I am grateful to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism for what I have been learning about a subject that matters tremendously to every man and woman—what good will is and what it means to have good will in love. In The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known Eli Siegel writes:
Good will can be described as the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful. [The Right Of #121] It is as much a drive as the drive towards food or sex...[It] is the authentic hope reality can be liked. [The Right Of #181]
Good will is our greatest power, I learned, because it makes a man honestly proud of himself, and no other purpose can.
As a man asks—how can I have a good effect on the people and things I meet, including a woman; how can I be a means of another person being stronger, kinder, more confident—the self-respect he feels and the happiness and freedom that go with it are tremendous. "If you are able to have good will," Eli Siegel said in an Aesthetic Realism class in l975, "you come into your full strength."
I) Good Will and the Desire to Know
I learned from Aesthetic Realism that in not wanting to see the full and rich reality of other people's lives, I had stunted my own strength. Though I thought I was an intellectual—when friends at college talked about things that excited them, I felt I couldn't listen except to figure out how to out-trump them. And though I told myself I wanted very much to be kind, and often would talk through the night when a friend had a problem troubling him—if, in the end, he didn't take my advice, I would feel insulted and use it to justify spending more time alone with myself.
While I acted as if I were equal to the depths of other people, I arrogantly expected people hearing me talk to feel I was too deep for them to comprehend. I was very much like the "moody young man"—Ronald Hill—whom Eli Siegel writes of in "Love and Reality" in Self and World :
He thought himself a profoundly distinguished being whose attitudes had a dimension to them that could not be discerned elsewhere.
This state of mind, so unjust to other people, is laughable in its conceit. But it is also, I learned, where all cruelty begins. I had staked my sense of self on what Aesthetic Realism alone describes—contempt: the hope to make myself important by lessening meaning outside myself. Contempt, however—and I love Eli Siegel for making it plain—is a man's greatest failure. It is, he explained, self-destructive. It is mind working against itself. Reality gave us mind in order to know and see meaning in the things and people we meet; it gave us imagination so we can use our minds honestly to increase meaning, which is what an artist does as he finds possibilities of beauty in the world.
On January 7, l975, in an Aesthetic Realism Ethical Study Conference, Eli Siegel explained to me, critically and so kindly, that the ill will with which I was using my mind in relation to Cynthia Malloy, the woman I said I cared for, was hurting my life—including my ability to do well with my studies of how to compose music.
For example, when Cynthia was concerned about her parents, instead of wanting to see what she felt, I was angry having to think about her in relation to her family at all. I wanted to be the one important person in her life.
When I told Mr. Siegel about this and about how I had been speaking with Cynthia at home, he said:
If you want to have a self on the basis in any way of other people's weakness, you have succumbed to cheapness...Good will means wanting a person to be stronger, more organized....Do you really want to be a cause of clearness and strength in her, to have her be proud of how she sees her parents, or do you want to be annoyed?
I answered "I'm not sure" which I regret very much. I now see how important it is for a man to make up his mind about having good will or he will suffer. Eli Siegel also showed me that art stands for good will. When a composer thinks about a melody he needs to ask—how will it sound best, what chords can I add to this melody to bring out its strength? Through this he expresses himself.
While I hoped for this power as a musician, I learned it was exactly what I was not doing with Cynthia. "You should say," Eli Siegel told me, "Cynthia Malloy, you're a note in music, only a little more difficult." And he continued, "Do you think you have some of that woman diminishing-tendency? Remember, it was the weakest thing in Beethoven, his inability to see women well."
He taught me what I needed most to know and for told me with such compassion:
While there is anything in this world we don't care for enough and we don't try to, we are ashamed. There has to be a certain intensity about this. This matter of good will has been in all literature. Aesthetic Realism sees kindness as the most intellectual thing in the world.
