S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
We all of us complain of the shortness of time, saith Seneca, and yet have much more than we know what to do with. Our lives, says he, are spent either in doing nothing at all, or in doing nothing to the purpose, or in doing nothing that we ought to do. We are always complaining our days are few, and acting as though there would be no end of them. That noble philosopher has described our inconsistency with ourselves in this particular, by all those various turns of expression and thought which are peculiar to his writings.
I often consider mankind as wholly inconsistent with itself in a point that bears some affinity to the former. Though we seem grieved at the shortness of life in general, we are wishing every period of it at an end. The minor longs to be at age, then to be a man of business, then to retire. Thus, although the whole life is allowed by every one to be short, the several divisions of it appear long and tedious. We are lengthening our span in general, but would fain contract the parts of which it is composed.
The hours of a wise man are lengthened by his ideas, as those of a fool are by his passions. The time of the one is long, because he does not know what to do with it; so is that of the other, because he distinguishes every moment of it with useful or amusing thoughts; or, in other words, because the one is always wishing it away, and the other always enjoying it.
He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator: and if time of course alter things to the worse, and wisdom and counsel shall not alter them to the better, what shall be the end?
It were good, therefore, that men, in their innovations, would follow the example of time itself, which indeed innovateth greatly, but quietly, and by degrees scarce to be perceived; for otherwise whatsoever is new is unlooked for; and ever it mends some and pains others; and he that is holpen takes it for a fortune, and thanks the time; and he that is hurt, for a wrong, and imputeth it to the author.
I think very differently from most men of the time we have to pass, and the business we have to do, in this world. I think we have more of one, and less of the other, than is commonly supposed . We are all arrant spendthrifts; some of us dissipate our estates on the trifles, some on the superfluities, and then we all complain that we want the necessaries, of life. The much greatest part never reclaim, but die bankrupts to God and man.
Time cannot be infinite, and, therefore, the world not eternal. All motion hath its beginning; if it were otherwise, we must say the number of heavenly revolutions of days and nights, which are past to this instant, is actually infinite, which cannot be in nature. If it were so, it must needs be granted that a part is equal to the whole; because, infinite being equal to infinite, the number of days past in all ages to the beginning of one year being infinite (as they would be, supposing the world had no beginning) would by consequence be equal to the number of days which shall pass to the end of the next; whereas that number of days past is indeed but a part; and so a part would be equal to the whole.
What I do and ever shall regret is the time which, while young, I lost in mere idleness, and in doing nothing. This is the common effect of the inconsideracy of youth, against which I beg you will be most carefully upon your guard. The value of moments, when cast up, is immense, if well employed; if thrown away, their loss is irrecoverable. Every moment may be put to some use, and that with much more pleasure than if unemployed.
Lord Chesterfield: Letters to his Son, Feb. 16, 1748.
Time is the most undefinable yet paradoxical of things: the past is gone, the future is not come, and the present becomes the past even while we attempt to define it, and, like the flash of lightning, at once exists and expires.Time is the measurer of all things, but is itself immeasurable, and the grand discloser of all things, but is itself undisclosed. Like space, it is incomprehensible, because it has no limit, and it would be still more so if it had. It is more obscure in its source than the Nile, and in its termination than the Niger; and advances like the slowest tide, but retreats like the swiftest torrent. It gives wings of lightning to pleasure, but feet of lead to pain, and lends expectation a curb, but enjoyment a spur. It robs Beauty of her charms, to bestow them on her picture, and builds a monument to merit, but denies it a house: it is the transient and deceitful flatterer of falsehood, but the tried and final friend of truth. Time is the most subtle yet the most insatiable of depredators, and by appearing to take nothing, is permitted to take all, nor can it be satisfied until it has stolen the world from us, and us from the world. It constantly flies, yet overcomes all things by flight, and although it is the present ally, it will he the future conqueror, of death. Time, the cradle of hope, but the grave of ambition, is the stern corrector of fools, but the salutary counsellor of the wise, bringing all they dread to the one, and all they desire to the other; but, like Cassandra, it warns us with a voice that even the sagest discredit too long, and the silliest believe too late. Wisdom walks before it, opportunity with it, and repentance behind it: he that has made it his friend will have little to fear from his enemies, but he that has made it his enemy will have little to hope from his friends.
One of the commonest errors is to regard time as an agent. But in reality time does nothing and is nothing. We use it as a compendious expression for all those causes which operate slowly and imperceptibly: but, unless some positive cause is in action, no change takes place in the lapse of a thousand years.
When we have deducted all that is absorbed in sleep, all that is inevitably appropriated to the demands of nature, or irresistibly engrossed by the tyranny of custom; all that passes in regulating the superficial decorations of life, or is given up in the reciprocations of civility to the disposal of others; all that is torn from us by the violence of disease, or stolen imperceptibly away by lassitude and languor, we shall find that part of our duration very small of which we can truly call ourselves masters, or which we can spend wholly at our own choice. Many of our hours are lost in a rotation of petty cares, in a constant recurrence of the same employments; many of our provisions for ease and happiness are always exhausted by the present day; and a great part of our existence serves no other purpose than that of enabling us to enjoy the rest.
We get the idea of time or duration, by reflecting on that train of ideas which succeed one another in our minds: that for this reason, when we sleep soundly without dreaming, we have no perception of time, or the length of it, whilst we sleep; and that the moment wherein we leave off to think, till the moment we begin to think again, seems to have no distance. And so I doubt not but it would be to a waking man if it were possible for him to keep only one idea in his mind, without variation, and the succession of others: and we see that one who fixes his thoughts very intently on one thing, so as to take but little notice of the succession of ideas that pass in his mind whilst he is taken up with that earnest contemplation, lets slip out of his account a good part of that duration, and thinks that time shorter than it is.
Wherever your life ends it is all there; neither does the utility of living consist in the length of days, but in the well husbanding and improving of time, and such an one may have been who has longer continued in the world than the ordinary age of man, that has yet livd but a little while. Make use of time while it is present with you. It depends upon your will, and not upon the number of days, to have a sufficient length of life. Is it possible you can imagine ever to arrive at the place towards which you are continually going? and yet there is no journey but hath its end. But if company will make it more pleasant, or more easie to you, does not all the world go the self same way? Does not all the world dance the same brawl that you do? Is there any thing that does not grow old as well as you? A thousand men, a thousand animals, and a thousand other creatures, die at the same moment that you expire.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xix.
No man can be provident of his time that is not provident in the choice of his company; and if one of the speakers be vain, tedious, and trifling, he that hears and he that answers are equal losers of their time.
When Bacon speaks of time as an innovator, he might have remarked, by the waywhat of course he well knewthat though this is an allowable and convenient form of expression, it is not literally correct. Bishop Copleston, in the remark already referred to in the notes on Delays, terms the regarding time as an agent one of the commonest errors; for in reality time does nothing and is nothing. We use it, he goes on to say, as a compendious expression for all those causes which act slowly and imperceptibly. But, unless some positive cause is in action, no change takes place in the lapse of one thousand years; as, for instance, in a drop of water enclosed in a cavity of silex. The most intelligent writers are not free from this illusion.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Innovations.