The Thief of Time

‘Procrastination is the thief of time,’ runs the most famous line from Edward Young’s Night-Thoughts. (‘Collar him!’ added Mr Micawber.)

night thoughts

Another of our Mañanarama posters (PDF here). Edward Young was a Fellow of All Souls College, host of the Procrastination Seminar in autumn 2014

Edward Young is today now largely forgotten: his ‘religious enthusiasm and epigrammatic density cost him readers’, his biographer informs us, while his reputation was further dented when George Eliot attacked his ‘radical insincerity’. But the adage lives on.

Here it is in a nineteenth-century Ohio guest book,

Procrastination thief of time ohio guestbook

here in the title of an intriguing set of essays on procrastination (2010)

Andreou White thief of time

as well as a Discworld novel (2001) in which a sinister race of ‘Auditors’ attempt to take the scientific quest to manage time to its logical conclusion—by freezing time through the perfect clock

Terry Pratchett thief of time

and here, most wonderfully, in the 1930s in the hand of Time magazine, in a letter sent to late-paying subscribers.

Letter from Time magazine

From Successful Collection Letters (1941) via Letters of Note (2012)

It was apparently quite successful. As Young reminds us a few lines later, ‘Be wise today; ’tis madness to defer.’

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