A short foray into the 18th century

This past week we spent our time in the 18th century. We had a few modern advantages, but for the most part,  we drew water from the stream, heated with wood, used the outhouse (brrr!) kept fires going in fireplaces to prevent the plumbing from freezing, and did without computers,  hot and cold running water and recorded music.

Some things are sort of cute, for a time, such as bringing a candle with you into a room to see what you are doing. Other things, such as drawing water from the stream and boiling it for drinking water, or for cleaning dishes, are tedious, arduous, and necessary. Water suddenly is in short supply, and must be carefully allotted to its various purposes.

I would like to offer my list of priorities for those who have not yet made a foray into a pre-electrical world. For those of you have recently experienced  electrical power loss in deep winter, my condolences. I hope you are restored to modernity soon.

1) Heat. Without heat, all you can do is shiver. A wood stove or some form of heat generation is essential, something that does not require electricity to work.

2) Water. You will miss it sooner than you think. Find a source and conserve it for cooking, drinking and what little remains for washing.

3) Outhouse. The waterless toilet, cold but effective. You will not linger over a book at minus 15 C, but you can have a dump in peace, outside of the home.

4) Light. As winter days are short, you find yourself waking at dawn and wondering why you are still up at 9:30 at night. Candles and lanterns are a must.

When you return to the 21st century, thanks to the efforts of those wonderful outside line crews from the power company, what do you enjoy most and in what order?

Here is my list, same as above but with the additions in order of priority.

1) heat (not if you had wood stoves)

2) running water, (drinking, flush toilets) and then hot running water (showers).

3) light -you can read at night and perform other complex visual tasks.

4) telephones

5) recorded music and other home-stored entertainments

6) the Internet (news, email, and other on-line entertainments)

Our brief foray into the 18th century (defined, if you will excuse the crudity of the expression, as anytime you have to go out of doors to shit) was a revelation on our dependence and our resilience.

I would urge all those living in wintry climates to get back-up wood or coal heating installed into their homes for the inevitable, if infrequent, power failures. The 18th century was a good place for culture and political enlightenment: Bach (1685-1750), Handel (1685-1759), Mozart (1756-1791), and the American revolution (1775-1783). It was a time of immense progress in thought and social relations, but I do not want to take up residency there.

Finally, I cannot fail to reflect on the eco-catastrophists who want us to reduce our energy consumption (so that Gaia will not be displeased with us). By how much? How many gigajoules of energy privation will be necessary, in their view, to save the planet? since energy consumption is a proxy for wealth, how much poverty and privation are we expected to undergo before they are satisfied? Just how many centuries back are we expected to go? to 1913? 1813? 1713? Will they like the political arrangements that accompany greater poverty: stronger social stratification, more limited educational opportunities, less porous social class barriers?

Ah, the sound of silence: the questions that are seldom asked and never  answered

Bookmark and Share
Nicola T.

More dangerous, because too easy to set fire to your house. I remember during the ice storm in Montreal my son left his sleeping bag too close to the fire during the day and it caught fire.

Hard on the eyes reading and working by candle.

Everything takes much more time: preparing meals especially.

If the electricity comes on briefly quickly fill up bathtubs, etc. with water.

You feel very isolated – don’t know how those prairie pioneers survived the isolation of the long winters without going mad.


How about back up generator. I have one run by propane that comes on automatically when the power goes out. My one propane tank lasts about 20 days (or so they tell me) If the power is still out after that then I guess we’re in end days, so I really don’t give a shit.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *