Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment$

Jan Golinski

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780226302058

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226302065.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 18 May 2022

Public Weather and the Culture of Enlightenment

Public Weather and the Culture of Enlightenment

(p.41) 2 Public Weather and the Culture of Enlightenment
British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment
University of Chicago Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the public weather and the culture of enlightenment. The 1703 storm established a pattern of widespread reporting and diverse interpretation that reappeared in connection with the summer haze of 1783. This storm was represented as a judgment on the moral corruption of society at large. It was also remembered not for the damage it caused, or even the casualties, but for the fact that it was such a singular and extreme departure from the normal equanimity of the national climate. Knowledge of the weather was cultivated by institutions and circulated through the medium of print. The public enterprise of recording the weather came to be identified with cultural progress. The summer haze of 1783 highlighted the differences within British society. The weather constituted a common domain in which elite and popular discourse intersected; it was public property, the concern of society as a whole.

Keywords:   public weather, culture of enlightenment, summer haze, 1703 storm, British society, moral corruption, national climate

If we come into a more contracted Assembly of Men and Women, the Talk generally runs upon the Weather, Fashions, News, and the like Publick Topicks. JOSEPH ADDISON · in The Spectator

THE WORCESTERSHIRE WEATHER DIARY of 1703 was an entirely private document. The author seems to have compiled it solely for his own purposes; there are no indications that it was ever intended to be published. But that year also saw significant public discussion of the weather in Britain. Many other writers shared the diarist's preoccupation with observing atmospheric phenomena and trying to explain them in philosophical and theological terms. A flurry of publications followed the Great Storm in late November, reflecting the terror of the event and its appalling cost in lives and property. The storm was widely interpreted by the authors of pamphlets and sermons as an act of divine punishment for the sins of humanity. Traditionally, extraordinary events of this kind had been thought of as direct interventions by God, interruptions of the normal order of nature. They had often also been seen as omens of war or political change. By the (p.42) beginning of the eighteenth century, this view was being challenged by those who urged a more “philosophical” approach to the weather. They argued that all atmospheric events, even extremely violent ones, were entirely natural. They claimed that God's providence took the form of upholding the regular laws of nature, laws that might ultimately become known by systematic study. The storm brought this debate into the open arena of public discussion; it forced people to think about the role of extraordinary weather phenomena in the British climate and how they related to God's providential care of the nation.

In this period, ideas about the British weather were being reshaped by a variety of cultural and social forces. The 1703 storm struck a particularly hard blow against shipping at a time when the British sense of national identity was beginning to emerge, identified as it was with naval power and overseas trade. In addition, cultural changes that we associate with the beginnings of the Enlightenment shaped the meanings ascribed to such events. Some intellectuals argued that anomalous weather should not monopolize the attention of the public. To highlight occasional violent irregularities, they suggested, was to disparage the goodness of God, which was expressed in the overall regularity of the national climate. Most of the time, the weather varied only within moderate limits; it behaved with a uniformity for which people should be grateful. During the eighteenth century, this notion of the national climate came to the fore. The British weather came to be seen as an example of God's providential goodness to the island's people, his benevolence in bestowing upon them conditions that fostered the growth of agriculture and commerce. The national climate was represented as bound up with the character of the people and a condition of the progress of their civilization. As such, it was considered a suitable topic for conversation in polite circles—an uncontroversial aspect of common knowledge, untainted by partisanship or superstition. Joseph Addison, in the daily periodical The Spectator (1711–12), wrote that the discourse in polite companies of men and women frequently turned on the weather as a public topic.1 By becoming a public matter, comparable to fashion and news, the weather had entered into enlightened discourse. It had been tamed or “civilized,” rendered an appropriate attribute of a nation that prided itself on its reason, refinement, and sensibility.

The polite or civilized view of the national climate reflected the British people's most favorable view of themselves, as a prosperous, industrious, and enlightened nation. But this is not the whole story of the British preoccupation with weather in the period. In practice, people's talk about the subject was not always particularly refined. Certain kinds of talk—that of (p.43) illiterate or rural people, for example, and also gossip and proverbial speech among the educated—reverted to older patterns. Even polite conversation would frequently resort to oral lore and vernacular traditions that predated the spread of enlightened culture. While “vulgar superstitions” were regularly denounced in civil discourse, traditional oral wisdom was also widely respected, as we saw in the case of the Worcestershire diarist. When it came to weather forecasting, in fact, proverbial lore gave the best advice available. Furthermore, the weather itself continued to throw up violent and seemingly inexplicable phenomena, which were widely reported and commented upon. Their status as public events was considerably enhanced by the growth of printed news media in the eighteenth century. In this respect, the 1703 storm established a pattern of widespread reporting and diverse interpretation that resurfaced in connection with later events such as the summer haze of 1783. These anomalies were a reminder that the weather remained stubbornly unpredictable and sometimes dangerous, notwithstanding the efforts of enlightened investigators to subdue it by scientific reason. Such experiences stirred passions among the populace at large that the educated elite were inclined to regard as superstitions. Events of this kind therefore created anxieties about the prospects for cultural progress. In its occasional extremities and anomalies, the weather showed the British people an image of their society that was less than completely enlightened.

The Great Storm in Public Debate

Probably nobody in southern England slept undisturbed through the night of 26—27 November 1703. The weather had already been blustery for several days; a gale the previous week had nearly blown the Edgiock diarist off his feet as he returned from a neighbor's house. But the wind really started to blow hard in the afternoon of Friday, 26 November. As people cowered in their houses, they heard it wreak destruction around them throughout the night, uprooting trees, tearing tiles off roofs, and bringing chimneys and church steeples crashing down. The wind was so violent that many thought the earth itself was quaking. Churches were damaged throughout the southern counties; if their spires survived, they often had the lead stripped from their roofs. Among the fatalities was the bishop of Bath and Wells, killed with his wife in bed by a chimney that fell through the ceiling. The Eddystone lighthouse in Plymouth was swept away, with its architect—who had placed too much faith in its stability—inside. Hundreds of windmills were destroyed, their machinery broken by the wind or set on fire by friction. Millers tried feeding grain to the mills to slow them down, (p.44) with limited success. In London, the tempest reached its peak of intensity in the early hours of Saturday morning. Later that day it abated, and a dazed populace began to take stock of the appalling damage left in its wake. Around 120 people were found to have died on land, with many more injured. Damage to buildings in the capital was said to rival that caused by the Great Fire of 1666.

The fatalities were far worse at sea, raising the overall death toll to an estimated eight thousand. Fifteen naval ships and an uncounted number of merchant vessels were lost, many torn from their moorings. What were normally places of refuge became death traps, as ships were dashed against harbor walls and onto the southern shore by the wind. A tidal surge in the Bristol Channel swamped others. Much of the naval fleet had returned to home waters for the winter, encountering stormy weather already along the way. Many vessels sought shelter in the Thames estuary, where they turned out to be in danger of being driven onto sandbanks. Ships in the Downs, off the east Kent coast, were blown eastward to founder on the Goodwin Sands. On the morning after the storm struck, wrecks and stranded men were visible from shore on the sands, which are exposed at low tide. Most drowned as the tide rose inexorably, though the town of Deal mounted a rescue operation that brought a couple of hundred ashore. Up to one thousand naval men died in this one incident, and more probably perished in merchant vessels. In the late twentieth century, archaeologists uncovered remains of the drowned sailors on the Goodwin Sands, poignant reminders of the suffering experienced on that dreadful night.2

The Edgiock diarist was not the only person struck with melancholy as he took in the extent of the destruction. In Sussex, eighty-three-year-old John Evelyn, the foremost advocate of arboriculture in the nation, felt particularly for the trees brought down by the storm. He was saddened beyond words by the damage to his own estate, which was “not to be paralleled with any thing happening in our age.”3 The storm entered the national memory as an occasion of unrivaled devastation. An anonymous author who catalogued five hundred years of storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes insisted that “the like has not been known in the Memory of the Eldest Person living in England, or any European Nation.”4 Thirty years later, it was remembered as “the most terrible Desolation of the kind that ever was known in the Memory of Man.”5 It was still referred to as the most powerful storm recorded in the British Isles at the time of the “hurricane” of 16 October 1987. The event has earned a permanent place in the historical record, still regularly invoked in news reports of storms three hundred years later.

In fact, the Great Storm's place in history was secured partly by the (p.45) work of pioneer journalists who made it a news event on a national scale. Special-issue broadsheets, such as The Amazing Tempest (1703), gave details of the damage to property and stories of the people who had been killed. A compilation entitled The Storm (1704), edited by Daniel Defoe, collected accounts of the deaths and destruction from all parts of the country.6 Defoe issued a call for contributions in the London Gazette on 2 December 1703, “to preserve the Remembrance of the late Dreadful Tempest.” He received hundreds of letters and printed a rich selection of the most graphic narratives. Like the other pamphleteers, Defoe emphasized what the Edgiock diarist called “dolefull and Tragicall stories,” accounts of individuals who had died or narrowly survived. The underlying assumption of the published accounts was that the storm was a “remarkable and signal … Judgment of GOD on this Nation.”7 The general moral message was driven home in a variety of ways in the stories of particular individuals: the man crushed by a collapsing chimney as he spoke crossly to his wife, the maid dug alive out of the rubble who thanked God for her deliverance, the couple who saw their baby killed but were themselves spared, and so on. It was only by holding to the idea that divine action was implicated in the fate of these individuals that some sense could be made of the disaster that had struck them.

No writer on the storm argued that God was not ultimately responsible for the event. Everyone agreed that it was a “prodigy,” an extreme and anomalous occurrence. What was in question was whether it was a “natural” one or not. Some authors—but not all—felt it was necessary to defend the storm's unnatural quality in order to uphold God's role in it. This argument relied upon the common supposition that the winds were tools of God's direct action. One anonymous pamphleteer, who believed that the deity had been particularly angered by the depravities of the London theatre, specifically denied the validity of naturalistic explanations, such as “that the storm was nothing but an Eruption of Epicurus's Atoms; a Spring-Tide of Matter and Motion.” According to this writer, the tempestuous wind had acted abnormally, and “when Natural Agents act in a strange, unusual manner … this is from the Lord.”8 In other words, the storm could be recognized as an immediate agent of God's will because it was a departure from the normal course of nature.

This was also Defoe's position. He saw the storm as “the dreadfulest and most universal Judgment that ever Almighty Power thought fit to bring upon this Part of the World.” He discounted the notion that the event could be fully explained by natural causes, insisting that “where we find Nature defective in her Discovery, where we see Effects but cannot reach their Causes; … Nature plainly refers us beyond her Self, to the Mighty Hand of (p.46) Infinite Power.” Philosophers, ancient and modern, were ultimately clueless when it came to tracing the causes of the wind, which had “blown out the Candle of Reason, and left them all in the Dark.”9 God withheld such knowledge from human minds, because he retained control of the winds to execute his judgments in the world. At least in connection with this dreadful tempest, Defoe was willing to go against the verdict of the philosophers, from Lucretius and Seneca to modern times, who had tried to reassure human beings confronting nature's terrors. On such occasions, he suggested, it was entirely appropriate to be fearful.

