A giant storm ripped through the Midwest yesterday, covering much of the country in dense snow. But imagine enduring a blizzard like this in the 18th century. Here’s one perspective of living through a strong winter storm, written by theologian James Hervey (1714–1758) in his Meditations and Contemplations (Bath: 1748), 2:278, 264–266:
Cold comes out of the north. The winds, having swept those deserts of snow, arm themselves with millions of frozen particles, and make a fierce descent upon our isle. Under black and scowling clouds, they drive, dreadfully whizzing, through the darkened air. They growl around our houses; assault our doors; and, eager for entrance, fasten on our windows. Walls can scarce restrain them; bars are unable to exclude them; through every cranny they force their way. …
How mighty! How majestic! And O, how mysterious, are thy works, thou God of heaven, and Lord of nature! When the air is calm, where sleep the stormy winds? In what chambers are they reposed, or in what dungeons confined? Till Thou art pleased to awaken their rage, and throw open their prison doors. Then, with irresistible impetuosity they fly forth, scattering dread, and threatening destruction.
The whole atmosphere is hurled into the most tumultuous confusion. The aerial torrent bursts its way over the mountains, seas and continents. All things feel the dreadful shock. All things tremble before the furious blast. The forest, vexed and tore, groans under the scourge: her sturdy sons are strained to the very root, and almost kiss the soil, they were wont to shade. The stubborn oak, that disdains the bend, is dashed headlong to the ground; and, with shattered arms, with prostrate trunk, blocks the road.—While the flexible reed, that springs up in the March, yielding to the gust eludes the force of the storm, and survives amidst the widespread havoc.
For a moment, the turbulent and outrageous sky seems to be assuaged: but, it intermits its wrath, only to increase its strength. Soon, the founding squadrons of the air return to the attack, and renew their ravages with redoubled fury. The stately dome rocks, amidst the wheeling clouds. The impregnable tower totters on its basis; and threatens to overwhelm, whom it was intended to protect. The ragged rock is rend in pieces; and even the hills, the perpetual hills, on their deep foundations, are scarce secure.
Where, now, is the place of safety? When the city reels, and houses become heaps! Sleep affrighted flies. Diversion is turned into horror. All is uproar in the element; all is consternation among morals; and nothing but one wise scene of rueful devastation through the land.—Yet, this is only an inferior minister of divine displeasure. The executioner of milder indignation. How then—O, how will the lofty looks of man be humbled, and the haughtiness of men be bowed down; when the Lord God omnipotent shall meditate terrors—when he shall set all his terrors in array—when he arises, to judge the nations, and to shake terribly the earth!