II) We Can Learn from a Novel about the Fight in a Man about Good Will and Ill Will
As I speak about the thrilling, life-giving ethical education of Aesthetic Realism, and what I am so privileged to be learning now about good will in classes taught by Ellen Reiss, I will also be talking about aspects of Samuel Richardson's important novel Clarissa, published in l748. It is a novel I have seen every man can learn from. Clarissa Harlowe is a young woman of England—thoughtful and kind—and it is a sign of his power as a novelist that for nearly 2,000 pages Richardson keeps us intensely interested: we want to know—what is Clarissa thinking; what will she do next? It is not easy to show that goodness is powerful and dramatic because most often evil seems more interesting—but Richardson does exactly that, and in a way that has swept people. Eli Siegel said it was the most popular novel in Europe in its time, and he spoke of how people in l760 had tears when they "read the history of Clarissa Harlowe."
The novel also has perhaps the greatest villain ever in the field of a man's ill will towards a woman. He is Robert Lovelace, described by Richardson in his list of principal characters as:
a man of birth and fortune, haughty, vindictive, humorously vain, equally intrepid and indefatigable in the pursuit of his pleasures—making his addresses to Miss Clarissa Harlowe.
Lovelace is powerfully attracted by Clarissa, but she does not want to be courted by him. He is very angry at this and as the novel goes on his plans for revenge become terrible. He threatens her family with physical injury if she doesn't reconsider his suit. He tricks her into fleeing her home—seeming to offer protection when her family tries to force a marriage on her with another man, whom she loathes. He keeps her prisoner in a London house of prostitution making it at first appear a respectable home, a temporary lodging until she is safely beyond the reach of her family. There he persistently tries, in her words, "to break my spirit"—to have her cheapen herself by giving him a bodily approval he does not deserve.
Clarissa does not want to betray herself and she resists his attempts to seduce her. Lovelace takes the strength of a woman as an insult, as a gnawing wound. He takes her critical mind not as something to love and want to strengthen—something he is grateful to benefit from—but as a cause of humiliation he has a right to get revenge on. He is determined to bring her down in her own eyes and those of her family. In a letter to his friend, John Belford, Lovelace says this:
Is it not a confounded thing that I cannot fasten an obligation upon this proud beauty?...To have my monitress so very good! I protest I know not how to look up at her! Now, as I am thinking, if I could pull her down a little nearer to my own level; that is to say, could prevail upon her to do something that would argue imperfection , something to repent of; we should jog on much more equally.
III) What Kind of Power Are We After?
Right now in Aesthetic Realism classes and consultations men are learning about this enemy to love in ourselves: the ugly notion Lovelace embodies that there is more power in getting a woman in a tizzy over you than in learning from her and trying to be a friend to her—really liking it when she has integrity and beauty, and hoping she has even more.
When I first was coming to know Aesthetic Realism consultant Carrie Wilson, who I am grateful to say is now my wife, I was deeply affected by her kindness and knowledge, the way she thought with imagination and care about people. Her criticism of me, sometimes given with a useful sense of humor, had me see my family, the people I know and work with, and music, better. As I have seen her energy working with our colleagues to have Aesthetic Realism reach the people of the world, I respect it so much. Knowing Carrie has made me a stronger, happier, and more self-critical person, and I love her for this.
I am grateful too to have learned about a way I lacked good will as I was first seeing Carrie. When we went out, I found myself calculating: who is having a bigger effect on whom? And I'm sorry to say I was irritated because I thought she didn't make enough of me in front of other people and show how deeply I had impressed her!
In an Aesthetic Realism class Ellen Reiss asked me, "Do you know what to make of Miss Wilson?" "No," I said, "I don't." And she continued, "I think you feel Carrie Wilson doesn't take you with enough deep disturbance." Yes, I said that when we were out with friends: "She hasn't told people how much she respects me for being courageous." "I think," Ellen Reiss commented with critical humor, "you feel Carrie Wilson is too sensible...she's not in a tumult about what Ed Green thinks of her, and I think [you feel] it's insulting."
EG: It's been four weeks that we've been talking...
ER: Four weeks—by this time, you feel, she's had enough time to become idiotic!