It took some time for an alternative, more philosophical view to assert itself. Members of the community of natural philosophers who commented on the storm's effects struck a rather different tone from the compilers of shocking narratives, but were reluctant to engage directly with the theological underpinnings of the journalists' accounts. From Essex, William Derham reported to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, “I shall not weary you with a long History of the Devastations, &c. but rather some particulars of a more Philosophical consideration.” He recounted his own observations from Upminster and those of Richard Townley, a correspondent living near Burnley in Lancashire.10 Both had stoically continued recording barometer readings and rainfall measurements throughout the episode. Derham also placed the November storm in the context of the weather earlier in the year, noting that the damp and mild season had built up vapors in the atmosphere and raised “nitro-sulphureous or other heterogeneous matter, which when mix'd together might make a sort of Explosion.” For further development of a naturalistic explanation, he deferred to the astronomer Edmond Halley, an established expert on the causes of winds, who had “undertaken the Province of the late Tempest.”11 A similar report was sent to the Royal Society by the Dutch microscopist and cloth merchant Anton van Leeuwenhoek. He had also watched his barometer closely in Delft, noting that the mercury had never been so low in the tube as when the wind was strongest. When the mercury began to rise, however, he remarked to those with him “that the Storm would not last long; and so it happened.” Also trying to maintain a degree of philosophical detachment from the popular mood was the Sussex farmer John Fuller, who sent in a note recording that salt spray had been blown ten miles inland by the wind. He reported that the trees were coated with a salty white rime, and that he could “scarce perswade the Country People, but that the Sea water was blown thus far.”12

Derham signaled how a naturalistic explanation of the storm might go, but it was difiicult to articulate this view publicly in the face of the extreme violence of the event and the shocking magnitude of the suffering.13 People (p.47) preferred to see their fate as resting in God's hands, regarding his actions as sometimes inscrutable but always ultimately just. As the author of a poem published shortly after the tempest put it:

  • For Thou, O Lord, ̓tis only Thou dost know
  • Whence the Winds come, whither, and why, they blow.14

The prevailing view was that the storm was a heavenly “wonder,” one of those events traditionally seen as “preternatural” deviations from the normal course of nature. Many such happenings had been witnessed in the preceding decades, especially coinciding with the military and political events of those turbulent times. A sixteenth-century work by William Fulke, republished in 1670, proclaimed that “the first and efficient cause” of all atmospheric phenomena “is God the worker of all wonders.” He classed violent thunderstorms, large hailstones, whirlwinds, auroras, and strange cloud formations, along with comets and shooting stars, as “meteors,” since ancient authorities like Aristotle had located them all in the middle heavens between the earth and the moon. Fulke noted that comets “betoken (say some) Wars, Seditions, Changes of Commonwealths, and the Death of Princes and Noble men.”15 Comets that appeared in the 1660s and 1680s were invested with political meanings by many, and the weather accompanying them was scrutinized. When a violent thunderstorm interrupted the second day of Charles II's coronation ceremonies, in April 1661, commentators scrambled to counteract what they anticipated would be a general tendency to interpret it as a negative omen. In 1688, when Charles's brother and successor James II was dethroned by the arrival of the Dutch prince William of Orange, there was widespread celebration of the “Protestant wind” that had ushered William and his army across the Channel.16 In 1692, an earthquake in London was seen as another “prodigy” or wonder, and was probed for its moral meaning. An anonymous “Reverend Divine” wrote that such marvels “exceed the ordinary course of things, and are above the usual Laws and Power of Nature.” Marvelous phenomena were often set in the sky to communicate the divine omen to all who saw them:

The sudden and unaccountable changes which are sometimes observ'd in the Air and other Elements, the strange and amazing Tempests, Storms, and Thunders, … Alterations in the Heavens, strange Appearances of the Sun and Moon … [are] set in the fair and spacious Theatre of Heaven as the fittest place to represent those Divine shews to the view of all.17

(p.48) The 1703 storm was not assigned a specific political significance; being very general in its effects, it was more plausibly represented as a judgment on the moral corruption of society at large. But the custom of giving meteorological wonders a political interpretation continued into the second decade of the eighteenth century, though it was met with rising skepticism among the intellectual elite. The transition to the Hanoverian dynasty and the Whig parliamentary hegemony that supported it was marked by such events. Queen Anne's death in 1714 was followed the next year by a total solar eclipse, which, although predicted, was viewed with apprehension by some. Halley organized observers throughout England to send in reports of what they had seen; he published a map of the path of the moon's shadow across the country and a prediction of where the next one would fall in 1724.18 In 1716, an extraordinary aurora was seen after the execution of the rebel Jacobite lords Kenmure and Derwentwater. “Lord Derwentwater's lights” were interpreted either as tributes to the rebels' patriotic resistance to the Hanoverian succession, or as the fires of hell welcoming them to their damnation, depending on the observer's political persuasion.19 Halley, on the other hand, proposed that the lights in the night sky were caused by celestial matter circulating in the earth's magnetic field.20 He and William Whiston campaigned against the notion that these heavenly wonders signified divine displeasure at the new Whig regime. They earned denunciation by an anonymous pamphleteer as “the Lucretiuses of the Age, … Modern Epicureans and Libertines” for offering naturalistic accounts of the phenomena.21

Even while public fascination with these events continued, however, a philosophical program to “naturalize” them had been gathering strength since the 1660s. Many intellectuals believed that all purported prodigies should be reduced to natural occurrences. Learned opinion assumed that miracles had ceased, and demonic interference in the natural world was no longer suspected. It seemed theologically preferable to emphasize God's general providence, manifested in the uniformity of nature's processes, rather than his particular interventions. The trend coincided with the gradual elimination of the category of the preternatural as its contents were redistributed between the expanding realm of natural phenomena and the ebbing domain of the miraculous.22 Samuel Pepys—diarist, naval administrator, and fellow of the Royal Society—thought it was “a foolery” to worry about a thunderstorm during the king's coronation. Astronomers like Halley who calculated the motions of comets expected that predictions of their appearance would lessen the apprehension surrounding them. Halley also took the lead in mapping the patterns of winds across the oceans, attempting to tame even those notoriously capricious powers of the air.23 As we shall see (p.49) in a later chapter, contemplation of the barometer led virtuosi and philosophers to debate the possible causes of winds, including solar heating and the effects of vapors that might increase the density of the air. Speculation about atmospheric “effluvia” originating beneath the surface of the earth also contributed to a tendency to see natural causes at work. In the 1690s, theorists of the earth, including Thomas Burnet and William Whiston, argued that one could even give a naturalistic explanation of something like the biblical flood, while recognizing that it nonetheless served God's purposes.24 The point was that God had acted through the normal forces of nature, even while bringing about an event that was unique in the earth's history.

This perspective was shared by some commentators on the 1703 storm, who, though happy to draw out the moral implications of its fearful divine judgment, were also inclined to acknowledge that it had natural causes. The author of a historical survey of atmospheric wonders that was published the following year insisted that they manifested God's power, “amazingly represented in Inferior Things to make the proudest tremble, when he reproves Man for Sin.” But he also promised to give the natural causes of a long inventory of meteors, including “Winds, Storms, Earthquakes, Blazing-Stars, many Suns and Moons seen at a time, dreadful Apparitions in the Air, fiery Dragons and Drakes, circles around the Sun and Moon, Rainbows seen in the Day and Night, … Thunder, Lightning, Vapours, Mists, Dews, Hail, Rain, Snow, and Frost, and Lights that lead People out of their way in the Night.”25 All these terrifying and amazing phenomena were due to the normal forces of nature. Winds, according to this writer, were just elemental air with admixtures of earth and water. A few years later, a more resolutely naturalistic account was given of a thunderstorm that struck Richmond in Surrey on Whit Sunday, 1711. The author, who witnessed the frightening event firsthand, turned for reassurance to the natural philosophers who had accounted for lightning by sulfur and niter exploding in the air. The gunpowder explanation showed how wrong were those who regarded thunderstorms “as extraordinary and immediate Judgments from Heaven for the Wickedness of those who suffer ̓em: For there is nothing in all this which supposes or implies any immediate Interposition of God.”26 Of course, in a general way, God was responsible for everything that happened, but he had established the powers of nature at the creation of the world and thereafter allowed them to run their course. It was incredible to believe that he would interfere with the natural order to administer punishment to a single individual.

A more systematic statement of the naturalistic approach was given by John Pointer in 1723. Pointer was chaplain of Merton College, Oxford, and (p.50) rector of Slapton in Northamptonshire; he wrote a number of works on history and antiquities. In his Rational Account of the Weather (1723), he called for the weather to be reduced to natural law, as Newton had tamed the motions of the planets and comets by making them accountable to the law of gravity. The key was to grasp that “Natural Causes do Naturally (i.e. according to the settled Order and Nature of things) produce Natural Effects.”27 To reinforce the point, he drew upon works by Derham and Halley on atmospheric vapors and the causes of winds. In the second edition, he included a reference to Bernard Annely, whose theory proposing to explain the winds was presented to the Royal Society in 1729. In the final pages of his book, Pointer took on the author of one of the more sensational accounts of the 1716 aurora, a pamphleteer who had asserted that the phenomenon could not be accounted for by the ordinary course of nature and so must be regarded as a “prodigy.” To Pointer, such a claim was a cover for ignorance and little short of sacrilegious: “The Extraordinary Power of GOD is to be accounted very Sacred, and not to be touch'd or expos'd for Our Pleasure or Conveniency.”28 God was dishonored by those who claimed he was always working miracles, just as much as by those who denied that he had ever done so. The appropriate theological stance was not to fear the capricious actions of the deity but to respect his ordinary providence as shown in the design of the natural world.

There was a political element to Pointer's argument as well as a theological one. Those who represented strange meteors as omens risked arousing fear among the general population. What could be gained by making people “(as it were) Planet-struck with a Panick Fear?” The consequences of this “kind of Enthusiasm” could only be politically pernicious, stirring up the populace to agitation or subversion. The same results would follow from reports of armies fighting in the air, a phenomenon long recorded as an omen of battles or wars. As far as Pointer was concerned, what was seen was simply clouds and lightning. The claim was fanciful and foolish, albeit “seriously mentioned by some of our Old Historians, and too credulously believ'd by the Vulgar.” Rather than a genuine appearance in the sky, this was a creature of the brain, a product of people's own “Superstitious Imaginations.”29 Pointer spoke for the preponderance of elite opinion at this time, which was becoming increasingly scornful of the popular fascination with wonders and marvels. By the early eighteenth century, the interpretation of these as omens had come to be seen as a type of enthusiasm, a disease of the imagination with potentially dangerous effects in society at large. As the “polite” social elite distanced itself from the culture of the general population, it fostered an image of the “vulgar” imagination as particularly (p.51) susceptible to such delusions. Genteel people feared that indulgence of these excesses could disrupt the prosperity and social stability they were increasingly enjoying, threatening a return to the brutal political and military conflicts of the seventeenth century.

