I rise before the sun most mornings, a habit left over from my busy young mom days.This coming Sunday has us setting our clocks back again. As a rural dweller whose bedroom window faces east, I have a decent circadian rhythm. Because of this I'm not a big fan of time changes. It takes me a week to get into a new time groove.
A while back I learned something interesting about this time change and I was floored to discover it. Many years ago while immersed in the history of lamps and lighting in America, I discovered I'd been saying the name of this time change wrong for decades. You see, I grew up in Chicago where vernacular speech is rife with curious liberty taking. (You may have noticed lol) We have our own way of talking and you can honestly tell what Chicago region a person is from by their distinctive Chicagoese. Because Chicago is plugged into my DNA, it was my long understanding that the bi-annual clock reset was called Daylight Savings Time. It's not! It's actually Daylight Saving Time. In this case Saving is a participle because it modifies Time and informs us of its nature --literally the activity of saving daylight. Drop that s on the floor and kick it out of sight.
Who started all this stuff that's been confusing Chicagoans for 180 years and causing this city-dweller turned country émigré to feel like a dummy? Ben Franklin.
While visiting Paris in 1784, Ben wrote an essay entitled An Economical Project -- just one of many of his discourses on thrift. Remember, he's the penny saved is a penny earned guy. In this essay he was talking about conserving candles by setting the clocks in favor of natural daylight. It all came about after an experience he had one particular morning. You see, most Parisians of his acquaintance didn't rise before noon. Parisians were hard partyers who started their soirees late, partied hardy all night long, then went to bed just before dawn.
Apparently, one such morning he woke hours ahead of time and for a moment was confused by the light of pre-dawn in his room. Perhaps gentlemen who normally rise at noon might be thrown off by the sunrise. This is an actual account-- the story in his own words:
"I looked at my watch, which goes very well, and found that it was but six o clock; and still thinking it something extraordinary that the sun should rise so early, I looked into the almanac, where I found it to be the hour given for his rising on that day. I looked forward too, and found he was to rise still earlier every day towards the end of June; and that no time during the year he retarded his rising so long as till eight o clock. Your readers, who with me have never seen any sign of sunshine before noon, and seldom regard the astronomical part of the almanac, will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises. I am convinced of this."
Ever the master of wit, Franklin claimed that a noted philosopher assured him that he was mistaken. It was well known that there could be no light abroad at that hour. "His windows had not let the light in, but being open, had let the darkness out." he later said, "This event has given rise in my mind to several serious and important reflections."
This is basically what he is saying: Had he slept until noon, he would have missed six hours of daylight. And, as usual, he'd live six hours the following night by candlelight. It dawned on him just how expensive this lifestyle was. Ever frugal, he began calculating the cost of 100,000 Parisian families burning a pound of candles every two hours for an average of seven hours each evening between dusk and the late hour Parisians finally turned in. This is what he found:
183 nights between 20 March and 20 September times 7 hours per night of candle usage equals 1,281 hours for a half year of candle usage. Multiplying by 100,000 families gives 128,100,000 hours by candlelight. Each candle requires half a pound of tallow and wax, thus a total of 64,050,000 pounds. At a price of thirty sols per pounds of tallow and wax (two hundred sols make one livre tournois), the total sum comes to 96,075,000 livre tournois-- an immense sum that the city of Paris could save every year
Ben's revelation returned with him to America. He wrote it up with witty humor in Poor Richard's Almanac and people listened. Even the Parisian lamp makers got on board. Soon everyone was talking about this novel idea. In his autobiography, Franklin wrote of this thrifty concept in his travels to England:
"For in walking thro' the Strand and Fleet Street one morning at seven o clock, I observed there was not one shop open tho it had been daylight and the sun up above. "three hours -- the inhabitants of London choosing voluntarily to live much by candlelight and sleep by sunshine, and yet often complaining a little absurdly of the duty on candles and the high price of tallow."
With rare exception, we've been following this idea since Benjamin Franklin thought it up. I personally think it's a good idea to limit the use of artificial light. Our brains need darkness as this Sleep Foundation article states. What's more, conserving energy helps protect the environment. Some people intentionally limit their use of artificial light. I have a friend who does this and this habit it appeals to me. Unfortunately, my husband is a lamp person. If there's a light bulb anywhere, he'll turn it on.
Here's one man who tried a no electricity experiment for a month. Very interesting.
As a writer, I'd find this very hard to do because I need my laptop plugged in and working when the spark of creativity strikes. Having gone back in time through many living history events, it would be very easy for me to live by candlelight in the evenings. How about you? Have you ever tried low light or candlelight in the evenings?
Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes across genres under the pen name Madeline Archer. She lives with her family and small menagerie amid oak groves and prairie in the rolling glacial hills of the upper Midwest.
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