History of the Plague in London
by Daniel Defoe
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And forasmuch as the said chirurgeons are to be sequestered from all other cures,[79] and kept only to this disease of the infection, it is ordered that every of the said chirurgeons shall have twelvepence a body searched by them, to be paid out of the goods of the party searched, if he be able, or otherwise by the parish.

Nurse Keepers.

If any nurse keeper shall remove herself out of any infected house before twenty-eight days after the decease of any person dying of the infection, the house to which the said nurse keeper doth so remove herself shall be shut up until the said twenty-eight days shall be expired.


Notice to be given of the Sickness.

The master of every house, as soon as any one in his house complaineth either of botch, or purple, or swelling in any part of his body, or falleth otherwise dangerously sick without apparent cause of some other disease, shall give notice thereof to the examiner of health, within two hours after the said sign shall appear.

Sequestration of the Sick.

As soon as any man shall be found by this examiner, chirurgeon, or searcher, to be sick of the plague, he shall the same night be sequestered in the same house; and in case he be so sequestered, then, though he die not, the house wherein he sickened shall be shut up for a month after the use of the due preservatives taken by the rest.

Airing the Stuff.

For sequestration of the goods and stuff of the infection, their bedding and apparel, and hangings of chambers, must be well aired with fire, and such perfumes as are requisite, within the infected house, before they be taken again to use. This to be done by the appointment of the examiner.

Shutting up of the House.

If any person shall visit any man known to be infected of the plague, or entereth willingly into any known infected house, being not allowed, the house wherein he inhabiteth shall be shut up for certain days by the examiner's direction.

None to be removed out of Infected Houses, but, etc.

Item, That none be removed out of the house where he falleth sick of the infection into any other house in the city (except it be to the pesthouse or a tent, or unto some such house which the owner of the said house holdeth in his own hands, and occupieth by his own servants), and so as security be given to the said parish whither such remove is made, that the attendance and charge about the said visited persons shall be observed and charged in all the particularities before expressed, without any cost of that parish to which any such remove shall happen to be made, and this remove to be done by night. And it shall be lawful to any person that hath two houses to remove either his sound or his infected people to his spare house at his choice, so as, if he send away first his sound, he do not after send thither the sick; nor again unto the sick, the sound; and that the same which he sendeth be for one week at the least shut up, and secluded from company, for the fear of some infection at first not appearing.

Burial of the Dead.

That the burial of the dead by this visitation be at most convenient hours, always before sunrising, or after sunsetting, with the privity[80] of the churchwardens, or constable, and not otherwise; and that no neighbors nor friends be suffered to accompany the corpse to church, or to enter the house visited, upon pain of having his house shut up, or be imprisoned.

And that no corpse dying of the infection shall be buried, or remain in any church, in time of common prayer, sermon, or lecture. And that no children be suffered, at time of burial of any corpse, in any church, churchyard, or burying place, to come near the corpse, coffin, or grave; and that all graves shall be at least six feet deep.

And further, all public assemblies at other burials are to be forborne during the continuance of this visitation.

No Infected Stuff to be uttered.[81]

That no clothes, stuff, bedding, or garments, be suffered to be carried or conveyed out of any infected houses, and that the criers and carriers abroad of bedding or old apparel to be sold or pawned be utterly prohibited and restrained, and no brokers of bedding or old apparel be permitted to make any public show, or hang forth on their stalls, shop boards, or windows towards any street, lane, common way, or passage, any old bedding or apparel to be sold, upon pain of imprisonment. And if any broker or other person shall buy any bedding, apparel, or other stuff out of any infected house, within two months after the infection hath been there, his house shall be shut up as infected, and so shall continue shut up twenty days at the least.

No Person to be conveyed out of any Infected House.

If any person visited[82] do fortune,[83] by negligent looking unto, or by any other means, to come or be conveyed from a place infected to any other place, the parish from whence such party hath come, or been conveyed, upon notice thereof given, shall, at their charge, cause the said party so visited and escaped to be carried and brought back again by night; and the parties in this case offending to be punished at the direction of the alderman of the ward, and the house of the receiver of such visited person to be shut up for twenty days.

Every Visited House to be marked.

That every house visited be marked with a red cross of a foot long, in the middle of the door, evident to be seen, and with these usual printed words, that is to say, "Lord have mercy upon us," to be set close over the same cross, there to continue until lawful opening of the same house.

Every Visited House to be watched.

That the constables see every house shut up, and to be attended with watchmen, which may keep in, and minister necessaries to them at their own charges, if they be able, or at the common charge if they be unable. The shutting up to be for the space of four weeks after all be whole.

That precise order be taken that the searchers, chirurgeons, keepers, and buriers, are not to pass the streets without holding a red rod or wand of three foot in length in their hands, open and evident to be seen; and are not to go into any other house than into their own, or into that whereunto they are directed or sent for, but to forbear and abstain from company, especially when they have been lately used[84] in any such business or attendance.


That where several inmates are in one and the same house, and any person in that house happens to be infected, no other person or family of such house shall be suffered to remove him or themselves without a certificate from the examiners of the health of that parish; or, in default thereof, the house whither she or they remove shall be shut up as is in case of visitation.

Hackney Coaches.

That care be taken of hackney coachmen, that they may not, as some of them have been observed to do after carrying of infected persons to the pesthouse and other places, be admitted to common use till their coaches be well aired, and have stood unemployed by the space of five or six days after such service.


The Streets to be kept Clean.

First, it is thought necessary, and so ordered, that every householder do cause the street to be daily prepared before his door, and so to keep it clean swept all the week long.

That Rakers take it from out the Houses.

That the sweeping and filth of houses be daily carried away by the rakers, and that the raker shall give notice of his coming by the blowing of a horn, as hitherto hath been done.

Laystalls[85] to be made far off from the City.

That the laystalls be removed as far as may be out of the city and common passages, and that no nightman or other be suffered to empty a vault into any vault or garden near about the city.

Care to be had of Unwholesome Fish or Flesh, and of Musty Corn.

That special care be taken that no stinking fish, or unwholesome flesh, or musty corn, or other corrupt fruits, of what sort soever, be suffered to be sold about the city or any part of the same.

That the brewers and tippling-houses be looked unto for musty and unwholesome casks.

That no hogs, dogs, or cats, or tame pigeons, or conies, be suffered to be kept within any part of the city, or any swine to be or stray in the streets or lanes, but that such swine be impounded by the beadle[86] or any other officer, and the owner punished according to the act of common council; and that the dogs be killed by the dog killers appointed for that purpose.



Forasmuch as nothing is more complained of than the multitude of rogues and wandering beggars that swarm about in every place about the city, being a great cause of the spreading of the infection, and will not be avoided[87] notwithstanding any orders that have been given to the contrary: it is therefore now ordered that such constables, and others whom this matter may any way concern, take special care that no wandering beggars be suffered in the streets of this city, in any fashion or manner whatsoever, upon the penalty provided by law to be duly and severely executed upon them.


That all plays, bear baitings,[88] games, singing of ballads, buckler play,[89] or such like causes of assemblies of people, be utterly prohibited, and the parties offending severely punished by every alderman in his ward.

Feasting prohibited.

That all public feasting, and particularly by the companies[90] of this city, and dinners in taverns, alehouses, and other places of public entertainment, be forborne till further order and allowance, and that the money thereby spared be preserved, and employed for the benefit and relief of the poor visited with the infection.


That disorderly tippling in taverns, alehouses, coffeehouses, and cellars, be severely looked unto as the common sin of the time, and greatest occasion of dispersing the plague. And that no company or person be suffered to remain or come into any tavern, alehouse, or coffeehouse, to drink, after nine of the clock in the evening, according to the ancient law and custom of this city, upon the penalties ordained by law.

And for the better execution of these orders, and such other rules and directions as upon further consideration shall be found needful, it is ordered and enjoined that the aldermen, deputies, and common councilmen shall meet together weekly, once, twice, thrice, or oftener, as cause shall require, at some one general place accustomed in their respective wards, being clear from infection of the plague, to consult how the said orders may be put in execution, not intending that any dwelling in or near places infected shall come to the said meeting while their coming may be doubtful. And the said aldermen, deputies, and common councilmen, in their several wards, may put in execution any other orders that by them, at their said meetings, shall be conceived and devised for the preservation of his Majesty's subjects from the infection.


I need not say that these orders extended only to such places as were within the lord mayor's jurisdiction: so it is requisite to observe that the justices of peace within those parishes and places as were called the "hamlets" and "outparts" took the same method. As I remember, the orders for shutting up of houses did not take place so soon on our side, because, as I said before, the plague did not reach to this eastern part of the town at least, nor begin to be violent till the beginning of August. For example, the whole bill from the 11th to the 18th of July was 1,761, yet there died but 71 of the plague in all those parishes we call the Tower Hamlets; and they were as follows:—

Aldgate, 14 { 34 { 65 Stepney, 33 The next { 58 To { 76 Whitechapel, 21 week was { 48 Aug. 1 { 79 St. Kath. Tower.[91] 2 thus: { 4 thus: { 4 Trin. Minories,[92] 1 { 1 { 4 — —- —- 71 145 228

It was indeed coming on amain, for the burials that same week were, in the next adjoining parishes, thus:—

St. L.[93] Shoreditch 64 The next week { 84 To { 110 St. Bot.[94] Bishopsg. 65 prodigiously { 105 Aug. 1 { 116 St. Giles's Crippl.[95] 213 increased, as { 431 thus: { 554 —- —- —- 342 620 780

This shutting up of houses was at first counted a very cruel and unchristian method, and the poor people so confined made bitter lamentations. Complaints of the severity of it were also daily brought to my lord mayor, of houses causelessly, and some maliciously, shut up. I cannot say but upon inquiry many that complained so loudly were found in a condition to be continued; and others again, inspection being made upon the sick person, and the sickness not appearing infectious, or, if uncertain, yet, on his being content to be carried to the pesthouse, was[96] released.

As I went along Houndsditch one morning, about eight o'clock, there was a great noise. It is true, indeed, there was not much crowd, because the people were not very free to gather together, or to stay long together when they were there, nor did I stay long there; but the outcry was loud enough to prompt my curiosity, and I called to one, who looked out of a window, and asked what was the matter.

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

The watchman had knocked at the door, it seems, when he heard that noise and crying, as above, and nobody answered a great while; but at last one looked out and said with an angry, quick tone, and yet a kind of crying voice, or a voice of one that was crying, "What d'ye want, that you make such a knocking?" He answered, "I am the watchman. How do you do? What is the matter?" The person answered, "What is that to you? Stop the dead cart." This, it seems, was about one o'clock. Soon after, as the fellow said, he stopped the dead cart, and then knocked again, but nobody answered; he continued knocking, and the bellman called out several times, "Bring out your dead;" but nobody answered, till the man that drove the cart, being called to other houses, would stay no longer, and drove away.

The watchman knew not what to make of all this, so he let them alone till the morning man, or "day watchman," as they called him, came to relieve him. Giving him an account of the particulars, they knocked at the door a great while, but nobody answered; and they observed that the window or casement at which the person looked out who had answered before, continued open, being up two pair of stairs.

Upon this, the two men, to satisfy their curiosity, got a long ladder, and one of them went up to the window and looked into the room, where he saw a woman lying dead upon the floor, in a dismal manner, having no clothes on her but her shift.[97] But though he called aloud, and, putting in his long staff, knocked hard on the floor, yet nobody stirred or answered, neither could he hear any noise in the house.

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

At another house, as I was informed, in the street next within Aldgate, a whole family was shut up and locked in because the maidservant was taken sick. The master of the house had complained by his friends to the next alderman, and to the lord mayor, and had consented to have the maid carried to the pesthouse, but was refused: so the door was marked with a red cross, a padlock on the outside, as above, and a watchman set to keep the door, according to public order.

After the master of the house found there was no remedy, but that he, his wife, and his children, were locked up with this poor distempered servant, he called to the watchman, and told him he must go then and fetch a nurse for them to attend this poor girl, for that it would be certain death to them all to oblige them to nurse her, and told him plainly that if he would not do this the maid would perish either[98] of the distemper, or be starved for want of food, for he was resolved none of his family should go near her; and she lay in the garret, four story high, where she could not cry out or call to anybody for help.

The watchman consented to that, and went and fetched a nurse as he was appointed, and brought her to them the same evening. During this interval, the master of the house took his opportunity to break a large hole through his shop into a bulk or stall, where formerly a cobbler had sat before or under his shop window; but the tenant, as may be supposed, at such a dismal time as that, was dead or removed, and so he had the key in his own keeping. Having[99] made his way into this stall, which he could not have done if the man had been at the door, the noise he was obliged to make being such as would have alarmed the watchman,—I say, having made his way into this stall, he sat still till the watchman returned with the nurse, and all the next day also; but the night following, having contrived to send the watchman of another trifling errand (which, as I take it, was to an apothecary's for a plaster for the maid, which he was to stay for the making up, or some other such errand that might secure his staying some time), in that time he conveyed himself and all his family out of the house, and left the nurse and the watchman to bury the poor wench, that is, throw her into the cart, and take care of the house.

Not far from the same place they blowed up a watchman with gunpowder, and burned the poor fellow dreadfully; and while he made hideous cries, and nobody would venture to come near to help him, the whole family that were able to stir got out at the windows (one story high), two that were left sick calling out for help. Care was taken to give them nurses to look after them; but the persons fled were never found till, after the plague was abated, they returned. But as nothing could be proved, so nothing could be done to them.

In other cases, some had gardens and walls, or pales,[100] between them and their neighbors, or yards and backhouses; and these, by friendship and entreaties, would get leave to get over those walls or pales, and so go out at their neighbors' doors, or, by giving money to their servants, get them to let them through in the night. So that, in short, the shutting up of houses was in no wise to be depended upon; neither did it answer the end at all, serving more to make the people desperate, and drive them to such extremities as that they would break out at all adventures.

And that which was still worse, those that did thus break out spread the infection farther, by their wandering about with the distemper upon them in their desperate circumstances, than they would otherwise have done; for whoever considers all the particulars in such cases must acknowledge, and cannot doubt, but the severity of those confinements made many people desperate, and made them run out of their houses at all hazards, and with the plague visibly upon them, not knowing either whither to go, or what to do, or indeed what they did. And many that did so were driven to dreadful exigencies and extremities, and perished in the streets or fields for mere want, or dropped down by[101] the raging violence of the fever upon them. Others wandered into the country, and went forward any way, as their desperation guided them, not knowing whither they went or would go, till, faint and tired, and not getting any relief, the houses and villages on the road refusing to admit them to lodge, whether infected or no, they have perished by the roadside, or gotten into barns, and died there, none daring to come to them or relieve them, though perhaps not infected, for nobody would believe them.

On the other hand, when the plague at first seized a family, that is to say, when any one body of the family had gone out, and unwarily or otherwise catched[102] the distemper and brought it home, it was certainly known by the family before it was known to the officers, who, as you will see by the order, were appointed to examine into the circumstances of all sick persons, when they heard of their being sick.

In this interval, between their being taken sick and the examiners coming, the master of the house had leisure and liberty to remove himself, or all his family, if he knew whither to go; and many did so. But the great disaster was, that many did thus after they were really infected themselves, and so carried the disease into the houses of those who were so hospitable as to receive them; which, it must be confessed, was very cruel and ungrateful.

I am speaking now of people made desperate by the apprehensions of their being shut up, and their breaking out by stratagem or force, either before or after they were shut up, whose misery was not lessened when they were out, but sadly increased. On the other hand, many who thus got away had retreats to go to, and other houses, where they locked themselves up, and kept hid till the plague was over; and many families, foreseeing the approach of the distemper, laid up stores of provisions sufficient for their whole families, and shut themselves up, and that so entirely, that they were neither seen or heard of till the infection was quite ceased, and then came abroad sound and well. I might recollect several such as these, and give you the particulars of their management; for doubtless it was the most effectual secure step that could be taken for such whose circumstances would not admit them to remove, or who had not retreats abroad proper for the case; for, in being thus shut up, they were as if they had been a hundred miles off. Nor do I remember that any one of those families miscarried.[103] Among these, several Dutch merchants were particularly remarkable, who kept their houses like little garrisons besieged, suffering none to go in or out, or come near them; particularly one in a court in Throckmorton Street, whose house looked into Drapers' Garden.

But I come back to the case of families infected, and shut up by the magistrates. The misery of those families is not to be expressed; and it was generally in such houses that we heard the most dismal shrieks and outcries of the poor people, terrified, and even frightened to death, by the sight of the condition of their dearest relations, and by the terror of being imprisoned as they were.

