Here the opinion of the physicians agreed with my observation afterwards, namely, that the danger was spreading insensibly: for the sick could infect none but those that came within reach of the sick person; but that one man, who may have really received the infection, and knows it not, but goes abroad and about as a sound person, may give the plague to a thousand people, and they to greater numbers in proportion, and neither the person giving the infection, nor the persons receiving it, know anything of it, and perhaps not feel the effects of it for several days after. For example:—
Many persons, in the time of this visitation, never perceived that they were infected till they found, to their unspeakable surprise, the tokens come out upon them, after which they seldom lived six hours; for those spots they called the tokens were really gangrene spots, or mortified flesh, in small knobs as broad as a little silver penny, and hard as a piece of callus or horn; so that when the disease was come up to that length, there was nothing could follow but certain death. And yet, as I said, they knew nothing of their being infected, nor found themselves so much as out of order, till those mortal marks were upon them. But everybody must allow that they were infected in a high degree before, and must have been so some time; and consequently their breath, their sweat, their very clothes, were contagious for many days before.
This occasioned a vast variety of cases, which physicians would have much more opportunity to remember than I; but some came within the compass of my observation or hearing, of which I shall name a few.
A certain citizen who had lived safe and untouched till the month of September, when the weight of the distemper lay more in the city than it had done before, was mighty cheerful, and something too bold, as I think it was, in his talk of how secure he was, how cautious he had been, and how he had never come near any sick body. Says another citizen, a neighbor of his, to him one day, "Do not be too confident, Mr. ——: it is hard to say who is sick and who is well; for we see men alive and well to outward appearance one hour, and dead the next."—"That is true," says the first man (for he was not a man presumptuously secure, but had escaped a long while; and men, as I have said above, especially in the city, began to be overeasy on that score),—"that is true," says he. "I do not think myself secure; but I hope I have not been in company with any person that there has been any danger in."—"No!" says his neighbor. "Was not you at the Bull Head Tavern in Gracechurch Street, with Mr. ——, the night before last?"—"Yes," says the first, "I was; but there was nobody there that we had any reason to think dangerous." Upon which his neighbor said no more, being unwilling to surprise him. But this made him more inquisitive, and, as his neighbor appeared backward, he was the more impatient; and in a kind of warmth says he aloud, "Why, he is not dead, is he?" Upon which his neighbor still was silent, but cast up his eyes, and said something to himself; at which the first citizen turned pale, and said no more but this, "Then I am a dead man too!" and went home immediately, and sent for a neighboring apothecary to give him something preventive, for he had not yet found himself ill. But the apothecary, opening his breast, fetched a sigh, and said no more but this, "Look up to God." And the man died in a few hours.
Now, let any man judge from a case like this if it is possible for the regulations of magistrates, either by shutting up the sick or removing them, to stop an infection which spreads itself from man to man even while they are perfectly well, and insensible of its approach, and may be so for many days.
It may be proper to ask here how long it may be supposed men might have the seeds of the contagion in them before it discovered itself in this fatal manner, and how long they might go about seemingly whole, and yet be contagious to all those that came near them. I believe the most experienced physicians cannot answer this question directly any more than I can; and something an ordinary observer may take notice of which may pass their observation. The opinion of physicians abroad seems to be, that it may lie dormant in the spirits, or in the blood vessels, a very considerable time: why else do they exact a quarantine of those who come into their harbors and ports from suspected places? Forty days is, one would think, too long for nature to struggle with such an enemy as this, and not conquer it or yield to it; but I could not think by my own observation that they can be infected, so as to be contagious to others, above fifteen or sixteen days at farthest; and on that score it was, that when a house was shut up in the city, and any one had died of the plague, but nobody appeared to be ill in the family for sixteen or eighteen days after, they were not so strict but that they would connive at their going privately abroad; nor would people be much afraid of them afterwards, but rather think they were fortified the better, having not been vulnerable when the enemy was in their house: but we sometimes found it had lain much longer concealed.
Upon the foot of all these observations I must say, that, though Providence seemed to direct my conduct to be otherwise, it is my opinion, and I must leave it as a prescription, viz., that the best physic against the plague is to run away from it. I know people encourage themselves by saying, "God is able to keep us in the midst of danger, and able to overtake us when we think ourselves out of danger;" and this kept thousands in the town whose carcasses went into the great pits by cartloads, and who, if they had fled from the danger, had, I believe, been safe from the disaster: at least, 'tis probable they had been safe.
And were this very fundamental only duly considered by the people on any future occasion of this or the like nature, I am persuaded it would put them upon quite different measures for managing the people from those that they took in 1665, or than any that have been taken abroad that I have heard of: in a word, they would consider of separating the people into smaller bodies, and removing them in time farther from one another, and not let such a contagion as this, which is indeed chiefly dangerous to collected bodies of people, find a million of people in a body together, as was very near the case before, and would certainly be the case if it should ever appear again.
The plague, like a great fire, if a few houses only are contiguous where it happens, can only burn a few houses; or if it begins in a single, or, as we call it, a lone house, can only burn that lone house where it begins; but if it begins in a close-built town or city, and gets ahead, there its fury increases, it rages over the whole place, and consumes all it can reach.
I could propose many schemes on the foot of which the government of this city, if ever they should be under the apprehension of such another enemy, (God forbid they should!) might ease themselves of the greatest part of the dangerous people that belong to them: I mean such as the begging, starving, laboring poor, and among them chiefly those who, in a case of siege, are called the useless mouths; who, being then prudently, and to their own advantage, disposed of, and the wealthy inhabitants disposing of themselves, and of their servants and children, the city and its adjacent parts would be so effectually evacuated that there would not be above a tenth part of its people left together for the disease to take hold upon. But suppose them to be a fifth part, and that two hundred and fifty thousand people were left; and if it did seize upon them, they would, by their living so much at large, be much better prepared to defend themselves against the infection, and be less liable to the effects of it, than if the same number of people lived close together in one smaller city, such as Dublin, or Amsterdam, or the like.
It is true, hundreds, yea thousands, of families fled away at this last plague; but then of them many fled too late, and not only died in their flight, but carried the distemper with them into the countries where they went, and infected those whom they went among for safety; which confounded the thing, and made that be a propagation of the distemper which was the best means to prevent it. And this, too, is evident of it, and brings me back to what I only hinted at before, but must speak more fully to here, namely, that men went about apparently well many days after they had the taint of the disease in their vitals, and after their spirits were so seized as that they could never escape it; and that, all the while they did so, they were dangerous to others. I say, this proves that so it was; for such people infected the very towns they went through, as well as the families they went among; and it was by that means that almost all the great towns in England had the distemper among them more or less, and always they would tell you such a Londoner or such a Londoner brought it down.
It must not be omitted, that when I speak of those people who were really thus dangerous, I suppose them to be utterly ignorant of their own condition; for if they really knew their circumstances to be such as indeed they were, they must have been a kind of willful murderers if they would have gone abroad among healthy people, and it would have verified indeed the suggestion which I mentioned above, and which I thought seemed untrue, viz., that the infected people were utterly careless as to giving the infection to others, and rather forward to do it than not; and I believe it was partly from this very thing that they raised that suggestion, which I hope was not really true in fact.
I confess no particular case is sufficient to prove a general; but I could name several people, within the knowledge of some of their neighbors and families yet living, who showed the contrary to an extreme. One man, the master of a family in my neighborhood, having had the distemper, he thought he had it given him by a poor workman whom he employed, and whom he went to his house to see, or went for some work that he wanted to have finished; and he had some apprehensions even while he was at the poor workman's door, but did not discover it fully; but the next day it discovered itself, and he was taken very ill, upon which he immediately caused himself to be carried into an outbuilding which he had in his yard, and where there was a chamber over a workhouse, the man being a brazier. Here he lay, and here he died, and would be tended by none of his neighbors but by a nurse from abroad, and would not suffer his wife, nor children, nor servants, to come up into the room, lest they should be infected, but sent them his blessing and prayers for them by the nurse, who spoke it to them at a distance; and all this for fear of giving them the distemper, and without which, he knew, as they were kept up, they could not have it.
And here I must observe also that the plague, as I suppose all distempers do, operated in a different manner on differing constitutions. Some were immediately overwhelmed with it, and it came to violent fevers, vomitings, insufferable headaches, pains in the back, and so up to ravings and ragings with those pains; others with swellings and tumors in the neck or groin, or armpits, which, till they could be broke, put them into insufferable agonies and torment; while others, as I have observed, were silently infected, the fever preying upon their spirits insensibly, and they seeing little of it till they fell into swooning and faintings, and death without pain.