Denigration of the popular passion for wonders and marvels went along with a diminishing emphasis on “particular providences,” those occasions when God directly intervened in the lives of individuals. Although early-seventeenth-century Puritans had tended to regard God as immediately involved in their individual lives, this outlook had receded in the second half of the century. Good or bad weather was no longer regarded as a personal sign of divine favor or disfavor. What was emphasized instead was God's “general providence,” the uniform benevolence discernible in the design of a universe governed by regular laws. On this level, the divine will could be clearly perceived and merited human admiration. A calm appreciation of the order of nature was considered the appropriate way for the enlightened to pay tribute to their creator.30

As they were relegated to the domain of popular superstition, prodigies and marvels were stripped of the signilicance they had previously held in seventeenth-century natural philosophy. Since the medieval period, natural philosophers had been fascinated by singular wonders of nature, whether shining stones, unicorns' horns, or animals with strange birth defects. Francis Bacon had pointed out the signilicance of such “sports” as instances of “nature erring,” when natural forces had been diverted from their normal course into the peculiar forms of preternatural phenomena. Wonders of this kind were collected with gusto by Bacon's followers, including many of the members of the early Royal Society. Singular facts were in some respects the prototypical facts of nature, the prized specimens of what seems in retrospect a rather uncritical kind of empiricism. But as the category of the preternatural was squeezed out of existence, monsters and marvels ended up as simple anomalies, divorced from any general significance. They were still captivating, reported both in the general press and in learned journals, but their fundamental meaning was unclear. They remained facts of nature, but stripped of the theological and philosophical significance they had previously enjoyed.31

These developments affected the treatment of extreme and unusual weather phenomena. Such phenomena did not vanish, nor could an event like the tempest of 1703 be ignored. They remained worthy of the attention of journalists and even of natural philosophers. In fact, the tradition of studying prodigious meteors enjoyed a considerable afterlife in the eighteenth century; the phenomena continued to be reported both in the works (p.52) of local naturalists and in such August publications as the Philosophical Transactions.32 But such anomalies resisted the attempts of enlightened intellectuals to explain them. As late as the 1730s, a Dissenting preacher was reminding his congregation that the 1703 storm had still not been explained by even the most ingenious natural philosophers.33 At the same time, suspicion of the merely marvelous and a new interest in the uniformity of nature had led investigators toward a different focus of study. Their search was directed toward finding underlying patterns in the weather that could reduce it to regularity, if not to uniformity. Even something as extraordinary as the Great Storm could eventually be assimilated to the long-term trends of the British climate, viewed as a manifestation of God's general providence. The reporter of the 1711 Richmond thunderstorm denied that God was immediately active on that occasion; but he reminded his readers at the end of the account that it was appropriate to praise the deity for the temperateness of the English climate, which prevented this kind of event from occurring very often.34 When a freak tornado struck the Sussex coast in May 1729 and penetrated several miles inland, the author of a published account declared that he wanted to lead readers to a “philosophical” understanding of the event by situating it in the context of the normal weather in the area.35 Ultimately, even the 1703 storm was remembered not for the damage it caused, or even the casualties, but for the fact that it was such a singular and extreme departure from the normal equanimity of the national climate.

Providence and the British Climate

The storm of 1703 was a “public” event in more than one sense. It was reported in pamphlets and newssheets pouring from the London presses, at the very epicenter of the storm's impact. The volume of ephemeral and periodical publications was rising rapidly at this time. Newspapers were still something of a novelty, but they were beginning to seize the attention of readers in the capital and beyond. Defoe was one of those who saw the opportunity presented by the catastrophe to feed the growing public appetite for printed news. He compiled his collection of storm stories, assuring readers that they could trust its accuracy notwithstanding the outlandish events described. He used the same narrative conventions that had been used by seventeenth-century natural philosophers: naming witnesses and detailing the circumstances in which remarkable phenomena had occurred. As he explained, a narrative included in the collection, “tho' it may be related for the sake of its Strangeness or Novelty, … shall nevertheless (p.53) come in the Company of all its Uncertainties, and the Reader [be] left to judge of its Truth.”36 Authenticated in this way, “strange but true” occurrences, including extraordinary weather events, found their place in journalistic practice.37

The storm was also public insofar as it was a disaster on a specifically national level. Although its effects were felt as far away as Scandinavia, it was regarded by the British as having struck particularly at their national security and prosperity, especially through the damage inflicted on the naval and merchant fleets. As the preacher of one sermon declared, “It's a National Stroke that we are now Lamenting.”38 A month after the event, Queen Anne issued a proclamation, mobilizing the church hierarchy and local officials to collect charity to support the widows and orphans of dead mariners. The tempest was also taken by some as a call to moral reform of the nation, a stern reminder that standards of public morality had declined since the God-fearing days of Puritan dominance. Because of the storm's public status, however, it was impossible to uphold the view that God had directed it to punish particular individuals. Its effects were so evidently widespread and apparently indiscriminate that it had to be admitted that the innocent had suffered along with the guilty. Those who regarded it as God's will acknowledged that such a general chastisement would inevitably touch the blameless as well as the sinful. This was a strong argument for identifying the event with God's general—rather than his particular—providence. It suggested that the divine mission had been delegated to subordinate forces that did not discriminate among the victims, even if (in the view of some commentators) those forces operated outside the normal order of nature.

The 1703 storm remained an anomalous event, albeit a highly public one. Most of the time, when the weather was less violent and extreme, it was a more straightforward matter to represent it as part of a uniform order of nature. Its public status in fact encouraged people to interpret it in this way. The connection has been noted by historians as typical of the seientific knowledge constituted during the Enlightenment. The institutional structures of what has come to be known as the “public sphere” often fostered a sense of the natural world as homogeneous and regular.39 Printed publications, the proceedings of formal and informal societies, and lectures and conversation in the new urban gathering places provided space for the creation of a form of natural knowledge that was supposedly available everywhere and to everyone. The condition of this knowledge was taken to be a nature that was the same in every place and for every observer. Just as enlightened society was represented as open to all, so the natural world (p.54) was expected to be available to be known by anyone. Just as Europeans anticipated that enlightened progress would spread globally, so nature was expected to be everywhere the same. The social order, supposedly grounded on universal features of human nature, found its counterpart in a natural order that would appear universally homogeneous. Of course, things did not always work out as smoothly as this intellectual “uniformitarianism” suggested, especially not where the weather was concerned. Anomalies and exceptions confronted attempts to force the natural world into patterns of uniformity; general laws were often difficult to apply in particular situations. But the vision of reducing natural occurrences to a uniform order of laws was a powerful ideal that inspired much of Enlightenment science.

Study of the weather, which obviously affected everyone, was one of the areas in which investigators were guided by this ambition. John Pointer introduced his own account of how weather phenomena could be reduced to rational law with a reminder of the universality of the human experience:

Air (or the different Temperature of it, by which we mean WEATHER) is one of the grand Concerns of Mankind. ̓Tis what affects all Sorts of People, Young as well as Old, Sick as well as Strong. Insomuch that even those very persons that for want of Health are confin'd in close Rooms, feel either the Good or Ill Effects of the Weather: The Air being like Food, the better, the more refreshing. Hence it is that the Sick Man is inquisitive what Weather it will be; and the Healthful, when he is to take a Journey, is willing to consult his Weather-Glass. And even those of the Fair Sex, are unwilling to stir abroad unless the Weather be like themselves, and they like the Weather.40

Everyone had an interest in understanding the weather and predicting its behavior if possible. It was a public experience even for those who were shut up at home. Individuals composed themselves to go out into it, as they put on a public face to emerge into society. Men and women found that its humor or temperament conformed with their own, or not, on particular days. It was common to all individuals and specifically social in that it was experienced and interpreted collectively.

Knowledge of the weather was also public in that it was cultivated by institutions and circulated through the medium of print. Many of the diarists who labored to compile systematic records of the weather were motivated by a sense of obligation to the public. They often submitted their records to learned societies or had them printed; sometimes they made use of preprinted forms, which were already circulating among observers in the (p.55) late seventeenth century.41 Connections of this kind gave them a sense of participation in a larger community of investigators, something that may not have been important to the Edgiock diarist but was for many others. Thus, systematic recording of the weather really started in Britain when it was promoted by some of the leading lights of the Royal Society in the 1660s. Robert Hooke published his “Method for Making a History of the Weather” in Thomas Sprat's History of the Royal Society in 1667, laying out the format a daily journal should take. Robert Boyle persuaded John Locke to start a weather diary in June 1666. Portions of it were published in Boyle's General History of the Air (1692), which Locke edited for publication after the death of its author. When Locke sent a subsequent installment of his journal to Sir Hans Sloane in December 1700, he wrote, “This I know that I did not keep this register for my own sake alone.”42 William Derham's meticulous journal was offered to the world at large in the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions, as was part of Richard Townley's from Lancashire and Robert Plot's from Oxford.

In the 1720s, a renewed effort was launched to coordinate weather recording by James Jurin, secretary of the Royal Society. He circulated a printed invitation to prospective observers, giving advice about appropriate instruments and procedures. Dozens of weather recorders were inspired with a sense of public-spiritedness to contribute to this project. Journals were received from many places in Britain, continental Europe, and North America. Most of them languished unpublished in the society's archive, as Jurin found himself submerged in data and unable to create a comprehensive synthesis.43 In the following decades, however, weather records continued to appear in the Philosophical Transactions from Surrey, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Rutland, Northamptonshire, Dublin, Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina, Hudson's Bay, and Madeira. By 1774, the society was beginning to compile and publish its own weather record, using instruments kept at its London premises. The next decade saw the publication of journals from Bristol, Edinburgh, Somerset, Montreal, the Coast of Coromandel in India, and the Coast of Labrador in North America. In the 1780s, British efforts in this direction were rivaled by new institutional initiatives in France and Germany that established the enterprise of weather recording on a more systematically organized basis.44 From the vantage point of the end of the century, previous efforts to keep records looked sporadic and disorganized. But the efforts of dozens of weather diarists prior to the 1780s should not be disparaged. By sending their work to a body such as the Royal Society, they confirmed their ambition to contribute to the public fund of knowledge. They were encouraged by a sense of participating (p.56) in a collective enterprise that was building up a picture of the climate of Britain and its overseas territories.

