WILL AND WILFULNESS
The Wilful Person has one Aim.—The wilful person is at the mercy of his appetites and his chance desires. Esau must needs have that red pottage, he must needs hunt, or marry, or do whatever his desires move him towards at the moment. So must needs do the crafty gambler, the secret drunkard, the slothful soul, the inordinate novel-reader, the person for whom ‘life’ means ‘pleasure.’ Each of these is steady to only one thing, he must always have his way; but his way is a will-o’-the-wisp which leads him in many directions. Wherever gratification is to be found—for his vanity, his love of nice eating, his desire for gay company, or his ambition, his determination to be first,—there he goes. He is a wilful man, without power or desire to control the lead of his nature, having no end in view beyond the gratification of some one natural desire, appetite, or affection. Mr Barrie’s Sentimental Tommy is a valuable study
of a wilful person. Tommy always attained his end, always found out a ‘wy’; and his ends were often good enough in themselves. But Tommy is an ingrained poseur: he does many generous things, and is a bit of a genius; but all his efforts are prompted by the chance desires of his vanity. He must, at all hazards, impress an audience. He always gets his ‘wy,’ yet his life falls to pieces in the end because he is not dominated by Will, but by vanity.
Jacob, too, gets his way, often by subtle means, and every subtlety brings its chastisement; but he does not seek his way for its own sake. All his chance desires are subordinated to an end—in his case, the great end of founding the kingdom of promise. The means he uses are bad and good. “Few and evil are the days of my life,” he complains at the end, so sore have been his chastisements; but, always, he has willed steadily towards an end outside of himself.
The career of the late Lore Beaconsfield is an interesting study, as showing the two phases of Wilfulness and Will. To begin with, he has only the rather dazzling wilfulness of a young man’s ambition; he will shine, he will make himself heard in the House; and he does it. But there is nothing more; and the country feels him to be a creature of chance desires. But by and by Will manifests itself, the will of the great statesman. Personal desires are subjugated or disappear in the presence of the ruling will, and we get a man fit for the service of his country. We have no record of an era of wilfulness in Wellington; his was ever the iron will, iron to keep down not only those under him, but any turbulence of his own flesh or spirit. The ‘Iron Chancellor’ of
Germany had this same steadfastness of will, always accomplishing towards an end.
A Dividing Line.—Both Shakespreare and Scott use, as it were, a dividing line, putting on the one side the wilful, wayward, the weak and the strong; and on the other, persons who will.
Faust, Lady Macbeth, King Lear, Edward Waverly, Charles II, King John, Marlborough, all sorts of unlikely persons, fall to the side of the line where Will is not in command. On the other side, also, unlikely people find themselves in company—Wolsey, Sir Thomas More, Laud, Mahomet, Henry V. of England, and Henry IV. of France. The two Marys, of England and Scotland, fall to either side of the line.
To make even a suggestive list would be to range over all history and literature. Let me say again, however, that here is a line of study which should make our reading profitable, as making us intimate with persons, and the more able for life. The modern psychical novel is rarely of use ‘for example of life and instruction in manners.’ It is too apt to accept persons as inevitable, to evade the question of Will, and to occupy itself with a thousand little traits which its characters manifest nolens volens. The way of the modern novel is to catch its characters and put them to disport themselves in a glass bowl, as it were, under observation.
A man standing in the ranks cannot drill the company, and the restless forces of Mansoul can only be ordered by a Will, projected, so to speak, from the man, thrown to the front aiming at something without; and, from this point of vantage, able to order the movements of Mansoul, and to keep its forces under command.
 Quentin Durward, Scott.
 Anne of Geierstein, Scott.
 The Talisman, Scott.
 Vanity Fair, Thackeray.
 Redgauntlet, Scott.
 Redgauntlet, Scott.
 Quentin Durward.
 One of our Conquerors, Meredith.