Forgive and Forget!
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
"Forgive and forget, Herbert."
"No, I will neither forgive nor forget! The thing was done deliberately. I never pass by a direct insult."
"Admit that it was done deliberately; but this I doubt. He is an old friend, long tried and long esteemed. He could not have been himself; he must have been carried away by some wrong impulse, when he offended you."
"He acted from something in him, of course."
"We all do so. Nothing external can touch our volition, unless there is that within, which corresponds to the impelling agent."
"Very well. This conduct of Marston shows him to be internally unworthy of my regard; shows him to possess a trait of character which unfits him to be my friend. I have been mistaken in him. He now stands revealed in his true light — a mean-spirited fellow!"
"Don't use such language towards Marston, my young friend."
"He has no principle. He wished to render me ridiculous, and do me harm! A man who could act as he did, cannot possess a spark of honorable feeling. Does a good fountain send forth bitter waters? Is not a tree known by its fruit? When a man seeks deliberately to insult and injure me — I discover that he lacks principle, and wish to have no more to do with him."
"Perhaps," said the individual with whom Herbert Arnest was conversing, "it is your wounded self-love, more than your high regard for principle, which speaks so eloquently against Marston."
"No, my young friend, do not be offended with me. Your years, twice told, would not make mine. I have lived long enough to get a cool head and understand something of the springs of action which lie in the human heart. The best people, have little to be proud of, and much to lament over — in the matter of high and honorable impulses. It is a far easier thing to do wrong, than right; far easier to be led away by our evil passions, than to compel ourselves always to regard justice and judgment in our dealings with others. Test yourself by this rule: would your feelings for Marston be the same, if he had only acted toward another, as he has acted toward you? Do not say 'yes' from a hasty impulse. Reflect coolly about it. If not, then it is not so much a regard to principle — as your regard to yourself, which causes you to be so bitterly offended."
This plain language was not relished by the young man. It was concerning the very thing in him that Marston had offended — his self-love. He replied, coldly —
"As for that, I am very well satisfied with my own reasons for being displeased with Marston; and am perfectly willing to be responsible for my own action in this case. I will change very much from my present feelings — if I ever have anything more to do with him!"
"May God give you a forgiving spirit, then," replied Mr. Welford. "It is the best wish I can express for you."
The two young men who were now at variance with each other, had been friends for many years. As they entered the world, the hereditary character of each came more fully into external manifestation, and revealed traits not before seen, and not always the most agreeable to others. Edward Marston had his faults — and so had Herbert Arnest. The latter quite as many as the former. There was a mutual observation of these, and a mutual forbearance towards each other for a considerable time, although each thought more than was necessary about things in the other, which ought to be corrected.
A fault with Marston was quickness of temper and a disposition to say unpleasant, cutting things, without due reflection. But he had a forgiving disposition, and very many amiable and excellent qualities.
Arnest was also quick-tempered. His leading defect of character was self-esteem, which made him exceedingly sensitive in regard to other's estimation of himself. He could not bear to have any freedom taken with him, in company, even by his best friend. He felt it to be humiliating, if not degrading. He, therefore, was a man who disliked many others — for one and another were every now and then doing or saying something which more or less severely hurt his self-esteem.
Marston had none of this peculiar weakness of his friend. He rarely thought about the estimation in which he was held, and never let the mere opinions of others influence him. But he was careful not to do anything that violated his own self-respect.
The breach between the young men occurred thus. The two friends were in company with several others, and there was present a young lady in whose eyes Arnest wished to appear in as favorable a light as possible. He was relating an adventure in which he was the principal hero, and, in doing so, exaggerated his own action so far as to amuse Marston, who happened to know all about the circumstances, and provoke from him some remarks which placed the whole affair in rather a ridiculous light, and caused a laugh, at Arnest's expense.
The young man's self-esteem was deeply wounded. Even the lady, for whose ears the narrative had been more especially given, laughed heartily, and made one or two light remarks; or, rather, heavy ones for the ears of Arnest. He was deeply disturbed, though at the time he managed to conceal almost entirely what he felt.
Marston, however, saw that his thoughtless words had done more harm than he had intended them to do, both upon the company and upon the overly sensitive mind of his friend. He regretted having uttered them, and waited only until he would leave the company with Arnest, to express his sorrow for what he had done. But his friend did not give him this opportunity, for he managed to retire alone, thus expressing to Marston the fact that he was seriously offended.