The Philosophical Transactions were far from the only outlet for such publications in Britain. The Gentleman's Magazine (a general periodical rather than a learned journal) began in 1751 to include monthly accounts of the weather sent in by the London physician John Fothergill. For four years, Fothergill gave discursive summaries of the variations in temperature and pressure, the quantity of rainfall, and the diseases that prevailed in the capital.45 Shortly thereafter, an annual diary of the weather began to appear in the magazine, contributed by (among others) Thomas Barker in Rutland and Gilbert White in Hampshire. Many physicians who were interested in the effects of climate on health incorporated weather journals in their own medical writings. They included Charles Bisset and Clifton Wintringham from Yorkshire, Lionel Chalmers from South Carolina, George Cleghorn from Minorca, and William Hillary, who began practice in Yorkshire before relocating to Barbados. Other medical practitioners provided diaries of the weather in their published travel accounts, including Hans Sloane (later president of the Royal Society), who went to Jamaica in the late 1680s, and Tobias Smollett (better known as a novelist), who visited Nice in the 1760s. Books were even published that consisted solely of weather records, such as Benjamin Hutchinson's Calendar of the Weather for the Year 1781 (1782), Hayman Rooke's Meteorological Register (1795), and William Bent's Eight Meteorological Journals (1801). Considering that they often made for extremely dull reading, the volume of such publications in the eighteenth century is remarkable. They testify to the sense among observers that they had something valuable to offer to the world, that systematic weather records could potentially be of significant public benefit.

As a record of the weather began to be compiled in the public domain, a complementary discourse about the British national climate began to circulate. The notion of “climate” was an ancient one, originally meaning simply a zone of latitude on the globe and later extended to cover aspects of the physical environment of a place, including its atmosphere. Some clichés about the British climate had been commonplace in the learned tradition since the writings of Tacitus and Julius Caesar. Classical writers had already recorded that the island was wretchedly damp in comparison with Mediterranean lands, though lacking in extreme cold. But in the course of the eighteenth century, the British came to see their national climate in a much more favorable light, appropriating for themselves the temperate ideal that the ancients had assigned to the Mediterranean. Regular recording drew out the routine features of the British atmosphere, rather than focusing (p.57)

Public Weather and the Culture of Enlightenment

Figure 4 · James Gillray, “Dreadful Hot Weather” (1808). One of Giltray's series showing typical British characters in various weather conditions. Hot weather clearly does not suit the John Bull type. Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

exclusively on extreme peculiarities like the 1703 storm. It tended to “normalize” the weather, making it a quotidian process that went on all the time and not just when dramatic events drew special attention.46 Viewed in this way, the national climate appeared generally benevolent—both moderate overall and gently variable in temperature and precipitation. Both its temperance and its changeability came to be seen as assets to the agriculture, commerce, health, and character of the nation.

This new view of the climate was bound up with the sense of British national identity that was emerging in the period.47 After the union of England and Scotland in 1707 and the subsequent Hanoverian succession, (p.58) Great Britain was constituted as a political unit, and a corresponding ideology of national identity began to appear. The nation's weather was tied to its physical setting, as an island in the midst of an ocean, and was seen as integral to its destiny as a maritime and commercial power. Clement conditions, with plenty of fertilizing rain, sustained the country's agricultural productivity. The prevailing winds powered oceanic navigation in an age of sail, contributing to the expansion of commerce and empire. The weather was also thought to have shaped the character of the people, their temperament having been hardened by a climate that was often bracing but rarely extremely harsh. It was believed that the national character benefited from the stimulus of frequent atmospheric change, which made people more active and independent-minded than those who lived in placid or tropical regions. Joseph Addison mused repeatedly on the subject in his essays in The Spectator (1711–12), touching on the influence of the British weather on fashions and conversation, health and mood, gardening and trade. His colleague Richard Steele wrote in his own periodical, The Guardian (1713), about the unforeseeable variations of the British weather and their value for toughening the moral fiber of the inhabitants. Addison juxtaposed the temperateness of the island's climate with the command of overseas trade that brought tropical fruit to its door:

Nor is it the least Part of this our Happiness, that whilst we enjoy the remotest Products of the North and South, we are free from those Extremities of Weather which gave them Birth; That our Eyes are refreshed with the green Fields of Britain, at the same time that our Palates are feasted with fruits that rise between the Tropicks.48

Thus, the Edgiock diarist was not the only observer of the skies who concluded that God disposed of wind and rain to benefit the places they were directed to. Wind-swept and rain-lashed it might be, but Britain had harvested the winds to send its ships overseas and relished the fertilizing effects of its rainfall. Better to be a beneficiary of this temperate climate and the commercial prosperity it nurtured than to suffer under tropical heat or arctic cold. In the decade after Addison and Steele, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) satirized this aspect of national pride. When pint-sized Gulliver preposterously boasted to the giant king of Brobdingnag about the greatness of his nation, he began his discourse by dwelling at length “upon the Fertility of our Soil, and the Temperature of our Climate.”49 Gulliver's real-life compatriots were equally convinced that they were climatically blessed. (p.59)

Public Weather and the Culture of Enlightenment

Figure 5 · James Gillray, “Windy Weather” (1808). Another of Gillray's series on weather and character. This ligure shows fortitude in the face of windy conditions on Hampstead Heath. Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

The historian and topographical writer John Campbell summed up the consensus view in his Political Survey of Britain (1774):

The climate, though we sometimes hear it censured, as being subject to frequent and considerable Alterations, is, upon the whole, both temperate and wholsome, insomuch that we seldom stand in any Need of Furs to defend us from the Severity of the Cold in Winter, and have more seldom Reason to complain of any insupportable Heat in Summer. If therefore our Weather be, as is commonly alleged, in general less steady and serene than in some other Countries (p.60)

Public Weather and the Culture of Enlightenment

Figure 6 · James Gillray, “Delicious Weather” (1808). Another from Gillray's series. Here the national character finds its ideal weather conditions, associated with agricultural fertility, good health, and flourishing wildlife. Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

of Europe, it is not so sultry in one Season, or so rigorous in another. We are subject in a smaller Degree to Storms of Thunder and Lightning; to long piercing Frosts, and deep Snows; and though we have a full Proportion of Rain, in Ireland particularly, yet it falls moderately, and not with such Weight and Violence as to produce sudden and dangerous Inundations.50

For Campbell and other writers, the beneficial consequences of the British climate were to be found in the character of its people—in their energetic (p.61) initiative, their willingness to explore other parts of the world, their resistance to political tyranny, and their ample share of creative genius. Countries with more serene climates, according to Campbell, tended to support indolent populations of “Bigots or Drones.” Of course, the British people were liable to their own airborne diseases, but what country was free of them? Taking a comprehensive view of the climatic situation, Campbell summed up, “We cannot but acknowledge the singular Bounty of Providence in that respect.”51

That Irish writers such as Swift and Steele contributed to this glorification of the British climate is indicative of the part played by Irish Protestants and the Anglo-Irish elite in the formation of British national identity. Scottish authors also were usually happy to identify themselves as British after the Act of Union, and especially after the defeat of the Jacobite insurrection in 1745; a number of them commented on the medical effects of the national climate. At the same time, Irish and Scottish intellectuals took pride in the meteorological conditions of their own countries and expressed this through compiling weather journals.52 Irish records went back to William Molyneux, who kept them on behalf of the Dublin Philosophical Society from 1684 to 1686. James Simon's observations in the same city in the early 1750s were published in the Philosophical Transactions. Later in the century, the chemist and meteorologist Richard Kirwan reviewed the history of weather observations in Ireland and published his own journal of conditions in Dublin in the 1790s.53 Scottish records began with Andrew Hay, living near Biggar in Lanarkshire, who made daily annotations of the weather in his diary for 1659 and 1660.54 A century later, the Edinburgh Philosophical Society published a journal of the years 1764–76. The most dedicated Scottish observer of the last part of the eighteenth century was a woman, Margaret Mackenzie of Delvine, Perthshire. Few women are known to have undertaken the task of weather observation in this period, but Mackenzie did so with great dedication, compiling a meticulous record of daily temperatures at her home from 1780 to 1802.55

The Quaker physician John Rutty, who recorded the weather in Dublin from 1725 to 1766, drew conclusions specific to Ireland and made comparisons with the situation on the British mainland. He also concurred with the providential view of climate that formed part of the new sense of British national identity. Rutty was born in Wiltshire in 1698 but went to Ireland to study medicine and settled there to practice. At the end of his career as a weather observer, he penned a justification of the enterprise in the second volume of his Essay towards a Natural History of the County of Dublin (1772). He acknowledged that rapid changes of conditions in Ireland (p.62) made it difficult to draw out general patterns from the record. Nonetheless, prolonged observation could in fact identify some seasonal regularities, notwithstanding the cavils of “Lazy men” who complained that the weather was entirely capricious: “Those who have diligently attended to these operations in nature, will scarcely give up as Chimerical all attempts to discover something regular and periodical therein.” To do so would be to turn one's back on divine providence, which had in fact bestowed a benevolent climate on Ireland, as disciplined observation had shown. Rigorous study disclosed “the footsteps of divine Wisdom and Goodness, presiding over these seemingly irregular operations.” It could therefore help inculcate the proper attitude of respect for the deity, correcting the “too frequent, not to say wicked exclamations we hear against the inclemency of the Climate, our changeable, and particularly our moist and windy weather, … which are owing to a want of attention to this branch of natural history.”56 Rutty seems to have thought that compiling systematic journals, or “histories,” of the weather would stop people from complaining about it.

On the British mainland also, the providential benefits of the national climate, including its health-giving properties, were said to emerge from systematic study. The physicians William Hillary and Clifton Wintringham agreed that rainy weather was often healthy; the British people appeared to flourish in damp conditions.57 Nor was it the case that wind was always bad: Pointer remarked that it depended on the direction from which it came. A westerly breeze was usually healthy; the wind was harmful only when it turned atypically to blow from the north or east.58 Other writers agreed that winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean were harmless or even beneficial. The situation of Britain in the midst of the sea was generally believed to contribute to the healthiness of its air. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, fashionable people took to visiting seaside resorts to bathe in the waters and imbibe the refreshing breezes. Promoting the Sussex coastal resort of Brighthelmston (later renamed Brighton) in 1782, Dr. Loftus Wood touted the health benefits of its onshore winds. The doctor assured his readers that the Brighton population was so hearty that “the picture of health seems painted in the face of each individual.”59 In those days, visitors to the seaside did not expect to sunbathe; they flocked to the coast to breathe the bracing air.

