This, in the first place, intimated to them that they would be sure to find the charity and kindness of the county, which they had found here where they were before, hardened and shut up against them; and that, on the other hand, they would be questioned wherever they came, and would be in danger of violence from others in like cases with themselves.
Upon all these considerations, John, their captain, in all their names, went back to their good friend and benefactor who had relieved them before, and, laying their case truly before him, humbly asked his advice; and he as kindly advised them to take up their old quarters again, or, if not, to remove but a little farther out of the road, and directed them to a proper place for them. And as they really wanted some house, rather than huts, to shelter them at that time of the year, it growing on towards Michaelmas, they found an old decayed house, which had been formerly some cottage or little habitation, but was so out of repair as scarce habitable; and by consent of a farmer, to whose farm it belonged, they got leave to make what use of it they could.
The ingenious joiner, and all the rest by his directions, went to work with it, and in a very few days made it capable to shelter them all in case of bad weather; and in which there was an old chimney and an old oven, though both lying in ruins, yet they made them both fit for use; and, raising additions, sheds, and lean-to's on every side, they soon made the house capable to hold them all.
They chiefly wanted boards to make window shutters, floors, doors, and several other things; but as the gentleman above favored them, and the country was by that means made easy with them, and, above all, that they were known to be all sound and in good health, everybody helped them with what they could spare.
Here they encamped for good and all, and resolved to remove no more. They saw plainly how terribly alarmed that country was everywhere at anybody that came from London, and that they should have no admittance anywhere but with the utmost difficulty; at least no friendly reception and assistance, as they had received here.
Now, although they received great assistance and encouragement from the country gentlemen, and from the people round about them, yet they were put to great straits; for the weather grew cold and wet in October and November, and they had not been used to so much hardship, so that they got cold in their limbs, and distempers, but never had the infection. And thus about December they came home to the city again.
I give this story thus at large, principally to give an account what became of the great numbers of people which immediately appeared in the city as soon as the sickness abated; for, as I have said, great numbers of those that were able, and had retreats in the country, fled to those retreats. So when it was increased to such a frightful extremity as I have related, the middling people who had not friends fled to all parts of the country where they could get shelter, as well those that had money to relieve themselves as those that had not. Those that had money always fled farthest, because they were able to subsist themselves; but those who were empty suffered, as I have said, great hardships, and were often driven by necessity to relieve their wants at the expense of the country. By that means the country was made very uneasy at them, and sometimes took them up, though even then they scarce knew what to do with them, and were always very backward to punish them; but often, too, they forced them from place to place, till they were obliged to come back again to London.
I have, since my knowing this story of John and his brother, inquired, and found that there were a great many of the poor disconsolate people, as above, fled into the country every way; and some of them got little sheds and barns and outhouses to live in, where they could obtain so much kindness of the country, and especially where they had any, the least satisfactory account to give of themselves, and particularly that they did not come out of London too late. But others, and that in great numbers, built themselves little huts and retreats in the fields and woods, and lived like hermits in holes and caves, or any place they could find, and where, we may be sure, they suffered great extremities, such that many of them were obliged to come back again, whatever the danger was. And so those little huts were often found empty, and the country people supposed the inhabitants lay dead in them of the plague, and would not go near them for fear, no, not in a great while; nor is it unlikely but that some of the unhappy wanderers might die so all alone, even sometimes for want of help, as particularly in one tent or hut was found a man dead, and on the gate of a field just by was cut with his knife, in uneven letters, the following words, by which it may be supposed the other man escaped, or that, one dying first, the other buried him as well as he could:—
O m I s E r Y! We Bo T H Sh a L L D y E, W o E, W o E
I have given an account already of what I found to have been the case down the river among the seafaring men, how the ships lay in the "offing," as it is called, in rows or lines, astern of one another, quite down from the Pool as far as I could see. I have been told that they lay in the same manner quite down the river as low as Gravesend, and some far beyond, even everywhere, or in every place where they could ride with safety as to wind and weather. Nor did I ever hear that the plague reached to any of the people on board those ships, except such as lay up in the Pool, or as high as Deptford Reach, although the people went frequently on shore to the country towns and villages, and farmers' houses, to buy fresh provisions (fowls, pigs, calves, and the like) for their supply.
Likewise I found that the watermen on the river above the bridge found means to convey themselves away up the river as far as they could go; and that they had, many of them, their whole families in their boats, covered with tilts and bales, as they call them, and furnished with straw within for their lodging; and that they lay thus all along by the shore in the marshes, some of them setting up little tents with their sails, and so lying under them on shore in the day, and going into their boats at night. And in this manner, as I have heard, the riversides were lined with boats and people as long as they had anything to subsist on, or could get anything of the country; and indeed the country people, as well gentlemen as others, on these and all other occasions, were very forward to relieve them, but they were by no means willing to receive them into their towns and houses, and for that we cannot blame them.
There was one unhappy citizen, within my knowledge, who had been visited in a dreadful manner, so that his wife and all his children were dead, and himself and two servants only left, with an elderly woman, a near relation, who had nursed those that were dead as well as she could. This disconsolate man goes to a village near the town, though not within the bills of mortality, and, finding an empty house there, inquires out the owner, and took the house. After a few days he got a cart, and loaded it with goods, and carries them down to the house. The people of the village opposed his driving the cart along, but, with some arguings and some force, the men that drove the cart along got through the street up to the door of the house. There the constable resisted them again, and would not let them be brought in. The man caused the goods to be unloaded and laid at the door, and sent the cart away, upon which they carried the man before a justice of peace; that is to say, they commanded him to go, which he did. The justice ordered him to cause the cart to fetch away the goods again, which he refused to do; upon which the justice ordered the constable to pursue the carters and fetch them back, and make them reload the goods and carry them away, or to set them in the stocks till they came for further orders; and if they could not find them, and the man would not consent to take them away, they should cause them to be drawn with hooks from the house door, and burned in the street. The poor distressed man, upon this, fetched the goods again, but with grievous cries and lamentations at the hardship of his case. But there was no remedy: self-preservation obliged the people to those severities which they would not otherwise have been concerned in. Whether this poor man lived or died, I cannot tell, but it was reported that he had the plague upon him at that time, and perhaps the people might report that to justify their usage of him; but it was not unlikely that either he or his goods, or both, were dangerous, when his whole family had been dead of the distemper so little a while before.
I know that the inhabitants of the towns adjacent to London were much blamed for cruelty to the poor people that ran from the contagion in their distress, and many very severe things were done, as may be seen from what has been said; but I cannot but say also, that where there was room for charity and assistance to the people, without apparent danger to themselves, they were willing enough to help and relieve them. But as every town were indeed judges in their own case, so the poor people who ran abroad in their extremities were often ill used, and driven back again into the town; and this caused infinite exclamations and outcries against the country towns, and made the clamor very popular.
And yet more or less, maugre all the caution, there was not a town of any note within ten (or, I believe, twenty) miles of the city, but what was more or less infected, and had some died among them. I have heard the accounts of several, such as they were reckoned up, as follows:—
Enfield 32 Hornsey 58 Newington 17 Tottenham 42 Edmonton 19 Barnet and Hadley 43 St. Albans 121 Watford 45 Uxbridge 117 Hertford 90 Ware 160 Hodsdon 30 Waltham Abbey 23 Epping 26 Deptford 623 Greenwich 631 Eltham and Lusum 85 Croydon 61 Brentwood 70 Rumford 109 Barking about 200 Brandford 432 Kingston 122 Staines 82 Chertsey 18 Windsor 103 cum aliis.
Another thing might render the country more strict with respect to the citizens, and especially with respect to the poor, and this was what I hinted at before; namely, that there was a seeming propensity, or a wicked inclination, in those that were infected, to infect others.
There have been great debates among our physicians as to the reason of this. Some will have it to be in the nature of the disease, and that it impresses every one that is seized upon by it with a kind of rage and a hatred against their own kind, as if there were a malignity, not only in the distemper to communicate itself, but in the very nature of man, prompting him with evil will, or an evil eye, that as they say in the case of a mad dog, who, though the gentlest creature before of any of his kind, yet then will fly upon and bite any one that comes next him, and those as soon as any, who have been most observed by him before.
Others placed it to the account of the corruption of human nature, who cannot bear to see itself more miserable than others of its own species, and has a kind of involuntary wish that all men were as unhappy or in as bad a condition as itself.
Others say it was only a kind of desperation, not knowing or regarding what they did, and consequently unconcerned at the danger or safety, not only of anybody near them, but even of themselves also. And indeed, when men are once come to a condition to abandon themselves, and be unconcerned for the safety or at the danger of themselves, it cannot be so much wondered that they should be careless of the safety of other people.
