Story type: Essay
Beginnings are always difficult–when they are not merely dull. People worth knowing are always hard to get to know. On the other hand, people with whom you become friendly at once usually end by boring you unto death by the end of the first fortnight. People whom it is easy to get to know, as a rule know so many people that to be counted among their acquaintances is like belonging to a friendly host, each one of whom ought to wear around his neck a regimental number to differentiate him from his neighbour. But the friend who is born a friend–and some people are born friends, just as other people are born married–dislikes to be one of a herd. Friendship, like love, is among autocrats, the most autocratic. There is no such thing as communism among the passions. But, as I said before, the people worth getting to know are so difficult to get to know. One has to hack away, as it were, and keep on hacking away, until one breaks through the crusts of reserve and prejudice and shyness which always surround the “soul” of pure gold–or, in fact, the “soul” of any type or quality. But “to hack” is a very dull occupation: that is why I say all beginnings are difficult when they are not merely drab. I always secretly envy the people who let themselves be known quite easily, although I realise that, when you get to know them, there is usually very little worth knowing. But there are so many lonely men and women wandering through this sad old world of ours who are lonely, not because there is not plenty of sympathy and understanding ready, as it were, to be tapped by the rod of friendship and love, but because they are too shy to make friends, too reserved to show the genius of friendship which burns within them. So they go through the world with open arms which merely clasp thin air. They are too difficult to get to know, and they do not possess the key which unlocks the secret of dignified “self-revelation.” Between them and the world there is thrust a mask of reserve and shyness–a mask the expression of which they positively hate, but are unable to tear it down from their faces. Thus they live lonely in a world of other lonely souls; no one can help them, and they are too timid of rebuff to help themselves.
But Friendship cannot be cultivated and tended by a third party–that is an axiom. It either springs to life inevitably or, metaphorically speaking, it doesn’t turn a hair. The well-meaning person who introduces one friend to another with the supreme assurance that they will both get on splendidly together, usually begins by making two people enemies. The friends of friends are very rarely friends with one another. And jealousy is not entirely the cause of this immediate estrangement. One friend appeals to one side of your nature and another friend appeals to a different side, but very, very rarely do you find two people who make the same appeal–since Heaven only knows how great is the physical attraction in Friendship as well as in Love! On the whole, then, the wise man and woman keep their friends apart. And this for the very good reason, that, either the two friends will become friends with each other, leaving you out of their soul-communion altogether, or else they will wonder in a loud voice what on earth you can find in your other friend to make him seem so attractive to you! In any case, a tiny thread or malignity is woven into that fabric of an inner life in which there should be nothing whatever malign.
Friendship resembles Love in the fact that there are usually three stages. The first stage seems thrilling–but how thankful you are, when you look back upon it, that it is over! The second stage is full of disappointment–how different the friendship realised is from the friendship anticipated! The third stage is philosophical, peaceful, and so happy!–since the worst is known and the best is known, but how immeasurably the best outweighs the worst! and how deliciously restful it is to realise that you, too, are loved, as it were, in spite of yourself and for those qualities in you which are the real you, although you need must hide them under so much dross. Thus you both find happiness and peace. And surely friendship–true friendship–is the happiest and most peaceful state in life? It is the happiest and most peaceful part of Love: it is the one thing which, if you really find it, makes the Everyday of life seem worth the while; seem worth the laughter and the tears, the failures and the victories, the dull beginnings, and the even more tedious beginnings-over-again, which are, alas! inevitable, except in the Human Turnip, who, in parenthesis, is too pompously inert ever to make a start.
A very well-known actress once confessed to me that, no matter how warm had been her welcome, she invariably felt a feeling of hostility between the audience and herself when she first walked on the stage. But I rather think that everyone, except the Human Turnip, who feels nothing except thirst and hunger and cold, has that feeling at the beginning. No matter if your advent has been heralded by a fanfare of trumpets, you invariably feel within yourself that your debut has been accompanied by the unuttered exclamation: “Oh, my dear! Is that all?” It wears off in time, of course; but it only bears out my theory that beginnings are always difficult–when they are not merely dull. I can quite imagine that the first day in Heaven will be extremely uncomfortable. I know there is no day so long as the first day of a holiday–or any day which seems so short as the last one. For one thing, at the beginning of anything you are never your true, natural self. The “pose,” which you carry about with you amid strange surroundings, hangs like a pall upon your spirits, to bore you as much as it bores those on whom you wish to make the most endearing impression. Later on, it wears off–and what you are–you are! and for what you are–you are either disliked intensely or adored. But you are never completely happy until you are completely natural, and you are never natural at the beginning. That is why you should forgive beginnings, as you, yourself, hope to be forgiven when you, yourself, begin.