Page images

at stomach, and faintness, I immediately had recourse to a glass of this wine, which easily drove these beginning disorders away by transpiration.

« Yet in the whole course of the infection, I found myself ill but twice; but was soon again cleared of its approaches by these means, and the help of such antidotes as I kept always by me.

But to return to the novelist, from whom, after all, we can gather the best account of this remarkable visitation. For of all the pamphlets and publications which we have consulted on this occasion, Defoe's book is almost the only one which attempts to give any picture of London as it appeared at the time to a spectator. But from the various topics on which he dwells, the various incidents and familiar examples he invents or records, the various reflections which he makes, all of which arise from a very patient and intelligent study of the subject, we can make a few selections, which, while they will serve as good specimens of the author, will instruct the reader in the real history of the plague, whether in our own capital, or in any other part of the world.

He thus speaks generally of the sufferings of the infected:

" But, this is but one; it is scarce creditable what dreadful cases happened in particular families every day; people in the rage of the distemper, or in the torment of their swellings, which was indeed intolerable, running out of their own government, raving and distracted, and oftentimes laying violent hands upon themselves, throwing themselves out at their windows, shooting themselves, &c. Mothers murdering their own children in their lunacy, some dying of mere grief, as a passion, some of mere fright and surprize, without any infection at all; others frighted into idiotism and foolish distractions, some into despair and lunacy; others into melancholy madness.

The pain of the swelling was in particular very violent, and to some intolerable; the physicians and surgeons may be said to have tortured many poor creatures, even to death. The swellings in some grew hard, and they applied violent drawing plaisters, or poultices, to break them; and if these did not do, they cut and scarified them in a terrible manner: in some, those swellings were made hard, partly by the force of the distemper, and partly by their being too violently drawn, and were so hard that no instrument could cut them, and then they burnt them with causticks, so that many died raving mad with the torment; and some in the very operation. In these distresses, some for want of help to hold them down in their beds, or to look to them, laid hands upon themselves, as above. Some broke out into the streets, perhaps naked, and would run directly down to the river, if they were not stopt by the watchmen, or other officers, and plunge themselves into the water, wherever they found it.

“ It often pierced my very soul to hear the groans and cries of those who were thus tormented, but of the two, this was counted the

most promising particular in the whole infection ; for, if these swellings could be brought to a head, and to break and run, or, as the surgeons call it, to digest, the patient generally recovered; whereas those, who like the gentlewoman's daughter, were struck with death at the beginning, and had the tokens come out upon them, often went about indifferent easy, till a little before they died, and some till the moment they dropped down, as in apoplexies and epilepsies is often the case; such would be taken suddenly very sick, and would run to a bench or bulk, or any convenient place that offered itself, or to their own houses, if possible, as I mentioned before, and there sit down, grow faint, and die. This kind of dying was much the same as it was with those who die of common mortifications, who die swooning, and as it were, go away in a dream; such as died thus, had very little notice of their being infected at all, till the gangreen was spread through their whole body; nor could physicians themselves know certainly how it was with them, till they opened their breasts or other parts of their body, and saw the tokens.”

Among various other instances of the just horror in which every one held his neighbour, the following may be extracted :

“Another infected person came, and knocked at the door of a citizen's house, where they knew him very well; the servant let him in, and being told the master of the house was above, he ran up, and came into the room to them as the whole family was at supper: they began to rise up a little surprised, not knowing what the matter was, but he bid them sit still, he only came to take his leave of them. They asked him,- Why Mr. - where are you going?' Going,' says he, ' I have got the 'sickness, and shall die to-morrow night. It is easy to believe, though not to describe the consternation they were all in, the women and the man's daughters, which were but little girls, were frighted almost to death, and got up, one running out at one door, and one at another, some down stairs, and some up stairs, and getting together as well as they could, locked themselves into their chambers, and screamed out at the window for help, as if they had been frighted out of their wits: the master, more composed than they, though both frighted and provoked, was going to lay hands on him, and throw him down stairs, being in a passion, but then considering a little the condition of the man, and the danger of touching him, horror seized his mind, and he stood still like one astonished. The poor distempered man, all this while, being as well diseased in his brain as in his body, stood still like one amazed; at length he turns round.

