Time Travel -- the State of the Art
Old Pages (The Change)
Few would think of Arnold J. Toynbee, renowned author of A Study of History, as a non-conformist or rebel. Nevertheless, as a young man of 22, Toynbee had the first of a series of experiences which, according to our definition, qualify him as a time traveler -- and an extraordinary one at that.
Toynbee, who lived between 1889 and 1975, was a brilliant student at Winchester and Balliol College, Oxford University, winning scholarships and prizes for his work in classical studies. Toynbee created the initial outline for his lifework, A Study of History, in 1921, finishing an expansion into a 750-page summary in 1929. Volumes I-III were published in 1934, Volumes IV-VI in 1939, and Volumes VII-X in 1954. D.C. Somervell’s abridgment of the first six volumes, published in 1947, greatly increased the readership of the book; Somervell's abridgment of the last four volumes was published in 1957.
Toynbee was a prodigious worker. For many years he was Director of Studies at what became the Royal Institute of International Affairs, responsible for the publication of large annual surveys of world events, even while serving as Research Professor of International History at the University of London and writing A Study of History. He was involved in government service during both World War I and World War II, wrote numerous articles and a number of books in addition to A Study of History, and travelled widely, lecturing in many countries.
Toynbee's book greatly expanded the scope of history beyond
the narrow limits prevailing at the beginning of his career, adding great reaches of time and peoples
formerly studied primarily by specialists. William H. McNeil, in his excellent biography (see RealityTest's
Resources section), says of Toynbee:
A Study of History is an amazing work, displaying Toynbee's vast learning and quickness of mind as he ranges throughout all of known history (or at least that known in his time), in accordance with a scheme emphasizing a pattern to the rise and fall of a number of distinct civilizations. The work is not without flaws, even as its author modified his beliefs in the long course of its writing, but remains a spectacular and groundbreaking achievement.
RealityTest's primary interest in Toynbee is not A Study of History, however, but rather the experiences mentioned above which served as one source of its author's inspiration. Toynbee describes these as "carried down in a 'Time pocket'" and "the local annihilation of Time" in Volume X of A Study of History. Volume X contains Section XIII. The Inspirations of Historians; Toynbee relates his experiences in E. The Quest for a Meaning Behind the Facts of History. (Section XIII is not included in Somervell's abridgment.)
Toynbee writes of:
"the experience of a communion on the mundane plane with persons
and events from which, in his usual state of consciousness, he is sundered by a great gulf of Time and Space that, in
ordinary circumstances, is impassable for all his faculties except his intellect. A tenuous long-distance commerce
exclusively on the intellectual plane is an historian's normal relation to the objects of his study; yet there are moments in
his mental life -- moments as memorable as they are rare -- in which temporal and spatial barriers fall and psychic distance
is annihilated; and in such moments of inspiration the historian finds himself transformed in a flash from a remote spectator
into an immediate participant, as the dry bones take flesh and quicken into life."
"a quickening encounter with some passage in an historical record or a
quickening sight of some historic monument or landscape"
Toynbee then describes his experiences, of both types (the numerous footnotes found in the original text are not included in the following excerpts):
"The present writer, for example, still retained, some forty years
after one experience of the kind, an abiding sense of personal participation in the war of 90-80 B.C. between Rome and her
Italian allies as lasting consequence of the instantaneous effect on him of a passage in the table of contents (periocha)
of the eighty-ninth book of Livy's history upon which he had stumbled one day when, during his reading as an undergraduate
for the school of Literae Humaniores at Oxford, he was unexpectantly ploughing his way through the surviving précis of the
lost books of Livy's work in the faint hope of gleaning some additional scraps of knowledge of the appalling history of the
Hellenic World in the last two centuries B.C."
'Mutilus, one of the proscribed [leaders of the Italian
Confederacy], succeeded, by muffling his countenance, in making his way undetected to the back of his wife Bastia's house --
only to be refused admittance: she taxed him with having a price on his head. His retort was to plunge his blade into his
breast and spatter his wife's door with his blood.'
"As the student read this quickening passage of an arid epitome, he
was transported, in a flash, across the gulf of Time and Space from Oxford in A.D. 1911 to Teanum in 80 B.C., to find
himself in a back yard on a dark night witnessing a personal tragedy that was more bitter than the defeat of any public
cause. He saw the Sidicine fugitive, expelled from Nola by craven Samnite comrades-in-arms for fear of Roman retribution if
they continued to harbour him, stealing up to his own home in his own city in the confident expectation that here, at least
and at last, he could count on finding love, loyalty, and shelter; and then, in answer to his low call, a woman's head
appears at the window, and one short colloquy informs him that his wife is as heartless as his comrades-in-arms. In an
instant, the blade rasps in the scabbard, the body falls with a thud, and the splashing blood irrevocably seals the
traitor-wife's infamy. Already the beat of the avenging Furies' wings can be heard in the air as the twentieth-century
eye-witness is caught up again and replaced in a trice in his normal locus in Time and Space."
