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Tests Of Will

( Originally Published 1907 )

"THE seat of the Will seems to vary with the organ through which it is manifested; to transport itself to different parti of the brain, as we may wish to recall a picture, a phrase, or a melody; to throw its force on the muscles or the intellectual processes. Like the general-in-chief, its place is everywhere in the field of action. It is the least like an instrument of any of our faculties ; the farthest removed from our conceptions of mechanism and matter, as we commonly define them."— O. W. Holmes.

The developed Will manifests itself, as has been suggested, in two general ways :

First. In an energetic single act; here it may be called the Dynamic Will. The Will so acting is not necessarily ideal. " Rousseau," says Carlyle, " has not depth or width, nor calm force for difficulty;— the first characteristic of true greatness. A fundamental error, to call vehemence and rigidity strength ! A man is not strong who takes convulsion-fits, though six men cannot hold him then. He that can walk under the heaviest weight without staggering, he is the strong man."

Secondly. In a series of acts conducted with force and related intelligently to a given end; here the Static Will discharges in dynamic actions its store of accumulated power.

Acts of Will may be described as Explosive, Decisive, Impelling, Restraining, Deliberative, Persistent.

These forms of Will are exhibited in connection with Physical, Mental, Moral states of the man.

Remembering that the Will is always the mind's power of self-direction, we now suggest certain


I. — The strong Will is master of the body.

II. — The right Will is lord of the mind's several faculties.

III. The perfect Will is high priest of the moral self.


The strong Will is master of the body, directing it according to the dictates of desire or reason. Hamlet's grave-digger determines his own physical vocation. The hero Dewey and his sailors send their bodies into Manilla Bay and forbid flight, while shot and shell are falling. Martyrs give their bodies to be burned. Paganini directs his fingers to execute marvels upon the violin. The trained athlete is the director of an assembly of physical powers as difficult of original control as the mob that threatened Beecher at Liver-pool. Ignatius uncovered brute Will when he said : " It is the part of a good athlete to be flayed with pounding, and yet to conquer." The psychic investigator of the modern college makes every physical element and power a tool, a prophet, a revelator of mental reality.

Mastery of the body is frequently seen in remark-able instances of physical control. All voluntarily acquired habits are examples. Though a given habit becomes automatic, it yet represents a long and persistent application of Will, and, as often, perhaps, the present exercise of Volition directing and maintaining actions that are apparently unconscious. The singer's use of his voice exhibits trained impulse; the musician's manipulation of his fingers, habituated movements; the skilled rider's mastery of his limbs in most difficult feats and unexpected situations, spontaneous response to mind; the eloquent orator, celerity of muscular obedience to feeling. In all these and similar cases the Will must act, co-ordinating particular movements with general details of Volition with the ultimate purpose in view. Indeed, the specific activities that make up the complex physical uses of the human body in all trades of skill demand super-vision of the Will as an adequate explanation. The person may not be conscious of its sovereign acts, but it is the power upon the throne.

Underlying those states of the soul of which it is immediately aware are conditions not formulated in consciousness, which nevertheless constitute its highest powers. If these exhibitions of " second nature " involved no immediate action of Will, the very exercise and training of Will which look to their attainment would, so far forth, defeat the end in view;--they would weaken rather than develop Will.

The Unconscious or Subconscious Mind plays a vast rτle in human life. The reader is referred to the author's work " Practical Psychology" for further study of that important subject.

The mind, again, has the power to summon, it were, a special degree of intensity of Will, and to throw this with great force into a particular act. This may be done during a repetition of the act, while the repetition is going on " automatically," as it is said. Does such intensity imply that no Will has hitherto been exerted? We know that in such cases we put forth a more energetic Volition.

The human eye may be made to blaze by the application of Will-power to the act of gazing.

The hearing may be made more acute by willing that all other sensations shall be ruled out of consciousness.

By focusing the attention upon the terminal nerves the sense of touch is vastly quickened, as, for example, in the case of the blind.

Muscular effort accomplishing a certain amount of work while Will is but lightly applied, becomes terrific when the whole man wills himself into the act.

Certain stimulations of mind, as fear, or love, or hate, or hope of reward, or religious excitement, or musical influence, or insanity, rouse the Will at times to vast proportions in its feats with muscle and limb,

The Olympic contests and modern exhibition games, rescues from fire or wave, woman's defense of her offspring, prolonged exertion of political speakers and evangelists, and herculean achievements of enraged in-mates of insane hospitals, furnish examples.

