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An Essay on the Improvement of Time. By John Foster.

Edited by J. E. RYLAND, M. A. New York: Robert Carter & Bros. 1864.

JOHN FOSTER, the author of the celebrated " Essays,” and of the essay on " Popular Ignorance,” which Mackintosh said was " one of the most able and original works of the age," appears before us in this volume with his usual characteristics of profoundness of thought, fertility and aptness of illustration, and an impressiveness peculiarly his own.

This work, though published twenty years after the author's death, was begun soon after the completion of the four Essays which established his reputation.

We shall, in this brief article, only attempt to give the reader an outline of the thoughts presented in this interesting volume, and while giving the ideas of the author on the several topics, not always in his language, to add such suggestions as occur to us in passing.

In his introductory chapter, Mr. Foster refers to his ignorance of any formal work on the subject of Time, although suggestions upon its value are scattered among all writings on morals, and especially may be found in Young's " Night Thoughts." Time passes with most men so unconsciously as not to attract their attention, being lost in the hurry of events, so that "ample periods of it can pass away as unseen as a departing spirit, and as silent as death.” But a man is startled if he accidentally lets fall a box of gold into the sea ; or, if he has an estate on the coast where the sea is gradually encroaching, he daily watches with anxiety the process of its crumbling away before the tide.

Time, being duration divided into measured periods by the regular changes in the situation of the heavenly bodies, our author says, " it is very pleasing to be indebted for our means of ascertaining the course of time, to so grand a machinery." To trace time onward until the mind is lost in eternity, is bewildering, but the interest is intensified by viewing it as having sharp boundaries enclosing the present life, making every portion of it valuable, and the whole so short and its issues so great, as to demand from every immortal mind serious thought and determinate action.

In his first chapter, Mr. Foster takes us out into a sublime field of contemplation, bidding us consider the vast and varied system of operations going on at any given hour in the universe, in order to deepen in us the sense of the hour's importance. With a master hand he brings before us the dark and silent changes occurring in the interior of the earth; the processes of vegetation upon its surface; the action of all the elements ; the movements of the animal creation; and the infinitude of the operations of mankind, baffling the faculties of an angel to observe and record. Not satisfied with this, he points us to other worlds, doubtless inhabited by beings less corporeal but more powerful than ourselves, whose activities are crowded into the passing hour; and multiplies these worlds to a number beyond computation ; then takes us up to the throne of God, to learn from that divine outlook upon the movements of the universe, the value of an hour.

The progress of this very hour may suffice to finish some great plan, some dispensation which has been advancing through many ages ; a new world may come into being or an ancient one sink to ruins; changes may be taking place somewhere that astonish the most ancient created minds ; mightier contests than Milton describes may begin or conclude; new discoveries may reward patient and long-continued study; a new law may be introduced into nature, or a regular law suspended for purposes of solemn impression.

Thus surrounding ourselves in thought with a busy, working universe, we shall be ashamed to waste our time in inaction or in frivolous pursuits, and the intense activities of beings superior to ourselves will be an incentive to its most vigorous use. This wide range of view should not discourage by making our own affairs appear small, but our own duties and the possibilities

which lie within our grasp should give a high value to each day. Our estimate must be above the average value of time to prevent our efforts from falling far below it. Every man is bound to see if some enterprise of business, or science, or benevolence, can not be begun which will result in great good to those around him, if not to the race. Every wicked man should make each day the beginning of a reformation in his character, and every Christian should make it a new starting point in his advancing career. .

To consider the value of small portions of time when great emergencies press upon us, may assist us to estimate its general value — times when professional men are preparing for some great occasion, or a man is on trial for his life with but little time to prepare a defence. Pythias, on his way to rescue Damon, would have been impatient of delay and waste, as the time drew on when he must appear or his friend perish.

To those who object that life is not thus full of emergencies, and that the above estimate of life is unfair, our author replies, that life is an emergency, as a whole, in the strictest sense. We can not with the utmost exertions more than fulfil our obligations to the divine law. So large a portion of life has been misspent already that the present not only has important claims of its own, but "pensive claims,” as representatives of that which has been lost. Then add the possibility of being unconsciously near the boundary line, and what remains assumes an importance not surpassed by any emergency which ever existed in any earthly history.