Medical writers did, of course, admit that the British population often became ill; indeed, they usually took disease rather than health as their subject. Those who monitored the ebb and flow of diseases among the population noted that changes of season frequently ushered in incidents of sickness. Unseasonable weather—summer cold or winter warmth—was also (p.63) fingered as a risk factor.60 John Fothergill noted that “it seldom happens that there is any remarkable increase of mortality, without some very sensible change in the temperature of the air preceding it.”61 This made the population particularly susceptible to the frequent changes of the British weather. One commentator suggested that the Englishman was “the weather-cock of the creation,” since “you may find him in different humours in several parts of a variegated day.”62 The notion that the English were particularly susceptible to melancholy because of the gloominess of their climate circulated widely in continental Europe.63 Nonetheless, Fothergill insisted that foreigners were wrong to think that the air in England had “something in it extremely pernicious.” Rather, the English people had “abundant cause to be satisfied” with their climate, since it was more temperate than that of any other country.64 Even if seasonal variations of weather did tend to be risky to health, they would generally be confined within the moderate limits of the temperate norm. And the more rapid fluctuations that occurred on a daily basis were often thought a positive benefit of the British atmosphere. The physician John Arbuthnot, author of the influential Essay concerning the Effects of Air on Human Bodies (1733), thought that rapid changes of air temperature and pressure provided people with a stimulating “sort of Exercise.”65 William Falconer, an Edinburgh-trained physician who wrote about the influence of climate on national character, observed that the diurnal mutability of the British weather stimulated the mental alertness of the population, while its general temperateness subdued the passions and thereby fostered good judgment.66

Falconer even suggested that the benelicial influence of the British weather could be detected in the way it stimulated the inhabitants to engage in intellectual pursuits like his own. Nor was he the only writer to ascribe British scientiiic accomplishments to the influence of the climate.67 The Sheffield physician Thomas Short, who kept weather records for almost four decades and wrote extensively about climate and popular health, saw this kind of research as an index of the degree of enlightenment his society had attained. In non-European regions, Short complained, “the barbarous Natives” had no inclination to keep such records, and even in countries where learning existed, “the Generality of People have been too idle to collect such Histories.”68 Systematic inquiry into the national climate was represented as a token of industriousness and refinement, a sign that the country had pulled itself up from what was thought of as “barbarism” and was taking responsibility for the influence of the physical environment on the welfare of its population.

In this way, the public enterprise of recording the weather came to be (p.64) identified with cultural progress. Those who were studying the British weather saw their activity as a manifestation of refinement, exhibiting an aspect of nature that was itself consistent with enlightened values. A climate that was providentially regular and moderate—one might say “civilized”—seemed appropriate to a nation that prided itself on its accomplishment of civilization and enlightenment. Refinement or politeness was more than a matter of superficial decorum for the enlightened elite; it was fundamentally important as a cultural marker that set them off from the mass of the population. Polite knowledge of the weather was therefore set in opposition to beliefs identified as “barbarous” or “vulgar,” for example the visions of armies fighting in the air that John Pointer had castigated as primitive superstitions. In the same vein, John Rutty bemoaned the fact that “in the last Century it was … a prevailing Opinion among the Vulgar, that the Winds were in some measure, under the direction of infernal spirits.” Such fallacies were to be displaced by recognition of “the superintendency of a Providence in these seemingly irregular commotions of our Atmosphere.” Rutty also denounced the idea that the moon had an influence on winds or rain; superstitions of this kind, he claimed, “have no better a Foundation than heathenish Idolatry … [and] cannot stand the test of the growing light of Christianity and sound Philosophy.”69 His investigations were designed to vanquish popular ignorance with the weapon of true knowledge of the atmosphere and the underlying regularities of its behavior.

Other weather diarists reflected similarly on the role of their research in combating the errors of popular belief. They declared that one of their aims was to rescue information about the climate from enthusiasm and exaggeration, unreliable memory and vulgar gossip. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Samuel Say, vicar of Lowestoft in Suffolk, recorded that he had begun to compile a weather diary, “to be able to contradict some common & groundless Observations and Superstitions.” The agricultural writer William Marshall wrote in 1779 that he hoped to see the subject rescued “from the hands of vulgar Error.”70 Gilbert White, vicar of Selborne, wrote in 1776 of his own inquiries into weather and natural history that they were a counterweight to “superstitious prejudices … too gross for this enlightened age,” such as those held by the “lower people” who lacked the advantages of a liberal education. Only those whose minds were challenged to take a broader view could escape the grip of primitive beliefs, “sucked in as it were with our mother's milk.”71 White gave examples of surviving superstitions he had witnessed: magical rituals to heal infirmities or defeat witchcraft that were still being practiced among his rural (p.65) neighbors. Against these he set his observations of wildlife and the cycles of the seasons, all of which manifested the providential wisdom of God's design. The weather of each season was indispensable to the flourishing of crops and wild plants and to the welfare of the animals and birds that fed upon them. Accordingly, he maintained a record of the weather for thirty-five years, noting the readings of his barometer and thermometer daily, and remarking on how animals and plants coped with the daily conditions. For White, the weather journal was an appropriate part of the natural history of Selborne. He discerned in his record another dimension of God's magnificent handiwork, and a convincing argument against “those who complain about the weather, [showing] that it is generally seasonable for the productions of the earth, and that they complain without cause.”72

When the weather seemed to depart from its providential regularity, however, White worried that people might forget God's goodness to them. Then, old superstitions could return. The peculiar haze of the summer of 1783 raised these anxieties acutely. It was, he wrote, “an amazing and portentous” season, “full of horrible phenomena.” The haze lay everywhere, undisturbed for several weeks from late June to early August. The sun was darkened to the color of blood. At times, the heat was so intense that meat rotted before it could be eaten, even on the day it was killed. White recorded that “the country people began to look with a superstitious awe at the red, louring aspect of the sun; and indeed there was reason for the most enlightened person to be apprehensive.” In nearby Fyfield, his brother Henry noted that “ye superstitious in town and country have abounded with ye most direful presages and prognostication.”73 Throughout the country, newspapers reported the murky skies and ensuing violent thunderstorms. They also recorded the apprehensions of the people and episodes of popular panic.74 Literate observers seem to have had one eye turned to the sky and the other warily monitoring the reactions of their contemporaries. Turning for succor to literature, Gilbert White found a passage in Milton's Paradise Lost that seemed applicable, alluding as it did to “a superstitious kind of dread, with which the minds of men are always impressed by such strange and unusual phænomena.”75 Distressing events such as this called into question his faith in the providential regularity of the natural order and in the degree to which his society had become truly enlightened.

Twentieth-century meteorologists have been able to trace the summer haze of 1783 back to a dust and gas plume discharged by the eruption of a volcanic fissure in Iceland. They have even mapped the pattern of atmospheric movements that ushered the volcanic cloud over the British Isles and the European continent.76 Eighteenth-century investigators assumed (p.66) that the atmospheric anomaly had its origins under the earth's surface, but at first they looked in the wrong direction—toward earthquakes in Sicily and Calabria thought to have vented gases from subterranean reservoirs.77 Two years later, Benjamin Franklin suggested that the Icelandic volcano was a possible cause, but his proposal does not seem to have been generally accepted.78 All inquirers agreed that the event was an unprecedented one, unparalleled either in the memory of living witnesses or in the records compiled by weather diarists. It was a thoroughly public occurrence, reported in dozens of newspapers and the subject of numerous reports to learned societies, but it clearly upset public expectations of the national climate built up over the previous decades. One newspaper labeled the event nothing less than a “universal Perturbation in Nature.”79

As White's reaction showed, the social implications of such an episode were distinctly disturbing. It reminded the British people that their climate was not entirely temperate and regular, the gift of a uniformly benign providence. It also reminded them that unenlightened attitudes might easily surface among the population at large. While it was no longer respectable to regard weather wonders as miraculous or demonic interventions, the educated elite worried that that was exactly how the masses would interpret them. Fearful portents were supposed to have been banished from the landscape of eighteenth-century learning, but they kept returning to agitate the populace. These uncivilized features of the weather—intrusive and unwanted guests in the public sphere—threatened to overshadow the sunny landscape of enlightenment.

Conversation and Weather Lore

The summer haze of 1783 seemed to highlight differences within British society. The literate elite, self-consciously professing politeness and refinement, scrutinized popular reactions to the event with notable anxiety. They felt they had freed themselves from the fear of portents and wonders, but worried that such superstitions would reappear among the populace at large. Their own unease about the occurrence itself was compounded by disquiet about its socially destabilizing effects. They worried about what might follow if the masses were agitated or panicked. At a moment like this, the enlightened middle classes realized that their beliefs and values were not shared by the mass of the population; the cultural gulf between them and the remainder of society loomed wide.

In fact, many historians have argued that this gap had been getting wider in the course of the eighteenth century. As bourgeois affluence increased, (p.67) it found outlets in new cultural forms. Members of the social elite took to reading novels and periodicals, patronized the visual arts, enjoyed new sports and entertainments, and improved the architecture and landscape surrounding them. In pursuing these avocations, the literate and affluent distinguished themselves from the way of life of the bulk of the population. They aspired to the world of fashion and sensibility, enjoying the experiences of the metropolis and the new urban resorts; they withdrew from the rural festivals and rough sports that were still popular among the masses. At the same time, new ideas and values—those identified with “politeness,” “refinement,” or “improvement”—were articulated in opposition to the beliefs of the populace, which were often castigated as “rustic” or “vulgar” and regarded as expressions of ignorance and superstition. The culture of the enlightened elite was formed by separation from—and to some extent in opposition to—the culture of the people at large.80

Beliefs about the weather in Britain confirm this bifurcating model to some extent, but they also demonstrate a continuing relationship between elite and popular cultures. Many among the literate elite accepted the notion of the British climate as providentially temperate, buying into the enlightened outlook that saw nature as the work of a benevolent designer. But this confidence was always liable to be disturbed by unusual or extreme weather events that refused to fit within the normal order of nature. Furthermore, those who took an interest in the weather, even if they were well connected with the institutions of the public sphere, also drew upon less respectable sources of information. As Gilbert White understood, studying the weather involved talking to a wide range of people about it. Public discourse drew upon a variety of sources in popular wisdom and inherited traditions. When people spoke about the weather, they tended to reach across the barriers between different cultural domains, for example repeating proverbs and oral lore that continued to circulate even in the most polite quarters. In this respect, the situation was at least as much one of contact and engagement between cultural traditions as of confrontation. Polite knowledge and popular culture had indeed separated to a significant degree, but there were still important exchanges between them. The rain, after all, fell on everyone, and anyone might have something useful to say about it.

