Story type: Essay
The month of February in all latitudes in the United States is uncertain. The birth of George Washington in it has not raised it in public esteem. In the North, it is a month to flee from; in the South, at best it is a waiting month–a month of rain and fickle skies. A good deal has been done for it. It is the month of St. Valentine, it is distinguished by the leap-year addition of a day, and ought to be a favorite of the gentle sex; but it remains a sort of off period in the year. Its brevity recommends it, but no one would take any notice of it were it not for its effect upon character. A month of rigid weather is supposed to brace up the moral nature, and a month of gentleness is supposed to soften the asperities of the disposition, but February contributes to neither of these ends. It is neither a tonic nor a soother; that is, in most parts of our inexplicable land. We make no complaint of this. It is probably well to have a period in the year that tests character to the utmost, and the person who can enter spring through the gate of February a better man or woman is likely to adorn society the rest of the year.
February, however, is merely an illustration of the effect of weather upon the disposition. Persons differ in regard to their sensitiveness to cloudy, rainy, and gloomy days. We recognize this in a general way, but the relation of temper and disposition to the weather has never been scientifically studied. Our observation of the influence of climate is mostly with regard to physical infirmities. We know the effect of damp weather upon rheumatics, and of the east wind upon gouty subjects, but too little allowance is made for the influence of weather upon the spirits and the conduct of men. We know that a long period of gloomy weather leads to suicides, and we observe that long-continued clouds and rain beget “crossness” and ill-temper, and we are all familiar with the universal exhilaration of sunshine and clear air upon any company of men and women. But the point we wish to make is that neither society nor the law makes any allowance for the aberrations of human nature caused by dull and unpleasant weather. And this is very singular in this humanitarian age, when excuse is found for nearly every moral delinquency in heredity or environment, that the greatest factor of discontent and crookedness, the weather, should be left out of consideration altogether. The relation of crime to the temperature and the humidity of the atmosphere is not taken into account. Yet crime and eccentricity of conduct are very much the result of atmospheric conditions, since they depend upon the temper and the spirit of the community. Many people are habitually blue and down-hearted in sour weather; a long spell of cloudy, damp, cold weather depresses everybody, lowers hope, tends to melancholy; and people when they are not cheerful are more apt to fall into evil ways, as a rule, than when they are in a normal state of good-humor. And aside from crimes, the vexation, the friction, the domestic discontent in life, are provoked by bad weather. We should like to have some statistics as to incompatibility between married couples produced by damp and raw days, and to know whether divorces are more numerous in the States that suffer from a fickle climate than in those where the climate is more equable. It is true that in the Sandwich Islands and in Egypt there is greater mental serenity, less perturbation of spirit, less worry, than in the changeable United States. Something of this placidity and resignation to the ills inevitable in human life is due to an even climate, to the constant sun and the dry air. We cannot hope to prevent crime and suffering by statistics, any more than we have been able to improve our climate (which is rather worse now than before the scientists took it in charge) by observations and telegraphic reports; but we can, by careful tabulation of the effects of bad weather upon the spirits of a community, learn what places in the Union are favorable to the production of cheerfulness and an equal mind. And we should lift a load of reprobation from some places which now have a reputation for surliness and unamiability. We find the people of one place hospitable, lighthearted, and agreeable; the people of another place cold, and morose, and unpleasant. It would be a satisfaction to know that the weather is responsible for the difference. Observation of this sort would also teach us doubtless what places are most conducive to literary production, what to happy homes and agreeing wives and husbands. All our territory is mapped out as to its sanitary conditions; why not have it colored as to its effect upon the spirits and the enjoyment of life? The suggestion opens a vast field of investigation.