So, also, the Will accomplishes wonders through its power of inhibition. Under fear of detection the hiding criminal simulates the stillness of death. Pride often represses the cry of pain. In the presence of the desperately ill, love refuses the relief of tears. Irritated nerves are controlled under maddening conditions. Certain nervous diseases can be cured by the Will. Habits of the body, such as facial twitching, movements of the hands or limbs, etc., are controlled, and mannerisms of private and public life are banished. Sounds are shut out of consciousness in the act of reading. Strong appetites are denied indulgence. Pronounced tendencies in general physical conduct are varied. Attitudes of body are assumed and maintained at the cost of great pain.

Even more than is ordinarily supposed, the body is the servant of the Will. The curious thing here is that so little attention is given to the training of Will in this capacity.


The right Will is the lord of the mind's several faculties. A familiar example is seen in the act of attention. Here the soul concentrates its energies upon a single object, or upon a number of objects grouped together. A striking example may be noted in the fact that "we can smell either one of two odors, brought to the nostrils by means of paper tubes, in preference to the other, by simply thinking about it." This is a good illustration of abstraction induced by the Will. The degree of exclusiveness and force with which the mind engages itself upon a single line of action represents the cultivation of the persistent Will. If the Will is strong in this respect, it is probably strong in what is called "compound attention," or that considering state of mind in which it holds deliberative court among motives, facts, principles, means and methods relating to some possible end of effort or goal of conduct.

Thus the person wills intense consciousness of physical acts or states. One, for example, who studies profoundly the relation of physiology to psychology, exhibits great powers in willed attention, embracing largest sensations, and taking note of minutest variations with the greatest nicety. The child in learning to walk manifests admirable ability in this regard. Vocal exercises demand utmost attention of mind to musical notes, their effects upon the ear, and the manner and method of their attainment and execution. Musical instruments are also mastered in this way alone. All use of tools and instruments makes large demand upon the Will, and in proportion to their delicacy, complexity, and the difficulty of handling properly, is this demand increased. " Great skill, great Will," may be written as the general law in this regard.

So, also, as previously suggested, the power of the eye, ear and end nerves is frequently increased by application of mental energy thrown forcibly into the sense-perception involved.

The action and capacity of the lungs may be developed by intelligent attention, a style of walk may be cultivated, and habits of speech entirely reorganized. Where pronounced ability in such cases has been acquired, the cost of willed attention has been enormous.

A test of Will may be further seen in the degree of attention exerted in reading. Much is dignified as reading that is not so. In true reading the mind is focused upon the printed page. Kossuth said, " I have a certain rule never to go on in reading anything with-out perfectly understanding what I read." That was true reading.

Equally concentrated must be the mind of the artist in painting, and that of the musician in mastering a difficult composition. An artist . who painted three hundred portraits during a year, said : " When a sitter came, I looked at him attentively for half an hour, sketching from time to time on the canvas. I wanted no more. I put away my canvas and was ready for another sitter. When I wished to resume my first portrait, I took the man and sat him in the chair, when I saw him as distinctly as if he had been before me in his own proper person." A similar story is related of the sculptor David. Wishing to execute the bust of a dying woman without alarming her, he called upon her as a jeweler's man, and in a few moments secured a mental portrait of her features, which he afterward reproduced in stone. So Blind Tom listened with " rapt attention " to a complicated musical composition, and instantly repeated it, exactly as played before him, including errors. In part, concentrated attention is the secret of genius.

In sustained thinking the Will manifests one of its noblest aspects. The mind must now plunge into the depths of a subject, penetrate by driving force into its minutest details, and follow out the ramifications of its utmost complexities, concentrating upon fact, reality, relation, etc., with great power, and comparing, conjoining, separating, evolving, with tireless persistency. Napoleon was gigantic in all these particulars. Senator Carpenter, of Wisconsin, used to seclude him-self in his law library the night before some important case was docketed for trial, and feel, think and care for nothing else until morning, utterly absorbed in the mastery of its problems. So Byron was wont to immure himself with brandy and water and write for many consecutive hours in the elaboration of his poems. " The success of Hegel is in part explained by the fact that he took a manuscript to his publishers in Jena on the very day when the battle of that name was fought, and to his amazement — for he had heard or seen nothing — he found French veterans, the victorious soldiers of Napoleon, in the streets. Mohammed falling into lone trances on the mountains above Mecca, Paul in Arabia, Dante in the woods of Fonte Abellana, and Bunyan in prison, form eloquent illustrations of the necessity of mental seclusion and concentration in order to arrive at great mental results."