This was so true! And in a later class Miss Reiss said so kindly:
You have gone for wanting to be brilliant and have not felt that steady good will is the greatest brilliance. You should use knowing Carrie Wilson to see, it is!
I am so grateful for this. I have tested it and it has changed my life profoundly. Instead of wasting my energy in the useless and enervating hope to have the woman I care for make more of me than of the world itself, I've been having the happiest years of my life learning what it means to have good will.
IV) Lovelace Looks for Weakness, or: The Strategy of Ill Will
Clarissa is a critic, and a kind one. She very much hopes to like people. And throughout the novel, even under the most distressing circumstances, we see her great desire to like the world—through books, music, a garden; and through lively correspondence with her best friend, Anna Howe. And she has a sense of where unkindness begins—which Aesthetic Realism makes clear: the hope for contempt. She tells the suitor her family has chosen, "Nor can there be a greater sign of want of merit than where a man seeks to pull down another's character, in order to build up his own." And Clarissa is brave in criticizing the greed and ill will of her own family's real-estate dealings. For example, she says:
And yet, in my opinion, the world is but one great family; originally it was so; what then is this narrow selfishness that reigns in us but relationship remembered against relationship forgot?
I respect her very much. Yet with all her keenness, Clarissa does not see the extent of her family's ill will. She doesn't see that their selfish way of seeing the world and other people is also—as Aesthetic Realism says it inevitably has to be—their way of seeing her. Her brother James—one of the worst brothers in or out of a novel—sees Lovelace's interest in Clarissa as a threat to his economic prominence and forces Lovelace to a duel in which Lovelace slightly wounds him. In response, the Harlowes bar Lovelace from making further addresses and tell Clarissa that to compensate for the lost income her marriage with Lovelace would have provided, she must now do right by her family and marry an elderly and repulsive miser, Solmes, who has agreed to hand over most of his holdings to the Harlowes if Clarissa marries him.
Lovelace, outraged, tells Clarissa he will destroy her family unless she allows him to continue his suit. And he tells his friend Belford with malice:
Then my revenge upon the Harlowes! To have run away with a daughter of theirs, to make her a Lovelace—to make her one of a family so superior to her own—what a triumph, as I have heretofore observed, to them ! But to run away with her, and to bring her to my lure in the other light, what a mortification of their pride! What a gratification of my own!
He plants a spy in the Harlowe home. He knows Clarissa, kept under virtual house-arrest, will in the end have nowhere to turn but to him. In the meantime, he feigns honorable intent.
The Harlowe family and Robert Lovelace each stand for ill will; and though their ways of being brutal differ, they make the same mistake about their own lives. Eli Siegel explains it in these powerful sentences from Self and World :
The self does not want to be strong by the weakness of others. It wants to be strong by what it is, rather than by what others are not...Power is not just the ability to affect or change others; it is likewise the ability to be affected or changed by others. If a person's power is only of the first kind, his unconscious will be in distress.
V) Lovelace's Unconscious in Distress
Clarissa, needing Lovelace's assistance to escape her family, desperately hopes she can trust him. When she learns of a generous act of his as landlord—so different from her family's insatiable greed—she is affected. She believes she sees some good in him; but her care for truth is too strong to put aside her critical judgement. She tells Anna she also sees a "temper...haughty and violent....He seem[s]," she writes, "to have too good an opinion of both his person and parts to have any great regard to [a] wife."
Then the night before she will be forced to marry the hated Solmes, Clarissa has no choice but to flee with Lovelace.
Lovelace has outwardly triumphed—Clarissa's family disowns her and she is in his power. Yet within himself there is the terrific distress Aesthetic Realism shows inevitably accompanies power built on the hope for contempt. "Did I say my joy was perfect?" Lovelace writes Belford. "Oh, no!":
It receives...abatement from my disgusted pride. For how can I endure to think that I owe more to her relations' persecutions than to her favor for me?