But I choose to give this grave debate quite a different turn, and answer it or resolve it all by saying that I do not grant the fact. On the contrary, I say that the thing is not really so, but that it was a general complaint raised by the people inhabiting the outlying villages against the citizens, to justify, or at least excuse, those hardships and severities so much talked of, and in which complaints both sides may be said to have injured one another; that is to say, the citizens pressing to be received and harbored in time of distress, and with the plague upon them, complain of the cruelty and injustice of the country people in being refused entrance, and forced back again with their goods and families; and the inhabitants, finding themselves so imposed upon, and the citizens breaking in, as it were, upon them, whether they would or no, complain that when they were infected, they were not only regardless of others, but even willing to infect them: neither of which was really true, that is to say, in the colors they were described in.
It is true there is something to be said for the frequent alarms which were given to the country, of the resolution of the people of London to come out by force, not only for relief, but to plunder and rob; that they ran about the streets with the distemper upon them without any control; and that no care was taken to shut up houses, and confine the sick people from infecting others; whereas, to do the Londoners justice, they never practiced such things, except in such particular cases as I have mentioned above, and such like. On the other hand, everything was managed with so much care, and such excellent order was observed in the whole city and suburbs, by the care of the lord mayor and aldermen, and by the justices of the peace, churchwardens, etc., in the outparts, that London may be a pattern to all the cities in the world for the good government and the excellent order that was everywhere kept, even in the time of the most violent infection, and when the people were in the utmost consternation and distress. But of this I shall speak by itself.
One thing, it is to be observed, was owing principally to the prudence of the magistrates, and ought to be mentioned to their honor; viz., the moderation which they used in the great and difficult work of shutting up houses. It is true, as I have mentioned, that the shutting up of houses was a great subject of discontent, and I may say, indeed, the only subject of discontent among the people at that time; for the confining the sound in the same house with the sick was counted very terrible, and the complaints of people so confined were very grievous: they were heard in the very streets, and they were sometimes such that called for resentment, though oftener for compassion. They had no way to converse with any of their friends but out of their windows, where they would make such piteous lamentations as often moved the hearts of those they talked with, and of others who, passing by, heard their story; and as those complaints oftentimes reproached the severity, and sometimes the insolence, of the watchmen placed at their doors, those watchmen would answer saucily enough, and perhaps be apt to affront the people who were in the street talking to the said families; for which, or for their ill treatment of the families, I think seven or eight of them in several places were killed. I know not whether I should say murdered or not, because I cannot enter into the particular cases. It is true, the watchmen were on their duty, and acting in the post where they were placed by a lawful authority; and killing any public legal officer in the execution of his office is always, in the language of the law, called "murder." But as they were not authorized by the magistrate's instructions, or by the power they acted under, to be injurious or abusive, either to the people who were under their observation or to any that concerned themselves for them, so that, when they did so, they might be said to act themselves, not their office; to act as private persons, not as persons employed; and consequently, if they brought mischief upon themselves by such an undue behavior, that mischief was upon their own heads. And indeed they had so much the hearty curses of the people, whether they deserved it or not, that, whatever befell them, nobody pitied them; and everybody was apt to say they deserved it, whatever it was. Nor do I remember that anybody was ever punished, at least to any considerable degree, for whatever was done to the watchmen that guarded their houses.
What variety of stratagems were used to escape, and get out of houses thus shut up, by which the watchmen were deceived or overpowered, and that the people got away, I have taken notice of already, and shall say no more to that; but I say the magistrates did moderate and ease families upon many occasions in this case, and particularly in that of taking away or suffering to be removed the sick persons out of such houses, when they were willing to be removed, either to a pesthouse or other places, and sometimes giving the well persons in the family so shut up leave to remove, upon information given that they were well, and that they would confine themselves in such houses where they went, so long as should be required of them. The concern, also, of the magistrates for the supplying such poor families as were infected,—I say, supplying them with necessaries, as well physic as food,—was very great: and in which they did not content themselves with giving the necessary orders to the officers appointed; but the aldermen, in person and on horseback, frequently rode to such houses, and caused the people to be asked at their windows whether they were duly attended or not, also whether they wanted anything that was necessary, and if the officers had constantly carried their messages, and fetched them such things as they wanted, or not. And if they answered in the affirmative, all was well; but if they complained that they were ill supplied, and that the officer did not do his duty, or did not treat them civilly, they (the officers) were generally removed, and others placed in their stead.
It is true, such complaint might be unjust; and if the officer had such arguments to use as would convince the magistrate that he was right, and that the people had injured him, he was continued, and they reproved. But this part could not well bear a particular inquiry, for the parties could very ill be well heard and answered in the street from the windows, as was the case then. The magistrates, therefore, generally chose to favor the people, and remove the man, as what seemed to be the least wrong and of the least ill consequence; seeing, if the watchman was injured, yet they could easily make him amends by giving him another post of a like nature; but, if the family was injured, there was no satisfaction could be made to them, the damage, perhaps, being irreparable, as it concerned their lives.
A great variety of these cases frequently happened between the watchmen and the poor people shut up, besides those I formerly mentioned about escaping. Sometimes the watchmen were absent, sometimes drunk, sometimes asleep, when the people wanted them; and such never failed to be punished severely, as indeed they deserved.
But, after all that was or could be done in these cases, the shutting up of houses, so as to confine those that were well with those that were sick, had very great inconveniences in it, and some that were very tragical, and which merited to have been considered, if there had been room for it: but it was authorized by a law, it had the public good in view as the end chiefly aimed at; and all the private injuries that were done by the putting it in execution must be put to the account of the public benefit.
It is doubtful whether, in the whole, it contributed anything to the stop of the infection; and indeed I cannot say it did, for nothing could run with greater fury and rage than the infection did when it was in its chief violence, though the houses infected were shut up as exactly and effectually as it was possible. Certain it is, that, if all the infected persons were effectually shut in, no sound person could have been infected by them, because they could not have come near them. But the case was this (and I shall only touch it here); namely, that the infection was propagated insensibly, and by such persons as were not visibly infected, who neither knew whom they infected, nor whom they were infected by.
A house in Whitechapel was shut up for the sake of one infected maid, who had only spots, not the tokens, come out upon her, and recovered; yet these people obtained no liberty to stir, neither for air or exercise, forty days. Want of breath, fear, anger, vexation, and all the other griefs attending such an injurious treatment, cast the mistress of the family into a fever; and visitors came into the house and said it was the plague, though the physicians declared it was not. However, the family were obliged to begin their quarantine anew, on the report of the visitor or examiner, though their former quarantine wanted but a few days of being finished. This oppressed them so with anger and grief, and, as before, straitened them also so much as to room, and for want of breathing and free air, that most of the family fell sick, one of one distemper, one of another, chiefly scorbutic ailments, only one a violent cholic; until, after several prolongings of their confinement, some or other of those that came in with the visitors to inspect the persons that were ill, in hopes of releasing them, brought the distemper with them, and infected the whole house; and all or most of them died, not of the plague as really upon them before, but of the plague that those people brought them, who should have been careful to have protected them from it. And this was a thing which frequently happened, and was indeed one of the worst consequences of shutting houses up.
I had about this time a little hardship put upon me, which I was at first greatly afflicted at, and very much disturbed about, though, as it proved, it did not expose me to any disaster; and this was, being appointed, by the alderman of Portsoken Ward, one of the examiners of the houses in the precinct where I lived. We had a large parish, and had no less than eighteen examiners, as the order called us: the people called us visitors. I endeavored with all my might to be excused from such an employment, and used many arguments with the alderman's deputy to be excused; particularly, I alleged that I was against shutting up houses at all, and that it would be very hard to oblige me to be an instrument in that which was against my judgment, and which I did verily believe would not answer the end it was intended for. But all the abatement I could get was only, that whereas the officer was appointed by my lord mayor to continue two months, I should be obliged to hold it but three weeks, on condition, nevertheless, that I could then get some other sufficient housekeeper to serve the rest of the time for me; which was, in short, but a very small favor, it being very difficult to get any man to accept of such an employment that was fit to be intrusted with it.
It is true that shutting up of houses had one effect which I am sensible was of moment; namely, it confined the distempered people, who would otherwise have been both very troublesome and very dangerous in their running about streets with the distemper upon them, which, when they were delirious, they would have done in a most frightful manner, as, indeed, they began to do at first very much until they were restrained; nay, so very open they were, that the poor would go about and beg at people's doors, and say they had the plague upon them, and beg rags for their sores, or both, or anything that delirious nature happened to think of.
A poor unhappy gentlewoman, a substantial citizen's wife, was, if the story be true, murdered by one of these creatures in Aldersgate Street, or that way. He was going along the street, raving mad, to be sure, and singing. The people only said he was drunk; but he himself said he had the plague upon him, which, it seems, was true; and, meeting this gentlewoman, he would kiss her. She was terribly frightened, as he was a rude fellow, and she run from him; but, the street being very thin of people, there was nobody near enough to help her. When she saw he would overtake her, she turned and gave him a thrust so forcibly, he being but weak, as pushed him down backward; but very unhappily, she being so near, he caught hold of her and pulled her down also, and, getting up first, mastered her and kissed her, and, which was worst of all, when he had done, told her he had the plague, and why should not she have it as well as he. She was frightened enough before; but when she heard him say he had the plague, she screamed out, and fell down into a swoon, or in a fit, which, though she recovered a little, yet killed her in a very few days; and I never heard whether she had the plague or no.
