Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Late Overflowings of Waters

Obviously the devastation caused by heavy rainfall and inadequate water-prevention policies is not a subject for cheap humour. But wouldn't it be so much better if floods in general were reported as they were 400 years ago? Instead of 'Sodden Oxfordshire is Braced for Worse to Come' (The Guardian), 'Flood Peril of 3m Homes' (Daily Mail) or even 'Flood Damage Shocks Queen' (The Sun), we could have:

Lamentable newes out of Monmouthshire in VVales Contayning, the wonderfull and most fearefull accidents of the great ouerflowing of waters in the saide countye, drowning infinite numbers of cattell of all kinds, as sheepe, oxen, kine and horses, with others: together with the losse of many men, women and children, and the subuersion of xxvi parishes in Ianuary last 1607


Miracle vpon miracle. Or A true relation of the great floods which happened in Couentry, in Lynne, and other places, on the 16. and 17. dayes of Aprill last past, in this present yeare of our Lord God, 1607


More strange nevves: of wonderfull accidents hapning by the late ouerflowings of waters, in Summerset-shire, Gloucestershire, Norfolke, and other places of England with a true relation of the townes names that are lost, and the number of persons drowned, with other reports of accidents that were not before discouered: happening about Bristow and Barstable

Or even

Gods vvarning to His people of England, by the great overflowing of the waters or floudes lately hapned in South-Wales and many other places vvherein is declared the great losses and wonderfull damages that hapned thereby, by the drowning of many townes and villages to the vtter vndooing of many thousandes of people

And every disaster would be easier to bear if it came with woodcut illustrations:

The people might be fleeing to the hills and trees -- many of them leaving their babies to see out the flood on their own; the animals, on the other hand, are clearly thrilled by the whole thing. The people who seem to be riding their houses to safety make me suspect that these illustrations are not wholly to scale. The first picture appears on three different flood pamphlets (this is a compact sub-genre, I suspect) in 1607; the other seems to be unique to God's Warning.

Now I come to think about it, though, some things haven't changed. The power of animals to invoke watery pathos was much in evidence on the BBC the other night, including a remarkably insouciant golden retriever paddling its way through an oozy, overflowing Severn; meanwhile, in London, our local "newspaper", the Evening Standard, excelled itself with this:

Picture from

At least (and I realised that I may be speaking too soon) we're not blaming God this time...

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