"A stop-watch would, no doubt, have registered that the duration of
this transport had been infinitesimally brief; yet, in virtue of the poignancy of the experience, the momentary posthumous
spectator's imagination was able, ever after, to recapture the atmosphere of that dire reunion of husband and wife; and
this one scene in the tragic drama of a civil war between a Roman Republic and an Italian Confederacy would call up,
before his mind's eye, a series of dramatic incidents running back past the climax of the catastrophe to its eve..."
"This resurrection, in a twentieth-century English student's experience,
of souls that had striven and suffered and died in Italy in the second decade of the last century B.C. was noteworthy
inasmuch as the bones which had been brought back to life were, in this instance, no perfect skeletons, but mere casual bits
and fragmentary pieces. In conjuring up out of these scanty relics an exceeding great army, the historian's awe-inspired
imagination was performing, on its own plane, something like an equivalent of the miracle performed on the intellectual
plane by contemporary Western palaeontologists who knew how to reconstruct a megatherium from a single vertebra and a
pithecanthropus from a single tooth. If the Imagination could strike fire from such tinder as surviving tables of contents
of lost books and surviving entries in pedestrian chronicles, it was not surprising that it should be able to make as much
of the intact works of gifted historians;..."
Toynbee continues, describing similar incidents occurring later in his life. Then he recalls experiences from journeys in Italy and Greece in 1911 and 1912 after his graduation from Balliol College:
"If the imagination could be fired not only by the Champenois
adventurer's winged words but even by a narrative in a Byzantine historical work whose pages had been damped by the mildew
of an affected style in a pedantic classical diction, it was still less surprising that the same miracle could also be
evoked by the sight of monuments and landscapes that were visual echoes of the Past."...
"On the 10th January, 1912, as he sat musing on one of the twin
summits of the citadel of Pharsalus, with his eyes ranging away to the peaks of Pelion, Ossa, and Olympus over the downs
of Cynoscephalae -- the crouching Dog's Heads -- the middle distance of a sunlit landscape came, in the brooding gazer's
imagination, to be overcast with the sinister mist that, on a morning 2,109 years back in the Past, is blindfolding the
patrols of two armies as these nervously grope their way towards one another on those fog-bound slopes. When the parting
of the mist reveals to the posthumous spectator's sight the right wing of the Macedonian phalanx already carrying all
before it in the momentum of its charge downhill, he instantly feels the stab of anxiety that, at this moment, pierces
King Philip's heart as he glances back over his left shoulder to look for the left wing of the phalanx that should have
been following his own right wing up. 'O form front, Nicanor! Form front! And cover my left flank. Close the gap,
Elephant, close the gap for God's sake!" But the fate of Macedon's last army is already sealed. Don't you see what that
hawk-eyed Roman field-officer is doing over there on the triumphant Roman right? He is not missing his chance of striking
a decisive blow by waiting for orders from Titus. Look, he has already withdrawn two battalions from the victorious Roman
attack on Nicanor's unready wing and has wheeled them, left-about, at the double to take Philip's exposed wing in the
rear. And now it is no battle; it is a massacre -- for these uncouth Italian troops have never been drilled in the
humane rules governing the 'temperate and undecisive contest' in which the regular forces of a civilized Hellenic World
are more or less innocuously exercised. Look, the outmanoeuvred phalangites are raising their pikes -- they are making
the signal that they surrender -- but those murderous Roman swords callously complete their cruel work."
"As the harrowed participant from another world averts his eyes from
an unbearable spectacle, they catch a glimpse of a despairing commander riding off, ventre a terre, with no more than
a handful of life-guards still attending him. Is this fleeing horseman Titus Quinctius Flamininus's defeated adversary
Philip Demetriou? Or is he Gaius Julius Caesar's defeated adversary Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus? Before the dreamer has time to
refocus his diffracted historical vision, it all vanishes abruptly into thin air, and the landscape flickers back into a
pastoral present in which sounds floating up from the slopes of Cynoscephalae to the heights of the acropolis of Pharsalus
are, not the din of sword-blades nor the shrieks of wounded men, but the tinkling of goat-bells and the bleating of
sheep peacefully grazing, to the strain of their shepherds' pipes, over the site of a double historic battlefield. Can the
dreamer really have sunk, for that instant, those twenty-one centuries deep below the current surface of Time's waters on
which he now finds himself riding, once again, in his normal waking life? He might doubt it if the poignancy of the
momentary experience had not left a sequence of Greek elegiac verses running persistently through his head."
