A Continuous Now

The Bioscope

Every now and again I pursue the etymology of the word Bioscope. It’s a word which has enjoyed multiple applications over the years, and which has been applied to cinemas, cameras, projectors, fairground shows, a film journal, microscopes, a theme park in France, and of course a blog.

As has already been reported, it was first used by a religious writer, Granville Penn, whose The Bioscope; or Dial of Life (1812) you can download from the Internet Archive. The reason for returning to this is that I have now a copy of the image of the bioscope which accompanies Penn’s text. And, indeed, the bioscope was originally a dial, which came with the book, but on a separate card. The dial was marked from nought to seventy, representing the various stages of life, with eternity waiting before and after. The card came with a movable pointer (which seems remarkably modern as a sort of publishing gimmick). The idea was that the reader would place the pointer as whatever his or her age might be, and contemplate what was to come. Penn wanted his readers to avoid being lulled into the beief ‘that life is a continuous now’. Which is, if you think of it, a prescient description of the illusion that motion pictures create. Penn would have hated them.