Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt, and Lola Montes into a Countess
of Landsfeld, there has not, as far as I know, been any female being so much
abused as the London sun ;* (* The
sun—die Sonne— is feminine in German.) but the reasons of such abuse
are diametrically opposed. The two first named ladies were found fault with
because they saw too much of the world, while the London sun is justly charged
with a want of curiosity. It turns its back upon the wealthiest city in
Christendom; and, in the presence of the most splendid capital of Europe, it
insists on remaining veiled in steam, fog, and smoke.
The London sun, like unto German liberty, exists in the minds of the people, who have faith in either, and believe that either might be bright, dazzling, and glorious, were it not for the intervention of a dark, ugly fog, between the upper and nether regions. It happens, just now, that we have not seen the sun for the last three weeks. But for the aid of astronomy, which tells us that the sun is still in its old place, we might be tempted to believe that it had gone out of town for the long vacation; or that it had been adjourned by some continental constitutional government; or that it was being kept in a German capital, waiting for the birthday of the reigning prince, when it must come out in a blaze; for this, I understand, has been the sun’s duty from time immemorial. A three weeks’ absence of the sun would make a great stir in any other town. The Catholics would trace its cause to the infidelity of the age; the Protestants would demonstrate that the sun had been scared away by certain late acts of Papal aggression; and the Jews would lament and ask: “How is it possible the sun can shine when the Bank raises its rate of discount?” But the Londoners care as little for a month of chiaro-oscuro as the Laplanders do. They are used to it.
Twice in the course of the last week—for an essayist on astronomical matters ought to be conscientious — twice did the sun appear for a few minutes. It was late in the afternoon, and it looked out from the west, just above Regent’s-park, where the largest menagerie in the world may be seen for one shilling, and, on Mondays, for sixpence. All the animals, from the hippopotamus down to the beaver, left their huts, where they were at vespers, and stared at the sun, and wished it good morning. It was a solemn moment! An impertinent monkey alone shaded his eyes with his hands, and asked the sun where it came from and whether there was not some mistake somewhere? And the —sun blushed and hid its face beneath a big cloud. The monkey laughed and jeered, and the tigers roared, and the turtle—doves said such conduct was shocking and altogether ungentlemanly. The owl alone was happy, and said it was; for it had been almost blind during the last five minutes; “and that,” as he said, “was a thing it had not been used to in London.”
But whatever ill-natured remarks we and others may make on the London sun, they apply only to the winter months. May and September shame us into silence. In those months, the sun in London is as lovely, genial, and—I must go the length of a trope—sunny as anywhere in Germany; with this difference only, that it is not so glowing—not so consistent. In the country, too, it comes out it full, broad, and traditional glory. Its favourite spots are in the South of England—Bristol, Bath, Hastings, and the Isle of Wight. In those favored regions, the mild breeze of summer blows even late in the year; the hedges and trees stand resplendent with the freshness of their foliage the meadows are green, and lovely to behold; the butterflies hover over the blossoms of the honeysuckle; the cedar fm Lebanon grows there and thrives, and myrtles and fuchsias, Hortensias and roses, and passion-flowers, surround the charming villas on the sea-shore. Village churches are covered with ivy up to the very roof; gigantic fern moves in the sea-breeze; the birds sing in the branches of the wild laurel tree; cattle and sheep graze on the downs; and grown-up persons and children bathe in the open sea, while the German rivers are sending down their first shoals of ice, and dense fogs welter in the streets of London.
Here is one of the vulgar errors and popular delusions of the Continent. People confound the climate of London with the climate of England; they talk of the isles of mist in the West of Europe. A very poetical idea that, but as untrue as poetical. Many parts of these islands are as clear and sunny as any of the inland countries of the Continent.
Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853