When they are poor, he can relieve their necessities by supplying them with money or helping them to obtain lucrative appointments. Also from a feeling of vanity most men take a great deal of pleasure in being seen frequently in the company of the rich and powerful. Thus there are many motives by which men are urged to cultivate the friendship of the prosperous. But when the rich man loses his wealth, or the powerful man is deprived of his power, all the friends, who were attracted only by considerations of self-interest, fall away. They did not love the man himself, but his riches, his hospitality, and the favours he could confer on those who pleased him. Therefore when, owing to a change of fortune, he loses the power of conferring benefits, and is himself in need of the help of others, they leave him and seek more profitable friendships. By their conduct they show that they were not real friends, but only pretenders to the name. The true friend is constant in evil as in good fortune, and remains faithful until death.
Thus it is that friendship is tried by adversity, as gold is tried by fire: and it is one of the knowing that those who cultivate our friendship are not self-seekers, acting with an eye to their own advantage, but true friends who love us for ourselves. History and fiction give us many instances of friends tried by adversity, some of whom were found wanting in the hour of trial, while others showed their genuine worth. In Shakespeare’s King Lear, Kent and the Fool are fine examples of faithful friendship rising superior to fortune, and in the former character the poet shows how a true friend can in adversity return good for the evil unjustly inflicted upon him by his powerful friend, before the hour of misfortune came upon him. We have the exact opposite of such a character as that of Shakespeare’s Kent in the famous Bacon.
This great philosopher requited the kindness he had received from his friend and benefactor, the Earl of Essex, by attacking him in his hour of adversity, and even went so far as to blacken his memory after his death. It is on account of this base desertion of his friend that he has been deservedly branded for all time as the “meanest of mankind.”