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Pandemics in Perspective: A Journal of the Plague Year

An arranged compilation of my notes from the book: A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe (1722).

A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe (1722)

Following the establishment of a global pandemic a few weeks ago, I went through my personal library of books to select those which have direct relevance to the nature and effects of pandemics: as since these things have suddenly become of utmost significance to all, I think it now appropriate to gain some perspective on the subject.

Of the books I selected for this study of pandemics, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year* stood out as the best one to begin with, for it thoroughly depicts The Great Plague of London that occurred 1665-1666.

*The full text is in the public domain, and can be accessed for free at Gutenberg.org)

As Anthony Burgess (famed author of A Clockwork Orange) points out in his introduction, this book reads like a genuine mémoire despite technically being a work of fiction. Importantly, Burgess distinguishes the fiction of today from the ‘fiction’ of the early 18th century; and in particular, the significance that Defoe’s journalistic career has on his fictional works, i.e. that Defoe is

a novelist whose method is that of the working journalist. To be termed an ‘imaginative writer’ would have terrified him. The purpose of the pen was to render, in seemingly unconsidered immediacy, true events, and if the events were strange and surprising then so much the better.

Hence, as Burgess states in concluding his introduction,

the work stands as the most reliable and comprehensive account of the Great Plague that we possess.

Whilst reading the book, I noted any details I thought to be relevant or potentially relevant to gaining a perspective on the nature and effects of pandemics, i.e. details that broaden one’s awareness of the types of circumstances that could arise, if not are likely to present themselves, in an otherwise unfamiliar state of society.

What follows here is the collection of those notes (being the somewhat paraphrasing of details extracted) arranged into four categories (thereby breaking the linearity of the narrative) and distinguished by subheadings (mostly for my own amusement!)

From these compiled notes on A Journal of the Plague Year you then can expect to find much detail pertinent to what I call ‘plaguetime’ society – which, if you’ve noticed, is a kind of inversion of ‘wartime’ society – that can help one gain a presently valuable perspective on the phenomenon of pandemics (and hence, to avoid dem panics!)

Categories

The Plague
The Horrors
The City
The Authorities
The People
The Aftermath


The Plague

Poor ‘The Poor’

The plague kept mostly to the very populous areas, i.e. which were therefore fuller of poor people; and thus the infections were greater in the outlying areas than in the city.

Catch-22

The plague generally came into the houses of citizens by servants sent out to get necessities (i.e. food and medicine).

The Thing

The calamity during the plague was spread by effluvia (i.e. the means of infection was steams or fumes emanating from infected persons, penetrating the vital parts of sound persons in their vicinity).

The spread of the plague was propagated insensibly, i.e. by people who were infected but not visibly so; and who neither knew who they infected or who they were infected by—hence the shutting up of houses could not prevent the spread.

The most dangerous people were those who were infected, but who appear and feel well: for these people spread the plague by breathing and touching in places and on everyone near them; and as it was impossible to identify such people, it was therefore impossible to prevent the spread of the plague—even with the utmost vigilance.

Due to the acute penetrating nature of the disease and the imperceptibility of its infection, the most exact caution could not provide security from a plagued area.

Winter Recoverland

When the winter weather came, and the air was cold and clear with sharp frosts, most of the sick recovered; and the health of the city began to return.


The Horrors

PD Cinema*

*­pandemiC

If it were possible to represent those times exactly to those who did not witness them, with accurate ideas of the horror that presented itself everywhere, it would make impressions on their minds and fill them with surprise.

It was soul-wounding to hear the dying groans of many a despairing creature—and none dares come near to administer comfort to the cries of those in anguish of both body and soul; or stop to make the least inquiry.

The swellings (common symptom of the infection) became extreme torture: some were driven to suicide; others vented their pain by incessant roaring—such loud and lamentable cries could be heard by walkers on the street; which pierced the heart to think of—especially considering that the scourge could seize oneself at any moment.

The plague produced truly dismal scenes; such as people falling dead in the streets; terrible shrieks and screeching of women crying out (from the windows) in agony—it is impossible to describe the variety of postures in which the passions of the poor expressed themselves: frightful screeches and cries in the most inimitable tone—such that strikes one with horror and chillness in the blood. Hence nobody came out to the street and nobody opened their window: for nobody had curiosity; and nobody could help.

