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tuating state of hope or fear; the agitation of departure and separation; the struggling resolution to stay; and, when the bustle and hurry of those who flee have left the city still behind them, then the cold and fixed determination to abide and face the approaching enemy; then, the sweeping away of thousands before the giant strokes of the distemper, succeeded by the paroxysms of despair and the wailings of anguish, which, in a short time, sink into sullen indifference; then, the death of affection and love, and the dead calm which spreads over the whole population, undisturbed, except by the reckless revelry of crime and dissipation making the most of the short interval which is to elapse before their own doom; then, the gradual return of hope, followed by a premature rejoicing at delivery; then, a recurrence of alarm; and, at length, a well-grounded security in the flight of the pestilence, and a universal congratulation of the survivors upon each other's preservation, checked only by the recollection, that they are but a few, haunting the grave of a great city, and that too much joy would be but a mockery over the tens of thousands beneath their feet: these and numberless topics of a similar nature, would occur to the mind of one who undertook to describe a city under this awful infliction of Providence. Defoe's genius, however, was of a description rather to produce an effect upon his reader by a careful enumeration of particulars than by general views, spirited sketches, or even by pathetic touches--and, in the present work, there is nothing which might not have been written by a respectable tradesman of some observation, common feeling, little taste or imagination, and ordinary talents, had he really witnessed the scenes he describes. Thus the reader is left with the materials of reflection, rather than a complete history. From such as it is, and from other sources, we will attempt to give an idea of the rise and progress of the great plague of London, especially availing ourselves of the more remarkable passages of Defoe, which, as we have said, it is probable were written from oral testimony, or, at least, such as are confirmed by other authorities. We will give
the account of the first rise of the pestilence, in the words of Defoe :
“ It was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard, in ordinary discourse, that the plague was returned again into Holland; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus. It mattered not, from whence it came; but all agreed it was come into Holland again.
“ We had no such thing as printed newspapers in those days, to spread rumours and reports of things; and to improve them by the inveution of men, as I have lived to see practised since. But such things as those were gathered from the letters of merchants, and others, who corresponded abroad, and from them was handed about by word of mouth only; so that things did not spread instantly over the whole nation, as they do now. But it seems, that the Government had a true account of it, and several councils were held, about ways to prevent its coming over; but all was kept very private. Hence it was, that this rumour died off again, and people began to forget it, as a thing we were very little concerned in, and that we hoped was not true; till the latter end of November, or the beginning of December 1664, when two men, said to be Frenchmen, died of the plague in Long-acre, or rather at the upper end of Drury-lane. The family they were in endeavoured to conceal it as much as possible ; but as it had gotten some vent in the discourse of the neighbourhood, the Secretaries of State got knowledge of it. And concerning themselves to inquire about it, in order to be certain of the truth, two physicians and a surgeon were ordered to go to the house, and make inspection. This they did; and finding evident tokens of the sickness upon both the bodies that were dead, they gave their opinions publicly, that they died of the plague : whereupon it was given in to the parish clerk, and, he also returned them to the hall; and it was printed in the weekly bill of mortality in the usual manner, thus: PLAGUE, 2. PARISHES INFECTED,
1. “The people shewed a great concern at this, and began to be alarmed all over the town, and the more, because in the last week in December 1664, another man died in the same house, and of the same distemper: and then we were easy again for about six weeks, when none having died with any marks of infection, it was said the distemper was gone; but after that, I think it was about the 12th of February, another died in another house, but in the same parish, and in the same manner.
“This turned the people's eyes pretty much towards that end of the town; and the weekly bills shewing an increase of burials in St. Giles's parish more than usual, it began to be suspected that the plague was among the people at that end of the town; and that many had died of it, though they had taken care to keep it as much from the knowledge of the public as possible: this possessed the heads of the people very much, and few cared to go through Drury-lane, or the other streets suspected, unless they had extraordinary business, that obliged them to it."
From this time forward, the bills of mortality began to increase, from their usual amount of about two hundred and forty per week, to nearly five hundred, and continued to fluctuate on the whole, but gradually to increase in the parish of St. Giles, where, in the middle of June, they began to bury one hundred and twenty per week, sixty-eight of which were allowed to be,
but a hundred considered to be, cases of the plague. Till this point, the infection had been confined to the parishes lying near the place of its origin, but now the city became contaminated, and a few began to drop off in different parts of its ninety-seven parishes. Now no doubt could be entertained but that the disease had planted itself in London ; consternation spread in every direction, and all who could leave danger behind were in the bustle of departure.
“ I lived without Aldgate, about mid-way between Aldgate church and Whitechapel-bars, on the left hand or north side of the street; and as the distemper had not reached to that side of the city, our neighbourhood continued very easy: but at the other end of the town, their consternation was very great, and the richer sort of people, especially the nobility and gentry, from the west part of the city, thronged out of town, with their families and servants, in an unusual manner; and this was more particularly seen in Whitechapel; that is to say, the broad street where I lived: indeed nothing was to be seen but waggons and carts, with goods, women, servants, children, &c. coaches filled with people of the better sort, and horsemen attending them, and all hurrying away; then empty waggons and carts appear
spare horses with servants, who it was apparent were returning or sent from the countries to fetch more people: besides innumerable numbers of men on horseback, some alone, others with servants, and, generally speaking, all loaded with baggage and fitted out for travelling, as any one might perceive by their appearance.
“ This was a very terrible and melancholy thing to see, and as it was a sight which I could not but look on from morning to night, for indeed there was nothing else of moment to be seen, it filled me with very serious thoughts of the misery that was coming upon the city, and the unhappy condition of those that would be left in it.
