It was “a dark and stormy night” in 1813

Robin Rowland
5 min readMar 31

A dark and stormy night 1813 edition

(I don’t usually post excerpts from my work in progress, I often put far too much into first drafts and then have to drastically cut. This episode of “a dark and stormy night” I discovered is too good to pass up. I am working on stories about my fourth great grandfather William Pennell, who was what today would be called a spy under diplomatic cover as British Consul in Bahia, Brazil, monitoring the South Atlantic slave trade. That meant he often had to liaise with Royal Navy captains, including Sir George Ralph Collier who was commodore of the West Africa Squadron, tasked with supressing that slave trade.)

Prior to that in the Napoleonic Peninsular War, Collier commanded a small squadron of ships providing operational support to the then Marquis of Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington) . Collier was in over command during on operation that took place one dark and stormy night in 1813.

On July 12, 1965, Snoopy, as penned by Charles M. Schulz, dragged a portable typewriter to his dog house and began to type a novel starting with “It was a dark and stormy nigh t.

I had just turned 15 at the time and just received an Olivetti portable typewriter for my birthday. I am sure every kid who wanted to be a writer was up there with Snoopy, the typewriter and the doghouse when the Peanuts strip arrived in the newspapers (in the good old days when there were newspapers in every home) and “it was a dark and stormy night” became ubiquitous.

The best known use of “it’s a dark and stormy” night comes from the opening line Edward Bulwer Lytton’s 1839 novel Paul Clifford.

As Wikipedia says that line is considered an archetype of “purple prose”

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents-except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Recent research has shown that American author Washington Irving used the phrase in his
1809 satirical book A History of New York. (It wasn’t in the opening line)

Robin Rowland

Independent visual journalist in Kitimat, BC, Canada. Author of five books, more at