Chapter - 7
The constables and attendants, not to be persuaded by reason, continued obstinate, and would hearken
to nothing; so the two men that talked with them went back to their fellows to consult what was to be done. It was very discouraging
in the whole, and they knew not what to do for a good while; but at last John the soldier and biscuit- maker, considering
a while, "Come," says he, "leave the rest of the parley to me." He had not appeared yet, so he sets the joiner, Richard, to
work to cut some poles out of the trees and shape them as like guns as he could, and in a little time he had five or six fair
muskets, which at a distance would not be known; and about the part where the lock of a gun is he caused them to wrap cloth
and rags such as they had, as soldiers do in wet weather to preserve the locks of their pieces from rust; the rest was discoloured
with clay or mud, such as they could get; and all this while the rest of them sat under the trees by his direction, in two
or three bodies, where they made fires at a good distance from one another.
While this was doing he advanced himself and
two or three with him, and set up their tent in the lane within sight of the barrier which the town's men had made, and set
a sentinel just by it with the real gun, the only one they had, and who walked to and fro with the gun on his shoulder, so
as that the people of the town might see them. Also, he tied the horse to a gate in the hedge just by, and got some dry sticks
together and kindled a fire on the other side of the tent, so that the people of the town could see the fire and the smoke,
but could not see what they were doing at it.
After the country people had looked upon them very earnestly a great while,
and, by all that they could see, could not but suppose that they were a great many in company, they began to be uneasy, not
for their going away, but for staying where they were; and above all, perceiving they had horses and arms, for they had seen
one horse and one gun at the tent, and they had seen others of them walk about the field on the inside of the hedge by the
side of the lane with their muskets, as they took them to be, shouldered; I say, upon such a sight as this, you may be assured
they were alarmed and terribly frighted, and it seems they went to a justice of the peace to know what they should do. What
the justice advised them to I know not, but towards the evening they called from the barrier, as above, to the sentinel at
"What do you want?" says John.
*It seems John was in the tent, but hearing them call, he steps out,
and taking the gun upon his shoulder, talked to them as if he had been the sentinel placed there upon the guard by some officer
that was his superior.
"Why, what do you intend to do?" says the constable.
"To do," says John; "what would you have
us to do?"
Constable. "Why don't you be gone? What do you stay there for?"
John. "Why do you stop us on the king's
highway, and pretend to refuse us leave to go on our way?"
Constable. "We are not bound to tell you our reason, though
we did let you know it was because of the plague."
John. "We told you we were all sound and free from the plague, which
we were not bound to have satisfied you of, and yet you pretend to stop us on the highway."
Constable. "We have a right
to stop it up, and our own safety obliges us to it. Besides, this is not the king's highway; 'tis a way upon sufferance. You
see here is a gate, and if we do let people pass here, we make them pay toll."
John. "We have a right to seek our own
safety as well as you, and you may see we are flying for our lives: and 'tis very unchristian and unjust to stop us."
"You may go back from whence you came; we do not hinder you from that."
John. "No; it is a stronger enemy than you that
keeps us from doing that, or else we should not have come hither."
Constable. "Well, you may go any other way, then."
John. "No, no; I suppose you see we are able to send you going, and all the people of your parish, and come through your
town when we will; but since you have stopped us here, we are content. You see we have encamped here, and here we will live.
We hope you will furnish us with victuals."
Constable. "We furnish you ! What mean you by that?"
John. "Why, you would
not have us starve, would you? If you stop us here, you must keep us.
Constable. "You will be ill kept at our maintenance."
John. "If you stint us, we shall make ourselves the better allowance."
Constable. "Why, you will not pretend to quarter
upon us by force, will you?"
John. "We have offered no violence to you yet. Why do you seem to oblige us to it? I am an
old soldier, and cannot starve, and if you think that we shall be obliged to go back for want of provisions, you are mistaken."
Constable. "Since you threaten us, we shall take care to be strong enough for you. I have orders to raise the county upon
John. "It is you that threaten, not we. And since you are for mischief, you cannot blame us if we do not give you
time for it; we shall begin our march in a few minutes.*"
* This frighted the constable and the people that were with
him, that they immediately changed their note.
Constable. What is it you demand of us?
John. At first we desired nothing
of you but leave to go through the town; we should have offered no injury to any of you, neither would you have had any injury
or loss by us. We are not thieves, but poor people in distress, and flying from the dreadful plague in London, which devours
thousands every week. We wonder how you could be so unmerciful!
Constable. Self-preservation obliges us.
To shut up your compassion in a case of such distress as this?
Constable. Well, if you will pass over the fields on your
left hand, and behind that part of the town, I will endeavour to have gates opened for you. John. Our horsemen ** cannot pass
with our baggage that way; it does not lead into the road that we want to go, and why should you force us out of the road?
Besides, you have kept us here all day without any provisions but such as we brought with us. I think you ought to send us
some provisions for our relief.
** They had but one horse among them.
Constable. "If you will go another way we will
send you some provisions."
John. "That is the way to have all the towns in the county stop up the ways against us."
"If they all furnish you with food, what will you be the worse? I see you have tents; you want no lodging."
what quantity of provisions will you send us?"
Constable. "How many are you?"
John. "Nay, we do not ask enough for
all our company; we are in three companies. If you will send us bread for twenty men and about six or seven women for three
days, and show us the way over the field you speak of, we desire not to put your people into any fear for us; we will go out
of our way to oblige you, though we are as free from infection as you are.
* Here he called to one of his
men, and bade him order Captain Richard and his people to march the lower way on the side of the marches, and meet them in
the forest; which was all a sham, for they had no Captain Richard, or any such company.
Constable. "And will you assure
us that your other people shall offer us no new disturbance?"
John. "No, no you may depend on it."
must oblige yourself, too, that none of your people shall come a step nearer than where the provisions we send you shall be
John. "I answer for it we will not."
Accordingly they sent to the place twenty loaves of bread and three
or four large pieces of good beef, and opened some gates, through which they passed; but none of them had courage so much
as to look out to see them go, and, as it was evening, if they had looked they could not have seen them as to know how few
This was John the soldier's management. But this gave such an alarm to the county, that had they really been
two or three hundred the whole county would have been raised upon them, and
they would have been sent to prison, or perhaps
knocked on the head.
They were soon made sensible of this, for two days afterwards they found several parties of horsemen
and footmen also about, in pursuit of three companies of men, armed, as they said, with muskets, who were broke out from London
and had the plague upon them, and that were not only spreading the distemper among the people, but plundering the country.
As they saw now the consequence of their case, they soon saw the danger they were in; so they resolved by the advice also
of the old soldier to divide themselves again. John and his two comrades, with the horse, went away, as if towards Waltham;
the other in two companies, but all a little asunder, and went towards Epping.
The first night they encamped all in the
forest, and not far off of one another, but not setting up the tent, lest that should discover them. On the other hand, Richard
went to work with his axe and his hatchet, and cutting down branches of trees, he built three tents or hovels, in which they
all encamped with as much convenience as they could expect.
The provisions they had at Walthamstow served them very plentifully
this night; and as for the next, they left it to Providence. They had fared so well with the old soldier's conduct that they
now willingly made him their leader, and the first of his conduct appeared to be very good. He told them that they were now
at a proper distance enough from London; that as they need not be immediately beholden to the country for relief, so they
ought to be as careful the country did not infect them as that they did not infect the country; that what little money they
had, they must be as frugal of as they could; that as he would not have them think of offering the country any violence, so
they must endeavour to make the sense of their condition go as far with the country as it could. They all referred themselves
to his direction, so they left their three houses standing, and the next day went away towards Epping. The captain also (for
so they now called him), and his two fellow-travellers, laid aside their design of going to Waltham, and all went together.
When they came near Epping they halted, choosing out a proper place in the open forest, not very near the highway, but
not far out of it on the north side, under a little cluster of low pollard-trees. Here they pitched their little camp - which
consisted of three large tents or huts made of poles which their carpenter, and such as were his assistants, cut down and
fixed in the ground in a circle, binding all the small ends together at the top and thickening the sides with boughs of trees
and bushes, so that they were completely close and warm. They had, besides this, a little tent where the women lay by themselves,
and a hut to put the horse in.
It happened that the next day, or next but one, was market-day at Epping, when Captain
John and one of the other men went to market and bought some provisions; that is to say, bread, and some mutton and beef;
and two of the women went separately, as if they had not belonged to the rest, and bought more. John took the horse to bring
it home, and the sack which the carpenter carried his tools in, to put it in. The carpenter went to work and made them benches
and stools to sit on, such as the wood he could get would afford, and a kind of table to dine on.
They were taken no notice
of for two or three days, but after that abundance of people ran out of the town to look at them, and all the country was
alarmed about them. The people at first seemed afraid to come near them; and, on the other hand, they desired the people to
keep off, for there was a rumour that the plague was at Waltham, and that it had been in Epping two or three days; so John
called out to them not to come to them, "for," says he, "we are all whole and sound people here, and we would not have you
bring the plague among us, nor pretend we brought it among you."
After this the parish officers came up to them and parleyed
with them at a distance, and desired to know who they were, and by what authority they pretended to fix their stand at that
place. John answered very frankly, they were poor distressed people from London who, foreseeing the misery they should be
reduced to if plague spread into the city, had fled out in time for their lives, and, having no acquaintance or relations
to fly to, had first taken up at Islington; but, the plague being come into that town, were fled farther; and as they supposed
that the people of Epping might have refused them coming into their town, they had pitched their tents thus in the open field
and in the forest, being willing to bear all the hardships of such a disconsolate lodging rather than have any one think or
be afraid that they should receive injury by them.
At first the Epping people talked roughly to them, and told them they
must remove; that this was no place for them; and that they pretended to be sound and well, but that they might be infected
with the plague for aught they knew, and might infect the whole country, and they could not suffer them there.
very calmly with them a great while, and told them that London was the place by which they - that is, the townsmen of Epping
and all the country round them - subsisted; to whom they sold the produce of their lands, and out of whom they made their
rent of their farms; and to be so cruel to the inhabitants of London, or to any of those by whom they gained so much, was
very hard, and they would be loathe to have it remembered hereafter, and have it told how barbarous, how inhospitable, and
how unkind they were to the people of London when they fled from the face of the most terrible enemy in the world; that it
would be enough to make the name of an Epping man hateful through all the city, and to have the rabble stone them in the very
streets whenever they came so much as to market; that they were not yet secure from being visited themselves, and that, as
he heard, Waltham was already; that they would think it very hard that when any of them fled for fear before they were touched,
they should be denied the liberty of lying so much as in the open fields. The Epping men told them again, that they, indeed,
said they were sound and free from the infection, but that they had no assurance of it; and that it was reported that there
had been a great rabble of people at Walthamstow, who made such pretences of being sound as they did, but that they threatened
to plunder the town and force their way, whether the parish officers would or no; that there were near two hundred of them,
and had arms and tents like Low Country soldiers; that they extorted provisions from the town, by threatening them with living
upon them at free quarter, showing their arms, and talking in the language of soldiers; and that several of them being gone
away toward Rumford and Brentwood, the country had been infected by them, and the plague spread into both those large towns,
so that the people durst not go to market there as usual; that it was very likely they were some of that party; and if so,
they deserved to be sent to the county jail, and be secured till they had made satisfaction for the damage they had done,
and for the terror and fright they had put the country into.
John answered that what other people had done was nothing
to them; that they assured them they were all of one company; that they had never been more in number than they saw them at
that time (which, by the way, was very true); that they came out in two separate companies, but joined by the way, their cases
being the same; that they were ready to give what account of themselves anybody could desire of them, and to give in their
names and places of abode, that so they might be called to an account for any disorder that they might be guilty of; that
the townsmen might see they were content to live hardly, and only desired a little room to breathe in on the forest where
it was wholesome; for where it was not they could not stay, and would decamp if they found it otherwise there.
said the townsmen, "we have a great charge of poor upon our hands already, and we must take care not to increase it; we suppose
you can give us no security against your being chargeable to our parish and to the inhabitants, any more than you can of being
dangerous to us as to the infection."
"Why, look you," says John, "as to being chargeable to you, we hope we shall not.
If you will relieve us with provisions for our present necessity, we will be very thankful; as we all lived without charity
when we were at home, so we will oblige ourselves fully to repay you, if God pleases to bring us back to our own families
and houses in safety, and to restore health to the people of London.
"As to our dying here: we assure you, if any of us
die, we that survive will bury them, and put you to no expense, except it should be that we should all die; and then, indeed,
the last man not being able to bury himself, would put you to that single expense which I am persuaded", says John, "he would
leave enough behind him to pay you for the expense of.
"On the other hand," says John, "if you shut up all bowels of compassion,
and not relieve us at all, we shall not extort anything by violence or steal from any one; but when what little we have is
spent, if we perish for want, God's will be done."