Another infected person came and knocked at the door of a citizen's house where they knew him very well. The servant let him in, and, being told the master of the house was above, he ran up, and came into the room to them as the whole family were at supper. They began to rise up a little surprised, not knowing what the matter was; but he bid them sit still, he only come to take his leave of them. They asked him, "Why, Mr. ——, where are you going?"—"Going?" says he; "I have got the sickness, and shall die to-morrow night." It is easy to believe, though not to describe, the consternation they were all in. The women and the man's daughters, which were but little girls, were frightened almost to death, and got up, one running out at one door and one at another, some downstairs and some upstairs, and, getting together as well as they could, locked themselves into their chambers, and screamed out at the windows for help, as if they had been frightened out of their wits. The master, more composed than they, though both frightened and provoked, was going to lay hands on him and throw him downstairs, being in a passion; but then, considering a little the condition of the man and the danger of touching him, horror seized his mind, and he stood still like one astonished. The poor distempered man, all this while, being as well diseased in his brain as in his body, stood still like one amazed. At length he turns round. "Ay!" says he with all the seeming calmness imaginable, "is it so with you all? Are you all disturbed at me? Why, then, I'll e'en go home and die there." And so he goes immediately downstairs. The servant that had let him in goes down after him with a candle, but was afraid to go past him and open the door; so he stood on the stairs to see what he would do. The man went and opened the door, and went out and flung the door after him. It was some while before the family recovered the fright; but, as no ill consequence attended, they have had occasion since to speak of it, you may be sure, with great satisfaction. Though the man was gone, it was some time, nay, as I heard, some days, before they recovered themselves of the hurry they were in; nor did they go up and down the house with any assurance till they had burned a great variety of fumes and perfumes in all the rooms, and made a great many smokes of pitch, of gunpowder, and of sulphur. All separately shifted, and washed their clothes, and the like. As to the poor man, whether he lived or died, I do not remember.
It is most certain, that if, by the shutting up of houses, the sick had not been confined, multitudes, who in the height of their fever were delirious and distracted, would have been continually running up and down the streets; and even as it was, a very great number did so, and offered all sorts of violence to those they met, even just as a mad dog runs on and bites at every one he meets. Nor can I doubt but that, should one of those infected diseased creatures have bitten any man or woman while the frenzy of the distemper was upon them, they (I mean the person so wounded) would as certainly have been incurably infected as one that was sick before and had the tokens upon him.
I heard of one infected creature, who, running out of his bed in his shirt, in the anguish and agony of his swellings (of which he had three upon him), got his shoes on, and went to put on his coat; but the nurse resisting, and snatching the coat from him, he threw her down, run over her, ran downstairs and into the street directly to the Thames, in his shirt, the nurse running after him, and calling to the watch to stop him. But the watchman, frightened at the man, and afraid to touch him, let him go on; upon which he ran down to the Still-Yard Stairs, threw away his shirt, and plunged into the Thames, and, being a good swimmer, swam quite over the river; and the tide being "coming in," as they call it (that is, running westward), he reached the land not till he came about the Falcon Stairs, where, landing and finding no people there, it being in the night, he ran about the streets there, naked as he was, for a good while, when, it being by that time high water, he takes the river again, and swam back to the Still Yard, landed, ran up the streets to his own house, knocking at the door, went up the stairs, and into his bed again; and that this terrible experiment cured him of the plague, that is to say, that the violent motion of his arms and legs stretched the parts where the swellings he had upon him were (that is to say, under his arms and in his groin), and caused them to ripen and break; and that the cold of the water abated the fever in his blood.
I have only to add, that I do not relate this, any more than some of the other, as a fact within my own knowledge, so as that I can vouch the truth of them; and especially that of the man being cured by the extravagant adventure, which I confess I do not think very possible, but it may serve to confirm the many desperate things which the distressed people, falling into deliriums and what we call light-headedness, were frequently run upon at that time, and how infinitely more such there would have been if such people had not been confined by the shutting up of houses; and this I take to be the best, if not the only good thing, which was performed by that severe method.
On the other hand, the complaints and the murmurings were very bitter against the thing itself.
It would pierce the hearts of all that came by, to hear the piteous cries of those infected people, who, being thus out of their understandings by the violence of their pain or the heat of their blood, were either shut in, or perhaps tied in their beds and chairs, to prevent their doing themselves hurt, and who would make a dreadful outcry at their being confined, and at their being not permitted to "die at large," as they called it, and as they would have done before.
This running of distempered people about the streets was very dismal, and the magistrates did their utmost to prevent it; but as it was generally in the night, and always sudden, when such attempts were made, the officers could not be at hand to prevent it; and even when they got out in the day, the officers appointed did not care to meddle with them, because, as they were all grievously infected, to be sure, when they were come to that height, so they were more than ordinarily infectious, and it was one of the most dangerous things that could be to touch them. On the other hand, they generally ran on, not knowing what they did, till they dropped down stark dead, or till they had exhausted their spirits so as that they would fall and then die in perhaps half an hour or an hour; and, which was most piteous to hear, they were sure to come to themselves entirely in that half hour or hour, and then to make most grievous and piercing cries and lamentations, in the deep afflicting sense of the condition they were in. There was much of it before the order for shutting up of houses was strictly put into execution; for at first the watchmen were not so rigorous and severe as they were afterwards in the keeping the people in; that is to say, before they were (I mean some of them) severely punished for their neglect, failing in their duty, and letting people who were under their care slip away, or conniving at their going abroad, whether sick or well. But after they saw the officers appointed to examine into their conduct were resolved to have them do their duty, or be punished for the omission, they were more exact, and the people were strictly restrained; which was a thing they took so ill, and bore so impatiently, that their discontents can hardly be described; but there was an absolute necessity for it, that must be confessed, unless some other measures had been timely entered upon, and it was too late for that.
Had not this particular of the sick being restrained as above been our case at that time, London would have been the most dreadful place that ever was in the world. There would, for aught I know, have as many people died in the streets as died in their houses: for when the distemper was at its height, it generally made them raving and delirious; and when they were so, they would never be persuaded to keep in their beds but by force; and many who were not tied threw themselves out of windows when they found they could not get leave to go out of their doors.
It was for want of people conversing one with another in this time of calamity, that it was impossible any particular person could come at the knowledge of all the extraordinary cases that occurred in different families; and particularly, I believe it was never known to this day how many people in their deliriums drowned themselves in the Thames, and in the river which runs from the marshes by Hackney, which we generally called Ware River or Hackney River. As to those which were set down in the weekly bill, they were indeed few. Nor could it be known of any of those, whether they drowned themselves by accident or not; but I believe I might reckon up more who, within the compass of my knowledge or observation, really drowned themselves in that year than are put down in the bill of all put together, for many of the bodies were never found who yet were known to be lost; and the like in other methods of self-destruction. There was also one man in or about Whitecross Street burnt himself to death in his bed. Some said it was done by himself, others that it was by the treachery of the nurse that attended him; but that he had the plague upon him, was agreed by all.
It was a merciful disposition of Providence, also, and which I have many times thought of at that time, that no fires, or no considerable ones at least, happened in the city during that year, which, if it had been otherwise, would have been very dreadful; and either the people must have let them alone unquenched, or have come together in great crowds and throngs, unconcerned at the danger of the infection, not concerned at the houses they went into, at the goods they handled, or at the persons or the people they came among. But so it was, that excepting that in Cripplegate Parish, and two or three little eruptions of fires, which were presently extinguished, there was no disaster of that kind happened in the whole year. They told us a story of a house in a place called Swan Alley, passing from Goswell Street near the end of Old Street into St. John Street, that a family was infected there in so terrible a manner that every one of the house died. The last person lay dead on the floor, and, as it is supposed, had laid herself all along to die just before the fire. The fire, it seems, had fallen from its place, being of wood, and had taken hold of the boards and the joists they lay on, and burned as far as just to the body, but had not taken hold of the dead body, though she had little more than her shift on, and had gone out of itself, not hurting the rest of the house, though it was a slight timber house. How true this might be, I do not determine; but the city being to suffer severely the next year by fire, this year it felt very little of that calamity.
Indeed, considering the deliriums which the agony threw people into, and how I have mentioned in their madness, when they were alone, they did many desperate things, it was very strange there were no more disasters of that kind.
It has been frequently asked me, and I cannot say that I ever knew how to give a direct answer to it, how it came to pass that so many infected people appeared abroad in the streets at the same time that the houses which were infected were so vigilantly searched, and all of them shut up and guarded as they were.
