Detail from Street scene with heavy wind and rain, by Jan Luyken. 1698-1700, pen and brown ink (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).

Letters in Focus: A January in May

To all who are far from these wet and windswept coastal lands of western Europe, we extend an apology for the choice of this record from Early Modern Letters Online and would point out the great good fortune of those of you for whom spring has sprung and who do not long for this rain and unseasonable chill to end. For all those whose thoughts of shorts and sandals are – for the present – thwarted, we’d like to offer reassurance that the May we have experienced this year is not unique. In May 1684, a twenty-three year old William Digby was travelling with his tutor through France. He wrote from Blois to Thomas Smith (Smith was, at this point, vice-president of Magdalen College, Oxford, Digby’s alma mater) that he had nothing to report but the unseasonable inclemency of the weather – it was, indeed, a January in May – and it had become so cold that he and his travelling companions had been forced to don winter clothes. Plus ça change.

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