Of Winter by Thomas Dekker.
|Winter Landscape Near a Village by Hendrik Avercamp (1610 - 1615).|
It's a chilly morning here in the north of England: it's about minus one, the sky is a pale pink, and the trees are bare, but the sun looks like it will, perhaps, break through the clouds at some point. The snow, where the sun reaches it, has almost melted but there are great patches of thick ice where the snow from last week froze. It was a different story in winter of 1614-25, perhaps when Dekker wrote Of Winter: when he wrote it and where it was published I have been unable to discover for certain but I would guess it was from The Cold Yeare 1614 (unfortunately I can't find it online) or The Great Frost (1608). Snow fell very heavily that winter with patches left even up until May, and Tobie Matthew, the Archbishop of York (1606 - 1628) noted that there was a solid seven weeks snow and frost "never the like Seen in England". People died, frozen in their homes or outside, crops suffered, and hay and straw became scarce.
Which ever winter it was, it inspired Dekker to write Of Winter, which is so short I may as well quote it in full:
Winter, the sworne enemie to summer, the friend to none but colliers and woodmongers: the frostbitten churl that hangs his nose still over the fire: the dog that bites fruits, and the devil that cuts down trees, the unconscionable binder up of vintners' faggots, and the only consumer of burnt sack and sugar: This cousin to Death, father to sickness, and brother to old age, shall not show his hoary bald-pate in this climate of ours (according to our usual computation) upon the twelfth day of December, at the first entering of the sun into the first minute of the sign Capricorn, when the said Sun shall be at his greatest south declination from the equinoctial line, and so forth, with much more such stuff than any mere Englishman can understand--no, my countrymen, never beat the bush so long to find out Winter, where he lies, like a beggar shivering with cold, but take these from me as certain and most infallible rules, know when Winter plums are ripe and ready to be gathered.
When Charity blows her nails and is ready to starve, yet not so much as a watchman will lend her a flap of his frieze gown to keep her warm: when tradesmen shut up shops, by reason their frozen-hearted creditors go about to nip them with beggary: when the price of sea-coal riseth, and the price of men's labour falleth: when every chimney casts out smoke, but scarce any door opens to cast so much as a maribone to a dog to gnaw; when beasts die for want of fodder in the field, and men are ready to famish for want of food in the city; when the first word that a wench speaks at your coming into the room in a morning is, "Prithee send for some faggots," and the best comfort a sawyer beats you withal is to say, "What will you give me?"; when gluttons blow their pottage to cool them; and Prentices blow their nails to heat them; and lastly when the Thames is covered over with ice and men's hearts caked over and crusted with cruelty: Then mayest thou or any man be bold to swear it is winter.
I love this, it really expresses the frustration, bitterness, and the irritability winter brings. In the depths of winter, spring and summer seem so far away and one can feel trapped by cold. Because of where I live I rely on fires for heating, so I know the pain of being cold and miserable. Back then, of course, it was harder and more relentless, and this winter Dekker describes seems particularly vicious. It's a great piece of writing, and very interesting indeed for those who, like me, take an interest in the weather.
Before I finish, one final note: most of the information in this post was taken from 'The Great Snow of Winter 1614 / 1615 in England' by Lucy Veale, Georgina Enfield, and James Bowen. I recommend reading that, too!
And that was my 8th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: The Art of Love by Ovid.