John wrought so upon the townsmen, by talking thus rationally and smoothly
to them, that they went away; and though they did not give any consent to their staying there, yet they did not molest them;
and the poor people continued there three or four days longer without any disturbance. In this time they had got some remote
acquaintance with a victualling-house at the outskirts of the town, to whom they called at a distance to bring some little
things that they wanted, and which they caused to be set down at a distance, and always paid for very honestly.
this time the younger people of the town came frequently pretty near them, and would stand and look at them, and sometimes
talk with them at some space between; and particularly it was observed that the first Sabbath-day the poor people kept retired,
worshipped God together, and were heard to sing psalms.
These things, and a quiet, inoffensive behaviour, began to get
them the good opinion of the country, and people began to pity them and speak very well of them; the consequence of which
was, that upon the occasion of a very wet, rainy night, a certain gentleman who lived in the neighbourhood sent them a little
cart with twelve trusses or bundles of straw, as well for them to lodge upon as to cover and thatch their huts and to keep
them dry. The minister of a parish not far off, not knowing of the other, sent them also about two bushels of wheat and half
a bushel of white peas.
They were very thankful, to be sure, for this relief, and particularly the straw was a -very great
comfort to them; for though the ingenious carpenter had made frames for them to lie in like troughs, and filled them with
leaves of trees, and such things as they could get, and had cut all their tent-cloth out to make them coverlids, yet they
lay damp and hard and unwholesome till this straw came, which was to them like feather-beds, and, as John said, more welcome
than feather-beds would have been at another time.
This gentleman and the minister having thus begun, and given an example
of charity to these wanderers, others quickly followed, and they received every day some benevolence or other from the people,
but chiefly from the gentlemen who dwelt in the country round them. Some sent them chairs, stools, tables, and such household
things as they gave notice they wanted; some sent them blankets, rugs, and coverlids, some earthenware, and some kitchen ware
for ordering their food.
Encouraged by this good usage, their carpenter in a few days built them a large shed or house
with rafters, and a roof in form, and an upper floor, in which they lodged warm: for the weather began to be damp and cold
in the beginning of September. But this house, being well thatched, and the sides and roof made very thick, kept out the cold
well enough. He made, also, an earthen wall at one end with a chimney in it, and another of the company, with a vast deal
of trouble and pains, made a funnel to the chimney to carry out the smoke.
Here they lived comfortably, though coarsely,
till the beginning of September, when they had the bad news to hear, whether true or not, that the plague, which was very
hot at Waltham Abbey on one side and at Rumford and Brentwood on the other side, was also coming to Epping, to Woodford, and
to most of the towns upon the Forest, and which, as they said, was brought down among them chiefly by the higlers, and such
people as went to and from London with provisions.
If this was true, it was an evident contradiction to that report which
was afterwards spread all over England, but which, as I have said, I cannot confirm of my own knowledge: namely, that the
market-people carrying provisions to the city never got the infection or carried it back into the country; both which, I have
been assured, has been false.
It might be that they were preserved even beyond expectation, though not to a miracle, that
abundance went and came and were not touched; and that was much for the encouragement of the poor people of London, who had
been completely miserable if the people that brought provisions to the markets had not been many times wonderfully preserved,
or at least more preserved than could be reasonably expected.
But now these new inmates began to be disturbed more effectually,
for the towns about them were really infected, and they began to be afraid to trust one another so much as to go abroad for
such things as they wanted, and this pinched them very hard, for now they had little or nothing but what the charitable gentlemen
of the country supplied them with. But, for their encouragement, it happened that other gentlemen in the country who had not
sent them anything before, began to hear of them and supply them, and one sent them a large pig - that is to say, a porker
another two sheep, and another sent them a calf. In short, they had meat enough, and sometimes had cheese and milk, and all
such things. They were chiefly put to it for bread, for when the gentlemen sent them corn they had nowhere to bake it or to
grind it. This made them eat the first two bushel of wheat that was sent them in parched corn, as the Israelites of old did,
without grinding or making bread of it.
At last they found means to carry their corn to a windmill near Woodford, where
they bad it ground, and afterwards the biscuit-maker made a hearth so hollow and dry that he could bake biscuit-cakes tolerably
well; and thus they came into a condition to live without any assistance or supplies from the towns; and it was well they
did, for the country was soon after fully infected, and about 120 were said to have died of the distemper in the villages
near them, which was a terrible thing to them.
On this they called a new council, and now the towns had no need to be
afraid they should settle near them; but, on the contrary, several families of the poorer sort of the inhabitants quitted
their houses and built huts in the forest after the same manner as they had done. But it was observed that several of these
poor people that had so removed had the sickness even in their huts or booths; the reason of which was plain, namely, not
because they removed into the air, but, (1) because they did not remove time enough; that is to say, not till, by openly conversing
with the other people their neighbours, they had the distemper upon them, or (as may be said) among them, and so carried it
about them whither they went. Or (2) because they were not careful enough, after they were safely removed out of the towns,
not to come in again and mingle with the diseased people.
But be it which of these it will, when our travellers began
to perceive that the plague was not only in the towns, but even in the tents and huts on the forest near them, they began
then not only to be afraid, but to think of decamping and removing; for had they stayed they would have been in manifest danger
of their lives.
It is not to be wondered that they were greatly afflicted at being obliged to quit the place where they
had been so kindly received, and where they had been treated with so much humanity and charity; but necessity and the hazard
of life, which they came out so far to preserve, prevailed with them, and they saw no remedy. John, however, thought of a
remedy for their present misfortune: namely, that he would first acquaint that gentleman who was their principal benefactor
with the distress they were in, and to crave his assistance and advice.
The good, charitable gentleman encouraged them
to quit the Place for fear they should be cut off from any retreat at all by the violence of the distemper; but whither they
should go, that he found very hard to direct them to. At last John asked of him whether he, being a justice of the peace,
would give them certificates of health to other justices whom they might come before; that so whatever might be their lot,
they might not be repulsed now they had been also so long from London. This his worship immediately granted, and gave them
proper letters of health, and from thence they were at liberty to travel whither they pleased.
Accordingly they had a
full certificate of health, intimating that they had resided in a village in the county of Essex so long that, being examined
and scrutinised sufficiently, and having been retired from all conversation for above forty days, without any appearance of
sickness, they were therefore certainly concluded to be sound men, and might be safely entertained anywhere, having at last
removed rather for fear of the plague which was come into such a town, rather than for having any signal of infection upon
them, or upon any belonging to them.
With this certificate they removed, though with great reluctance; and John inclining
not to go far from home, they moved towards the marshes on the side of Waltham. But here they found a man who, it seems, kept
a weir or stop upon the river, made to raise the water for the barges which go up and down the river, and he terrified them
with dismal stories of the sickness having been spread into all the towns on the river and near the river, on the side of
Middlesex and Hertfordshire; that is to say, into Waltham, Waltham Cross, Enfield, and Ware, and all the towns on the road,
that they were afraid to go that way; though it seems the man imposed upon them, for that the thing was not really true.
it terrified them, and they resolved to move across the forest towards Rumford and Brentwood; but they heard that there were
numbers of people fled out of London that way, who lay up and down in the forest called Henalt Forest, reaching near Rumford,
and who, having no subsistence or habitation, not only lived oddly and suffered great extremities in the woods and fields
for want of relief, but were said to be made so desperate by those extremities as that they offered many violences to the
county robbed and plundered, and killed cattle, and the like; that others, building huts and hovels by the roadside, begged,
and that with an importunity next door to demanding relief; so that the county was very uneasy, and had been obliged to take
some of them up.
This in the first place intimated to them, that they would be sure to find the charity and kindness of
the county, which they had found here where they were before, hardened and shut up against them; and that, on the other hand,
they would be questioned wherever they came, and would be in danger of violence from others in like cases as themselves.
all these considerations John, their captain, in all their names, went back to their good friend and benefactor, who had relieved
them before, and laying their case truly before him, humbly asked his advice; and he as kindly advised them to take up their
old quarters again, or if not, to remove but a little farther out of the road, and directed them to a proper place for them;
and as they really wanted some house rather than huts to shelter them at that time of the year, it growing on towards Michaelmas,
they found an old decayed house which had been formerly some cottage or little habitation but was so out of repair as scarce
habitable; and by the consent of a farmer to whose farm it belonged, they got leave to make what use of it they could.
ingenious joiner, and all the rest, by his directions went to work with it, and in a very few days made it capable to shelter
them all in case of bad weather; and in which there was an old chimney and old oven, though both lying in ruins; yet they
made them both fit for use, and, raising additions, sheds, and leantos on every side, they soon made the house capable to
hold them all.
They chiefly wanted boards to make window-shutters, floors, doors, and several other things; but as the
gentlemen above favoured them, and the country was by that means made easy with them, and above all, that they were known
to be all sound and in good health, everybody helped them with what they could spare.
Here they encamped for good and
all, and resolved to remove no more. They saw plainly how terribly alarmed that county was everywhere at anybody that came
from London, and that they should have no admittance anywhere but with the utmost difficulty; at least no friendly reception
and assistance as they had received here.
Now, although they received great assistance and encouragement from the country
gentlemen and from the people round about them, yet they were put to great straits: for the weather grew cold and wet in October
and November, and they had not been used to so much hardship; so that they got colds in their limbs, and distempers, but never
had the infection; and thus about December they came home to the city again.
I give this story thus at large, principally
to give an account what became of the great numbers of people which immediately appeared in the city as soon as the sickness
abated; for, as I have said, great numbers of those that were able and had retreats in the country fled to those retreats.
So, when it was increased to such a frightful extremity as I have related, the middling people who had not friends fled to
all parts of the country where they could get shelter, as well those that had money to relieve themselves as those that had
not. Those that had money always fled farthest, because they were able to subsist themselves; but those who were empty suffered,
as I have said, great hardships, and were often driven by necessity to relieve their wants at the expense of the country.
By that means the country was made very uneasy at them, and sometimes took them up; though even then they scarce knew what
to do with them, and were always very backward to punish them, but often, too, they forced them from place to place till they
were obliged to come back again to London.
I have, since my knowing this story of John and his brother, inquired and found
that there were a great many of the poor disconsolate people, as above, fled into the country every way; and some of them
got little sheds and barns and outhouses to live in, where they could obtain so much kindness of the country, and especially
where they had any the least satisfactory account to give of themselves, and particularly that they did not come out of London
too late. But others, and that in great numbers, built themselves little huts and retreats in the fields and woods, and lived
like hermits in holes and caves, or any place they could find, and where, we may be sure, they suffered great extremities,
such that many of them were obliged to come back again whatever the danger was; and so those little huts were often found
empty, and the country people supposed the inhabitants lay dead in them of the plague, and would not go near them for fear
- no, not in a great while; nor is it unlikely but that some of the unhappy wanderers might die so all alone, even sometimes
for want of help, as particularly in one tent or hut was found a man dead, and on the gate of a field just by was cut with
his knife in uneven letters the following words, by which it may be supposed the other man escaped, or that, one dying first,
the other buried him as well as he could: -
O mIsErY! We BoTH ShaLL DyE, WoE, WoE.
I have given an account already
of what I found to have been the case down the river among the seafaring men; how the ships lay in the offing, as it's called,
in rows or lines astern of one another, quite down from the Pool as far as I could see. I have been told that they lay in
the same manner quite down the river as low as Gravesend, and some far beyond: even everywhere or in every place where they
could ride with safety as to wind and weather; nor did I ever hear that the plague reached to any of the people on board those
ships - except such as lay up in the Pool, or as high as Deptford Reach, although the people went frequently on shore to the
country towns and villages and farmers' houses, to buy fresh provisions, fowls, pigs, calves, and the like for their supply.
Likewise I found that the watermen on the river above the bridge found means to convey themselves away up the river as
far as they could go, and that they had, many of them, their whole families in their boats, covered with tilts and bales,
as they call them, and furnished with straw within for their lodging, and that they lay thus all along by the shore in the
marshes, some of them setting up little tents with their sails, and so lying under them on shore in the day, and going into
their boats at night; and in this manner, as I have heard, the river-sides were lined with boats and people as long as they
had anything to subsist on, or could get anything of the country; and indeed the country people, as well Gentlemen as others,
on these and all other occasions, were very forward to relieve them - but they were by no means willing to receive them into
their towns and houses, and for that we cannot blame them.
