Upon this Bank and Shoal of Time
La frase es de Macbeth. Desde nuestro rincón tenemos una perspectiva de lo que es el resto del universo—no más engañosa que cualquier otra. El espacio es inmenso, no podemos ni imaginarlo, y sin embargo hasta desde nuestro sillón frente a la ventana podemos ver al menos parte de esas distancias inimaginables, estrellas que nadie jamás visitará, inmensidades fuera de toda proporción que sin embargo logran hacerse un hueco en nuestra retina. El tiempo también nos desborda, como el espacio: tenemos poco, y sin embargo a la vez tenemos todo el que podemos abarcar. Desde nuestro trocito de tiempo vemos, en perspectiva lejana, todo el tiempo: el principio de las cosas, la historia de lo que está sucediendo en medio, y también lo que será el final de todo. O, al menos, nuestra mente narrativa nos hace pensar que, aunque lleguemos al mundo in medias res y nos vayamos a retirar, como todas las personas, antes de que caiga el telón, de alguna manera ya conocemos no sólo nuestro papel, sino el conjunto del argumento. Nuestra vida, que es para nosotros todo, la vemos a la vez como una metonimia, una parte por el todo—curiosa relación, puesto que el todo tiene que caber en la parte. Así veía Sir Thomas Browne su propio Mapa del Tiempo en Christian Morals:
§ 22. In seventy or eighty years a Man may have a deep Gust of the World, Know what it is, what it can afford, and what ’tis to have been a Man. Such a latitude of years may hold a considerable corner in the general Map of Time; and a Man may have a curt Epitome of the whole course thereof in the days of his own life, may clearly see he hath but acted over his Fore-fathers; what it was to live in Ages past, and what living will be in all ages to come.
He is like to be the best judge of Time who hath lived to see about the sixtieth part thereof. Persons of short times may Know what ’tis to live, but not the life of Man, who, having little behind them, are but Januses of one face, and Know not singularities enough to raise Axioms of this World: but such a compass of Years will shew new examples of old Things, Parallelisms of occurrences through the whole course of Time, and nothing be monstrous unto him; who may in that time understand not only the varieties of Men, but the variation of himself, and how many Men he hath been in that extent of time.
He may have a close apprehension what it is to be forgotten, while he hath lived to find none who could remember his Father, or scarce the friends of his youth, and may sensibly see with what a face in no long time oblivion will look upon himself. His Progeny may never be his Posterity; he may go out of the World less related than he came into it; and considering the frequent mortality in Friends and Relations, in such a Term of Time, he may pass away divers years in sorrow and black habits, and leave none to mourn for himself; Orbity may be his inheritance, and Riches his Repentance.
In such a thread of Time, and long observation of Men, he may acquire a Physiognomical intuitive Knowledge, Judge the interiors by the outside, and raise conjectures at first sight; and knowing what Men have been, what they are, what Children will probably be, may in the present Age behold a good part, and the temper of the next; and since so many live by the Rules of Constitution, and so few overcome their temperamental Inclinations, make no improbable predictions.
Such a portion of Time will afford a large prospect backward, and Authentick Reflections how far he hath performed the great intention of his Being, in the Honour of his Maker; whether he hath made good the Principles of his Nature, and what he was made to be; what Characteristick and special Mark he hath left, to be observable in his Generation; whether he hath Lived to purpose or in vain, and what he hath added, acted, or performed, that might considerably speak him a Man.
In such an Age Delights will be undelightful and Pleasures grow stale unto him; Antiquated Theorems will revive, and Solomon’s Maxims be Demonstrations unto him; Hopes or presumptions be over, and despair grow up of any satisfaction below. And having been long tossed in the Ocean of this World, he will by that time feel the In-draught of another, unto which this seems but preparatory, and without it of no high value. He will experimentally find the Emptiness of all things, and the nothing of what is past; and wisely grounding upon true Christian Expectations, finding so much past, will wholly fix upon what is to come. He will long for Perpetuity, and live as though he made haste to be happy. The last may prove the prime part of his Life, and those his best days which he lived nearest Heaven.
§29. Think not thy time short in this World since the World it self is not long. The created World is but a small Parenthesis in Eternity; and a short interposition for a time between such a state of duration, as was before it and may be after it. And if we should allow the old Tradition that the world should last Six Thousand years, it could scarce have the name of old, since the first Man lived near a sixth part thereof, and seven Methusela’s would exceed its whole duration. However, to palliate the shortness of our Lives, and somewhat to compensate our brief term in this World, it’s good to know as much as we can of it; and also, so far as possibly in us Lieth, to hold such a Theory of times past, as though we had seen the same. He who hath thus considered the World, as also how therein things long past have been answered by things present, how matters in one Age have been acted over in another, and how there is nothing new under the Sun, may conceive himself in some manner to have lived from the beginning, and to be as old as the World; and if he should still live on ’twould be but the same thing.