I confess I know not what answer to give to this, unless it be this: that, in so great and populous a city as this is, it was impossible to discover every house that was infected as soon as it was so, or to shut up all the houses that were infected; so that people had the liberty of going about the streets, even where they pleased, unless they were known to belong to such and such infected houses.
It is true, that, as the several physicians told my lord mayor, the fury of the contagion was such at some particular times, and people sickened so fast and died so soon, that it was impossible, and indeed to no purpose, to go about to inquire who was sick and who was well, or to shut them up with such exactness as the thing required, almost every house in a whole street being infected, and in many places every person in some of the houses. And, that which was still worse, by the time that the houses were known to be infected, most of the persons infected would be stone dead, and the rest run away for fear of being shut up; so that it was to very small purpose to call them infected houses and shut them up, the infection having ravaged and taken its leave of the house before it was really known that the family was any way touched.
This might be sufficient to convince any reasonable person, that as it was not in the power of the magistrates, or of any human methods or policy, to prevent the spreading the infection, so that this way of shutting up of houses was perfectly insufficient for that end. Indeed, it seemed to have no manner of public good in it equal or proportionable to the grievous burthen that it was to the particular families that were so shut up; and, as far as I was employed by the public in directing that severity, I frequently found occasion to see that it was incapable of answering the end. For example, as I was desired as a visitor or examiner to inquire into the particulars of several families which were infected, we scarce came to any house where the plague had visibly appeared in the family but that some of the family were fled and gone. The magistrates would resent this, and charge the examiners with being remiss in their examination or inspection; but by that means houses were long infected before it was known. Now, as I was in this dangerous office but half the appointed time, which was two months, it was long enough to inform myself that we were no way capable of coming at the knowledge of the true state of any family but by inquiring at the door or of the neighbors. As for going into every house to search, that was a part no authority would offer to impose on the inhabitants, or any citizen would undertake; for it would have been exposing us to certain infection and death, and to the ruin of our own families as well as of ourselves. Nor would any citizen of probity, and that could be depended upon, have staid in the town if they had been made liable to such a severity.
Seeing, then, that we could come at the certainty of things by no method but that of inquiry of the neighbors or of the family (and on that we could not justly depend), it was not possible but that the uncertainty of this matter would remain as above.
It is true, masters of families were bound by the order to give notice to the examiner of the place wherein he lived, within two hours after he should discover it, of any person being sick in his house, that is to say, having signs of the infection; but they found so many ways to evade this, and excuse their negligence, that they seldom gave that notice till they had taken measures to have every one escape out of the house who had a mind to escape, whether they were sick or sound. And while this was so, it was easy to see that the shutting up of houses was no way to be depended upon as a sufficient method for putting a stop to the infection, because, as I have said elsewhere, many of those that so went out of those infected houses had the plague really upon them, though they might really think themselves sound; and some of these were the people that walked the streets till they fell down dead: not that they were suddenly struck with the distemper, as with a bullet that killed with the stroke, but that they really had the infection in their blood long before, only that, as it preyed secretly on their vitals, it appeared not till it seized the heart with a mortal power, and the patient died in a moment, as with a sudden fainting or an apoplectic fit.
I know that some, even of our physicians, thought for a time that those people that so died in the streets were seized but that moment they fell, as if they had been touched by a stroke from heaven, as men are killed by a flash of lightning; but they found reason to alter their opinion afterward, for, upon examining the bodies of such after they were dead, they always either had tokens upon them, or other evident proofs of the distemper having been longer upon them than they had otherwise expected.
This often was the reason that, as I have said, we that were examiners were not able to come at the knowledge of the infection being entered into a house till it was too late to shut it up, and sometimes not till the people that were left were all dead. In Petticoat Lane two houses together were infected, and several people sick; but the distemper was so well concealed, the examiner, who was my neighbor, got no knowledge of it till notice was sent him that the people were all dead, and that the carts should call there to fetch them away. The two heads of the families concerted their measures, and so ordered their matters as that, when the examiner was in the neighborhood, they appeared generally at a time, and answered, that is, lied for one another, or got some of the neighborhood to say they were all in health, and perhaps knew no better; till, death making it impossible to keep it any longer as a secret, the dead carts were called in the night to both the houses, and so it became public. But when the examiner ordered the constable to shut up the houses, there was nobody left in them but three people (two in one house, and one in the other), just dying, and a nurse in each house, who acknowledged that they had buried five before, that the houses had been infected nine or ten days, and that for all the rest of the two families, which were many, they were gone, some sick, some well, or, whether sick or well, could not be known.
In like manner, at another house in the same lane, a man, having his family infected, but very unwilling to be shut up, when he could conceal it no longer, shut up himself; that is to say, he set the great red cross upon the door, with the words, "LORD, HAVE MERCY UPON US!" and so deluded the examiner, who supposed it had been done by the constable, by order of the other examiner (for there were two examiners to every district or precinct). By this means he had free egress and regress into his house again and out of it, as he pleased, notwithstanding it was infected, till at length his stratagem was found out, and then he, with the sound part of his family and servants, made off and escaped; so they were not shut up at all.
These things made it very hard, if not impossible, as I have said, to prevent the spreading of an infection by the shutting up of houses, unless the people would think the shutting up of their houses no grievance, and be so willing to have it done as that they would give notice duly and faithfully to the magistrates of their being infected, as soon as it was known by themselves; but as that cannot be expected from them, and the examiners cannot be supposed, as above, to go into their houses to visit and search, all the good of shutting up houses will be defeated, and few houses will be shut up in time, except those of the poor, who cannot conceal it, and of some people who will be discovered by the terror and consternation which the thing put them into.
I got myself discharged of the dangerous office I was in as soon as I could get another admitted, whom I had obtained for a little money to accept of it; and so, instead of serving the two months, which was directed, I was not above three weeks in it; and a great while too, considering it was in the month of August, at which time the distemper began to rage with great violence at our end of the town.
In the execution of this office, I could not refrain speaking my opinion among my neighbors as to the shutting up the people in their houses, in which we saw most evidently the severities that were used, though grievous in themselves, had also this particular objection against them; namely, that they did not answer the end, as I have said, but that the distempered people went day by day about the streets. And it was our united opinion that a method to have removed the sound from the sick, in case of a particular house being visited, would have been much more reasonable on many accounts, leaving nobody with the sick persons but such as should, on such occasions, request to stay, and declare themselves content to be shut up with them.
Our scheme for removing those that were sound from those that were sick was only in such houses as were infected; and confining the sick was no confinement: those that could not stir would not complain while they were in their senses, and while they had the power of judging. Indeed, when they came to be delirious and light-headed, then they would cry out of the cruelty of being confined; but, for the removal of those that were well, we thought it highly reasonable and just, for their own sakes, they should be removed from the sick, and that, for other people's safety, they should keep retired for a while, to see that they were sound, and might not infect others; and we thought twenty or thirty days enough for this.
Now, certainly, if houses had been provided on purpose for those that were sound, to perform this demiquarantine in, they would have much less reason to think themselves injured in such a restraint than in being confined with infected people in the houses where they lived.
It is here, however, to be observed, that after the funerals became so many that people could not toll the bell, mourn or weep, or wear black for one another, as they did before, no, nor so much as make coffins for those that died, so, after a while, the fury of the infection appeared to be so increased, that, in short, they shut up no houses at all. It seemed enough that all the remedies of that kind had been used till they were found fruitless, and that the plague spread itself with an irresistible fury; so that, as the fire the succeeding year spread itself and burnt with such violence that the citizens in despair gave over their endeavors to extinguish it, so in the plague it came at last to such violence, that the people sat still looking at one another, and seemed quite abandoned to despair. Whole streets seemed to be desolated, and not to be shut up only, but to be emptied of their inhabitants: doors were left open, windows stood shattering with the wind in empty houses, for want of people to shut them. In a word, people began to give up themselves to their fears, and to think that all regulations and methods were in vain, and that there was nothing to be hoped for but an universal desolation. And it was even in the height of this general despair that it pleased God to stay his hand, and to slacken the fury of the contagion in such a manner as was even surprising, like its beginning, and demonstrated it to be his own particular hand; and that above, if not without the agency of means, as I shall take notice of in its proper place.
But I must still speak of the plague as in its height, raging even to desolation, and the people under the most dreadful consternation, even, as I have said, to despair. It is hardly credible to what excesses the passions of men carried them in this extremity of the distemper; and this part, I think, was as moving as the rest. What could affect a man in his full power of reflection, and what could make deeper impressions on the soul, than to see a man almost naked, and got out of his house or perhaps out of his bed into the street, come out of Harrow Alley, a populous conjunction or collection of alleys, courts, and passages, in the Butcher Row in Whitechapel,—I say, what could be more affecting than to see this poor man come out into the open street, run, dancing and singing, and making a thousand antic gestures, with five or six women and children running after him, crying and calling upon him for the Lord's sake to come back, and entreating the help of others to bring him back, but all in vain, nobody daring to lay a hand upon him, or to come near him?