There was one unhappy citizen within my knowledge who had been
visited in a dreadful manner, so that his wife and all his children were dead, and himself and two servants only left, with
an elderly woman, a near relation, who had nursed those that were dead as well as she could. This disconsolate man goes to
a village near the town, though not within the bills of mortality, and finding an empty house there, inquires out the owner,
and took the house. After a few days he got a cart and loaded it with goods, and carries them down to the house; the people
of the village opposed his driving the cart along; but with some arguings and some force, the men that drove the cart along
got through the street up to the door of the house. There the constable resisted them again, and would not let them be brought
in. The man caused the goods to be unloaden and laid at the door, and sent the cart away; upon which they carried the man
before a justice of peace; that is to say, they commanded him to go, which he did. The justice ordered him to cause the cart
to fetch away the goods again, which he refused to do; upon which the justice ordered the constable to pursue the carters
and fetch them back, and make them reload the goods and carry them away, or to set them in the stocks till they came for further
orders; and if they could not find them, nor the man would not consent to take them away, they should cause them to be drawn
with hooks from the house-door and burned in the street. The poor distressed man upon this fetched the goods again, but with
grievous cries and lamentations at the hardship of his case. But there was no remedy; self-preservation obliged the people
to those severities which they would not otherwise have been concerned in. Whether this poor man lived or died I cannot tell,
but it was reported that he had the plague upon him at that time; and perhaps the people might report that to justify their
usage of him; but it was not unlikely that either he or his goods, or both, were dangerous, when his whole family had been
dead of the distempers so little a while before.
I know that the inhabitants of the towns adjacent to London were much
blamed for cruelty to the poor people that ran from the contagion in their distress, and many very severe things were done,
as may be seen from what has been said; but I cannot but say also that, where there was room for charity and assistance to
the people, without apparent danger to themselves, they were willing enough to help and relieve them. But as every town were
indeed judges in their own case, so the poor people who ran abroad in their extremities were often ill-used and driven back
again into the town; and this caused infinite exclamations and outcries against the country towns, and made the clamour very
And yet, more or less, maugre all the caution, there was not a town of any note within ten (or, I believe, twenty)
miles of the city but what was more or less infected and had some died among them. I have heard the accounts of several, such
as they were reckoned up, as follows: -
In Enfield 32 In Uxbridge 117
" Hornsey 58 " Hertford 90
" Newington 17
" Ware 160
" Tottenham 42 " Hodsdon 30
" Edmonton 19 " Waltham Abbey 23
" Barnet and Hadly 19 " Epping 26
St Albans 121 " Deptford 623
" Watford 45 " Greenwich 231
" Eltham and Lusum 85 " Kingston 122
" Croydon 61 "
" Brentwood 70 " Chertsey 18
" Rumford 109 " Windsor 103
" Barking Abbot 200
" Brentford 432 Cum
Another thing might render the country more strict with respect to the citizens, and especially with respect to
the poor, and this was what I hinted at before: namely, that there was a seeming propensity or a wicked inclination in those
that were infected to infect others.
There have been great debates among our physicians as to the reason of this. Some
will have it to be in the nature of the disease, and that it impresses every one that is seized upon by it with a kind of
a rage, and a hatred against their own kind - as if there was a malignity not only in the distemper to communicate itself,
but in the very nature of man, prompting him with evil will or an evil eye, that, as they say in the case of a mad dog, who
though the gentlest creature before of any of his kind, yet then will fly upon and bite any one that comes next him, and those
as soon as any who had been most observed by him before.
Others placed it to the account of the corruption of human nature,
who cannot bear to see itself more miserable than others of its own species, and has a kind of involuntary wish that all men
were as unhappy or in as bad a condition as itself.
Others say it was only a kind of desperation, not knowing or regarding
what they did, and consequently unconcerned at the danger or safety not only of anybody near them, but even of themselves
also. And indeed, when men are once come to a condition to abandon themselves, and be unconcerned for the safety or at the
danger of themselves, it cannot be so much wondered that they should be careless of the safety of other people.
choose to give this grave debate a quite different turn, and answer it or resolve it all by saying that I do not grant the
fact. On the contrary, I say that the thing is not really so, but that it was a general complaint raised by the people inhabiting
the outlying villages against the citizens to justify, or at least excuse, those hardships and severities so much talked of,
and in which complaints both sides may be said to have injured one another; that is to say, the citizens pressing to be received
and harboured in time of distress, and with the plague upon them, complain of the cruelty and injustice of the country people
in being refused entrance and forced back again with their goods and families; and the inhabitants, finding themselves so
imposed upon, and the citizens breaking in as it were upon them whether they would or no, complain that when they were infected
they were not only regardless of others, but even willing to infect them; neither of which were really true - that is to say,
in the colours they were described in.
It is true there is something to be said for the frequent alarms which were given
to the country of the resolution of the people of London to come out by force, not only for relief, but to plunder and rob;
that they ran about the streets with the distemper upon them without any control; and that no care was taken to shut up houses,
and confine the sick people from infecting others; whereas, to do the Londoners justice, they never practised such things,
except in such particular cases as I have mentioned above, and such like. On the other hand, everything was managed with so
much care, and such excellent order was observed in the whole city and suburbs by the care of the Lord Mayor and aldermen
and by the justices of the peace, church-wardens, &c., in the outparts, that London may be a pattern to all the cities
in the world for the good government and the excellent order that was everywhere kept, even in the time of the most violent
infection, and when the people were in the utmost consternation and distress. But of this I shall speak by itself.
thing, it is to be observed, was owing principally to the prudence of the magistrates, and ought to be mentioned to their
honour: viz., the moderation which they used in the great and difficult work of shutting up of houses. It is true, as I have
mentioned, that the shutting up of houses was a great subject of discontent, and I may say indeed the only subject of discontent
among the people at that time; for the confining the sound in the same house with the sick was counted very terrible, and
the complaints of people so confined were very grievous. They were heard into the very streets, and they were sometimes such
that called for resentment, though oftener for compassion. They had no way to converse with any of their friends but out at
their windows, where they would make such piteous lamentations as often moved the hearts of those they talked with, and of
others who, passing by, heard their story; and as those complaints oftentimes reproached the severity, and sometimes the insolence,
of the watchmen placed at their doors, those watchmen would answer saucily enough, and perhaps be apt to affront the people
who were in the street talking to the said families; for which, or for their ill- treatment of the families, I think seven
or eight of them in several places were killed; I know not whether I should say murdered or not, because I cannot enter into
the particular cases. It is true the watchmen were on their duty, and acting in the post where they were placed by a lawful
authority; and killing any public legal officer in the execution of his office is always, in the language of the law, called
murder. But as they were not authorised by the magistrates' instructions, or by the power they acted under, to be injurious
or abusive either to the people who were under their observation or to any that concerned themselves for them; so when they
did so, they might he said to act themselves, not their office; ' to act as private persons, not as persons employed; and
consequently, if they brought mischief upon themselves by such an undue behaviour, that mischief was upon their own heads;
and indeed they had so much the hearty curses of the people, whether they deserved it or not, that whatever befell them nobody
pitied them, and everybody was apt to say they deserved it, whatever it was. Nor do I remember that anybody was ever punished,
at least to any considerable degree, for whatever was done to the watchmen that guarded their houses.
What variety of
stratagems were used to escape and get out of houses thus shut up, by which the watchmen were deceived or overpowered, and
that the people got away, I have taken notice of already, and shall say no more to that. But I say the magistrates did moderate
and ease families upon many occasions in this case, and particularly in that of taking away, or suffering to be removed, the
sick persons out of such houses when they were willing to be removed either to a pest-house or other Places; and sometimes
giving the well persons in the family so shut up, leave to remove upon information given that they were well, and that they
would confine themselves in such houses where they went so long as should be required of them. The concern, also, of the magistrates
for the supplying such poor families as were infected - I say, supplying them with necessaries, as well physic as food - was
very great, and in which they did not content themselves with giving the necessary orders to the officers appointed, but the
aldermen in person, and on horseback, frequently rode to such houses and caused the people to be asked at their windows whether
they were duly attended or not; also, whether they wanted anything that was necessary, and if the officers had constantly
carried their messages and fetched them such things as they wanted or not. And if they answered in the affirmative, all was
well; but if they complained that they were ill supplied, and that the officer did not do his duty, or did not treat them
civilly, they (the officers) were generally removed, and others placed in their stead.
It is true such complaint might
be unjust, and if the officer had such arguments to use as would convince the magistrate that he was right, and that the people
had injured him, he was continued and they reproved. But this part could not well bear a particular inquiry, for the parties
could very ill be well heard and answered in the street from the windows, as was the case then. The magistrates, therefore,
generally chose to favour the people and remove the man, as what seemed to be the least wrong and of the least ill consequence;
seeing if the watchman was injured, yet they could easily make him amends by giving him another post of the like nature; but
if the family was injured, there was no satisfaction could be made to them, the damage perhaps being irreparable, as it concerned
A great variety of these cases frequently happened between the watchmen and the poor people shut up, besides
those I formerly mentioned about escaping. Sometimes the watchmen were absent, sometimes drunk, sometimes asleep when the
people wanted them, and such never failed to be punished severely, as indeed they deserved.
But after all that was or
could be done in these cases, the shutting up of houses, so as to confine those that were well with those that were sick,
had very great inconveniences in it, and some that were very tragical, and which merited to have been considered if there
had been room for it. But it was authorised by a law, it had the public good in view as the end chiefly aimed at, and all
the private injuries that were done by the putting it in execution must be put to the account of the public benefit.
is doubtful to this day whether, in the whole, it contributed anything to the stop of the infection; and indeed I cannot say
it did, for nothing could run with greater fury and rage than the infection did when it was in its chief violence, though
the houses infected were shut up as exactly and as effectually as it was possible. Certain it is that if all the infected
persons were effectually shut in, no sound person could have been infected by them, because they could not have come near
them. But the case was this (and I shall only touch it here): namely, that the infection was propagated insensibly, and by
such persons as were not visibly infected, who neither knew whom they infected or who they were infected by.
A house in
Whitechappel was shut up for the sake of one infected maid, who had only spots, not the tokens come out upon her, and recovered;
yet these people obtained no liberty to stir, neither for air or exercise, for forty days. Want of breath, fear, anger, vexation,
and all the other gifts attending such an injurious treatment cast the mistress of the family into a fever, and visitors came
into the house and said it was the plague, though the physicians declared it was not. However, the family were obliged to
begin their quarantine anew on the report of the visitors or examiner, though their former quarantine wanted but a few days
of being finished. This oppressed them so with anger and grief, and, as before, straitened them also so much as to room, and
for want of breathing and free air, that most of the family fell sick, one of one distemper, one of another, chiefly scorbutic
ailments; only one, a violent colic; till, after several prolongings of their confinement, some or other of those that came
in with the visitors to inspect the persons that were ill, in hopes of releasing them, brought the distemper with them and
infected the whole house; and all or most of them died, not of the plague as really upon them before, but of the plague that
those people brought them, who should have been careful to have protected them from it. And this was a thing which frequently
happened, and was indeed one of the worst consequences of shutting houses up.
Chapter - 8
I had about this time a
little hardship put upon me, which I was at first greatly afflicted at, and very much disturbed about though, as it proved,
it did not expose me to any disaster; and this was being appointed by the alderman of Portsoken Ward one of the examiners
of the houses in the precinct where I lived. We had a large parish, and had no less than eighteen examiners, as the order
called us; the people called us visitors. I endeavoured with all my might to be excused from such an employment, and used
many arguments with the alderman's deputy to be excused; particularly I alleged that I was against shutting up houses at all,
and that it would be very hard to oblige me to be an instrument in that which was against my judgement, and which I did verily
believe would not answer the end it was intended for; but all the abatement I could get was only, that whereas the officer
was appointed by my Lord Mayor to continue two months, I should be obliged to hold it but three weeks, on condition nevertheless
that I could then get some other sufficient housekeeper to serve the rest of the time for me - which was, in short, but a
very small favour, it being very difficult to get any man to accept of such an employment, that was fit to be entrusted with
It is true that shutting up of houses had one effect, which I am sensible was of moment, namely, it confined the distempered
people, who would otherwise have been both very troublesome and very dangerous in their running about streets with the distemper
upon them - which, when they were delirious, they would have done in a most frightful manner, and as indeed they began to
do at first very much, till they were thus restraided; nay, so very open they were that the poor would go about and beg at
people's doors, and say they had the plague upon them, and beg rags for their sores, or both, or anything that delirious nature
happened to think of.
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 ran 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 into 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
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 tomorrow night." 'Tis 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 downstairs and some upstairs, 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 downstairs, 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 downstairs.
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 since
to speak of it (You may be sure) with great satisfaction. 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 don't remember.
It is most certain that, if by the shutting up of houses the sick bad not been confined, multitudes
who in the height of their fever were delirious and distracted would have been continually running up and down the streets;
and even as it was a very great number did so, and offered all sorts of violence to those they met,. even just as a mad dog
runs on and bites at every one he meets; nor can I doubt but that, should one of those infected, diseased creatures have bitten
any man or woman while the frenzy of the distemper was upon them, they, I mean the person so wounded, would as certainly have
been incurably infected as one that was sick before, and had the tokens upon him.