In the rage of the plague, some people die of mere grief, fright, and surprise (i.e. without being infected). Others were frightened into idiotism and foolish distractions; or into despair and lunacy; or into a melancholy madness.


The City

A Veritable Feast

The plague entered London at a time in which there was an incredible population increase in the city and suburbs, mostly from people coming to settle there for business, or to depend upon and attend the Court:—akin to the Romans’ besieging of Jerusalem during Passover, in which the Jews were all assembled together; and thus, an incredible number of people were taken by surprise there (i.e. because they would otherwise have been in other countries).

Plagued Trade (and Double-Dealing Dutch)

European nations were afraid to trade with England—hence merchant ships could go nowhere abroad.
            The rumours and reports of the plague in London were exaggerated abroad; thus making other nations prejudicial to trading with England. The Dutch took advantage of this by buying manufactured goods from the non-infected parts of England, to ship them to Spain and Italy as if they had produced the goods themselves.

Plague People Fire*

*Rules: Plague takes People, Fire takes Plague, People takes Fire.

Handicrafts, tradesmen, and merchants of all kinds were put out of work because only trades of absolute necessity were continued—hence the manufacturing trade of England suffered greatly. However, during the next year, the calamity that had impoverished and weakened the country (i.e. The Great Plague of London) was fully amended by another terrible calamity (i.e. The Great Fire of London) that enriched the country: for an infinite quantity of wares, apparel, etc. were consumed in the Fire—hence all manufacturing hands of the nation were set to work, as the prodigious demand for goods created incredible trade over the whole kingdom.


The Authorities

“Full” Disclosure*

*i.e. Governmental cover-ups.

As the news of a plague abroad was gradually transmitted around England, the government suppressed the extent of the threat so that the rumours died-down; and consequently, people forgot about the matter as something of concern and which they hoped was not true.

Once the plague began in London, the number of deaths caused by the plague was underreported by local authorities—both by the mislabelling of the causes and the concealing of deaths.

PhDeceivers

The posts of houses and corners of streets were plastered with doctor’s bills and papers of quacks and dupes inviting people to come for remedies; featuring claims such as “Infallible preventative pills against the plague”, “Never-failing preservative against the infection”, “Exact regulation for the conduct of the body in case of an infection”, or those of an “eminent” foreign physician who has “cured multitudes of people that actually had the plague”.

A Meta-Plague of Placebos

The magistrates administered cheap remedies to the diseased poor for all circumstances of infection; and the plague defied all medicines: physicians were infected and died—even the most eminent and skilful ones.

Locked Up with Legalese

The shutting up of houses – i.e. to forcibly confine people within their own homes – was a method first taken during the plague of 1603 (at the coming of King James I to the crown); and this power was granted by an act of parliament (entitled as “charitable relief”): this power was now invoked, when numbers of the infected in the city were still few; and some were removed to the pest-houses.

Defenders Assemble

The ordering of the infected was administered by a variety of authorities: justices of the peace; mayors; bailiffs; and appointed by head officers were examiners; searchers; watchmen; and keepers and buriers for infected persons and places.

28 Days Later (or, Plague-iarism?)

A period of 28 days was imposed before nurse-keepers were allowed to leave the house of a deceased infected; as it was for anyone who came in contact with an infected or their possessions (i.e. 28 days of confinement was enforced).

Watchmen (minus the Comedian)

Watchmen were placed at the doors of shut up houses, tasked with the prevention of anyone leaving the house, or anyone visiting it: this practice involved an effective death sentence for any unsick members of such households (i.e. by confining them with the infected members)—a practice which thus looked like a very hard and cruel measure.

Escape Plans

As a measure of public order, doors of shut up houses were marked with a red cross and padlocked—but people thus confined used various trickeries to attack the watchmen in order to escape.
            Prisons were also used for confinement of the infected—but whether confined in prison or at home, the confinement of innocent people made such practice even more intolerable to them (i.e. because they were guilty of no crime).
            People confined were therefore desperate to escape, and thus driven to extremes to attempt to do so: some were able to break out (for the prisons were not genuine ones, but makeshift prisons) and proceeded to spread the infection further by wandering around at all hazards for help;—and although some may not have been infected, no-one would believe them: consequently, they died purely because no-one came to relieve them.

