Author Topic: Temperature Scales in NAOTMAA’s Letters and Diaries  (Read 10839 times)

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Offline Inok Nikolai

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Temperature Scales in NAOTMAA’s Letters and Diaries
« on: June 27, 2014, 12:54:06 PM »
Temperature Scales in NAOTMAA’s Letters and Diaries

This topic has already cropped up several times in different threads, such as:
(Entering or leaving a particular season definitely influences a person’s perspective on relative temperatures.)

But the topic probably deserves its own thread, so voilà!

It is not my intent to belabor the point, but rather, to share the information which we have gathered over the years on this question — one which is very crucial for us as the translators of the Letters from Captivity. Obviously, we wish to furnish the correct equivalences of the temperature readings which occur so often in the Imperial family’s letters and diaries.

And please bear in mind that by “the Imperial family’s letters and diaries”, we mean those written by Tsar Nicholas II, his family, and by the other members of the Romanov dynasty at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. We are not concerned here with the usages in earlier times, nor are we competent to comment upon them.

It is an established fact that the Imperial family possessed thermometers for all three temperature scales then in general use: Réaumur, Celsius, and Fahrenheit. However, judging from their own comments, it would seem that when in public, especially when travelling within Russia, they consulted whatever type of thermometer happened to be mounted in the train car, station, or quarters where they were staying. When found abroad, e.g., in England or Denmark, they would sometimes cite the temperature in Fahrenheit.

Some contemporary general sources:

— The authoritative Russian Encyclopedia of Brokhaus and Efron (vol. 19, book 37, p. 173) states, concerning international meteorological congresses, that by the late 19th century all major countries except Great Britain and USA had agreed to use Celsius.

Kavkazsky Kalendar for 1891, on p. 73, gives a table comparing the three temperature scales, but on p. 57 states that all meteorological observations in the book are in Celsius.

— Pavlenkov’s Encyclopedic Russian Dictionary (1910), under the entry "Thermometer", lists the three types in common use: Réaumur, Celsius, and Fahrenheit. He then goes on to say that Réaumur is still encountered in Russia more than in other countries.

— Kennard’s The Russian Yearbook for 1912 (London), furnishes a comparative table of all three scales (p. 763), and then comments that thermometers on the Continent were often calibrated in both Celsius and Réaumur.

— Molokhovets’ classic Russian cook book, A Gift for Young Housewives, gives oven temperatures in Réaumur.

— Buxhoeveden, in her Life of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, cites the temperatures in Celsius, but then, she was writing in 1928, and for an English audience.

— Florence Farmborough, a British nurse who served at the Russian front from 1914-1918, mentions in one diary entry that the thermometer at Vyatka train station read minus 38 Réaumur.

— Princess A. M. Bariatinsky, in her memoirs published in England in 1923, mentions 32 degrees Réaumur.

Examples from the Imperial family’s pre-Revolutionary diaries and correspondence:

All medical temperatures, i.e., recordings of body temperature taken when various members of the Imperial family fell ill, were given in Celsius. If those readings were calculated as Réaumur, the temperatures would fall outside of the range possible for life. For example, a fever of 38°, if Réaumur, would be equal to 117.5° Fahrenheit. (Celsius would be 100° Fahrenheit.)

Tsar Nicholas II’s diary:
— His entry for April 22, 1906, at Tsarskoe Selo, reports 20 degrees in the shade, which he calls “tropical heat”.
   Celsius = 68°Fahrenheit; Réaumur would be 78° Fahrenheit, neither of which seems really “tropical”. (Perhaps 79° F. is tropical for Russians.)

— His entry for July 2, 1906, at Peterhof, near St. Petersburg, records 23 degrees in the shade, which he declares to be “colossal heat”.
   C = 74°F;  R=84°F — again, neither of which seem overly hot.

— His entry for August 16, 1913, at Livadia, mentions that “sea water was 21 degrees R.”. Thus, he himself noted that it was Réaumur, which equals 79°F.

— In a letter from GHQ dated May 30, 1916, Tsar Nicholas II informs the Empress
that the weather had been terribly hot, but, after a thunderstorm, the temperature dropped to 13 degrees and one can breathe again [C = 55°F;  R = 62°F], earlier it had been terribly stuffy in rooms — 19° [C = 66°F; R =75°F].

From the letters of Tsar Nicholas II to his mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna:

Generally the temperature seems to be given in Celsius (though twice they used Fahrenheit).

— The Tsar writes from Livadia on September 12, 1909, concerning the stuffiness in the train from Moscow to Sevastopol — 28° [C = 82°F; R = 95°F] made it impossible to sleep. (If Réaumur, then 95°F seems more than just “stuffy”.)

— In a letter to his mother from GHQ on June 21, 1915, the Tsar writes that the last few days have been cooler, just 22° to 27° in the shade. [C = 72° to 81°F; if R = 82° to 93°F.] If taken as Réaumur, 93°F can hardly be called “cooler”.

(Continued in the next window. I. N.)
« Last Edit: June 27, 2014, 01:03:59 PM by Inok Nikolai »
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Offline Inok Nikolai

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Re: Temperature Scales in NAOTMAA’s Letters and Diaries
« Reply #1 on: June 27, 2014, 01:01:41 PM »
(Continued from the previous window:)

Part 2

Temperature Scale in NAOTMAA’s Letters and Diaries

From the period of their captivity:

While under arrest in Tsarskoe Selo:

— Benckendorff, in his Last Days at Tsarskoe Selo, writes: “18 degrees of frost Réaumur”, noting the difference.

