22 JULY 1876, Page 11


E you meet says, in a despairing tone, " This must be as hot as India !" and for once everybody is nearly in the right. The heat in London since July 14, though not exactly ." tropical "—for when men talk of " tropical heat " they mean 96° in the shade—has been as great as it ordinarily is within an Indian house, carefully regulated to be as cool as possible. The thermometer has ranged up to 89 in the shade, up to 80 in a rather hot business-room, and up to 76 in a well-ventilated and lofty bed-room at 11 p.m. ; and in India, except in a few places, like Chunar or Scinde, and for a few days in the year, the ther- mometer seldom marks higher figures. It is not the heat that kills you, but the continuance of the heat. It feels hotter be- cause the wind is so hot, and because the body has been heated for months or years, but in a well-built house it is rarely hotter than it was in London last Sunday afternoon. " Then," remarks somebody of the lankier type, brown skin, and protuberant neck-bones—that is, somebody with a latent capacity for being acclimatised in the tropics, derived probably from some remote tinge of Oriental blood, such as most Welshmen have—" Indian heat is not so terrible, after all." Unfortunately, it is very terrible indeed. The hottest month, daring which the thermometer in an office runs up among the nineties, exhausts the constitution ; a rise of even three degrees, after 80° is once passed, lowers the resiating-power to an inexplicable degree, and continued heat has a very different effect from heat continued for a few days. The blood becomes resentful of it, and the skin more tender, till in some Europeans there exists a permanent liability

to an annoying rash, popularly known as "prickly heat." If the heat of the past week were to last six months, Londoners would find their Metropolis nearly unendurable, would make moat pain-

ful sacrifices to escape it, and unless guaranteed against a repeti- tion of such seasons, would insist on serious modifications in

architecture, dress, the arrangements of society, and domestic

habits. Moat of the points of difference between Londoners and Englishmen in India, or Cairenes, or Sicilians, which so attract travellers as peculiarities, are mere modifications of Northern custom which have arisen under compulsion of the heat. English- men, for instance, think it rather silly, even in summer, to rise at four and go to bed at ten, and fancy that old Indians who boast of those feats are talking prosy exaggerations. If this heat lasted, however, for six mouths, Londoners would feel that exercise could only be taken comfortably before dawn, would insensibly fall into a custom of rising at four, and walking

or riding till six a.m., and would at ten p.m. feel themselves intolerably tired. They would wish, as they were about, to see their friends, and gradually the morning drive would super- sede afternoon visiting, and it would be etiquette for everybody to be about and visible before breakfast, instead of before dinner, —which, again, being taken in oppressive heat, would become a much less popular ceremoniaL In England, indeed, where cus- tom settles itself, uninfluenced, as custom in India is, by "home" tradition, dinner, as a ceremonial, would probably either be per- formed, as in ancient Italy, much earlier, or, as among the natives of India, would be pushed deep into the night, beginning probably at eleven. Business would be divided by a three-hours' interval, from noon till three, and the ideal of shopmen would be not to shut early, but to open in the evening, and work on through the entire twilight and the first hour of night. All tradition of fitting times and seasons would give way to the heat, and so even more rapidly would all present modes of dress. Broadcloth would be- come unknown, and would be replaced by some improvement on alpaca—the substance worn in India—which is thin and will take any colour, but owing to a peculiar shininess, like that of worn-out cloth, is extraordinarily ugly ; and the laundress's bill would rise to impossible dimensions. Indeed, washing would become one of the most real difficulties of the poor but refined,—a difficulty which would have to be met by some new device as to the shape of linen clothes, making washing a simpler process. The Lon- doner who has lived through the past week will confess that if the heat lasted, he should long for two baths and three shirts a day more than for his dinner, and if a poor man, would soon be driven to think starch a nuisance and plaited fronts an expensive absurdity. The change in dress would not, in all probability, take the form of reduced covering, for it has not taken it among

the English in India, or Florida, or Jamaica, or among the Spaniards in Peru, but would involve a great reduction in the

weight of clothes, a total alteration in the shape of the hat, and

the extinction of any covering for the foot more serious than the thinnest of Oxford shoes. Clad in silk socks, white linen trousers—

colour and material being determined by the absence of drawers and consequent necessity for daily changes—thin waistcoat, and thinner but black alpaca tunic, an apology for a necktie, and the broadest hat that can be lifted easily from the head, the Londoner would be dressed just as the European always is in the tropics, and would understand at once that the changes were neither affected nor unreasonable.

