Time, and How There Was Much Charm In Writings Of The Past

I always find it interesting when I read about authors who were born in the 1800’s, but passed away in the 20th century. The 20th century to me was modern. It consisted of electricity, of cars, and I would probably not feel too out of place if I traveled back in time to live there.

The century before that, however, is to me the time of lanterns, of horse-drawn carriages, of lives that were extremely peaceful, extremely slow. Somehow, this slowness, which I usually find peaceful, also troubles me. I find it depressing. The idea that you are not instantly able to connect to anyone who does not live within walking distance of you. It depresses me. But that might also be because when I picture the 19th century, I picture it in England. That’s it. That’s the only place I picture people living, as if the entire century consisted of only white people who spoke in thick accents, were incredibly sophisticated, and drank tea with light refreshments precisely at 4 o’clock every afternoon.

This means that I picture this slow life in weather that is always gloomy. No wonder I find it kind of depressing.

I “picked up” a book on my kindle some time ago, and just came across it on my ipod. It’s called “How To Live On 24 Hours A Day” by someone named Arnold Bennett, and it’s charming. I love the way it’s written. Here’s a passage from the beginning:

Philosophers have explained space. They have not explained time. It is the inexplicable raw material of everything. With it, all is possible; without it, nothing. The supply of time is truly a daily miracle, an affair genuinely astonishing when one examines it. You wake up in the morning, and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life! It is yours. It is the most precious of possessions  A highly singular commodity, showered upon you in a manner as singular as the commodity itself!

For remark! No one can take it from you. It is unstealable. And no one receives either more or less than you receive. 

Talk about an ideal democracy! In the realm of time there is no aristocracy of wealth, and no aristocracy of intellect. Genius is never rewarded by even an extra hour a day. And there is no punishment. Waste your infinitely precious commodity as much as you will, and the supply will never be withheld from you. No mysterious power will say:–“This man is a fool, if not a knave. He does not deserve time; he shall be cut off at the meter.” It is more certain than consols, and payment of income is not affected by Sundays. Moreover, you cannot draw on the future. Impossible to get into debt! You can only waste the passing moment. You cannot waste to-morrow; it is kept for you. You cannot waste the next hour; it is kept for you.

I said the affair was a miracle. Is it not?

I can’t remember the last time I read something written with such charm and grace.

My point is this: I could tell that this was written some time ago. I started reading without knowing anything about the author, not even his name. When I saw the time period that he lived (1867-1931) I thought, “Huh. Figures.”

What about us now? I was born in 1986. Almost 15 years before the start of the 21st century. Will people living in the future think I belong to a an older time? One that was slower and more peaceful? Or did the idea of a slow-paced life die long before that?


4 thoughts on “Time, and How There Was Much Charm In Writings Of The Past

  1. I love novels from the 18th and 19th century, and a philosophy professor once told my class that if we wanted to write well we should read books from that time. Their charm is undeniable.

  2. I agree! I grew up on fairy tales, and even when I pick one up now, whether it’s Han Christian Anderson or The 1001 Nights, there’s something so…charming about them. I wish I could find more books like that!

  3. H.G. Wells is great. I agree completely with how genius all these pre-modern-time writers were. They created worlds that we can imagine only now, with all our technology. I think today’s fantasy writers compare only in the elaborate and detailed worlds they create, but to have done this in the sci-fi world before all the technology came to be is really a mark of brilliance. 🙂

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