This was a most grievous and afflicting thing to me, who saw it all from my own windows; for all this while the poor afflicted man was, as I observed it, even then in the utmost agony of pain, having, as they said, two swellings upon him, which could not be brought to break or to suppurate; but by laying strong caustics on them the surgeons had, it seems, hopes to break them, which caustics were then upon him, burning his flesh as with a hot iron. I cannot say what became of this poor man, but I think he continued roving about in that manner till he fell down and died.
No wonder the aspect of the city itself was frightful. The usual concourse of the people in the streets, and which used to be supplied from our end of the town, was abated. The Exchange was not kept shut, indeed, but it was no more frequented. The fires were lost: they had been almost extinguished for some days by a very smart and hasty rain. But that was not all. Some of the physicians insisted that they were not only no benefit, but injurious to the health of the people. This they made a loud clamor about, and complained to the lord mayor about it. On the other hand, others of the same faculty, and eminent too, opposed them, and gave their reasons why the fires were and must be useful to assuage the violence of the distemper. I cannot give a full account of their arguments on both sides; only this I remember, that they caviled very much with one another. Some were for fires, but that they must be made of wood and not coal, and of particular sorts of wood too, such as fir, in particular, or cedar, because of the strong effluvia of turpentine; others were for coal and not wood, because of the sulphur and bitumen; and others were neither for one or other. Upon the whole, the lord mayor ordered no more fires, and especially on this account, namely, that the plague was so fierce that they saw evidently it defied all means, and rather seemed to increase than decrease upon any application to check and abate it; and yet this amazement of the magistrates proceeded rather from want of being able to apply any means successfully than from any unwillingness either to expose themselves or undertake the care and weight of business; for, to do them justice, they neither spared their pains nor their persons. But nothing answered. The infection raged, and the people were now terrified to the last degree, so that, as I may say, they gave themselves up, and, as I mentioned above, abandoned themselves to their despair.
But let me observe here, that when I say the people abandoned themselves to despair, I do not mean to what men call a religious despair, or a despair of their eternal state; but I mean a despair of their being able to escape the infection, or to outlive the plague, which they saw was so raging, and so irresistible in its force, that indeed few people that were touched with it in its height, about August and September, escaped; and, which is very particular, contrary to its ordinary operation in June and July and the beginning of August, when, as I have observed, many were infected, and continued so many days, and then went off, after having had the poison in their blood a long time. But now, on the contrary, most of the people who were taken during the last two weeks in August, and in the first three weeks in September, generally died in two or three days at the farthest, and many the very same day they were taken. Whether the dog days (as our astrologers pretended to express themselves, the influence of the Dog Star) had that malignant effect, or all those who had the seeds of infection before in them brought it up to a maturity at that time altogether, I know not; but this was the time when it was reported that above three thousand people died in one night; and they that would have us believe they more critically observed it pretend to say that they all died within the space of two hours, viz., between the hours of one and three in the morning.
As to the suddenness of people dying at this time, more than before, there were innumerable instances of it, and I could name several in my neighborhood. One family without the bars, and not far from me, were all seemingly well on the Monday, being ten in family. That evening one maid and one apprentice were taken ill, and died the next morning, when the other apprentice and two children were touched, whereof one died the same evening and the other two on Wednesday. In a word, by Saturday at noon the master, mistress, four children, and four servants were all gone, and the house left entirely empty, except an ancient woman, who came to take charge of the goods for the master of the family's brother, who lived not far off, and who had not been sick.
Many houses were then left desolate, all the people being carried away dead; and especially in an alley farther on the same side beyond the bars, going in at the sign of Moses and Aaron. There were several houses together, which they said had not one person left alive in them; and some that died last in several of those houses were left a little too long before they were fetched out to be buried, the reason of which was not, as some have written very untruly, that the living were not sufficient to bury the dead, but that the mortality was so great in the yard or alley that there was nobody left to give notice to the buriers or sextons that there were any dead bodies there to be buried. It was said, how true I know not, that some of those bodies were so corrupted and so rotten, that it was with difficulty they were carried; and, as the carts could not come any nearer than to the alley gate in the High Street, it was so much the more difficult to bring them along. But I am not certain how many bodies were then left: I am sure that ordinarily it was not so.
As I have mentioned how the people were brought into a condition to despair of life, and abandoned themselves, so this very thing had a strange effect among us for three or four weeks; that is, it made them bold and venturous. They were no more shy of one another, or restrained within doors, but went anywhere and everywhere, and began to converse. One would say to another, "I do not ask you how you are, or say how I am. It is certain we shall all go: so 'tis no matter who is sick or who is sound." And so they ran desperately into any place or company.
As it brought the people into public company, so it was surprising how it brought them to crowd into the churches. They inquired no more into who they sat near to or far from, what offensive smells they met with, or what condition the people seemed to be in; but, looking upon themselves all as so many dead corpses, they came to the churches without the least caution, and crowded together as if their lives were of no consequence compared to the work which they came about there. Indeed, the zeal which they showed in coming, and the earnestness and affection they showed in their attention to what they heard, made it manifest what a value people would all put upon the worship of God if they thought every day they attended at the church that it would be their last. Nor was it without other strange effects, for it took away all manner of prejudice at, or scruple about, the person whom they found in the pulpit when they came to the churches. It cannot be doubted but that many of the ministers of the parish churches were cut off among others in so common and dreadful a calamity; and others had not courage enough to stand it, but removed into the country as they found means for escape. As then some parish churches were quite vacant and forsaken, the people made no scruple of desiring such dissenters as had been a few years before deprived of their livings, by virtue of an act of Parliament called the "Act of Uniformity," to preach in the churches, nor did the church ministers in that case make any difficulty in accepting their assistance; so that many of those whom they called silent ministers had their mouths opened on this occasion, and preached publicly to the people.
Here we may observe, and I hope it will not be amiss to take notice of it, that a near view of death would soon reconcile men of good principles one to another, and that it is chiefly owing to our easy situation in life, and our putting these things far from us, that our breaches are fomented, ill blood continued, prejudices, breach of charity and of Christian union so much kept and so far carried on among us as it is. Another plague year would reconcile all these differences; a close conversing with death, or with diseases that threaten death, would scum off the gall from our tempers, remove the animosities among us, and bring us to see with differing eyes than those which we looked on things with before. As the people who had been used to join with the church were reconciled at this time with the admitting the dissenters to preach to them, so the dissenters, who, with an uncommon prejudice, had broken off from the communion of the Church of England, were now content to come to their parish churches, and to conform to the worship which they did not approve of before. But, as the terror of the infection abated, those things all returned again to their less desirable channel, and to the course they were in before.
I mention this but historically: I have no mind to enter into arguments to move either or both sides to a more charitable compliance one with another. I do not see that it is probable such a discourse would be either suitable or successful; the breaches seem rather to widen, and tend to a widening farther, than to closing: and who am I, that I should think myself able to influence either one side or other? But this I may repeat again, that it is evident death will reconcile us all: on the other side the grave we shall be all brethren again. In heaven, whither I hope we may come from all parties and persuasions, we shall find neither prejudice nor scruple: there we shall be of one principle and of one opinion. Why we cannot be content to go hand in hand to the place where we shall join heart and hand without the least hesitation, and with the most complete harmony and affection,—I say, why we cannot do so here, I can say nothing to; neither shall I say anything more of it, but that it remains to be lamented.
I could dwell a great while upon the calamities of this dreadful time, and go on to describe the objects that appeared among us every day,—the dreadful extravagances which the distraction of sick people drove them into; how the streets began now to be fuller of frightful objects, and families to be made even a terror to themselves. But after I have told you, as I have above, that one man being tied in his bed, and finding no other way to deliver himself, set the bed on fire with his candle (which unhappily stood within his reach), and burned himself in bed; and how another, by the insufferable torment he bore, danced and sung naked in the streets, not knowing one ecstasy from another,—I say, after I have mentioned these things, what can be added more? What can be said to represent the misery of these times more lively to the reader, or to give him a perfect idea of a more complicated distress?
I must acknowledge that this time was so terrible that I was sometimes at the end of all my resolutions, and that I had not the courage that I had at the beginning. As the extremity brought other people abroad, it drove me home; and, except having made my voyage down to Blackwall and Greenwich, as I have related, which was an excursion, I kept afterwards very much within doors, as I had for about a fortnight before. I have said already that I repented several times that I had ventured to stay in town, and had not gone away with my brother and his family; but it was too late for that now. And after I had retreated and staid within doors a good while before my impatience led me abroad, then they called me, as I have said, to an ugly and dangerous office, which brought me out again; but as that was expired, while the height of the distemper lasted I retired again, and continued close ten or twelve days more, during which many dismal spectacles represented themselves in my view, out of my own windows, and in our own street, as that particularly, from Harrow Alley, of the poor outrageous creature who danced and sung in his agony; and many others there were. Scarce a day or a night passed over but some dismal thing or other happened at the end of that Harrow Alley, which was a place full of poor people, most of them belonging to the butchers, or to employments depending upon the butchery.
