There is a state, in our human life, there are certain scenic surroundings—if one may use that adjective to describe the surroundings we have in mind—within which such a confusion and obliteration of distances in time and space is in a measure justified, and temporary submersion in them, say for the term of a holiday, not reprehensible. Hans Castorp, for his part, could never without the greatest longing think of a stroll along the ocean’s edge. We know how he loved to have the snowy wastes remind him of his native landscape of broad ocean dunes; we hope the reader’s recollections will bear us out when we speak of the joys of that straying. You walk, and walk—never will you come home at the right time, for you are of time, and time is vanished. O ocean, far from thee we sit and spin our tale; we turn toward thee our thoughts, our love, loud and expressly we call on thee, that thou mayst be present in the tale we spin, as in secret thou ever wast and shalt be!—A singing solitude, spanned by a sky of palest grey; full of stinging damp that leaves a salty tang upon the lips.—We walk along the springy floor, strewn with seaweed and tiny mussel-shells. Our ears are wrapped about by the great mild, ample wind, that comes sweeping untrammelled blandly through space, and gently blunts our senses. We wander— wander—watching the tongues of foam lick upward toward our feet and sink back again. The surf is seething; wave after wave, with high, hollow sound, rears up, rebounds, and runs with a silken rustle out over the flat strand: here one, there one, and more beyond, out on the bar. The dull, pervasive, sonorous roar closes our ears against all the sounds of the world. O deep content, O wilful bliss of sheer forgetfulness! Let us shut our eyes, safe in eternity! No—for there in the foaming grey-green waste that stretches with uncanny foreshortening to lose itself in the horizon, look, there is a sail. There? Where is there? How far, how near? You cannot tell. Dizzyingly it escapes your measurement. In order to know how far that ship is from the shore, you would need to know how much room it occupies, as a body in space. Is it large and far off, or is it small and near? Your eye grows dim with uncertainty, for in yourself you have no sense-organ to help you judge of time or space.—We walk, walk. How long, how far? Who knows? Nothing is changed by our pacing, there is the same as here, once on a time the same as now, or then; time is drowning in the measureless monotony of space, motion from point to point is no motion more, where uniformity rules; and where motion is no more motion, time is no longer time.
The schoolmen of the Middle Ages would have it that time is an illusion; that its flow in sequence and causality is only the result of a sensory device, and the real existence of things in an abiding present. Was he walking by the sea, the philosopher to whom this thought first came, walking by the sea, with the faint bitterness of eternity upon his lips?