Page images

was visited, as it was called, was by these orders “ marked with a red cross of a foot long, in the middle of the door, evident to be seen, and with these usual printed words, that is to say, LORD HAVE MERCY UPON US, to be set close over the same cross, there to continue until the lawful opening of the same house." Two watchmen were appointed to the front and back of each house so closed, who forbid all ingress and egress; thus leaving the wild pestilence to do its worst within a limited space, and, as it were, feeding it with a small prey, to induce it to abstain from greater. All the other regulations appear to have been dictated by wisdom and experience; but this was one of the greatest mistakes that could have been committed, and tended materially to prolong the ravages, and to increase the mortality of the disease. For it can easily be conceived, that every family would submit most reluctantly to be thus made a victim for the common good; the more especially, as it often happened, that a whole house would be, in this manner, doomed to certain destruction by the illness of a servant or an inmate, whom they would otherwise have removed to a pesthouse. The consequence was, that, in despair, families would often break out, overpower the watchmen, and escape in every direction; thus spreading the disorder they were confined to check. Évery artifice was used for the purpose of deluding the vigilance of the watchmen, and when dexterity failed, bribery was resorted to, and all together succeeded to such an extent, as to render the order worse than useless. For, a temporary confinement only increased the number of the infected, and their escape scattered over the city unhealthy fugitives, who left their malady at every abiding place. As it was difficult to ascertain when any individual was infected, through its being the interest of the whole to conceal it, it often happened, that the plague was raging in a house not closed up, which partial carrying into effect of the order produced much false confidence, and, consequently, much mischief. Not to mention the injury caused by concealment, and the objection to apply for medical aid, lest it should lead to a discovery, and, as a sort of penalty upon misfortune, a close imprisonment. The orders respecting the burying of the dead had in them somewhat of harshness, but only such as the necessity of the times demanded. Every morning before sun-rise, and every night, the dead-cart went its rounds; every family was compelled to bring out its dead at the ringing of the driver's bell, and throw them into the cart, which instantly proceeded to pits of tremendous size and depth, where they shot their melancholy burthen, like a load of dust or bricks. No service was performed, no bells were tolled, every friend was forbidden to attend, and no spectator allowed. The funeral rites and ceremonies could not have been celebrated had clergymen been found to do the duty; for the numbers were so great, that the inhabitants of whole streets, courts, and alleys, were sometimes lying dead together: it may be imagined, in too deep a slumber to obey the call of the dead-bell, so that the buryers were sometimes led to infer the real state of the case by the absence of the usual tribute of a corpse, as they passed the doors. The following anecdote will give a lively idea of the state of great numbers of houses, placed in the same situation.

A watchman, it seems, had been employed to keep his post at the door of a house which was infected, or said to be infected, and was shut up; he had been there all night for two nights together, as he told his story, and the day watchman had been there one day, and was now come to relieve him : all this while no noise had been heard in the house, no light had been seen; they called for nothing, sent him of no errands, which used to be the chief business of the watchmen; neither had they given him any disturbance, as he said, from the Monday afternoon, when he heard great crying and screaming in the house, which, as he supposed, was occasioned by some of the family dying just at that time; it seems the night before, the dead cart, as it was called, had been stopt there, and a servant maid had been brought down to the door, dead, and the buriers or bearers, as they were called, put her into the cart, wrapped only in a green rug, and carried her away.

“The watchman had knocked at the door, it seems, when he heard that noise and crying, as above, and nobody answered a great while; but at last one looked out, and said, with an angry quick tone, and yet a kind of crying voice, or a voice of one that was crying,

What do ye want, that ye make such a knocking ? he answered, “I am the watchman! how do you do? what is the matter ?' the person answered, 'What is that to you? stop the dead cart.' This, it seems, was about one o'clock : soon after, as the fellow said, he stopped the dead cart, and then knocked again, but nobody answered: he continued knocking, and the bellman called out several times, · Bring out your dead! but nobody answered, till the man that drove the cart, being called to other houses, would stay no longer, and drove away.

" The watchman knew not what to make of all this, so he let them alone till the morning-man, or day-watchman, as they called him, came to relieve him, giving him an account of the particulars ; they knocked at the door a great while, but nobody answered; and they observed, that the window or casement at which the person

had looked out who had answered before, continued open, being up two pair of stairs.

Upon this, the two men, to satisfy their curiosity, got a long ladder, and one of them went up to the window, and looked into the room, where he saw a woman lying dead upon the floor in a dismal manner, having no clothes on her but her shift: but though he called aloud, and putting in his long staff, knocked hard on the floor, yet nobody stirred or answered; neither could he hear any noise in the house.

“ He came down again upon this, and acquainted his fellow, who went up also, and finding it just so, they resolved to acquaint either the Lord Mayor, or some other magistrate, of it, but did not offer to go in at the window: the magistrate, it seems, upon the information of the two men, ordered the house to be broke open, a constable and other persons being appointed to be present, that nothing might be plundered; and accordingly it was so done, when nobody was found in the house but that young woman, who, having been infected, and past recovery, the rest had left her to die by herself, and were every one gone, having found some way to delude the watchman, and to get open the door, or get out at some back-door, or over the tops of the houses, so that he knew nothing of it; and as to those cries and shrieks which he heard, it was supposed they were the passionate cries of the family at the bitter parting which, to be sure, it was to them all; this being the sister to the mistress of the family. The man of the house, his wife, several children, and servants, being all gone and fled, whether sick or sound, that I could never learn; nor, indeed, did I make much inquiry after it."