I am not physician enough to enter into the particular reasons and manner of these differing effects of one and the same distemper, and of its differing operation in several bodies; nor is it my business here to record the observations which I really made, because the doctors themselves have done that part much more effectually than I can do, and because my opinion may in some things differ from theirs. I am only relating what I know, or have heard, or believe, of the particular cases, and what fell within the compass of my view, and the different nature of the infection as it appeared in the particular cases which I have related; but this may be added too, that though the former sort of those cases, namely, those openly visited, were the worst for themselves as to pain (I mean those that had such fevers, vomitings, headaches, pains, and swellings), because they died in such a dreadful manner, yet the latter had the worst state of the disease; for in the former they frequently recovered, especially if the swellings broke; but the latter was inevitable death. No cure, no help, could be possible; nothing could follow but death. And it was worse, also, to others; because, as above, it secretly and unperceived by others or by themselves, communicated death to those they conversed with, the penetrating poison insinuating itself into their blood in a manner which it was impossible to describe, or indeed conceive.
This infecting and being infected without so much as its being known to either person is evident from two sorts of cases which frequently happened at that time; and there is hardly anybody living, who was in London during the infection, but must have known several of the cases of both sorts.
1. Fathers and mothers have gone about as if they had been well, and have believed themselves to be so, till they have insensibly infected and been the destruction of their whole families; which they would have been far from doing if they had had the least apprehensions of their being unsound and dangerous themselves. A family, whose story I have heard, was thus infected by the father, and the distemper began to appear upon some of them even before he found it upon himself; but, searching more narrowly, it appeared he had been infected some time, and, as soon as he found that his family had been poisoned by himself, he went distracted, and would have laid violent hands upon himself, but was kept from that by those who looked to him; and in a few days he died.
2. The other particular is, that many people, having been well to the best of their own judgment, or by the best observation which they could make of themselves for several days, and only finding a decay of appetite, or a light sickness upon their stomachs,—nay, some whose appetite has been strong, and even craving, and only a light pain in their heads,—have sent for physicians to know what ailed them, and have been found, to their great surprise, at the brink of death, the tokens upon them, or the plague grown up to an incurable height.
It was very sad to reflect how such a person as this last mentioned above had been a walking destroyer, perhaps for a week or fortnight before that; how he had ruined those that he would have hazarded his life to save, and had been breathing death upon them, even perhaps in his tender kissing and embracings of his own children. Yet thus certainly it was, and often has been, and I could give many particular cases where it has been so. If, then, the blow is thus insensibly striking; if the arrow flies thus unseen, and cannot be discovered,—to what purpose are all the schemes for shutting up or removing the sick people? Those schemes cannot take place but upon those that appear to be sick or to be infected; whereas there are among them at the same time thousands of people who seem to be well, but are all that while carrying death with them into all companies which they come into.
This frequently puzzled our physicians, and especially the apothecaries and surgeons, who knew not how to discover the sick from the sound. They all allowed that it was really so; that many people had the plague in their very blood, and preying upon their spirits, and were in themselves but walking putrefied carcasses, whose breath was infectious, and their sweat poison, and yet were as well to look on as other people, and even knew it not themselves,—I say they all allowed that it was really true in fact, but they knew not how to propose a discovery.
My friend Dr. Heath was of opinion that it might be known by the smell of their breath; but then, as he said, who durst smell to that breath for his information, since to know it he must draw the stench of the plague up into his own brain in order to distinguish the smell? I have heard it was the opinion of others that it might be distinguished by the party's breathing upon a piece of glass, where, the breath condensing, there might living creatures be seen by a microscope, of strange, monstrous, and frightful shapes, such as dragons, snakes, serpents, and devils, horrible to behold. But this I very much question the truth of, and we had no microscopes at that time, as I remember, to make the experiment with.
It was the opinion, also, of another learned man that the breath of such a person would poison and instantly kill a bird, not only a small bird, but even a cock or hen; and that, if it did not immediately kill the latter, it would cause them to be roupy, as they call it; particularly that, if they had laid any eggs at that time, they would be all rotten. But those are opinions which I never found supported by any experiments, or heard of others that had seen it, so I leave them as I find them, only with this remark, namely, that I think the probabilities are very strong for them.
Some have proposed that such persons should breathe hard upon warm water, and that they would leave an unusual scum upon it, or upon several other things, especially such as are of a glutinous substance, and are apt to receive a scum, and support it.
But, from the whole, I found that the nature of this contagion was such that it was impossible to discover it at all, or to prevent it spreading from one to another by any human skill.
Here was indeed one difficulty, which I could never thoroughly get over to this time, and which there is but one way of answering that I know of, and it is this; viz., the first person that died of the plague was on December 20th, or thereabouts, 1664, and in or about Longacre: whence the first person had the infection was generally said to be from a parcel of silks imported from Holland, and first opened in that house.
But after this we heard no more of any person dying of the plague, or of the distemper being in that place, till the 9th of February, which was about seven weeks after, and then one more was buried out of the same house. Then it was hushed, and we were perfectly easy as to the public for a great while; for there were no more entered in the weekly bill to be dead of the plague till the 22d of April, when there were two more buried, not out of the same house, but out of the same street; and, as near as I can remember, it was out of the next house to the first. This was nine weeks asunder; and after this we had no more till a fortnight, and then it broke out in several streets, and spread every way. Now, the question seems to lie thus: Where lay the seeds of the infection all this while? how came it to stop so long, and not stop any longer? Either the distemper did not come immediately by contagion from body to body, or, if it did, then a body may be capable to continue infected, without the disease discovering itself, many days, nay, weeks together; even not a quarantine of days only, but a soixantine,—not only forty days, but sixty days, or longer.
It is true there was, as I observed at first, and is well known to many yet living, a very cold winter and a long frost, which continued three months; and this, the doctors say, might check the infection. But then the learned must allow me to say, that if, according to their notion, the disease was, as I may say, only frozen up, it would, like a frozen river, have returned to its usual force and current when it thawed; whereas the principal recess of this infection, which was from February to April, was after the frost was broken and the weather mild and warm.
But there is another way of solving all this difficulty, which I think my own remembrance of the thing will supply; and that is, the fact is not granted, namely, that there died none in those long intervals, viz., from the 20th of December to the 9th of February, and from thence to the 22d of April. The weekly bills are the only evidence on the other side, and those bills were not of credit enough, at least with me, to support an hypothesis, or determine a question of such importance as this; for it was our received opinion at that time, and I believe upon very good grounds, that the fraud lay in the parish officers, searchers, and persons appointed to give account of the dead, and what diseases they died of; and as people were very loath at first to have the neighbors believe their houses were infected, so they gave money to procure, or otherwise procured, the dead persons to be returned as dying of other distempers; and this I know was practiced afterwards in many places, I believe I might say in all places where the distemper came, as will be seen by the vast increase of the numbers placed in the weekly bills under other articles of diseases during the time of the infection. For example, in the months of July and August, when the plague was coming on to its highest pitch, it was very ordinary to have from a thousand to twelve hundred, nay, to almost fifteen hundred, a week, of other distempers. Not that the numbers of those distempers were really increased to such a degree; but the great number of families and houses where really the infection was, obtained the favor to have their dead be returned of other distempers, to prevent the shutting up their houses. For example:—
Dead of other Diseases besides the Plague.
From the 18th to the 25th of July 942 To the 1st of August 1,004 To the 8th 1,213 To the 15th 1,439 To the 22d 1,331 To the 29th 1,394 To the 5th of September 1,264 To the 12th 1,056 To the 19th 1,132 To the 26th 927
Now, it was not doubted but the greatest part of these, or a great part of them, were dead of the plague; but the officers were prevailed with to return them as above, and the numbers of some particular articles of distempers discovered is as follows:—
Aug. 1-8. Aug. 8-15. Aug. 15-22. Aug. 22-29.
Fever 314 353 348 383 Spotted fever 174 190 166 165 Surfeit 85 87 74 99 Teeth 90 113 111 133 —- —- —- —- 663 743 699 780
Aug. 29-Sept. 5. Sept. 5-12. Sept. 12-19. Sept. 19-26.
Fever 364 332 309 268 Spotted Fever 157 97 101 65 Surfeit 68 45 49 36 Teeth 138 128 121 112 —- —- —- —- 727 602 580 481
There were several other articles which bore a proportion to these, and which it is easy to perceive were increased on the same account; as aged, consumptions, vomitings, imposthumes, gripes, and the like, many of which were not doubted to be infected people; but as it was of the utmost consequence to families not to be known to be infected, if it was possible to avoid it, so they took all the measures they could to have it not believed, and if any died in their houses, to get them returned to the examiners, and by the searchers, as having died of other distempers.