I remember, and while I am writing this story I think I hear the very sound of it: a certain lady had an only daughter, a young maiden about nineteen years old, and who was possessed of a very considerable fortune. They were only lodgers in the house where they were. The young woman, her mother, and the maid had been abroad on some occasion, I do not remember what, for the house was not shut up; but about two hours after they came home, the young lady complained she was not well; in a quarter of an hour more she vomited, and had a violent pain in her head. "Pray God," says her mother, in a terrible fright, "my child has not the distemper!" The pain in her head increasing, her mother ordered the bed to be warmed, and resolved to put her to bed, and prepared to give her things to sweat, which was the ordinary remedy to be taken when the first apprehensions of the distemper began.

While the bed was airing, the mother undressed the young woman, and just as she was laid down in the bed, she, looking upon her body with a candle, immediately discovered the fatal tokens on the inside of her thighs. Her mother, not being able to contain herself, threw down her candle, and screeched out in such a frightful manner, that it was enough to place horror upon the stoutest heart in the world. Nor was it one scream, or one cry, but, the fright having seized her spirits, she fainted first, then recovered, then ran all over the house (up the stairs and down the stairs) like one distracted, and indeed really was distracted, and continued screeching and crying out for several hours, void of all sense, or at least government of her senses, and, as I was told, never came thoroughly to herself again. As to the young maiden, she was a dead corpse from that moment: for the gangrene, which occasions the spots, had spread over her whole body, and she died in less than two hours. But still the mother continued crying out, not knowing anything more of her child, several hours after she was dead. It is so long ago that I am not certain, but I think the mother never recovered, but died in two or three weeks after.

I have by me a story of two brothers and their kinsman, who, being single men, but that had staid[104] in the city too long to get away, and, indeed, not knowing where to go to have any retreat, nor having wherewith to travel far, took a course for their own preservation, which, though in itself at first desperate, yet was so natural that it may be wondered that no more did so at that time. They were but of mean condition, and yet not so very poor as that they could not furnish themselves with some little conveniences, such as might serve to keep life and soul together; and finding the distemper increasing in a terrible manner, they resolved to shift as well as they could, and to be gone.

One of them had been a soldier in the late wars,[105] and before that in the Low Countries;[106] and having been bred to no particular employment but his arms, and besides, being wounded, and not able to work very hard, had for some time been employed at a baker's of sea biscuit, in Wapping.

The brother of this man was a seaman too, but somehow or other had been hurt of[107] one leg, that he could not go to sea, but had worked for his living at a sailmaker's in Wapping or thereabouts, and, being a good husband,[108] had laid up some money, and was the richest of the three.

The third man was a joiner or carpenter by trade, a handy fellow, and he had no wealth but his box or basket of tools, with the help of which he could at any time get his living (such a time as this excepted) wherever he went; and he lived near Shadwell.

They all lived in Stepney Parish, which, as I have said, being the last that was infected, or at least violently, they staid there till they evidently saw the plague was abating at the west part of the town, and coming towards the east, where they lived.

The story of those three men, if the reader will be content to have me give it in their own persons, without taking upon me to either vouch the particulars or answer for any mistakes, I shall give as distinctly as I can, believing the history will be a very good pattern for any poor man to follow in case the like public desolation should happen here. And if there may be no such occasion, (which God of his infinite mercy grant us!) still the story may have its uses so many ways as that it will, I hope, never be said that the relating has been unprofitable.

I say all this previous to the history, having yet, for the present, much more to say before I quit my own part.

I went all the first part of the time freely about the streets, though not so freely as to run myself into apparent danger, except when they dug the great pit in the churchyard of our parish of Aldgate. A terrible pit it was, and I could not resist my curiosity to go and see it. As near as I may judge, it was about forty feet in length, and about fifteen or sixteen feet broad, and at the time I first looked at it about nine feet deep. But it was said they dug it near twenty feet deep afterwards, in one part of it, till they could go no deeper for the water; for they had, it seems, dug several large pits before this; for, though the plague was long a-coming[109] to our parish, yet, when it did come, there was no parish in or about London where it raged with such violence as in the two parishes of Aldgate and Whitechapel.

I say they had dug several pits in another ground when the distemper began to spread in our parish, and especially when the dead carts began to go about, which was not in our parish till the beginning of August. Into these pits they had put perhaps fifty or sixty bodies each; then they made larger holes, wherein they buried all that the cart brought in a week, which, by the middle to the end of August, came to from two hundred to four hundred a week. And they could not well dig them larger, because of the order of the magistrates, confining them to leave no bodies within six feet of the surface; and the water coming on at about seventeen or eighteen feet, they could not well, I say, put more in one pit. But now, at the beginning of September, the plague raging in a dreadful manner, and the number of burials in our parish increasing to more than was[110] ever buried in any parish about London of no larger extent, they ordered this dreadful gulf to be dug, for such it was rather than a pit.

They had supposed this pit would have supplied them for a month or more when they dug it; and some blamed the churchwardens for suffering such a frightful thing, telling them they were making preparations to bury the whole parish, and the like. But time made it appear, the churchwardens knew the condition of the parish better than they did: for, the pit being finished the 4th of September, I think they began to bury in it the 6th, and by the 20th, which was just two weeks, they had thrown into it eleven hundred and fourteen bodies, when they were obliged to fill it up, the bodies being then come to lie within six feet of the surface. I doubt not but there may be some ancient persons alive in the parish who can justify the fact of this, and are able to show even in what place of the churchyard the pit lay, better than I can: the mark of it also was many years to be seen in the churchyard on the surface, lying in length, parallel with the passage which goes by the west wall of the churchyard out of Houndsditch, and turns east again into Whitechapel, coming out near the Three Nuns Inn.

It was about the 10th of September that my curiosity led, or rather drove, me to go and see this pit again, when there had been near four hundred people buried in it. And I was not content to see it in the daytime, as I had done before,—for then there would have been nothing to have been seen but the loose earth, for all the bodies that were thrown in were immediately covered with earth by those they called the "buriers," which at other times were called "bearers,"—but I resolved to go in the night, and see some of them thrown in.

There was a strict order to prevent people coming to those pits, and that was only to prevent infection. But after some time that order was more necessary; for people that were infected and near their end, and delirious also, would run to those pits wrapped in blankets, or rugs, and throw themselves in, and, as they said, "bury themselves." I cannot say that the officers suffered any willingly to lie there; but I have heard that in a great pit in Finsbury, in the parish of Cripplegate (it lying open then to the fields, for it was not then walled about), many came and threw themselves in, and expired there, before they threw any earth upon them; and that when they came to bury others, and found them there, they were quite dead, though not cold.

This may serve a little to describe the dreadful condition of that day, though it is impossible to say anything that is able to give a true idea of it to those who did not see it, other than this: that it was indeed very, very, very dreadful, and such as no tongue can express.

I got admittance into the churchyard by being acquainted with the sexton who attended, who, though he did not refuse me at all, yet earnestly persuaded me not to go, telling me very seriously (for he was a good, religious, and sensible man) that it was indeed their business and duty to venture, and to run all hazards, and that in it they might hope to be preserved; but that I had no apparent call to it but my own curiosity, which, he said, he believed I would not pretend was sufficient to justify my running that hazard. I told him I had been pressed in my mind to go, and that perhaps it might be an instructing sight that might not be without its uses. "Nay," says the good man, "if you will venture upon that score, 'name of God,[111] go in; for, depend upon it, it will be a sermon to you, it may be, the best that ever you heard in your life. It is a speaking sight," says he, "and has a voice with it, and a loud one, to call us all to repentance;" and with that he opened the door, and said, "Go, if you will."

His discourse had shocked my resolution a little, and I stood wavering for a good while; but just at that interval I saw two links[112] come over from the end of the Minories, and heard the bellman, and then appeared a "dead cart," as they called it, coming over the streets: so I could no longer resist my desire of seeing it, and went in. There was nobody, as I could perceive at first, in the churchyard, or going into it, but the buriers, and the fellow that drove the cart, or rather led the horse and cart; but when they came up to the pit, they saw a man go to and again,[113] muffled up in a brown cloak, and making motions with his hands, under his cloak, as if he was[114] in great agony. And the buriers immediately gathered about him, supposing he was one of those poor delirious or desperate creatures that used to pretend, as I have said, to bury themselves. He said nothing as he walked about, but two or three times groaned very deeply and loud, and sighed as[115] he would break his heart.