Sometimes heaps and throngs of people would burst out of the alley, most of them women, making a dreadful clamor, mixed or compounded of screeches, cryings, and calling one another, that we could not conceive what to make of it. Almost all the dead part of the night, the dead cart stood at the end of that alley; for if it went in, it could not well turn again, and could go in but a little way. There, I say, it stood to receive dead bodies; and, as the churchyard was but a little way off, if it went away full, it would soon be back again. It is impossible to describe the most horrible cries and noise the poor people would make at their bringing the dead bodies of their children and friends out to the cart; and, by the number, one would have thought there had been none left behind, or that there were people enough for a small city living in those places. Several times they cried murder, sometimes fire; but it was easy to perceive that it was all distraction and the complaints of distressed and distempered people.
I believe it was everywhere thus at that time, for the plague raged for six or seven weeks beyond all that I have expressed, and came even to such a height, that, in the extremity, they began to break into that excellent order of which I have spoken so much in behalf of the magistrates, namely, that no dead bodies were seen in the streets, or burials in the daytime; for there was a necessity in this extremity to bear with its being otherwise for a little while.
One thing I cannot omit here, and indeed I thought it was extraordinary, at least it seemed a remarkable hand of divine justice; viz., that all the predictors, astrologers, fortune tellers, and what they called cunning men, conjurers, and the like, calculators of nativities, and dreamers of dreams, and such people, were gone and vanished; not one of them was to be found. I am verily persuaded that a great number of them fell in the heat of the calamity, having ventured to stay upon the prospect of getting great estates; and indeed their gain was but too great for a time, through the madness and folly of the people: but now they were silent; many of them went to their long home, not able to foretell their own fate, or to calculate their own nativities. Some have been critical enough to say that every one of them died. I dare not affirm that; but this I must own, that I never heard of one of them that ever appeared after the calamity was over.
But to return to my particular observations during this dreadful part of the visitation. I am now come, as I have said, to the month of September, which was the most dreadful of its kind, I believe, that ever London saw; for, by all the accounts which I have seen of the preceding visitations which have been in London, nothing has been like it, the number in the weekly bill amounting to almost forty thousands from the 22d of August to the 26th of September, being but five weeks. The particulars of the bills are as follows: viz.,—
Aug. 22 to Aug. 29 7,496 Aug. 29 to Sept. 5 8,252 Sept. 5 to Sept. 12 7,690 Sept. 12 to Sept. 19 8,297 Sept. 19 to Sept. 26 6,460 ——— 38,195
This was a prodigious number of itself; but if I should add the reasons which I have to believe that this account was deficient, and how deficient it was, you would with me make no scruple to believe that there died above ten thousand a week for all those weeks, one week with another, and a proportion for several weeks, both before and after. The confusion among the people, especially within the city, at that time was inexpressible. The terror was so great at last, that the courage of the people appointed to carry away the dead began to fail them; nay, several of them died, although they had the distemper before, and were recovered; and some of them dropped down when they have been carrying the bodies even at the pitside, and just ready to throw them in. And this confusion was greater in the city, because they had flattered themselves with hopes of escaping, and thought the bitterness of death was past. One cart, they told us, going up Shoreditch, was forsaken by the drivers, or, being left to one man to drive, he died in the street; and the horses, going on, overthrew the cart, and left the bodies, some thrown here, some there, in a dismal manner. Another cart was, it seems, found in the great pit in Finsbury Fields, the driver being dead, or having been gone and abandoned it; and the horses running too near it, the cart fell in, and drew the horses in also. It was suggested that the driver was thrown in with it, and that the cart fell upon him, by reason his whip was seen to be in the pit among the bodies; but that, I suppose, could not be certain.
In our parish of Aldgate the dead carts were several times, as I have heard, found standing at the churchyard gate full of dead bodies, but neither bellman, or driver, or any one else, with it. Neither in these or many other cases did they know what bodies they had in their cart, for sometimes they were let down with ropes out of balconies and out of windows, and sometimes the bearers brought them to the cart, sometimes other people; nor, as the men themselves said, did they trouble themselves to keep any account of the numbers.
The vigilance of the magistrate was now put to the utmost trial, and, it must be confessed, can never be enough acknowledged on this occasion; also, whatever expense or trouble they were at, two things were never neglected in the city or suburbs either:—
1. Provisions were always to be had in full plenty, and the price not much raised neither, hardly worth speaking.
2. No dead bodies lay unburied or uncovered; and if any one walked from one end of the city to another, no funeral, or sign of it, was to be seen in the daytime, except a little, as I have said, in the first three weeks in September.
This last article, perhaps, will hardly be believed when some accounts which others have published since that shall be seen, wherein they say that the dead lay unburied, which I am sure was utterly false; at least, if it had been anywhere so, it must have been in houses where the living were gone from the dead, having found means, as I have observed, to escape, and where no notice was given to the officers. All which amounts to nothing at all in the case in hand; for this I am positive in, having myself been employed a little in the direction of that part of the parish in which I lived, and where as great a desolation was made, in proportion to the number of the inhabitants, as was anywhere. I say, I am sure that there were no dead bodies remained unburied; that is to say, none that the proper officers knew of, none for want of people to carry them off, and buriers to put them into the ground and cover them. And this is sufficient to the argument; for what might lie in houses and holes, as in Moses and Aaron Alley, is nothing, for it is most certain they were buried as soon as they were found. As to the first article, namely, of provisions, the scarcity or dearness, though I have mentioned it before, and shall speak of it again, yet I must observe here.
1. The price of bread in particular was not much raised; for in the beginning of the year, viz., in the first week in March, the penny wheaten loaf was ten ounces and a half, and in the height of the contagion it was to be had at nine ounces and a half, and never dearer, no, not all that season; and about the beginning of November it was sold at ten ounces and a half again, the like of which, I believe, was never heard of, in any city under so dreadful a visitation, before.
2. Neither was there, which I wondered much at, any want of bakers or ovens kept open to supply the people with bread; but this was indeed alleged by some families, viz., that their maidservants, going to the bakehouses with their dough to be baked, which was then the custom, sometimes came home with the sickness, that is to say, the plague, upon them.
In all this dreadful visitation there were, as I have said before, but two pesthouses made use of; viz., one in the fields beyond Old Street, and one in Westminster. Neither was there any compulsion used in carrying people thither. Indeed, there was no need of compulsion in the case, for there were thousands of poor distressed people, who having no help, or conveniences, or supplies, but of charity, would have been very glad to have been carried thither and been taken care of; which, indeed, was the only thing that, I think, was wanting in the whole public management of the city, seeing nobody was here allowed to be brought to the pesthouse but where money was given, or security for money, either at their introducing, or upon their being cured and sent out; for very many were sent out again whole, and very good physicians were appointed to those places; so that many people did very well there, of which I shall make mention again. The principal sort of people sent thither were, as I have said, servants, who got the distemper by going of errands to fetch necessaries for the families where they lived, and who, in that case, if they came home sick, were removed to preserve the rest of the house; and they were so well looked after there, in all the time of the visitation, that there was but one hundred and fifty-six buried in all at the London pesthouse, and one hundred and fifty-nine at that of Westminster.
By having more pesthouses, I am far from meaning a forcing all people into such places. Had the shutting up of houses been omitted, and the sick hurried out of their dwellings to pesthouses, as some proposed it seems at that time as well as since, it would certainly have been much worse than it was. The very removing the sick would have been a spreading of the infection, and the rather because that removing could not effectually clear the house where the sick person was of the distemper; and the rest of the family, being then left at liberty, would certainly spread it among others.
The methods, also, in private families which would have been universally used to have concealed the distemper, and to have concealed the persons being sick, would have been such that the distemper would sometimes have seized a whole family before any visitors or examiners could have known of it. On the other hand, the prodigious numbers which would have been sick at a time would have exceeded all the capacity of public pesthouses to receive them, or of public officers to discover and remove them.
This was well considered in those days, and I have heard them talk of it often. The magistrates had enough to do to bring people to submit to having their houses shut up; and many ways they deceived the watchmen, and got out, as I observed. But that difficulty made it apparent that they would have found it impracticable to have gone the other way to work; for they could never have forced the sick people out of their beds and out of their dwellings: it must not have been my lord mayor's officers, but an army of officers, that must have attempted it. And the people, on the other hand, would have been enraged and desperate, and would have killed those that should have offered to have meddled with them or with their children and relations, whatever had befallen them for it; so that they would have made the people (who, as it was, were in the most terrible distraction imaginable), I say, they would have made them stark mad: whereas the magistrates found it proper on several occasions to treat them with lenity and compassion, and not with violence and terror, such as dragging the sick out of their houses, or obliging them to remove themselves, would have been.