We can get a sense of this process of cultural exchange by examining how the weather entered into polite conversation. In some respects, conversation was developed in eighteenth-century Britain as a cultural marker for members of the social elite. Anthony Ashley Cooper, third earl of Shaftesbury, defended its moral and epistemological value in his Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (1711). Shaftesbury's works established (p.68) a philosophical basis for the ethic of politeness; he inspired other men of letters to think of conversation as a vehicle for polite learning, as opposed to the pedantry and dullness associated with academic scholarship. Addison took up the torch in The Spectator; declaring his ambition to bring philosophy from libraries and colleges “to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables, and in coffee-houses.” In an essay published in 1742, David Hume wrote of the worlds of learning and conversation and of his own aspiration to mediate between the two.81 Works of popular science were often written as transcripts of imaginary conversations, modeling the behavior of their putative readers. Women assumed a prominent role in the audience for such “conversable” works. Having been excluded from traditional academic institutions, many of them eagerly trod the path to learning through polite conversation.82

Beyond the works of essayists and popular writers, conversation also assumed prominence in polite society. It was the primary mode of interaction in the public sphere, a key to personal success in the institutions of sociability and commerce. It was seen as essential for navigating the new urban gathering places, especially the coffeehouses that were famous as places of unfettered discourse. And it was also indispensable in semiprivate encounters, such as mixed-sex gatherings in bourgeois homes. To succeed in the art of polite conversation, one had to be agreeable in company, show sensitivity to acquaintances or strangers, and be entertaining without giving offense. From the late seventeenth century on, a series of manuals gave advice on how to accomplish this. They claimed to teach readers how to be “complaisant” or sociable, how to avoid seeming rustic or pedantic. They cautioned that conversation was not a competitive sport, that interlocutors should not be contradicted or lectured. They urged men to seek female company for its civilizing effect, and advised women on how to converse decorously with men. They sometimes gave examples of bad conversational tactics: pedantic disquisitions on specialized subjects, for example, or graphic descriptions of one's ailments and medical treatment.83

Certain topics were considered too hot to handle in polite conversation. Religion and politics, in particular, were very ill-advised choices, since they risked stirring up impolite rancor or at least harming people's feelings. It was safer to talk about the weather than these things, though advice manuals generally cautioned against resort to the topic, suggesting that its banality would reflect poorly on the speaker. The Lady's Preceptor (1743) warned, “If the Occasion of the Visit does not afford you a Subject for Conversation, take care not to be so unprovided with one, as to be obliged to the Weather or the Hour of the Day for your Discourse.”84 For the insufficiently (p.69) prepared conversationalist, however, the weather was one of the most obvious topics. It was common knowledge, about which opinions were not likely to differ too drastically; it was neither political nor sectarian. Handled correctly, it should not be pedantic or divisive. As Addison noted, it was one of the prime “Publick Topicks.” The instrument maker George Adams wrote in 1790 that the fact that the weather was of immediate interest to mankind as a whole “is evident from its constantly forming a principal topic of their conversation.”83 Samuel Johnson thought it peculiar that “when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know”; but the value of such talk as a social lubricant was clear.86 A century later, Richard Inwards noted that “the state of the weather is … the usual text and starting-point for the conversation of daily life.”87

Johnson and Inwards probably had it right. Weather discourse was often “first talk,” the “starting-point” of polite conversation. It was a way of initiating an interaction, of engaging a conversational partner with whom one wanted to talk about other matters. In Samuel Richardson's Clarissa (1748), the news and the weather are said to be “such nonsense as Englishmen generally make their introductory topics to conversation.”88 This was what Oscar Wilde was pointing out when he had Gwendolen say, in The Importance of Being Earnest, “Whenever people talk to me about the weather I always feel quite certain that they mean something else.” Alternatively, a remark about the weather could be a way to acknowledge an individual in public without engaging them any further, saying something that would not invite prolonged conversational exchange. Occasionally, it could be used to deflect a line of discussion or to change the subject. The weather, in other words, was an ancillary tool of conversation, a pretext for it rather than a principal subject of it. Such talk is a paradigm example of what linguists call phatic communication, in which the primary meaning lies not in what is referred to but in the social bonds consolidated by the exchange. Someone who did not realize this, who made the mistake of contradicting something that was said about the weather, or of discoursing about it at length, would be thought to have transgressed against the norms of polite conversation.89

There were various things one could politely say about the weather in a conversational context. Johnson asserted that “an Englishman's notice of the weather is the natural consequence of changeable skies, and uncertain seasons.”90 It seemed that another of the providential benefits of the British weather was that it gave people something to talk about. Its unpredictability meant that one could always comment on how one's fears had (p.70) been quelled or hopes disappointed. Departures from what was expected at a particular season were also worthy of note. Since the British thought of their weather as perennially moderate, any episode of notable heat or cold could furnish material for a remark. By the late eighteenth century, it was also apparently acceptable to say that the weather was not what it used to be, that the character of the seasons had changed within memory.91 Whether or not this was true was a matter of dispute among experts, but it seems to have been a commonplace comment.

In talking about the weather, the British people were able to draw upon a rich legacy of traditional sayings and proverbs. These were already beginning to be documented in print in the sixteenth century; they were compiled particularly assiduously by nineteenth-century folklorists. M. A. Denham's collection of weather proverbs of 1846 was followed by those of Charles Swainson, Richard Inwards, and others.92 Many of the sayings were already centuries old when they were printed, some going back as far as classical antiquity. Some were specific to particular localities, like the adage about Bredon Hill echoed in the Worcestershire diary of 1703. Similar maxims about clouds on local hilltops presaging rain are recorded from many other places.93 Most sayings were geographically unrestricted, and a few traveled across national boundaries. A large proportion of them offered short-term prognostics, signs of what the weather was about to do that could be seen in the sky or on earth. These included the appearances of the sun, moon, or clouds, which way the wind was blowing and how fast, the time of year, and the behavior of animals, birds, and insects. Maxims about how to read these signs constituted the oral lore of what was called “weather-wising.” There were also many sayings about how to forecast the weather of a season up to several months ahead. The likely yield of harvests could be predicted, it was said, by noting the weather in the preceding summer, spring, or even winter. Conversely, the early ripening of harvest fruits was thought to foretell an early and snowy winter. But there were also many proverbs that were not prognostic at all. They simply commented on what the weather was doing and perhaps reassured people that it was consistent with what had happened in the past. Thus “Drought never bred dearth in England” offered encouragement that rain could not be long delayed. “When the wind's in the east, it's good for neither man nor beast” implied that people just had to put up with cold winds while they lasted. “April showers bring May flowers” buoyed up those who were awaiting the arrival of spring.

Some of these sayings are still in circulation today. Television weather forecasters still interject maxims such as “March comes in like a lion and (p.71) goes out like a lamb” and “An English summer—two fine days and a thunderstorm,” which have been in documented usage for centuries.94 Folklorists and anthropologists have mapped the incidence of weather proverbs in contemporary conversation, finding, for example, how frequently they are spoken by parents to their children. A proverb, it has been said, is “an utterance that asserts itself independently of any utterer—continuously, as it were, or indeed eternally.”95 Weather proverbs carry the authority of anonymity and the comfort of contact with an apparently timeless tradition. They connect what happens on a particular occasion with the normal run of things, reassuring people that everything that occurs is consistent with the way things usually are. In this respect, proverbs reinforced the idea in eighteenth-century Britain of a providential national climate, buttressing it with the authority of traditional wisdom.

Some arbiters of politeness in the eighteenth century nonetheless saw them as inappropriate in refined conversation. As elite participation in rural customs waned and the authority of oral tradition weakened, members of the middle classes were advised to purge their speech of its proverbial baggage.96 Satirists, however, observed that conversation, even in the most refined circles, was frequently filled with proverbs and clichés, an observation echoed by modern literary scholars. Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical Treatise on Polite Conversation (1738) entirely filled with the overused phrases found in elite discourse, including a number of weather sayings that originated in popular tradition. Those who published collections of proverbs agreed that it was foolish to accept them all uncritically, and it would be boorish to reel them off like Sancho Panza in Don Quixote. Nonetheless, traditional sayings were thought to preserve a wealth of popular wisdom about the weather that should not be overlooked. The naturalist John Ray published A Collection of English Proverbs in 1670, including many about the weather. Some of them, he was sure, were “superstitious and frivolous”; most would “as often miss as hit” if subjected to test; but all were worthy of preservation. A similar view was taken by the Kentish doctor Thomas Fuller, whose Gnomologia (1732) included more than six thousand proverbs and adages, a significant number of them concerned with the weather and the seasons.97

Weather proverbs were given greater prominence by the works of a number of pastoralist writers, who argued that dwellers in the countryside possessed a kind of wisdom that city folk would do well to take seriously. The anonymous Knowledge of Things Unknown (1743) included numerous weather maxims ascribed to husbandmen and shepherds. The compilation was a heterogeneous one, claiming the authority of ancient figures like (p.72) Pythagoras and Ptolemy alongside the timeless wisdom of the countryman. Its advice for weather forecasting was based partly on astrological methods, partly on predicting the weather of a season from that on a particular saint's day. It also described how shepherds foretold the impending weather from the behavior of livestock, birds, and bees.98 The most widely read compilation of such maxims was The Shepherd of Banbury's Rules, composed by John Claridge in 1670 and republished with a commentary supposedly by John Campbell in 1744.99 Campbell's introduction to the later edition lauded the eponymous shepherd for his natural semiotic abilities, acquired by spending a lifetime outdoors: “Every thing in Time becomes to him a Sort of Weather-Gage. The Sun, the Moon, the Stars, the Clouds, the Winds, the Mists, the Trees, the Flowers, the Herbs, and almost every animal with which he is acquainted. All these I say become to such a Person Instruments of real Knowledge.”100 As natural “instruments,” the shepherd's weather signs were said to be more reliable than artificial instruments, such as the barometer, and they had the advantage of forecasting conditions for days, weeks, even months ahead.

Campbell's declared purpose in expanding and republishing Claridge's book was to make available a tradition of popular rural knowledge. It is notable, however, that he called upon two other sources of authority to support the credentials of the shepherd's maxims. First, he mentioned classical authors, “all the wisest and gravest Writers of Antiquity,” who had recorded a substantial number of natural signs of the weather. The poet Virgil and the natural historian Pliny were the classical authors to whom he turned most frequently for precedents for the shepherd's sayings. But behind these Roman authors stood a lengthy tradition of Greek writings on weather signs and their relation to the seasons, going back ultimately to Hesiod's Works and Days. Second, Campbell tried to coniirm the shepherd's findings by reference to the ideas of contemporary natural philosophers. The experimental philosophy, he claimed, “generally speaking enables us to give a fair and rational Account of almost all the Phænomena taken notice of by the Shepherd of Banbury.” Among his points of reference were the records of weather observers—“some of our great naturalists, who had kept Journals of the Weather for many Years”—who had established that certain winds recurred with seasonal regularity. Campbell endorsed the providential outlook that underwrote the work of the diarists and had found expression in the concept of the benevolent national climate. He insisted that all changes of the weather, even violent storms, were part of God's benevolent design: “All Weathers are at some times seasonable, which shews that they are good in themselves, and only accidentally evil.”101 His reliance on classical (p.73) tradition and journals of the weather indicates Campbell's position within learned culture. His enthusiasm for the rural wisdom of the shepherd of Banbury was not the direct expression of an authentic popular tradition. Indeed, he seemed to have lifted a fair proportion of his weather maxims from John Pointer's book of a couple of decades earlier. The success of the supposed shepherd's lore attests more to a prevailing mood of pastoral nostalgia among the literate elite than to rural culture as such.