The Common Denominator

Pits were dug to bury the dead; and such pits became a common grave for mankind (i.e. in which the rich and poor were buried alike) because it was impossible for the number of coffins to be made for that many corpses.

‘Just die already…’

There were many stories of cruel behaviour and practices by nurses, who were said to hasten the fate of sick persons they tended.

Cong-regression

Although many people were afraid to go to church; which, consequently, went down in attendance—this was also due to many clergymen having died; whilst others had gone to the country.

Double Jeopardy

Physicians and surgeons tortured many people to death by drawing-out their swellings too violently.
            There were many frightful stories of nurses and watchmen murdering (by various means) the confined sick; and committing many petty thefts in their houses.

Idioptimism

London was perfectly unprepared for the plague—both in the civil and the religious sense: the city behaved as if there was no warning, no expectation, and no apprehensions—therefore not the least provisions were made for the public: no regulations and no measures for relief of the poor (as was done abroad).

At the coming of the plague, the condition of the whole body of people was that of being unprovided: the lack of timely entered measures management – both public and private – led to all the confusions that were brought about and sank a prodigious number of people into disaster; and which if proper steps had been taken, could have been avoided.

Bad Lucky

The government issued an order to kill all dogs and cats because they were apt to run from house to house spreading the plague.

Unaccountable Countability

The accuracy of the mortality count was implausible, due to the confusion; and it is reckoned that, in reality, twice as many died as were recorded.

Full Dis-Closure

Towns placed roadblocks to prevent travellers from passing through; and who were thus forced to turn back.

Zombie Theory

Those living in country retreats were strict with citizens, especially the poor ones—due to (or justified by) the seeming propensity – if not wicked inclination – of the infected to infect others; about which there was a great debate among physicians as to the reason for this:
            Some ascribed it to the nature of the disease, i.e. that it impresses (onto the infected) a rage and hatred if one’s own kind—as if there were a malignity in the plague to spread itself; otherwise it is in the very nature of man himself, i.e. a prompting towards evil will (evil eye) that makes him like a mad dog: from a gentle creature to one who chases and bites anyone nearby, including those people most known to him.
            Others ascribed it to a corrupt human nature, in that one cannot bear to see himself more miserable than others; compelling in him an involuntary wish that all men are unhappy or in as bad a condition as himself.
            Yet another reason proposed was that of desperation: people do not know or consider what they are doing; and are therefore unconcerned about the danger or safety of others or themselves.
            None of these reasons were true, but were excuses used to justify and excuse the hardships and severe treatment of people infected (or prejudiciously considered to be)—thus such treatment was cruel and unjust.
            There were frequent alarms given to those in the country that Londoners were coming to plunder and rob them; were running about without control; and with no care being taken to shut up houses and confine the sick from infecting others—none of which was true, except in particular cases.

Confined to Death

The shutting up of houses was a great subject of discontent: for the confinement of the well with the sick was considered to be a very terrible practise—hence the complaints from those so confined were very grievous; who had no way to converse with friends, except out of windows: they would lament to passers-by, telling their story, and complaining about the watchmen (who would sometimes demean or insult passers-by for talking to the confined).

Quarantine Reloaded

Quarantine periods were prolonged – i.e. begun anew – based on reports made by visitors or examiners; consequently, some died not of the plague diagnosed, but of an infection during the diagnosis. This happened frequently; and was thus one of the worst consequences of shutting up houses.

Supernanny State

As the running about in the streets of the infected was difficult for officers to prevent, the confinement orders were strictly executed: the watchmen and officers were resolved to ensure that the citizens do their duty or be punished. Following this, people were strictly restrained; which they bore impatiently with extreme discontent.

Infected by Association

A period of 2-3 weeks quarantine was enforced (i.e. before they could be considered safe to allow out) on anyone who was apparently well, but who had lived with an infected.