I heard of one infected creature who,
running out of his bed in his shirt in the anguish and agony of his swellings, of which he had three upon him, got his shoes
on and went to put on his coat; but the nurse resisting, and snatching the coat from him, he threw her down, ran over her,
ran downstairs and into the street, directly to the Thames in his shirt; the nurse running after him, and calling to the watch
to stop him; but the watchman, frighten at the man, and afraid to touch him, let him go on; upon which he ran down to the
Stillyard stairs, threw away his shirt, and plunged into the Thames, and, being a good swimmer, swam quite over the river;
and the tide being coming in, as they call it (that is, running westward) he reached the land not till he came about the Falcon
stairs, where landing, and finding no people there, it being in the night, he ran about the streets there, naked as he was,
for a good while, when, it being by that time high water, he takes the river again, and swam back to the Stillyard, landed,
ran up the streets again to his own house, knocking at the door, went up the stairs and into his bed again; and that this
terrible experiment cured him of the plague, that is to say, that the violent motion of his arms and legs stretched the parts
where the swellings he had upon him were, that is to say, under his arms and his groin, and caused them to ripen and break;
and that the cold of the water abated the fever in his blood.
I have only to add that I do not relate this any more than
some of the other, as a fact within my own knowledge, so as that I can vouch the truth of them, and especially that of the
man being cured by the extravagant adventure, which I confess I do not think very possible; but it may serve to confirm the
many desperate things which the distressed people falling into deliriums, and what we call light- headedness, were frequently
run upon at that time, and how infinitely more such there would have been if such people had not been confined by the shutting
up of houses; and this I take to be the best, if not the only good thing which was performed by that severe method.
the other hand, the complaints and the murmurings were very bitter against the thing itself. It would pierce the hearts of
all that came by to hear the piteous cries of those infected people, who, being thus out of their understandings by the violence
of their pain or the heat of their blood, were either shut in or perhaps tied in their beds and chairs, to prevent their doing
themselves hurt - and who would make a dreadful outcry at their being confined, and at their being not permitted to die at
large, as they called it, and as they would have done before.
This running of distempered people about the streets was
very dismal, and the magistrates did their utmost to prevent it; but as it was generally in the night and always sudden when
such attempts were made, the officers could not be at band to prevent it; and even when any got out in the day, the officers
appointed did not care to meddle with them, because, as they were all grievously infected, to be sure, when they were come
to that height, so they were more than ordinarily infectious, and it was one of the most dangerous things that could be to
touch them. On the other hand, they generally ran on, not knowing what they did, till they dropped down stark dead, or till
they had exhausted their spirits so as that they would fall and then die in perhaps half-an-hour or an hour; and, which was
most piteous to hear, they were sure to come to themselves entirely in that half-hour or hour, and then to make most grievous
and piercing cries and lamentations in the deep, afflicting sense of the condition they were in. This was much of it before
the order for shutting up of houses was strictly put in execution, for at first the watchmen were not so vigorous and severe
as they were afterward in the keeping the people in; that is to say, before they were (I mean some of them) severely punished
for their neglect, failing in their duty, and letting people who were under their care slip away, or conniving at their going
abroad, whether sick or well. But after they saw the officers appointed to examine into their conduct were resolved to have
them do their duty or be punished for the omission, they were more exact, and the people were strictly restrained; which was
a thing they took so ill and bore so impatiently that their discontents can hardly be described. But there was an absolute
necessity for it, that must be confessed, unless some other measures had been timely entered upon, and it was too late for
Had not this particular (of the sick being restrained as above) been our case at that time, London would have been
the most dreadful place that ever was in the world; there would, for aught I know, have as many people died in the streets
as died in their houses; for when the distemper was at its height it generally made them raving and delirious, and when they
were so they would never be persuaded to keep in their beds but by force; and many who were not tied threw themselves out
of windows when they found they could not get leave to go out of their doors.
It was for want of people conversing one
with another, in this time of calamity, that it was impossible any particular person could come at the knowledge of all the
extraordinary cases that occurred in different families; and particularly I believe it was never known to this day how many
people in their deliriums drowned themselves in the Thames, and in the river which runs from the marshes by Hackney, which
we generally called Ware River, or Hackney River. As to those which were set down in the weekly bill, they were indeed few;
nor could it be known of any of those whether they drowned themselves by accident or not. But I believe I might reckon up
more who within the compass of my knowledge or observation really drowned themselves in that year, than are put down in the
bill of all put together: for many of the bodies were never found who yet were known to be lost; and the like in other methods
of self-destruction. There was also one man in or about Whitecross Street burned himself to death in his bed; some said it
was done by himself, others that it was by the treachery of the nurse that attended him; but that he had the plague upon him
was agreed by all.
It was a merciful disposition of Providence also, and which I have many times thought of at that time,
that no fires, or no considerable ones at least, happened in the city during that year, which, if it had been otherwise, would
have been very dreadful; and either the people must have let them alone unquenched, or have come together in great crowds
and throngs, unconcerned at the danger of the infection, not concerned at the houses they went into, at the goods they handled,
or at the persons or the people they came among. But so it was, that excepting that in Cripplegate parish, and two or three
little eruptions of fires, which were presently extinguished, there was no disaster of that kind happened in the whole year.
They told us a story of a house in a place called Swan Alley, passing from Goswell Street, near the end of Old Street, into
St John Street, that a family was infected there in so terrible a manner that every one of the house died. The last person
lay dead on the floor, and, as it is supposed, had lain herself all along to die just before the fire; the fire, it seems,
had fallen from its place, being of wood, and had taken hold of the boards and the joists they lay on, and burnt as far as
just to the body, but had not taken hold of the dead body (though she had little more than her shift on) and had gone out
of itself, not burning the rest of the house, though it was a slight timber house. How true this might be I do not determine,
but the city being to suffer severely the next year by fire, this year it felt very little of that calamity.
the deliriums which the agony threw people into, and how I have mentioned in their madness, when they were alone, they did
many desperate things, it was very strange there were no more disasters of that kind.
It has been frequently asked me,
and I cannot say that I ever knew how to give a direct answer to it, how it came to pass that so many infected people appeared
abroad in the streets at the same time that the houses which were infected were so vigilantly searched, and all of them shut
up and guarded as they were.
I confess I know not what answer to give to this, unless it be this: that in so great and
populous a city as this is it was impossible to discover every house that was infected as soon as it was so, or to shut up
all the houses that were infected; so that people had the liberty of going about the streets, even where they Pleased, unless
they were known to belong to such-and-such infected houses.
It is true that, as several physicians told my Lord Mayor,
the fury of the contagion was such at some particular times, and people sickened so fast and died so soon, that it was impossible,
and indeed to no purpose, to go about to inquire who was sick and who was well, or to shut them up with such exactness as
the thing required, almost every house in a whole street being infected, and in many places every person in some of the houses;
and that which was still worse, by the time that the houses were known to be infected, most of the persons infected would
be stone dead, and the rest run away for fear of being shut up; so that it was to very small purpose to call them infected
houses and shut them up, the infection having ravaged and taken its leave of the house before it was really known that the
family was any way touched.
This might be sufficient to convince any reasonable person that as it was not in the power
of the magistrates or of any human methods of policy, to prevent the spreading the infection, so that this way of shutting
up of houses was perfectly insufficient for that end. Indeed it seemed to have no manner of public good in it, equal or proportionable
to the grievous burden that it was to the particular families that were so shut up; and, as far as I was employed by the public
in directing that severity, I frequently found occasion to see that it was incapable of answering the end. For example, as
I was desired, as a visitor or examiner, to inquire into the particulars of several families which were infected, we scarce
came to any house where the plague had visibly appeared in the family but that some of the family were fled and gone. The
magistrates would resent this, and charge the examiners with being remiss in their examination or inspection. But by that
means houses were long infected before it was known. Now, as I was in this dangerous office but half the appointed time, which
was two months, it was long enough to inform myself that we were no way capable of coming at the knowledge of the true state
of any family but by inquiring at the door or of the neighbours. As for going into every house to search, that was a part
no authority would offer to impose on the inhabitants, or any citizen would undertake: for it would have been exposing us
to certain infection and death, and to the ruin of our own families as well as of ourselves; nor would any citizen of probity,
and that could be depended upon, have stayed in the town if they had been made liable to such a severity.
that we could come at the certainty of things by no method but that of inquiry of the neighbours or of the family, and on
that we could not justly depend, it was not possible but that the uncertainty of this matter would remain as above.
is true masters of families were bound by the order to give notice to the examiner of the place wherein he lived, within two
hours after he should discover it, of any person being sick in his house (that is to say, having signs of the infection)-
but they found so many ways to evade this and excuse their negligence that they seldom gave that notice till they had taken
measures to have every one escape out of the house who had a mind to escape, whether they were sick or sound; and while this
was so, it is easy to see that the shutting up of houses was no way to be depended upon as a sufficient method for putting
a stop to the infection because, as I have said elsewhere, many of those that so went out of those infected houses had the
plague really upon them, though they might really think themselves sound. And some of these were the people that walked the
streets till they fell down dead, not that they were suddenly struck with the distemper as with a bullet that killed with
the stroke, but that they really had the infection in their blood long before; only, that as it preyed secretly on the vitals,
it appeared not till it seized the heart with a mortal power, and the patient died in a moment, as with a sudden fainting
or an apoplectic fit.
I know that some even of our physicians thought for a time that those people that so died in the
streets were seized but that moment they fell, as if they had been touched by a stroke from heaven as men are killed by a
flash of lightning - but they found reason to alter their opinion afterward; for upon examining the bodies of such after they
were dead, they always either had tokens upon them or other evident proofs of the distemper having been longer upon them than
they had otherwise expected.
This often was the reason that, as I have said, we that were examiners were not able to come
at the knowledge of the infection being entered into a house till it was too late to shut it up, and sometimes not till the
people that were left were all dead. In Petticoat Lane two houses together were infected, and several people sick; but the
distemper was so well concealed, the examiner, who was my neighbour, got no knowledge of it till notice was sent him that
the people were all dead, and that the carts should call there to fetch them away. The two heads of the families concerted
their measures, and so ordered their matters as that when the examiner was in the neighbourhood they appeared generally at
a time, and answered, that is, lied, for one another, or got some of the neighbourhood to say they were all in health - and
perhaps knew no better - till, death making it impossible to keep it any longer as a secret, the dead-carts were called in
the night to both the houses t and so it became public. But when the examiner ordered the constable to shut up the houses
there was nobody left in them but three people, two in one house and one in the other, just dying, and a nurse in each house
who acknowledged that they had buried five before, that the houses had been infected nine or ten days, and that for all the
rest of the two families, which were many, they were gone, some sick, some well, or whether sick or well could not be known.
In like manner, at another house in the same lane, a man having his family infected but very unwilling to be shut up,
when he could conceal it no longer, shut up himself; that is to say, he set the great red cross upon his door with the words,
"Lord have mercy upon us", and so deluded the examiner, who supposed it had been done by the constable by order of the other
examiner, for there were two examiners to every district or precinct. By this means he had free egress and regress into his
house again. and out of it, as he pleased, notwithstanding it was infected, till at length his stratagem was found out; and
then he, with the sound part of his servants and family, made off and escaped, so they were not shut up at all.
things made it very hard, if not impossible, as I have said, to prevent the spreading of an infection by the shutting up of
houses - unless the people would think the shutting of their houses no grievance, and be so willing to have it done as that
they would give notice duly and faithfully to the magistrates of their being infected as soon as it was known by themselves;
but as that cannot be expected from them, and the examiners cannot be supposed, as above, to go into their houses to visit
and search, all the good of shutting up houses will be defeated, and few houses will be shut up in time, except those of the
poor, who cannot conceal it, and of some people who will be discovered by the terror and consternation which the things put
them into. I got myself discharged of the dangerous office I was in as soon as I could get another admitted, whom I had obtained
for a little money to accept of it; and so, instead of serving the two months, which was directed, I was not above three weeks
in it; and a great while too, considering it was in the month of August, at which time the distemper began to rage with great
violence at our end of the town.
In the execution of this office I could not refrain speaking my opinion among my neighbours
as to this shutting up the people in their houses; in which we saw most evidently the severities that were used, though grievous
in themselves, had also this particular objection against them: namely, that they did not answer the end, as I have said,
but that the distempered people went day by day about the streets; and it was our united opinion that a method to have removed
the sound from the sick, in case of a particular house being visited, would have been much more reasonable on many accounts,
leaving nobody with the sick persons but such as should on such occasion request to stay and declare themselves content to
be shut up with them
Our scheme for removing those that were sound from those that were sick was only in such houses as
were infected, and confining the sick was no confinement; those that could not stir would not complain while they were in
their senses and while they had the power of judging. Indeed, when they came to be delirious and light-headed, then they would
cry out of the cruelty of being confined; but for the removal of those that were well, we thought it highly reasonable and
just, for their own sakes, they should be removed from the sick, and that for other people's safety they should keep retired
for a while, to see that they were sound, and might not infect others; and we thought twenty or thirty days enough for this.
Now, certainly, if houses had been provided on purpose for those that were sound to perform this demi-quarantine in, they
would have much less reason to think themselves injured in such a restraint than in being confined with infected people in
the houses where they lived.