Many of the clergymen fled from their cures; and it was a novel spectacle to see ministers of all sects mounting any pulpit that happened to be vacant in church or chapel. Whereever it might be they never wanted an audience, for the awfulness of the times turned multitudes to prayer, who never thought of religion before. The preacher had no sooner done than he gave way to another of perhaps quite opposite doctrine, a harmony which, however, only lasted while the plague raged. One of the earliest signs of returning health was, the separation into sects, and the struggle for pulpits between contending preachers. It was only in the height of the disorder, when pollution from meeting one's neighbour was more to be dreaded than ever, that the churches became thinner. Por it was one of the miseries of this visitation, that every body was afraid of his neighbour; who might be walking about in apparent health, and yet, unknown to himself, bear about him his own death, and the pollution of all who came near him. The modes in which the disease made its attack were various; dizziness, vomiting, delirium, stupor, blains, and carbuncles, were different indications of infection ; but it frequently happened, that the patient did not know he was ill till three hours before his death, when there was one fatal sign which never failed to shew that death had marked that person for his own on whom they appeared. These were pestilential characters, called tokens, minute and distinct spots which appeared on the surface of the body, and chiefly on the breast. A person, who had not the slightest suspicion of his being infected, would not unfrequently be told by a friend, who would look upon his breast for that purpose, that he had but a few hours to live. We will extract two instances of cases similar to this from the Loimologia; or an Historical Account of the Plague in London, in 1665. By Nath. Hodges, M.D. and Fellow of the College of Physicians, who resided in the City all that time; originally written in Latin.

“I was called to a girl the first day of her seizure, who breathed without any difficulty, her warmth was moderate and natural, her inwards free from glowing and pain, and her pulse not unequal or irregular; but, on the contrary, all things genuine and well, as if she had ailed nothing; and, indeed, I was rather inclined to think she counterfeited being sick, than really to be out of order, until examining her breast, I found the certain characters of death imprinted in many places; and in that following night she died, before she herself, or any person about her, could discern her otherwise out of order. “ Some time after I visited a widow of sixty years age,

whom I met with at dinner, where she had eat heartily of mutton, and filled besides her stomach with broth; after I had enquired into several particulars relating to her health, she affirmed herself to have never been better in her life, but upon feeling her pulse, I perceived it to intermit, and upon examining her breast, I found an abundance of tokens, which proved too true a prognostic, that even after so good a dinner she would, by the evening, be in another world.”


This book affords us a very near view of the subject of this article, and is of great authority, as the composition of one of the most eminent physicians of the time. His theory, with respect to the origin and nature of this malignant fever, may be erroneous and perhaps unphilosophical, but his practical notions are, in general, good; and his immense experience, during the whole course of that dismal period, renders him an undeniable witness. The following passage from his book gives us as lively a picture of the wretchedness of these times as any in the pages of the novelist.

“ In the months of August and September, the contagion changed its former slow and languid pace, and having, as it were, got master of all, made a most terrible slaughter, so that three, four, or five thousand died in a week, and once cight thousand ; who can express

the calamities of such times? The whole British nation wept for the miseries of her metropolis. In some houses carcases lay waiting for burial, and in others, persons in their last agonies ; in one room might be heard dying groans, in another the ravings of a delirium, and, not far off, relations and friends bewailing both their loss, and the dismal prospect of their own sudden departure; death was the sure midwife to all children, and infants passed immediately from the womb to the grave; who would not burst with grief, to see the stock for a future generation hang upon the breasts of a dead mother? Or the marriage

bed changed the first night into a sepulchre, and the unhappy pair meet with death in their first embraces? Some of the infected run about staggering like drunken men, and fall and expire in the streets; while others lie half-dead and comatose, but never to be waked but by the last trumpet; some lie vomiting as if they had drunk poison; and others fall dead in the market, while they are buying necessaries for the support of life.”

We vill add to this the history of one of his own days, in which he relates the manner in which he contrived to escape infection, though daily spending hours in air corrupted by the pestilential miasmata, and visiting and handling patients in the last extremity of their agonies.

“As soon as I rose in the morning early, I took the quantity of a nutmeg of the anti-pestilential electuary; then after the dispatch of private concerns in my family, I ventured into a large room, where crowds of citizens used to be in waiting for me; and there I commonly spent two or three hours, as in an hospital, examining the several conditions and circumstances of all who came thither; some of which had ulcers yet uncured, and others to be advised under the first symptoms of seizure; all which I endeavoured to dispatch, with all possible care to their various exigencies.

“ As soon as this crowd could be discharged, I judged it not proper to go abroad fasting, and therefore got my breakfast: after whích, till dinner-time, I visited the sick at their houses; whereupon, entering their houses, I immediately had burnt some proper thing upon coals, and also kept in my mouth some lozenges all the while I was examining them. But they are in a mistake who report that physicians used, on such oecasions, very hot things; as myrrh, zedoary, angelica, ginger, &c. for many, deceived thereby, raised inflammations upon their tonsils, and greatly endangered their lungs.

“I further took care not to go into the rooms of the sick when I sweated, or were short-breathed with walking; and kept my mind as composed as possible, being sufficiently warned by such, who had grievously suffered by uneasiness in that respect. After some hours visiting in this manner, I returned home. Before dinner, I always drank a glass of sack, to warm the stomach, refresh the spirits, and dissipate any beginning lodgement of the infection. I chose meats for my table that yielded an easy and generous nourishment, roasted before boiled, and pickles not only suitable to the meats, but the nature of the distemper (and indeed in this melancholy time, the city greatly abounded with variety of all good things of that nature); Í seldom likewise rose from dinner without drinking more wine. After this, I had always many persons came for advice; and as soon as I could dispatch them, I again visited till eight or nine at night, and then concluded the evening at home, by drinking to cheerfulness of my old favourite liquor, which encouraged sleep, and an easy breathing through the pores all night. But if in the day-time I found the least approaches of the infection upon me, as by giddiness, loathing

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »