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Re-living the Great Storm,
This review is from: The Storm (Penguin Classics) (Hardcover)
This carefully edited re-issue of Daniel Defoe's little known book 'The Storm' makes available a volume which, unaccountably, has been out-of-print for almost a century. Not even the 'Great Storm' of October 1987 - often described as 'the worst since the Great Storm of 1703' - was sufficient to stir the publishing houses from their torpor. Penguin and their editor Richard Hamblyn are now to be congratulated on seizing the opportunity of the 300th anniversary of the event to publish the book in a most attractive format.
Newly-released from prison when the Great Storm struck on the night of 26/27 November, Defoe, ever on the look-out to keep his creditors at bay, hit upon the entirely new idea of appealing, via the newspapers, for eye-witness accounts of the event. The result is a remarkable collection of first-hand accounts from across southern Britain.
Defoe began his work with a study of the 'Natural Causes and Original of Winds', a fascinating introduction to what was the current state of meteorological knowledge at the beginning of the eighteenth century. He also supplies readings of atmospheric pressure which, as Hamblyn points out, have enabled modern climate historians to re-construct the event.
The most absorbing part of the book, however, is the eye-witness accounts themselves variously describing the damage inflicted upon houses, churches, windmills, woods and ships at sea. Many of these speak to us with a powerful directness enabling us to appreciate the terrors of God-fearing people and immersing us in the realities of that Storm-struck society. Not all of the stories are of tragedy. I particularly enjoyed the tale from the village in Kent where the church spire had been blown down and the local children amused themselves by jumping over the fallen masonry so that, in the future, they could claim they had once leaped over the steeple!
There are a small number of proof-reading errors - the consequence, perhaps, of needing to meet the tercentary deadline - but these are easily outweighed by the important re-emergence of this pioneering work of journalism and classic of disaster reportage.