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Chambers, Robert, 1802-1871 / Chambers's book of days, a miscellany of popular antiquities in connection with the calendar, including anecdote, biography & history, curiosities of literature and oddities of human life and character
Vol. I (1879)

Time and its natural measurers,   pp. 1-14 ff. PDF (9.3 MB)

Page 2

sculptures of Egypt are held by scholars to
imply that there was a political fabric of the
monarchical kind in that country thirty-four
centuries before the commencement of our pre-
sent era. Rude weapons and implements of
stone, flint, and bone, found interred in countries
now occupied by civilised people, point, in like
manner, to the existence of savage nations in
those regions at a time long before the com-
mencement of history. Geology, or the exami-
nation of the crust of the earth, still further
prolongs our backward view of time. It shews
that the earth has passed through a succession
of physical changes. extending over a great
series of ages; that during the same time vege-
table and animal life underwent great changes;
changes of one set of species for others; an
advancement from invertebrate to vertebrate
animals, from fishes to reptiles, from reptiles to
birds and mammifers; of these man coming in
the last. Thus it has happened that we could
now give a biography of our little world, in
which the four thousand years of written history
would be multiplied many times over; and yet
this vastly extended period must, after all, be
regarded as but a point in that stretch of dura-
tion which we call time. All beyond, where
related facts fail us-above all, a beginning or
an end to time-are inconceivable; so entirely
dependent is our idea of it upon measurement,
or so purely, rather, may it be said to consist of
What we are more immediately concerned
with at present is the YEAR, the space of time
required for a revolution of the earth around the
sun, being about one-seventieth of the ordinary
duration of a healthy human life. It is a period
very interesting to us in a natural point of view,
because within it are included all seasonal changes,
and of it nearly everything else in our experi-
ence of the appearances of the earth and sky is
merely a repetition. Standing in this relation to
us, the year has very reasonably become the
unit of our ordinary reckonings of time when
any larger space is concerned; above all, in the
statement of the progress and completion of
human life. An old man is said to die fell of
years. His years have been few, is the affecting
expression we use regarding one who has died in
youth. The anniversary of an event makes an
appeal to our feelings. We also speak of the
history of a nation as its annals-the transac-
tions of its succession of years. There must
have been a sense of the value and importance of
the year as a space of time from a very early
period in the history of humanity, for even the
simplest and rudest people would be sensible of
' the seasons' difference,' and of the cycle which
the seasons formed, and would soon begin, by
observations of the rising of the stars, to ascer-
tain roughly the space of time which that cycle
Striking, however, as the year is, and must
always have been, to the senses of mankind, we
can readily see that its value and character were
not so liable to be appreciated as were those of
the mino* space of time during which the earth
performed its rotation on its own axis. That
space, within which the simple fathers of our
race saw light and darkness exchange possession
of the earth-which gave themselves a waking
and a sleeping time, and periodicised many
others of their personal needs, powers, and sen-
sations, as well as a vast variety of the obvious pro-
cesses of external nature-must have impressed
them as soon as reflection dawned in their
minds; and the DAY, we may be very sure, there-
fore, was amongst the first of human ideas.
While thus obvious and thus important, the
Day, to man's experience, is a space of time too
frequently repeated, and amounting consequently
to too large numbers, to be readily available in any
sort of historic reckoningor reference. Itisequally
evident that, for such purposes, the year is a
period too large to be in any great degree avail-
able, until mankind have advanced considerably
in mental culture.   We accordingly find that,
amongst rude nations, the intermediate space of
time marked by a revolution of the moon-the
MONT-has always been first employed for his-
torical indications. This completes the series of
natural periods or denominations of time, unless
we are to agree with those who deem the Week
to be also such, one determined by the observa-
tion of the principal aspects of the moon, as half
in increase, full, half in decrease, and change, or
simply by an arithmetical division of the month
into four parts. All other denominations, as
hours, minutes, &c., are unquestionably arbi-
trary, and some of them comparatively modern;
in fact, deduced from clockwork, without which
they could never have been measured or made
sensible to us.
On Uit.
Why sit'st thou by that ruined hall,
Thou aged carle, so stern and gray ?
Dost thou its former pride recall,
Or ponder how it passed away?
Know'st thou not me? the Deep Voice cried,
So long enjoyed, so oft misused-
Alternate, in thy fickle pride,
Desired, neglected, and accused?
Before my breath, like blazing flax,
Man and his marvels pass away;
And changing empires wane and wax,
Are founded, flourish, and decay.
Redeem mine hours-the space is brief-
While in my glass the sand-grains shiver,
And measureless thy joy or grief,
When Time and thou shalt part for ever!
The Antiquary.
There is a traditionary story very widely dif-
fused over the country, to the effect that St
Paul's clock on one occasion struck thirteen at
midnight, with the extraordinary result of saving
the life of a sentinel accused of sleeping at his
post. It is not much less than half a century

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