Early the next morning, Marston called at the residence of his friend, in order to make an apology for having offended him; but he happened not to be at home. On arriving at his office, he found a note from Arnest, couched in the most offensive terms. The language was such as to extinguish all desire or intention to apologize.
"Henceforth we are strangers," he said, as he thrust the note aside.
An hour afterward, they met on the street, looked coldly into each other's face, and passed without even a nod. That act sealed the record of estrangement.
Mr. Wellford was an old gentleman who was well acquainted with both of the young men, and esteemed them for the good qualities they possessed. When he heard of the occurrence just related, he was much grieved, and sought to heal the breach that had been made; but without success. Arnest's self-esteem had been sorely wounded, and he would not forgive what he considered a deliberate outrage. Marston felt himself deeply insulted by the note he had received, and maintained that he would forfeit his self-respect, were he to hold any fellowship whatever with a man who could, on so small a provocation, write such a scandalous letter.
Thus the matter stood; wounded self-esteem on one side, and insulted self-respect on the other — not only maintaining the breach, but widening it every day. Mr. Wellford used his utmost influence with his young friends to bend them from their anger, but he argued the matter in vain. The voice of pride — was stronger than the voice of reason.
Months were allowed to go by, and even years to elapse, and still they were as strangers. Circumstances threw them constantly together; they met in places of business; they sat in full view of each other in church on the holy Sabbath; they mingled in the same social circles; the friends of one were the friends of the other; but they rarely looked into each other's face — and never spoke. Did this make them happier? No! For, "If you forgive not men their trespasses — neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses." Did they feel indifferent toward each other? Not by any means! Arnest still dwelt on and magnified the provocation he had received, but thought that the expression of his indignation had not been of a character to give as great offence to Marston as it had done. And Marston, as time passed, thought more and more lightly of the few jesting words he had spoken, and considered them less and less provocation, for the insulting note he had received, which he still had, and sometimes opened and read.
The old friends were forced to think of each other often, for both were rising in the world, and rising into general esteem and respectability. The name of the one was often mentioned with approbation in the presence of the other; and it sometimes happened that they were thrown together in such a way as to render their position toward each other really embarrassing: as, for instance, one was called to preside at a public meeting, and the other chosen secretary. Neither could refuse, and there had to be an official fellowship between them; it was cold and formal in the extreme; and neither could see as he looked into the eyes of the other, a glimmer of the old light of friendship.
Mr. Wellford was present at this meeting, and marked the fact that the fellowship between Arnest and Marston was official only — that they did not unbend to each other in the least. He was grieved to see it, for he knew the good qualities of both, and he had a high respect for them.
"This must not be!" said he to himself, as he walked thoughtfully homeward. "They are making themselves unhappy, and preventing a concert of useful efforts for good in society — and all for nothing. I will try again to reconcile them; perhaps I may be more successful than before."
So, on the next day, the old gentleman made it his business to call upon Arnest, who expressed great pleasure in meeting him.
"I noticed," said Mr. Wellford, after he had conversed some time, and finally introduced the subject of the meeting on the previous evening, "that your fellowship with the secretary was exceedingly formal; in fact, hardly courteous."
"I don't like Marston, as you are very well aware," replied Arnest.
"In which feeling you stand nearly alone, friend Arnest. Mr. Marston is highly esteemed by all who know him."
"All don't know him, as I do."
"Perhaps others know him better than you do; there may lie the difference."
"If a man knocks me down — I know the weight of his arm much better than those who have never felt it."
"Still nursing your anger, still harboring unkind thoughts! Forgive and forget, my friend — forgive and forget; no longer let the sun go down upon your anger."
"I can forgive, Mr. Wellford — I do forgive — for Heaven knows I wish him no harm; but I cannot forget — that is asking too much."
"You do not forget — because you will not forgive," replied the old gentleman. "Forgive — and you will soon forget. I am sure you will both be happier in forgetting, than you can be in remembering the past."
But Arnest shook his head, remarking, as he so, "I would rather let things remain as they are. At least, I cannot stoop to any humiliating overtures for a reconciliation. When Marston outraged my feelings so wantonly, I wrote him a pretty angry expression of my sentiments in regard to his conduct. This gave him mortal offence. I do not now remember what I wrote, but nothing, certainly, to have prevented his coming forward and apologizing for his conduct; but he did not choose to do this, and there the matter rests. I cannot recall the angry rebuke I gave him, for it was no doubt just."