When the buriers came up to him, they soon found he was neither a person infected and desperate, as I have observed above, or a person distempered in mind, but one oppressed with a dreadful weight of grief indeed, having his wife and several of his children all in the cart that was just come in with him; and he followed in an agony and excess of sorrow. He mourned heartily, as it was easy to see, but with a kind of masculine grief, that could not give itself vent by tears, and, calmly desiring the buriers to let him alone, said he would only see the bodies thrown in, and go away. So they left importuning him; but no sooner was the cart turned round, and the bodies shot into the pit promiscuously,—which was a surprise to him, for he at least expected they would have been decently laid in, though, indeed, he was afterwards convinced that was impracticable,—I say, no sooner did he see the sight, but he cried out aloud, unable to contain himself. I could not hear what he said, but he went backward two or three steps, and fell down in a swoon. The buriers ran to him and took him up, and in a little while he came to himself, and they led him away to the Pye[116] Tavern, over against the end of Houndsditch, where, it seems, the man was known, and where they took care of him. He looked into the pit again as he went away; but the buriers had covered the bodies so immediately with throwing in earth, that, though there was light enough (for there were lanterns,[117] and candles in them, placed all night round the sides of the pit upon the heaps of earth, seven or eight, or perhaps more), yet nothing could be seen.

This was a mournful scene indeed, and affected me almost as much as the rest. But the other was awful, and full of terror: the cart had in it sixteen or seventeen bodies; some were wrapped up in linen sheets, some in rugs, some little other than naked, or so loose that what covering they had fell from them in the shooting out of the cart, and they fell quite naked among the rest; but the matter was not much to them, or the indecency much to any one else, seeing they were all dead, and were to be huddled together into the common grave of mankind, as we may call it; for here was no difference made, but poor and rich went together. There was no other way of burials, neither was it possible there should,[118] for coffins were not to be had for the prodigious numbers that fell in such a calamity as this.

It was reported, by way of scandal upon the buriers, that if any corpse was delivered to them decently wound up, as we called it then, in a winding sheet tied over the head and feet (which some did, and which was generally of good linen),—I say, it was reported that the buriers were so wicked as to strip them in the cart, and carry them quite naked to the ground; but as I cannot credit anything so vile among Christians, and at a time so filled with terrors as that was, I can only relate it, and leave it undetermined.

Innumerable stories also went about of the cruel behavior and practice of nurses who attended the sick, and of their hastening on the fate of those they attended in their sickness. But I shall say more of this in its place.

I was indeed shocked with this sight, it almost overwhelmed me; and I went away with my heart most afflicted, and full of afflicting thoughts such as I cannot describe. Just at my going out of the church, and turning up the street towards my own house, I saw another cart, with links, and a bellman going before, coming out of Harrow Alley, in the Butcher Row, on the other side of the way; and being, as I perceived, very full of dead bodies, it went directly over the street, also, towards the church. I stood a while, but I had no stomach[119] to go back again to see the same dismal scene over again: so I went directly home, where I could not but consider with thankfulness the risk I had run, believing I had gotten no injury, as indeed I had not.

Here the poor unhappy gentleman's grief came into my head again, and indeed I could not but shed tears in the reflection upon it, perhaps more than he did himself; but his case lay so heavy upon my mind, that I could not prevail with myself but that I must go out again into the street, and go to the Pye Tavern, resolving to inquire what became of him.

It was by this time one o'clock in the morning, and yet the poor gentleman was there. The truth was, the people of the house, knowing him, had entertained him, and kept him there all the night, notwithstanding the danger of being infected by him, though it appeared the man was perfectly sound himself.

It is with regret that I take notice of this tavern. The people were civil, mannerly, and an obliging sort of folks enough, and had till this time kept their house open, and their trade going on, though not so very publicly as formerly. But there was a dreadful set of fellows that used their house, and who, in the middle of all this horror, met there every night, behaving with all the reveling and roaring extravagances as is usual for such people to do at other times, and indeed to such an offensive degree that the very master and mistress of the house grew first ashamed, and then terrified, at them.

They sat generally in a room next the street; and as they always kept late hours, so when the dead cart came across the street end to go into Houndsditch, which was in view of the tavern windows, they would frequently open the windows as soon as they heard the bell, and look out at them; and as they might often hear sad lamentations of people in the streets, or at their windows, as the carts went along, they would make their impudent mocks and jeers at them, especially if they heard the poor people call upon God to have mercy upon them, as many would do at those times, in their ordinary passing along the streets.

These gentlemen, being something disturbed with the clutter of bringing the poor gentleman into the house, as above, were first angry and very high with the master of the house for suffering such a fellow, as they called him, to be brought out of the grave into their house; but being answered that the man was a neighbor, and that he was sound, but overwhelmed with the calamity of his family, and the like, they turned their anger into ridiculing the man and his sorrow for his wife and children, taunting him with want of courage to leap into the great pit, and go to heaven, as they jeeringly expressed it, along with them; adding some very profane and even blasphemous expressions.

They were at this vile work when I came back to the house; and as far as I could see, though the man sat still, mute and disconsolate, and their affronts could not divert his sorrow, yet he was both grieved and offended at their discourse. Upon this, I gently reproved them, being well enough acquainted with their characters, and not unknown in person to two of them.

They immediately fell upon me with ill language and oaths, asked me what I did out of my grave at such a time, when so many honester men were carried into the churchyard, and why I was not at home saying my prayers, against[120] the dead cart came for me, and the like.

I was indeed astonished at the impudence of the men, though not at all discomposed at their treatment of me: however, I kept my temper. I told them that though I defied them, or any man in the world, to tax me with any dishonesty, yet I acknowledged, that, in this terrible judgment of God, many better than I were swept away, and carried to their grave; but, to answer their question directly, the case was, that I was mercifully preserved by that great God whose name they had blasphemed and taken in vain by cursing and swearing in a dreadful manner; and that I believed I was preserved in particular, among other ends of his goodness, that I might reprove them for their audacious boldness in behaving in such a manner, and in such an awful time as this was, especially for their jeering and mocking at an honest gentleman and a neighbor, for some of them knew him, who they saw was overwhelmed with sorrow for the breaches which it had pleased God to make upon his family.

I cannot call exactly to mind the hellish, abominable raillery which was the return they made to that talk of mine, being provoked, it seems, that I was not at all afraid to be free with them; nor, if I could remember, would I fill my account with any of the words, the horrid oaths, curses, and vile expressions such as, at that time of the day, even the worst and ordinariest people in the street would not use: for, except such hardened creatures as these, the most wicked wretches that could be found had at that time some terror upon their mind of the hand of that Power which could thus in a moment destroy them.

But that which was the worst in all their devilish language was, that they were not afraid to blaspheme God and talk atheistically, making a jest at my calling the plague the hand of God, mocking, and even laughing at the word "judgment," as if the providence of God had no concern in the inflicting such a desolating stroke; and that the people calling upon God, as they saw the carts carrying away the dead bodies, was all enthusiastic, absurd, and impertinent.

I made them some reply, such as I thought proper, but which I found was so far from putting a check to their horrid way of speaking, that it made them rail the more: so that I confess it filled me with horror and a kind of rage; and I came away, as I told them, lest the hand of that Judgment which had visited the whole city should glorify his vengeance upon them and all that were near them.

They received all reproof with the utmost contempt, and made the greatest mockery that was possible for them to do at me, giving me all the opprobrious insolent scoffs that they could think of for preaching to them, as they called it, which, indeed, grieved me rather than angered me; and I went away, blessing God, however, in my mind, that I had not spared them, though they had insulted me so much.

They continued this wretched course three or four days after this, continually mocking and jeering at all that showed themselves religious or serious, or that were any way touched with the sense of the terrible judgment of God upon us; and I was informed they flouted in the same manner at the good people, who, notwithstanding the contagion, met at the church, fasted, and prayed to God to remove his hand from them.

I say they continued this dreadful course three or four days (I think it was no more), when one of them, particularly he who asked the poor gentleman what he did out of his grave, was struck from Heaven with the plague, and died in a most deplorable manner; and, in a word, they were every one of them carried into the great pit, which I have mentioned above, before it was quite filled up, which was not above a fortnight or thereabout.