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 increased 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 burned 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 agency 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 excess 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 Whitechappel, - 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 caustics
on them, the surgeons had, it seems, hopes to break them - which caustics were then upon him, burning his flesh as with a
hot iron. I cannot say what became of this poor man, but I think he continued roving about in that manner till he fell down
No wonder the aspect of the city itself was frightful. The usual concourse of people in the streets, and which
used to be supplied from our end of the town, was abated. The Exchange was not kept shut, indeed, but it was no more frequented.
The fires were lost; they had been almost extinguished for some days by a very smart and hasty rain. But that was not all;
some of the physicians insisted that they were not only no benefit, but injurious to the health of people. This they made
a loud clamour about, and complained to the Lord Mayor about it. On the other hand, others of the same faculty, and eminent
too, opposed them, and gave their reasons why the fires were, and must be, useful to assuage the violence of the distemper.
I cannot give a full account of their arguments on both sides; only this I remember, that they cavilled very much with one
another. Some were for fires, but that they must be made of wood and not coal, and of particular sorts of wood too, such as
fir in particular, or cedar, because of the strong effluvia of turpentine; others were for coal and not wood, because of the
sulphur and bitumen; and others were for neither one or other. Upon the whole, the Lord Mayor ordered no more fires, and especially
on this account, namely, that the plague was so fierce that they saw evidently it defied all means, and rather seemed to increase
than decrease upon any application to check and abate it; and yet this amazement of the magistrates proceeded rather from
want of being able to apply any means successfully than from any unwillingness either to expose themselves or undertake the
care and weight of business; for, to do them justice, they neither spared their pains nor their persons. But nothing answered;
the infection raged, and the people were now frighted and terrified to the last degree: so that, as I may say, they gave themselves
up, and, as I mentioned above, abandoned themselves to their despair.
But let me observe here that, when I say the people
abandoned themselves to despair, I do not mean to what men call a religious despair, or a despair of their eternal state,
but I mean a despair of their being able to escape the infection or to outlive the plague. which they saw was so raging and
so irresistible in its force that indeed few people that were touched with it in its height, about August and September, escaped;
and, which is very particular, contrary to its ordinary operation in June and July, and the beginning of August, when, as
I have observed, many were infected, and continued so many days, and then went off after having had the poison in their blood
a long time; but now, on the contrary, most of the people who were taken during the two last weeks in August and in the three
first weeks in September, generally died in two or three days at furthest, and many the very same day they were taken; whether
the dog-days, or, as our astrologers pretended to express themselves, the influence of the dog-star, had that malignant effect,
or all those who had the seeds of infection before in them brought it up to a maturity at that time altogether, I know not;
but this was the time when it was reported that above 3000 people died in one night; and they that would have us believe they
more critically observed it pretend to say that they all died within the space of two hours, viz., between the hours of one
and three in the morning.
As to the suddenness of people's dying at this time, more than before, there were innumerable
instances of it, and I could name several in my neighbourhood. One family without the Bars, and not far from me, were all
seemingly well on the Monday, being ten in family. That evening one maid and one apprentice were taken ill and died the next
morning - when the other apprentice and two children were touched, whereof one died the same evening, and the other two on
Wednesday. In a word, by Saturday at noon the master, mistress, four children, and four servants were all gone, and the house
left entirely empty, except an ancient woman who came in to take charge of the goods for the master of the family's brother,
who lived not far off, and who had not been sick.
Many houses were then left desolate, all the people being carried away
dead, and especially in an alley farther on the same side beyond the Bars, going in at the sign of Moses and Aaron, there
were several houses together which, they said, had not one person left alive in them; and some that died last in several of
those houses were left a little too long before they were fetched out to be buried; the reason of which was not, as some have
written very untruly, that the living were not sufficient to bury the dead, but that the mortality was so great in the yard
or alley that there was nobody left to give notice to the buriers or sextons that there were any dead bodies there to be buried.
It was said, how true I know not, that some of those bodies were so much corrupted and so rotten that it was with difficulty
they were carried; and as the carts could not come any nearer than to the Alley Gate in the High Street, it was so much the
more difficult to bring them along; but I am not certain how many bodies were then left. I am sure that ordinarily it was
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 anywhere and everywhere, 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 all
sick or who is sound"; and so they ran 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 inquired no more into whom 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 showed in coming, and the
earnestness and affection they showed 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.
it without other strange effects, for it took away, all manner of prejudice at or scruple about the person whom they found
in the pulpit when they came to the churches. It cannot be doubted but that many of the ministers of the parish churches were
cut off, among others, in so common and dreadful a calamity; and others had not courage enough to stand it, but removed into
the country as they found means for escape. As then some parish churches were quite vacant and forsaken, the people made no
scruple of desiring such Dissenters as had been a few years before deprived of their livings by virtue of the Act of Parliament
called the Act of Uniformity to preach in the churches; nor did the church ministers in that case make any difficulty of accepting
their assistance; so that many of those whom they called silenced ministers had their mouths opened on this occasion and preached
publicly to the people.
Here we may observe and I hope it will not be amiss to take notice of it that a near view of death
would soon reconcile men of good principles one to another, and that it is chiefly owing to our easy situation in life and
our putting these things far from us that our breaches are fomented, ill blood continued, prejudices, breach of charity and
of Christian union, so much kept and so far carried on among us as it is. Another plague year would reconcile all these differences;
a dose conversing with death, or with diseases that threaten death, would scum off the gall from our tempers, remove the animosities
among us, and bring us to see with differing eyes than those which we looked on things with before. As the people who had
been used to join with the Church were reconciled at this time with the admitting the Dissenters to preach to them, so the
Dissenters, who with an uncommon prejudice had broken off from the communion of the Church of England, were now content to
come to their parish churches and to conform to the worship which they did not approve of before; but as the terror of the
infection abated, those things all returned again to their less desirable channel and to the course they were in before.
mention this but historically. I have no mind to enter into arguments to move either or both sides to a more charitable compliance
one with another. I do not see that it is probable such a discourse would be either suitable or successful; the breaches seem
rather to widen, and tend to a widening further, than to closing, and who am I that I should think myself able to influence
either one side or other? But this I may repeat again, that 'tis evident death will reconcile us all; on the other side the
grave we shall be all brethren again. In heaven, whither I hope we may come from all parties and persuasions, we shall find
neither prejudice or scruple; there we shall be of one principle and of one opinion. Why we cannot be content to go hand in
hand to the Place where we shall join heart and hand without the least hesitation, and with the most complete harmony and
affection - I say, why we cannot do so here I can say nothing to, neither shall I say anything more of it but that it remains
to be lamented.
I could dwell a great while upon the calamities of this dreadful time, and go on to describe the objects
that appeared among us every day, the dreadful extravagancies which the distraction of sick people drove them into; how the
streets began now to be fuller of frightful objects, and families to be made even a terror to themselves. But after I have
told you, as I have above, that one man, being tied in his bed, and finding no other way to deliver himself, set the bed on
fire with his candle, which unhappily stood within his reach, and burnt himself in his bed; and how another, by the insufferable
torment he bore, danced and sung naked in the streets, not knowing one ecstasy from another; I say, after I have mentioned
these things, what can be added more? What can be said to represent the misery of these times more lively to the reader, or
to give him a more perfect idea of a complicated distress?
I must acknowledge that this time was terrible, that I was
sometimes at the end of all my resolutions, and that I had not the courage that I had at the beginning. As the extremity brought
other people abroad, it drove me home, and except having made my voyage down to Blackwall and Greenwich, as I have related,
which was an excursion, I kept afterwards very much within doors, as I had for about a fortnight before. I have said already
that I repented several times that I had ventured to stay in town, and had not gone away with my brother and his family, but
it was too late for that now; and after I had retreated and stayed within doors a good while before my impatience led me abroad,
then they called me, as I have said, to an ugly and dangerous office which brought me out again; but as that was expired while
the height of the distemper lasted, I retired again, and continued dose ten or twelve days more, during which many dismal
spectacles represented themselves in my view out of my own windows and in our own street - as that particularly from Harrow
Alley, of the poor outrageous creature which danced and sung in his agony; and many others there were. Scarce a day or night
passed over but some dismal thing or other happened at the end of that Harrow Alley, which was a place full of poor people,
most of them belonging to the butchers or to employments depending upon the butchery.
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 churchyard 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 of 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.
it was everywhere thus as that time, for the plague raged for six or seven weeks beyond all that I have expressed, and came
even to such a height that, in the extremity, they began to break into that excellent order of which I have spoken so much
in behalf of the magistrates; namely, that no dead bodies were seen in the street or burials in the daytime: for there was
a necessity in this extremity to bear with its being otherwise for a little while.
One thing I cannot omit here, and indeed
I thought it was extraordinary, at least it seemed a remarkable hand of Divine justice: viz., that all the predictors, astrologers,
fortune-tellers, and what they called cunning-men, conjurers, and the like: calculators of nativities and dreamers of dream,
and such people, were gone and vanished; not one of them was to be found. I am verily persuaded that a great number of them
fell in the heat of the calamity, having ventured to stay upon the prospect of getting great estates; and indeed their gain
was but too great for a time, through the madness and folly of the people. But now they were silent; many of them went to
their long home, not able to foretell their own fate or to calculate their own nativities. Some have been critical enough
to say that every one of them died. I dare not affirm that; but this I must own, that I never heard of one of them that ever
appeared after the calamity was over.
But to return to my particular observations during this dreadful part of the visitation.
I am now come, as I have said, to the month of September, which was the most dreadful of its kind, I believe, that ever London
saw; for, by all the accounts which I have seen of the preceding visitations which have been in London, nothing has been like
it, the number in the weekly bill amounting to almost 40,000 from the 22nd of August to the 26th of September, being but five
weeks. The particulars of the bills are as follows, viz. : -
From August the 22nd to the 29th 7496
" " 29th " 5th
" September the 5th " 12th 7690
" " 12th " 19th 8297
" " 19th " 26th 6460
This was a prodigious number of itself, but if I should add the reasons which I have to believe that this account was
deficient, and how deficient it was, you would, with me, make no scruple to believe that there died above ten thousand a week
for all those weeks, one week with another, and a proportion for several weeks both before and after. The confusion among
the people, especially within the city, at that time, was inexpressible. The terror was so great at last that the courage
of the people appointed to carry away the dead began to fail them; nay, several of them died, although they had the distemper
before and were recovered, and some of them dropped down when they have been carrying the bodies even at the pit side, and
just ready to throw them in; and this confusion was greater in the city because they had flattered themselves with hopes of
escaping, and thought the bitterness of death was past. One cart, they told us, going up Shoreditch was forsaken of the drivers,
or being left to one man to drive, he died in the street; and the horses going on overthrew the cart, and left the bodies,
some thrown out here, some there, in a dismal manner. Another cart was, it seems, found in the great pit in Finsbury Fields,
the driver being dead, or having been gone and abandoned it, and the horses running too near it, the cart fell in and drew
the horses in also. It was suggested that the driver was thrown in with it and that the cart fell upon him, by reason his
whip was seen to be in the pit among the bodies; but that, I suppose, could not be certain.
In our parish of Aldgate the
dead-carts were several times, as I have heard, found standing at the churchyard gate full of dead bodies, but neither bellman
or driver or any one else with it; neither in these or many other cases did they know what bodies they had in their cart,
for sometimes they were let down with ropes out of balconies and out of windows, and sometimes the bearers brought them to
the cart, sometimes other people; nor, as the men themselves said, did they trouble themselves to keep any account of the
The vigilance of the magistrates was now put to the utmost trial - and, it must be confessed, can never be enough
acknowledged on this occasion also; whatever expense or trouble they were at, two things were never neglected in the city
or suburbs either : -
(1) Provisions were always to be had in full plenty, and the price not much raised neither, hardly
(2) No dead bodies lay unburied or uncovered; and if one walked from one end of the city to another, no
funeral or sign of it was to be seen in the daytime, except a little, as I have said above, in the three first weeks in September.
This last article perhaps will hardly be believed when some accounts which others have published since that shall be seen,
wherein they say that the dead lay unburied, which I am assured was utterly false; at least, if it had been anywhere so, it
must have been in houses where the living were gone from the dead (having found means, as I have observed, to escape) and
where no notice was given to the officers. All which amounts to nothing at all in the case in hand; for this I am positive
in, having myself been employed a little in the direction of that part in the parish in which I lived, and where as great
a desolation was made in proportion to the number of inhabitants as was anywhere; I say, I am sure that there were no dead
bodies remained unburied; that is to say, none that the proper officers knew of; none for want of people to carry them off,
and buriers to put them into the ground and cover them; and this is sufficient to the argument; for what might lie in houses
and holes, as in Moses and Aaron Alley, is nothing; for it is most certain they were buried as soon as they were found. As
to the first article (namely, of provisions, the scarcity or dearness), though I have mentioned it before and shall speak
of it again, yet I must observe here: -
(1) The price of bread in particular was not much raised; for in the beginning
of the year, viz., in the first week in March, the penny wheaten loaf was ten ounces and a half; and in the height of the
contagion it was to be had at nine ounces and a half, and never dearer, no, not all that season. And about the beginning of
November it was sold ten ounces and a half again; the like of which, I believe, was never heard of in any city, under so dreadful
a visitation, before.