"A man who writes a letter in an angry passion, and afterwards forgets what he has written," said Mr. Wellford, "may be sure that he has said what his sober reason cannot approve. If you could have the letter you then sent before you now, I imagine that you would no longer wonder that Marston was offended."
"That is impossible! Without doubt, he burned my note the moment he received it!"
Mr. Wellford tried in vain to induce Arnest to consent to forget what was past; but he affirmed that this was impossible, and that he had no wish to renew an acquaintance with his old friend.
About the same time that this interview took place, Marston was alone, thinking with sad and softened feelings of the past. The letter of Arnest was before him; he had turned it over by accident.
"He could not have been himself when he wrote this," he thought. It was the first time he had permitted himself to think so. "My words must have stung him severely — even as lightly as I uttered them, and with no intention to wound. This matter ought not to have gone on so long. Friends are not so plentiful that we may carelessly cast those we have tried and proved aside. He has many excellent qualities."
Pride came quickly, with many suggestions about self-respect, and what every man owed to himself.
"He owes it to himself to be just to others," Marston truly thought. "Was I just in failing to apologize to my friend, notwithstanding this offensive letter? No, I was not; for his action did not exonerate me from the responsibility of mine. Ah, me! How angry passion blinds us!"
After musing for some time, Marston drew towards him a sheet of paper, and, taking up a pen, wrote:
"My Dear Sir: What I ought to have done years ago, I do now, and that is, offer you a sincere apology for light words thoughtlessly spoken, but which I ought not to have used, as they were calculated to wound — and, I am grieved to think, did wound. But for your note, which I enclose, I would have made this apology the moment I had an opportunity. But its peculiar tenor, I then felt, precluded me from doing so. I confess that I erred in letting my feelings blind my cooler judgment. Your old friend, Marston."
Enclosing the note alluded to in this letter, Marston sealed, and, ringing for an attendant, despatched it.
"Better to do right late, than never," he murmured, as he leaned pensively back in his chair.
"Let what will come of it, I shall feel better, for I will gain my own self-respect, and have an inward assurance that I have done right — more than I have for a long time had, in regard to this matter at least."
Relieved in mind, Marston commenced looking over some papers in reference to matters of business then on hand, and was soon so much absorbed in them, that the subject which had lately filled his thoughts faded entirely therefrom. Someone opened the door, and he turned to see who was entering. In an instant he was on his feet. It was Arnest!
The face of the latter was pale and agitated, and his lips quivered. He came forward hurriedly, extending his hand, not to grasp that of his old friend, but to hold up his own letter that had been just returned to him.
"Marston," he said, huskily, "did I send you this note?"
"You did," was the firm but mild answer.
"Thus I cancel it!" And he tore it into shreds, and scattered them on the floor. "Would that its contents could be as easily obliterated from your memory!" he added, in a most earnest voice.
"They are no longer there, my friend," returned Marston, with visible emotion, now grasping the hand of Arnest. "You have wiped them out."
Arnest returned the pressure with both hands, his eyes fixed on those of Marston, until they grew so dim, that he could no longer read the old familiar lines and forgiving look.
"Let us forgive and forget," said Marston, speaking in a broken voice. "We have wronged each other and ourselves. We have let evil passions rule, instead of good affections."
"From my heart do I say Amen," replied Arnest. "Yes, let us forgive and forget. Would that we had been as wise as we now are, years ago!"
Thus were they reconciled. And now the question is: What did either gain by his indignation against the other? Did Arnest rise higher in his self-esteem, or Marston gain additional self-respect? We think not. Alas! how blinding is selfish passion! How it opens in the mind the door for the influx of multitudes of evil and false suggestions! How it hides the good in others, and magnifies weakness into crimes! Let us beware of it.
"Reconciled at last," said old Mr. Wellford, when he next saw Arnest and heard the fact from his lips.
"Yes," replied the latter. "I can now forget as well as forgive."
"Rather say you can forget, because you forgive. If you had forgiven truly, you could have ceased to think of what was wrong in your friend long ago. People talk of forgiving and not forgetting — but it isn't so. They do not forget, because they do not forgive."
"I believe you are right," said Arnest. "I think, now, as naturally of my friend's good qualities, as I ever did before of what was evil. I forget the evil, in thinking of the good."
"Because you have forgiven him," returned Mr. Wellford. "Before you forgave him, your thought of evil gave no room for the thought of good."
Mr. Wellford was right. After we have forgiven — we find it no hard matter to forget.