Today, I am in a bit of a quandary. The thing that I was going to tell you about did, I’ve since discovered, not happen on this day at all, but on the 25th. Never mind, it’s sometimes easy mistake a 5 for an 8 and if you wanted to know about the Newbury Coat, which was a bet about being able to shear a sheep, spin and weave its wool and make a coat out of it in a single day, you’ll find it here.
Then I wasn’t sure what subject to choose. I could tell you that it is the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s coronation. But the ceremony excluded, for the first time, the bit where the new monarch’s Champion rides into Westminster Hall in full armour during the coronation banquet, which is a pity. I could tell you that it is the birthday of Henry VIII. But that was a shame for quite a lot of people, especially his future wives. Anyway, I’m not generally big on royalty unless they’ve done something spectacularly eccentric. So, here instead is an extract from another ‘on this day’ publication for June 28th. It is “The Everyday Book” published in 1826.
Before you read it, you might like to know that ‘lawn of Cos’ means a very light linen fabric that would be lovely to wear on a hot day, that a water-cart would have sprinkled water in the streets to keep the dust down and that the word ‘tittle-bat’ probably means ‘stickleback’, a sort of fish. Also, you may like to know that ‘Tartarus’ refers to a region of the underworld, far below Hell, where all the really bad people went. Sadly, I can’t help you with the phrase ‘suckers of leather’, it might mean some sort of pump, but they are clearly three words that have changed their meaning significantly over the last two hundred years, and I wouldn’t google them.
So here is part of an essay by the poet Leigh Hunt called ‘a “Now”: Descriptive of a Hot Day’. Even though it describes a world long gone, I think it would remind me of what summer is like, even in the depths of winter.
“Now grasshoppers “fry”, as Dryden says. Now cattle stand in water, and ducks are envied. Now boots and shoes and trees by the road side, are thick with dust; and dogs rolling in it, after issuing out of the water, into which they have been thrown to fetch sticks, come scattering horror among the legs of the spectators. Now a fellow who finds he has three miles further to go in a tight pair of shoes, is in a pretty situation. Now rooms with sun upon them become intolerable; and the apothecary’s apprentice, with a bitterness beyond aloes, thinks of the pond he used to bathe in at school. Now men with powdered heads (especially if thick) envy those that are unpowdered, and stop to wipe them uphill, with countenances that seem to expostulate with destiny. Now boys assemble around the village pump with a ladle to it, and delight to make a forbidden splash and get wet through the shoes. Now also they make suckers of leather, and bathe all day long in rivers and ponds, and follow the fish to their cool corners, and say millions of “my eyes” at “tittle-bats”. Now the bee, as he hums along, seems to be talking heavily of the heat. Now doors and brick walls are burning to the hand; and a walled lane, with dust and broken bottles in it, near a brick-field, is a thing not to be thought of. Now a green lane, on the contrary, thick-set with hedge-row elms, and having the noise of a brook “rumbling in pebble-stone,” is one of the pleasantest things in the world. Now youths and damsels walk through hay-fields by chance; “ha’ done then William;” and the overseer in the next field calls out “let thic thear hay thear bide;” and the girls persist, merely to plague “such a frumpish old fellow.”
Now, in town, gossips talk more than ever to one another, in rooms, in doorways and out of windows, always beginning the conversation with saying that the heat is overpowering. Now blinds are let down and doors thrown open, and flannel waistcoats left off, and cold meat preferred to hot, and wonder expressed why tea continues so refreshing, and people delight to silver lettuces in bowls, and apprentices in doorways with tin canisters that lay several atoms of dust. Now the water-cart, jumbling along the middle of the streets, and jolting the showers out of it’s box of water, really does something. Now boys delight to have a water pipe let out, and set it bubbling away in a tall and frothy volume. Now fruiterers’ shops and dairies look pleasant, and ices are the only things to those who can get them. Now ladies loiter in baths; and people make presents of flowers; and wine is put on ice; and the after-dinner lounger recreates his head with applications of perfumed water out of long-necked bottles. Now, the lounger who cannot resist riding his new horse, feels his boots burn him. Now buckskins are not the lawn of Cos. Now jockeys, walking in greatcoats to lose flesh, curse inwardly. Now five fat people in a stage coach, hate the sixth fat person who is coming in and think he has no right to be so large. Now clerks in offices do nothing but drink soda water and spruce-beer, and read the newspaper. Now the old-clothesman drops his solitary cry more deeply into the areas on the hot and forsaken side of the street; and bakers look vicious; and cooks are aggravated: and the steam of the tavern kitchen catches hold of one like the breath of Tartarus. Now delicate skins are beset with gnats; and boys make their sleeping companion start up, with playing a burning glass on his hand; and blacksmiths are super-carbonated; and cobblers in their stalls almost feel a wish to be transplanted; and butter is too easy to spread; and the dragoons wonder whether the Romans liked their helmets; and old ladies, with their lappets unpinned, walk around in a state of dilapidation; and servant maids are afraid they look vulgarly hot; and the author, who has a plate of strawberries brought him, finds he has come to the end of his writing.”
Incidentally, Leigh Hunt was not big on Royalty either. He was once arrested and tried for saying something extremely uncomplimentary, but also true, about the Prince Regent. He was promised that he would be let off, if he promised not to say anything else rude about the future George IV. He politely declined and spent two years in prison. He bore it well. He had his room papered with rose trellises and the ceiling painted like the sky. He had his books, he had a piano and he had lots of visitors. His friend Charles Lamb said there was: “no other such room, except in a fairy tale.”
I hope it’s sunny where you are. If it isn’t, and you’re still not feeling summery, you could give this a try. I’m off to unpin my lappets and buy some strawberries.