My reflections (30th December) on Robin Lane Fox’s historical perspective on climate change prompted me to check on what the Victorians were actually saying on the subject. One of the best primary sources is gardening magazines, of which the liveliest was Shirley Hibberd’s Gardener’s Magazine. In the early 1870’s there was a craze for subtropical gardening, much as we have experienced in the last ten years brought on by a series of mild winters. The Gardener’s Magazine tackled the subject head on in their editorial on March 30th 1872. Here’s an extract:
“It is impossible to ignore the prevailing opinion that the climate of this country has changed considerably during the historic period and there are not wanting those who aver that its changes have been decisive and striking.
It cannot be doubted that Ovid and Tertullian both saw the Euxine frozen over: that Virgil was as familiar with fields of ice upon the Danube as the moderns are ignorant of them entirely; and that the climate of Italy in the Augustan age was very different from that which now prevails.
One of the most interesting evidences in favour of the belief that a decided change has taken place in the climate of this country is to be found in the fact that, from the time of the Romans until the later days of the monastic system, wine produced on English soil was largely consumed by all ranks and classes of the people. It must have been better wine than English-grown grapes produce now, and it must have been more certain in production The Roman legionaries might have been content with sour stuff, but the “monks of old” were good judges of generous liquor, and could always place their own wine in competition with “Rheinish” and with other continental products illustrative of the climate of the period.
It cannot be doubted that the climate of this country has never ceased to change, however slowly, since the days when a tropical heat prevailed, and the vegetation of the carboniferous limestone flourished. Moreover, we fully believe that it is changing still; the summers becoming colder, the winters warmer and the springs more and more characterized by late and long-continued frosts. If these changes are not utterly chimerical, they are full of suggestion for the horticulturalist”.
I wish there was space to quote more from the article because it ranges over the whole history of Northern Europe, from classical times onwards. It is erudite, entertaining and brimming with good sense. Much like Robin Lane Fox.