Ay,' says he, with all the seeming calmness imaginable, is it so with you all! are you all disturbed at me? why then, I'll e'en go home and die there.' And so he goes immediately down stairs : the servant that had let him in goes down after him with a candle, but was afraid to go past him and open the door, so he stood on the stairs to see what he would do; the man went and opened the door, and went out and flung the door after him: it was some while before the family recovered the fright, but as no ill consequence attended, they have had occasion sinee to speak of it (you may be sure) with great satisfaction.

[ocr errors]

Though the man was gone, it was some time, nay, as I heard, some days before they recovered themselves of the hurry they were in, nor did they go up and down the house with any assurance, till they had burnt a great variety of fumes and perfumes in all the rooms, and made a great many smokes of pitch, of gunpowder, and of sulphur, all separately shifted; and washed their clothes, and the like : as to the poor man, whether he lived or died I do not remember.”

This, however, is ludicrous, compared with the following example of malignity which not unfrequently characterized the delirium attending the malady, and rendered it doubly horrible :

A poor unhappy gentlewoman, a substantial citizen's wife, was (if the story be true) murdered by one of these creatures in Aldersgate-street, or that way: he was going along the street, raving mad to be sure, and singing; the people only said he was drunk, but he himself said he had the plague upon him, which, it seems, was true; and meeting this gentlewoman, he would kiss her; she was terribly frighted, as he was only a rude fellow, and she run from him, but the street being very thin of people, there was nobody near enough to help her: when she saw he would overtake her, she turned, and gave him a thrust so forcibly, he being but weak, and pushed him down backward; but very unhappily, she being so near, he caught hold of her, and pulled her down also; and getting up first, mastered her, and kissed her; and which was worst of all, when he had done, told her he had the plague, and why should not she have it as well as he. She was frighted enough before, being also young with child; but when she heard him say he had the plague, she screamed out, and fell down in a swoon, or in a fit, which, though she recovered a little, yet killed her in a very few days, and I never heard whether she had the plague or no."

[ocr errors]

We have soon after this a striking description of the general state of the metropolis, when the disease was at its height.

“ It is here, however, to be observed, that after the funerals became so many, that people could not toll the bell, mourn, or weep, or wear black for one another, as they did before ; no, nor so much as make coffins for those that died; so after a while the fury of the infection appeared to be so encreased, that, in short, they shut up no houses at all; it seemed enough that all the remedies of that kind had been used till they were found fruitless, and that the plague spread itself with an irresistible fury; so that, as the fire, the succeeding year, spread itself, and burnt with such violence, that the citizens, in despair, gave over their endeavours to extinguish it, so in the plague, it came at last to such violence, that the people sat still looking at one another, and seemed quite abandoned to despair : whole streets seemed to be desolated, and not to be shut up only, but to be emptied of their inhabitants; doors were left open, windows stood shattering with the wind in empty houses, for want of people to shut them : in a word, people began to give up themselves to their fears, and to think that all regulations and methods were in vain, and that there was nothing to be hoped for but an universal desolation; and it was even in the height of this general despair, that it pleased God to stay his hand, and to slacken the fury of the contagion, in such a manner, as was even surprising, like its beginning, and demonstrated it to be his own particular hand, and that above if not without the


of means, as I shall take notice of in its proper place.