(2) Neither was there (which I wondered much at) any want of bakers or ovens kept open to supply
the people with the bread; but this was indeed alleged by some families, viz., that their maidservants, going to the bakehouses
with their dough to be baked, which was then the custom, sometimes came home with the sickness (that is to say the plague)
Chapter - 9
In all this dreadful visitation there were, as I have said before, but two pest-houses made
use of, viz., one in the fields beyond Old Street and one in Westminster; neither was there any compulsion used in carrying
people thither. Indeed there was no need of compulsion in the case, for there were thousands of poor distressed people who,
having no help or conveniences or supplies but of charity, would have been very glad to have been carried thither and been
taken care of; which, indeed, was the only thing that I think was wanting in the whole public management of the city, seeing
nobody was here allowed to be brought to the pest-house but where money was given, or security for money, either at their
introducing or upon their being cured and sent out - for very many were sent out again whole; and very good physicians were
appointed to those places, so that many people did very well there, of which I shall make mention again. The principal sort
of people sent thither were, as I have said, servants who got the distemper by going of errands to fetch necessaries to the
families where they lived, and who in that case, if they came home sick, were removed to preserve the rest of the house; and
they were so well looked after there in all the time of the visitation that there was but 156 buried in all at the London
pest-house, and 159 at that of Westminster.
By having more pest-houses I am far from meaning a forcing all people into
such places. Had the shutting up of houses been omitted and the sick hurried out of their dwellings to pest-houses, as some
proposed, it seems, at that time as well as since, it would certainly have been much worse than it was. The very removing
the sick would have been a spreading of the infection, and the rather because that removing could not effectually clear the
house where the sick person was of the distemper; and the rest of the family, being then left at liberty, would certainly
spread it among others.
The methods also in private families, which would have been universally used to have concealed
the distemper and to have concealed the persons being sick, would have been such that the distemper would sometimes have seized
a whole family before any visitors or examiners could have known of it. On the other hand, the prodigious numbers which would
have been sick at a time would have exceeded all the capacity of public pest-houses to receive them, or of public officers
to discover and remove them.
This was well considered in those days, and I have heard them talk of it often. The magistrates
had enough to do to bring people to submit to having their houses shut up, and many ways they deceived the watchmen and got
out, as I have observed. But that difficulty made it apparent that they t would have found it impracticable to have gone the
other way to work, for they could never have forced the sick people out of their beds and out of their dwellings. It must
not have been my Lord Mayor's officers, but an army of officers, that must have attempted it; and tile people, on the other
hand, would have been enraged and desperate, and would have killed those that should have offered to have meddled with them
or with their children and relations, whatever had befallen them for it; so that they would have made the people, who, as
it was, were in the most terrible distraction imaginable, I say, they would have made them stark mad; whereas the magistrates
found it proper on several accounts to treat them with lenity and compassion, and not with violence and terror, such as dragging
the sick out of their houses or obliging them to remove themselves, would have been.
This leads me again to mention the
time when the plague first began; that is to say, when it became certain that it would spread over the whole town, when, as
I have said, the better sort of people first took the alarm and began to hurry themselves out of town. It was true, as I observed
in its place, that the throng was so great, and the coaches, horses, wagons, and carts were so many, driving and dragging
the people away, that it looked as if all the city was running away; and had any regulations been published that had been
terrifying at that time, especially such as would pretend to dispose of the people otherwise than they would dispose of themselves,
it would have put both the city and suburbs into the utmost confusion.
But the magistrates wisely caused the people to
be encouraged, made very good bye-laws for the regulating the citizens, keeping good order in the streets, and making everything
as eligible as possible to all sorts of people.
In the first place, the Lord Mayor and the sheriffs, the Court of Aldermen,
and a certain number of the Common Council men, or their deputies, came to a resolution and published it, viz., that they
would not quit the city themselves, but that they would be always at hand for the preserving good order in every place and
for the doing justice on all occasions; as also for the distributing the public charity to the poor; and, in a word, for the
doing the duty and discharging the trust reposed in them by the citizens to the utmost of their power.
In pursuance of
these orders, the Lord Mayor, sheriffs, &c., held councils every day, more or less, for making such dispositions as they
found needful for preserving the civil peace; and though they used the people with all possible gentleness and clemency, yet
all manner of presumptuous rogues such as thieves, housebreakers, plunderers of the dead or of the sick, were duly punished,
and several declarations were continually published by the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen against such.
Also all constables
and churchwardens were enjoined to stay in the city upon severe penalties, or to depute such able and sufficient housekeepers
as the deputy aldermen or Common Council men of the precinct should approve, and for whom they should give security; and also
security in case of mortality that they would forthwith constitute other constables in their stead.
These things re-established
the minds of the people very much, especially in the first of their fright, when they talked of making so universal a flight
that the city would have been in danger of being entirely deserted of its inhabitants except the poor, and the country of
being plundered and laid waste by the multitude. Nor were the magistrates deficient in performing their part as boldly as
they promised it; for my Lord Mayor and the sheriffs were continually in the streets and at places of the greatest danger,
and though they did not care for having too great a resort of people crowding about them, yet in emergent cases they never
denied the people access to them, and heard with patience all their grievances and complaints. My Lord Mayor had a low gallery
built on purpose in his hall, where he stood a little removed from the crowd when any complaint came to be heard, that he
might appear with as much safety as possible.
Likewise the proper officers, called my Lord Mayor's officers, constantly
attended in their turns, as they were in waiting; and if any of them were sick or infected, as some of them were, others were
instantly employed to fill up and officiate in their places till it was known whether the other should live or die.
like manner the sheriffs and aldermen did in their several stations and wards, where they were placed by office, and the sheriff's
officers or sergeants were appointed to receive orders from the respective aldermen in their turn, so that justice was executed
in all cases without interruption. In the next place, it was one of their particular cares to see the orders for the freedom
of the markets observed, and in this part either the Lord Mayor or one or both of the sheriffs were every market-day on horseback
to see their orders executed and to see that the country people had all possible encouragement and freedom in their coming
to the markets and going back again, and that no nuisances or frightful objects should be seen in the streets to terrify them
or make them unwilling to come. Also the bakers were taken under particular order, and the Master of the Bakers' Company was,
with his court of assistants, directed to see the order of my Lord Mayor for their regulation put in execution, and the due
assize of bread (which was weekly appointed by my Lord Mayor) observed; and all the bakers were obliged to keep their oven
going constantly, on pain of losing the privileges of a freeman of the city of London.
By this means bread was always
to be had in plenty, and as cheap as usual, as I said above; and provisions were never wanting in the markets, even to such
a degree that I often wondered at it, and reproached myself with being so timorous and cautious in stirring abroad, when the
country people came freely and boldly to market, as if there had been no manner of infection in the city, or danger of catching
It. was indeed one admirable piece of conduct in the said magistrates that the streets were kept constantly dear and
free from all manner of frightful objects, dead bodies, or any such things as were indecent or unpleasant - unless where anybody
fell down suddenly or died in the streets, as I have said above; and these were generally covered with some cloth or blanket,
or removed into the next churchyard till night. All the needful works that carried terror with them, that were both dismal
and dangerous, were done in the night; if any diseased bodies were removed, or dead bodies buried, or infected clothes burnt,
it was done in the night; and all the bodies which were thrown into the great pits in the several churchyards or burying-
grounds, as has. been observed, were so removed in the night, and everything was covered and closed before day. So that in
the daytime there was not the least signal of the calamity to be seen or heard of, except what was to be observed from the
emptiness of the streets, and sometimes from the passionate outcries and lamentations of the people, out at their windows,
and from the numbers of houses and shops shut up.
Nor was the silence and emptiness of the streets so much in the city
as in the out-parts, except just at one particular time when, as I have mentioned, the plague came east and spread over all
the city. It was indeed a merciful disposition of God, that as the plague began at one end of the town first (as has been
observed at large) so it proceeded progressively to other parts, and did not come on this way, or eastward, till it had spent
its fury in the West part of the town; and so, as it came on one way, it abated another. For example, it began at St Giles's
and the Westminster end of the town, and it was in its height in all that part by about the middle of July, viz., in St Giles-in-the-Fields,
St Andrew's, Holborn, St Clement Danes, St Martin-in-the-Fields, and in Westminster. The latter end of July it decreased in
those parishes; and coming east, it increased prodigiously in Cripplegate, St Sepulcher's, St James's, Clarkenwell, and St
Bride's and Aldersgate. While it was in all these parishes, the city and all the parishes of the Southwark side of the water
and all Stepney, Whitechappel, Aldgate, Wapping, and Ratcliff, were very little touched; so that people went about their business
unconcerned, carried on their trades, kept open their shops, and conversed freely with one another in all the city, the east
and north-east suburbs, and in Southwark, almost as if the plague had not been among us.
Even when the north and north-west
suburbs were fully infected, viz., Cripplegate, Clarkenwell, Bishopsgate, and Shoreditch, yet still all the rest were tolerably
well. For example from 25th July to 1st August the bill stood thus of all diseases: -
St Giles, Cripplegate 554
Stepney parish 127
All the ninety-seven parishes within the walls 228
All the parishes in Southwark 205
So that, in short, there died more that week in the two parishes of Cripplegate and St Sepulcher by forty-eight than in
all the city, all the east suburbs, and all the Southwark parishes put together. This caused the reputation of the city's
health to continue all over England - and especially in the counties and markets adjacent, from whence our supply of provisions
chiefly came even much longer than that health itself continued; for when the people came into the streets from the country
by Shoreditch and Bishopsgate, or by Old Street and Smithfield, they would see the out-streets empty and the houses and shops
shut, and the few people that were stirring there walk in the middle of the streets. But when they came within the city, there
things looked better, and the markets and shops were open, and the people walking about the streets as usual, though not quite
so many; and this continued till the latter end of August and the beginning of September.
But then the case altered quite;
the distemper abated in the west and north-west parishes, and the weight of the infection lay on the city and the eastern
suburbs, and the Southwark side, and this in a frightful manner. Then, indeed, the city began to look dismal, shops to be
shut, and the streets desolate. In the High Street, indeed, necessity made people stir abroad on many occasions; and there
would be in the middle of the day a pretty many people, but in the mornings and evenings scarce any to be seen, even there,
no, not in Cornhill and Cheapside.
These observations of mine were abundantly confirmed by the weekly bills of mortality
for those weeks, an abstract of which, as they respect the parishes which. I have mentioned and as they make the calculations
I speak of very evident, take as follows.
The weekly bill, which makes out this decrease of the burials in the west and
north side of the city, stands thus - -
From the 12th of September to the 19th -
St Giles, Cripplegate 456
St Sepulcher 214
St Leonard, Shoreditch 183
Stepney parish 716
In the ninety-seven parishes within the walls 1493
In the eight parishes on Southwark side
Here is a strange change of things indeed, and a sad change it was; and had it held for
two months more than it did, very few people would have been left alive. But then such, I say, was the merciful disposition
of God that, when it was thus, the west and north part which had been so dreadfully visited at first, grew, as you see, much
better; and as the people disappeared here, they began to look abroad again there; and the next week or two altered it still
more; that is, more to the encouragement of tile other part of the town. For example: -
From the 19th of September to
the 26th -
St Giles, Cripplegate 277
St Giles-in-the-Fields 119
St Sepulchers 193
Stepney parish 616
In the ninety-seven parishes within the walls
In the eight parishes on Southwark side 1390
From the 26th of September to the 3rd
of October -
St Giles, Cripplegate 196
St Giles-in-the-Fields 95
St Sepulchers 137
Stepney parish 674
In the ninety-seven parishes within the walls
In the eight parishes on Southwark side 1201
And now the misery of the city and of the
said east and south parts was complete indeed; for, as you see, the weight of the distemper lay upon those parts, that is
to say, the city, the eight parishes over the river, with the parishes of Aldgate, Whitechappel, and Stepney; and this was
the time that the bills came up to such a monstrous height as that I mentioned before, and that eight or nine, and, as I believe,
ten or twelve thousand a week, died; for it is my settled opinion that they never could come at any just account of the numbers,
for the reasons which I have given already.
Nay, one of the most eminent physicians, who has since published in Latin
an account of those times, and of his observations says that in one week there died twelve thousand people, and that particularly
there died four thousand in one night; though I do not remember that there ever was any such particular night so remarkably
fatal as that such a number died in it. However, all this confirms what I have said above of the uncertainty of the bills
of mortality, &c., of which I shall say more hereafter.
