Chapter I The Will-Less Life

It perhaps occurs to the reader that man is indeed the Sphinx's riddle, and that the more we think of ourselves the more we are baffled. This is true enough; but the inference––'let the puzzle alone' is by no means safe. For this baffling problem of human nature must needs occupy us from the cradle to the grave. It is that of which we have to render account, whose content is, those talents, the use of which is our business in life.

Anarchy in Mansoul.––So far as we have considered the matter, Heart, with its affections of Love and Justice, Intellect, with its Reason and Imagination, even Conscience itself, behave pretty much as do the several organs of the body––brain, lungs, heart, and so on; give them proper food, exercise, rest, and air, and they do their work of themselves. It hardly seems to be we who imagine or who love. We may not all be consciously dominated by ideas; but every writer knows how he 'reels off' almost without intention. Everyone knows how the affections behave, how love, as lord of the bosom, plays unaccountable and vexatious pranks, and commonly gives the poor man a sorry time. The blind god with his mischievous tricks is more than a pretty fancy; it is a symbol which presents very truly the whimsical behaviour of love when left to itself.

Conscience, too, for all the dignity and sobriety we attach to his name, is, left to himself, as whimsical and aggravating as any blind god. We know the persons of morbid conscience who are fussy over some ridiculous bit of 'packthread, ' leaving their real relations and duties out of count.

Think, too, how heated and morbid the imagination becomes that is always feeding (commonly on poor trash), never working, never resting, and never coming into the fresh air of common day! We know the distorted views, sickly principles, and weak behaviour of the person who lets his imagination run away with him as a horse that has bolted runs away with his rider. Perhaps he takes to drugs, or drink, or trashy novels, to stimulate the tired jade; for go he must––he knows no other life. With a ménage full of unbroken horses, each minded to go his own way and each able to drag the poor man after him, what is he to do? Who is able to order his affairs?

Mansoul is saved from anarchy by the Will, that power within us which, we know not how, has the ordering of the rest.

An Easy Life.––It has been said that the Will is 'the sole practical faculty of man,' and we recognise this in our common speech. Whatever is done with the consent of the will we describe as voluntary; what is done without that consent is involuntary: and, as we have seen, we can reason, imagine, love, judge, without any action of the will. Indeed, life is made so easy for us, by conventions and class customs, that many poor souls live to man's estate, die in old age, and have never called upon Will to decide between this and that. They think as other people think, act as others act, feel what is commonly felt, and never fall back upon their true selves, wherein Will must act. Such lives are easy enough, but they are stunted and stinted in all directions. No power has been nourished and exercised or brought under the broad sky of God's dealings. Life is to such persons a series of casualties; things happen well or they happen ill, but they always happen; and the absence of purpose and resolution in themselves makes it impossible for them to understand that these exist in God; so their religion, also, comes to consist of conventional phrases and superstitions.

This is the most common development of the willless life, marked by a general inanition of powers and an absence of purpose,––beyond that of being as others are, and doing as others do. The inmate of the madhouse, who reasons with amazing cunning, has his affections and his conscience too (did not Mr. Dick make a valiant fight against that head of Charles I.?); but he is commonly lost for the want of will-power to order the inmates of his house of mind and his house of heart. So of the young man, who is nobody's enemy but his own, who is carried off his feet by every stray suggestion of pleasure or excitement.

It is well we should face the possibility of living without the exercise of will, in order that we may will and make our choice. Shall we live this aimless, drifting life, or shall we take upon us the responsibility of our lives, and will as we go?