We hadn’t even started changing the climate, and Wall Street could only be understood in a literal sense, but the title page of a tract published in 1753 captures the spirit of this week’s protests perfectly, viz:
America Dissected, being a Full and True Account of all the Colonies, showing the Intemperance of the Climates; Excessive Heat and Cold, and Sudden Changes of Weather; Terrible and Mischievous Thunder and Lightning; bad and unwholesome air, destructive to Human Bodies; Badness of Money; Danger from Enemies; but Above All, the Dangers to the Souls of the Poor People that remove thither, from the Multifarious Heresies that Prevail in Those Parts.
More peevish than prescient, the author of this work was an Irish clergyman in Rhode Island, the Reverend James MacSparran. From the time he first arrived in America in 1718 (and perhaps even before), he showed a talent for embroiling himself in controversy. First, he antagonized eminent Boston clergyman Cotton Mather, and found himself facing charges of profanity, drunkeness, sexual immorality, and fraudulent credentials as a Presbyterian minister. He was exonerated of the first three, and sidestepped the fourth by leaving for England where he was ordained, in 1720, as an Episcopalian priest.
Notwithstanding his unpropitious beginnings in America, MacSparran returned in 1721 as an Episcopalian missionary, settling in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. His church was “elegant” and “commodious,” and MacSparran moved in the highest circles of the colony while also attending to impoverished Indians and slaves (10 of the latter his own property), as mandated by his mission. Despite the outward trappings of personal and professional success, however, MacSparran’s 37 years as a rector were marred by conflict. In his first year, he faced renewed charges of intemperance and sexual philandering. Although he ended these accusations by wedding the daughter of his richest parishioner, Hannah Gardiner, his marriage did not prevent further strife. He engaged in perpetual feuds with the area’s other religious sects, set off a pamphlet war with one of his sermons, and poured money and venom into an unsuccessful lawsuit over a land dispute.
In 1752, MacSparran blew off some of this steam in three letters to former schoolmates in Ireland which were published in that country the following year. Considered to be the only known emigrant’s guidebook to America published in the 18th century, it was designed not to entice visitors but rather — as the catchy title suggests — to caution “Unsteady People who may be Tempted” against leaving their native Ireland. His complaints about “bad money” might resonate with Occupy Wall-Streeters, but his most bitter railings were reserved for the climate: ”It is no unusual Thing for Houses and Stacks of Hay, and Grain, to be Burnt; and Men and Cattle are often killed by the Sharp Lightning. In New England, the Transitions from Heat to Cold are short and sudden, and the extremes of both very sensible. We are sometimes frying and others freezing; and as men often die at their Labor in the Field by Heat, so some in Winter are froze to Death with the Cold . . . “
If MacSparran were here today, would he view this as a preview of more destructive climate change to come, or as evidence that the weather has always been subject to extremes? On one side or the other, you can be sure he would be in the thick of the battle.