The same could be said of John Mills, an agricultural writer and fellow of the Royal Society, who published his own comments on the shepherd of Banbury's rules twenty-six years after Campbell's edition. Mills has been connected with the “georgical” movement, which drew upon classical sources of inspiration, such as Virgil's pastoral poetry, to encourage attention to agricultural improvement.102 He was also well acquainted with the work of experimental philosophers and weather diarists; he had kept a journal for eleven years at Oundle in Northamptonshire and advised other farmers to do the same. He held up as a model the work of the Oeconomical Society of Berne, which had kept records of the weather and its effects on crop yields. To develop the utility of weather observations for agriculture, he advocated paying close attention to the accumulated wisdom of country people, represented by Claridge's compilation of weather maxims. Vernacular knowledge of this kind was not superstition, according to Mills, but a truly “natural” philosophy, revealed to rural individuals through their unmediated experience of the normal pattern of climatic events.

These pastoralist writers gave proverbial weather lore a currency and status among the social elite. They integrated native sayings with the weather signs that had come down from classical antiquity, conferring upon them an enhanced respectability and linking the worlds of popular and learned culture. They also recognized a certain coincidence of aims between rural people and systematic weather observers. Both could claim the authority of experience, though of rather different kinds. And both tended to see the natural world as governed by a benevolent providence, expressed in the seasonal recurrences of certain kinds of weather and the visible signs of its imminent changes. Given these parallels, it is not surprising that those who studied the weather often made reference to oral traditions, proverbs, and rustic lore. In 1785, Benjamin Franklin discussed the proverb “As the day lengthens, the cold strengthens,” which had been catalogued by Ray a century earlier.103 Franklin noted that it was quite true that the lengthening of the period of daylight in January did not immediately bring alleviation of winter's cold, and he explained the reason: the sun's rays at that time of the year were still too oblique to warm the air significantly.

(p.74) Luke Howard was another investigator of the weather who engaged with popular lore quite systematically. Originally inspired by the summer haze of 1783, the Quaker meteorologist was encouraged through decades of studying and recording the weather by the conviction that it could ultimately be shown to reflect God's providential care of creation. Notwithstanding “perpetual fluctuations, and occasional tremendous perturbations,” he wrote, “the balance of the great Machine is preserved.” Howard's observations, at Plaistow in Essex and later at Tottenham, culminated in the two-volume work The Climate of London (1818–20), in which he proposed to rescue meteorology from “empirical mysteriousness, and the reproach of perpetual uncertainty,” by diligent measurement and record-keeping.104 Memory alone was an unreliable source of information, he explained. People were misled into thinking that the character of the seasons was changing, because their recollections of the weather a few years back were quite imperfect. In fact, according to Howard, the regular return of each season fulfilled God's promise to humanity after the biblical deluge—the promise, symbolized by the rainbow, never again to wreak such devastation. Notwithstanding the fallibility of people's memories, Howard insisted that meteorologists had much to learn from those with practical experience. Farmers and mariners, for example, “become weather-wise by tradition and experience; and are often able to communicate the results of a certain local knowledge.”105 Concerning the course of the winds, indeed, “the experience of our navigators … outruns science.”106 Even proverbial sayings that might appear to be pure superstition, like the well-known adage about rain on St. Switliin's Day (15 July) forecasting forty days' rain to follow, were worthy of serious discussion. Howard was keen to “do justice to popular observation” on this matter, and concluded that a showery period frequently would begin about that time, though it was unlikely that the preceding period would have been any drier in a typically wet English summer.107 Overall, Howard's attitude to vernacular weather lore was far from dismissive; though he clearly saw scientific meteorology as something different—and a more appropriate way to pay tribute to God's goodness and wisdom—he believed it could only benefit from an openness to popular tradition.

Howard also recognized the value of published reports of unique and spectacular weather events. He complained about the lack of specificity in such reports: “The language of these accounts is … commonly vague and unphilosopliical: a hard gale of wind is too often ‘a tremendous hurricane,’ and frost and floods, hail and thunder, are too frequently stated to have been the most severe and destructive ‘in the memory of the oldest persons living!’”108 But he found himself unable to resist the temptation to introduce (p.75) such dramatic narratives into his work. In April 1807, he quoted a newspaper report from Lancashire of “the most tremendous thunder and lightning ever remembered by the oldest persons.”109 On later occasions, freezing rain and hailstorms, tornadoes, and lightning bolts found their way into his monthly summaries, accompanied by incidental details of witnesses and victims. In 1816, as England coped with another anomalous season—an unusually chilly spring and summer that retarded the growth of vegetation and severely reduced the harvest—Howard again grappled with the problem of reconciling extreme events with the general benevolence of providence. He gathered reports of unseasonable cold throughout Europe and North America and calculated that the average temperature was five degrees Fahrenheit below normal. What became known as “the year without a summer” sounded a strange echo of 1783, when Howard's enthusiasm for meteorology had first been kindled. Again, the fascination exerted by such occurrences was undeniable, notwithstanding the difficulty of reconciling them with belief in the providential benevolence of the climate.110

Howard was far from uncritical about popular lore and vague reports of weather wonders. He wrote that “there is no subject on which the learned and the unlearned are more ready to converse, and to hazard an opinion, than on the weather—and none on which they are more frequently mistaken.”111 He was nonetheless committed to the value of communication across the gulf between the learned and the unlearned. In contrast with William Marshall, whose attempt to assess the value of weather maxims had led him “into a labyrinth apparently endless,” and who was tempted to give up the whole thing in disgust, Howard wanted to keep the lines of communication open.112 His receptiveness to oral tradition was typical of most observers of the weather, from the Worcestershire diarist of 1703 to Richard Townley on the Isle of Man in 1789–90. Knowing the weather required listening to what local people said about it, even if their remarks were sometimes judged mistaken. Frequently, proverbial weather-wisdom confirmed the providential outlook of the elite observers, offering confirmation of an underlying divine plan. Some weather maxims could be traced back to classical writers like Aratus and Theophrastus, providing a learned pedigree for what might otherwise be taken for vulgar lore. And the interest of middle-class people in rural weather lore was also enhanced by a kind of nostalgia for the primitive that became increasingly fashionable from the middle of the century. For all these reasons, elite and popular cultures did not inhabit separate worlds when it came to the weather. Middle-class intellectuals who watched the sky realized that they also had to attend to common experience and the sayings of their unlettered neighbors.

(p.76) More than a century after the Great Storm, Howard was more confident than his ancestors of the providential regularity of the British weather. His underlying faith does not seem to have been shaken by any of the unusual events he witnessed. He could draw encouragement from a century and a half of regular weather recording, which had consolidated public belief in the steady benevolence of the nation's climate, a stability that supported its agricultural and commercial activities. Daily fluctuations were part of the overall picture, a feature of the British weather that kept the inhabitants mentally alert. But anomalous seasons and truly extraordinary events were more difficult to assimilate. They inevitably drew attention from experts and from the people at large. Howard himself had been challenged to take an interest in meteorology by an occurrence of this kind. And whenever they happened, they pointed up the uncertainties of the science, its failure to predict such events or to reconcile them with the pattern of normal expectations. For this reason, anomalous weather signaled the limits of Enlightenment science. Strange weather phenomena showed the natural world in its most recalcitrant aspect, continuing to resist attempts to bring it within the pale of scientific reason.

Anomalous events also made clear how much weather observers depended on oral reports and uncertain information. One had to trust what one heard, being forcefully reminded that a science of the weather was built upon the speech of many informants. Attending to what people said about the weather, investigators found it was a mixture of traditional lore and exaggerated claims, experiential wisdom and what the enlightened called “superstition.” These features were particularly exposed at times of unusual or extreme weather, but they pervaded social discourse about the climate at other times as well. Any study of the weather involved engagement with the heterogeneous things people said about it: the folklore, the proverbs, the uncertain reports, and fallible memories. The weather constituted a common domain in which elite and popular discourse intersected; it was public property, the concern of society as a whole. Thus, while scrutinizing their atmosphere, British intellectuals were also viewing a likeness of their own culture. Their consciousness of their climate reflected back to them an image of the society they inhabited: a substantially literate culture still imbued with oral practices; a partially urbanized society still rooted in the traditions of rural life; a culture that embraced science and technology while still exhibiting vestiges of magical thinking. Overall, it was a society in which the ideals of enlightenment were only incompletely realized.


(1.) [Addison et al.], The Spectator, 1:256 (no. 68, 18 May 1711).

(2.) Modern accounts of the storm rely ultimately on [Defoe], The Storm. See also Brayne, Greatest Storm; Risk Management Solutions, December 1703 Windstorm; Janković, Reading the Skies, 59–64; and Hamblyn, “Introduction.”

(3.) Evelyn, Diary and Correspondence, 531.

(4.) Wonderful History, 53.

(5.) Gifford, Sermon, 24.

(6.) [Defoe], The Storm. Notwithstanding the notorious difficulties of Defoe's bibliography, the attribution of this work to him seems secure, according to Furbank and Owens, Critical Bibliography of Daniel Defoe, 54–56. Some of its contents overlap with An Elegy on the Author of the True-Born-English-Man (first published in 1704), of which Defoe is confidently identified as the author. See also Hamblyn, “Introduction.”

(7.) Exact Relation of the Late Dreadful Tempest, 3.

(8.) Terrible Stormy Wind, 8–10. Other commentaries include Amazing Tempest; Wonderful History, 29–53; Bradbury, God's Empire over the Wind; Hussey, Warning from the Winds; and Gifford, Sermon.

(9.) [Defoe], The Storm, A8r, 2.

(10.) This Richard Townley should not be confused with the author of the Journal Kept in the Isle of Man, who lived nearly a century later.

(11.) Derham, “A Letter … Containing His Observations concerning the Late Storm,” 1531, 1532. See also Derham, Physico-Theology, 14–19, on the providential importance of winds for human health and prosperity.

(12.) Leeuwenhoek, “Part of a Letter … Giving His Observations on the Late Storm,” 1537; Fuller, “Part of a Letter … Concerning a Strange Effect of the Late Great Storm,” 1530.

(13.) A decade later, the author of the anonymous Essay concerning the Late Apparition in the Heavens professed disappointment that intellectuals would say among themselves that such phenomena were natural but were reluctant to do so publicly. Perhaps ironically, he suggested that this reluctance itself increased popular fear of atmospheric anomalies. (Essay concerning the Late Apparition in the Heavens, 1–2)

(14.) “S. W.”, A Poem on the Late Violent Storm, 1.

(15.) “W. F.” [William Fulke], Meteors, 7, 33.

(16.) On contemporary ideas about providential interventions in politics, see Spurr, “‘Virtue, Religion and Government’”; Worden, “Providence and Politics”; Reedy, “Mystical Politics”; Israel and Parker, “Of Providence and Protestant Winds”; and Schechner, Comets, 66–88.

(17.) Practical Discourse on the Late Earthquakes, 15. On the tradition of meteors as wonders, see also Janković, Reading the Skies; and Heninger, Handbook of Renaissance Meteorology.

(18.) Cook, Edmond Halley, 351–53.

