Portal Site for Russellian in Japan
[From: Mortals and Others, v.1, 1975.］
A number of different sorts of motives lead people to behave otherwise than as their direct impulses would dictate. Of these, religion and morality have received the most attention, but there are others quite as powerful. There is the desire to please superiors, the desire for popularity with equals or inferiors, the desire for notoriety, and the desire to please some one special person. Of each of these many important examples could be given from history. But there is also another motive, which is common and very powerful: namely the wish to resemble some favourite character. Alexander the Great has influenced many important men. In the mind of Julius Caesar he caused despair because Alexander's conquests were completed at an age when Caesar's had scarcely begun. Julian the Apostate, when he was fighting the Persians, won a victory and had the opportunity of an advantageous peace. He refused the Persian offer because Alexander at the same stage had refused a similar offer. Alexander had gone on with the war and been victorious; Julian went on with it and was defeated. When Napoleon went to Egypt, he conceived himself as at the first stage in the conquest of the East: the lure of India drew him on, and he saw himself as Alexander's successor. After Nelson had brought his Egyptian adventure to grief, he was compelled to choose other models, such as Caesar and Charlemagne. He never ceased to dramatise himself in some historic role until in his downfall he was driven to the part of Hannibal. Plutarch's Lives had a profound influence upon Napoleon, as upon many previous prominent men, in providing patterns of behaviour, by following which a man could hope to achieve glory.
The imitation of a chosen hero is a powerful incentive, not only in the lives of the great but in the lives of a large proportion of ordinary men; and the imitation of a heroine plays a similar part in the lives of women. The result is often ludicrous and disastrous, especially when the model is not in real life but in romantic fiction. Heroes and heroines on the stage, and still more in the cinema, set too high a standard to the young; it is scarcely to be hoped that life will be so adventurous or so fitted with poetic justice in reality as it is in romance. When young people realise this, their imitation is apt to become confined to a world of imagination, with the result that the vivid part of their life is in daydreams, not in reality. Even disaster is better than such a divorce between emotion and action.
But not much better. Modern young intellectuals in England are apt to model themselves upon Mr Aldous Huxley or one of his characters, with the result that their behaviour becomes unnatural, stilted, and priggish. In a situation where some simple and straightforward action is to be expected, they suddenly remember that in some novel the hero becomes complex and philosophic at the crucial moment; this seems to them 'grand', and they force themselves to do likewise. The result is discomfort and unreality to themselves and all with whom they come in contact.
Another model, mainly though not exclusively feminine, is that of the suffering saint. Who has not known 'good' women who induced others to behave unkindly to them in order to display themselves to themselves as patient and unresisting and noble? The ministering angel is another type of 'good' woman, who, when she is imitating a model, may be very trying, always hoping for misfortunes among her friends in order that she may alleviate them with unerring skill and tact. It seems that imitation of a hero or heroine is not a very satisfactory business. Perhaps, on the whole, it is best to put up with being the person one is.