The capacity of time suggests the possible number of successive operations of an individual within a given period, or within the scope of a human life. In a given period, how many steps may a man take? what a number of words may be spoken by a social person or a public speaker? over what a vast number of objects may the eye range in a journey? how many can be counted in a day, and what an assemblage of persons would they make? of how many bricks, each laid single, is a vast structure composed ?

How much more rapidly may the succession of events occur by an earnest activity? This, with a larger amount of time employed, would indefinitely extend the amount of the production, both in the realm of thought and of practical life. Napoleon Bonaparte astonishes us with the vast energy he employed, binding every hour to the car of his own purposes. Literary men illustrate what may be accomplished by diligence. Calmet, the author of a Dictionary of the Bible, wrote sixty quarto volumes, many of them requiring great reading and critical study. Baxter, whose voluminous writings were composed amid engrossing labors as preacher, pastor, controversialist, and correspondent, shows what can be done by one whose bodily weakness was a continual drawback upon his energy and devotion. Sir William Jones, dying at the age of forty-seven, learned twenty-four languages, was familiar with almost all the classical books of ancient and modern times, proficient in mathematics, law, history, skilled in oriental philosophy; and enlightened the world by his observations on society and natural science gathered from wide travel and the use of acute perceptions. But towering above them all must be named Alfred, who not only stands before us as an exemplification of the present subject, but suggests all that is sublime in human character. The imperfect descriptions of him which we obtain from history, are "like small fragments of a colossus, or like the ruins of a once majestic temple where are seen only such vestiges of the

foundation as to show the magnitude of the plan, with here and *there a part of the walls and a few mutilated columns, to intimate to the imagination the beauty and richness of the execution.” He led personally in fifty battles, with all the labor and care involved in what preceded and followed each; he transformed the whole condition of society in his enlarging kingdom by a system of polity which his great mind and benevolent heart comprehended and applied, from the principles to the minutest detail; he himself superintended the affairs of each province of his dominions, and yet found time to devote to literary pursuits which placed him in the first rank of the authors of his age, producing twenty original and translated works; and spent each day eight hours of the twenty-four in devotion.

If, stimulated by the illustrious examples here given, all men in their several spheres, and according to their several opportunities, would rise to a higher estimate and a more vigorous use of time, we should see in the vast improvement of the world in

everything great and good, the best illustration of the capacity of time.

Though there may be no real analogy between motion and time, yet the notion which applies to time the terms relative to motion is so common, that Mr. Foster uses it to illustrate the swiftness of time. God favors this mode of regarding the fight of time by dividing it by ineans of the motions of the heavenly bodies. Thus time may be said to move as rapidly as the swiftest body in the universe. Though light moves one hundred and thirty millions of miles a minute, other substances may move yet more swiftly. Intelligent agents may be 80 endowed as in their movements to leave sunbeams far behind. When time hangs heavily, it would be wholesome to our indolence to think of those etherial beings flying through space, and of the wheels of time as rolling as rapidly as they. The flashing of a meteor and its disappearance, the clouds passing over the sky and the shadows darkening the plain, the flowing of a river, all suggest to us the flight of time. As soon as a moment comes it is gone. "Perhaps no angelic mind has quickness of thought enough to fix on a moment as present.” The pulsation of the blood is a reminder of the passage of time. Thousands of times has this taken place in a period in which we perhaps have done nothing worth existing for. The detached portions of time thus used by different parts of the human system must certainly be of value to the agent for whose benefit all this delicate machinery is carried on. Each pulsation marks off a moment for which we are accountable. Each leaves behind with it innocence or guilt, and when it ceases to beat, time for us will be no longer.

The change of the seasons; the alteration perceptible in persons and things by those who are advanced in life; the apparent shortness of time which divides periods greatly distant, as childhood and old age; the change in inanimate objects, as the growth of a tree, or the decay of a house; the rapid return of a new year; the fact that we think of time as past; all impress us with the swiftness of time. "Relatively to us, the speed of time may be considered as exactly equal to the quickest series of actions which it is possible for our powers to perform.” This is the standard for us, and if we do as fast as we can, we are :

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