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“It is commonly observed that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm” –Samuel Johnson

This past week, my town, like everyone else’s, has been in the grip of a massive heat wave. Today we are back to our usual low 90s, but yesterday peaked at 109. I dread getting my next electric bill! Anyway, with the heat and humidity the way it was, I couldn’t think about anything but the weather. Hence today’s post!

I wondered “what were the predominant weather patterns in the Regency?” (believe me, this is not something I am generally concerned about, unless I happen to need a huge storm or something for plot purposes, and even then I just generally make it up. Shhh! Don’t tell!). One thing I dug up was the fact that their weather was not much like ours in these past few weeks. They were on the tail-end of something called the Little Ice Age, which lasted approximately from the fourteenth century to the mid-nineteenth. Three years of torrential rain starting in 1315, plus something to do with glaciers that I don’t understand, began a long era of unpredictable weather. The first Thames freeze came in 1607, the last in 1814. In the winter of 1794/5 the French army could march on the frozen Netherlands river on their invasion, while the Dutch fleet was fixed in ice at Den Helder harbor. In 1780, New York Harbor froze; a person could walk from Manhattan to Staten Island on the ice. On a sidenote that is interesting probably only to me, there is a theory that the denser woods caused by the colder climate is partially responsible for the superb tone of the instruments of Antonio Stradivari.

Check here for more on the Little Ice Age
And here for more on Stradivari

Another interesting thing I found was the growing popularity of the “weather journal” and memoir in the late 18th/early 19th century. It was probably something to do with Enlightenment ideas of “civilizing” nature, which segued into Romantic notions of the wild perfection of nature. A few of the tidbits:

John Locke kept a weather diary between June 1691 and May 1703, often recording two or more readings of thermometer, barometer, and wind gauge in one day!

In 1770, the Irish Quaker physician John Rutty published the surprisingly popular Chronological History of the Weather and Seasons and of Prevailing Diseases in Dublin.

In 1779, Thomas Short wrote a General Chronological History of the Air, which goes back to the biblical flood. It’s a long catalog of plagues, floods, pestilences, earthquakes, famines, and other fun events.

One of the most prolific of these “weather watchers” was the Quaker social reformer Luke Howard. He published (among others) On the Modification of Clouds (which seems to have had a great influence on Romantic visual arts) and his most famous work The Climate of London (1818–20). A few of his quotes:
“Night is 3.70 degrees warmer and day 0.34 degrees cooler in the city than in the country (which he attributes to the extensive use of fuel in the city)

“At 1:00 yesterday afternoon the fog was as dense as ever recollect to have known it..the carriages in the street dared not exceed a foot pace. At the same time, five miles from the town the atmosphere was clear and unclouded with a brilliant sun”

“The sky too belongs to the Landscape. The ocean of air in which we live and move, and in which the bolt of heaven is forged, and the frucifying rain condensed, can never be to the zealous Naturalist a subject of tame and unfeeling contemplation”

To close, I’ll give a link to an interesting site that has some antique barometers for sale, if you happen to have a few thousand dollars you’re wondering how to spend. 🙂

Posted in Regency, Research | Tagged | 8 Replies

I’m composing this by the sea (but posting later), a beautiful sea view out my hotel window at Daytona Beach, Florida where I am attending the Romantic Times Booklover’s Convention. It is a beautiful sunny day with blue skies reflecting in the water, gentle waves breaking into foamy white. The sand is hard packed, perfect for walking or sun-bathing. I love the ocean. I love the smell of it, the rhythmic sound of the waves, the soothing sight of the water, the warmth of sun on my skin.
In my imagination I’ve spent a great deal of time at another beach resort – Brighton in Sussex. The book I’m working on now, untitled as yet, takes place at Brighton, the seaside town the Prince of Wales, aka “Prinny” made fashionable and where he built his exotic Pavilion. In my book I am in Brighton of 1816 and it is cold.