Toynbee quotes these verses (in Greek -- a translation is provided) then continues, describing an experience on Crete on March 19, 1912, involving a baroque villa:
"As he stood staring at this Jacobean country house, where the Modern
Western Civilization in which he himself lived and moved and had his being had suffered the pangs of death on Cretan soil a
quarter of a millennium ago, the spectator had an experience which was the counterpart, on the psychic plane, of an
aeroplane's sudden deep drop when it falls into an air-pocket. On that spot on which Time had stood still since the eviction
of the Venetians by the 'Osmanlis in the War of Candia (gerebatur A.D. 1645-69), the spectator was suddenly carried
down in a 'Time-pocket' from a day in the year A.D. 1912 to a day in the fifth decade of the seventeenth century on which
History, in that house, had come abruptly to an end in an evacuation without any sequel except solitude and decay."
Toynbee then describes a similar experience on the east coast of Laconia on April 23, 1912, during which he scaled the citadel of Monemvasia:
"As he scaled those miniature Heights of Abraham and scrambled
through a breach in the ramparts that crowned the summit, he fell again into the deep trough of Time as he beheld the
antique bronze cannon lying tossed about at all angles among the jagged outcrops of limestone and the thorny macchia and
the quietly browsing goats. There lay the guns as they had been left on a day on which Time had stood still at
Monemvasia. They had lain there till their wooden carriages had rotted away, and no one had ever troubled to remount them
or to carry them off. In that instant the spectator was transported to the evening of the day -- whatever date that day
may have borne in Archbishop Ussher's chronological chart -- on which this historic fortress had been stranded on the
flowing Time-stream's motionless marge."
Additional experiences from later in Toynbee's life follow, including "The most vivid of the present writer's experiences of the local annihilation of Time in a place where Time had stood still had overtaken him on the 11th February, 1921" in Ephesus. This takes place after Toynbee approaches the theatre of Ancient Ephesus:
"At the instant at which this historic panorama impinged on the
spectator's eyes, the empty theatre peopled itself with a tumultuous throng as the breath came into the dead and they
lived and stood up upon their feet. 'Some... cried one thing and some another; for the assembly was confused, and the
more part knew not wherefore they were come together.' [Acts xix. 32.] Those two dishevelled figures must be Gaius and
Aristarchus; that ineffectual-looking creature must be Alexander. What is this rhythmic roar into which the babel of
tongues is resolving itself? Will Gaius and Aristarchus escape with their lives? Thank Heaven for the intrepid town
clerk's promptness and presence of mind. But at the moment when the cries of 'Great is Diana' are dying down and the
clerk is beginning to reason tactfully with the crowd, the life flickers out of the scene as the spectator is carried
up again instantaneously to the current surface of the Time-stream from an abyss, nineteen centuries deep, into which
the impact of the sight of the theatre at Ephesus had plunged him."
Finally, Toynbee describes "another occasion on which he had been vouchsafed a larger and a stranger experience:"
"In London in the southern section of the Buckingham Palace Road,
walking southward along the pavement skirting the west wall of Victoria Station, the writer, once, one afternoon not long
after the end of the First World War -- he had failed to record the exact date -- had found himself in communion, not
just with this or that episode in History, but with all that had been, and was, and was to come. In that instant he was
directly aware of the passage of History gently flowing through him in a mighty current, and of his own life welling like
a wave in the flow of this vast tide. The experience lasted long enough for him to take visual note of the Edwardian red
brick surface and white stone facings of the station wall gliding past him on his left, and to wonder -- half amazed and
half amused -- why this incongruously prosaic scene should have been the physical setting of a mental illumination. An
instant later, the communion had ceased, and the dreamer was back again in the every-day cockney world which was his
native social milieu and of which the Edwardian station wall was a characteristic period piece."
In all of these experiences Toynbee is clearly transcending the apparent linear nature of time (or transcending the usual limitations of his own ego, an equally correct formulation). You could attribute them to the active imagination of a man deeply versed in historical details, and leave it at that, but RealityTest believes Toynbee was accessing more than simply memories of texts, fancifully illuminating them, and will demonstrate how such experiences can be consciously initiated (see RealityTest's Doorways section), providing sufficient subjective validation to eliminate doubts. "Ego transcendence" is not an uncommon phrase within writings pertaining to mysticism or eastern religions; "time transcendence" is simply a particular and less common variation enabling any number of new connections to be made between traditional mystical writings and other realms of thought, including science fiction conceived and written in Victorian times.