This leads me again to mention the time when the plague first began, that is to say, when it became certain that it would spread over the whole town, when, as I have said, the better sort of people first took the alarm, and began to hurry themselves out of town. It was true, as I observed in its place, that the throng was so great, and the coaches, horses, wagons, and carts were so many, driving and dragging the people away, that it looked as if all the city was running away; and had any regulations been published that had been terrifying at that time, especially such as would pretend to dispose of the people otherwise than they would dispose of themselves, it would have put both the city and suburbs into the utmost confusion.
The magistrates wisely caused the people to be encouraged, made very good by-laws for the regulating the citizens, keeping good order in the streets, and making everything as eligible as possible to all sorts of people.
In the first place, the lord mayor and the sheriffs, the court of aldermen, and a certain number of the common councilmen, or their deputies, came to a resolution, and published it; viz., that they would not quit the city themselves, but that they would be always at hand for the preserving good order in every place, and for doing justice on all occasions, as also for the distributing the public charity to the poor, and, in a word, for the doing the duty and discharging the trust reposed in them by the citizens, to the utmost of their power.
In pursuance of these orders, the lord mayor, sheriffs, etc., held councils every day, more or less, for making such dispositions as they found needful for preserving the civil peace; and though they used the people with all possible gentleness and clemency, yet all manner of presumptuous rogues, such as thieves, housebreakers, plunderers of the dead or of the sick, were duly punished; and several declarations were continually published by the lord mayor and court of aldermen against such.
Also all constables and churchwardens were enjoined to stay in the city upon severe penalties, or to depute such able and sufficient housekeepers as the deputy aldermen or common councilmen of the precinct should approve, and for whom they should give security, and also security, in case of mortality, that they would forthwith constitute other constables in their stead.
These things reestablished the minds of the people very much, especially in the first of their fright, when they talked of making so universal a flight that the city would have been in danger of being entirely deserted of its inhabitants, except the poor, and the country of being plundered and laid waste by the multitude. Nor were the magistrates deficient in performing their part as boldly as they promised it; for my lord mayor and the sheriffs were continually in the streets and at places of the greatest danger; and though they did not care for having too great a resort of people crowding about them, yet in emergent cases they never denied the people access to them, and heard with patience all their grievances and complaints. My lord mayor had a low gallery built on purpose in his hall, where he stood, a little removed from the crowd, when any complaint came to be heard, that he might appear with as much safety as possible.
Likewise the proper officers, called my lord mayor's officers, constantly attended in their turns, as they were in waiting; and if any of them were sick or infected, as some of them were, others were instantly employed to fill up, and officiate in their places till it was known whether the other should live or die.
In like manner the sheriffs and aldermen did, in their several stations and wards, where they were placed by office; and the sheriff's officers or sergeants were appointed to receive orders from the respective aldermen in their turn; so that justice was executed in all cases without interruption. In the next place, it was one of their particular cares to see the orders for the freedom of the markets observed; and in this part either the lord mayor, or one or both of the sheriffs, were every market day on horseback to see their orders executed, and to see that the country people had all possible encouragement and freedom in their coming to the markets and going back again, and that no nuisance or frightful object should be seen in the streets to terrify them, or make them unwilling to come. Also the bakers were taken under particular order, and the master of the Bakers' Company was, with his court of assistants, directed to see the order of my lord mayor for their regulation put in execution, and the due assize of bread, which was weekly appointed by my lord mayor, observed; and all the bakers were obliged to keep their ovens going constantly, on pain of losing the privileges of a freeman of the city of London.
By this means, bread was always to be had in plenty, and as cheap as usual, as I said above; and provisions were never wanting in the markets, even to such a degree that I often wondered at it, and reproached myself with being so timorous and cautious in stirring abroad, when the country people came freely and boldly to market, as if there had been no manner of infection in the city, or danger of catching it.
It was indeed one admirable piece of conduct in the said magistrates, that the streets were kept constantly clear and free from all manner of frightful objects, dead bodies, or any such things as were indecent or unpleasant; unless where anybody fell down suddenly, or died in the streets, as I have said above, and these were generally covered with some cloth or blanket, or removed into the next churchyard till night. All the needful works that carried terror with them, that were both dismal and dangerous, were done in the night. If any diseased bodies were removed, or dead bodies buried, or infected clothes burned, it was done in the night; and all the bodies which were thrown into the great pits in the several churchyards or burying grounds, as has been observed, were so removed in the night, and everything was covered and closed before day. So that in the daytime there was not the least signal of the calamity to be seen or heard of, except what was to be observed from the emptiness of the streets, and sometimes from the passionate outcries and lamentations of the people, out at their windows, and from the numbers of houses and shops shut up.
Nor was the silence and emptiness of the streets so much in the city as in the outparts, except just at one particular time, when, as I have mentioned, the plague came east, and spread over all the city. It was indeed a merciful disposition of God, that as the plague began at one end of the town first, as has been observed at large, so it proceeded progressively to other parts, and did not come on this way, or eastward, till it had spent its fury in the west part of the town; and so as it came on one way it abated another. For example:—
It began at St. Giles's and the Westminster end of the town, and it was in its height in all that part by about the middle of July, viz., in St. Giles-in-the-Fields, St. Andrew's, Holborn, St. Clement's-Danes, St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, and in Westminster. The latter end of July it decreased in those parishes, and, coming east, it increased prodigiously in Cripplegate, St. Sepulchre's, St. James's, Clerkenwell, and St. Bride's and Aldersgate. While it was in all these parishes, the city and all the parishes of the Southwark side of the water, and all Stepney, Whitechapel, Aldgate, Wapping, and Ratcliff, were very little touched; so that people went about their business unconcerned, carried on their trades, kept open their shops, and conversed freely with one another in all the city, the east and northeast suburbs, and in Southwark, almost as if the plague had not been among us.
Even when the north and northwest suburbs were fully infected, viz., Cripplegate, Clerkenwell, Bishopsgate, and Shoreditch, yet still all the rest were tolerably well. For example:—
From the 25th of July to the 1st of August the bill stood thus of all diseases:—
St. Giles's, Cripplegate 554 St. Sepulchre's 250 Clerkenwell 103 Bishopsgate 116 Shoreditch 110 Stepney Parish 127 Aldgate 92 Whitechapel 104 All the 97 parishes within the walls 228 All the parishes in Southwark 205 ——- 1,889
So that, in short, there died more that week in the two parishes of Cripplegate and St. Sepulchre's by forty-eight than all the city, all the east suburbs, and all the Southwark parishes put together. This caused the reputation of the city's health to continue all over England, and especially in the counties and markets adjacent, from whence our supply of provisions chiefly came, even much longer than that health itself continued; for when the people came into the streets from the country by Shoreditch and Bishopsgate, or by Old Street and Smithfield, they would see the outstreets empty, and the houses and shops shut, and the few people that were stirring there walk in the middle of the streets; but when they came within the city, there things looked better, and the markets and shops were open, and the people walking about the streets as usual, though not quite so many; and this continued till the latter end of August and the beginning of September.
But then the case altered quite; the distemper abated in the west and northwest parishes, and the weight of the infection lay on the city and the eastern suburbs, and the Southwark side, and this in a frightful manner.
Then indeed the city began to look dismal, shops to be shut, and the streets desolate. In the High Street, indeed, necessity made people stir abroad on many occasions; and there would be in the middle of the day a pretty many people, but in the mornings and evenings scarce any to be seen even there, no, not in Cornhill and Cheapside.
These observations of mine were abundantly confirmed by the weekly bills of mortality for those weeks, an abstract of which, as they respect the parishes which I have mentioned, and as they make the calculations I speak of very evident, take as follows.
The weekly bill which makes out this decrease of the burials in the west and north side of the city stands thus:—
St. Giles's, Cripplegate 456 St. Giles-in-the-Fields 140 Clerkenwell 77 St. Sepulchre's 214 St. Leonard, Shoreditch 183 Stepney Parish 716 Aldgate 629 Whitechapel 532 In the 97 parishes within the walls 1,493 In the 8 parishes on Southwark side 1,636 ——- 6,076
Here is a strange change of things indeed, and a sad change it was; and, had it held for two months more than it did, very few people would have been left alive; but then such, I say, was the merciful disposition of God, that when it was thus, the west and north part, which had been so dreadfully visited at first, grew, as you see, much better; and, as the people disappeared here, they began to look abroad again there; and the next week or two altered it still more, that is, more to the encouragement of the other part of the town. For example:—
Sept. 19-26. St. Giles's, Cripplegate 277 St. Giles-in-the-Fields 119 Clerkenwell 76 St. Sepulchre's 193 St. Leonard, Shoreditch 146 Stepney Parish 616 Aldgate 496 Whitechapel 346 In the 97 parishes within the walls 1,268 In the 8 parishes on Southwark side 1,390 ——- 4,927
Sept. 26-Oct. 3. St. Giles's, Cripplegate 196 St. Giles-in-the-Fields 95 Clerkenwell 48 St. Sepulchre's 137 St. Leonard, Shoreditch 128 Stepney Parish 674 Aldgate 372 Whitechapel 328 In the 97 parishes within the walls 1,149 In the 8 parishes on Southwark side 1,201 ——- 4,328
And now the misery of the city, and of the said east and south parts, was complete indeed; for, as you see, the weight of the distemper lay upon those parts, that is to say, the city, the eight parishes over the river, with the parishes of Aldgate, Whitechapel, and Stepney, and this was the time that the bills came up to such a monstrous height as that I mentioned before, and that eight or nine, and, as I believe, ten or twelve thousand a week died; for it is my settled opinion that they never could come at any just account of the numbers, for the reasons which I have given already.