Unquarantined Carriers

It was useless to confine and quarantine the symptomatic whilst thousands who appeared well were actually spreading the infection—hence physicians devised theories and tests for the detection of infection.

Climatic Coalescence

Climatic heat was alleged to propagate contagious disease, which is nourished by hot weather and therefore gains strength in it;—but heat of fire is different: the burning of coal consumes and dissipates the noxious fumes (i.e. of the infection); therefore, it was recommended that fires be kept burning in the homes—hence the coal trade flourished.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

Some cities came to be as violently infected as London had been: therefore, London magistrates set new rules of conduct for corresponding with those cities.

For the Sake of Reconvenience

Many if not all of the out-parishes were obliged to convert into a burial ground;—but some were then reconvened and converted to other uses: subsequently, the bodies that had been buried there were dug-up, disturbed, and removed to other places—like they were dung or rubbish.

Panicademics

Several little panics were contrived to frighten and disorder the people; such as when sometimes being told that the plague would return at such a time; or when a naked Quaker would daily prophesize evil tidings; or when several others preach that London has not been sufficiently scourged and there are sorer and severer strokes yet to come. Frequent clamours such as these kept everyone with some kinds of apprehension constantly upon them—hence whenever there is an increase in sudden deaths or fever, people become presently alarmed (i.e. in fear of a return of the plague).

Purger la Peste (not by Chanel)

There was great questioning among the learned concerning the manner to purge houses and goods that had seen the plague; and physicians would prescribe an abundance of perfumes and preparations—which were a great expense to anyone who obtained them.

Edgar Alan Plague*

*i.e. a Mystery!

The recovery of the city from the plague was a surprise to all, including the medical profession: for it was not by some new medicine or cure, treatment or experience of the physicians and surgeons that caused the recovery.


The People

Survivors (or, “We’re all in this together”)

Collective survival is not achieved because of God’s grace; or by man’s innate goodness—but by man’s need for community, i.e. his concept of the ‘desirable life’ is a life lived collectively.

“We can’t be consumed by our petty differences any more…”*

*(‘…only for the moment, of course.’)

The near view of death reconciles men to one another: for easy situations in life puts death far from men; which foments breaches, ill will, prejudice, and disunion;—whereas a close conversation with death (for years) or with diseases which threaten death, scum off the gall from the tempers, removing animosities, and brings one to see with different eyes than before. Hence when the terror of infection abates, petty differences return to as before.

‘Really I’m fine, that’s just my allergy’

The Infected conceal their symptoms to avoid being shunned by their neighbours and being contained by the authorities.

Unsick Note

People clamour for a Certificate of Health because they are prohibited from travelling abroad or along the roads, and from lodging anywhere without one; and further, because there are rumours that the government will issue turnpikes and barriers to prevent travel out of London.

‘Should I stay or should I go?’

The attachments of business, possessions, and family cause (for some) the dilemma of whether or not they should stay or leave London.

‘Cause this is thriller, thriller NIGHT

By general consent, people had taken up the custom of not going out after sunset.

“Because I’m bad, I’m bad, shamone…”*

*“…(bad, bad, really, really bad)…”

Hearts were hardened in the midst of calamity, so that all sorts of villainies, and even levities and debaucheries, were practiced in town as openly as ever.

Escape to the Country

By the time the plague had arrived within the walls of the city itself, the number of people there was already extremely lessened by a great multitude having earlier fled to the country.

A vast number of people fled—mostly from the heart of the city, i.e. the wealthiest people.

Grim Reapers

The ‘face’ of London was strangely altered by the plague, in that sorrow and sadness was on every face: although not completely overwhelmed, all looked deeply concerned in what they saw was apparently coming—hence considering themselves and their family as being in utmost danger.

The voices of mourners could be heard in the streets; and there were tears and lamentations at almost every house—but only at the start: towards the end, hearts hardened; and there was less concern for the loss of one’s friends because he was expecting his own death.

Ghost Town

It was surprising to see the streets so desolate (i.e. because they were usually so thronged): one could even go the whole length of a street without seeing anyone at all. However, when and where there were people walking a street, they did so keeping to the middle of it – no matter how wide it is – so as to avoid the people in the houses, including the smells and scents emanating from there (i.e. to avoid infection).

