To comprehend the history I now set about exposing, it’s necessary you should first know something of my character: I lag behind the times. This I owe to a certain spirit of reclusion in my family. We care very little for the pursuits and preoccupations of our contemporaries; we walk while they run. We see no sense, either, in spending our money trying to keep up with progress, which never stops anyway. And being of a rural extraction, we’re accustomed to a leisurely pace of life — as folks down our way say, if there’s nowhere you have to be, then there’s no hurry to get there.

I may rightly be said to exemplify all these familial tendencies.

“There goes Jonathan Rubspar,” someone says to his fellows as he hears the tap of my cane. “Did you ever meet anyone so out of step with the world as him? He just plods along, oblivious to everything!”

It’s fair to count me among the plodders of the world. But the other impression — that I’m an oblivious relic, a creature only of the past — is quite an erroneous one. Nonetheless, that’s the impression all who make my acquaintance seem to get. They think I’m too obstinate to live amiably with my own generation. They believe I know nothing or too little of the current fashions, whereas the case really stands that I know enough to think poorly of them. And in every discussion, whatever is at issue and despite my protests to the contrary, they’re convinced I’m a conservative or a reactionary of some kind, too hellbent on my own views to accede to progress.

If I were a planet traversing the sky, I’d appear to be going backwards. Of course, Copernicus disproved this lie: my orbit seems retrograde only because I’m moving slower than the planet on which my observers stand. My true motion is forward.

One of my forebears, a writer of greater fame than myself (I have none to speak of), remarked that his father was “a philosopher in grain, speculative, systematical.” I’ve inherited just that disposition. I prefer to engage candidly with the full facts of a matter, down to the least particulars, rather than to plunge heedlessly ahead. And in all honesty, having mused on progress in this way, I find the contemporary attitude towards it entirely too optimistic, a touch thoughtless, I’d say even reckless.

Perhaps it’s only fair to concede that people are and always have been the victims of their lineage. Like so many before us, we don’t have it in our natures to think before we act. So anxious to arrive, we seldom set out properly: we leap ahead by bounds, by fits and starts, by thin guesses and hazardous assumptions, and we almost never stop a moment to wonder whether the goal we have in mind is laudable or indeed desirable. We’d be wiser, I think, to adopt the principle of careful study my forebear ascribed to his father, which I modify as a motto for the ensuing history: “Amicus profectum, sed magis amica adventum.”

It may seem to you that I’ve digressed before even getting anywhere. What of this history you promise, Rubspar? Can’t you say one specific thing about it before venturing into such generalities? Well, that’s a point, but I can’t concede it entirely. I can only assure you that my digressions — there will be many more — bear saliently upon my theme, both whole and crumbled into its smallest atoms. Like my famous forebear, I have a habit of speaking digressively and progressively at once. And it’s a fortunate thing: the history I intend to relate is not one of specific events transpiring on such and such a date but one of trends, attitudes, dispositions. Now, had I swum out into that river without minding either the strength and direction of the current or my own disposition — to swim against it — like as not an undertow would have sucked me down.

In any other age, I believe, my particular shortcoming — how I lag behind the times — might have worked to my disadvantage but not necessarily to my utter ruin. I would have found some remedy for it, some valued occupation to accommodate it. Unhappily, I was born on the cusp of an unprecedented epoch of marvels which has brought about the most dizzy revolution of the world imaginable — not in knowledge, though I think we lost a great deal of wisdom as a consequence of it, but in social graces, political discernment, and discursive niceties.

To put it bluntly, I believe no prior period of history was so inimical to rational thought, to sane and dispassionate argument, to espousing a thoughtfully critical view of one’s friends and a charitable view of one’s foes, to recognizing what’s praiseworthy and what’s damnable in ourselves, or to encouraging the praiseworthy and correcting the damnable. This age in which I find myself appears to abhor reason, to denigrate both erudition and the commonest sense, and studiously to avoid any reckoning whatsoever with the barest reflection that an honest survey of oneself or of others might prompt. It is, in short, a mindless age.

But again I digress…

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