The Time Machine Read online

  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 hims