Friday 16 December 2011

As Cold as a Frog

Wednesday, 2 January. Since midnight, snow had silently fallen, to the depth of 6 to 8 inches; by breakfast time it was all over except a slight flaky dropping, & the day was calm & very cold. Nothing could be more beautiful; no change more complete & charming. The trees around the fountain near Garden Court were loaded with snow: an exquisite tracery of white branches, relieved against the dark red housefronts. But in the streets the transformation was greatest. All traffic, except afoot, was stopped; no cabs, no omnibuses, no waggons. The snow lay in heaps in the road; men were scraping & shovelling the footways; & people in thick coats & wrappers stepped noiselessly along. The Strand was as quiet and empty as a village street at nightfall; even the footpassengers were far fewer than usual. Here in the heart of London, & at midday, there was absolute cleanliness & brightness, absolute silence: instead of the roar & rush of wheels, the selfish hurry, the dirt & the cloudy fog, we had the loveliness & utter purity of new- fallen snow. It fell without force or sound; & all things huge & hasty & noisy were paralyzed in a moment. I walked along enjoying the wondrous lovely scene, the long perspective of houses, all grown picturesque & antique; their gable roofs white against a clear sky, & every salient cornice & lintel in their outline picked out in brilliant white; and beneath them, the tumbled & tenantless pavement of snow. It was like the quaint still London of old; one might have been arm in arm with Mr. Pepys, or even Mr. W. Shakespeare. And this state of things lasted all day. There were many crossing sweepers about: I noticed one near S. Clement Danes, a girl of 17 or so, in ragged but warm shawl, & a bit of an old bonnet, whose dark rough hair was covered with snow, & hung in a tangled white mass, like the foam of a waterfall, over her brown bonny face, as she stood with her broom under her arm, stamping & blowing her fingers.

Friday, 4 January. The cold out of doors at ten this forenoon was more intense, to my apprehension, than I ever remember. My beard froze, the nape of the neck, & the heart, seemed paralyzed, headache came on, & at the end of the short walk from here to Whitehall I was almost helpless. At 4, I walked westward, thinking to call on the Thackerays. The Horseguards Parade & the Mall were one sheet of snow, with paths trodden but not swept: a thick brown fog brooded over it, deepening the twilight; muffled spectral figures hurried to & fro across the slippery ground. . . . In Victoria Street a girl begged of me: a ragged tall lusty girl of 19, by name Caroline Randall, by trade an ironer; who has no home; who slept last night on a step in a sheltered corner, & felt 'as cold as a frog', she said.

Arthur Munby, Diary, 2 & 4 January 1867


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