Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

Literary Friendships.

The memorable friendship of Beaumont and Fletcher so closely united their labours, that we cannot discover the productions of either; and biographers cannot, without difficulty, compose the memoirs of the one, without running into the life of the other. They pourtrayed the same characters, while they mingled sentiment with sentiment; and their days were as closely interwoven as their verses. Metastasio and Farinelli were born about the same time, and early acquainted. They called one another Gemello, or The Twin, both the delight of Europe, both lived to an advanced age, and died nearly at the same time. Their fortune bore, too, a resemblance; for they were both pensioned, but lived and died separated in the distant courts of Vienna and Madrid. Montaigne and Charron were rivals, but always friends; such was Montaigne’s affection for Charron, that he permitted him by his will to bear the full arms of his family; and Charron evinced his gratitude to the manes of his departed friend, by leaving his fortune to the sister of Montaigne, who had married. Forty years of friendship, uninterrupted by rivalry or envy, crowned the lives of Poggius and Leonard Aretin, two of the illustrious revivers of letters. A singular custom formerly prevailed among our own writers, which was an affectionate tribute to our literary veterans by young writers. The former adopted the latter by the title of sons. Ben Jonson had twelve of these poetical sons. Walton the angler adopted Cotton, the translator of Montaigne.

Among the most fascinating effusions of genius are those little pieces which it consecrates to the cause of friendship. In that poem of Cowley, composed on the death of his friend Harvey, the following stanza presents a pleasing picture of the employments of two young students:—

Say, for you saw us, ye immortal lights,

How oft unwearied have we spent the nights!

Till the Ledæan stars, so famed for love,

Wondered at us from above.

We spent them not in toys, in lust, or wine,

But search of deep philosophy,

Wit, eloquence, and poetry,

Arts which I loved, for they, my friend, were thine.

Milton has not only given the exquisite Lycidas to the memory of a young friend, but in his Epitaphium Damonis, to that of Deodatus, has poured forth some interesting sentiments. It has been versified by Langhorne. Now, says the poet,

To whom shall I my hopes and fears impart,

Or trust the cares and follies of my heart?

The elegy of Tickell, maliciously called by Steele “prose in rhyme,” is alike inspired by affection and fancy; it has a melodious languor, and a melancholy grace. The sonnet of Gray to the memory of West is a beautiful effusion, and a model for English sonnets. Helvetius was the protector of men of genius, whom he assisted not only with his criticism, but his fortune. At his death, Saurin read in the French Academy an epistle to the manes of his friend. Saurin, wrestling with obscurity and poverty, had been drawn into literary existence by the supporting hand of Helvetius. Our poet thus addresses him in the warm tones of gratitude:

C’est toi qui me cherchant au sein de l’infortune,

Relevas mon sort abattu,

Et sus me rendre chère une vie importune.

* * * *

Qu’importent ces pleurs —

O douleur impuissante! ô regrets superflus!

Je vis, helas! Je vis, et mon ami n’est plus!


In misery’s haunts, thy friend thy bounties seize,

And give an urgent life some days of ease;

Ah! ye vain griefs, superfluous tears I chide!

I live, alas! I live — and thou hast died!

The literary friendship of a father with his son is one of the rarest alliances in the republic of letters. It was gratifying to the feelings of young Gibbon, in the fervour of literary ambition, to dedicate his first-fruits to his father. The too lively son of Crebillon, though his was a very different genius to the grandeur of his father’s, yet dedicated his works to him, and for a moment put aside his wit and raillery for the pathetic expressions of filial veneration. We have had a remarkable instance in the two Richardsons; and the father, in his original manner, has in the most glowing language expressed his affectionate sentiments. He says, “My time of learning was employed in business; but after all, I have the Greek and Latin tongues, because a part of me possesses them, to whom I can recur at pleasure, just as I have a hand when I would write or paint, feet to walk, and eyes to see. My son is my learning, as I am that to him which he has not. — We make one man, and such a compound man may probably produce what no single man can.” And further, “I always think it my peculiar happiness to be as it were enlarged, expanded, made another man, by the acquisition of my son; and he thinks in the same manner concerning my union with him.” This is as curious as it is uncommon; however the cynic may call it egotism!

Some for their friend have died penetrated with inconsolable grief; some have sacrificed their character to preserve his own; some have shared their limited fortune; and some have remained attached to their friend in the cold season of adversity.

Jurieu denounced Bayle as an impious writer, and drew his conclusions from the “Avis aux Réfugiés.” This work is written against the Calvinists, and therefore becomes impious in Holland. Bayle might have exculpated himself with facility, by declaring the work was composed by La Roque; but he preferred to be persecuted rather than to ruin his friend; he therefore was silent, and was condemned. When the minister Fouquet was abandoned by all, it was the men of letters he had patronised who never forsook his prison; and many have dedicated their works to great men in their adversity, whom they scorned to notice at the time when they were noticed by all. The learned Goguet bequeathed his MSS. and library to his friend Fugere, with whom he had united his affections and his studies. His work on the “Origin of the Arts and Sciences” had been much indebted to his aid. Fugere, who knew his friend to be past recovery, preserved a mute despair, during the slow and painful disease; and on the death of Goguet, the victim of sensibility perished amidst the manuscripts which his friend had in vain bequeathed to prepare for publication. The Abbé de Saint Pierre gave an interesting proof of literary friendship. When he was at college he formed a union with Varignon, the geometrician. They were of congenial dispositions. When he went to Paris he invited Varignon to accompany him; but Varignon had nothing, and the Abbé was far from rich. A certain income was necessary for the tranquil pursuits of geometry. Our Abbé had an income of 1800 livres; from this he deducted 300, which he gave to the geometrician, accompanied by a delicacy which few but a man of genius could conceive. “I do not give it to you,” he said, “as a salary, but an annuity, that you may be independent, and quit me when you dislike me.” Something nearly similar embellishes our own literary history. When Akenside was in great danger of experiencing famine as well as fame, Mr. Dyson allowed him three hundred pounds a year. Of this gentleman, perhaps, nothing is known; yet whatever his life may be, it merits the tribute of the biographer. To close with these honourable testimonies of literary friendship, we must not omit that of Churchill and Lloyd. It is known that when Lloyd heard of the death of our poet, he acted the part which Fugere did to Goguet. The page is crowded, but my facts are by no means exhausted.

The most illustrious of the ancients prefixed the name of some friend to the head of their works. — We too often place that of some patron. They honourably inserted it in their works. When a man of genius, however, shows that he is not less mindful of his social affection than his fame, he is the more loved by his reader. Plato communicated a ray of his glory to his brothers; for in his Republic he ascribes some parts to Adimanthus and Glauchon; and Antiphon the youngest is made to deliver his sentiments in the Parmenides, To perpetuate the fondness of friendship, several authors have entitled their works by the name of some cherished associate. Cicero to his Treatise on Orators gave the title of Brutus; to that of Friendship, Lelius; and to that of Old Age, Cato. They have been imitated by the moderns. The poetical Tasso to his dialogue on Friendship gave the name of Manso, who was afterwards his affectionate biographer. Sepulvueda entitles his Treatise on Glory by the name of his friend Gonsalves. Lociel to his Dialogues on the Lawyers of Paris prefixes the name of the learned Pasquier. Thus Plato distinguishes his Dialogues by the names of certain persons; the one on Lying is entitled Hippius; on Rhetoric, Gorgias; and on Beauty, Phædrus.

Luther has perhaps carried this feeling to an extravagant point. He was so delighted by his favourite “Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians,” that he distinguished it by a title of doting fondness; he named it after his wife, and called it “His Catherine.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53