Getting up on Cold Mornings by James Henry Leigh Hunt.

Leigh Hunt, engraved by H. Meyer 
from a drawing by J. Hayter.
When I put together my list for the Deal Me In Challenge I did wonder when this particular essay would come up. I did think it was bound to be summer, but no, today is the day when it is bright, rainy, fairly mild (9 °C), and with gusts of about 15 mph. But, it's not yet March and the freezing cold memories are still pretty fresh!

James Henry Leigh Hunt, better known simply as Leigh Hunt, was a poet, critic, and essayist born in 1784. He was a friend of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. He went to Italy with them (his nightmare voyage took eight months because of sickness and bad travelling conditions), and was an editor of The Examiner (founded in 1808, going out of print six years after Leigh Hunt's death in 1865), The Reflector (1810-11), The Indicator (1819-21), and The Companion. Whilst at The Examiner he published the article The Prince on St. Patrick’s Day (22nd March 1812) in which he wrote,
In short, this delightful, blissful, wise, pleasurable, honourable, virtuous, true, and immortal PRINCE, was a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who had just closed half a century without one single claim on the gratitude of his country, or the respect of posterity.
This earned him two years in Horsemonger Lane Gaol, Surrey, where, coincidentally, Charles Dickens observed the hangings of Marie and Frederick George Manning (1849), which moved him to campaign against public executions (Mademoiselle Hortense of Bleak House is based on Marie Manning). Thankfully, however, Leigh Hunt was not executed.

Leigh Hunt's Getting up on Cold Mornings appeared in The Indicator in 1820. It begins,
An Italian author–Giulio Cordara, a Jesuit–has written a poem upon insects, which he begins by insisting, that those troublesome and abominable little animals were created for our annoyance, and that they were certainly not inhabitants of Paradise. We of the north may dispute this piece of theology; but on the other hand, it is clear as the snow on the house-tops, that Adam was not under the necessity of shaving; and that when Eve walked out of her delicious bower, she did not step upon ice three inches thick.
Some people say it is a very easy thing to get up of a cold morning. You have only, they tell you, to take the resolution; and the thing is done. This may be very true; just as a boy at school has only to take a flogging, and the thing is over. But we have not at all made up our minds upon it; and we find it a very pleasant exercise to discuss the matter, candidly, before we get up. This at least is not idling, though it may be lying. It affords an excellent answer to those, who ask how lying in bed can be indulged in by a reasoning being,–a rational creature. How? Why with the argument calmly at work in one’s head, and the clothes over one’s shoulder. Oh–it is a fine way of spending a sensible, impartial half-hour.
He goes on to write of the virtues of the man who remains in bed as long as he can (referring to it a little later as "decumbency"), contrasting him with those irritating folk who leap up despite sub-zero temperatures by saying "If they cannot entertain themselves with their own thoughts for half an hour or so, it is not the fault of those who can." The warmth, he adds, is only natural for warmblooded creatures such as ourselves, and the cold, brought about by this "the inharmonious and uncritical abruptness of the transition" by those who force another to get out of bed on a such a morning are, to quote Milton "harpy-footed furies" (referring to line 596 of Paradise Lost).