And here let me take leave to enter again, though it may seem
a repetition of circumstances, into a description of the miserable condition of the city itself, and of those parts where
I lived at this particular time. The city and those other parts, notwithstanding the great numbers of people that were gone
into the country, was vastly full of people; and perhaps the fuller because people had for a long time a strong belief that
the plague would not come into the city, nor into Southwark, no, nor into Wapping or Ratcliff at all; nay, such was the assurance
of the people on that head that many removed from the suburbs on the west and north sides, into those eastern and south sides
as for safety; and, as I verily believe, carried the plague amongst them there perhaps sooner than they would otherwise have
Here also I ought to leave a further remark for the use of posterity, concerning the manner of people's infecting
one another; namely, that it was not the sick people only from whom the plague was immediately received by others that were
sound, but the well. To explain myself: by the sick people I mean those who were known to be sick, had taken their beds, had
been under cure, or had swellings and tumours upon them, and the like; these everybody could beware of; they were either in
their beds or in such condition as could not be concealed.
By the well I mean such as had received the contagion, and
had it really upon them, and in their blood, yet did not show the consequences of it in their countenances: nay, even were
not sensible of it themselves, as many were not for several days. These breathed death in every place, and upon everybody
who came near them; nay, their very clothes retained the infection, their hands would infect the things they touched, especially
if they were warm and sweaty, and they were generally apt to sweat too.
Now it was impossible to know these people, nor
did they sometimes, as I have said, know themselves to be infected. These were the people that so often dropped down and fainted
in the streets; for oftentimes they would go about the streets to the last, till on a sudden they would sweat, grow faint,
sit down at a door and die. It is true, finding themselves thus, they would struggle hard to get home to their own doors,
or at other times would be just able to go into their houses and die instantly; other times they would go about till they
had the very tokens come out upon them, and yet not know it, and would die in an hour or two after they came home, but be
well as long as they were abroad. These were the dangerous people; these were the people of whom the well people ought to
have been afraid; but then, on the other side, it was impossible to know them.
And this is the reason why it is impossible
in a visitation to prevent the spreading of the plague by the utmost human vigilance: viz., that it is impossible to know
the infected people from the sound, or that the infected people should perfectly know themselves. I knew a man who conversed
freely in London all the season of the plague in 1665, and kept about him an antidote or cordial on purpose to take when he
thought himself in any danger, and he had such a rule to know or have warning of the danger by as indeed I never met with
before or since. How far it may be depended on I know not. He had a wound in his leg, and whenever he came among any people
that were not sound, and the infection began to affect him, he said he could know it by that signal, viz., that his wound
in his leg would smart, and look pale and white; so as soon as ever he felt it smart it was time for him to withdraw, or to
take care of himself, taking his drink, which he always carried about him for that purpose. Now it seems he found his wound
would smart many times when he was in company with such who thought themselves to be sound, and who appeared so to one another;
but he would presently rise up and say publicly, "Friends, here is somebody in the room that has the plague", and so would
immediately break up the company. This was indeed a faithful monitor to all people that the plague is not to be avoided by
those that converse promiscuously in a town infected, and people have it when they know it not, and that they likewise give
it to others when they know not that they have it themselves; and in this case shutting up the well or removing the sick will
not do it, unless they can go back and shut up all those that the sick had conversed with, even before they knew themselves
to be sick, and none knows how far to carry that back, or where to stop; for none knows when or where or how they may have
received the infection, or from whom.
This I take to be the reason which makes so many people talk of the air being corrupted
and infected, and that they need not be cautious of whom they converse with, for that the contagion was in the air. I have
seen them in strange agitations and surprises on this account. "I have never come near any infected body", says the disturbed
person; "I have conversed with none but sound, healthy people, and yet I have gotten the distemper!" "I am sure I am struck
from Heaven", says another, and he falls to the serious part. Again, the first goes on exclaiming, "I have come near no infection
or any infected person; I am sure it is the air. We draw in death when we breathe, and therefore 'tis the hand of God; there
is no withstanding it." And this at last made many people, being hardened to the danger, grow less concerned at it; and less
cautious towards the latter end of the time, and when it was come to its height, than they were at first. Then, with a kind
of a Turkish predestinarianism, they would say, if it pleased God to strike them, it was all one whether they went abroad
or stayed at home; they could not escape it, and therefore they went boldly about, even into infected houses and infected
company; visited sick people; and, in short, lay in the beds with their wives or relations when they were infected. And what
was the consequence, but the same that is the consequence in Turkey, and in those countries where they do those things - namely,
that they were infected too, and died by hundreds and thousands?
I would be far from lessening the awe of the judgements
of God and the reverence to His providence which ought always to be on our minds on such occasions as these. Doubtless the
visitation itself is a stroke from Heaven upon a city, or country, or nation where it falls; a messenger of His vengeance,
and a loud call to that nation or country or city to humiliation and repentance, according to that of the prophet Jeremiah
(xviii. 7, 8): "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down,
and to destroy it; if that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought
to do unto them." Now to prompt due impressions of the awe of God on the minds of men on such occasions, and not to lessen
them, it is that I have left those minutes upon record.
I say, therefore, I reflect upon no man for putting the reason
of those things upon the immediate hand of God, and the appointment and direction of His providence; nay, on the contrary,
there were many wonderful deliverances of persons from infection, and deliverances of persons when infected, which intimate
singular and remarkable providence in the particular instances to which they refer; and I esteem my own deliverance to be
one next to miraculous, and do record it with thankfulness.
But when I am speaking of the plague as a distemper arising
from natural causes, we must consider it as it was really propagated by natural means; nor is it at all the less a judgement
for its being under the conduct of human causes and effects; for, as the Divine Power has formed the whole scheme of nature
and maintains nature in its course, so the same Power thinks fit to let His own actings with men, whether of mercy or judgement,
to go on in the ordinary course of natural causes; and He is pleased to act by those natural causes as the ordinary means,
excepting and reserving to Himself nevertheless a power to act in a supernatural way when He sees occasion. Now 'tis evident
that in the case of an infection there is no apparent extraordinary occasion for supernatural operation, but the ordinary
course of things appears sufficiently armed, and made capable of all the effects that Heaven usually directs by a contagion.
Among these causes and effects, this of the secret conveyance of infection, imperceptible and unavoidable, is more than sufficient
to execute the fierceness of Divine vengeance, without putting it upon supernaturals and miracle.
The acute penetrating
nature of the disease itself was such, and the infection was received so imperceptibly, that the most exact caution could
not secure us while in the place. But I must be allowed to believe - and I have so many examples fresh in my memory to convince
me of it, that I think none can resist their evidence - I say, I must be allowed to believe that no one in this whole nation
ever received the sickness or infection but who received it in the ordinary way of infection from somebody, or the clothes
or touch or stench of somebody that was infected before.
The manner of its coming first to London proves this also, viz.,
by goods brought over from Holland, and brought thither from the Levant; the first breaking of it out in a house in Long Acre
where those goods were carried and first opened; its spreading from that house to other houses by the visible unwary conversing
with those who were sick; and the infecting the parish officers who were employed about the persons dead, and the like. These
are known authorities for this great foundation point - that it went on and proceeded from person to person and from house
to house, and no otherwise. In the first house that was infected there died four persons. A neighbour, hearing the mistress
of the first house was sick, went to visit her, and went home and gave the distemper to her family, and died, and all her
household. A minister, called to pray with the first sick person in the second house, was said to sicken immediately and die
with several more in his house. Then the physicians began to consider, for they did not at first dream of a general contagion.
But the physicians being sent to inspect the bodies, they assured the people that it was neither more or less than the plague,
with all its terrifying particulars, and that it threatened an universal infection, so many people having already conversed
with the sick or distempered, and having, as might be supposed, received infection from them, that it would be impossible
to put a stop to it.
Here the opinion of the physicians agreed with my observation afterwards, namely, that the danger
was spreading insensibly, for the sick could infect none but those that came within reach of the sick person; but that one
man who may have really received the infection and knows it not, but goes abroad and about as a sound person, may give the
plague to a thousand people, and they to greater numbers in proportion, and neither the person giving the infection or the
persons receiving it know anything of it, and perhaps not feel the effects of it for several days after.
many persons in the time of this visitation never perceived that they were infected till they found to their unspeakable surprise,
the tokens come out upon them; after which they seldom lived six hours; for those spots they called the tokens were really
gangrene spots, or mortified flesh in small knobs as broad as a little silver penny, and hard as a piece of callus or horn;
so that, when the disease was come up to that length, there was nothing could follow but certain death; and yet, as I said,
they knew nothing of their being infected, nor found themselves so much as out of order, till those mortal marks were upon
them. But everybody must allow that they were infected in a high degree before, And must have been so some time, and consequently
their breath, their sweat, their very clothes, were contagious for many days before. This occasioned a vast variety of cases
which physicians would have much more opportunity to remember than I; but some came within the compass of my observation or
hearing, of which I shall name a few.
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 was, 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 score. "That is true," says he; "I do not think myself secure, but I hope I have not
been in company with any person that there has been any danger in." "No?" says his neighbour. "Was not you at the Bull Head
Tavern in Gracechurch Street with Mr - the night before last?" "Yes," says the first, "I was; but there was nobody there that
we had any reason to think dangerous." Upon which his neighbour said no more, being unwilling to surprise him; but this made
him more inquisitive, and as his neighbour appeared backward, he was the more impatient, and in a kind of warmth says he aloud,
"Why, he is not dead, is he?" Upon which his neighbour still was silent, but cast up his eyes and said something to himself;
at which the first citizen turned pale, and said no more but this, "Then I am a dead man too", and went home immediately and
sent for a neighbouring apothecary to give him something preventive, for he had not yet found himself ill; but the apothecary,
opening his breast, fetched a sigh, and said no more but this, "Look up to God"; and the man died in a few hours.
let any man judge from a case like this if it is possible for the regulations of magistrates, either by shutting up the sick
or removing them, to stop an infection which spreads itself from man to man even while they are perfectly well and insensible
of its approach, and may be so for many days.
It may be proper to ask here how long it may be supposed men might have
the seeds of the contagion in them before it discovered itself in this fatal manner, and how long they might go about seemingly
whole, and yet be contagious to all those that came near them. I believe the most experienced physicians cannot answer this
question directly any more than I can; and something an ordinary observer may take notice of, which may pass their observations.
The opinion of physicians abroad seems to be that it may lie dormant in the spirits or in the blood-vessels a very considerable
time. Why else do they exact a quarantine of those who came into their harbours and ports from suspected places? Forty days
is, one would think, too long for nature to struggle with such an enemy as this, and not conquer it or yield to it. But I
could not think, by my own observation, that they can be infected so as to be contagious to others above fifteen or sixteen
days at furthest; and on that score it was, that when a house was shut up in the city and any one had died of the plague,
but nobody appeared to be ill in the family for sixteen or eighteen days after, they were not so strict but that they would
connive at their going privately abroad; nor would people be much afraid of them afterward, but rather think they were fortified
the better, having not been vulnerable when the enemy was in their own house; but we sometimes found it had lain much longer
Upon the foot of all these observations I must say that though Providence seemed to direct my conduct to be
otherwise, yet it is my opinion, and I must leave it as a prescription, viz., that the best physic against the plague is to
run away from it. I know people encourage themselves by saying God is able to keep us in the midst of danger, and able to
overtake us when we think ourselves out of danger; and this kept thousands in the town whose carcases went into the great
pits by cartloads, and who, if they had fled from the danger, had, I believe, been safe from the disaster; at least 'tis probable
they had been safe.
And were this very fundamental only duly considered by the people on any future occasion of this or
the like nature, I am persuaded it would put them upon quite different measures for managing the people from those that they
took in 1665, or than any that have been taken abroad that I have heard of. In a word, they would consider of separating the
people into smaller bodies, and removing them in time farther from one another - and not let such a contagion as this, which
is indeed chiefly dangerous to collected bodies of people, find a million of people in a body together, as was very near the
case before, and would certainly be the case if it should ever appear again.
The plague, like a great fire, if a few houses
only are contiguous where it happens, can only burn a few houses; or if it begins in a single, or, as we call it, a lone house,
can only burn that lone house where it begins. But if it begins in a close-built town or city and gets a head, there its fury
increases: it rages over the whole place, and consumes all it can reach.
I could propose many schemes on the foot of which
the government of this city, if ever they should be under the apprehensions of such another enemy (God forbid they should),
might ease themselves of the greatest part of the dangerous people that belong to them; I mean such as the begging, starving,
labouring poor, and among them chiefly those who, in case of a siege, are called the useless mouths; who being then prudently
and to their own advantage disposed of, and the wealthy inhabitants disposing of themselves and of their servants and children,
the city and its adjacent parts would be so effectually evacuated that there would not be above a tenth part of its people
left together for the disease to take hold upon. But suppose them to be a fifth part, and that two hundred and fifty thousand
people were left: and if it did seize upon them, they would, by their living so much at large, be much better prepared to
defend themselves against the infection, and be less liable to the effects of it than if the same number of people lived dose
together in one smaller city such as Dublin or Amsterdam or the like.