— In his diary entry for May 17, 1917, the Tsar calls it a hot day — 20° in shade [C = 68°F; R = 78°] and 33° in the sun [C = 91°F; R = 106°]. Again, 106° seems extreme.
— Entry for June 8, 1917, mentions “tropical heat” — 24° in shade [C = 75°F; R = 86°F] and 36° in the sun. [C = 97°F, while Réaumur 36° would be 113°F!]

In Tobolsk:

— Tsar Nicholas II’s diary entry for August 1, 1917, records that it was very stuffy — 26° R in the train car [= 91°F]. (Note that he wrote the “R.”)

— Demidova’s diary entry for August 19, 1917, mentions 37 degrees [if C = 98°F.; if R = 115°F!)

— S. Markov, Pokinutaya Tsarskaya Semya: 1917–1918 (Vienna, 1928), records temperatures of “ minus 35° to 40° Réaumur” in Tobolsk.

— Gleb Botkin, The Real Romanovs, speaks of “minus 40° Réaumur” in Tobolsk during the winter.

— Throughout his diary, Pierre Gilliard writes “Réaumur”, or “R.” after the degrees of frost.

— Thus, on January 18/31, 1918, P. Gilliard wrote to A. A. Vyrubova in French:
“…It is on a superb winter’s morning that I am writing to you: blue skies, sunshine, pure and limpid air, so clear that one does not notice the -20° Réaumur of cold [-13°F].”

— On January 21, 1918, Grand Duchess Olga Nicholaevna wrote to M. S. Khitrovo:
“…Yesterday morning [Jan. 20] it was 29° [20°F.] below zero…”
   In his diary entry for the same day, January 20/February 2, P. Gilliard records a temperature of 23° below zero Réaumur (as opposed to the Grand Duchess’ reading of minus 29°). Since -23° Réaumur is equivalent to -28.8° Celsius, these divergent temperature readings would seem to indicate that the Imperial family was, in fact, using the Celsius scale.

It is interesting to note:
— On February 20 / March 5, 1918, Tsar Nicholas II wrote to his sister, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna: “…Our winter has been very mild — it has not been any colder than -30° [-22°F]. There is a great deal of snow.”
(If Réaumur  is meant, it equals minus 35°F — which doesn't seem very “mild”. But obviously Tsar Nicholas II enjoyed very brisk, cold weather!)

— On March 21 / April 3, 1918, Empress Alexandra wrote to A. V. Syroboyarsky that “I am sitting out on the balcony — it is surprisingly warm. Yesterday the temperature was 26° [79°F] in the sun, and I sat outside in my thin blouse and silk jacket… the snow on the hillside is melting.”

Precisely what the Empress intends to say here by the phrase “in the sun” is not clear. If she means that the outdoor thermometer was mounted in direct sunlight, then the readings would, of course, be inaccurate, and this would account for such an improbably high temperature of 79°F. This temperature reading of 26° also seems to support the conjecture that the temperatures given throughout their letters should be considered as Celsius. Twenty-six degrees Réaumur is equal to 32.5° Celsius, or 90.5° Fahrenheit, clearly an impossibility in March, in Siberia, and with snow still on the ground and sleighs in use. (Later, on March 30 / April 12, Empress Alexandra informed Syroboyarsky that people had begun to use their wheeled vehicles.)

Concerning that same day, March 20, Tsar Nicholas II had noted in his diary that it was 21° C. (70° F.) in the sun, and 6° C. (43° F.) in the shade.

— On April 10/23, 1918, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna wrote to A. A. Vyrubova:
“…In summer the heat reaches 40° [104°F] here in town [Tobolsk].”
   (If this was Réaumur, it would be 122°F!)

While in Ekaterinburg:

Once the Imperial family was imprisoned in the Ipatiev House, the temperature readings become a bit more puzzling. If taken as Celsius, they do not seem exceedingly warm. But if one recalls that all the windows were sealed, then it does seem likely that the stale air from eleven people sharing close quarters, plus the heat and smell from the kitchen, would become quite oppressive even at relatively normal temperatures.

— Tsar Nicholas II’s diary entry for June 9, 1918, describes the weather as "very hot". On the same day the Empress wrote that by 7:40 in the morning it was almost 20° indoors [C = 68°F; R = 77°F] Later she noted that it got up to 30° [C = 86°F, or R = 100°F]

— His diary entry for June 14, 1918, records that the "same tropical weather held” —
 26° in the shade [C = 78°F; R = 91°F), and 24° in their rooms [C =75°F; R = 86°F]
and hard to bear it."

— According to Summers and Mangold (The File on the Tsar, p. 162), the records of the Department of Overseas Surface Climatology at London’s Meteorological Office indicated that the average daily temperature in Ekaterinburg in July of 1918 was 70° Fahrenheit.

Some conclusions:

1) The medical, body temperature readings are in Celsius.

2) Most of the meteorological temperature readings seem to be given in Celsius.

3) When Réaumur is employed, that fact is usually noted in writing to avoid confusion.

4) The temperature readings for the Ipatiev House are debatable. On the one hand, Celsius seems too low; on the other, Réaumur may be too high. This point remains to be resolved.

Hope this might help put things in perspective.
Inok Nikolai
« Last Edit: June 27, 2014, 01:11:13 PM by Inok Nikolai »
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Offline Sarushka

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Re: Temperature Scales in NAOTMAA’s Letters and Diaries
« Reply #2 on: June 27, 2014, 07:38:45 PM »
I don't have anything to add, except thank you for all that information!
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Offline Helen_Azar

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Re: Temperature Scales in NAOTMAA’s Letters and Diaries
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2014, 03:50:00 PM »
Wow, thanks so much!