revealed by the odors wafting from within. Sad existences at the end of life.

Samuel Johnson is free! (FREE!) And thoughtful:

“Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than that of friendship. It is painful to consider that this sublime enjoyment may be impaired or destroyed by innumerable causes, and that there is no human possession of which the duration is less certain.”

“The friendship which is to be practiced or expected by common mortals must take its rise from mutual pleasure and must end when the power ceases of delighting each other.”

“Friendship has other enemies. Suspicion is always hardening the cautious and disgust repelling the delicate. Very slender differences will sometimes part those whom long reciprocation of civility or beneficence has united.”

“The most fatal disease of friendship is gradual decay, or dislike hourly increased by causes too slender for complaint and too numerous for removal. …when the desire of pleasing and willingness to be pleased is silently diminished, the renovation of friendship is hopeless, as, when the vital powers sink into languor, there is no longer any use of the physician.” (P. 87-88)

Mary McCarthy has an amusing piece from her novel The Group, about women friends, 1930s Vassar alumni, who gather to greet one of their number returning from a lengthy sojourn in Europe:

“The idea of surprising Lakey by meeting her in a body had been Pokey’s; Pokey was unconscious of the passage of time and scoffed at the thought that Lakey might be different.”

“She was almost bound to find them provincial after the professors, art historians, and collectors she had been living among in Europe.“

“When they saw her come down the gang-plank, with her swift, sure step, her chin raised, in a dark violet suit and hat and carrying a green leather toilet case and a slim furled green silk umbrella, they were amazed at how young she looked still.”

“After the embraces (she kissed them all on both cheeks and held them off to look at them), she introduced the short, stocky foreign woman who was with her—someone, the girls took it, she had met on the crossing.”

“Every now and then, she would go over and say something to Lakey; they heard her call her “Darling” with a trilled r. It was Kay who caught on first. Lakey had become a lesbian. This woman was her man.” (P. 89-90)

Oh my.

Dutch humanist Erasmus, 1511:

“People can’t tolerate a ruler, nor can a master his servant, a maid her mistress, a teacher his pupil, a friend his friend, nor a wife her husband, a landlord his tenant, a soldier his comrade, nor a partygoer his companion, unless they sometimes have illusions about each other, make use of flattery, and have the sense to turn a blind eye and sweeten life for themselves with the honey of folly.” (P. 92)

Tim Kreider, 2012, on Defriending:

“Losing a friend may not hurt as intensely as a romantic breakup, but it often hurts more deeply, and for longer.”

“Because there’s no formal etiquette for ending a friendship, most people do it in the laziest, most passive and painless way possible, by unilaterally dropping any effort to sustain it and letting the other person figure it out for themselves.”

“You can’t tell people, “My friend broke up with me,” without sounding like a nine-year-old. The only phrase I can think of that even recognizes this kind of hurt—“You look like you just lost your best friend”—is only ever spoken by adults to children.”

[Well, usually only spoken by adults to children. I recall a trolley car operator saying that to me as I was making my way home late one evening after feeling the effects of numerous drinks après-work, in a city, many decades ago, by myself, friendless, suited and briefcased, but fairly in my cups, as the British say. “You look like you just lost your best friend” he said. Hmm, no, just a lonely drunk. But I digress. —JH]

“The same thing that makes friendship so valuable is what makes it so tenuous: it is purely voluntary.”

“…people are drawn to each other because they’re giving each other something they both need, and they drift apart again when they aren’t getting it or don’t need it anymore. Friendships have natural life spans, like love affairs or favorite songs. It’s just easier to be mature and philosophical about it when you’re the one doing the defriending.” (P. 98-100)

A side-quote: “Friendship was given by nature to be an assistant to virtue, not a companion to vice.”

—Cicero, c. 45 BC (P. 100)

Cicero, yet another man of wisdom who had friends in high places, meeting an ignoble end through their good graces. Conspiracies didn’t help. We haven’t even mentioned Socrates and the hemlock.

William Wycherley is free online ( FREE! ) if you would like to read an intelligible extract coincidentally written in the style of Shakespeare and perhaps many other writers of those times, many decades after his works, but more understandable, as I personally find the Bard fairly inscrutable in readablility. Wycherley, a playwright who wrote to also be read, was and is highly acclaimed for several of his works, though his repartee was a bit risqué for his time (Madams and houses of ill-repute) and often bowdlerized in reprint, à la Dr. Thomas Bowdler of a later time.

L.Q. titles the extract Job Interview, as Captain Manly (MANLY! Pun intended I think.) queries an acquaintance on the earnestness of his friendship:

“Freeman: Well, but all your good thoughts are not for him alone, I hope? Pray, what d’ye think of me for a friend?

Manly: Of thee! Why, thou art a latitudinarian in friendship, that is, no friend. Thou dost side with all mankind but wilt suffer for none. For ceremony and great professing renders friendship as much suspected as it does religion.”

