After toiling away in the mines of academe, there’s nothing so refreshing as a good wacky book, and one of my favorites is Power of Will by Frank Channing Haddock (I can’t verify his lifespan, but possibly 1853 – 1915).
The book is written in a tone of voice that I find incantatory and impossible to ignore. Here’s a line from the first page:
“POWER OF WILL” has been a pioneer in its chosen field — the only book of its kind, the only kind of its class, the only class in the world.
It starts with a bold claim (pioneer), ups the ante to a shocking assertion (only book of its kind), leaps to a near contradiction (only kind of its class), and climaxes in a boast that escapes the petty constraints of reason: the only class in the world! What does that even mean?
Haddock expresses gratitude for “[t]he kindness with which the book has been received, its literary deficiencies being overlooked in view of its practical purpose.” So he knows he’s no Billy Shakespeare, if you get my drift, and let me assure you that his is no false humility. When it comes to prose style, Haddock has a lot to be humble about. His writing is hard to describe. Imagine if somebody whose job was to write instruction manuals for major appliances suddenly got ecstatic religion and tried to explain what had happened in his soul. Now imagine that he did in a second language, say in English which he hadn’t started learning until he was an adult. Now imagine that he’s drunk when he’s writing it, and SOMEWHAT EXCITABLE, tending to speak BOMBASTICALLY and in ALL CAPS, ALL CAPS, ALL CAPS. The result is glossolalic. But imagination falters here, so it’s best if I just share the opening sentence from the Statement of General Principles:
The goal of evolution is psychic person. Person acts behind the mask of body. The basic idea of person is self determined unfoldment. The central factor in such unfoldment is Will. Will is a way person has of being and doing. A certain complex of our ways of being and doing constitutes mind.
Ever seen a train go over a cliff? One car after another, slowly dragging toward the edge, plunk, plunk, plunk. You’re sure each car will be the last, but somehow the horrific momentum keeps up and takes another car, and another. That’s how Haddock’s sentences feel to me.
Haddock thinks (dicy start for a sentence there, I admit) that you can use your force of will to carve ruts into your brain, and those ruts can make you strong. It’s an interesting combination of yankee know-how, self-help, hack science, and spiritual conjuring.
From the facts which we have been reviewing, we arrive at one of the most important of all conclusions, namely, that the gray matter of our brains is actually plastic and capable of being fashioned… We can make our own brains, so far as special mental functions or aptitudes are concerned, if only we have Wills strong enough to take the trouble… It is the Will alone which can make material seats for mind, and when made they are the most personal things in the body.
(Sounds to me like somebody’s gray matter is actually plastic, all right) Haddock goes on: “Your brain matter is your sole workshop for success in this world, and possibly the next too.” Possibly.
For long stretches of the book, it sounds like sheer positive thinking:
Be sure the intended effort is one within the possibility of your powers to carry through. … If it is possible to choose the time of applying the final effort, select a period when you are at your best physically and mentally. … Impress upon your mind, over and over again, the demand that you simply MUST win. Scout and ridicule the little flickering thoughts that pipe up: “There’s a big possibility that you won’t get it.” … Mentally demand, over and over, and with intensest vigor of thought, that you shall and will get what you seek. Say: “I DEMAND health. I DEMAND luxuries. I DEMAND better things in life. I simply MUST have them. I DEMAND the universal forces to bring into my career the values I seek, I DEMAND THEM !
Haddock is a man with a plan: scout, ridicule, DEMAND. I don’t know, Frank… it seems far fetched.
If this seems far fetched, just bear in mind that you are using that positive state of mind which is exactly the opposite of the cringing, timid condition which you know is the sort that gets “kicked aside.” If the negative phases of mind gets what it expects (kicks, drudgery, slights, life’s dregs) then beyond any question the POSITIVE mind can get the big things it demands. … But to him who constantly declares, “I RESOLVE TO WILL! ATTENTION!!” perfect power of continued and exclusive concentration comes at last to be second nature.
Then there’s the visual style of the book, which is supposed to be classy, I think, but which ends up over-using blackletter fonts so obtrusively that it makes a P.T. Barnum broadside look understated. There is such profligate use of red ink that it suggests there was a knife fight at the printshop the day the book was going through the press.
The book is, as reviewers say, unputdownable. Page after page, it contains sheer found poetry. I leave you with these thoughts, gathered freely from the meadow of the text and offered to the reader as a kind of nosegay of the spirit:
Exercise No. 9.
Gaze steadily, but winking naturally, at a small spot on the wall of a room, eight or ten feet away. Do not strain the eyes. Count fifty while so gazing. Keep mind wholly on the thought: The Direct Eye. Put back of that thought the Mood of a strong Will: “I WILL! I AM FORCING WILL INTO THE EYE.”
Repeat this exercise ten times for ten days, with rest, as above, adding each day to the count fifty, twenty counts; thus, first day, fifty; second day, seventy; third day, ninety.
Nerve Leakage Saps the Brain.
Keep your body healthy, A Temple for Emphatic Personality
“I RESOLVE TO WILL! THE MOOD OF EMPHATIC PERSONALITY IS MINE !”
Exhaustive understanding the only true reading;
But there is no cure for want of brains. Without brains, so called opinions are fools’ quips, At the brainless person Nature wrings her helpless hands. It is a finality of despair.
OPINIONATIVENESS : This habit is the outcome of a stubborn Will exercised by a blind soul.
Let a list of personal faults be carefully and deliberately made. They should be scrutinized severely to ascertain their power and results. Then resolve to destroy them, root and branch. Begin at once. Carry the list with you. Frequently read it. Determine, again and again, to be rid of them. Give each a definite time for extirpation. Preserve a record of success and failure in this respect, Read this at the close of each day of battle.
Continue until free.
Meanwhile, in all things, cultivate the resolute, conquering Mood of Will. You can be free!
RESOLVE! “ATTENTION TO THE KING ON HIS THRONE!”