Pavlovian Plague

The level of fright was not yet so nearly as great in the city (i.e. as in the outlying areas)—particularly because the people there were in a most inexpressible consternation: as spread of the plague was often intermittent at first, the people were alarmed and un-alarmed again; which repeated several times until it became familiar to them. Thus even when the plague appeared to be violent, and yet did not presently spread into the city, people began to take courage and be a little hardened.

Frightful Follies

The initial fears of the populace were increased strangely by several odd accidents:
            Firstly, a blazing star or comet appeared for several months before the plague (as there did two years later, just before the Great Fire of London); about which certain people professed that it foretold doom (i.e. apocalyptic astronomy/astrology)—this helped to create universal melancholic apprehensions of dreadful calamity and judgement upon the city.
            Secondly, the apprehensions of the people was strangely increased by the ‘error of the times’—being that commoners were more addicted to prophecies and astrological conjugations, dreams, and ‘old wives tales’ than ever before; or, preachers making money off predictions and prognostications—all of which for the most part foretell – directly or covertly – the ruin of the city. Thus, such printings had the general effect of terrifying the people.

Plague of Pretenders

Since it is general that in life, one mischief introduces another; their terrors and apprehensions led people into many weak, foolish, and wicked things: they would run to fortune-tellers; to cunning men; and to astrologers, so they might know their own fortune—and such behaviour made the town swarm with a wicked generation of pretenders to magic (i.e. the ‘black arts’): the trade grew so open and practised that it became common to set signs and inscriptions on doors to advertise such services.
            All of the astrologers affirmed the coming of the plague because it kept up their trade (for wizards are rendered useless if people are not kept in a state of fright).

Death Kills All the Fun

All of the public places of entertainment were forbidden, if not closed-down and suppressed from working; and the public showed that they would bear their share in the situation by foregoing these things and observing the government’s decrees as to appropriate activities during these times (i.e. devotion by way of the appointed public prayers and days of fasting and humiliation; and to make public confession of sin and implore the mercy of God).
            Thus, ‘death’ was on the minds of the commoners, not mirth and diversions: for death was before their eyes; and a kind of sadness and horror were on their faces.

Unflattering Reflections

Wholesome reflections, if rightly managed, would have led to the confession of sins—but in the commoners, it had the contrary extreme: in that their characteristically ignorant and stupid reflections, which are ordinarily brutishly wicked and thoughtless, were now led by fright to extremes of folly. Hence they ran to conjurors, witches, and all sorts of deceivers to know what will become of them—and these people fed their fears and kept them continuously alarmed and awake, so as to delude them and pick their pockets.
            The people similarly showed their madness in running after quacks and mountebanks for remedies and medicines; and storing great quantities of pills, potions, and preservatives—thus did they spend their money and poison themselves beforehand from the fear of being poisoned (i.e. by infection of the plague); and thus did they prepare their own bodies for the plague, instead of preserving their body against it.

Uncharmingly Charmed

The madness of the poor people manifested not just in their being deceived by the wickedness of petty thieves; but by the pure self-folly in seeking charms to wear against the plague: for it was plain to see that such charms were often carried away in dead-carts into common graves (i.e. whilst visibly still being around the necks of the deceased wearers).
            Furthermore, as the plague spread the people began to see the folly in trusting quacks and wizards—and yet their fears now merely led to an amazement and stupidity of not knowing what to do; which manifested in hysterical pleas for mercy and guidance.

Wakeup Alarm

With death staring people in the face, some stupidity and dullness of mind was affected to them; but also much alarm in the innermost of the soul, by which many consciences were awakened; hard hearts were melted to tears; and penitent confessions of crimes long-concealed were made.

Inconsiderately Infectious

Families with sick members would delay their removal from the household; who, consequently, came to infect people who were hospitable to them—and thus were they cruel and ungrateful to have done so.

Infected with Extreme Prejudice

There was a general notion – a scandal in fact – that the infected take not the least care, or any scruple, of infecting others: although there may be some truth in it, it is certainly not as general as reported.

Desperate seekers of help were reported as desiring to infect others.

Mr. Garrison isn’t Home

Many families locked themselves up in houses with provisions stored up (retreats); and were not seen or heard of until the plague had ceased, after which they returned sound and well. This was the most effective and secure step to take: to keep one’s house like a little garrison besieged, allowing no-one to go out or come near (let alone in). In contrast, those houses shut up by the magistrates produced a misery for families that was beyond words: the most dismal shrieks and outcries of those terrified by the sight and condition of their dearest relations; and of being imprisoned in this way.

‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…’*

*(‘…what?! there’s a PLAGUE!?!’)

Fear of the plague and its horrifying effects caused many people to die on the spot from fright: the weekly death bill almost always included a few persons whose cause of death was listed as ‘frightened’, i.e. they were frightened to death; whilst others were frightened out of their senses, their memory, or their understanding.

Insult to Injury

Dreadful sorts of people would meet at taverns every night, who mocked and jeered at passing dead-carts; and at the lamentations of people in the streets or at windows: they would ridicule them for their sorrow using profanity and blasphemous expressions. Replying to such people simply provoked them to rail even more—filling one with horror and a kind of rage.

Necrotizing Negligence

The people had demonstrated a negligence that proved to be fatal, in that during the long notice period (i.e. warning) of the contagion, they made no provisions (i.e. storage of necessities); nor were they shy of conversing with others whilst infected.

Beware Necessities

Going out to buy provisions was largely to the ruin of the city: for by such outings people caught the infection from others; from tainted provisions (e.g. meat); and possibly, from market sellers who were infected.
            By various means, buyers and sellers would avoid giving goods and money directly to each other.

Perks of Being a Dead-Cart Bearer

When seeing dead bodies lying in the street, at first people would stop to call neighbours to come out; but afterwards, people took no notice of them (except to avoid passage nearby). Dead-cart bearers would come to take the bodies away at night; and evidently, they were undaunted creatures: for they searched the pockets and striped the clothes of the deceased to take whatever they could get.

The Rumour Mill

People continually frightened each other with mere stories: the scene would always take place at a farther end of town (opposite or remote from where the story was being told); and the particulars of the story would always be the same—thus were such stories more tale than truth.

Nothing Personal

It was normal to avoid each other by crossing the street; and thus to shun meeting people.

Fair Game

Houses left unoccupied by their owners – such as those who had fled to a retreat in the country – were often burgled.

Contaminated Courage

The plague mainly affected the poor, i.e. seemingly of its own accord. Additionally, the poor were the most venturous in it and the most fearless of it: they performed their employment with brutal courage, although not of a kind founded on religion or prudence: for they scarcely used any caution and ran into any employment they could get, despite that it was generally the most hazardous—such as tending the sick, watching shut up homes, carrying the infected to the pest-house, and carrying the dead to the grave.

Unwellfare State

Charity was given by citizens who had fled to the country, i.e. the nobility and royalty; and most of the poor families who had formerly lived by labour now lived by charity: and it was by this charity that the city was able to subsist.
            Trades that fell into immediate distress were the master-workmen (manufacturers), who stopped all work and dismissed their journeymen, workmen, and dependants; all merchandising was at a full stop and custom officers etc. were out of work; builders and repairers were at a full stop because thousands of houses were stripped of their inhabitants; shipmen were out of employment because navigation was at a stop; and all families – i.e. both those who fled and remained – retrenched their living as much as possible: consequently, many low-class workers were left friendless and helpless without employment or habitation.
            In general, all trades were stopped; hence employment ceased and the poor were cut-off; their misery abated only by charity. Many fled when desperate; and in so doing, served as messengers of death: for they either died on the road or carried the plague and spread the infection to the remotest parts of the kingdom. Such people were miserable objects of despair: for they perished not by the infection itself, but by the consequence of it—that being hunger, distress, and want of all things: no lodging, money, friends, means to get food, and no one to give them charity (there were many people without legal settlements and who therefore could not claim support from the parishes for relief, but only from the magistrates; therefore, those who stayed behind never felt want and distress as those who fled).

