March 8, 2012

Never Trust Friends!

F. Hayez, portrait of Alessandro Manzoni
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
One of the greatest comforts of this life is friendship; and one of the comforts of friendship is that of having someone we can trust with a secret. But friendship does not pair us off into couples, as marriage does; each of us generally has more than one friend to his name, and so a chain is formed, of which no man can see the end. When we allow ourselves the comfort of depositing a secret in the bosom of a friend, we inspire him with the wish to enjoy the same comfort for himself. It is true that we always ask him not to tell anyone else; and this is a condition which, if taken literally, would break the series of comforting confidences at once. But the general practice is to regard the obligation as one which prevents a man from passing the secret on, except to an equally trusted friend and on the same condition of silence. From trusted friend to trusted friend, the secret travels and travels along an unending chain, until it reaches the ears of the very man or men from whom the first speaker meant to keep it for ever. It would generally require a long time to get there, if each of us only had two friends—one to confide the secret to us, and another to whom we can pass it on. But there are some privileged men who have hundreds of friends, and once a secret reaches one of them, its subsequent journeys are so rapid and multitudinous that no one can keep track of them.

~ Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed, Chapter 11. Transl. Bruce Penman, 1972, Penguin Books, London/New York

Yesterday, March 7, 2012, was the 227th anniversary of the birth of Alessandro Manzoni, and Google celebrated him with a doodle. I myself couldn’t help but do my part to celebrate him, and decided to quote one of my favorite passages of The Betrothed. This passage is fairly representative of Manzoni’s style and sense of humor. Do you think he is too pessimistic about friendship? Well, not as much as this guy:

“Trust not any man with thy life, credit, or estate. For it is mere folly for a man to enthrall himself to his friend, as though, occasion being offered, he might not become an enemy.” (Lord William Cecil Burleigh)

Google Doodle: Alessandro Manzoni's 227th Birthday


  1. There's no one like Manzoni. I still read his works for pleasure, more than 20 years after studying them at school.