This, I say, will account for the long interval which, as I have said, was between the dying of the first persons that were returned in the bills to be dead of the plague, and the time when the distemper spread openly, and could not be concealed.
Besides, the weekly bills themselves at that time evidently discover this truth; for while there was no mention of the plague, and no increase after it had been mentioned, yet it was apparent that there was an increase of those distempers which bordered nearest upon it. For example, there were eight, twelve, seventeen, of the spotted fever in a week when there were none or but very few of the plague; whereas before, one, three, or four were the ordinary weekly numbers of that distemper. Likewise, as I observed before, the burials increased weekly in that particular parish and the parishes adjacent, more than in any other parish, although there were none set down of the plague; all which tell us that the infection was handed on, and the succession of the distemper really preserved, though it seemed to us at that time to be ceased, and to come again in a manner surprising.
It might be, also, that the infection might remain in other parts of the same parcel of goods which at first it came in, and which might not be, perhaps, opened, or at least not fully, or in the clothes of the first infected person; for I cannot think that anybody could be seized with the contagion in a fatal and mortal degree for nine weeks together, and support his state of health so well as even not to discover it to themselves: yet, if it were so, the argument is the stronger in favor of what I am saying, namely, that the infection is retained in bodies apparently well, and conveyed from them to those they converse with, while it is known to neither the one nor the other.
Great were the confusions at that time upon this very account; and when people began to be convinced that the infection was received in this surprising manner from persons apparently well, they began to be exceeding shy and jealous of every one that came near them. Once, on a public day, whether a sabbath day or not I do not remember, in Aldgate Church, in a pew full of people, on a sudden one fancied she smelt an ill smell. Immediately she fancies the plague was in the pew, whispers her notion or suspicion to the next, then rises and goes out of the pew. It immediately took with the next, and so with them all; and every one of them, and of the two or three adjoining pews, got up and went out of the church, nobody knowing what it was offended them, or from whom.
This immediately filled everybody's mouths with one preparation or other, such as the old women directed, and some, perhaps, as physicians directed, in order to prevent infection by the breath of others; insomuch, that if we came to go into a church when it was anything full of people, there would be such a mixture of smells at the entrance, that it was much more strong, though perhaps not so wholesome, than if you were going into an apothecary's or druggist's shop: in a word, the whole church was like a smelling bottle. In one corner it was all perfumes; in another, aromatics, balsamics, and a variety of drugs and herbs; in another, salts and spirits, as every one was furnished for their own preservation. Yet I observed that after people were possessed, as I have said, with the belief, or rather assurance, of the infection being thus carried on by persons apparently in health, the churches and meetinghouses were much thinner of people than at other times, before that, they used to be; for this is to be said of the people of London, that, during the whole time of the pestilence, the churches or meetings were never wholly shut up, nor did the people decline coming out to the public worship of God, except only in some parishes, when the violence of the distemper was more particularly in that parish at that time, and even then no longer than it continued to be so.
Indeed, nothing was more strange than to see with what courage the people went to the public service of God, even at that time when they were afraid to stir out of their own houses upon any other occasion (this I mean before the time of desperation which I have mentioned already). This was a proof of the exceeding populousness of the city at the time of the infection, notwithstanding the great numbers that were gone into the country at the first alarm, and that fled out into the forests and woods when they were further terrified with the extraordinary increase of it. For when we came to see the crowds and throngs of people which appeared on the sabbath days at the churches, and especially in those parts of the town where the plague was abated, or where it was not yet come to its height, it was amazing. But of this I shall speak again presently. I return, in the mean time, to the article of infecting one another at first. Before people came to right notions of the infection and of infecting one another, people were only shy of those that were really sick. A man with a cap upon his head, or with cloths round his neck (which was the case of those that had swellings there),—such was indeed frightful; but when we saw a gentleman dressed, with his band on, and his gloves in his hand, his hat upon his head, and his hair combed,—of such we had not the least apprehensions; and people conversed a great while freely, especially with their neighbors and such as they knew. But when the physicians assured us that the danger was as well from the sound (that is, the seemingly sound) as the sick, and that those people that thought themselves entirely free were oftentimes the most fatal; and that it came to be generally understood that people were sensible of it, and of the reason of it,—then, I say, they began to be jealous of everybody; and a vast number of people locked themselves up, so as not to come abroad into any company at all, nor suffer any that had been abroad in promiscuous company to come into their houses, or near them (at least not so near them as to be within the reach of their breath, or of any smell from them); and when they were obliged to converse at a distance with strangers, they would always have preservatives in their mouths and about their clothes, to repel and keep off the infection.
It must be acknowledged that when people began to use these cautions they were less exposed to danger, and the infection did not break into such houses so furiously as it did into others before; and thousands of families were preserved, speaking with due reserve to the direction of Divine Providence, by that means.
But it was impossible to beat anything into the heads of the poor. They went on with the usual impetuosity of their tempers, full of outcries and lamentations when taken, but madly careless of themselves, foolhardy, and obstinate, while they were well. Where they could get employment, they pushed into any kind of business, the most dangerous and the most liable to infection; and if they were spoken to, their answer would be, "I must trust to God for that. If I am taken, then I am provided for, and there is an end of me;" and the like. Or thus, "Why, what must I do? I cannot starve. I had as good have the plague as perish for want. I have no work: what could I do? I must do this, or beg." Suppose it was burying the dead, or attending the sick, or watching infected houses, which were all terrible hazards; but their tale was generally the same. It is true, necessity was a justifiable, warrantable plea, and nothing could be better; but their way of talk was much the same where the necessities were not the same. This adventurous conduct of the poor was that which brought the plague among them in a most furious manner; and this, joined to the distress of their circumstances when taken, was the reason why they died so by heaps; for I cannot say I could observe one jot of better husbandry among them (I mean the laboring poor) while they were all well and getting money than there was before; but as lavish, as extravagant, and as thoughtless for to-morrow as ever; so that when they came to be taken sick, they were immediately in the utmost distress, as well for want as for sickness, as well for lack of food as lack of health.
The misery of the poor I had many occasions to be an eyewitness of, and sometimes, also, of the charitable assistance that some pious people daily gave to such, sending them relief and supplies, both of food, physic, and other help, as they found they wanted. And indeed it is a debt of justice due to the temper of the people of that day, to take notice here, that not only great sums, very great sums of money, were charitably sent to the lord mayor and aldermen for the assistance and support of the poor distempered people, but abundance of private people daily distributed large sums of money for their relief, and sent people about to inquire into the condition of particular distressed and visited families, and relieved them. Nay, some pious ladies were transported with zeal in so good a work, and so confident in the protection of Providence in discharge of the great duty of charity, that they went about in person distributing alms to the poor, and even visiting poor families, though sick and infected, in their very houses, appointing nurses to attend those that wanted attending, and ordering apothecaries and surgeons, the first to supply them with drugs or plasters, and such things as they wanted, and the last to lance and dress the swellings and tumors, where such were wanting; giving their blessing to the poor in substantial relief to them, as well as hearty prayers for them.
I will not undertake to say, as some do, that none of those charitable people were suffered to fall under the calamity itself; but this I may say, that I never knew any one of them that miscarried, which I mention for the encouragement of others in case of the like distress; and doubtless if they that give to the poor lend to the Lord, and he will repay them, those that hazard their lives to give to the poor, and to comfort and assist the poor in such misery as this, may hope to be protected in the work.
Nor was this charity so extraordinary eminent only in a few; but (for I cannot lightly quit this point) the charity of the rich, as well in the city and suburbs as from the country, was so great, that in a word a prodigious number of people, who must otherwise have perished for want as well as sickness, were supported and subsisted by it; and though I could never, nor I believe any one else, come to a full knowledge of what was so contributed, yet I do believe, that, as I heard one say that was a critical observer of that part, there was not only many thousand pounds contributed, but many hundred thousand pounds, to the relief of the poor of this distressed, afflicted city. Nay, one man affirmed to me that he could reckon up above one hundred thousand pounds a week which was distributed by the churchwardens at the several parish vestries, by the lord mayor and the aldermen in the several wards and precincts, and by the particular direction of the court and of the justices respectively in the parts where they resided, over and above the private charity distributed by pious hands in the manner I speak of; and this continued for many weeks together.
I confess this is a very great sum; but if it be true that there was distributed, in the parish of Cripplegate only, seventeen thousand eight hundred pounds in one week to the relief of the poor, as I heard reported, and which I really believe was true, the other may not be improbable.