(19.) Fara, “Lord Derwentwater's Lights”; Janković, Reading the Skies, 68–77.

(20.) Cook, Edmond Halley, 347; Wolf, History of Science, 1:303–5.

(21.) Burns, Age of Wonders, 152–64. See also Whiston, Account of a Surprizing Meteor.

(22.) Burns, “‘Our Lot Is Fallen’”; Burns, Age of Wonders; Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 90–132; Daston, “Marvelous Facts.”

(23.) On winds, see Bohun, Discourse.

(24.) Rossi, Dark Abyss of Time, 25–49.

(25.) Wonderful History, unnumbered pages.

(26.) True and Particular Account of a Storm, 15–16.

(27.) Pointer, Rational Account of the Weather, vii.

(28.) Ibid., 195.

(29.) Ibid., 197, 196, 199.

(30.) Daston and Park, Wonders, 329–63; Burns, Age of Wonders; Worden, “Providence and Politics.”

(31.) Daston, “Marvelous Facts.”

(32.) Janković, Reading the Skies, 53.

(33.) Gifford, Sermon, 8–10.

(34.) True and Particular Account of a Storm, 21. One of the moralizing commentators on the 1703 storm noted similarly, “Tho' things have but a Cloudy Face at Present, and perhaps there's not much appearance of Wisdom in̓em, yet we may conclude, that God Orders them all aright.” (Bradbury, God's Empire over the Wind, 21)

(35.) Budgen, Passage of the Hurricane, 11.

(36.) [Defoe], The Storm, 33.

(37.) On the “strange but true,” see McKeon, Origins of the English Novel, 65–89; and Shapiro, Culture of Fact, 86–104.

(38.) Bradbury, God's Empire over the Wind, 31.

(39.) The “public sphere” has been the topic of extensive commentary since Habermas, Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. On the connection to the uniformity of nature, see Clark, Golinski, and Schaffer, “Introduction,” 16–26.

(40.) Pointer, Rational Account of the Weather, iii.

(41.) An early example is A Diary or Weather-Journall [c. 1685], published by the London instrument maker John Warner (British Library call number 816.m.7(103)).

(42.) Locke, quoted in Dewhurst, John Locke, 301.

(43.) Rusnock, Correspondence of James Jurin, 27–31; Rusnock, Vital Accounts, 110–16.

(44.) Feldman, “Late Enlightenment Meteorology.”

(45.) Sherbo, “English Weather”; Fothergill, Works, 77–128. See also Porter, “Lay Medical Knowledge.”

(46.) On normalization, see Serres, Natural Contract, 4.

(47.) See especially Colley, Britons; and Wilson, Island Race.

(48.) [Addison et al.], The Spectator, 1:262 (no. 69, 19 May 1711).

(49.) Swift, Gulliver's Travels, 167.

(50.) Campbell, Political Survey of Britain, 1:47. See also Williams, Climate of Great Britain, 2–3.

(51.) Campbell, Political Survey of Britain, 1:51, 54, 55.

(52.) English commentators, on the other hand, sometimes attributed insular status to their own country, conflating England with the island of Britain as a whole. See, for example, Williams, Climate of Great Britain, 2.

(53.) Dixon, “Early Irish Weather Records.”

(54.) Schove and Reynolds, “Weather in Scotland”; Hay, Diary.

(55.) Wheeler, “Weather Diary of Margaret Mackenzie”; Wheeler, “Margaret Mackenzie of Delvine, Perthshire.” The second article includes some remarks on other Scottish women who kept weather diaries. A slightly later female observer in England was Caroline Molesworth, who kept her diary from 1825 to 1850 at Cobham, Surrey. See Molesworth, Cobham Journals.

(56.) Rutty, Essay towards a Natural History of the County of Dublin, 2:275, 280–81.

(57.) Hillary, Practical Essay on the Small-Pox, 40; Wintringham, Commentarius Nosologicus, 252.

(58.) Pointer, Rational Account of the Weather, 87.

(59.) Wood, Valetudinarian's Companion, 19. See also Corbin, Lure of the Sea.

(60.) [Bisset], Essay on the Medical Constitution of Great Britain.

(61.) Fothergill, Works, 85.

(62.) Lady's Magazine 17 (1786): 680, quoted in Hamblyn, Invention of Clouds, 72.

(63.) Gidal, “Civic Melancholy.”

(64.) Fothergill, Works, 89, 96.

(65.) Arbuthnot, Essay concerning the Effects of Air, 151.

(66.) Falconer, Remarks on the Influence of Climate, 50, 71, 73.

(67.) In 1667, Thomas Sprat had explained the national interest in experimental philosophy by invoking “the position of our climate, the air, the influence of the heaven, [and] the composition of the English blood.” These gave “a good sign, that Nature will reveal more of its secrets to the English, than to others.” (Sprat, History of the Royal Society, 114–15)

(68.) Short, General Chronological History, 1: viii.

(69.) Rutty, Essay towards a Natural History of the County of Dublin, 2:417, 486.

(70.) Samuel Say, “A Journal of the Weather at Lostaff [Lowestoft] in Suffolk, from 1695 to 1724, by the Rev. Mr. Say,” Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS 35448, 1; Marshall, Experiments and Observations, 164.

(71.) White, Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, 203.

(72.) Gilbert White, “The Naturalist's Journal,” British Library, Additional MSS 31,846, fol. 2r.

(73.) White, Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, 298; Henry White, quoted in Mabey, Gilbert White, 190.

(74.) Grattan and Brayshay, “Amazing and Portentous Summer.”

(75.) White, Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, 298.

(76.) Grattan and Brayshay, “Amazing and Portentous Summer”; Kington, Weather of the 1780s.

(77.) Hamilton, “Account of the Earthquakes.” The summer haze is also mentioned in Barker, “Abstract of a Register”; and Cullum, “Account of a Remarkable Frost.”

(78.) Franklin, “Meteorological Imaginations.” The idea was dismissed by Kirwan, Of the Variations of the Atmosphere, 219.

(79.) Jackson's Oxford Journal, 12 July 1783, 1, quoted in Hamblyn, Invention of Clouds, 71.

(80.) Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, 207–86; Malcolmson, Popular Recreations, 89–171; Barker-Benfield, Culture of Sensibility; Payne, “Elite versus Popular Mentality.”

(81.) [Addison et al.], The Spectator, 1:39 (no. 10, 12 March 1711); Hume, Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary, 533–37.

(82.) On conversation and politeness, see Burke, Art of Conversation; Klein, “Coffeehouse Civility”; Klein, “Enlightenment as Conversation”; Brewer, Pleasures of the Imagination, 34–39, 98–113; and Carter, Men and the Emergence of Polite Society (p.225) , 60–70. On women and popular science, see Mullan, “Gendered Knowledge, Gendered Minds”; Douglas, “Popular Science”; Shteir, “‘Conversable Rather Than Scientific’”; and Walters, “Conversation Pieces.”

(83.) Such manuals of polite conversation included The Art of Complaisance; [Forrester], Polite Philosopher; and [Constable], Conversation of Gentlemen.

(84.) [D̓Ancourt], Lady's Preceptor, 49.

(86.) Johnson, The Idler, no. 11 (24 June 1758), in Johnson, Works, 2:36.

(87.) Inwards, Weather Lore, v.

(88.) Richardson, Clarissa, 7:88.

(89.) There are interesting comments on English people's conversations about the weather in Cathcart, Rain, 51–54, where Wilde is quoted on p. 54. See also Myer, “Talking of the Weather.” Tobias Smollett satirized the pedantic individual who took the weather too seriously as a topic of conversation in a scene in his Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1784): “The conversation first turned upon the weather, which was investigated in a very philosophical manner by one of the company, who seemed to have consulted all the barometers and thermometers that ever were invented, before he would venture to affirm that it was a chill morning.” (662)

(90.) Johnson, The Idler, no. 11 (24 June 1758), in Johnson, Works, 2:37.

(91.) The Mirror, no. 35 (1779), quoted in Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “Weather”: “The conversation began about the weather, my aunt observing that the seasons were wonderfully altered in her memory.” See also Williams, Climate of Great Britain, 3. Williams, writing in 1806, declared that the notion that the climate had changed was “an opinion universally adopted of late years.”

(92.) Denham, Collection of Proverbs; Swainson, Handbook of Weather Folk-Lore; Inwards, Weather Lore. See also Garriott, Weather Folk-Lore; Shields, “Popular Weather Lore”; and Sloane, Folklore of American Weather. Most of the literature on weather proverbs is devoted to collecting them fairly indiscriminately, without any attempt to reconstruct how they were used in everyday life. But for an attempt at a social analysis, see Fox, Oral and Literate Culture, 154–57.

(93.) Inwards, Weather Lore, 119–22.

(94.) For these two, favorite saws of the now-retired BBC weather forecaster Michael Fish, see Denham, Collection of Proverbs, 31, 48.

(95.) Barbara Herrnstein Smith, quoted in Shapin, “Proverbial Economies,” 737. For more on how weather proverbs were and are used, see Arora, “Weather Proverbs”; Dundes, “Weather ‘Proverbs’”; Ward, “Weather Signs”; and Widdowson, “Form and Function.”

(96.) Davis, “Proverbial Wisdom”; Matthews, “Polite Speech”; Obelkevich, “Proverbs and Social History.”

(97.) Swift, Swift's Polite Conversation; Ray, Collection of English Proverbs; Fuller, Gnomologia.

(98.) Knowledge of Things Unknown.

(99.) The first edition was Claridge, The Shepheards' Legacy. Campbell's role in the 1744 edition has not been generally noticed, though it is mentioned in the English Short (p.226) Title Catalogue and in the article on Campbell in the old Dictionary of National Biography. There is no allusion to the connection in the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The 1744 edition was the basis for numerous others, published in London, Oxford, Dublin, and Edinburgh in the course of the eighteenth century. On this, see Janković, Reading the Skies, 133–35.

(100.) Claridge, Shepherd of Banbury's Rules, ii.

(101.) Ibid., iii, viii, 23, 52.

(102.) Mills, Essay on the Weather; Janković, Reading the Skies, 139–40.

(103.) Franklin, “Meteorological Imaginations”; Ray, Collection of English Proverbs, 48.

(104.) Howard, Climate of London, 2:vi.

(105.) Howard, Seven Lectures on Meteorology, 1.

(106.) Howard, Climate of London, 2:161.

(107.) Ibid., 2:198.

(108.) Howard, Climate of London, 1:xxxiv–xxxv.

(109.) Ibid., vol. 1, unnumbered pages following table 6.

(110.) On this dismal summer, ascribed by modern researchers to the effects of a volcanic eruption on the island of Sumbawa in the East Indies, see Clubbe, “Tempest-Toss'd Summer of 1816”; and Stommel and Stommel, “Year without a Summer.”

(111.) Howard, Climate of London, 1:xxxvi.

(112.) Marshall, Experiments and Observations, 143.