These men were guilty of many extravagances, such as one would think human nature should have trembled at the thoughts of, at such a time of general terror as was then upon us, and particularly scoffing and mocking at everything which they happened to see that was religious among the people, especially at their thronging zealously to the place of public worship, to implore mercy from Heaven in such a time of distress; and this tavern where they held their club, being within view of the church door, they had the more particular occasion for their atheistical, profane mirth.

But this began to abate a little with them before the accident, which I have related, happened; for the infection increased so violently at this part of the town now, that people began to be afraid to come to the church: at least such numbers did not resort thither as was usual. Many of the clergymen, likewise, were dead, and others gone into the country; for it really required a steady courage and a strong faith, for a man not only to venture being in town at such a time as this, but likewise to venture to come to church, and perform the office of a minister to a congregation of whom he had reason to believe many of them were actually infected with the plague, and to do this every day, or twice a day, as in some places was done.

It seems they had been checked, for their open insulting religion in this manner, by several good people of every persuasion; and that[121] and the violent raging of the infection, I suppose, was the occasion that they had abated much of their rudeness for some time before, and were only roused by the spirit of ribaldry and atheism at the clamor which was made when the gentleman was first brought in there, and perhaps were agitated by the same devil when I took upon me to reprove them; though I did it at first with all the calmness, temper, and good manners that I could, which, for a while, they insulted me the more for, thinking it had been in fear of their resentment, though afterwards they found the contrary.[122]

These things lay upon my mind, and I went home very much grieved and oppressed with the horror of these men's wickedness, and to think that anything could be so vile, so hardened, and so notoriously wicked, as to insult God, and his servants and his worship, in such a manner, and at such a time as this was, when he had, as it were, his sword drawn in his hand, on purpose to take vengeance, not on them only, but on the whole nation.

I had indeed been in some passion at first with them, though it was really raised, not by any affront they had offered me personally, but by the horror their blaspheming tongues filled me with. However, I was doubtful in my thoughts whether the resentment I retained was not all upon my own private account; for they had given me a great deal of ill language too, I mean personally: but after some pause, and having a weight of grief upon my mind, I retired myself as soon as I came home (for I slept not that night), and, giving God most humble thanks for my preservation in the imminent danger I had been in, I set my mind seriously and with the utmost earnestness to pray for those desperate wretches, that God would pardon them, open their eyes, and effectually humble them.

By this I not only did my duty, namely, to pray for those who despitefully used me, but I fully tried my own heart, to my full satisfaction that it was not filled with any spirit of resentment as they had offended me in particular; and I humbly recommend the method to all those that would know, or be certain, how to distinguish between their zeal for the honor of God and the effects of their private passions and resentment.

I remember a citizen, who, having broken out of his house in Aldersgate Street or thereabout, went along the road to Islington. He attempted to have gone[123] in at the Angel Inn, and after that at the White Horse, two inns known still by the same signs, but was refused, after which he came to the Pyed[124] Bull, an inn also still continuing the same sign. He asked them for lodging for one night only, pretending to be going into Lincolnshire, and assuring them of his being very sound, and free from the infection, which also at that time had not reached much that way.

They told him they had no lodging that they could spare but one bed up in the garret, and that they could spare that bed but for one night, some drovers being expected the next day with cattle: so, if he would accept of that lodging, he might have it, which he did. So a servant was sent up with a candle with him to show him the room. He was very well dressed, and looked like a person not used to lie in a garret; and when he came to the room, he fetched a deep sigh, and said to the servant, "I have seldom lain in such a lodging as this." However, the servant assured him again that they had no better. "Well," says he, "I must make shift.[125] This is a dreadful time, but it is but for one night." So he sat down upon the bedside, and bade the maid, I think it was, fetch him a pint of warm ale. Accordingly the servant went for the ale; but some hurry in the house, which perhaps employed her other ways, put it out of her head, and she went up no more to him.

The next morning, seeing no appearance of the gentleman, somebody in the house asked the servant that had showed him upstairs what was become of him. She started. "Alas!" says she, "I never thought more of him. He bade me carry him some warm ale, but I forgot." Upon which, not the maid, but some other person, was sent up to see after him, who, coming into the room, found him stark dead, and almost cold, stretched out across the bed. His clothes were pulled off, his jaw fallen, his eyes open in a most frightful posture, the rug of the bed being grasped hard in one of his hands, so that it was plain he died soon after the maid left him; and it is probable, had she gone up with the ale, she had found him dead in a few minutes after he had sat down upon the bed. The alarm was great in the house, as any one may suppose, they having been free from the distemper till that disaster, which, bringing the infection to the house, spread it immediately to other houses round about it. I do not remember how many died in the house itself; but I think the maidservant who went up first with him fell presently ill by the fright, and several others; for, whereas there died but two in Islington of the plague the week before, there died nineteen the week after, whereof fourteen were of the plague. This was in the week from the 11th of July to the 18th.

There was one shift[126] that some families had, and that not a few, when their houses happened to be infected, and that was this: the families who in the first breaking out of the distemper fled away into the country, and had retreats among their friends, generally found some or other of their neighbors or relations to commit the charge of those houses to, for the safety of the goods and the like. Some houses were indeed entirely locked up, the doors padlocked, the windows and doors having deal boards nailed over them, and only the inspection of them committed to the ordinary watchmen and parish officers; but these were but few.

It was thought that there were not less than a thousand houses forsaken of the inhabitants in the city and suburbs, including what was in the outparishes and in Surrey, or the side of the water they called Southwark. This was besides the numbers of lodgers and of particular persons who were fled out of other families; so that in all it was computed that about two hundred thousand people were fled and gone in all.[127] But of this I shall speak again. But I mention it here on this account: namely, that it was a rule with those who had thus two houses in their keeping or care, that, if anybody was taken sick in a family, before the master of the family let the examiners or any other officer know of it, he immediately would send all the rest of his family, whether children or servants as it fell out to be, to such other house which he had not in charge, and then, giving notice of the sick person to the examiner, have a nurse or nurses appointed, and having another person to be shut up in the house with them (which many for money would do), so to take charge of the house in case the person should die.

This was in many cases the saving a whole family, who, if they had been shut up with the sick person, would inevitably have perished. But, on the other hand, this was another of the inconveniences of shutting up houses; for the apprehensions and terror of being shut up made many run away with the rest of the family, who, though it was not publicly known, and they were not quite sick, had yet the distemper upon them; and who, by having an uninterrupted liberty to go about, but being obliged still to conceal their circumstances, or perhaps not knowing it themselves, gave the distemper to others, and spread the infection in a dreadful manner, as I shall explain further hereafter.

I had in my family only an ancient woman that managed the house, a maidservant, two apprentices, and myself; and, the plague beginning to increase about us, I had many sad thoughts about what course I should take and how I should act. The many dismal objects[128] which happened everywhere as I went about the streets had filled my mind with a great deal of horror, for fear of the distemper itself, which was indeed very horrible in itself, and in some more than others. The swellings, which were generally in the neck or groin, when they grew hard, and would not break, grew so painful that it was equal to the most exquisite torture; and some, not able to bear the torment, threw themselves out at windows, or shot themselves, or otherwise made themselves away, and I saw several dismal objects of that kind. Others, unable to contain themselves, vented their pain by incessant roarings; and such loud and lamentable cries were to be heard, as we walked along the streets, that[129] would pierce the very heart to think of, especially when it was to be considered that the same dreadful scourge might be expected every moment to seize upon ourselves.

I cannot say but that now I began to faint in my resolutions. My heart failed me very much, and sorely I repented of my rashness, when I had been out, and met with such terrible things as these I have talked of. I say I repented my rashness in venturing to abide in town, and I wished often that I had not taken upon me to stay, but had gone away with my brother and his family.

Terrified by those frightful objects, I would retire home sometimes, and resolve to go out no more; and perhaps I would keep those resolutions for three or four days, which time I spent in the most serious thankfulness for my preservation and the preservation of my family, and the constant confession of my sins, giving myself up to God every day, and applying to him with fasting and humiliation and meditation. Such intervals as I had, I employed in reading books and in writing down my memorandums of what occurred to me every day, and out of which, afterwards, I took most of this work, as it relates to my observations without doors. What I wrote of my private meditations I reserve for private use, and desire it may not be made public on any account whatever.

I also wrote other meditations upon divine subjects, such as occurred to me at that time, and were profitable to myself, but not fit for any other view, and therefore I say no more of that.

