Bad Weather? Nothing to the Time When England Was the Land of Fogs

By Johnson, Paul | The Spectator, November 11, 2000 | Go to article overview

Bad Weather? Nothing to the Time When England Was the Land of Fogs


Johnson, Paul, The Spectator


People grumble about the wind and the wet but forget that, until quite recently, the English in general, and Londoners especially, were cursed by that far more dangerous and common scourge, fog. November was the favourite month for what Dickens called 'a London particular', but it might occur at any time, when the wind went down, from mid-October to the end of February. John Evelyn recorded in his diary: `The thickest and darkest fogg on the Thames that was ever known' in his entry for 15 December 1670, and the fog on Christmas Eve is horribly described in A Christmas Carol. The last big London fog, in 1953, just before the Smokeless Fuel Act began to have a decisive impact, led to at least 20,000 deaths, mainly by damaging lungs and bronchial tubes.

The London particular began to arrive regularly in the 16th century when coal from the Newcastle field reached the Thames - it was known as `sea coal' - in growing quantities and at low prices. By Shakespeare's time it was already a problem, and he refers to fogs often. There was some dispute as to its habitual colour. Shakespeare called it black - `drooping fogge as blacke as Acheron'. T.S. Eliot calls it 'brown' in The Waste Land. But in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock he writes of `the yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes', and `the yellow smoke that ... licked its tongue into the corners of the evening'. Most people compared it to dingy grey-green - a `pea-souper'. The truth is, it was any and all of these colours, depending on the light and the time of day. Since a fog, once it got going, could attract like a flypaper and then suspend in the air for days any dust particles around, it might vacuum up powder from the huge brickfields of Essex and Hertfordshire and so acquire a distinct tinge of what Victor Hugo, a hostile visitor (he preferred the Channel Isles when in exile here), called `Hellish red'. Other exiles, like Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet, tried to paint these polychrome fogs, but it is almost impossible to convey in oils its luminosity, viscosity and wetness.

Perhaps the worst thing about the old fog was its grime. `Hover through the fog and filthy air' - Shakespeare got it right, as usual. It mixed in its cold and evil stew dirt of all kinds and deposited it on your face and hands, clothes and hair, even in your pockets - as well as in your throat and lungs - in the form of a damp slime which smudged when you touched it. Dickens, in his unforgettable description at the opening of Bleak House of a London particular in `implacable November weather', writes of `Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes - gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.' Fog, on touching the ground, became a thin skin of slimy dirt, settling in countless layers, so that, as Dickens wrote, there was ,as much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, 40 feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.'

In the Fifties a London fog might stretch from east to west 50 miles and cover hundreds of square miles. It shut down London Airport for days, sometimes weeks. Taxidrivers, unless they were broke, stayed at home. The red double-decker buses lost their way. People unearthed old blackout torches and found them useless. You could taste the fog and it was horrible: Browning compared `fog in my throat' to death - one reason he went to live for good in sunny Italy. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Bad Weather? Nothing to the Time When England Was the Land of Fogs
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.