For the next two months he is in torment. He respects Clarissa enormously for her dignity and courage, so much so that though he wants to "take liberties" with Clarissa, he cannot bring himself to do it. She eventually makes an escape. Lovelace pursues her, but as he finds her he also finds he has to meet her passionate criticism. For a brief moment—perhaps his finest in the book—he struggles to meet that criticism manfully, with honest remorse. But he cannot bear the picture of himself learning from her, seeing strength in a woman. He tells Belford:
How the God within her exalted her, not only above me, but above herself....By my soul, I cannot forgive her for her virtues!
What Lovelace is doing—resenting beauty in another human being—I know, with the intense regret of my own life, is the cheapest and most hurtful thing possible. Like other competetive and snobbish persons in the academic world, I was angry at Eli Siegel for his magnificent integrity. I felt the sheer size of his thought made me less. I was utterly wrong. I have seen, as Aesthetic Realism shows: it takes power to appreciate power. As we see beauty in another person it is a tremendous opportunity for self-esteem.
As Lovelace's ill will grows, he cripples himself. His mind becomes a hideous thing. He has Clarissa drugged and taken back to London. In her weakened state he forces himself on her. "How much we can do in the field of annulling...consideration of another," Eli Siegel writes in issue no. 160 of The Right Of, "has not been measured yet. There is no limit to how rigid, fixed, uncompassionate, merciless we can be. There is no limit, this means, to the suppression of good will." In utter coldness, Lovelace writes:
And now, Belford, I can go no farther. The affair is over. Clarissa lives. And I am
Your humble servant,
VI) But the Force of Good Will Has the Final Word
Lovelace is wrong. The affair is not over. In himself there is a tremendous, persistent objection to what he has done. Said Eli Siegel in a class of December 6, l948: "[Lovelace] has a big fight on his hands as to what he is doing, and although he schemes and plots there is a strong internal battle which is deep and intense."
He can not rest. Aesthetic Realism taught me that reality always objects in some way to being seen wrongly, and fights back, including when a person outrages it by having ill will for another person. If we hope to do others harm, reality sees to it we are unable to be at ease under our own skin.
Richardson courageously shows: this is true for Lovelace. Lovelace imagines his assault has broken Clarissa's spirit. But when he next he sees her, her power and eloquence utterly unnerve him. He writes Belford:
It is now near six. The sun, for two hours past, has been illuminating everything about me...but nothing within me can it illuminate....See the difference in our cases, thought I! She, the charming injured, can sweetly sleep while the varlet injurer cannot close his eyes; and has been trying to no purpose the whole night to divert his melancholy, and to fly from himself.
Due to its great length—Clarissa consists of over 500 letters back and forth between its various characters—the novel was published over a span of eleven months, in three large installments. After the second installment, Richardson received many letters—including from literary colleagues—asking him to give the story a "happy ending"—one in which Lovelace repents so utterly that Clarissa is able in good conscience to marry him.
But Richardson resisted. And the novel ends with Clarissa, so weakened by her ordeal, dying. But as she does, bodily weakness is at one with tremendous strength of mind. "Power," Eli Siegel writes in his definition, "is the ability to change things." Clarissa's strength has had a good effect on Lovelace's friend, Belford, who uses his own searing regret at having stood by as Lovelace did what he did to be a better person. Clarissa tells Belford:
'Tis a choice comfort, Mr. Belford, at the winding-up of our short story, to be able to say... though I have been unhappy as the world deems it,... I...[have] not wilfully made one creature so.
Because she has had good will, Clarissa sincerely feels that her life has had good meaning. Meanwhile, Lovelace, who has fled to Europe to escape his conscience, is killed in a duel with Clarissa's cousin, Colonel Morden, one of the few kind people in the novel.
"To feel for others," Richardson wrote in July, l750 in a letter to his friend, Susannah Highmore, "is greatness of mind, if the feeling be carried to the utmost of our power into deeds." The power Richardson is describing here is the power of good will; that ability to "feel for others" is what every man, every person most longs for, and the study of Aesthetic Realism can make it possible in every person's life.