The Book of Knowledge
When you hear the names of great ancient philosophers like Pythagoras, Ptolemy or Aristotle the first thing that springs to mind probably isn't the weather, but the weather was a source of constant fascination and the subject of much study and speculation.
Printed in the late 17th century, the exuberantly titled 'Path-way to Knowledge' is one of the most enlightening and fascinating reads in the National Meteorological Archive.
Written c.1685 by the English poet and biographer, William Winstanley, The Path-way to Knowledge was a compilation of the latest thinking and wisdom on a great range of topics from philosophy to farming.
We take a look at some of the most eye-catching excerpts from the book:
Weather forecasting in the 17th century
In the 17th century, very little was known about weather forecasting with predictions largely based upon observed behaviour and patterns, sometimes with some meteorological reasoning, but more often without.
On weather forecasting
There are signs of foul weather to ensue, soot falling down from Chimneys, Cattel eating greedily and licking their hoofs; the croaking of frogs, the creaking of Wainfrot, plaster falling from walls
On the seasons
Winter birds if they come sooner then ordinary and out of the Northern countries, so then cold winters. So the Swallow and Cuckoo that come towards Summer, if they come early, then a hot summer to ensue.
On the atmosphere
If the stars appear bright, blazing and bigger than ordinary, look for great winds and moisture in the part where they appear
A shaky understanding of earthquakes
There are also some attempts to theorise, with mixed success, some of the most spectacular natural phenomena:
Earthquakes are caused by plenty of wind which, getting into the holes and caverns of the Earth, and wanting a vent, the Earth closing again, causeth the shaking of Earthquake and is a token of ensuing war and other miseries.
The rainbow is only the suns reflection on a hollow cloud, which the edge being repelled and beaten against the Sun, from thence a riseth much variety of Colours
Of thunder and lightning
When hot and dry vapours mixt with moisture ... these two contraries not agreeing with each other, break forth with great violence; so that fire and water break out of the Cloud making a roaring noise which we call Thunder, and the fire, Lightning; the Thunder is first made, but the lightning first seen.
Describing the weather
The book also contains some theories for the creation of various typical weather phenomena, demonstrating a surprisingly sound understanding of the formation of rain, but a slightly more quirky theory for wind.
Rain is a cold vapour and earthly humour, drawn from the Earth by the virtue of the Sun ... into the middle region of the Air, where by the extremity of cold is thickened into body of a cloud which the wind driving before it, it doth both dissolve and fall upon the Earth
Snow is in gendered of rain, the cloud congealing through extremity of Cold, but not altogether so hard as hail
Wind is hot and dry, fumes drawn from the Earth by the Starrs, which seeking to fly to the Sun, is by the freezing cold driven back
From Ancient knowledge to the Age of Enlightenment
The knowledge in the book was in many cases already ancient by the time it was printed, for example a theory on the earthquakes was proposed by Aristotle in the 4th Century BC. Often this shows how theory and understanding had not progressed in so many years.
The book offers a particularly fascinating insight to scientific and philosophical progress as it was produced at the very start of the Age of Enlightenment, the age which brought with it a new thirst for knowledge based on scientific reason, quantified measurement and proven theory. So in many ways this book serves a milestone in the ending of an era and the dawn of a new period of scientific understanding.