Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The day the nineteenth century ended

Centuries are better measured by significant events than by dates.

The day the nineteenth century truly ended was not quiet. It did not begin like any other day. Casting our eye over it we would be disappointed if we expected some ignorant and sleepy backdrop. And yet what changed everything was a small thing. A motorcycle came roaring down a country lane.

It was a roar that clanked and chattered and yet, being new to the earth, was no less impressive. It was something which made you gape or whistle through your teeth. Something which excited those for whom the future was not merely another place in time, but a value, a promise which the spirit of the universe was driving us toward. Driving at speed; accelerating.

From then on, even sitting quietly in its shed, this machine gave off echoes of speed and achievement. With a man on its back it was a mythical god, resurrected from his ancient grave when the Spirit of Progress passed over, begotten in a new form this second birth. Steel, chrome. A warrior’s armour for a warrior whose weapon and purpose is speed, and whose beauty is not the hairy muscle and sweat of the ancients, but a form and function of polished perfect metal. A gleaming thing.

In the belly of this god an atmosphere exploded every second. His being was a forge of the future, fire and steel working and hammering to thrust itself forward. Sucking in wind and liquid mineral by force, crushing them and stealing fire by its own science and, while bellowing from its bowls the sound of the achievement, thrusting at the earth with a circular muscle. Not pulled by lowly animal strength, nor pushed like a beggar by the elements, the man-machine dictated his own motion. God was dead, nature enslaved; a new god rose, and the twentieth century began. Its symbol and sword was a motor cycle, coming down a country lane.

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