It was doubtless to be reckoned among the many signal good providences which attended this great city, and of which there were many other worth recording. I say, this was a very remarkable one, that it pleased God thus to move the hearts of the people in all parts of the kingdom so cheerfully to contribute to the relief and support of the poor at London; the good consequences of which were felt many ways, and particularly in preserving the lives and recovering the health of so many thousands, and keeping so many thousands of families from perishing and starving.
And now I am talking of the merciful disposition of Providence in this time of calamity, I cannot but mention again, though I have spoken several times of it already on other accounts (I mean that of the progression of the distemper), how it began at one end of the town, and proceeded gradually and slowly from one part to another, and like a dark cloud that passes over our heads, which, as it thickens and overcasts the air at one end, clears up at the other end: so, while the plague went on raging from west to east, as it went forwards east, it abated in the west; by which means those parts of the town which were not seized, or who were left, and where it had spent its fury, were (as it were) spared to help and assist the other: whereas, had the distemper spread itself over the whole city and suburbs at once, raging in all places alike, as it has done since in some places abroad, the whole body of the people must have been overwhelmed, and there would have died twenty thousand a day, as they say there did at Naples, nor would the people have been able to have helped or assisted one another.
For it must be observed that where the plague was in its full force, there indeed the people were very miserable, and the consternation was inexpressible; but a little before it reached even to that place, or presently after it was gone, they were quite another sort of people; and I cannot but acknowledge that there was too much of that common temper of mankind to be found among us all at that time, namely, to forget the deliverance when the danger is past. But I shall come to speak of that part again.
It must not be forgot here to take some notice of the state of trade during the time of this common calamity; and this with respect to foreign trade, as also to our home trade.
As to foreign trade, there needs little to be said. The trading nations of Europe were all afraid of us. No port of France, or Holland, or Spain, or Italy, would admit our ships, or correspond with us. Indeed, we stood on ill terms with the Dutch, and were in a furious war with them, though in a bad condition to fight abroad, who had such dreadful enemies to struggle with at home.
Our merchants were accordingly at a full stop. Their ships could go nowhere; that is to say, to no place abroad. Their manufactures and merchandise, that is to say, of our growth, would not be touched abroad. They were as much afraid of our goods as they were of our people; and indeed they had reason, for our woolen manufactures are as retentive of infection as human bodies, and, if packed up by persons infected, would receive the infection, and be as dangerous to the touch as a man would be that was infected; and therefore when any English vessel arrived in foreign countries, if they did take the goods on shore, they always caused the bales to be opened and aired in places appointed for that purpose. But from London they would not suffer them to come into port, much less to unload their goods, upon any terms whatever; and this strictness was especially used with them in Spain and Italy. In Turkey and the islands of the Arches, indeed, as they are called, as well those belonging to the Turks as to the Venetians, they were not so very rigid. In the first there was no obstruction at all, and four ships which were then in the river loading for Italy (that is, for Leghorn and Naples) being denied product, as they call it, went on to Turkey, and were freely admitted to unlade their cargo without any difficulty, only that when they arrived there, some of their cargo was not fit for sale in that country, and other parts of it being consigned to merchants at Leghorn, the captains of the ships had no right nor any orders to dispose of the goods; so that great inconveniences followed to the merchants. But this was nothing but what the necessity of affairs required; and the merchants at Leghorn and Naples, having notice given them, sent again from thence to take care of the effects which were particularly consigned to those ports, and to bring back in other ships such as were improper for the markets at Smyrna and Scanderoon.
The inconveniences in Spain and Portugal were still greater; for they would by no means suffer our ships, especially those from London, to come into any of their ports, much less to unlade. There was a report that one of our ships having by stealth delivered her cargo, among which were some bales of English cloth, cotton, kerseys, and such like goods, the Spaniards caused all the goods to be burned, and punished the men with death who were concerned in carrying them on shore. This I believe was in part true, though I do not affirm it; but it is not at all unlikely, seeing the danger was really very great, the infection being so violent in London.
I heard likewise that the plague was carried into those countries by some of our ships, and particularly to the port of Faro, in the kingdom of Algarve, belonging to the King of Portugal, and that several persons died of it there; but it was not confirmed.
On the other hand, though the Spaniards and Portuguese were so shy of us, it is most certain that the plague, as has been said, keeping at first much at that end of the town next Westminster, the merchandising part of the town, such as the city and the waterside, was perfectly sound till at least the beginning of July, and the ships in the river till the beginning of August; for to the 1st of July there had died but seven within the whole city, and but sixty within the liberties; but one in all the parishes of Stepney, Aldgate, and Whitechapel, and but two in all the eight parishes of Southwark. But it was the same thing abroad, for the bad news was gone over the whole world, that the city of London was infected with the plague; and there was no inquiring there how the infection proceeded, or at which part of the town it was begun or was reached to.
Besides, after it began to spread, it increased so fast, and the bills grew so high all on a sudden, that it was to no purpose to lessen the report of it, or endeavor to make the people abroad think it better than it was. The account which the weekly bills gave in was sufficient; and that there died two thousand to three or four thousand a week was sufficient to alarm the whole trading part of the world: and the following time being so dreadful also in the very city itself, put the whole world, I say, upon their guard against it.
You may be sure also that the report of these things lost nothing in the carriage. The plague was itself very terrible, and the distress of the people very great, as you may observe of what I have said, but the rumor was infinitely greater; and it must not be wondered that our friends abroad, as my brother's correspondents in particular, were told there (namely, in Portugal and Italy, where he chiefly traded), that in London there died twenty thousand in a week; that the dead bodies lay unburied by heaps; that the living were not sufficient to bury the dead, or the sound to look after the sick; that all the kingdom was infected likewise, so that it was an universal malady such as was never heard of in those parts of the world. And they could hardly believe us when we gave them an account how things really were; and how there was not above one tenth part of the people dead; that there were five hundred thousand left that lived all the time in the town; that now the people began to walk the streets again, and those who were fled to return; there was no miss of the usual throng of people in the streets, except as every family might miss their relations and neighbors; and the like. I say, they could not believe these things; and if inquiry were now to be made in Naples, or in other cities on the coast of Italy, they would tell you there was a dreadful infection in London so many years ago, in which, as above, there died twenty thousand in a week, etc., just as we have had it reported in London that there was a plague in the city of Naples in the year 1656, in which there died twenty thousand people in a day, of which I have had very good satisfaction that it was utterly false.
But these extravagant reports were very prejudicial to our trade, as well as unjust and injurious in themselves; for it was a long time after the plague was quite over before our trade could recover itself in those parts of the world; and the Flemings and Dutch, but especially the last, made very great advantages of it, having all the market to themselves, and even buying our manufactures in the several parts of England where the plague was not, and carrying them to Holland and Flanders, and from thence transporting them to Spain and to Italy, as if they had been of their own making.
But they were detected sometimes, and punished, that is to say, their goods confiscated, and ships also; for if it was true that our manufactures as well as our people were infected, and that it was dangerous to touch or to open and receive the smell of them, then those people ran the hazard, by that clandestine trade, not only of carrying the contagion into their own country, but also of infecting the nations to whom they traded with those goods; which, considering how many lives might be lost in consequence of such an action, must be a trade that no men of conscience could suffer themselves to be concerned in.
I do not take upon me to say that any harm was done, I mean of that kind, by those people; but I doubt I need not make any such proviso in the case of our own country; for either by our people of London, or by the commerce, which made their conversing with all sorts of people in every county, and of every considerable town, necessary,—I say, by this means the plague was first or last spread all over the kingdom, as well in London as in all the cities and great towns, especially in the trading manufacturing towns and seaports: so that first or last all the considerable places in England were visited more or less, and the kingdom of Ireland in some places, but not so universally. How it fared with the people in Scotland, I had no opportunity to inquire.
It is to be observed, that, while the plague continued so violent in London, the outports, as they are called, enjoyed a very great trade, especially to the adjacent countries and to our own plantations. For example, the towns of Colchester, Yarmouth, and Hull, on that side of England, exported to Holland and Hamburg the manufactures of the adjacent counties for several months after the trade with London was, as it were, entirely shut up. Likewise the cities of Bristol and Exeter, with the port of Plymouth, had the like advantage to Spain, to the Canaries, to Guinea, and to the West Indies, and particularly to Ireland. But as the plague spread itself every way after it had been in London to such a degree as it was in August and September, so all or most of those cities and towns were infected first or last, and then trade was, as it were, under a general embargo, or at a full stop, as I shall observe further when I speak of our home trade.
