A Suitable Companion?

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When I came to look about for a companion I found, strangely enough, that hardly one among my friends seemed suitable, so rarely do we meet with just the right combination of personal tastes and characteristics, even among those who are dearest to us.

This one was too apathetic, that one over-anxious; this one too slow, that one too hasty; one was too sad, another over-cheerful; one more simple, another more sagacious, than I desired. I feared this one’s taciturnity and that one’s loquacity. The heavy deliberation of some repelled me as much as the lean incapacity of others. I rejected those who were likely to irritate me by a cold want of interest, as well as those who might weary me by their excessive enthusiasm.

Such defects, however grave, could be borne with at home, for charity suffereth all things, and friendship accepts any burden; but it is quite otherwise on a journey, where every weakness becomes much more serious.

I was bent upon pleasure and anxious that my enjoyment should be unalloyed whilst ascending the mountain, taking-in the view from its summit, and journeying home again. So I looked about me with unusual care, balanced against one another the various characteristics of my friends, and without committing any breach of friendship I silently rejected the bearers of every trait which might prove disagreeable on my way.

Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304-1374), from a letter to a friend, 26 April 1336

Letter to Dionisio da Borgo San Sepolcro, The Ascent of Mount Ventoux” [de ascensu montis Ventosi — epistola ad Dionysium de Burgo Sancti Sepulcri ] in Epistolae familiares (IV, 1).

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When you travel, if you can find a virtuous and wise companion, go joyfully together, mutually sharing the joys and overcoming the difficulties of the way. If you cannot find a spiritual master or pure fellow seeker to travel with you, go alone, rather than keeping company with a fool.”

Lord Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama Shakya-Muni)


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He [Thoreau] understood matters in hand at a glance, and saw the limitations and poverty of those he talked with, so that nothing seemed concealed. I have repeatedly known young men of sensibility converted in a moment to the belief that this was the man they were in search of, the man of men, who could tell them all they should do.

…Would he not walk with them?”

He did not know. There was nothing so important to him as his walks; he had no walks to throw away on company.”

…Admiring friends offered to carry him with them at their expense to the Yellowstone River, to the West Indies, to South America. But though nothing could be more grave or considered than his refusals, they remind one in quite a new way of that fop Beau Brummel’s reply to the gentleman who offered him a seat in his carriage during a rain-shower, “But where will you ride, then?”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), from his Eulogy to his late friend, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), The Atlantic Monthly, May 9th, 1862

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