1816 was “the year without a summer” with June snowstorms in the Colonies and rain and chill in the British Isles and Europe. It is thought that the year without a summer was caused by the April 1815 volcanic eruptions of Mount Tambora half a world away on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia. Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein that “wet, ungenial summer” of 1816, because she, Percy Byssh Shelly and Lord Byron were housebound and bored in Lake Geneva.

In 1816 the exotic renovations to the Prince Regent’s Marine Pavilion had not yet been completed, and the Prince Regent was not in attendance (that I could discover), but just as so many of us do today, the fashionable people came to the sea side for summer entertainment. Without sea bathing, my characters have had to pass the time at the Circulating Library, which was less like what we would think of as a library, and more like a Barnes & Noble or Borders, where one could purchase refreshment and gather for conversation. One could also gaze at the newest caricatures that arrived from London or try out the newest sheets of music on the pianoforte. The fashionable people also attended balls, assemblies and card parties at the Old Ship Hotel or the Castle Inn, and a dreadfully boring-sounding Sunday afternoon Promenade.

Unlike the view of people out my window here at Daytona Beach, there is no sea bathing in my book, which tells Blake’s story. Theobald Blackwell, Viscount Blakewell, is one of the Ternion introduced in The Marriage Bargain, the three men who have been friends since childhood. Blake reunites with the daughter of a con artist and sparks fly–passionate ones!

In the real world, I have been meeting with friends–fellow authors, booksellers, and readers–at the Romantic Times Convention. The Marriage Bargain, nominated for the Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Regency-set Historical, alas, did not win, but I was interviewed about it for Dungeon Majesty, a website doing a documentary on Romance. I looked it up and it seems to also be a very clever Dungeons and Dragons site. Imagine me on a Dungeons and Dragons website!

I approach writing my weekly Risky Regencies posts as I do my fiction writing: I let my mind wander and seize on something that seems like it might go somewhere. Usually, it works, at least enough for me to get something tapped out on the keyboard.

But today? I am Tapped Out. I officially have NO IDEAS for this post. Which means, unfortunately for you all, I’ll have to let my mind wander as I type, not just show the finished product.

Yesterday, my son, my father and I went to the Bronx Zoo, which is truly spectacular. It made me think about what zoos were like in the Regency–pretty pathetic things, I think, and I am pretty sure they were called “menageries,” not zoos, and can you imagine how poorly the animals were treated? Horses were treated well, they had to carry the Men on their Important Hunting Expeditions, after all, but other animals did not get very good treatment. No wonder our heroines always befriend cats and dogs and the like.

I was also thinking about what made a plot good–sure, there’s that catch in the throat when you’re not quite sure the author is going to live up to the expectations of a romance, and are they really going to get together, because sheesh, it sure seems like there’s no way they can get out of this mess, not without a lot of deus ex machina. And when they do, you’re almost pathetically grateful to the author for making us breathe easier. Mary Balogh is the queen of this, and she makes my heart stop almost every time I read one of her books. Who does that for you?

And the weather–our heroes and heroines did not have the benefit of central air, heat, or Polartec fabric. It’s gorgeous here on the East Coast now, and the crocuses are starting to spring up and the weather will be in the 70s today, and it fills one (meaning me) with a feeling of enthusiasm and joy. I wonder if our heroes and heroines felt the same, only moreso, because they were confined inside their drafty houses? Or did they combat their winter lassitude by doing all sorts of outdoorsy things that put a sparkle in their eyes and a healthy pink blush in their cheeks? Did they even talk about seasonal depression?

Now, here’s the class participation part: When your mind wanders, what does it wonder about? What authors make your breath catch in your throat? And is it Spring where you live? If so, what’s the part you like the best about Spring?


Originally this was going to be a post about weather during the Regency weather, something I was determined to blog about before the official arrival of spring, although here (near Washington DC) it’s warm and sunny and daffodils are blooming. I did however do some digressions, some of which turned out to be more interesting.