It is familiarly known that one of the secrets of concentration is interest in the matter in hand. But the mind's interest may be enhanced by persistent assertion of its power of Will. Study, resolutely continued, bores into the subject considered, and, discovering new features, finally induces absorbed attention of an in-creased degree. School-work furnishes many illustrations of this reward of Will. The mind may be wrought up, by long attention to matters of thought, to a state of great activity. As with mechanical contrivances, so with Will; initial movements of mind, weak at first, acquire by continuance an enhanced power. " We can work ourselves up," as one has said, " into a loving mood, by forcing the attention and the train of ideas upon all the kindness and affection that we have experienced in the past." Similarly in regard to other emotions and states of the soul. The activity of reasoning is no exception. It is a mistake to sup-pose that great intellectual achievements are products alone of what is called " inspiration." The processes of reasoning, composing, speaking, all exhibit the power of Will to develop interest and beget a true inspiration as well as to hold the mind in the grip of a subject. Lord Macaulay thus sought facility in the preparation and writing of his History. Anthony Trollope made it a rule, while writing a work of fiction, to turn off a fixed number of pages each day, and found his rule not a hindrance, but a help. In jury trials advocates talk on for hours against some supposedly obstinate juryman, and legislative halls frequently witness " speaking against time." In both cases the orator's mind develops special and unexpected interest and power.

The strength of the Will is, again, notably shown in the action of memory. Mental energy usually " charges" the soul by the process of " memorizing." But some facts are blazed into the abiding self, as it were, by the power of great interest. The storing act of mind in education, as it is commonly understood, requires Will in a very especial sense. Listless repetition of lessons accomplishes little. Attention, concentration, the forcing of interest, must take this kingdom by a kind of violence. A phrase like, " Remember ! yes, remember ! " suggests the victorious attitude of mind. Macaulay, fearing that his memory might fail, deliberately set himself to the task of its test and further development. William H. Prescott, who wrote his histories with greatly impaired eyesight, trained his memory so thoroughly that he could perform mentally the work required for sixty pages before dictation. Francis Parkman and Charles Darwin acquired prodigious memories under similar difficulties. Some minds are naturally endowed with great powers in this respect, but the really useful memories of the world exhibit the driving and sustaining action of Will.

Memory is always involved in imagination. The mind which is a blank as to its past can form no memory pictures. In its noblest character, the imagination exhibits compulsion, purpose, control. Milton must summon in luminous array the majestic images of Paradise Lost. Does Angelo see his immortal shapes without the direction of Will? Do the phantoms of the ideal world come unbidden to the arena of thought? Undoubtedly fantasies and hallucinations may troop across the plains of mental vision in capricious freedom, as when Luther saw the devil, or Goethe beheld in his sister's home a picture by Ostade; and these may frequently tyrannize over the mind with terrible power, as when Kipling's civilian of India became "possessed" by the " Phantom 'Rickshaw." But the hallucinations of disease often yield to treatment of physical improvement and resolute Will. It is significant that Goethe, relating the experience above referred to, says : " This was the first time that I discovered, in so high a degree, the gift, which I after-wards used with more complete consciousness, of bringing before me the characteristics of this or that great artist, to whose works I had devoted great attention." That the power of creating such luminous mental vision can be acquired by strenuous Will may be doubted; but there are minds that have frequent flashes of clear pictorial innersight, in which objects seem to appear with all the vividness of sunlit reality, although they can never command this experience at will. If possessed, the gift, as Goethe calls it, is, however, subject to summons and control, as seen in his case and in that of many artists. A secondary quality of mental vision, in which ideas of things, more or less vague and confused, and similar assemblages of objects, arise, is, by common testimony a matter of determined cultivation. Professions which require regular public speaking, as of the ministry or the law; the massing of facts before the mind, as in the trial of jury cases; the forming of material shapes and their organization into imaginary mechanisms, as in invention ; the grasp of details and comprehensive plans, as in large business enter-prises and military operations ; — all furnish illustrations of the truth that not original endowment alone, but energetic exercise of Will, is requisite to success. Ideas, relations, objects and combinations may be made more vivid and real by resolution of mind and persistent practice. Failures in these fields are frequently due to the fact that the Will does not force the mind to see things as details and as complex wholes. The strong Will enables the mind to recall, with growing intensity, objects, mechanisms, assemblages of facts and persons, outlines of territory, complex details and laws of enterprise, and airy fancies and huge conceptions of the worlds of real life and of ideal existence. The imagination is the pioneer of progress — in religion, industry, art and science; but as such it is not a lawless necromancer without deliberate purpose. The spirit that summons, guides and controls it is the soul's mysterious power of self-direction. And this power is equally susceptible of being so developed as to indicate selection and exclusion of clamoring images.

