Thanks to this blog and email, I’ve rekindled friendship with a former newspaper colleague, now a writer in Las Vegas, whom I haven’t seen in almost twenty years. We were still approximately young and unmarried, and shared enthusiasms for journalism, jazz (Basie, Bill Evans) and comedy. He grew curious about me, found Anecdotal Evidence, wrote me a note, and twenty years evaporated. Ours was always a friendship rooted in mutual sympathy, ease of conversation and humor. He loves baseball and I hate all sports. I can’t take a bath without a book, and he sticks to newspapers, magazines and liner notes. None of that matters.
The poet of friendship is Charles Lamb, who possessed an enormous gift for it. Among his friends, some dating from childhood, he numbered Coleridge, Hazlitt, Wordsworth, Southey, Manning and Dibdin – not to mention his devotion to Mary Lamb, his tormented sister. On compatibility, Lamb writes in a Feb. 13, 1779, letter to Coleridge:
“’Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense, and to have her nonsense respected.”
Six weeks later, on April 7, he writes to the same correspondent:
“Do what you will, Coleridge, you may hurt me and vex me by your silence, but you cannot estrange my heart from you all. I cannot scatter friendships like chuck-farthings, nor let them drop from mine hand like hour-glass sand. I have two or three people in the world to whom I am more than indifferent, and I can't afford to whistle them off to the winds.”
Of course, Lamb also wrote to Coleridge, on Dec. 10, 1796: “I can only converse with you by letter and with the dead in their books,” and a month later: “Books are to me instead of friends.” Lamb knew depression and probably alcoholism – the latter, a disease of the self. I suspect one must savor solitude to be a good friend. The compulsively convivial are a pitiable lot. To Coleridge on Jan. 28, 1798, Lamb writes:
“Any society almost, when I am in affliction, is sorely painful to me. I seem to breathe more freely, to think more collectedly, to feel more properly and calmly, when alone.”
And among friends.