Open Lecture: The Ecology of Hopkins' 'Remarkable Sunsets' and Ruskin's 'Storm-Cloud' Lectures (1883-1884): Krakatau, Weather and Climate Change

25 September 2024, 3.00 PM - 25 September 2024, 5.00 PM

Bristol Next Generation Visiting Professor Dewey Hall, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, USA

Arts Complex, room TBC


Volcanic matter really matters. Whether we reference the Laki Icelandic eruption in 1783–1784, which Benjamin Franklin mistakenly identified as a weather-disrupting force emerging from Hekla, that resulted in famine and led arguably to the French Revolution in 1789,[i] or call attention to the Pico Viejo eruption in 1798 that led to one of the worst freezes during the eighteenth century, which inspired Wordsworth’s Goslar verses and his famed Lucy poems,[ii] or stand in awe of the Tambora eruption on Sumbawa, Indonesia in April 1815, which Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles chronicled in his Transactions of the Batavian Society (1816),[iii] causing the year without a summer in 1816, volcanic activity can have profound effects upon the atmosphere, climate and humanity. As my paper will argue, two noteworthy Victorians chronicled effects upon the atmosphere evident in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s 'The Remarkable Sunsets' published in Nature in December 1883 and John Ruskin’s 'The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century' featuring two lectures delivered in February 1884. While Hopkins is commenting on observable phenomenon, Ruskin discusses, which is not fully known to him, what he calls the 'plague cloud' or meteorological portent emerging across the English skyline, which derives its source in part from anthropogenic emissions and, as I argue, the 1883 Krakatau eruption. Though both authors observed the effects sourced from the same phenomenon—one as an observer and the other as a harbinger of destruction—Ruskin’s alarm 140 years ago anticipates the climate-disrupting impact that anthropogenic and geophysical forces can have upon the biosphere.


[i] Benjamin Franklin, “Meteorological Imaginations and Conjectures,” in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (May 1784). Date Accessed November 27, 2023. Founders Online National Archives, See also Ellen R. Cohen, ed. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, March 1 through August 15, 1784 (New Haven: Yale University Press), vol. 42, 289–294.

[ii] Dewey W. Hall, “The Ecology of the Goslar Verses: Weather, Pico Viejo, and Material Objects,” in Romantic Ecologies: Selected Papers from the Augsburg Conference of the German Society for English Romanticism, edited by David Kerler and Martin Middeke (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2023): 127–148.

[iii] David Higgins, British Romanticism, Climate Change, and the Anthropocene: Writing Tambora (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), pp. 23–54.

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