It is true hundreds, yea, thousands of families
fled away at this last plague, but then of them, many fled too late, and not only died in their flight, but carried the distemper
with them into the countries where they went and infected those whom they went among for safety; which confounded the thing,
and made that be a propagation of the distemper which was the best means to prevent it; and this too is an evidence of it,
and brings me back to what I only hinted at before, but must speak more fully to here, namely, that men went about apparently
well many days after they had the taint of the disease in their vitals, and after their spirits were so seized as that they
could never escape it, and that all the while they did so they were dangerous to others; I say, this proves that so it was;
for such people infected the very towns they went through, as well as the families they went among; and it was by that means
that almost all the great towns in England had the distemper among them, more or less, and always they would tell you such
a Londoner or such a Londoner brought it down.
It must not be omitted that when I speak of those people who were really
thus dangerous, I suppose them to be utterly ignorant of their own conditions; for if they really knew their circumstances
to be such as indeed they were, they must have been a kind of wilful murtherers if they would have gone abroad among healthy
people - and it would have verified indeed the suggestion which I mentioned above, and which I thought seemed untrue: viz.,
that the infected people were utterly careless as to giving the infection to others, and rather forward to do it than not;
and I believe it was partly from this very thing that they raised that suggestion, which I hope was not really true in fact.
I confess no particular case is sufficient to prove a general, but I could name several people within the knowledge of
some of their neighbours and families yet living who showed the contrary to an extreme. One man, a master of a family in my
neighbourhood, having had the distemper, he thought he had it given him by a poor workman whom he employed, and whom he went
to his house to see, or went for some work that he wanted to have finished; and he had some apprehensions even while he was
at the poor workman's door, but did not discover it fully; but the next day it discovered itself, and he was taken very in,
upon which he immediately caused himself to be carried into an outbuilding which he had in his yard, and where there was a
chamber over a workhouse (the man being a brazier). Here he lay, and here he died, and would be tended by none of his neighbours,
but by a nurse from abroad; and would not suffer his wife, nor children, nor servants to come up into the room, lest they
should be infected - but sent them his blessing and prayers for them by the nurse, who spoke it to them at a distance, and
all this for fear of giving them the distemper; and without which he knew, as they were kept up, they could not have it.
here I must observe also that the plague, as I suppose all distempers do, operated in a different manner on differing constitutions;
some were immediately overwhelmed with it, and it came to violent fevers, vomitings, insufferable headaches, pains in the
back, and so up to ravings and ragings with those pains; others with swellings and tumours in the neck or groin, or armpits,
which till they could be broke put them into insufferable agonies and torment; while others, as I have observed, were silently
infected, the fever preying upon their spirits insensibly, and they seeing little of it till they fell into swooning, and
faintings, and death without pain. I am not physician enough to enter into the particular reasons and manner of these differing
effects of one and the same distemper, and of its differing operation in several bodies; nor is it my business here to record
the observations which I really made, because the doctors themselves have done that part much more effectually than I can
do, and because my opinion may in some things differ from theirs. I am only relating what I know, or have heard, or believe
of the particular cases, and what fell within the compass of my view, and the different nature of the infection as it appeared
in the particular cases which I have related; but this may be added too: that though the former sort of those cases, namely,
those openly visited, were the worst for themselves as to pain - I mean those that had such fevers, vomitings, headaches,
pains, and swellings, because they died in such a dreadful manner - yet the latter had the worst state of the disease; for
in the former they frequently recovered, especially if the swellings broke; but the latter was inevitable death; no cure,
no hell), could be possible, nothing could follow but death. And it was worse also to others, because, as above, it secretly
and unperceived by others or by themselves, communicated death to those they conversed with, the penetrating poison insinuating
itself into their blood in a manner which it is impossible to describe, or indeed conceive.
This infecting and being infected
without so much as its being known to either person is evident from two sorts of cases which frequently happened at that time;
and there is hardly anybody living who was in London during the infection but must have known several of the cases of both
(1) Fathers and mothers have gone about as if they had been well, and have believed themselves to be so, till they
have insensibly infected and been the destruction of their whole families, which they would have been far from doing if they
had the least apprehensions of their being unsound and dangerous themselves. A family, whose story I have heard, was thus
infected by the father; and the distemper began to appear upon some of them even before he found it upon himself. But searching
more narrowly, it appeared he had been affected some time; and as soon as he found that his family had been poisoned by himself
he went distracted, and would have laid violent hands upon himself, but was kept from that by those who looked to him, and
in a few days died.
(2) The other particular is, that many people having been well to the best of their own judgement,
or by the best observation which they could make of themselves for several days, and only finding a decay of appetite, or
a light sickness upon their stomachs; nay, some whose appetite has been strong, and even craving, and only a light pain in
their heads, have sent for physicians to know what ailed them, and have been found, to their great surprise, at the brink
of death: the tokens upon them, or the plague grown up to an incurable height.
It was very sad to reflect how such a person
as this last mentioned above had been a walking destroyer perhaps for a week or a fortnight before that; how he had ruined
those that he would have hazarded his life to save, and had been breathing death upon them, even perhaps in his tender kissing
and embracings of his own children. Yet thus certainly it was, and often has been, and I could give many particular cases
where it has been so. If then the blow is thus insensibly striking - if the arrow flies thus unseen, and cannot be discovered
- to what purpose are all the schemes for shutting up or removing the sick people? Those schemes cannot take place but upon
those that appear to be sick, or to be infected; whereas there are among them at the same time thousands of people who seem
to be well, but are all that while carrying death with them into all companies which they come into.
This frequently puzzled
our physicians, and especially the apothecaries and surgeons, who knew not how to discover the sick from the sound; they all
allowed that it was really so, that many people had the plague in their very blood, and preying upon their spirits, and were
in themselves but walking putrefied carcases whose breath was infectious and their sweat poison, and yet were as well to look
on as other people, and even knew it not themselves; I say, they all allowed that it was really true in fact, but they knew
not how to propose a discovery.
My friend Dr Heath was of opinion that it might be known by the smell of their breath;
but then, as he said, who durst smell to that breath for his information? since, to know it, he must draw the stench of the
plague up into his own brain, in order to distinguish the smell! I have heard it was the opinion of others that it might be
distinguished by the party's breathing upon a piece of glass, where, the breath condensing, there might living creatures be
seen by a microscope, of strange, monstrous, and frightful shapes, such as dragons, snakes, serpents, and devils, horrible
to behold. But this I very much question the truth of, and we had no microscopes at that time, as I remember, to make the
It was the opinion also of another learned man, that the breath of such a person would poison and instantly
kill a bird; not only a small bird, but even a cock or hen, and that, if it did not immediately kill the latter, it would
cause them to be roupy, as they call it; particularly that if they had laid any eggs at any time, they would be all rotten.
But those are opinions which I never found supported by any experiments, or heard of others that had seen it; so I leave them
as I find them; only with this remark, namely, that I think the probabilities are very strong for them.
Some have proposed
that such persons should breathe hard upon warm water, and that they would leave an unusual scum upon it, or upon several
other things, especially such as are of a glutinous substance and are apt to receive a scum and support it.
But from the
whole I found that the nature of this contagion was such that it was impossible to discover it at all, or to prevent its spreading
from one to another by any human skill.
Here was indeed one difficulty which I could never thoroughly get over to this
time, and which there is but one way of answering that I know of, and it is this, viz., the first person that died of the
plague was on December 20, or thereabouts, 1664, and in or about long Acre; whence the first person had the infection was
generally said to be from a parcel of silks imported from Holland, and first opened in that house.
But after this we heard
no more of any person dying of the plague, or of the distemper being in that place, till the 9th of February, which was about
seven weeks after, and then one more was buried out of the same house. Then it was hushed, and we were perfectly easy as to
the public for a great while; for there were no more entered in the weekly bill to be dead of the plague till the 22nd of
April, when there was two more buried, not out of the same house, but out of the same street; and, as near as I can remember,
it was out of the next house to the first. This was nine weeks asunder, and after this we had no more till a fortnight, and
then it broke out in several streets and spread every way. Now the question seems to lie thus: Where lay the seeds of the
infection all this while? How came it to stop so long, and not stop any longer? Either the distemper did not come immediately
by contagion from body to body, or, if it did, then a body may be capable to continue infected without the disease discovering
itself many days, nay, weeks together; even not a quarantine of days only, but soixantine; not only forty days, but sixty
days or longer.
It is true there was, as I observed at first, and is well known to many yet living, a very cold winter
and a long frost which continued three months; and this, the doctors say, might check the infection; but then the learned
must allow me to say that if, according to their notion, the disease was (as I may say) only frozen up, it would like a frozen
river have returned to its usual force and current when it thawed - whereas the principal recess of this infection, which
was from February to April, was after the frost was broken and the weather mild and warm.
But there is another way of
solving all this difficulty, which I think my own remembrance of the thing will supply; and that is, the fact is not granted
- namely, that there died none in those long intervals, viz., from the 20th of December to the 9th of February, and from thence
to the 22nd of April. The weekly bills are the only evidence on the other side, and those bills were not of credit enough,
at least with me, to support an hypothesis or determine a question of such importance as this; for it was our received opinion
at that time, and I believe upon very good grounds, that the fraud lay in the parish officers, searchers, and persons appointed
to give account of the dead, and what diseases they died of; and as people were very loathe at first to have the neighbours
believe their houses were infected, so they gave money to procure, or otherwise procured, the dead persons to be returned
as dying of other distempers; and this I know was practised afterwards in many places, I believe I might say in all places
where the distemper came, as will be seen by the vast increase of the numbers placed in the weekly bills under other articles
of diseases during the time of the infection. For example, in the months of July and August, when the plague was coming on
to its highest pitch, it was very ordinary to have from a thousand to twelve hundred, nay, to almost fifteen hundred a week
of other distempers. Not that the numbers of those distempers were really increased to such a degree, but the great number
of families and houses where really the infection was, obtained the favour to have their dead be returned of other distempers,
to prevent the shutting up their houses. For example: -
Dead of other diseases beside the plague -
From the 18th July
to the 25th 942
" 25th July " 1st August 1004
" 1st August " 8th 1213
" 8th " 15th 1439
" 15th " 22nd 1331
" 22nd " 29th 1394
" 29th " 5th September 1264
" 5th September to the 12th 1056
" 12th " 19th 1132
" 26th 927
Now it was not doubted but the greatest part of these, or a great part of them, were dead of the plague, but
the officers were prevailed with to return them as above, and the numbers of some particular articles of distempers discovered
is as follows: -
Aug. Aug. Aug. Aug. Aug. Sept. Sept. Sept.
1 8 15 22 29 5 12 19
to 8 to 15 to 22 to 29 to Sept.5
to 12 to 19 to 26
Fever 314 353 348 383 364 332 309 268
Spotted 174 190 166 165 157 97 101 65
85 87 74 99 68 45 49 36
Teeth 90 113 111 133 138 128 121 112
--- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----
663 743 699
780 727 602 580 481
There were several other articles which bore a proportion to these, and which, it is easy to perceive,
were increased on the same account, as aged, consumptions, vomitings, imposthumes, gripes, and the like, many of which were
not doubted to be infected people; but as it was of the utmost consequence to families not to be known to be infected, if
it was possible to avoid it, so they took all the measures they could to have it not believed, and if any died in their houses,
to get them returned to the examiners, and by the searchers, as having died of other distempers.
This, I say, will account
for the long interval which, as I have said, was between the dying of the first persons that were returned in the bill to
be dead of the plague and the time when the distemper spread openly and could not be concealed.
Besides, the weekly bills
themselves at that time evidently discover the truth; for, while there was no mention of the plague, and no increase after
it had been mentioned, yet it was apparent that there was an increase of those distempers which bordered nearest upon it;
for example, there were eight, twelve, seventeen of the spotted fever in a week, when there were none, or but very few, of
the plague; whereas before, one, three, or four were the ordinary weekly numbers of that distemper. Likewise, as I observed
before, the burials increased weekly in that particular parish and the parishes adjacent more than in any other parish, although
there were none set down of the plague; all which tells us, that the infection was handed on, and the succession of the distemper
really preserved, though it seemed to us at that time to be ceased, and to come again in a manner surprising.
be, also, that the infection might remain in other parts of the same parcel of goods which at first it came in, and which
might not be perhaps opened, or at least not fully, or in the clothes of the first infected person; for I cannot think that
anybody could be seized with the contagion in a fatal and mortal degree for nine weeks together, and support his state of
health so well as even not to discover it to themselves; yet if it were so, the argument is the stronger in favour of what
I am saying: namely, that the infection is retained in bodies apparently well, and conveyed from them to those they converse
with, while it is known to neither the one nor the other.
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