One thing, however, must be observed, that as to ships coming in from abroad (as many, you may be sure, did), some who were out in all parts of the world a considerable while before, and some who, when they went out, knew nothing of an infection, or at least of one so terrible,—these came up the river boldly, and delivered their cargoes as they were obliged to do, except just in the two months of August and September, when, the weight of the infection lying, as I may say, all below bridge, nobody durst appear in business for a while. But as this continued but for a few weeks, the homeward-bound ships, especially such whose cargoes were not liable to spoil, came to an anchor, for a time, short of the Pool, or freshwater part of the river, even as low as the river Medway, where several of them ran in; and others lay at the Nore, and in the Hope below Gravesend: so that by the latter end of October there was a very great fleet of homeward-bound ships to come up, such as the like had not been known for many years.
Two particular trades were carried on by water carriage all the while of the infection, and that with little or no interruption, very much to the advantage and comfort of the poor distressed people of the city; and those were the coasting trade for corn, and the Newcastle trade for coals.
The first of these was particularly carried on by small vessels from the port of Hull, and other places in the Humber, by which great quantities of corn were brought in from Yorkshire and Lincolnshire; the other part of this corn trade was from Lynn in Norfolk, from Wells, and Burnham, and from Yarmouth, all in the same county; and the third branch was from the river Medway, and from Milton, Feversham, Margate, and Sandwich, and all the other little places and ports round the coast of Kent and Essex.
There was also a very good trade from the coast of Suffolk, with corn, butter, and cheese. These vessels kept a constant course of trade, and without interruption came up to that market known still by the name of Bear Key, where they supplied the city plentifully with corn when land carriage began to fail, and when the people began to be sick of coming from many places in the country.
This also was much of it owing to the prudence and conduct of the lord mayor, who took such care to keep the masters and seamen from danger when they came up, causing their corn to be bought off at any time they wanted a market (which, however, was very seldom), and causing the cornfactors immediately to unlade and deliver the vessels laden with corn, that they had very little occasion to come out of their ships or vessels, the money being always carried on board to them, and put it into a pail of vinegar before it was carried.
The second trade was that of coals from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, without which the city would have been greatly distressed; for not in the streets only, but in private houses and families, great quantities of coal were then burnt, even all the summer long, and when the weather was hottest, which was done by the advice of the physicians. Some, indeed, opposed it, and insisted that to keep the houses and rooms hot was a means to propagate the distemper, which was a fermentation and heat already in the blood; that it was known to spread and increase in hot weather, and abate in cold; and therefore they alleged that all contagious distempers are the worst for heat, because the contagion was nourished, and gained strength, in hot weather, and was, as it were, propagated in heat.
Others said they granted that heat in the climate might propagate infection, as sultry hot weather fills the air with vermin, and nourishes innumerable numbers and kinds of venomous creatures, which breed in our food, in the plants, and even in our bodies, by the very stench of which infection may be propagated; also that heat in the air, or heat of weather, as we ordinarily call it, makes bodies relax and faint, exhausts the spirits, opens the pores, and makes us more apt to receive infection or any evil influence, be it from noxious, pestilential vapors, or any other thing in the air; but that the heat of fire, and especially of coal fires, kept in our houses or near us, had quite a different operation, the heat being not of the same kind, but quick and fierce, tending not to nourish, but to consume and dissipate, all those noxious fumes which the other kind of heat rather exhaled, and stagnated than separated, and burnt up. Besides, it was alleged that the sulphureous and nitrous particles that are often found to be in the coal, with that bituminous substance which burns, are all assisting to clear and purge the air, and render it wholesome and safe to breathe in, after the noxious particles (as above) are dispersed and burnt up.
The latter opinion prevailed at that time, and, as I must confess, I think with good reason; and the experience of the citizens confirmed it, many houses which had constant fires kept in the rooms having never been infected at all; and I must join my experience to it, for I found the keeping of good fires kept our rooms sweet and wholesome, and I do verily believe made our whole family so, more than would otherwise have been.
But I return to the coals as a trade. It was with no little difficulty that this trade was kept open, and particularly because, as we were in an open war with the Dutch at that time, the Dutch capers at first took a great many of our collier ships, which made the rest cautious, and made them to stay to come in fleets together. But after some time the capers were either afraid to take them, or their masters, the States, were afraid they should, and forbade them, lest the plague should be among them, which made them fare the better.
For the security of those northern traders, the coal ships were ordered by my lord mayor not to come up into the Pool above a certain number at a time; and ordered lighters and other vessels, such as the woodmongers (that is, the wharf keepers) or coal sellers furnished, to go down and take out the coals as low as Deptford and Greenwich, and some farther down.
Others delivered great quantities of coals in particular places where the ships could come to the shore, as at Greenwich, Blackwall, and other places, in vast heaps, as if to be kept for sale; but were then fetched away after the ships which brought them were gone; so that the seamen had no communication with the river men, nor so much as came near one another.
Yet all this caution could not effectually prevent the distemper getting among the colliery, that is to say, among the ships, by which a great many seamen died of it; and that which was still worse was, that they carried it down to Ipswich and Yarmouth, to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and other places on the coast, where, especially at Newcastle and at Sunderland, it carried off a great number of people.
The making so many fires as above did indeed consume an unusual quantity of coals; and that upon one or two stops of the ships coming up (whether by contrary weather or by the interruption of enemies, I do not remember); but the price of coals was exceedingly dear, even as high as four pounds a chaldron; but it soon abated when the ships came in, and, as afterwards they had a freer passage, the price was very reasonable all the rest of that year.
The public fires which were made on these occasions, as I have calculated it, must necessarily have cost the city about two hundred chaldron of coals a week, if they had continued, which was indeed a very great quantity; but as it was thought necessary, nothing was spared. However, as some of the physicians cried them down, they were not kept alight above four or five days. The fires were ordered thus:—
One at the Custom House; one at Billingsgate; one at Queenhithe, and one at the Three Cranes; one in Blackfriars, and one at the gate of Bridewell; one at the corner of Leadenhall Street and Gracechurch; one at the north and one at the south gate of the Royal Exchange; one at Guildhall, and one at Blackwell Hall gate; one at the lord mayor's door in St. Helen's; one at the west entrance into St. Paul's; and one at the entrance into Bow Church. I do not remember whether there was any at the city gates, but one at the bridge foot there was, just by St. Magnus Church.
I know some have quarreled since that at the experiment, and said that there died the more people because of those fires; but I am persuaded those that say so offer no evidence to prove it, neither can I believe it on any account whatever.
It remains to give some account of the state of trade at home in England during this dreadful time, and particularly as it relates to the manufactures and the trade in the city. At the first breaking out of the infection there was, as it is easy to suppose, a very great fright among the people, and consequently a general stop of trade, except in provisions and necessaries of life; and even in those things, as there was a vast number of people fled and a very great number always sick, besides the number which died, so there could not be above two thirds, if above one half, of the consumption of provisions in the city as used to be.
It pleased God to send a very plentiful year of corn and fruit, and not of hay or grass, by which means bread was cheap by reason of the plenty of corn, flesh was cheap by reason of the scarcity of grass, but butter and cheese were dear for the same reason; and hay in the market, just beyond Whitechapel Bars, was sold at four pounds per load; but that affected not the poor. There was a most excessive plenty of all sorts of fruit, such as apples, pears, plums, cherries, grapes; and they were the cheaper because of the wants of the people; but this made the poor eat them to excess, and this brought them into surfeits and the like, which often precipitated them into the plague.
But to come to matters of trade. First, foreign exportation being stopped, or at least very much interrupted and rendered difficult, a general stop of all those manufactures followed of course, which were usually brought for exportation; and, though sometimes merchants abroad were importunate for goods, yet little was sent, the passages being so generally stopped that the English ships would not be admitted, as is said already, into their port.
This put a stop to the manufactures that were for exportation in most parts of England, except in some outports; and even that was soon stopped, for they all had the plague in their turn. But though this was felt all over England, yet, what was still worse, all intercourse of trade for home consumption of manufactures, especially those which usually circulated through the Londoners' hands, was stopped at once, the trade of the city being stopped.
All kinds of handicrafts in the city, etc., tradesmen and mechanics, were, as I have said before, out of employ; and this occasioned the putting off and dismissing an innumerable number of journeymen and workmen of all sorts, seeing nothing was done relating to such trades but what might be said to be absolutely necessary.
This caused the multitude of single people in London to be unprovided for, as also of families whose living depended upon the labor of the heads of those families. I say, this reduced them to extreme misery; and I must confess it is for the honor of the city of London, and will be for many ages, as long as this is to be spoken of, that they were able to supply with charitable provision the wants of so many thousands of those as afterwards fell sick and were distressed; so that it may be safely averred that nobody perished for want, at least that the magistrates had any notice given them of.