Nay, one of the most eminent physicians, who has since published in Latin an account of those times and of his observations, says that in one week there died twelve thousand people, and that particularly there died four thousand in one night; though I do not remember that there ever was any such particular night so remarkably fatal as that such a number died in it. However, all this confirms what I have said above of the uncertainty of the bills of mortality, etc., of which I shall say more hereafter.
And here let me take leave to enter again, though it may seem a repetition of circumstances, into a description of the miserable condition of the city itself, and of those parts where I lived, at this particular time. The city, and those other parts, notwithstanding the great numbers of people that were gone into the country, was vastly full of people; and perhaps the fuller because people had for a long time a strong belief that the plague would not come into the city, nor into Southwark, no, nor into Wapping or Ratcliff at all; nay, such was the assurance of the people on that head, that many removed from the suburbs on the west and north sides into those eastern and south sides as for safety, and, as I verily believe, carried the plague amongst them there, perhaps sooner than they would otherwise have had it.
Here, also, I ought to leave a further remark for the use of posterity, concerning the manner of people's infecting one another; namely, that it was not the sick people only from whom the plague was immediately received by others that were sound, but the well. To explain myself: by the sick people, I mean those who were known to be sick, had taken their beds, had been under cure, or had swellings or tumors upon them, and the like. These everybody could beware of: they were either in their beds, or in such condition as could not be concealed.
By the well, I mean such as had received the contagion, and had it really upon them and in their blood, yet did not show the consequences of it in their countenances; nay, even were not sensible of it themselves, as many were not for several days. These breathed death in every place, and upon everybody who came near them; nay, their very clothes retained the infection; their hands would infect the things they touched, especially if they were warm and sweaty, and they were generally apt to sweat, too.
Now, it was impossible to know these people, nor did they sometimes, as I have said, know themselves, to be infected. These were the people that so often dropped down and fainted in the streets; for oftentimes they would go about the streets to the last, till on a sudden they would sweat, grow faint, sit down at a door, and die. It is true, finding themselves thus, they would struggle hard to get home to their own doors, or at other times would be just able to go into their houses, and die instantly. Other times they would go about till they had the very tokens come out upon them, and yet not know it, and would die in an hour or two after they came home, but be well as long as they were abroad. These were the dangerous people; these were the people of whom the well people ought to have been afraid: but then, on the other side, it was impossible to know them.
And this is the reason why it is impossible in a visitation to prevent the spreading of the plague by the utmost human vigilance; viz., that it is impossible to know the infected people from the sound, or that the infected people should perfectly know themselves. I knew a man who conversed freely in London all the season of the plague in 1665, and kept about him an antidote or cordial, on purpose to take when he thought himself in any danger; and he had such a rule to know, or have warning of the danger by, as indeed I never met with before or since: how far it may be depended on, I know not. He had a wound in his leg; and whenever he came among any people that were not sound, and the infection began to affect him, he said he could know it by that signal, viz., that the wound in his leg would smart, and look pale and white: so as soon as ever he felt it smart it was time for him to withdraw, or to take care of himself, taking his drink, which he always carried about him for that purpose. Now, it seems he found his wound would smart many times when he was in company with such who thought themselves to be sound, and who appeared so to one another; but he would presently rise up, and say publicly, "Friends, here is somebody in the room that has the plague," and so would immediately break up the company. This was, indeed, a faithful monitor to all people, that the plague is not to be avoided by those that converse promiscuously in a town infected, and people have it when they know it not, and that they likewise give it to others when they know not that they have it themselves; and in this case, shutting up the well or removing the sick will not do it, unless they can go back and shut up all those that the sick had conversed with, even before they knew themselves to be sick; and none knows how far to carry that back, or where to stop, for none knows when, or where, or how, they may have received the infection, or from whom.
This I take to be the reason which makes so many people talk of the air being corrupted and infected, and that they need not be cautious of whom they converse with, for that the contagion was in the air. I have seen them in strange agitations and surprises on this account. "I have never come near any infected body," says the disturbed person; "I have conversed with none but sound healthy people, and yet I have gotten the distemper." "I am sure I am struck from Heaven," says another, and he falls to the serious part. Again the first goes on exclaiming, "I have come near no infection, or any infected person; I am sure it is in the air; we draw in death when we breathe, and therefore it is the hand of God: there is no withstanding it." And this at last made many people, being hardened to the danger, grow less concerned at it, and less cautious towards the latter end of the time, and when it was come to its height, than they were at first. Then, with a kind of a Turkish predestinarianism, they would say, if it pleased God to strike them, it was all one whether they went abroad, or staid at home: they could not escape it. And therefore they went boldly about, even into infected houses and infected company, visited sick people, and, in short, lay in the beds with their wives or relations when they were infected. And what was the consequence but the same that is the consequence in Turkey, and in those countries where they do those things, namely, that they were infected too, and died by hundreds and thousands?
I would be far from lessening the awe of the judgments of God, and the reverence to his providence, which ought always to be on our minds on such occasions as these. Doubtless the visitation itself is a stroke from Heaven upon a city, or country, or nation, where it falls; a messenger of his vengeance, and a loud call to that nation, or country, or city, to humiliation and repentance, according to that of the prophet Jeremiah (xviii. 7, 8): "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them." Now, to prompt due impressions of the awe of God on the minds of men on such occasions, and not to lessen them, it is that I have left those minutes upon record.
I say, therefore, I reflect upon no man for putting the reason of those things upon the immediate hand of God and the appointment and direction of his providence; nay, on the contrary, there were many wonderful deliverances of persons from infection, and deliverances of persons when infected, which intimate singular and remarkable providence in the particular instances to which they refer; and I esteem my own deliverance to be one next to miraculous, and do record it with thankfulness.
But when I am speaking of the plague as a distemper arising from natural causes, we must consider it as it was really propagated by natural means. Nor is it at all the less a judgment for its being under the conduct of human causes and effects; for as the Divine Power has formed the whole scheme of nature, and maintains nature in its course, so the same Power thinks fit to let his own actings with men, whether of mercy or judgment, to go on in the ordinary course of natural causes, and he is pleased to act by those natural causes as the ordinary means, excepting and reserving to himself, nevertheless, a power to act in a supernatural way when he sees occasion. Now it is evident, that, in the case of an infection, there is no apparent extraordinary occasion for supernatural operation; but the ordinary course of things appears sufficiently armed, and made capable of all the effects that Heaven usually directs by a contagion. Among these causes and effects, this of the secret conveyance of infection, imperceptible and unavoidable, is more than sufficient to execute the fierceness of divine vengeance, without putting it upon supernaturals and miracles.
The acute, penetrating nature of the disease itself was such, and the infection was received so imperceptibly, that the most exact caution could not secure us while in the place; but I must be allowed to believe—and I have so many examples fresh in my memory to convince me of it, that I think none can resist their evidence,—I say, I must be allowed to believe that no one in this whole nation ever received the sickness or infection, but who received it in the ordinary way of infection from somebody, or the clothes, or touch, or stench of somebody, that was infected before.
The manner of its first coming to London proves this also, viz., by goods brought over from Holland, and brought thither from the Levant; the first breaking of it out in a house in Longacre where those goods were carried and first opened; its spreading from that house to other houses by the visible unwary conversing with those who were sick, and the infecting the parish officers who were employed about persons dead; and the like. These are known authorities for this great foundation point, that it went on and proceeded from person to person, and from house to house, and no otherwise. In the first house that was infected, there died four persons. A neighbor, hearing the mistress of the first house was sick, went to visit her, and went home and gave the distemper to her family, and died, and all her household. A minister called to pray with the first sick person in the second house was said to sicken immediately, and die, with several more in his house. Then the physicians began to consider, for they did not at first dream of a general contagion; but the physicians being sent to inspect the bodies, they assured the people that it was neither more or less than the plague, with all its terrifying particulars, and that it threatened an universal infection; so many people having already conversed with the sick or distempered, and having, as might be supposed, received infection from them, that it would be impossible to put a stop to it.