I had a very good friend, a physician, whose name was Heath, whom I frequently visited during this dismal time, and to whose advice I was very much obliged for many things which he directed me to take by way of preventing the infection when I went out, as he found I frequently did, and to hold in my mouth when I was in the streets. He also came very often to see me; and as he was a good Christian, as well as a good physician, his agreeable conversation was a very great support to me in the worst of this terrible time.

It was now the beginning of August, and the plague grew very violent and terrible in the place where I lived; and Dr. Heath coming to visit me, and finding that I ventured so often out in the streets, earnestly persuaded me to lock myself up, and my family, and not to suffer any of us to go out of doors; to keep all our windows fast, shutters and curtains close, and never to open them, but first to make a very strong smoke in the room, where the window or door was to be opened, with rosin[130] and pitch, brimstone and gunpowder, and the like; and we did this for some time. But, as I had not laid in a store of provision for such a retreat, it was impossible that we could keep within doors entirely. However, I attempted, though it was so very late, to do something towards it; and first, as I had convenience both for brewing and baking, I went and bought two sacks of meal, and for several weeks, having an oven, we baked all our own bread; also I bought malt, and brewed as much beer as all the casks I had would hold, and which seemed enough to serve my house for five or six weeks; also I laid in a quantity of salt butter and Cheshire cheese; but I had no flesh meat,[131] and the plague raged so violently among the butchers and slaughterhouses on the other side of our street, where they are known to dwell in great numbers, that it was not advisable so much as to go over the street among them.

And here I must observe again, that this necessity of going out of our houses to buy provisions was in a great measure the ruin of the whole city; for the people catched the distemper, on these occasions, one of another; and even the provisions themselves were often tainted (at least I have great reason to believe so), and therefore I cannot say with satisfaction, what I know is repeated with great assurance, that the market people, and such as brought provisions to town, were never infected. I am certain the butchers of Whitechapel, where the greatest part of the flesh meat was killed, were dreadfully visited, and that at last to such a degree that few of their shops were kept open; and those that remained of them killed their meat at Mile End, and that way, and brought it to market upon horses.

However, the poor people could not lay up provisions, and there was a necessity that they must go to market to buy, and others to send servants or their children; and, as this was a necessity which renewed itself daily, it brought abundance of unsound people to the markets; and a great many that went thither sound brought death home with them.

It is true, people used all possible precaution. When any one bought a joint of meat in the market, they[132] would not take it out of the butcher's hand, but took it off the hooks themselves.[132] On the other hand, the butcher would not touch the money, but have it put into a pot full of vinegar, which he kept for that purpose. The buyer carried always small money to make up any odd sum, that they might take no change. They carried bottles for scents and perfumes in their hands, and all the means that could be used were employed; but then the poor could not do even these things, and they went at all hazards.

Innumerable dismal stories we heard every day on this very account. Sometimes a man or woman dropped down dead in the very markets; for many people that had the plague upon them knew nothing of it till the inward gangrene had affected their vitals, and they died in a few moments. This caused that many died frequently in that manner in the street suddenly, without any warning: others, perhaps, had time to go to the next bulk[133] or stall, or to any door or porch, and just sit down and die, as I have said before.

These objects were so frequent in the streets, that when the plague came to be very raging on one side, there was scarce any passing by the streets but that several dead bodies would be lying here and there upon the ground. On the other hand, it is observable, that though at first the people would stop as they went along, and call to the neighbors to come out on such an occasion, yet afterward no notice was taken of them; but that, if at any time we found a corpse lying, go across the way and not come near it; or, if in a narrow lane or passage, go back again, and seek some other way to go on the business we were upon. And in those cases the corpse was always left till the officers had notice to come and take them away, or till night, when the bearers attending the dead cart would take them up and carry them away. Nor did those undaunted creatures who performed these offices fail to search their pockets, and sometimes strip off their clothes, if they were well dressed, as sometimes they were, and carry off what they could get.

But to return to the markets. The butchers took that care, that, if any person died in the market, they had the officers always at hand to take them up upon handbarrows, and carry them to the next churchyard; and this was so frequent that such were not entered in the weekly bill, found dead in the streets or fields, as is the case now, but they went into the general articles of the great distemper.

But now the fury of the distemper increased to such a degree, that even the markets were but very thinly furnished with provisions, or frequented with buyers, compared to what they were before; and the lord mayor caused the country people who brought provisions to be stopped in the streets leading into the town, and to sit down there with their goods, where they sold what they brought, and went immediately away. And this encouraged the country people greatly to do so; for they sold their provisions at the very entrances into the town, and even in the fields, as particularly in the fields beyond Whitechapel, in Spittlefields. Note, those streets now called Spittlefields were then indeed open fields; also in St. George's Fields in Southwark, in Bunhill Fields, and in a great field called Wood's Close, near Islington. Thither the lord mayor, aldermen, and magistrates sent their officers and servants to buy for their families, themselves keeping within doors as much as possible; and the like did many other people. And after this method was taken, the country people came with great cheerfulness, and brought provisions of all sorts, and very seldom got any harm, which, I suppose, added also to that report of their being miraculously preserved.[134]

As for my little family, having thus, as I have said, laid in a store of bread, butter, cheese, and beer, I took my friend and physician's advice, and locked myself up, and my family, and resolved to suffer the hardship of living a few months without flesh meat rather than to purchase it at the hazard of our lives.

But, though I confined my family, I could not prevail upon my unsatisfied curiosity to stay within entirely myself, and, though I generally came frighted and terrified home, yet I could not restrain, only that, indeed, I did not do it so frequently as at first.

I had some little obligations, indeed, upon me to go to my brother's house, which was in Coleman Street Parish, and which he had left to my care; and I went at first every day, but afterwards only once or twice a week.

In these walks I had many dismal scenes before my eyes, as, particularly, of persons falling dead in the streets, terrible shrieks and screechings of women, who in their agonies would throw open their chamber windows, and cry out in a dismal surprising manner. It is impossible to describe the variety of postures in which the passions of the poor people would express themselves.

Passing through Token-House Yard in Lothbury, of a sudden a casement violently opened just over my head, and a woman gave three frightful screeches, and then cried, "O death, death, death!" in a most inimitable tone, and which[135] struck me with horror, and[136] a chillness in my very blood. There was nobody to be seen in the whole street, neither did any other window open, for people had no curiosity now in any case, nor could anybody help one another: so I went on to pass into Bell Alley.

Just in Bell Alley, on the right hand of the passage, there was a more terrible cry than that, though it was not so directed out at the window. But the whole family was in a terrible fright, and I could hear women and children run screaming about the rooms like distracted, when a garret window opened, and somebody from a window on the other side the alley called, and asked, "What is the matter?" Upon which from the first window it was answered, "O Lord, my old master has hanged himself!" The other asked again, "Is he quite dead?" and the first answered, "Ay, ay, quite dead; quite dead and cold!" This person was a merchant and a deputy alderman, and very rich. I care not to mention his name, though I knew his name too; but that would be a hardship to the family, which is now flourishing again.[137]

But this is but one. It is scarce credible what dreadful cases happened in particular families every day,—people, in the rage of the distemper, or in the torment of their swellings, which was indeed intolerable, running out of their own government,[138] raving and distracted, and oftentimes laying violent hands upon themselves, throwing themselves out at their windows, shooting themselves, etc.; mothers murdering their own children in their lunacy; some dying of mere grief as a passion, some of mere fright and surprise without any infection at all; others frighted into idiotism[139] and foolish distractions, some into despair and lunacy, others into melancholy madness.

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

It often pierced my very soul to hear the groans and cries of those who were thus tormented. But of the two, this was counted the most promising particular in the whole infection: for if these swellings could be brought to a head, and to break and run, or, as the surgeons call it, to "digest," the patient generally recovered; whereas those who, like the gentlewoman's daughter, were struck with death at the beginning, and had the tokens come out upon them, often went about indifferently easy till a little before they died, and some till the moment they dropped down, as in apoplexies and epilepsies is often the case. Such would be taken suddenly very sick, and would run to a bench or bulk, or any convenient place that offered itself, or to their own houses, if possible, as I mentioned before, and there sit down, grow faint, and die. This kind of dying was much the same as it was with those who die of common mortifications,[140] who die swooning, and, as it were, go away in a dream. Such as died thus had very little notice of their being infected at all till the gangrene was spread through their whole body; nor could physicians themselves know certainly how it was with them till they opened their breasts, or other parts of their body, and saw the tokens.