He would change his diet, too, as rapidly as his dress. He would find, as his perception of heat became permanent, that he

disliked joints of meat, which would, being so perishable, become excessively expensive ; that he could not eat bread made and baked as in England ; that he wanted messes and very light preparations of farinaceous articles, plain boiled rice being beat ; and that he liked his messes hot, so hot as to tempt a jaded appetite and a palate become intolerant of slight but definite flavours. He would understand without being told why the European in the tropics likes curry, mulligatawny (pepper-water), and pimento soup, and all the things which Anglo-Indians are still supposed to eat, but which, under pressure of ridicule, they have abandoned, for the last quarter of a century, to the West Indians. He would discover that ice was a necessary of life, that English wines heated him unendurably, and that alcohol would only attract him when it added a seductive flavour and a most dangerous piquancy to the iciest drinks. Milk would gain a new credit in his eyes as a food, instead of a mere addition to soften tea and coffee ; and above all, he would wake to the charm of cold drinking-water, and to the perception, quite disappearing in cold countries, that no two specimens of drinking-water are exactly alike,—that they have peculiarities, subtleties of flavour, of quality,

and especially of after-taste, as various as wine. Clad in thin garments, abroad at earliest dawn, eating hot messes, craving for iced drinks, and careless of alcohol, except, perhaps, in its worst form—as a nip to cure the " sinking " produced by heat—the Lon- doner would be, in external ways, indistinguishable from the East- Indian, Floridan, West Indian, or Mexican, of whom he reads as he would of some savage whom he cannot quite comprehend.

It is, however, in architecture that the change would be most striking. If the Londoner who has survived this week will be- think himself, he will find that the three things he has longed for most have been water to throw over himself, air to breathe, and shade from a glare which he perceives, with dull surprise, affects not only his eyes, but his temper and his brain. He will have recognised the permanent instinct of the tropics, the active hatred for unsubdued light as a malignant enemy, which in the tropics has affected all architecture, all art dependent on colour, and all the agriculture of luxury. He will have felt that he would give anything to let the wind blow through his rooms, which means the substitution of columns for walls ; to have an open space to walk in without going out, which means either the broad bal- conies of India, stretching across the pavement, or the flat roofs of Turkey and Persia ; and for cover when compelled to go abroad,—which means either streets so narrow as to shade out the light, as in Genoa, old Florence, or Benares, or arcades, as in Bologna, and one or two of the older Hindoo cities. He would feel that the light must be shut out jealously, either by the wood shutters of Spain and South America, or the venetians of India and Italy ; and he would plan for space in his bath-room, room to splash, and floors which would not give or open under a daily cataract. None of those things would be unprocurable in London, and some of them, such as arcaded streets, broad balconies, flat roofs, columns instead of walls, and screened window-spaces, would be attainable without unendurable trouble or expense ; but when they were attained, London would resemble the East much more closely than most Englishmen fancy. Plant Regent Street with trees for shade, widen the balconies up to the lamp-posts in the gutter, cut down and widen the window-spaces, leaving them fitted with venetians instead of glass, and substitute columns and curtains for the inner walls, and Regent Street would be better prepared for a semi-tropical climate than European Calcutta is,—nearly as well prepared, in fact, as Granada, and very much handsomer to look at. The European architecture of the tropics, in fact, is only European architecture as much adapted to climate as English or Spanish minds will bear, and entirely deficient in originality,—which, indeed, has never been much sought. There is no greater discredit to English and Spanish originality than the perfect failure to be original under novel cir- cumstances. The best house in India is a barn, compared with a suite of reception-rooms in Oojein ; the Burmese has beaten his swamps, his snakes, and his climate with infinitely more skill than the Floridan, who does not know to this hour that the best defence against the exhalations of a humid soil in a hot swamp is eight feet of clean, wind-swept air under the floor on which you live ; and the Spanish-Mexican has never learnt, what the native Mexican and the old Egyptian knew instinctively, that if you want cool seclusion instead of cool publicity, every foot of thickness in your walls is so much gain. And yet why should we blame the Englishman, or the Yankee, or the Spaniard ? If ever there was an original man, it was the Greek ; and the Greek built Pompeii, and Pompeii for half the year and half the day must have been as hot as the lower regions. There was shade, no doubt, deep shade, even if velaria were not stretched across the streets, as we half suspect they were ; but neither for air nor water did the Pompeian provide, any more than the Genoese, who builds a mighty promenade by the sea, and retires from it to a room which only wetted door- hangings would keep cool, and builds out the air, without which even that device is useless. That is the last experience of the tropics, and possibly the only one of much use to the poorer Londoner, sick with the heat, the confined air, and the diet so unsuited to the weather of the week. Let him hang a wet horse- rug or blanket over the window facing the wind, and in ten minutes be and his room will be reasonably and surprisingly cool.