“ This hurry of the people was such for some weeks, that there was no getting at the Lord Mayor's door without exceeding difficulty; there was such pressing and crowding there to get passes and certificates of health, for such as travelled abroad; for, without these, there was no being admitted to pass through the towns upon the road, or to lodge in any inn: now as there had none died in the city for all this time, my Lord Mayor gave certificates of health without any difficulty to all those who lived in the ninety-seven parishes, and to those within the liberties too for a while.
" This hurry, I say, continued some weeks, that is to say, all the month of May and June, and the more because it was rumoured, that an order of the Government was to be issued out, to place turnpikes and barriers on the road, to prevent people's travelling; and that the towns on the road would not suffer people from London to pass, for fear of bringing the infection along with them, though neither of these rumours had any foundation, but in the imagination; especially at first."
The ravages of the disease began now to travel eastward
with more rapid strides, and there could be no doubt in believing, that the whole of the metropolis would be visited in turn. The passengers in the streets began cautiously to keep the middle of the streets, to avoid one another, and only cast mournful and suspicious glances at those whom they had been used to greet with joy; shops were closed; all trade suspended; and all manufacturers discharged, to brood at leisure over starvation and disease. The court was removed to Oxford, the courts of justice and the inns of court were all closed, all egress out of the city was barred by the apprehensions of the country, and, by the middle of summer, London was in a state
“ The face of London was now indeed strangely altered, I mean the whole mass of buildings, city, liberties, suburbs, Westminster, Southwark, and altogether; for as to the particular part, called the city, or within the walls, that was not yet much infected; but in the whole, the face of things, I say, was much altered; sorrow and sadness sat upon every face; and though some part were not yet overwhelmed, yet all looked deeply concerned ; and as we saw it apparently coming on, so every one looked on himself and his family as in the utmost danger: were it possible to represent those times exactly to those that did not see them, and give the reader due ideas of the horror that every where presented itself, it must make just impressions upon their minds, and fill them with surprize. London might well be said to be all in tears; the mourners did not go about the streets indeed, for nobody put on black, or made a formal dress of mourning for their nearest friends; but the voice of mourning was truly heard in the streets; the shrieks of women and children at the windows and doors of their houses, where their dearest relations were, perhaps, dying, or just dead, were so frequent to be heard, as we passed the streets, that it was enough to pierce the stoutest heart in the world, to hear them. Tears and lamentations were seen in almost every house, especially in the first part of the visitation; for towards the latter end, men's hearts were hardened, and death was so always before their eyes, that they did not so much concern themselves for the loss of their friends, expecting that themselves should be summoned the next hour.”
Superstition, as it always does, ushered in misfortune, and furnished another melancholy feature in the funereal aspect which the city presented. Amulets, charms, and mystical signs, were never in such request,
and the brazen head of Friar Bacon, the fortune-tellers' sign, was mounted in every street.
“ The apprehensions of the people were likewise strangely increased by the error of the times; in which, I think, the people, from what principle I cannot imagine, were more addicted to prophesies, and astrological conjurations, dreams, and old wives' tales, than ever they were before or since: whether this unhappy temper was originally
raised by the follies of some people who got money by it, that is to say, by printing predictions and prognostications, I know not; but certain it is, books frighted them terribly; such as Lilly's Almanack, Gadbury's Astrological Predictions, Poor Robin's Almtinack, and the like; also several pretended religious books; one entitled, Come out of her my People, lest you be partaker of her Plagues ; another, called Fair Warning; another, Britain's Remembrancer; and many such; all, or most part of which, foretold, directly or covertly, the ruin of the city; nay, some were so enthusiastically bold as to run about the streets, with their oral predictions, pretending they were sent to preach to the city; and one, in particular, who, like Jonah to Nineveh, cried in the streets,--yet forty days, and LONDON shall be destroyed. I will not be positive whether he said yet forty days, or yet a few days. Another ran about naked, except a pair of drawers about his waist, crying day and night, like a man that Josephus mentions, who cried,
Woe to Jerusalem!' a little before the destruction of that city; so this poor naked creature cried, “O the great and the dreadful God! and said no more, but repeated those words continually with a voice and countenance full of horror, a swift pace, and nobody could ever find him to stop, or rest, or take any sustenance, at least, that ever I could hear of." I met this poor creature several times in the streets, and would have spoken to him, but he would not enter into speech with me, or any one else, but held on his dismal cries continually.”
Quacks and mountebanks, it will be readily imagined, followed in the train of prophets and astrologers.
“On the other hand, it is incredible, and scarce to be imagined, how the posts of houses and corners of streets were plastered over with doctors' bills and papers of ignorant fellows, quacking and tampering in physic, and inviting the people to come to them for remedies, which was generally set off with such flourishes as these, viz. -INFALLIBLE preventive pills against the plague,-NEVER-FAILING preservatives against the infection.-SOVEREIGN cordials against the corruption of the air,-Exact regulations for the conduct of the body in case of an infection,-anti-pestilential pills -INCOMPARABLE drink against the plague, never found out before,-an UNIVERSAL remedy for the plague,—the ONLY TRUE plague water,—the ROYAL ANTIDOTE against all kinds of infection; and such a number more that I cannot reckon up, and if I could, would fill a book of themselves to set them down.”
When the infection began to spread, the magistrates consulted, to devise means for stopping or, at least, impeding its progress. The result of their deliberations was a series of orders which appointed examiners, searchers, chirurgeons, and buryers, to each district, acting under certain regulations, and which directed the provisions of an old act of parliament to be enforced, for shutting up allsuch houses as appeared to the proper officers to contain any infected person. Every house which