Sink or Swim

Many sought sanctuary in the sea: hundreds of ships sailed with provisions and ten thousand plus (i.e. rich people) were sheltered from the contagion—thus they lived safely and very easily.
            The lower rank of people got into small boats—and made sad work of it: seeking provisions; getting infected; and dying alone.

Me, Myself, and I

The time of the plague was one in which everyone’s private safety was so close to them that they had no room to pity the distresses of others: for everyone had death at his door and knew not what to do; from which all of their compassion was removed, whilst self-preservation became the first law: hence children ran from their parents as they languished in the utmost distress; and some parents did the same to their children (some even killed their own child).
            The danger of immediate death to oneself took away the bowels of love and all concern for one another—although this is in general, for there were also many instances of immovable affection, pity, and duty.

Languishing in Labour

Pregnant women could get no help when in labour: for midwives (most of whom were dead or had fled to the country) or neighbours would not come near them. Therefore, the prices to get a midwife were extortionate; and the midwives were usually unskilled, resulting in an incredible number of women being reduced to the utmost distress: for many women and babies were killed by the rashness and ignorance of pretended midwives.

Definite Desolation

Due to the impossibility of conversing with the community, it was impossible to know about all of the suicides and deaths of people who had tried to escape.

The plague caused a universal desolation, as funerals became so many that people could not toll the bell, weep or mourn, wear black or make coffins. The infections increased so much that confinements were completely stopped: the plague raged so violently that people gave up their endeavours to extinguish it: they were abandoned to despair, whole streets were desolated, and houses were emptied of their inhabitants. Thus, people had begun to give themselves up to their fears, considering all regulations and methods to be in vain.

‘Infected’ Detective

A method of plague-detection was shared by someone who had a wound in his leg: he claimed that when someone infected came near him, the wound would smart; and whenever he claimed that it smarts, everyone around would disperse based on that information (i.e. believing that there was an infected person present).

Plague Paranoia

People were initially shy of the visibly sick; but physicians assured them that the seemingly well are a threat too—hence people became shy of everyone: they confined themselves to their own homes to avoid all people; kept their distance when around others; and kept preservatives in their mouths and around their clothes to repel and shield from infection.

Joes’ Caution to the Wind

The poor impetuously ignored appeals to take cautious measures, instead showing carelessly adventurous conduct: both for justifiable necessity (i.e. to find any kind of employment) and not—hence they died in heaps.

Once the malignity of the disease had abated, people grew entirely regardless of themselves and infection that they went boldly into company with anyone. Meanwhile, the physicians printed directions advising continued reserve, and attempting to terrify with the threat of a relapse of the whole city—but the audaciousness of the commoners continued in imprudent, rash conduct: hence it cost many their lives when they could have been saved by care and caution (i.e. by quarantine themselves, so as to retire from society and the world).


The Aftermath

Disposable Deliverance

Only in particular families and persons was a sincere sense of deliverance retained; for the general practise of the people returned to as it was before: there was very little difference to be seen; and in fact, some would say that things had become worse: that morals had declined; that people had been hardened by the danger they had been in; that that they had become more wicked, stupid, bold, and hardened in their vices and immoralities than they were before.

Gone with the Wind

When it came time to inquire about friends, people would learn that some whole families had been swept away by the plague, with no remembrances of them left: nobody to possess or show title of what little they had left (such possessions were generally embezzled and purloined).

Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire

The distress of the poor was greater after the plague than it was during the plague itself: for all general charity had now been shut.

Privileged Postponement

The poor returned to town very precipitately—whereas the rich made no such haste: businessmen who came did not bring their families.

Thanks! (…but No Thanks)

People now cast-off apprehensions; were thankful; and praised God—however they soon forgot His works; lost their thankfulness; and returned to all manner of wickedness.


“the prototype of all accounts of great cities in times of epidemic…”—and sadly, still of utmost relevance in the 21st century.

Author: Simon Kanzen

I value reading substantial literature, enjoy thought-provoking entertainment, and above all, I think every day. With Stepping Stones, I develop my thoughts in writing and share references to relevant media, intending for other readers and thinkers to find these writings useful.

3 thoughts on “Pandemics in Perspective: A Journal of the Plague Year”

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