England in Jane Austen’s time was in the grip of a minor Ice Age that had begun in medieval times and lasted up until the mid-nineteenth century–hence the snowy cold winters of A Christmas Carol and the Pickwick Papers. It was cold enough for the river Thames to freeze over completely, which it did for several months in some particularly cold years. In the sixteenth century Henry VIII traveled from London to Greenwich along the Thames by sleigh. What better opportunity for the enterprising merchants of London to set up shop on the river, thus creating Frost Fairs, the most famous of which (featured in Orlando by Virginia Woolf) was held in 1608.

The Frost Fair of 1814 was the last of its kind, and featured an elephant being led across the ice near Blackfriars Bridge (according to one source I found), donkey rides, and the roasting of a whole sheep on the ice. People had to pay to see the sheep roasted and then pay for a portion of “Lapland Sheep.” Nine printing presses churned out souvenir items. This fair only lasted four days until a thaw set in.

The weather, of course, is always a safe conversation topic–particularly if the man of your dreams has appeared unexpectedly:

But it was then too late, and with a countenance meaning to be open, she sat down again and talked of the weather.

That’s Elinor, from Sense and Sensibility, whose keen sense of the appropriate phrase gives her a certain affinity with Jim’s aunt in A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas:

And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim’s Aunt, Miss Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said, “Would you like anything to read?”

I have to mention a couple of fascinating sites I came across while trying to find a good Jane Austen quote about the weather (the one I was originally looking for, about a stupendously cold snap in London, is in Emma, I think). There is for your edification, a site with a search function for Sense and Sensibility, and other books too, Tilneys and Trap-doors, and that site also includes the Henry Tilney Fan Site–yes, the man who knows how to wash muslin. Who would’ve thought it.

Any polite comments on the weather, literary examples thereof, or really excellent time wasters online?

Friday night the Washington, DC, area experienced a freaky thunderstorm with bursts of high winds of 80 miles per hour. During the storm, we were unscathed and didn’t think too much about it, but the next morning we discovered that right near us there was some incredible damage. The wind apparently shot through the neighborhood like a locomotive. In fact, our neighbors said it sounded like a locomotive. Two houses  away the wind toppled their huge oak tree.

On the road that intersects with our street, another tree fell, directly across the street. A young man driving in the pitch black night ran into the tree and this is the result. Luckily he was not hurt.

For my blog today, I thought I’d look for a description of storms in Regency England. This is from the Annual Register for the year 1816.

A tremendous storm of and lightning with heavy rain was experienced in Lancashire and the adjoining counties. The electric fluid struck a public house near Tockholes which it greatly damaged and killed the landlord. About three o’clock in the afternoon at Longpark after a considerable deal of thunder and lightning, a dense whitish cloud was observable apparently about Barrock which advanced with great rapidity and, on its nearer approach, presented the appearance of the waves of the sea tumultuously rolling over each other. This phenomenon was doubtless occasioned by the hail composing the body of the cloud and whirled along by the hurricane which enveloped it. On reaching Longpark a scene of desolation commenced within ten minutes a most tremendous volley of pieces of ice, some of them an inch in diameter, shattered the windows of the houses, tore up the turf, beat down the vegetable products of the earth and did great and extensive damage. Mr James had the whole of his crop of barley, oats, etc., completely cut down as with a scythe. More than half the produce of the inhabitants of the village is lost. The like destruction occurred in the neighborhood and a few houses were unroofed. At Whaldub about 14 acres of barley were entirely destroyed besides other injuries. At Parkbroorn Walby, the garden vegetables were nearly all destroyed. The same afternoon the hurricane visited Longtown and the neighborhood at Netherhy upwards of 700 panes of glass were broken in the hot houses of sir James Graham and sixty squares in the house were driven in with great violence by the hail stones. A particularly large tree at Kirkandrews-upon-Esk and more in the neighbourhood were com pletely torn up by the roots.

Our storm did not have much “electric fluid” or hail, or even rain. It was at night, so we couldn’t see what the clouds looked like. Our storm didn’t even last very long. It was the wind that did the damage.

I’ll leave you today with this much tamer image of a rainstorm.

Stay dry and safe!
Thanks to everyone who played our Harlequin Historical Authors Beach Bag Giveaway. The Grand Prize Winner will be announced at any second!
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