The Invention of the Wrist Watch: The Work of the Devil?

In 1853 (the year that Dickens published Hard Times and Matthew Arnold published “The Scholar Gypsy” the Boston Watch Company was formed. This was the first company to begin developing that device that keeps us all chained to linear clock time, intensifying our stress and anxiety levels and robbing us of the childhood capacity to ignore time and be immersed in the simple pleasures of life. Dickens in Hard Times has his poor McChoakumchild-infected children being removed from the world of the circus; Matthew Arnold shows how the super-intelligent Scholar Gypsy had the courage to leave the world of “knocking at preferment’s door” (prefer me! prefer me! prefer me!) and go on a single-minded search for the one thing that would give him deepest, longest, essential satisfaction:

For early didst thou leave the world, with powers

Fresh, undiverted to the world without,

Firm to their mark, not spent on other things…

For Dickens, for Arnold, their quest was for an experience of life that was integrative rather than fragmenting. They both felt that the tendencies of the modern world (their 19th C world which includes our world as well) were turning people into money-driven machines, that lacked deep humanity, compassion and any spiritual sensitivity. All this was (and is) symbolised by the Wrist Watch with its ruthless demands on our time and energy. Yes, we are all ruled by this (even those like me who refuse to wear a wrist watch). When we are working with our institutions we all have to abide by the rules of clock time. However, that is why – I think- bush walking is for me so nourishing. In the bush I can forget clock time (more or less) and simply let the dawn and the dusk dictate my activities; there is no rush for anything, there is simply the joy of being there, in front of a continuing amazing variety of creations of nature:


Dawn over Kuring-gai Chase 29/03/2015

Poor Louisa Gradgrind had none of this. Her life was dead from the inside; she was a burnt-out husk of a human being, suffering the consequences of her parents’s misguided beliefs about what makes a “good” human being. This of course is the key question for us all: what does make a “good” human being? Or what makes a “good” satisfying human life? Can our study of literature take us a little closer to answering this question for ourselves? Is this not the key driving question for every one of us? Can literature provide us with an answer? (through its implicit questions, its dramatization of successes and failures: the leach-gatherer; Louisa; Bitzer; The Scholar Gypsy; Clym Yeobright [in Return of the Native]; Rosalind? Jacques ?????

So here are two Blog Topics to keep the enthusiasts happy over Easter:


Describe in a short prose paragraph/ or poem the essence of what you consider to be the most important ingredients of what makes a satisfactory life


In a paragraph summarize the ways in which the wrist watch controls our existence.

  2 comments for “The Invention of the Wrist Watch: The Work of the Devil?

  1. March 30, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    Interesting that the Boston watch company was created in 1853, and Oliver Twist written in 1837. In the musical “Oliver” the choreography of the song “Gotta pick a pocket or two,has the boys picking a pocket-watch from a gentleman. Also Fagin looks at his watch under the bridge while waiting for Nancy to bring Oliver. Perhaps Lionel Bart didn’t know his history so well.

    The question “What does make a good human being is an ethical dilemma, with the question being answered in different ways by all manner of folk, depending on their ethical perspective. Perhaps being a good human is doing the most good that you can do in your life. I think I need to read Peter Singer’s new book “The Most Good You Can Do”.

    I think my life motto is something that contains the important ingredients for a full and satisfying life. Its the same thing I write in greeting cards as an instruction, that is often mistaken as a greeting or salutation… “Love Always”…Dave

  2. March 31, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    Great comment Dave. Many thanks! That is a very interesting comment about Lionel Bart’s interpretation. They did of course have fob watches… before 1853: there might be a literary PhD in this! I love your life motto. There is some real wisdom in this “instruction”.

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