In his essay “Friendship,” Ralph Waldo Emerson portrays friendship as a natural, albeit paradoxical, human need. For Emerson, humans may possess “selfishness that chills like east winds.” Despite this, humans are surrounded by “an element of love like a fine ether,” which points to an innate love and need for companionship.
Emerson believes that in having friendships with others we are exhilarated and freed. He then compares scholarly work to friendship and concludes that having a friend can supply happiness more surely than intellectual pursuits. Emerson also explains the uneasiness that comes with making friends. He describes the shallow beginnings of friendship and how a person may show her best self when beginning to get to know another person. Often the beginning of a friendship is paired with a nervous “throbbing of the heart” and excitement, but as friendship progresses, nervousness at upkeeping looks and intelligence falls away, and “vulgarity, ignorance, and misapprehension” come in. Here, Emerson characterizes the nebulous and changing nature of friendship. Friendship at first is often comfortable and enjoyable, but the more you know a person, the harder it becomes to continue a friendship. For Emerson, having a friendship is akin to “indulging” in one’s “affections.” A friendship at its base can give a person a feeling of love and companionship that can make “all tragedies and ennuis vanish.” Further, although friendship and connections with like-minded people are important to Emerson, he holds to his transcendentalist and individualist philosophies. Emerson claims that friendship is valuable, but being comfortable in solitude is necessary.
Emerson then posits that friendships have divine roots. To him, friends have come to Emerson as if given by God. The act of making new friends is a “great event” that “hinders” him from sleep, pointing to the ecstasy and importance of friendships. Emerson...
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