[Oooh, low blow. The dreaded ‘latitudinarian’ jibe! —JRH]

“Freeman: Nay, I would not hear you ill spoken of behind your back by my friend.

Manly: Nay, then thou’rt a friend indeed. But it were unreasonable to expect it from thee, as the world goes now, when new friends, like new mistresses, are got by disparaging old ones.” (P 104-106)

Wikipedia is worth a brief side-trip to William Wycherley and his plays The Plain Dealer and The Country Wife.

Monastic brother Saint Aelred of Rievaulx (never formally canonized) is insightful:

“”Persons would lead a most happy life,” as the wise man says, “if from their vocabulary they removed two words: mine and yours.” Certainly holy poverty, which is holy precisely because it is voluntary, lends great strength to spiritual friendship. Greed kills friendship.”

“The best companion of friendship, therefore, is respect, and so he who robs friendship of respect robs it of its greatest ornament.”

“According to the poet, truth is the mother of hatred: “Flattery breeds friends; truth begets hatred.” But any flattery that caters to sin is a much greater burden, because it allows a friend to fall headlong.”

“…so we should hold that in friendship no greater plague exists than fawning and flattery. These things characterize fickle and unreliable people, for all their words reflect their wishes and not the truth.

Among friends let neither indecision nor pretense exist, because both are especially repugnant to friendship. A friend owes a friend the truth, without which friendship is an empty title.” (P. 108-109)

Curiously, Aelred is considered by some as the patron saint of gay people. Arguments have been made, and largely refuted, that his writings on spiritual friendship in the monastic life had underlying origins. Still, he remains championed by many from the ‘rainbow’ coalitions.

Finally, Étienne de La Boétie puts the cap on friendships as liabilities:

“Men accept servility in order to acquire wealth, as if they could acquire anything of their own when they cannot even assert that they belong to themselves, or as if anyone could possess under a tyrant a single thing in his own name. Yet they act as if their wealth really belonged to them and forget that it is they themselves who give the ruler the power to deprive everybody of everything, leaving nothing that anyone can identify as belonging to somebody.”

“They should consider not how many others have gained a fortune but rather how few of them have kept it. Whether we examine ancient history or simply the times in which we live, we shall see clearly how great is the number of those who, having by shameful means won the ear of princes—who either profit from their villainies or take advantage of their naïveté—were in the end reduced to nothing by these very princes.”

“The fact is that the tyrant is never truly loved, nor does he love. Friendship is a sacred word, a holy thing. It is never developed except between persons of character, and never takes root except through mutual respect. It flourishes not so much by kindnesses as by sincerity.”

“…that among so many persons fawning upon their ruler, there is not a single one who has the wisdom and the boldness to say to him what, according to the fable, the fox said to the lion who feigned illness: “I should be glad to enter your lair to pay my respects, but I see many tracks of beasts that have gone toward you, yet not a single trace of any who have come back.” (P. 135-136)

Next up, Friendship as Equity. To be continued…

The standard notes:
1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. It is white-covered, printed on high quality paper throughout, with richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, and 221 pages up to a page or two of addenda at the back.
2. Each issue contains extracts about the title topic from great authors and thinkers spanning all recorded history. It begins with an eloquent, to a fault, preamble/introduction by editor Lewis Lapham. The main body is called Voices In Time and contains 3 or 4 subcategories of the topic with about 25 extracts per section. Noteworthy sidebars, side quotes, and depictions of appropriate art from the ages are liberally distributed throughout. Several extended contemporary essays bring up the rear. There are several other small sections every issue (Among the Contributors, Conversations, Miscellany, ‘The Graphic’).
3. Per the L.Q. website:
“Lapham’s Quarterly embodies the belief that history is the root of all education, scientific and literary as well as political and economic. Each issue addresses a topic of current interest and concern—war, religion, money, medicine, nature, crime—by bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past.”
4. I encourage all to subscribe to this fine publication. It is a rich supplement to anyone’s reading.

5 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2021: Friendship – Pt. 3 – Liabilities

    1. Yes. I had one good friend who I had not seen or communicated with for thirty years. It took the invention of the internet to find him again. When we finally got together it was like it was yesterday we had spoken, and our friendship resumed intact.


  1. John – there is so much here to appreciate. Thank you for posting. I’m sure I’m not alone in reflecting on how the loss of “man’s best friend” can be one of the deepest wounds we can feel despite our pets being just that – pets. And I’m sure I’m not alone in appreciating the way friendships have fared during the Covid pandemic. Until she drove me to eye surgery last week, I had not seen my own best friend in person in 18 months. We intermittently had kept in touch by email and occasional phone chats but I wondered what meeting in person would be like. Happily we slipped right back in our stride as though no time had passed. For that I am grateful. Thanks for sharing this. Best, Babsje

    Liked by 1 person

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