"Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control––
These three alone lead life to sovereign power." TENNYSON.
A Dual Self.––The whole question of self-management and self-perception implies a dual self. There is a self who reverences and a self who is reverenced, a self who knows and a self who is known, a self who controls and a self who is controlled. This, of a dual self, is perhaps our most intimate and our least-acknowledged consciousness. We are a little afraid of metaphysics, and are still more afraid of self-consciousness, and we do not take the trouble to analyse our fears.
It is well that we should fear to wander into regions of mind which we have no plummet to fathom, and from which we are incompetent to bring back any good thing. It is well, too, that we should dread that form of self-consciousness which makes us sensitively, or timorously, or proudly, aware of our individual peculiarities. But, for fear of Scylla and Charybdis, we have avoided unduly a channel which leads to a haven where we would be.
Our business at present is not to attempt any psychological explanation of the fact of the two selves of which each of us is aware; but, rather, to get some clear notions about that, let us call it,objective self, the conduct of which is the chief business of that other troublesome subjective self, of which we are all too much and too unpleasantly aware.
The 'Horrid' Self.––One of the miseries of thoughtful children and young people arises from their sense of the worthlessness of this poor, pushing, all too prominent self. They are aware that they are cross and clumsy, rude and 'horrid.' Nobody can like them. If even their mother does so, it must be because she does not quite see how disagreeable they are. Vanity, the laying of oneself out for the approbation of others, is very possible, even to children of generous temper. But I doubt if conceit is possible to any but the more commonplace minds, content to shape their opinions, even of themselves, upon what they suppose to be the opinions of those around them.
But for the uneasy young soul, whose chief business in life is the navigation of an unknown craft, some knowledge of the carrying and sailing powers of the vessel is not only beneficent in itself, but is a relief from the obsession of that tiresome other self––the subjective self, we have called it––of which we become aware in that day when we eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and leave the paradise of the unconscious child. This awakening must come to us all, and is not necessarily in our case of the nature of guilt, but it is the cause of uneasiness and self-depreciation.
The Great Self.––Any attempt to define the limits of each part of the dual self baffles us. We cannot tell where one begins and the other ends. But after every effort of thought which convinces us that we are but one, we become aware again of ourselves as two. Perhaps if we say that the one is the unsatisfactory self which we produce in our lives; the other, the self of great and beautiful possibilities, which we are aware of as an integral part of us, it is all we can do towards grasping this evasive condition of our being. It may help us to regard for a moment the human soul as a vast estate which it rests with us to realise. By soul, I mean all that we are, including even the visible presentment of us, all our powers of thinking, knowing, loving, judging, appreciating, willing, achieving. There is only one authoritative estimate of the greatness of the human soul. It is put into the balances with the whole world, and the whole world, glorious and beautiful as it is, weighs as nothing in the comparison. But we lose the value of this utterance of our Lord's because we choose to think that He is speaking of a relative and not an intrinsic value. That the soul of a man is infinitely great, beautiful, and precious in itself we do not venture to think; partly, because religion, for the most part, teaches a self-abasement and effacement contrary to the spirit and the teaching of Christ.
Emily Bronte.––We are indebted to the Belgian sage, M. Maeterlinck, for his vindication of the greatness of the soul, a vindication the more teIIing because he does not approach the subject from the religious standpoint, but brings, as it were, an outside witness. He has probably added nothing to the content of philosophy; but we have great need to be reminded, and reminded again, of the things that belong to our life; and to do this for us is a service. His contention, that in Emily Bronte we have an example of the immeasurable range of the soul, seems to me a just one: that a delicate girl, brought up almost in isolation in a remote parsonage, should be able to sound the depths of human passion, conceive of human tragedy, and gather the fruits of human wisdom, is a very fair illustration of the majesty of the soul; all the more so because she was not among the great as regards either virtue or achievement. When we turn from an obscure Emily Bronte to a Shakespeare, a Newton, a Rembrandt, a Dante, a Darwin, a Howard, we begin to discern the immensity of that soul which contains a measure for all things, capacity for all men; but we leave off too soon in our appreciation of our Great; we are too shamefaced to acknowledge to ourselves that it is in our own immensity we find some sort of measure for theirs.
Are there any little men? Perhaps not. It may be that all the properties of the soul are present in everyone, developed or undeveloped, in greater or lesser degree. So Christ seems to have taught; and many a poor and insignificant soul has been found to hold capacity for Him.
But here is a case in which the greater is blessed (or cursed?) of the less. The realised self of each of us is a distressfully poor thing, and yet upon its insight and its action depends the redemption of that greater self, whose limitations no man has discovered. It is, to use a figure, as the relation between a country and its government. The country is ever greater than the governing body; and yet, for its development, the former must depend upon the latter.
The Governing Powers.––What are these central governing powers, or officers, upon whose action the fulfilment of a human being depends? I cannot, as yet, go to Psychology for an answer, because she is still in the act of determining whether or no there be any spirit. Where I appear to abandon the dicta of our more ancient guide, Philosophy, it is only as I am led by common intuition. That which all men perceive to be true of themselves may be considered with a view to the conduct of the affairs of the inner life, just as it is wise to arrange our outward affairs on the belief that the sun rises at such an hour and sets at such an hour. The actual is of less immediate consequence than the apparent fact.
As I do not know of any book to recommend to parents which should help their children in the conduct of life in matters such as I have indicated, which are neither precisely ethical nor religious, I venture to offer an outline of the sort of teaching I have in view in the form in which it might be given to intelligent children and young people of any age, from eight or nine upwards.
How to use this Volume.––I think that in teaching children mothers should make their own of so much as they wish to give of such teaching, and speak it, a little at a time, perhaps by way of Sunday talks. This would help to impress children with the thought that our relations with God embrace the whole of our lives. Older students of life would probably prefer to read for themselves, or with their parents, and the more advanced teaching which is suitable for them will pass over the heads of their younger brothers and sisters.