Ourselves by Charlotte Mason: Some Thoughts on the Will

I’m re-reading Charlotte Mason’s fourth volume, Ourselves, this time with my online book buddies. Ourselves is subtitled: Improving Character and Conscience, and is divided into Books 1 and 2. The first was designed for children around the age of twelve and the second for those of high school age, but, as many home educators have found, it is also an instructive book to read as an adult.
We have been reading through the section on the Will where she explains the role of the will and how we may live our lives in a ‘will-less’ state.
I’ll just mention here that in Home Education (Volume 1, Pg. 321) she addresses the term ‘wilfulness’ as it is commonly applied to children and suggests that a more correct term would be ‘will-less-ness.’
Coming back to Ourselves she makes the point that success in life doesn’t necessarily mean that a person exercised their will. One example she gives is that of Napoleon – he willed nothing outside of himself. He had genius, ambition, conceit, as well as ample courage, but he was driven along the path of least resistance by his nature. He was petulant and unstable, just like a child.

‘It is only as a man wills that he is, in any full sense, a man…and it is out of many acts of willing that our character, our personality, comes forth.’

I’ve read some similar thoughts to those of Charlotte Mason’s regarding the Will in The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life’ by Hannah Whitall Smith (1832 – 1911).
This Christian classic is written very directly and gets to the heart of the unreliable nature of our feelings. In Chapter 7, ‘Difficulties Concerning the Will,’ she says:

‘The common thought is, that this life hid with Christ in God is to be lived in the emotions, and consequently all the attention of the soul is directed towards them, and as they are satisfactory or otherwise, the soul rests or is troubled. Now the truth is that this life is not to be lived in the emotions at all, but in the will, and therefore the varying states of emotion do not in the least disturb or affect the reality of the life, if only the will is kept steadfastly abiding in its centre, God’s will…’

The Will does not act alone. It takes the whole person to will. If the will is the governing power in a person’s nature, and the will is set straight, then all the rest of the nature must come into harmony.
Our emotions are not ourselves. There is something behind our emotions and our wishes, an independent self that decides and governs everything.

‘And now, dear Christian, let me show you how to apply this principle to your difficulties. Cease to consider your emotions, for they are only the servants; and regard simply your will, which is the real king in your being. Is that given up to God? Is that put into His hands?’

Our Wills must have an object outside of ourselves, and if we do not continually make choices based on a disciplined will, we are like a puppet pulled by the strings of other people’s opinions.

I’ll use a fancy phrase I only heard of recently – the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon or frequency illusion – and note another mention of the Will I came across in my reading this past week:

‘Don’t you think, Mr. Weber, that one of the dreadful discoveries that we shall make in the life to come will be the extent to which we have put the clock back, and kept humanity upon the rack, by the mere unwilled thinking of idle moments?’

The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge

4 thoughts on “Ourselves by Charlotte Mason: Some Thoughts on the Will

    • Hi Annie Kate, it’s via Zoom & is scheduled on the last Wednesday of each month at 7.30pm, Sydney – Eastern Standard Time in Australia. I don’t know how well that would work for you in Canada but you’d be most welcome to join in if the time suited you. 🙂


  1. Excellent post! I’ve read Ourselves twice — once alone and one w/ my kids. And still so much to unpack, I would need a third and fourth reread to remember everything.

    Truly, not much thought is given to the correct application of will these days. It’s all for one and one for himself. The example of Napoleon is perfect. How many little Napoleons are running around today?

    Liked by 1 person

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