S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Bad company is like a nail driven into a post, which after the first or second blow may be drawn out with little difficulty; but being once driven up to the head, the pincers cannot take hold to draw it out, but which can only be done by the destruction of the wood.
In young minds there is commonly a strong propensity to particular intimacies and friendships. Youth, indeed, is the season when friendships are sometimes formed which not only continue through succeeding life, but which glow to the last, with a tenderness unknown to the connections begun in cooler years. The propensity, therefore, is not to be discouraged, though, at the same time, it must be regulated with much circumspection and care. Too many of the pretended friendships of youth are mere combinations in pleasure. They are often founded on capricious likings, suddenly contracted and as suddenly dissolved. Sometimes they are the effect of interested complaisance and flattery on the one side, and of credulous fondness on the other. Such rash and dangerous connections should be avoided, lest they afterwards load us with dishonour.
We should ever have it fixed in our memories, that by the character of those whom we choose for our friends, our own is likely to be formed, and will certainly be judged of by the world. We ought, therefore, to be slow and cautious in contracting intimacy; but when a virtuous friendship is once established, we must ever consider it as a sacred engagement.
A company consisting wholly of people of the first quality cannot for that reason be called good company, in the common acceptation of the phrase, unless they are, into the bargain, the fashionable and accredited company of the place; for people of the very first quality can be as silly, as ill bred, and as worthless, as people of the meanest degree. On the other hand, a company consisting entirely of people of very low condition, whatever their merits or parts may be, can never be called good company; and consequently should not be much frequented, though by no means despised.
Lord Chesterfield: Letters to his Son, Oct. 12, 1748.
Be cautious with whom you associate, and never give your company or your confidence to persons of whose good principles you are not certain. No person that is an enemy to God can be a friend to man. He that has already proved himself ungrateful to the Author of every blessing, will not scruple, when it will serve his turn, to shake off a fellow-worm like himself. He may render you instrumental to his own purposes, but he will never benefit you. A bad man is a curse to others; as he is secretly, notwithstanding all his boasting and affected gaiety, a burden to himself. Shun him as you would a serpent in your path. Be not seduced by his rank, his wealth, his wit, or his influence. Think of him as already in the grave; think of him as standing before the everlasting God in judgment. This awful reality will instantly strip off all that is now so imposing, and present him in his true light, the object rather of your compassion and of your prayers than of your wonder or imitation.
In all societies it is advisable to associate if possible with the highest: not that the highest are always the best, but because, if disgusted there, we can at any time descend; but if we begin with the lowest, to ascend is impossible. In the grand theatre of human life, a box ticket takes us through the house.
There is a certain magic or charm in company, for it will assimilate, and make you like to them, by much conversation with them: if they be good company, it is a great means to make you good, or confirm you in goodness; but if they be bad, it is twenty to one but they will infect and corrupt you. Therefore be wary and shy in choosing and entertaining, or frequenting any company or companions; be not too hasty in committing yourself to them; stand off awhile till you have inquired of some (that you know by experience to be faithful) what they are; observe what company they keep; be not too easy to gain acquaintance, but stand off, and keep a distance yet awhile, till you have observed and learnt touching them. Men or women that are greedy of acquaintance, or hasty in it, are oftentimes snared in ill company before they are aware, and entangled so that they cannot easily loose from it after, when they would.
One that has well digested his knowledge, both of books and men, has little enjoyment but in the company of a few select companions. He feels too sensibly how much all the rest of mankind fall short of the notions which he has entertained; and his affections being thus confined within a narrow circle, no wonder he carries them further than if they were more general and undistinguished.
Company, he thinks, lessens the shame of vice by sharing it, and abates the torrent of a common odium by deriving it into many channels, and thereby if he cannot wholly avoid the eye of the observer, he hopes to distract it at least by a multiplicity of the object.
Learning, wit, gallantry, and good breeding are all but subordinate qualities in society, and are of no value, but as they are subservient to benevolence, and lend to a certain manner of being or appearing equal to the rest of the company; for conversation is composed of an assembly of men, as they are men, and not as they are distinguished by fortune.
That part of life which we spend in company is the most pleasing of all our moments; and therefore I think our behaviour in it should have its laws as well as the part of our being which is generally esteemed the more important. From hence it is, that from long experience I have made it a maxim, That however we may pretend to take satisfaction in sprightly mirth and high jollity, there is no great pleasure in any company where the basis of the society is not mutual good will. When this is in the room, every trifling circumstance, the most minute accident, the absurdity of a servant, the repetition of an old story, the look of a man when he is telling it, the most indifferent and the most ordinary occurrences, are matters which produce mirth and good-humour.
Men would come into company with ten times the pleasure they do, if they were sure of hearing nothing that would shock them, as well as expected what would please them. When we know every person that is spoken of is represented by one who has no ill will, and everything that is mentioned described by one that is apt to set it in the best light, the entertainment must be delicate, because the cook has nothing brought to his hand but what is the most excellent in its kind. Beautiful pictures are the entertainments of pure minds, and deformities of the corrupted. It is a degree towards the life of angels when we enjoy conversation wherein there is nothing presented but in its excellence: and a degree towards that of demons, wherein nothing is shown but in its degeneracy.