"Cold Comfort"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In May, 1622, William Bradford writes, a small ship with seven men aboard came to the Plymouth colony, bearing no food but some letters. As the colony was very low on provisions, the feeding of the men from the ship was a problem. One of the letters, from Thomas Weston, asked Governor Carver to make provision of food and salt for the sailors and promised that the colonists would be paid back when the sailors had established themselves. The letter is rich in promises but concludes with the statement that the colonists will have to stand on their own feet and trust to God and themselves. The letter, says Bradford, was but cold comfort. In using the expression, he had forerunners, among them the anonymous Early English Alliterative Poetry (c.1325), which reads: "Lord! cold was his comfort." Arthur Golding in Calvin on Psalm X (1571) says: "We receive but cold comfort of whatever the Scripture speaketh"; and William Shakespeare in The Taming of the Shrew (1593) says: "Shall I complain on theee to our mistress, whose hand . . . thou shalt soon feel, to thy cold comfort?" The quotation from Bradford is as follows:

All this was but cold comfort to fill their hungry bellies; and a slender performance of his former late promises; and as little did it either fill or warm them. . . .