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The Time Machine, Page 1

H. G. Wells

  The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells [1898]


  The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him)was expounding a recondite matter to us. His grey eyes shone andtwinkled, and his usually pale face was flushed and animated. Thefire burned brightly, and the soft radiance of the incandescentlights in the lilies of silver caught the bubbles that flashed andpassed in our glasses. Our chairs, being his patents, embraced andcaressed us rather than submitted to be sat upon, and there was thatluxurious after-dinner atmosphere when thought roams gracefullyfree of the trammels of precision. And he put it to us in thisway--marking the points with a lean forefinger--as we sat and lazilyadmired his earnestness over this new paradox (as we thought it)and his fecundity.

  'You must follow me carefully. I shall have to controvert one or twoideas that are almost universally accepted. The geometry, forinstance, they taught you at school is founded on a misconception.'

  'Is not that rather a large thing to expect us to begin upon?'said Filby, an argumentative person with red hair.

  'I do not mean to ask you to accept anything without reasonableground for it. You will soon admit as much as I need from you. Youknow of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness _nil_,has no real existence. They taught you that? Neither has amathematical plane. These things are mere abstractions.'

  'That is all right,' said the Psychologist.

  'Nor, having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have areal existence.'

  'There I object,' said Filby. 'Of course a solid body may exist. Allreal things--'

  'So most people think. But wait a moment. Can an _instantaneous_cube exist?'

  'Don't follow you,' said Filby.

  'Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a realexistence?'

  Filby became pensive. 'Clearly,' the Time Traveller proceeded, 'anyreal body must have extension in _four_ directions: it must haveLength, Breadth, Thickness, and--Duration. But through a naturalinfirmity of the flesh, which I will explain to you in a moment, weincline to overlook this fact. There are really four dimensions,three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time.There is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction betweenthe former three dimensions and the latter, because it happens thatour consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along thelatter from the beginning to the end of our lives.'

  'That,' said a very young man, making spasmodic efforts to relighthis cigar over the lamp; 'that ... very clear indeed.'

  'Now, it is very remarkable that this is so extensively overlooked,'continued the Time Traveller, with a slight accession ofcheerfulness. 'Really this is what is meant by the Fourth Dimension,though some people who talk about the Fourth Dimension do not knowthey mean it. It is only another way of looking at Time. _There isno difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Spaceexcept that our consciousness moves along it_. But some foolishpeople have got hold of the wrong side of that idea. You have allheard what they have to say about this Fourth Dimension?'

  '_I_ have not,' said the Provincial Mayor.

  'It is simply this. That Space, as our mathematicians have it, isspoken of as having three dimensions, which one may call Length,Breadth, and Thickness, and is always definable by reference tothree planes, each at right angles to the others. But somephilosophical people have been asking why _three_ dimensionsparticularly--why not another direction at right angles to the otherthree?--and have even tried to construct a Four-Dimension geometry.Professor Simon Newcomb was expounding this to the New YorkMathematical Society only a month or so ago. You know how on a flatsurface, which has only two dimensions, we can represent a figure ofa three-dimensional solid, and similarly they think that by modelsof three dimensions they could represent one of four--if they couldmaster the perspective of the thing. See?'

  'I think so,' murmured the Provincial Mayor; and, knitting hisbrows, he lapsed into an introspective state, his lips moving as onewho repeats mystic words. 'Yes, I think I see it now,' he said aftersome time, brightening in a quite transitory manner.

  'Well, I do not mind telling you I have been at work upon thisgeometry of Four Dimensions for some time. Some of my resultsare curious. For instance, here is a portrait of a man at eightyears old, another at fifteen, another at seventeen, another attwenty-three, and so on. All these are evidently sections, as itwere, Three-Dimensional representations of his Four-Dimensionedbeing, which is a fixed and unalterable thing.

  'Scientific people,' proceeded the Time Traveller, after the pauserequired for the proper assimilation of this, 'know very well thatTime is only a kind of Space. Here is a popular scientific diagram,a weather record. This line I trace with my finger shows themovement of the barometer. Yesterday it was so high, yesterday nightit fell, then this morning it rose again, and so gently upward tohere. Surely the mercury did not trace this line in any of thedimensions of Space generally recognized? But certainly it tracedsuch a line, and that line, therefore, we must conclude was alongthe Time-Dimension.'

  'But,' said the Medical Man, staring hard at a coal in the fire, 'ifTime is really only a fourth dimension of Space, why is it, and whyhas it always been, regarded as something different? And why cannotwe move in Time as we move about in the other dimensions of Space?'

  The Time Traveller smiled. 'Are you sure we can move freely inSpace? Right and left we can go, backward and forward freely enough,and men always have done so. I admit we move freely in twodimensions. But how about up and down? Gravitation limits us there.'

  'Not exactly,' said the Medical Man. 'There are balloons.'

  'But before the balloons, save for spasmodic jumping and theinequalities of the surface, man had no freedom of verticalmovement.'