This stagnation of our manufacturing trade in the country would have put the people there to much greater difficulties, but that the master workmen, clothiers, and others, to the uttermost of their stocks and strength, kept on making their goods to keep the poor at work, believing that, as soon as the sickness should abate, they would have a quick demand in proportion to the decay of their trade at that time; but as none but those masters that were rich could do thus, and that many were poor and not able, the manufacturing trade in England suffered greatly, and the poor were pinched all over England by the calamity of the city of London only.
It is true that the next year made them full amends by another terrible calamity upon the city; so that the city by one calamity impoverished and weakened the country, and by another calamity (even terrible, too, of its kind) enriched the country, and made them again amends: for an infinite quantity of household stuff, wearing apparel, and other things, besides whole warehouses filled with merchandise and manufactures, such as come from all parts of England, were consumed in the fire of London the next year after this terrible visitation. It is incredible what a trade this made all over the whole kingdom, to make good the want, and to supply that loss; so that, in short, all the manufacturing hands in the nation were set on work, and were little enough for several years to supply the market, and answer the demands. All foreign markets also were empty of our goods, by the stop which had been occasioned by the plague, and before an open trade was allowed again; and the prodigious demand at home falling in, joined to make a quick vent for all sorts of goods; so that there never was known such a trade all over England, for the time, as was in the first seven years after the plague, and after the fire of London.
It remains now that I should say something of the merciful part of this terrible judgment. The last week in September, the plague being come to its crisis, its fury began to assuage. I remember my friend Dr. Heath, coming to see me the week before, told me he was sure the violence of it would assuage in a few days; but when I saw the weekly bill of that week, which was the highest of the whole year, being 8,297 of all diseases, I upbraided him with it, and asked him what he had made his judgment from. His answer, however, was not so much to seek as I thought it would have been. "Look you," says he: "by the number which are at this time sick and infected, there should have been twenty thousand dead the last week, instead of eight thousand, if the inveterate mortal contagion had been as it was two weeks ago; for then it ordinarily killed in two or three days, now not under eight or ten; and then not above one in five recovered, whereas I have observed that now not above two in five miscarry. And observe it from me, the next bill will decrease, and you will see many more people recover than used to do; for though a vast multitude are now everywhere infected, and as many every day fall sick, yet there will not so many die as there did, for the malignity of the distemper is abated;" adding that he began now to hope, nay, more than hope, that the infection had passed its crisis, and was going off. And accordingly so it was; for the next week being, as I said, the last in September, the bill decreased almost two thousand.
It is true, the plague was still at a frightful height, and the next bill was no less than 6,460, and the next to that 5,720; but still my friend's observation was just, and it did appear the people did recover faster, and more in number, than they used to do; and indeed if it had not been so, what had been the condition of the city of London? For, according to my friend, there were not fewer than 60,000 people at that time infected, whereof, as above, 20,477 died, and near 40,000 recovered; whereas, had it been as it was before, 50,000 of that number would very probably have died, if not more, and 50,000 more would have sickened; for in a word the whole mass of people began to sicken, and it looked as if none would escape.
But this remark of my friend's appeared more evident in a few weeks more; for the decrease went on, and another week in October it decreased 1,843, so that the number dead of the plague was but 2,665; and the next week it decreased 1,413 more, and yet it was seen plainly that there was abundance of people sick, nay, abundance more than ordinary, and abundance fell sick every day; but, as above, the malignity of the disease abated.
Such is the precipitant disposition of our people (whether it is so or not all over the world, that is none of my particular business to inquire; but I saw it apparently here), that, as upon the first sight of the infection they shunned one another, and fled from one another's houses and from the city with an unaccountable, and, as I thought, unnecessary fright, so now, upon this notion spreading, viz., that the distemper was not so catching as formerly, and that if it was catched it was not so mortal, and seeing abundance of people who really fell sick recover again daily, they took to such a precipitant courage, and grew so entirely regardless of themselves and of the infection, that they made no more of the plague than of an ordinary fever, nor indeed so much. They not only went boldly into company with those who had tumors and carbuncles upon them that were running, and consequently contagious, but eat and drank with them, nay, into their houses to visit them, and even, as I was told, into their very chambers where they lay sick.
This I could not see rational. My friend Dr. Heath allowed, and it was plain to experience, that the distemper was as catching as ever, and as many fell sick, but only he alleged that so many of those that fell sick did not die; but I think that while many did die, and that at best the distemper itself was very terrible, the sores and swellings very tormenting, and the danger of death not left out of the circumstance of sickness, though not so frequent as before,—all those things, together with the exceeding tediousness of the cure, the loathsomeness of the disease, and many other articles, were enough to deter any man living from a dangerous mixture with the sick people, and make them as anxious almost to avoid the infection as before.
Nay, there was another thing which made the mere catching of the distemper frightful, and that was the terrible burning of the caustics which the surgeons laid on the swellings to bring them to break and to run; without which the danger of death was very great, even to the last; also the insufferable torment of the swellings, which, though it might not make people raving and distracted, as they were before, and as I have given several instances of already, yet they put the patient to inexpressible torment; and those that fell into it, though they did escape with life, yet they made bitter complaints of those that had told them there was no danger, and sadly repented their rashness and folly in venturing to run into the reach of it.
Nor did this unwary conduct of the people end here; for a great many that thus cast off their cautions suffered more deeply still, and though many escaped, yet many died; and at least it had this public mischief attending it, that it made the decrease of burials slower than it would otherwise have been; for, as this notion ran like lightning through the city, and the people's heads were possessed with it, even as soon as the first great decrease in the bills appeared, we found that the two next bills did not decrease in proportion: the reason I take to be the people's running so rashly into danger, giving up all their former cautions and care, and all shyness which they used to practice, depending that the sickness would not reach them, or that, if it did, they should not die.
The physicians opposed this thoughtless humor of the people with all their might, and gave out printed directions, spreading them all over the city and suburbs, advising the people to continue reserved, and to use still the utmost caution in their ordinary conduct, notwithstanding the decrease of the distemper; terrifying them with the danger of bringing a relapse upon the whole city, and telling them how such a relapse might be more fatal and dangerous than the whole visitation that had been already; with many arguments and reasons to explain and prove that part to them, and which are too long to repeat here.
But it was all to no purpose. The audacious creatures were so possessed with the first joy, and so surprised with the satisfaction of seeing a vast decrease in the weekly bills, that they were impenetrable by any new terrors, and would not be persuaded but that the bitterness of death was passed; and it was to no more purpose to talk to them than to an east wind; but they opened shops, went about streets, did business, and conversed with anybody that came in their way to converse with, whether with business or without, neither inquiring of their health, or so much as being apprehensive of any danger from them, though they knew them not to be sound.
This imprudent, rash conduct cost a great many their lives who had with great care and caution shut themselves up, and kept retired, as it were, from all mankind, and had by that means, under God's providence, been preserved through all the heat of that infection.
This rash and foolish conduct of the people went so far, that the ministers took notice to them of it, and laid before them both the folly and danger of it; and this checked it a little, so that they grew more cautious. But it had another effect, which they could not check: for as the first rumor had spread, not over the city only, but into the country, it had the like effect; and the people were so tired with being so long from London, and so eager to come back, that they flocked to town without fear or forecast, and began to show themselves in the streets as if all the danger was over. It was indeed surprising to see it; for though there died still from a thousand to eighteen hundred a week, yet the people flocked to town as if all had been well.
The consequence of this was, that the bills increased again four hundred the very first week in November; and, if I might believe the physicians, there were above three thousand fell sick that week, most of them newcomers too.
One John Cock, a barber in St. Martin's-le-Grand, was an eminent example of this (I mean of the hasty return of the people when the plague was abated). This John Cock had left the town with his whole family, and locked up his house, and was gone into the country, as many others did; and, finding the plague so decreased in November that there died but 905 per week of all diseases, he ventured home again. He had in his family ten persons; that is to say, himself and wife, five children, two apprentices, and a maidservant. He had not been returned to his house above a week, and began to open his shop and carry on his trade, but the distemper broke out in his family, and within about five days they all died except one: that is to say, himself, his wife, all his five children, and his two apprentices; and only the maid remained alive.
But the mercy of God was greater to the rest than we had reason to expect; for the malignity, as I have said, of the distemper was spent, the contagion was exhausted, and also the wintry weather came on apace, and the air was clear and cold, with some sharp frosts; and this increasing still, most of those that had fallen sick recovered, and the health of the city began to return. There were indeed some returns of the distemper, even in the month of December, and the bills increased near a hundred; but it went off again, and so in a short while things began to return to their own channel. And wonderful it was to see how populous the city was again all on a sudden; so that a stranger could not miss the numbers that were lost, neither was there any miss of the inhabitants as to their dwellings. Few or no empty houses were to be seen, or, if there were some, there was no want of tenants for them.
