The Time Traveller says that he finished his time machine the previous week and immediately decided to try it. When he pulled the lever, he felt a sensation of falling and noticed the clock had moved a few hours into the future. He then pulled the lever in earnest and saw days waxing and waning faster and faster. Eventually he was no longer indoors—the laboratory, he supposed, had been destroyed. Then he was moving so fast that the movement of night and day merged into a perpetual greyness. The unpleasant feelings of time travel fell away and the Time Traveller felt exhilarated until he became overcome by curiosity about the world. Despite his worry about accidentally materializing inside a solid object, he pulls the lever and stops the machine.
The passages in which Wells describes time travel are some of the most impactful reminders in the book of the miniscule length of a human life in the scale of geologic time. While the Time Traveller is moving through time, the only things permanent enough for him to notice are natural processes, like the movement of the sun, or structures and landforms, which, if the time machine is slow enough, come and go on a scale that is observable. This dwarfs the human presence on the earth and puts into perspective our impermanence. The Time Traveller’s combination of fear and wonder emphasize the theme that intellect must be sharpened through desire, fear, ambition, and risk.
It is the year 802,701, and the Time Traveller finds himself in a garden of strange flowers, near a large Sphinx-like statue made of white stone. For the first time the Time Traveller considers the future of man with fear rather than excitement—what if people are crueler now than they were? What if they are distorted and inhuman? The Time Traveller then sees a group of figures in robes looking at him from a window in a nearby building. Another group approaches him, and he notices that they’re smaller than he is and wearing simple robes and sandals. They strike him as being frail—“like a consumptive,” Wells writes.
Up until this point, the Time Traveller has operated under a common assumption: that mankind will advance indefinitely, and future humans will be stronger, smarter, and better than those of the present. This is the beginning of the Time Traveller’s disillusionment with this unscientific and naïve belief, and it foreshadows the depravity and degeneration he will find.