Hence it would seem that the mind may train and develop its own power of willing. When cultivation and improvement of Will are sought, we may say, "I will to will with energy and decision! I will to persist in willing! I will to will intelligently and for a goal! I will to exercise the Will according to the dictates of reason and of morals!" Some men are born with what are called " strong Wills." If these are to be reason-able Wills as well, they must be trained. For the most part Will would seem to develop and to acquire something of the " sweet quality of reasonableness," under life-processes which are more or less unconscious and unpurposed so far as this end is concerned ; nevertheless, the exigencies of " getting on" are constant and unappreciated trainers. Discipline knocks men about with ruthless jocularity. " A man who fails, and will not see his faults, can never improve." Here is a grim-visaged, and oftentimes humorous schoolmaster who gives small pity to his pupils. They must needs acquire some power of Will or demonstrate them-selves, not human, but blockheads. Much of life's suffering is due to the fact that force of Will is neither developed nor trained by conscious intelligent effort, and is more often devoid than possessed of rational moral quality. This is a curious thing that the Will is left, like Topsy, "to grow up." Why value this power, yet take it " catch-as-catch-can "? Why hinge success upon it, yet give it so little conscious attention? Why delegate its improvement to the indirection of " hard knocks," and disappointment cankering resolution, and misfortune making water of life's blooded forces, and all manner of diseases destroying the fine fibre of mind's divine organism? Why neglect the Will until consequence, another name for hell, oftentimes, has removed "heaven" by the diameter of the universe?

James Tyson, a Bushman in Australia, died worth $25,000,000. " But," he said, with a characteristic semi-exultant snap of the fingers, " the money is nothing. It was the little game that was the fun!" Being asked once, " What was the little game?" he replied with an energy of concentration peculiar to him: " Fighting the desert. That has been my work. I have been fighting the desert all my life, and I have won ! I have put water where was no water, and beef where was no beef. I have put fences where there were no fences, and roads where there were no roads. Nothing can undo what I have done, and millions will be happier for it after I am long dead and forgotten."

The longer I live," said Fowell Buxton, whose name is connected in philanthropy with that of Wilber-force, " the more certain I am that the great difference between men, between the feeble and the powerful, the great and the insignificant, is ENERGY — INVINCIBLE DETERMINATION —a purpose once fixed, and then Death or Victory. That quality will do anything that can be done in this world ; — and no talents, no circumstances, no opportunities will make a two-legged creature a MAN without it." The power, then, of such resistless energy should with resistless energy be cultivated.

" When the Will fails, the battle is lost."


The perfect Will is high Priest of the moral self. Indeed, a true cultivation of Will is not possible with-out reference to highest reason or ideas of right. In the moral consciousness alone is discovered the ex-planation of this faculty of the soul. A great Will may obtain while moral considerations are ignored, but no perfection of Will can be attained regardless of requirements of highest reason. The crowning phase of the Will is always ethical.

Here is the empire of man's true constitution. Resolute Will scorns the word " impossible." The strong Will of large and prolonged persistence condemns whatever is unreasonable. Nobility of Will is seen in the question, " What is right?" Napoleon exhibits the strong continuous Will. Washington illustrates the persistence of moral resolution. Jesus incarnates the Will whose law is holiness.

The Will that possesses energy and persistence, but is wanting in reasonableness and moral control, rules in its kingdom with the fool's industry and the fanatical obstinacy of Philip the Second. " It was Philip's policy and pride to direct all the machinery of his extensive empire, and to pull every string himself.. . The object, alike paltry and impossible, of this ambition, bespoke the narrow mind." Thus has Motley described an incarnation of perverted wilfulness.

If the " King " will not train himself, how shall he demand obedience of his subjects, the powers of body, mind and spirit? This is the " artist " of whom Lord Lytton sang : —

"All things are thine estate; yet must Thou first display the title deeds,

And sue the world. Be strong; and trust High instincts more than all the creeds."

A recent writer along these lines puts it pithily when he says : " In respect to mere mundane relations, the development and discipline of one's will-power is of supreme moment in relation to success in life. No man can ever estimate the power of will. It is a part of the divine nature, all of a piece with the power of creation. . . . The achievements of history have been the choices, the determinations, the creations, of the human will. It was the will, quiet or pugnacious, gentle or grim, of men like Wilberforce and Garrison, Goodyear and Cyrus Field, Bismark and Grant, that made them indomitable. They simply would do what they planned. Such men can be no more stopped than the sun can be, or the tide. Most men fail, not through lack of education or agreeable personal qualities, but from lack of dogged determination, from lack of dauntless will."

Yet it is always the righteous will which accomplishes the more lasting victories the will which demonstrates that all who grant its demands will be sharers in a mutual advance and profit. The use of will power regardless of other interest riding rough shod over everything in its path is headed for a precipice.

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