"A Friend May Well Be Reckoned The Masterpiece Of Nature"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Friends, says Emerson, cannot be bought, cannot be looked for; they come unsought with the gift of kindliness and affection that produces a metamorphosis in the world. Indeed, says Emerson, "Let the soul be assured that somewhere in the universe it should rejoin its friend, and it would be content and cheerful alone for a thousand years." Friendship, suggests the essayist, is a gift of God, and "like the immortality of the soul, is too good to be believed." With a friend we may be sincere, for one of the two elements of friendship is truth. One may indeed, says Emerson, think aloud in the presence of a friend, putting aside "even those undermost garments of dissimulation, courtesy, and second thought." The other element of friendship, as Emerson sees it, is tenderness. But it is in his discussion of truth as one of the two qualities of friendship that the quotation appears. He says that a man in solitude is sincere, but that except when we are with friends, hypocrisy appears whenever other persons are present. Ordinarily we "parry and fend the approach of our fellow-man by compliments, by gossip, by amusements, by affairs." Emerson says he once knew a man who "under a certain religious frenzy" put off the drapery of social graces and spoke to the conscience of every person he met; and people thought the man must be insane. Eventually, however, the man's sincerity was met by equal sincerity, and that situation is unusual in the world:

. . . But to most of us society shows not its face and eye, but its side and its back. . . . Almost every man we meet requires some civility–requires to be humored; he has some fame, some talent, some whim of religion or philanthropy in his head that is not to be questioned, and which spoils all conversation with him. But a friend is a sane man who exercises not my ingenuity, but me. My friend gives me entertainment without requiring any stipulation on my part. A friend therefore is a sort of paradox in nature. I who alone am, I who see nothing in nature whose existence I can affirm with equal evidence to my own, behold now the semblance of my being, in all its height, variety, and curiosity, reiterated in a foreign form; so that a friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.