“ But I must still speak of the plague, as in its height, raging even to desolation, and the people under the most dreadful consternation, even, as I have said, to despair. It is hardly credible to what excesses the passions of men carried them in this extremity of the distemper; and this part, I think, was as moving as the rest. What could affect a man in his full power of reflection; and what could make deeper impressions on the soul than to see a man, almost naked, and got out of his house, or perhaps out of his bed into the street, come out of Harrow-alley, a populous conjunction or collection of alleys, courts, and passages in the Butcher-row, in Whitechapel! I say, what could be more affecting, than to see this poor man come out into the open street, run dancing and singing, and making a thousand antic gestures, with five or six women and children running after him, crying and calling upon him, for the Lord's sake to come back, and entreating the help of others to bring him back, but all in vain, nobody daring to lay a hand upon him, or to come near him.

“ This was a most grievous and afflicting thing to me, who saw it all from my own windows; for all this while the poor afflicted man was, as I observed it, even then in the utmost agony of pain, having, as they said, two swellings upon him, which could not be brought to break, or to suppurate; but by laying strong causticks on them, the surgeons had, it seems, hopes to break them, which causticks were then upon him, burning his flesh as with a hot iron. I cannot


what became of this poor man, but I think he continued roving about in that manner till he fell down and died.”

He goes on to mention a very remarkable trait, which, whether true or not, is founded upon a deep knowledge of human nature under the effects of calamity and despair.

As I have mentioned how the people were brought into a condition to despair of life, and abandon themselves, so this very thing had a strange effect among us for three or four weeks, that is, it made them bold and venturous, they were no more shy of one another, or restrained within doors, but went any where, and every where, and began to converse; one would say to another, - I do not ask you how you are, or say how I am, it is certain we shall all go, so 'tis no matter who is sick or who is sound;' and so they run desperately into any place or any company.

““ As it brought the people into public company, so it was surprising how it brought them to crowd into the churches; they in


[ocr errors]


quired no more into who they sat near to, or far from, what offensive smells they met with, or what condition the people seemed to be in, but looking upon themselves all as so many dead corpses, they came to the churches without the least caution, and crowded together as if their lives were of no consequence, compared to the work which they came about there: indeed, the zeal which they shewed in coming, and the earnestness and affection they shewed in their attention to what they heard, made it manifest what a value people would all put upon the worship of God, if they thought every day they attended at the church that it would be their last.”

The supposed historian frequently retires to his house, and shuts himself up from all intercourse, when alarmed or depressed by the objects he meets with in his walks in the city. His curiosity, however, still alive, leads him to spend much of his time at his window, where he continues his observation. One particular alley, within his view, attracts his attention.

“Sometimes heaps and throngs of people would burst out of the alley, most of them women, making a dreadful clamour, mixed or compounded of screeches, cryings, and calling one another, that we could not conceive what to make of it; almost all the dead part of the night the dead-cart stood at the end of that alley, for if it went in, it could not well turn again, and could go in but a little way. There, I say, it stood to receive dead bodies, and as the church-yard was but a little way off, if it went away full it would soon be back again : it is impossible to describe the most horrible cries and noise the poor people would make at their bringing the dead bodies of their children and friends out to the cart, and by the number one would have thought there had been none left behind, or that there were people enough for a small city living in those places: several times they cried murder, sometimes fire; but it was easy to perceive it was all distraction, and the complaints of distressed and distempered people."

1 1


[merged small][ocr errors]

We can only make one more extract, which, while it conveys a vivid impression of the insecurity of life at this time, is exceedingly characteristic of the writer.

" A certain citizen who had lived safe and untouched, till the month of September, when the weight of the distemper lay more in the city than it had done before, was mighty cheerful, and something too bold, as I think it was, in his talk of how secure he


how cautious he had been, and how he had never come near any sick body: says another citizen (a neighbour of his) to him, one day, 'Do not be too confident, Mr. it is hard to say who is sick and who is well ; for we see men alive and well, to outward appearance, one hour, and dead the next.' That is true,' says the first man, for he was not a man presumptuously secure, but had escaped a long while, and men, as I said above, especially in the city, began to be over easy upon that

That is true,' says he, 'I do not think myself secure, but I

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »