Monday, September 28, 2009

What O’Clock Is It?*

When I was a young lad, my father one day called me to him that he might teach me how to know what o’clock it was. He told me the use of the minute finger and the hour hand, and described to me the figures on the dial plate, until I was pretty perfect in my part.

No sooner was I quite master of this additional knowledge, than I set off scampering to join my companions at a game of marbles; but my father called me back; “Stop, Humphrey,” said he, “I have something more to tell you.”
Back again I went, wondering what else I had to learn; for I thought I knew all about the clock, quite as well as my father did.

“Humphrey,” said he, “I have taught you to know the time of day; I must now teach you how to find out the time of your life.”

All this was strange to me, so I waited rather impatiently to hear how my father would explain it. . .

“The years of man,” says he, “[are] threescore and ten [70], or fourscore [80] years. Now life is very uncertain, and you may not live a single day longer; but if we divide the fourscore years of an old man’s life into twelve parts, like the dial of a clock, it will allow almost seven years for every figure. When a boy is seven years old, then it is one o’clock of his life, and this is the case with you; when you arrive at fourteen years, it will be two o’clock with you; and at twenty-one years, it will be three o’clock, should it please God thus to spare your life. In this, manner you may know the time of your life, and looking at the clock may, perhaps, remind you of it. My great-grandfather, according to this calculation, died at twelve o’clock; my grandfather at eleven, and my father at ten. At what hour you and I shall die, Humphrey, is only known to Him to whom all things are known.”

Never since then have I heard the inquiry, “What o’clock is it?” nor do I think I have ever looked at the face of the clock, without being reminded of the words of my father. I know not, my friends, what o’clock it is with you, but I know very well what time it is with myself; and that if I mean to do anything in this world, which hitherto I have neglected, it is high time to set about it. The words of my father have given a solemnity to the dial plate of the clock, which it would never have possessed, in my estimation, if these words had not been spoken. Look about you, my friends, I earnestly entreat you, now, and ask yourselves what o’clock it is with you.”

*Benjamin Franklin, The Way to Wealth, (New York: The New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, 1848) p. 11