  'Still they could move a little up and down,' said the Medical Man.

  'Easier, far easier down than up.'

  'And you cannot move at all in Time, you cannot get away from thepresent moment.'

  'My dear sir, that is just where you are wrong. That is just wherethe whole world has gone wrong. We are always getting away from thepresent moment. Our mental existences, which are immaterial and haveno dimensions, are passing along the Time-Dimension with a uniformvelocity from the cradle to the grave. Just as we should travel _down_if we began our existence fifty miles above the earth's surface.'

  'But the great difficulty is this,' interrupted the Psychologist.'You _can_ move about in all directions of Space, but you cannotmove about in Time.'

  'That is the germ of my great discovery. But you are wrong to saythat we cannot move about in Time. For instance, if I am recallingan incident very vividly I go back to the instant of its occurrence:I become absent-minded, as you say. I jump back for a moment. Ofcourse we have no means of staying back for any length of Time, anymore than a savage or an animal has of staying six feet above theground. But a civilized man is better off than the savage in thisrespect. He can go up against gravitation in a balloon, and whyshould he not hope that ultimately he may be able to stop oraccelerate his drift along the Time-Dimension, or even turn aboutand travel the other way?'

  'Oh, _this_,' began Filby, 'is all--'

  'Why not?' said the Time Traveller.

  'It's against reason,' said Filby.

  'What reason?' said the Time Traveller.

  'You can show black is white by argument,' said Filby, 'but you willnever convince me.'

  'Possibly not,' said the Time Traveller. 'But now you begin to seethe object of my investigations into the geometry of FourDimensions. Long ago I had a vague inkling of a machine--'

  'To travel through Time!' exclaimed the Very Young Man.

  'That shall travel indifferently in any direction of Space and Time,as the driver determines.'

  Filby contented himself wi
th laughter.

  'But I have experimental verification,' said the Time Traveller.

  'It would be remarkably convenient for the historian,' thePsychologist suggested. 'One might travel back and verify theaccepted account of the Battle of Hastings, for instance!'

  'Don't you think you would attract attention?' said the Medical Man.'Our ancestors had no great tolerance for anachronisms.'

  'One might get one's Greek from the very lips of Homer and Plato,'the Very Young Man thought.

  'In which case they would certainly plough you for the Little-go.The German scholars have improved Greek so much.'

  'Then there is the future,' said the Very Young Man. 'Just think!One might invest all one's money, leave it to accumulate atinterest, and hurry on ahead!'

  'To discover a society,' said I, 'erected on a strictly communisticbasis.'

  'Of all the wild extravagant theories!' began the Psychologist.

  'Yes, so it seemed to me, and so I never talked of it until--'

  'Experimental verification!' cried I. 'You are going to verify_that_?'

  'The experiment!' cried Filby, who was getting brain-weary.

  'Let's see your experiment anyhow,' said the Psychologist, 'thoughit's all humbug, you know.'

  The Time Traveller smiled round at us. Then, still smiling faintly,and with his hands deep in his trousers pockets, he walked slowlyout of the room, and we heard his slippers shuffling down the longpassage to his laboratory.

  The Psychologist looked at us. 'I wonder what he's got?'

  'Some sleight-of-hand trick or other,' said the Medical Man, andFilby tried to tell us about a conjurer he had seen at Burslem; butbefore he had finished his preface the Time Traveller came back, andFilby's anecdote collapsed.

  The thing the Time Traveller held in his hand was a glitteringmetallic framework, scarcely larger than a small clock, and verydelicately made. There was ivory in it, and some transparentcrystalline substance. And now I must be explicit, for this thatfollows--unless his explanation is to be accepted--is an absolutelyunaccountable thing. He took one of the small octagonal tables thatwere scattered about the room, and set it in front of the fire, withtwo legs on the hearthrug. On this table he placed the mechanism.Then he drew up a chair, and sat down. The only other object on thetable was a small shaded lamp, the bright light of which fell uponthe model. There were also perhaps a dozen candles about, two inbrass candlesticks upon the mantel and several in sconces, so thatthe room was brilliantly illuminated. I sat in a low arm-chairnearest the fire, and I drew this forward so as to be almost betweenthe Time Traveller and the fireplace. Filby sat behind him, lookingover his shoulder. The Medical Man and the Provincial Mayor watchedhim in profile from the right, the Psychologist from the left. TheVery Young Man stood behind the Psychologist. We were all on thealert. It appears incredible to me that any kind of trick, howeversubtly conceived and however adroitly done, could have been playedupon us under these conditions.

  The Time Traveller looked at us, and then at the mechanism. 'Well?'said the Psychologist.

  'This little affair,' said the Time Traveller, resting his elbowsupon the table and pressing his hands together above the apparatus,'is only a model. It is my plan for a machine to travel throughtime. You will notice that it looks singularly askew, and that thereis an odd twinkling appearance about this bar, as though it was insome way unreal.' He pointed to the part with his finger. 'Also,here is one little white lever, and here is another.'