So, on waking up one morning to find one's "own breath rolling forth, as if in the open air, like smoke out of a cottage chimney", what must one do to avoid being dragged out earlier than one would hope? Leigh Hunt advises distracting one's servant, making him perform somewhat unnecessary tasks, One that has been exhausted, yes, it's time to get up.
At length everything is ready, except myself. I now, continues our incumbent (a happy word, by the bye, for a country vicar)–I now cannot help thinking a good deal–who can?–upon the unnecessary and villainous custom of shaving: it is a thing so unmanly (here I nestle closer)–so effeminate (here I recoil from an unlucky step into the colder part of the bed.)–No wonder that the Queen of France took part with the rebels against the degenerate King, her husband, who first affronted her smooth visage with a face like her own. The Emperor Julian never showed the luxuriancy of his genius to better advantage than in reviving the flowing beard. Look at Cardinal Bembo’s picture–at Michael Angelo’s–at Titian’s–at Shakespeare’s–at Fletcher’s–at Spenser’s–at Chaucer’s–at Alfred’s–at Plato’s–I could name a great man for every tick of my watch.–Look at the Turks, a grave and otiose people.–Think of Haroun Al Raschid and Bed-ridden Hassan.–Think of Wortley Montagu, the worthy son of his mother, a man above the prejudice of his time.–Look at the Persian gentlemen, whom one is ashamed of meeting about the suburbs, their dress and appearance are so much finer than our own.–Lastly, think of the razor itself–how totally opposed to every sensation of bed–how cold, how edgy, how hard! how utterly different from anything like the warm and circling amplitude, which 
          Sweetly recommends itself
          Unto our gentle senses.
[Referring to Act I Scene VI of Shakespeare's Macbeth]
Add to this, benumbed fingers, which may help you to cut yourself, a quivering body, a frozen towel, and a ewer full of ice; and he that says there is nothing to oppose in all this, only shows, at any rate, that he has no merit in opposing it.
He refers next to John Thomson, author of Seasons (1726-30):
used to lie in bed till noon, because he said he had no motive in getting up. He could imagine the good of rising; but then he could also imagine the good of lying still; and his exclamation ["Falsely luxurious! Will not man awake?"], it must be allowed, was made upon summer-time, not winter. 
Motivation, after all, is an important part of getting up and braving the chill:
A money-getter may be drawn out of his bed by three and four pence; but this will not suffice for a student. A proud man may say, “What shall I think of myself, if I don’t get up?” but the more humble one will be content to waive this prodigious notion of himself, out of respect to his kindly bed. The mechanical man shall get up without any ado at all; and so shall the barometer. An ingenious lier in bed will find hard matter of discussion even on the score of health and longevity. He will ask us for our proofs and precedents of the ill effects of lying later in cold weather; and sophisticate much on the advantages of an even temperature of body; of the natural propensity (pretty universal) to have one’s way; and of the animals that roll themselves up, and sleep all the winter. As to longevity, he will ask whether the longest life is of necessity the best; and whether Holborn is the handsomest street in London.
In fact, the only real motivation, the only thing perhaps worth getting up on cold mornings is a lady. She may flatter him out of bed, persuade and cajole him into it. Leigh Hunt concludes this little essay,
Other little helps of appeal may be thrown in, as occasion requires. You may tell a lover, for instance, that lying in bed makes people corpulent; a father, that you wish him to complete the fine manly example he sets his children; a lady, that she will injure her bloom or her shape, which M. or W. admires so much; and a student or artist, that he is always so glad to have done a good day’s work, in his best manner. 
Reader. And pray, Mr. Indicator, how do you behave yourself in this respect? 
Indic. Oh, Madam, perfectly, of course; like all advisers. 
Reader. Nay, I allow that your mode of argument does not look quite so suspicious as the old way of sermonising and severity, but I have my doubts, especially from that laugh of yours. If I should look in to-morrow morning– 
Indic. Ah, Madam, the look in of a face like yours does anything with me. It shall fetch me up at nine, if you please–six, I meant to say.
There the essay ends, and a very fine and funny one it was!

And that was my 8th essay for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: Good Temper by Richard Steele.


  1. i've several collections of Hunt's essays: he rarely fails to delight; also his autobiography which i haven't read yet... being constantly in debt with a large family, and a erstwhile jailbird, he received a lot of negative attraction in the newspapers: at one point he was called "Harold Skimpole" after a wheedling and impecunious creation of C. Dickens... but he knew a lot of the greats and wrote pretty good essays, i've always thought...

    1. I read this in an anthology but I think I'll try and get a hold of a collection of his essays, this one was rather good and you're making me want to read more :)

  2. I've been struggling with "decumbency" myself of late, :-)

    1. I'm in the midst of spring cleaning and decorating, decumbency, whilst being my preferred state, is but a dream at present... :)


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