Alice, Drought, Project Updates

Weather in Journals and Diaries

Alice discusses possible sources for research into the effects of drought.

Monday July 2                        1804                            Acton Lodge

The same fine warm weather but rain is sadly wanted, for the grass is failing, & everything looks scorched –

Stereo-typically, the British love to discuss the weather, and it is a very common neutral topic of conversation. It is also a conventional opening topic of letters, diaries and journals, these, therefore, are very useful when looking at past weather, particularly as they are likely to accompany the comment on the weather with a date and a location. 

In the drought section of the volunteer project attached to this project, I hope to explore the period c.1720 – 1820. Recently, I have been searching for possible sources, including journals. There are a number of journals and letter writers active in this period, a particularly promising (from a weather point of view) and interesting (from a historical and literary point of view) source is the journals of Elizabeth Hervey. The record office holds her journals dating from between 1792 and her death in 1820. At the beginning of her entries, she puts the date and her location and then nearly every day she begins by writing about the weather. The bulk of her entries focus on her actions and the historical events happening around her.

Elizabeth Hervey was a writer, born Elizabeth Marsh in 1748. She appears to have had an interesting life; she was briefly married as a teenager and widowed at seventeen, before marrying Lieutenant Colonel William Thomas Hervey, they had two sons and he was either dead or was estranged from her by the late 1780’s when Elizabeth published her first novel, Melissa and Marcia, or the Sisters. A Novel. Elizabeth wrote six novels, only one of which was published with her name attached to it, the final novel, Amabel; or Memoirs of a Lady of Fashion. Her other novels were Louisa, The History of Ned Evans, The Church of St Siffrid, and The Mourtray family. A novel

The History of Ned Evans has recently been reprinted, and some of the content can be accessed through Google Books. It has been subject to more scrutiny than the rest of her work because of its political nature regarding the relationship between Britain and Ireland. (Additionally, there is a copy in the Liverpool University Library, so if you come and volunteer for my project, there will be a copy in the room!). 130 examples from her work appear in the Oxford English Dictionary database; she is cited for words such as chaise-longue, dawdle (n.), imposing, indelicate, jumble, magnet and quizzical (just to list a few!).


Further Reading

Helena Kelly (ed) (2010) ‘Introduction’ to Elizabeth Hervey, The History of Ned Evans (1796) (reprinted 2016 by Routledge: London and New York) pp. vii – x

Oxford English Dictionary Online (login required, through a public library or other institution)


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