  The Medical Man got up out of his chair and peered into the thing.'It's beautifully made,' he said.

  'It took two years to make,' retorted the Time Traveller. Then, whenwe had all imitated the action of the Medical Man, he said: 'Now Iwant you clearly to understand that this lever, being pressed over,sends the machine gliding into the future, and this other reversesthe motion. This saddle represents the seat of a time traveller.Presently I am going to press the lever, and off the machine willgo. It will vanish, pass into future Time, and disappear. Have agood look at the thing. Look at the table too, and satisfyyourselves there is no trickery. I don't want to waste this model,and then be told I'm a quack.'

  There was a minute's pause perhaps. The Psychologist seemed about tospeak to me, but changed his mind. Then the Time Traveller put forthhis finger towards the lever. 'No,' he said suddenly. 'Lend me yourhand.' And turning to the Psychologist, he took that individual'shand in his own and told him to put out his forefinger. So that itwas the Psychologist himself who sent forth the model Time Machineon its interminable voyage. We all saw the lever turn. I amabsolutely certain there was no trickery. There was a breath ofwind, and the lamp flame jumped. One of the candles on the mantelwas blown out, and the little machine suddenly swung round, becameindistinct, was seen as a ghost for a second perhaps, as an eddy offaintly glittering brass and ivory; and it was gone--vanished! Savefor the lamp the table was bare.

  Everyone was silent for a minute. Then Filby said he was damned.

  The Psychologist recovered from his stupor, and suddenly lookedunder the table. At that the Time Traveller laughed cheerfully.'Well?' he said, with a reminiscence of the Psychologist. Then,getting up, he went to the tobacco jar on the mantel, and with hisback to us began to fill his pipe.

  We stared at each other. 'Look here,' said the Medical Man, 'are youin earnest about this? Do you seriously believe that that machinehas travelled into time?'

  'Certainly,' said the Time Traveller, stooping to light a spill atthe fire. Then he turned, lighting his pipe, to look at thePsychologist's face. (The Psychologist, to show that he was notunhinged, helped himself to a cigar and tried to light it uncut.)'What is more, I have a big machine nearly finished in there'--heindicated the laboratory--'and when that is put together I mean tohave a journey on my own account.'

  'You mean to say that that machine has travelled into the future?'said Filby.

  'Into the future or the past--I don't, for certain, know which.'

  After an interval the Psychologist had an inspiration. 'It must havegone into the past if it has gone anywhere,' he said.

  'Why?' said the Time Traveller.

  'Because I presume that it has not moved in space, and if ittravelled into the future it would still be here all this time,since it must have travelled through this time.'

  'But,' I said, 'If it travelled into the past it would have beenvisible when we came first into this room; and last Thursday when wewere here; and the Thursday before that; and so forth!'

  'Serious objections,' remarked the Provincial Mayor, with an air ofimpartiality, turning towards the Time Traveller.

  'Not a bit,' said the Time Traveller, and, to the Psychologist: 'Youthink. You can explain that. It's presentation below the threshold,you know, diluted presentation.'

  'Of course,' said the Psychologist, and reassured us. 'That's asimple point of psychology. I should have thought of it. It's plainenough, and helps the paradox delightfully. We cannot see it, norcan we appreciate this machine, any more than we can the spoke ofa wheel spinning, or a bullet flying through the air. If it istravelling through time fifty times or a hundred times faster thanwe are, if it gets through a minute while we get through a second,the impression it creates will of course be only one-fiftieth orone-hundredth of what it would make if it were not travelling intime. That's plain enough.' He passed his hand through the space inwhich the machine had been. 'You see?' he said, laughing.

  We sat and stared at the vacant table for a minute or so. Then theTime Traveller asked us what we thought of it all.

  'It sounds plausible enough to-night,' said the Medical Man; 'butwait until to-morrow. Wait for the common sense of the morning.'

  'Would you like to see the Time Machine itself?' asked the TimeTraveller. And therewith, taking the lamp in his hand, he led theway down the long, draughty corridor to his laboratory. I remembervividly the flickering light, his queer, broad head in silhouette,the dance of the shadows, how we all followed him, puzzled butincredulous, and how there in the laboratory we beheld
a largeredition of the little mechanism which we had seen vanish from beforeour eyes. Parts were of nickel, parts of ivory, parts had certainlybeen filed or sawn out of rock crystal. The thing was generallycomplete, but the twisted crystalline bars lay unfinished upon thebench beside some sheets of drawings, and I took one up for a betterlook at it. Quartz it seemed to be.

  'Look here,' said the Medical Man, 'are you perfectly serious?Or is this a trick--like that ghost you showed us last Christmas?'

  'Upon that machine,' said the Time Traveller, holding the lampaloft, 'I intend to explore time. Is that plain? I was never moreserious in my life.'

  None of us quite knew how to take it.

  I caught Filby's eye over the shoulder of the Medical Man, and hewinked at me solemnly.