We had at this time a great many frightful stories told us of nurses and watchmen who looked after the dying people (that is to say, hired nurses, who attended infected people), using them barbarously, starving them, smothering them, or by other wicked means hastening their end, that is to say, murdering of them. And watchmen being set to guard houses that were shut up, when there has been but one person left, and perhaps that one lying sick, that[141] they have broke in and murdered that body, and immediately thrown them out into the dead cart; and so they have gone scarce cold to the grave.

I cannot say but that some such murders were committed, and I think two were sent to prison for it, but died before they could be tried; and I have heard that three others, at several times, were executed for murders of that kind. But I must say I believe nothing of its being so common a crime as some have since been pleased to say; nor did it seem to be so rational, where the people were brought so low as not to be able to help themselves; for such seldom recovered, and there was no temptation to commit a murder, at least not equal to the fact, where they were sure persons would die in so short a time, and could not live.

That there were a great many robberies and wicked practices committed even in this dreadful time, I do not deny. The power of avarice was so strong in some, that they would run any hazard to steal and to plunder; and, particularly in houses where all the families or inhabitants have been dead and carried out, they would break in at all hazards, and, without regard to the danger of infection, take even the clothes off the dead bodies, and the bedclothes from others where they lay dead.

This, I suppose, must be the case of a family in Houndsditch, where a man and his daughter (the rest of the family being, as I suppose, carried away before by the dead cart) were found stark naked, one in one chamber and one in another, lying dead on the floor, and the clothes of the beds (from whence it is supposed they were rolled off by thieves) stolen, and carried quite away.

It is indeed to be observed that the women were, in all this calamity, the most rash, fearless, and desperate creatures. And, as there were vast numbers that went about as nurses to tend those that were sick, they committed a great many petty thieveries in the houses where they were employed; and some of them were publicly whipped for it, when perhaps they ought rather to have been hanged for examples,[142] for numbers of houses were robbed on these occasions; till at length the parish officers were sent to recommend nurses to the sick, and always took an account who it was they sent, so as that they might call them to account if the house had been abused where they were placed.

But these robberies extended chiefly to wearing-clothes, linen, and what rings or money they could come at, when the person died who was under their care, but not to a general plunder of the houses. And I could give you an account of one of these nurses, who several years after, being on her deathbed, confessed with the utmost horror the robberies she had committed at the time of her being a nurse, and by which she had enriched herself to a great degree. But as for murders, I do not find that there was ever any proofs of the fact in the manner as it has been reported, except as above.

They did tell me, indeed, of a nurse in one place that laid a wet cloth upon the face of a dying patient whom she tended, and so put an end to his life, who was just expiring before; and another that smothered a young woman she was looking to, when she was in a fainting fit, and would have come to herself; some that killed them by giving them one thing, some another, and some starved them by giving them nothing at all. But these stories had two marks of suspicion that always attended them, which caused me always to slight them, and to look on them as mere stories that people continually frighted one another with: (1) That wherever it was that we heard it, they always placed the scene at the farther end of the town, opposite or most remote from where you were to hear it. If you heard it in Whitechapel, it had happened at St. Giles's, or at Westminster, or Holborn, or that end of the town; if you heard it at that end of the town, then it was done in Whitechapel, or the Minories, or about Cripplegate Parish; if you heard of it in the city, why, then, it happened in Southwark; and, if you heard of it in Southwark, then it was done in the city; and the like.

In the next place, of whatsoever part you heard the story, the particulars were always the same, especially that of laying a wet double clout[143] on a dying man's face, and that of smothering a young gentlewoman: so that it was apparent, at least to my judgment, that there was more of tale than of truth in those things.

A neighbor and acquaintance of mine, having some money owing to him from a shopkeeper in Whitecross Street or thereabouts, sent his apprentice, a youth about eighteen years of age, to endeavor to get the money. He came to the door, and, finding it shut, knocked pretty hard, and, as he thought, heard somebody answer within, but was not sure: so he waited, and after some stay knocked again, and then a third time, when he heard somebody coming downstairs.

At length the man of the house came to the door. He had on his breeches, or drawers, and a yellow flannel waistcoat, no stockings, a pair of slip shoes, a white cap on his head, and, as the young man said, death in his face.

When he opened the door, says he, "What do you disturb me thus for?" The boy, though a little surprised, replied, "I come from such a one; and my master sent me for the money, which he says you know of."—"Very well, child," returns the living ghost; "call, as you go by, at Cripplegate Church, and bid them ring the bell," and with these words shut the door again, and went up again, and died the same day, nay, perhaps the same hour. This the young man told me himself, and I have reason to believe it. This was while the plague was not come to a height. I think it was in June, towards the latter end of the month. It must have been before the dead carts came about, and while they used the ceremony of ringing the bell for the dead, which was over for certain, in that parish at least, before the month of July; for by the 25th of July there died five hundred and fifty and upwards in a week, and then they could no more bury in form[144] rich or poor.

I have mentioned above, that, notwithstanding this dreadful calamity, yet that[145] numbers of thieves were abroad upon all occasions where they had found any prey, and that these were generally women. It was one morning about eleven o'clock, I had walked out to my brother's house in Coleman Street Parish, as I often did, to see that all was safe.

My brother's house had a little court before it, and a brick wall and a gate in it, and within that several warehouses, where his goods of several sorts lay. It happened that in one of these warehouses were several packs of women's high-crowned hats, which came out of the country, and were, as I suppose, for exportation, whither I know not.

I was surprised that when I came near my brother's door, which was in a place they called Swan Alley, I met three or four women with high-crowned hats on their heads; and, as I remembered afterwards, one, if not more, had some hats likewise in their hands. But as I did not see them come out at my brother's door, and not knowing that my brother had any such goods in his warehouse, I did not offer to say anything to them, but went across the way to shun meeting them, as was usual to do at that time, for fear of the plague. But when I came nearer to the gate, I met another woman, with more hats, come out of the gate. "What business, mistress," said I, "have you had there?"—"There are more people there," said she. "I have had no more business there than they." I was hasty to get to the gate then, and said no more to her; by which means she got away. But just as I came to the gate, I saw two more coming across the yard, to come out, with hats also on their heads and under their arms; at which I threw the gate to behind me, which, having a spring lock, fastened itself. And turning to the women, "Forsooth," said I, "what are you doing here?" and seized upon the hats, and took them from them. One of them, who, I confess, did not look like a thief, "Indeed," says she, "we are wrong; but we were told they were goods that had no owner: be pleased to take them again. And look yonder: there are more such customers as we." She cried, and looked pitifully: so I took the hats from her, and opened the gate, and bade them begone, for I pitied the women indeed. But when I looked towards the warehouse, as she directed, there were six or seven more, all women, fitting themselves with hats, as unconcerned and quiet as if they had been at a hatter's shop buying for their money.

I was surprised, not at the sight of so many thieves only, but at the circumstances I was in; being now to thrust myself in among so many people, who for some weeks I had been so shy of myself, that, if I met anybody in the street, I would cross the way from them.

They were equally surprised, though on another account. They all told me they were neighbors; that they had heard any one might take them; that they were nobody's goods; and the like. I talked big to them at first; went back to the gate and took out the key, so that they were all my prisoners; threatened to lock them all into the warehouse, and go and fetch my lord mayor's officers for them.

They begged heartily, protested they found the gate open, and the warehouse door open, and that it had no doubt been broken open by some who expected to find goods of greater value; which indeed was reasonable to believe, because the lock was broke, and a padlock that hung to the door on the outside also loose, and not abundance of the hats carried away.

At length I considered that this was not a time to be cruel and rigorous; and besides that, it would necessarily oblige me to go much about, to have several people come to me, and I go to several, whose circumstances of health I knew nothing of; and that, even at this time, the plague was so high as that there died four thousand a week; so that, in showing my resentment, or even in seeking justice for my brother's goods, I might lose my own life. So I contented myself with taking the names and places where some of them lived, who were really inhabitants in the neighborhood, and threatening that my brother should call them to an account for it when he returned to his habitation.

Then I talked a little upon another footing with them, and asked them how they could do such things as these in a time of such general calamity, and, as it were, in the face of God's most dreadful judgments, when the plague was at their very doors, and, it may be, in their very houses, and they did not know but that the dead cart might stop at their doors in a few hours, to carry them to their graves.

