Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 March 2011
There is no human discovery more ancient, or more interesting, than that of the Sun-dial: so ancient that the exquisite essayist, Charles Lamb, says, “Adam could scarcely have missed it in Paradise;” and so interesting that we may be sure that man's first want, after supplying the cravings of hunger, would be to invent some instrument by which he could measure the day-time into portions, to be allotted to his several avocations.
“Please, sir, what's o'clock?” is the child's enquiry, as he “tents” his mother's cow in the lane pastures; and the hardy backwoodsman, hewing out a settlement for himself in the primeval forest, leans on his axe, and looks to the sun's position in the heavens for information how soon he may retire to his hut for food and sleep. Time is a blank if we cannot mark the stages of its progress; and it has been found that the human mind is incapable of sustaining itself against the burden of solitary confinement in a dark room, where you can take no note of time. The great Creator, who made the sun to rule the day and the moon and the stars to govern the night, has adapted our nature to these intermitting changes, and implanted in us an immediate desire to count how, drop by drop, or grain by grain, time and life are passing away.