It’s very strange when something you are researching for a novel set in 1783 appears as the top headline on the six o’clock news.
Of course, in 1783 they didn’t have to worry about stopping flights, but the eruption of Laki in June was huge, and the ash cloud that drifted over Europe in the following weeks caused catastrophic atmospheric disruption.
Gilbert White sums it up very well:
The summer of 1783 was an amazing and portentous one, and full of horrible phenomena; for besides the alarming meteors and thunderstorms that affrighted many counties of this kingdom, the peculiar haze or smoky fog, that prevailed for many weeks in this island and in every part of Europe, and even beyond its limits, was a most extraordinary appearance, unlike anything known within memory of man. By my journal I find that I had noticed this strange occurrence from June 23rd to July 20th inclusive during which the wind varied to every quarter without making any alterations in the air.
There were a lot of conflicting ideas about what had caused these strange and disturbing conditions. Plenty of people thought the world was coming to an end. The Whitehall Evening post of July 10th 1783 reported however a Parisian correspondent’s confidence that the fog was ‘nothing more than a very natural effect from a hot sun after a long succession of heavy rain‘. Horace Walpole did much better, being, by July, ‘…quite persuaded… that the dreadful eruptions of fire on the coasts of Italy and Sicily should have occasioned some alteration that has extended faintly hither and contributed to the heats and mists…’
Smart man, Walpole. Wrong eruptions, but right idea. I also loved this comment in August to the Countess of Ossary ‘I begin to think Rumbolds and Co have robbed the Indies of their climate as well as their gold and diamonds, and brought it home in ingots.’
Who knows if we’ll get a sulphurous summer this year? Depends on how long that volcano keeps pumping out ash for one thing. I certainly hope we don’t get the storms: ‘Rain descended in torrents mixed with smoke, sulphur and liquid fire. …very heavy shower of hail destroyed a great number of windows at Lord Cadogan’s seat at Caversham… 150 trees shivered with lightning, some torn up by the roots.’ Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal July 19th 1783