I wish I could say, that, as the city had a new face, so the manners of the people had a new appearance. I doubt not but there were many that retained a sincere sense of their deliverance, and that were heartily thankful to that Sovereign Hand that had protected them in so dangerous a time. It would be very uncharitable to judge otherwise in a city so populous, and where the people were so devout as they were here in the time of the visitation itself; but, except what of this was to be found in particular families and faces, it must be acknowledged that the general practice of the people was just as it was before, and very little difference was to be seen.
Some, indeed, said things were worse; that the morals of the people declined from this very time; that the people, hardened by the danger they had been in, like seamen after a storm is over, were more wicked and more stupid, more bold and hardened in their vices and immoralities, than they were before; but I will not carry it so far, neither. It would take up a history of no small length to give a particular of all the gradations by which the course of things in this city came to be restored again, and to run in their own channel as they did before.
Some parts of England were now infected as violently as London had been. The cities of Norwich, Peterborough, Lincoln, Colchester, and other places, were now visited, and the magistrates of London began to set rules for our conduct as to corresponding with those cities. It is true, we could not pretend to forbid their people coming to London, because it was impossible to know them asunder; so, after many consultations, the lord mayor and court of aldermen were obliged to drop it. All they could do was to warn and caution the people not to entertain in their houses, or converse with, any people who they knew came from such infected places.
But they might as well have talked to the air; for the people of London thought themselves so plague-free now, that they were past all admonitions. They seemed to depend upon it that the air was restored, and that the air was like a man that had had the smallpox,—not capable of being infected again. This revived that notion that the infection was all in the air; that there was no such thing as contagion from the sick people to the sound; and so strongly did this whimsey prevail among people, that they run altogether promiscuously, sick and well. Not the Mohammedans, who, prepossessed with the principle of predestination, value nothing of contagion, let it be in what it will, could be more obstinate than the people of London. They that were perfectly sound, and came out of the wholesome air, as we call it, into the city, made nothing of going into the same houses and chambers, nay, even into the same beds, with those that had the distemper upon them, and were not recovered.
Some, indeed, paid for their audacious boldness with the price of their lives. An infinite number fell sick, and the physicians had more work than ever, only with this difference, that more of their patients recovered, that is to say, they generally recovered; but certainly there were more people infected and fell sick now, when there did not die above a thousand or twelve hundred a week, than there was when there died five or six thousand a week, so entirely negligent were the people at that time in the great and dangerous case of health and infection, and so ill were they able to take or except of the advice of those who cautioned them for their good.
The people being thus returned, as it were, in general, it was very strange to find, that, in their inquiring after their friends, some whole families were so entirely swept away that there was no remembrance of them left. Neither was anybody to be found to possess or show any title to that little they had left; for in such cases what was to be found was generally embezzled and purloined, some gone one way, some another.
It was said such abandoned effects came to the King as the universal heir; upon which we are told, and I suppose it was in part true, that the King granted all such as deodands to the lord mayor and court of aldermen of London, to be applied to the use of the poor, of whom there were very many. For it is to be observed, that though the occasions of relief and the objects of distress were very many more in the time of the violence of the plague than now, after all was over, yet the distress of the poor was more now a great deal than it was then, because all the sluices of general charity were shut. People supposed the main occasion to be over, and so stopped their hands; whereas particular objects were still very moving, and the distress of those that were poor was very great indeed.
Though the health of the city was now very much restored, yet foreign trade did not begin to stir; neither would foreigners admit our ships into their ports for a great while. As for the Dutch, the misunderstandings between our court and them had broken out into a war the year before, so that our trade that way was wholly interrupted; but Spain and Portugal, Italy and Barbary, as also Hamburg, and all the ports in the Baltic,—these were all shy of us a great while, and would not restore trade with us for many months.
The distemper sweeping away such multitudes, as I have observed, many if not all of the outparishes were obliged to make new burying grounds, besides that I have mentioned in Bunhill Fields, some of which were continued, and remain in use to this day; but others were left off, and, which I confess I mention with some reflection, being converted into other uses, or built upon afterwards, the dead bodies were disturbed, abused, dug up again, some even before the flesh of them was perished from the bones, and removed like dung or rubbish to other places. Some of those which came within the reach of my observations are as follows:—
First, A piece of ground beyond Goswell Street, near Mountmill, being some of the remains of the old lines or fortifications of the city, where abundance were buried promiscuously from the parishes of Aldersgate, Clerkenwell, and even out of the city. This ground, as I take it, was since made a physic garden, and, after that, has been built upon.
Second, A piece of ground just over the Black Ditch, as it was then called, at the end of Holloway Lane, in Shoreditch Parish. It has been since made a yard for keeping hogs and for other ordinary uses, but is quite out of use as a burying ground.
Third, The upper end of Hand Alley, in Bishopsgate Street, which was then a green field, and was taken in particularly for Bishopsgate Parish, though many of the carts out of the city brought their dead thither also, particularly out of the parish of St. Allhallows-on-the-Wall. This place I cannot mention without much regret. It was, as I remember, about two or three years after the plague was ceased, that Sir Robert Clayton came to be possessed of the ground. It was reported, how true I know not, that it fell to the King for want of heirs (all those who had any right to it being carried off by the pestilence), and that Sir Robert Clayton obtained a grant of it from King Charles II. But however he came by it, certain it is the ground was let out to build on, or built upon by his order. The first house built upon it was a large fair house, still standing, which faces the street or way now called Hand Alley, which, though called an alley, is as wide as a street. The houses in the same row with that house northward are built on the very same ground where the poor people were buried; and the bodies, on opening the ground for the foundations, were dug up, some of them remaining so plain to be seen, that the women's skulls were distinguished by their long hair, and of others the flesh was not quite perished; so that the people began to exclaim loudly against it, and some suggested that it might endanger a return of the contagion; after which the bones and bodies, as fast as they came at them, were carried to another part of the same ground, and thrown altogether into a deep pit, dug on purpose, which now is to be known in that it is not built on, but is a passage to another house at the upper end of Rose Alley, just against the door of a meetinghouse, which has been built there many years since; and the ground is palisadoed off from the rest of the passage in a little square. There lie the bones and remains of near two thousand bodies, carried by the dead carts to their grave in that one year.
Fourth, Besides this, there was a piece of ground in Moorfields, by the going into the street which is now called Old Bethlem, which was enlarged much, though not wholly taken in, on the same occasion.
N.B. The author of this journal lies buried in that very ground, being at his own desire, his sister having been buried there a few years before.
Fifth, Stepney Parish, extending itself from the east part of London to the north, even to the very edge of Shoreditch churchyard, had a piece of ground taken in to bury their dead, close to the said churchyard; and which, for that very reason, was left open, and is since, I suppose, taken into the same churchyard. And they had also two other burying places in Spittlefields,—one where since a chapel or tabernacle has been built for ease to this great parish, and another in Petticoat Lane.
There were no less than five other grounds made use of for the parish of Stepney at that time; one where now stands the parish church of St. Paul, Shadwell, and the other where now stands the parish church of St. John, at Wapping, both which had not the names of parishes at that time, but were belonging to Stepney Parish.
I could name many more; but these coming within my particular knowledge, the circumstance, I thought, made it of use to record them. From the whole, it may be observed that they were obliged in this time of distress to take in new burying grounds in most of the outparishes for laying the prodigious numbers of people which died in so short a space of time; but why care was not taken to keep those places separate from ordinary uses, that so the bodies might rest undisturbed, that I cannot answer for, and must confess I think it was wrong. Who were to blame, I know not.
I should have mentioned that the Quakers had at that time also a burying ground set apart to their use, and which they still make use of; and they had also a particular dead cart to fetch their dead from their houses. And the famous Solomon Eagle, who, as I mentioned before, had predicted the plague as a judgment, and run naked through the streets, telling the people that it was come upon them to punish them for their sins, had his own wife died the very next day of the plague, and was carried, one of the first, in the Quakers' dead cart to their new burying ground.
I might have thronged this account with many more remarkable things which occurred in the time of the infection, and particularly what passed between the lord mayor and the court, which was then at Oxford, and what directions were from time to time received from the government for their conduct on this critical occasion; but really the court concerned themselves so little, and that little they did was of so small import, that I do not see it of much moment to mention any part of it here, except that of appointing a monthly fast in the city, and the sending the royal charity to the relief of the poor, both which I have mentioned before.
