Chapter III Will Not Moral Or Immoral

To 'Will' is not to 'be Good'––Perhaps what has already been said about Will may lend itself to the children's definition of 'being good,' and our imaginary dividing line may appear to have all the good people on the one side, and all the not good on the other. But the man of will may act from mixed motives, and employ mixed means. Louis XI., for example, in all he did, intended France; he was loyal to his own notion of his kingly office; but, because he was a mean man, he employed low means, and his immediate motives were low and poor. An anarchist, a rebel, may propose things outside of himself, and steadfastly will himself to their accomplishment. The means he uses are immoral and often criminal, but he is not the less a man of steadfast will. Nay, there are persons whose business in life it is to further a propaganda designed to do away with social restraints and moral convictions. They deliberately purpose harm to society; but they call it good; liberty to do as he chooses is, they say, the best that can befall a man; and this object they further with a certain degree of self-less zeal. It is the fact of an aim outside of themselves which wins followers for such men; the looker-on confuses force of will with virtue, and becomes an easy convert to any and every development of 'free-thought.'

It is therefore well we should know that, while the turbulent, headstrong person is not ruled by will at all,––but by impulse, the movement of his passions or desires,––yet it is possible to have a constant will with unworthy and even evil ends. More, it is even possible to have a steady will towards a good end, and to compass that end by unworthy means. Rebecca had no desire but that the will of God should be done; indeed, she set herself to bring it about; the younger, the chosen son, should certainly inherit the blessing as God had appointed; and she sets herself to scheme the accomplishment of that which she is assured is good. What a type she offers of every age, especially of our own!

The simple, rectified Will, what our Lord calls 'the single eye,' would appear to be the one thing needful for straight living and serviceableness.

'Will' not the Same Thing as 'an Ideal.'––Another thought that may occur is, that 'Will' is synonymous with an ideal: that the ideal, whether high or low, is the compelling power which shapes conduct. This is a comfortable doctrine, for most of us have an ideal hidden away somewhere, if it be only that of the 'good fellow' or the 'nice girl.' We see for ourselves the enormous force of Bushido, apparently the ideal of chivalry in Japan; but the ideal owes its force to the will-power which gives it effect. Everybody knows that the nursing of sentimental dream-ideals, however perfect they be, is a source of weakness. We know, too, that there are persons who make a cult of great ideals, who enjoy exquisite emotions in the midst of elegant surroundings as they contemplate and idealise the life of St Francis! Self-culture is accepted as the pursuit of an ideal; but when we realise that it is an ideal accomplished in self, and with no aim beyond self, we perceive that the gentle youth with the lily in his fingers and his head a little posed, is not a man of will, because the first condition of will, good or evil, is an object outside of self. Browning raises the curious question whether it is not better to will amiss and do it, than to persist in a steady course of desiring, thinking, feeling amiss, without strength of will for the act. Most of us who read The Statue and the Bust will agree with the poet that the fall which fails of accomplishment through lack of will is as bad as such fall accomplished. If it be not goodness, the will is virtue, in the etymological sense of that word; it is manliness.

Another thing to be observed is, that even the constant will may have its times of rise and fall; and we shall consider later one of the secrets of living––how to tide over the times of fall in will-power.

As has been said, a great secret of the art of living is to be able to pass the tempting by-paths and strike ahead. The traveller who knows this art escapes many torments; and this way of the will I shall invite the reader to consider later.

There are few subjects of thought more evasive than this of the will; but it is the duty of everyone to understand something of the behaviour of the will-o'the-wisp who leads us. By degrees, we shall discover, that here is no ignis fatuus, but a power, working in co-ordination with the other powers of Mansoul, having its own functions and subject to its own laws. Thus far we have seen, that, just as to reign is the distinctive quality of a king, so is to will the quality of a man. A king is not a king unless he reign; and a man is less than a man unless he will.

Further, we have seen that we have the choice of willing or not willing. It is even possible to go through life without an act of will. All that we do or think, in spite of ourselves, as it were, according to the impulses of our nature, is not willed. Will is neither virtuous nor vicious; but a constant will must have an object outside of self, whether good or bad. The will has, so to say, its times of high and low temperature; and the times of low temperature, of feeble will-power, are times of danger.