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"Friendship, friendship, just a perfect blendship"--so wrote Cole Porter for the musical DuBarry Was A Lady--a song and a sentiment we all can harmonize with. We all have friends, and if some writers have been more than a bit cynical--Emerson thought that friendship resembled the immortality of the soul "in that it is too good to be true," and Schopenhauer compared friendship to a sea serpent, "no one knows whether they are fabulous or really exist somewhere"--for the most part the world's literature and our own experience are filled with fine examples.
In The Oxford Book of Friendship, one of England's best known poets, D.J. Enright, and David Rawlinson have brought together some of the world's best thoughts on friendship, found in excerpts from Shakespeare and the Bible, novels and poems, autobiographies, letters, and diaries, even personal ads from The New York Review of Books ("Handsome NYC poet emeritus, 59, seeks beautiful, bright, non-smoking woman. Dutch treat, naturally"). Here is friendship in all shapes and sizes: from the Bible and classical literature (David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Orestes and Pylades, Damon and Pythias), among literary figures (Goethe and Schiller, Lamb and Coleridge, Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore), even among animals (the friendship of Mole and Badger for Toad in The Wind in the Willows). There are interracial friendships (Queequeg and Ishmael, Huck Finn and Jim), friendships formed in concentration camps, young friends (Steerforth and David Copperfield), even the friendship we have for our pets. Thomas Mann, in "A Man and his Dog," writes of his dog Bashan--"Extraordinary creature! So close a friend, and yet so remote"--and Alexander Pope, in his last known couplet, mourns the death of his pet Bounce. The ups and downs of friendship are also covered (Beethoven once wrote his friend Johann Hummel, "You are a false dog, and may the hangman do away with all false dogs," and the very next day wrote, "Come to me this afternoon.... Kisses from your Beethoven, also called dumpling"). And the editors conclude with a delightful potpourri of short sayings, such as the proverb, "it is easier to visit friends than to live with them," and Emerson's sage advice, "the only way to have a friend is to be one."
C.S. Lewis observed that friends rarely talk about their friendship. In The Oxford Book of Friendship, Enright and Rawlinson have found thousands of sources to do the talking for us, to question what we've taken for granted, and bring out in the open what we've always left unsaid.