Time is endlessly long.—GOETHE.
Somebody made the remark, the other day, that Providence must be an Irishman, because, in the celestial economy, there is such a total ignoring of the value of time. And certainly, the more we look at it in that light, the more this judgment seems to be justified by events; for it seems as if most of time was simply thrown away, without any profitable remit whatever, and, it must he added, without any visible harm coming from all this lavishness either—which is the most disappointing thing to people who are deep in the secrets of Providence, for if much evil seems to he piled up, they know at once that it has all to be expiated in a future birth, and so their utilitarian claims are satisfied, and they are content.
But time goes on and on, and nothing seems to come of it, neither good nor evil. This is particularly evident, if we watch the moments and hours and days of our own particularly valuable lives. We take this extreme case, because, as we are interested in justifying Providence. we like to give Providence every possible advantage by choosing the best possible materials. To begin, then, with our own particularly valuable lives; who will not admit that, looking back over ten years or so, only ten hours of it all, if so much even, were of real and permanent value; some ten hours of real insight into this very perplexing universe; some ten hours in which we felt our own real power and the greater powers behind and above us? We are immortal spirits—in those good hours we are as certain of that as we are that the sun shines—but most of the time we neither feel like immortal spirits, nor, one may hazard the conjecture, do we quite give people the impression that are. The hours go drifting onwards uninspired, packed full of portentous trifles, heavily weighted with all kinds of nothings; we even hesitate to remember that we once felt like archangels, because the contrast would he too appalling. But, in the dispensation of Providence, we are not keenly conscious through most of these unelevated days; there is a kind of dreamy enchantment over them, so that we are not resentful at their emptiness, and let them go by even with something of contentment. But that only makes it all the worse, at least so far as Providence is concerned, for the less we feel wastefulness of time, the more utterly wasted that time evidently is.
By another dispensation of the same inscrutable Providence, most of the people we know have to spend most of their time in simply keeping up with time. They work all the time to supply necessities that time is perpetually bringing, by providing things that time as perpetually takes away, to put them, perhaps, in that wallet on his back, wherein he keeps alms for oblivion. All that does not seem to be very profitable. And all that emphasizes the conjecture we started with, as to the nationality of the planetary spirit of this world-period. Then there is a most perplexing thing; time does not seem always to go on at the same rate. There were sixty minutes, so at least the chronometer said, in each of two hours. But one of the hours was gone before we thought it had well begun, and the other was so slow about it that we have a lurking misgiving that there is some of it left, still lingering somewhere, lying in wait for us. So there are bad quarters of an hour, though I do not remember that anyone has so far put on record any class of good quarters of an hour.
Then we can dream seven years, seven good years as full of plenty as those the Egyptian’s corn-ears foretold, while people close beside us, in the next room, are living only seven minutes; or, in deeper sleep, seven minutes may pass between the evening and the morning of the next day, while some luckless mortal, overtaken by evil works done in a former birth, is dragging through a night that seems months long. So that, before formulating that grievance of ours about the waste of time, and Providence’s complicity therein, we shall have to settle what time is; and the more we work at it, the less satisfactory to the lean ancient with the scythe our settlement is likely to be.
For we shall surely arrive at the result that all the other sages came to long ago—but we must here allow ourselves a moment’s digression, to suggest another problem that utilitarian minds may make themselves miserable over—how about the waste of space? What of the unprofitable fields between planet and planet, between star and star, in which absolutely nothing grows, as far as we can tell, not even the new light, which is darkness visible? But we must not stray too far away from the solar system, so we shall come back to the question of time, and the solution already reached by our predecessors, the philosophers. The truth about time seems to be, that there is not any. We couch our result in these terms, in order to fall in with the presumed spirit of the presumed spirit of the present planetary genius. Time seems to be, but is not; it is in us, who imagine, and not in the things outside us. We make it for ourselves, and so we can make it of exactly the length we want, and this accounts for its being of different lengths for different people. So that the real truth about all the flat, stale, and unprofitable hours in our own most exemplary lives, is that there is, in ourselves, a large capital of fairly enjoyable fatuity, which we are anxious to make the most of, and would on no account consent to diminish.
Most people enjoy their misery. Look at the relish with which pessimists prove their theme. Our lives are precisely what our entire wills choose them to be; we do not suffer a single pin-prick without our own consent. We are, minute for minute, precisely where we ought to be, where our own wills put us, without the slightest reservation or exception whatever. All these seemingly wasted years are the weaving of our own fancies, which make the warp and woof of every day of our lives. For ages and ages this spider-web spinning has been our only and altogether soul-satisfying occupation, and we have ourselves to thank for it, not only touching the past, but the present also; for, as far as we can honestly tell, those fancies of ours are as lively and busy as ever.
We are beginning to get a little tired of it at last, as we show by talking about waste of time and unprofitable days. and impeaching Providence, and the time will perhaps come soon when our wills will consent to something better. There has really been no time-waste at all; only endless weaving of fancy, which has held our souls enchanted by their own misdemeanors. The celestial hours are not separated from each other by years of uselessness, hut go on continuous; the life in a better part of us is quite unbroken.
Some day, the coming of which our own will shall decide, we shall be able to laugh ourselves out of our fancies and begin our realities; or rather continue those celestial hours in which we really were, and really knew ourselves to be, immortal.