Great was the reproach thrown upon those physicians who left their patients during the sickness; and, now they came to town again, nobody cared to employ them. They were called deserters, and frequently bills were set up on their doors, and written, "Here is a doctor to be let!" So that several of those physicians were fain for a while to sit still and look about them, or at least remove their dwellings and set up in new places and among new acquaintance. The like was the case with the clergy, whom the people were indeed very abusive to, writing verses and scandalous reflections upon them; setting upon the church door, "Here is a pulpit to be let," or sometimes "to be sold," which was worse.
It was not the least of our misfortunes, that with our infection, when it ceased, there did not cease the spirit of strife and contention, slander and reproach, which was really the great troubler of the nation's peace before. It was said to be the remains of the old animosities which had so lately involved us all in blood and disorder; but as the late act of indemnity had lain asleep the quarrel itself, so the government had recommended family and personal peace, upon all occasions, to the whole nation.
But it could not be obtained; and particularly after the ceasing of the plague in London, when any one had seen the condition which the people had been in, and how they caressed one another at that time, promised to have more charity for the future, and to raise no more reproaches,—I say, any one that had seen them then would have thought they would have come together with another spirit at last. But, I say, it could not be obtained. The quarrel remained, the Church and the Presbyterians were incompatible. As soon as the plague was removed, the dissenting ousted ministers who had supplied the pulpits which were deserted by the incumbents, retired. They could expect no other but that they should immediately fall upon them and harass them with their penal laws; accept their preaching while they were sick, and persecute them as soon as they were recovered again. This even we that were of the Church thought was hard, and could by no means approve of it.
But it was the government, and we could say nothing to hinder it. We could only say it was not our doing, and we could not answer for it.
On the other hand, the dissenters reproaching those ministers of the Church with going away, and deserting their charge, abandoning the people in their danger, and when they had most need of comfort, and the like,—this we could by no means approve; for all men have not the same faith and the same courage, and the Scripture commands us to judge the most favorably, and according to charity.
A plague is a formidable enemy, and is armed with terrors that every man is not sufficiently fortified to resist, or prepared to stand the shock against. It is very certain that a great many of the clergy who were in circumstances to do it withdrew, and fled for the safety of their lives; but it is true, also, that a great many of them staid, and many of them fell in the calamity, and in the discharge of their duty.
It is true, some of the dissenting turned-out ministers staid, and their courage is to be commended and highly valued; but these were not abundance. It cannot be said that they all staid, and that none retired into the country, any more than it can be said of the Church clergy that they all went away. Neither did all those that went away go without substituting curates and others in their places, to do the offices needful, and to visit the sick as far as it was practicable. So that, upon the whole, an allowance of charity might have been made on both sides, and we should have considered that such a time as this of 1665 is not to be paralleled in history, and that it is not the stoutest courage that will always support men in such cases. I had not said this, but had rather chosen to record the courage and religious zeal of those of both sides who did hazard themselves for the service of the poor people in their distress, without remembering that any failed in their duty on either side; but the want of temper among us has made the contrary to this necessary: some that staid, not only boasting too much of themselves, but reviling those that fled, branding them with cowardice, deserting their flocks, and acting the part of the hireling, and the like. I recommend it to the charity of all good people to look back and reflect duly upon the terrors of the time; and whoever does so will see that it is not an ordinary strength that could support it. It was not like appearing in the head of an army, or charging a body of horse in the field; but it was charging death itself on his pale horse. To stay was indeed to die; and it could be esteemed nothing less, especially as things appeared at the latter end of August and the beginning of September, and as there was reason to expect them at that time; for no man expected, and I dare say believed, that the distemper would take so sudden a turn as it did, and fall immediately two thousand in a week, when there was such a prodigious number of people sick at that time as it was known there was; and then it was that many shifted away that had staid most of the time before.
Besides, if God gave strength to some more than to others, was it to boast of their ability to abide the stroke, and upbraid those that had not the same gift and support, or ought they not rather to have been humble and thankful if they were rendered more useful than their brethren?
I think it ought to be recorded to the honor of such men, as well clergy as physicians, surgeons, apothecaries, magistrates, and officers of every kind, as also all useful people, who ventured their lives in discharge of their duty, as most certainly all such as staid did to the last degree; and several of these kinds did not only venture, but lost their lives on that sad occasion.
I was once making a list of all such (I mean of all those professions and employments who thus died, as I call it, in the way of their duty), but it was impossible for a private man to come at a certainty in the particulars. I only remember that there died sixteen clergymen, two aldermen, five physicians, thirteen surgeons, within the city and liberties, before the beginning of September. But this being, as I said before, the crisis and extremity of the infection, it can be no complete list. As to inferior people, I think there died six and forty constables and headboroughs in the two parishes of Stepney and Whitechapel; but I could not carry my list on, for when the violent rage of the distemper, in September, came upon us, it drove us out of all measure. Men did then no more die by tale and by number: they might put out a weekly bill, and call them seven or eight thousand, or what they pleased. It is certain they died by heaps, and were buried by heaps; that is to say, without account. And if I might believe some people who were more abroad and more conversant with those things than I (though I was public enough for one that had no more business to do than I had),—I say, if we may believe them, there was not many less buried those first three weeks in September than twenty thousand per week. However the others aver the truth of it, yet I rather choose to keep to the public account. Seven or eight thousand per week is enough to make good all that I have said of the terror of those times; and it is much to the satisfaction of me that write, as well as those that read, to be able to say that everything is set down with moderation, and rather within compass than beyond it.
Upon all these accounts, I say, I could wish, when we were recovered, our conduct had been more distinguished for charity and kindness, in remembrance of the past calamity, and not so much in valuing ourselves upon our boldness in staying; as if all men were cowards that fly from the hand of God, or that those who stay do not sometimes owe their courage to their ignorance, and despising the hand of their Maker, which is a criminal kind of desperation, and not a true courage.
I cannot but leave it upon record, that the civil officers, such as constables, headboroughs, lord mayor's and sheriff's men, also parish officers, whose business it was to take charge of the poor, did their duties, in general, with as much courage as any, and perhaps with more; because their work was attended with more hazards, and lay more among the poor, who were more subject to be infected, and in the most pitiful plight when they were taken with the infection. But then it must be added, too, that a great number of them died; indeed, it was scarcely possible it should be otherwise.
I have not said one word here about the physic or preparations that were ordinarily made use of on this terrible occasion (I mean we that frequently went abroad up and down the streets, as I did). Much of this was talked of in the books and bills of our quack doctors, of whom I have said enough already. It may, however, be added, that the College of Physicians were daily publishing several preparations, which they had considered of in the process of their practice; and which, being to be had in print, I avoid repeating them for that reason.
One thing I could not help observing,—what befell one of the quacks, who published that he had a most excellent preservative against the plague, which whoever kept about them should never be infected, or liable to infection. This man, who, we may reasonably suppose, did not go abroad without some of this excellent preservative in his pocket, yet was taken by the distemper, and carried off in two or three days.
I am not of the number of the physic haters or physic despisers (on the contrary, I have often mentioned the regard I had to the dictates of my particular friend Dr. Heath); but yet I must acknowledge I made use of little or nothing, except, as I have observed, to keep a preparation of strong scent, to have ready in case I met with anything of offensive smells, or went too near any burying place or dead body.
Neither did I do, what I know some did, keep the spirits high and hot with cordials and wine, and such things, and which, as I observed, one learned physician used himself so much to, as that he could not leave them off when the infection was quite gone, and so became a sot for all his life after.
I remember my friend the doctor used to say that there was a certain set of drugs and preparations which were all certainly good and useful in the case of an infection, out of which or with which physicians might make an infinite variety of medicines, as the ringers of bells make several hundred different rounds of music by the changing and order of sound but in six bells; and that all these preparations shall be really very good. "Therefore," said he, "I do not wonder that so vast a throng of medicines is offered in the present calamity, and almost every physician prescribes or prepares a different thing, as his judgment or experience guides him; but," says my friend, "let all the prescriptions of all the physicians in London be examined, and it will be found that they are all compounded of the same things, with such variations only as the particular fancy of the doctor leads him to; so that," says he, "every man, judging a little of his own constitution and manner of his living, and circumstances of his being infected, may direct his own medicines out of the ordinary drugs and preparations. Only that," says he, "some recommend one thing as most sovereign, and some another. Some," says he, "think that Pill. Ruff., which is called itself the antipestilential pill, is the best preparation that can be made; others think that Venice treacle is sufficient of itself to resist the contagion; and I," says he, "think as both these think, viz., that the first is good to take beforehand to prevent it, and the last, if touched, to expel it." According to this opinion, I several times took Venice treacle, and a sound sweat upon it, and thought myself as well fortified against the infection as any one could be fortified by the power of physic.