I could not perceive that my discourse made much impression upon them all that while, till it happened that there came two men of the neighborhood, hearing of the disturbance, and knowing my brother (for they had been both dependents upon his family), and they came to my assistance. These being, as I said, neighbors, presently knew three of the women, and told me who they were, and where they lived, and it seems they had given me a true account of themselves before.

This brings these two men to a further remembrance. The name of one was John Hayward, who was at that time under-sexton of the parish of St. Stephen, Coleman Street (by under-sexton was understood at that time gravedigger and bearer of the dead). This man carried, or assisted to carry, all the dead to their graves, which were buried in that large parish, and who were carried in form, and, after that form of burying was stopped, went with the dead cart and the bell to fetch the dead bodies from the houses where they lay, and fetched many of them out of the chambers and houses; for the parish was, and is still, remarkable, particularly above all the parishes in London, for a great number of alleys and thoroughfares, very long, into which no carts could come, and where they were obliged to go and fetch the bodies a very long way, which alleys now remain to witness it; such as White's Alley, Cross Keys Court, Swan Alley, Bell Alley, White Horse Alley, and many more. Here they went with a kind of handbarrow, and laid the dead bodies on, and carried them out to the carts; which work he performed, and never had the distemper at all, but lived about twenty years after it, and was sexton of the parish to the time of his death. His wife at the same time was a nurse to infected people, and tended many that died in the parish, being for her honesty recommended by the parish officers; yet she never was infected, neither.[146]

He never used any preservative against the infection other than holding garlic and rue[147] in his mouth, and smoking tobacco. This I also had from his own mouth. And his wife's remedy was washing her head in vinegar, and sprinkling her head-clothes so with vinegar as to keep them always moist; and, if the smell of any of those she waited on was more than ordinary offensive, she snuffed vinegar up her nose, and sprinkled vinegar upon her head-clothes, and held a handkerchief wetted with vinegar to her mouth.

It must be confessed, that, though the plague was chiefly among the poor, yet were the poor the most venturous and fearless of it, and went about their employment with a sort of brutal courage: I must call it so, for it was founded neither on religion or prudence. Scarce did they use any caution, but ran into any business which they could get any employment in, though it was the most hazardous; such was that of tending the sick, watching houses shut up, carrying infected persons to the pesthouse, and, which was still worse, carrying the dead away to their graves.

It was under this John Hayward's care, and within his bounds, that the story of the piper, with which people have made themselves so merry, happened; and he assured me that it was true. It is said that it was a blind piper; but, as John told me, the fellow was not blind, but an ignorant, weak, poor man, and usually went his rounds about ten o'clock at night, and went piping along from door to door. And the people usually took him in at public houses where they knew him, and would give him drink and victuals, and sometimes farthings; and he in return would pipe and sing, and talk simply, which diverted the people; and thus he lived. It was but a very bad time for this diversion while things were as I have told; yet the poor fellow went about as usual, but was almost starved: and when anybody asked how he did, he would answer, the dead cart had not taken him yet, but that they had promised to call for him next week.

It happened one night that this poor fellow, whether somebody had given him too much drink or no (John Hayward said he had not drink in his house, but that they had given him a little more victuals than ordinary at a public house in Coleman Street), and the poor fellow having not usually had a bellyful, or perhaps not a good while, was laid all along upon the top of a bulk or stall, and fast asleep at a door in the street near London Wall, towards Cripplegate; and that, upon the same bulk or stall, the people of some house in the alley of which the house was a corner, hearing a bell (which they always rung before the cart came), had laid a body really dead of the plague just by him, thinking too that this poor fellow had been a dead body as the other was, and laid there by some of the neighbors.

Accordingly, when John Hayward with his bell and the cart came along, finding two dead bodies lie upon the stall, they took them up with the instrument they used, and threw them into the cart; and all this while the piper slept soundly.

From hence they passed along, and took in other dead bodies, till, as honest John Hayward told me, they almost buried him alive in the cart; yet all this while he slept soundly. At length the cart came to the place where the bodies were to be thrown into the ground, which, as I do remember, was at Mountmill; and, as the cart usually stopped some time before they were ready to shoot out the melancholy load they had in it, as soon as the cart stopped, the fellow awaked, and struggled a little to get his head out from among the dead bodies; when, raising himself up in the cart, he called out, "Hey, where am I?" This frighted the fellow that attended about the work; but, after some pause, John Hayward, recovering himself, said, "Lord bless us! There's somebody in the cart not quite dead!" So another called to him, and said, "Who are you?" The fellow answered, "I am the poor piper. Where am I?"—"Where are you?" says Hayward. "Why, you are in the dead cart, and we are going to bury you."—"But I ain't dead, though, am I?" says the piper; which made them laugh a little, though, as John said, they were heartily frightened at first. So they helped the poor fellow down, and he went about his business.

I know the story goes, he set up[148] his pipes in the cart, and frighted the bearers and others, so that they ran away; but John Hayward did not tell the story so, nor say anything of his piping at all. But that he was a poor piper, and that he was carried away as above, I am fully satisfied of the truth of.

It is to be noted here that the dead carts in the city were not confined to particular parishes; but one cart went through several parishes, according as the number of dead presented. Nor were they tied[149] to carry the dead to their respective parishes; but many of the dead taken up in the city were carried to the burying ground in the outparts for want of room.

At the beginning of the plague, when there was now no more hope but that the whole city would be visited; when, as I have said, all that had friends or estates in the country retired with their families; and when, indeed, one would have thought the very city itself was running out of the gates, and that there would be nobody left behind,—you may be sure from that hour all trade, except such as related to immediate subsistence, was, as it were, at a full stop.

This is so lively a case, and contains in it so much of the real condition of the people, that I think I cannot be too particular in it, and therefore I descend to the several arrangements or classes of people who fell into immediate distress upon this occasion. For example:—

1. All master workmen in manufactures, especially such as belonged to ornament and the less necessary parts of the people's dress, clothes, and furniture for houses; such as ribbon-weavers and other weavers, gold and silver lacemakers, and gold and silver wire-drawers, seamstresses, milliners, shoemakers, hatmakers, and glovemakers, also upholsterers, joiners, cabinet-makers, looking-glass-makers, and innumerable trades which depend upon such as these,—I say, the master workmen in such stopped their work, dismissed their journeymen and workmen and all their dependents.

2. As merchandising was at a full stop (for very few ships ventured to come up the river, and none at all went out[150]), so all the extraordinary officers of the customs, likewise the watermen, carmen, porters, and all the poor whose labor depended upon the merchants, were at once dismissed, and put out of business.

3. All the tradesmen usually employed in building or repairing of houses were at a full stop; for the people were far from wanting to build houses when so many thousand houses were at once stripped of their inhabitants; so that this one article[151] turned out all the ordinary workmen of that kind of business, such as bricklayers, masons, carpenters, joiners, plasterers, painters, glaziers, smiths, plumbers, and all the laborers depending on such.

4. As navigation was at a stop, our ships neither coming in or going out as before, so the seamen were all out of employment, and many of them in the last and lowest degree of distress. And with the seamen were all the several tradesmen and workmen belonging to and depending upon the building and fitting out of ships; such as ship-carpenters, calkers, ropemakers, dry coopers, sailmakers, anchor-smiths, and other smiths, blockmakers, carvers, gunsmiths, ship-chandlers, ship-carvers, and the like. The masters of those, perhaps, might live upon their substance; but the traders were universally at a stop, and consequently all their workmen discharged. Add to these, that the river was in a manner without boats, and all or most part of the watermen, lighter-men, boat-builders, and lighter-builders, in like manner idle and laid by.

5. All families retrenched their living as much as possible, as well those that fled as those that staid; so that an innumerable multitude of footmen, serving men, shopkeepers, journeymen, merchants' bookkeepers, and such sort of people, and especially poor maidservants, were turned off, and left friendless and helpless, without employment and without habitation; and this was really a dismal article.

I might be more particular as to this part; but it may suffice to mention, in general, all trades being stopped, employment ceased, the labor, and by that the bread of the poor, were cut off; and at first, indeed, the cries of the poor were most lamentable to hear, though, by the distribution of charity, their misery that way was gently[152] abated. Many, indeed, fled into the country; but, thousands of them having staid in London till nothing but desperation sent them away, death overtook them on the road, and they served for no better than the messengers of death: indeed, others carrying the infection along with them, spread it very unhappily into the remotest parts of the kingdom.

The women and servants that were turned off from their places were employed as nurses to tend the sick in all places, and this took off a very great number of them.

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