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diet was poisoned with the wantonness of cookery; the mounds of their ancient discipline overborne by the inundation of foreign luxuries, they refined their manners into excesses of every kind. In vain did the Censor now remind his fellowcitizens of the severity of their ancestors: example was grown too powerful for his authority: pleasure and idleness became liberal, labour and industry servile distinctions. The corruption, which began among the quality, insensibly infected the people to such a degree, that at last the most useless citizen was accounted the most honourable. In this polite state of degeneracy, their time (which before was usually employed to some laudable purpose) was now wholly divided between amusements, ceremonies, the tasks of ambition, feasting, and immoderate sleep: which brings me to what I proposed in the beginning of my preceding paper.
During the first four hundred and sixty years, the Romans knew no other divisions of the day, but into the morning, the noon, and the evening; and, in the law of the Twelve Tables, there is no mention made but of the rising and setting of the sun; neither was it till some years after, that the common crier proclaimed the noon with a loud voice.
Pliny says, that the first instrument which
the Romans ever had to distinguish the hours, was a sun-dial, placed by the Censor Papyrius Cursor in the court of the temple of Quirinus, ten years before the Tarentine war: and Marcus Varro informs us, that the first curiosity of this kind (which was exposed in public near the rostrum) was fixed upon a little pillar; and that it was brought from Sicily by Valerius Messala, in the four hundred and seventy-seventh year of Rome. How imperfect soever this dial might be, they continued to regulate their time by it about ninety-nine years; till Martius Philippus (who was Censor with Paulus Æmilius) gave them one more complete: and Pliny adds, that he gained more reputation by this present to the public, than by all his other actions during his censorship.
But, notwithstanding these helps, the Romans were still at a loss to know the time of the day, and to proportion their hours, as often as the sky was overcast; till Scipio Nasica, in the year five hundred and ninety-five, set up an invention to measure the hours by dropping of water out of one vessel into another; as we (on some occasions) now measure them by the running of sand. They counted twelve hours in the day; which were longer or shorter, according to the length or shortness of the days.
The first six hours were from sun-rising till noon; and the other six, from noon to the going down of the sun and, that every master of a family might know at home how the time passed, there was commonly a slave kept in every house, whose whole employment was to run to and fro to observe the hours, and signify them to the family. Of this we have several traces in the Latin poets: and Pliny, speaking of sudden deaths, says, that Babius, who had been Prætor of Bithynia, died instantly when he had inquired of his servant the hour of the day.
Here again I am obliged to stop my career in the second stage of my subject, by some reflections that merit attention.
We have seen the Romans fall from the sobriety of their manners, by the acquisition of power; and decline in virtue as they grew in affluence and politeness; which at last ended in the total subversion, first of their liberties, and then of their empire. This has been the fate of almost all flourishing nations; and I fear England, without a timely care, will in a few years furnish history with one pregnant example more of this kind. This observation makes me inclinable to believe, that the celebrated virtues of any community have been owing more to necessity
than choice; since we find, that most countries have admitted of as many extravagances as their circumstances could support. We have indeed many glorious instances of particular persons, who have enjoyed the most ample fortunes with the greatest moderation; but, I know of no powerful and flourishing state, that was ever able to maintain their ancient necessary virtues, and to distinguish themselves by a national heroism.
From the account of the Roman division of the day, we may observe how slow the progress of the most seemingly obvious arts and sciences must have been in all nations at the beginning. When the Romans were at last able to parcel out the day into twelve hours, yet even then it must have been a new and a tedious study to come to an exactness of dividing those hours into minutes, and subdividing the minutes into seconds: and yet, trifling as this knowledge may seem (which our clock-makers have brought to a surprising nicety), it would be endless to enumerate the uses of it,
Since our time is reduced to a standard, and the bullion of the day is minted out into hours, the industrious know how to employ every piece of time to a real advantage in their different professions; and he that is prodigal of his hours,
is (in effect) a squanderer of money, I remember to have heard of a notable woman, who was thoroughly sensible of the intrinsic value of time. Her husband was a shoemaker, and an excellent craftsman; but never minded how the minutes passed. In vain did his wife inculcate to him, that time is money he had too much wit to apprehend her, and he cursed the parish-clock every night; which at last brought him to his ruin. One night, when the poor woman sent the prentice to call him home from the ale-house, he asked what a-clock it was?" Twelve," answers the boy.-"Gothen (says the master), and bid my wife be easy; it can never be more." After an hour's patience, she sent again; "What a-clock now, child?""One, Sir."-"That's a good boy: once more go and desire my wife to be comforted; it can never be less."
FREE-THINKER, No. 121, May 18, 1719.