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Men of the strongest minds were lost in amazement, when they contemplated this scene of woe and desolation; the weak and the credulous became the dupes of their own fears and imaginations. Tales the most improbable, and predictions the most terrific, were circulated. Numbers assembled at different cemeteries to behold the ghosts of the dead walk round the pit in which their bodies had been deposited ; and crowds believed that they saw in the heavens a sword of flame, stretching from Westminster to the Tower. To add to their terrors, came the fanatics, who felt themselves inspired to act the part of prophets. One of these walked through the city, in a state of nudity, having on his head a pan of burning coals, and denouncing the judgment of God on the sinful inhabitants. Another, assuming the character of Jonah, proclaimed aloud, as he passed, “ Yet forty days, and London shall be destroyed !” And a third might be met, sometimes by day, sometimes by night, advancing with a hurried step, and exclaiming with a deep and sepulchral voice, “ Oh! the great and dreadful God!”
“ One time,” says Defoe, in his narrative of this terrible calamity, “ seeing a crowd of people in the street, I joined with them to satisfy my curiosity, and found them all staring up into the air to see what a woman told them appeared plain to her, which was an angel clothed in white, with a fiery sword in his hand, waving or brandishing it over his head. She described every part of the figure to the life, showed them the motion and the form, and the poor people came into it so eagerly, and with so much readiness ! · Yes, I see it all plainly,' says one; there 's the sword as plain as
can be !' Another saw the angel. One saw his very face, and cried out, “What a glorious creature he was !' One saw one thing, and one another. I looked as earnestly as the rest, but, perhaps, not with so much willingness to be imposed upon ; and I said, indeed, that I could see but a white cloud, bright on one side by the shining of the sun on the other part. The woman endeavoured to show it me, but could not make me confess. She turned to me, called me a profane fel. low and a scoffer; told me that it was a time of God's anger, and dreadful judgments were approaching, and that despisers, such as I, should wonder and perish. The people about her seemed disgusted as well as she, and I found there was no persuading them that I did not laugh at them, and that I should be rather mobbed by them than be able to undeceive them. So I left them, and this appearance passed for as real as the blazing star itself." *
During the months of July and August, the weather was sultry, the heat more and more oppressive. The eastern parishes, which at first had been spared, became the chief seat of the pestilence; and the more substantial citizens, who had hitherto escaped, suffered in common with their less opulent neighbours. In many places the regulations of the magistrates could no longer be enforced. The nights did not suffice for the burial of the dead, who were now borne in coffins to their
* It is proper to inform the reader, that Defoe was a small child at the time of this event, and that his own share in the adventures which make his narrative of the plague so interesting is only invention. Yet he is allowed by every one to have described all the scenes exhibited by this terrible visitation with wonderful accuracy. - The “blazing star which appeared about this time and increased the terror of the people.
was a comet
graves at all hours of the day; and it was deemed inhuman to shut up the dwellings of the infected poor, whose families must have perished through want, had they not been permitted to go and seek relief. London presented a wide and heart-rending scene of misery and desolation. Rows of houses stood tenantless and open to the winds ; others, in almost equal numbers, exhibited the red cross flaming on the doors. The chief thoroughfares, so lately trodden by the feet of thousands, were overgrown with grass. The few individuals who ventured abroad walked in the middle of the street, and, when they met, turned to opposite sides, to avoid contact with each other. But, if the soli. tude and stillness of the streets impressed the mind with awe, there was something yet more appalling in the sounds which occasionally burst on the ear. moment were heard the ravings of delirium, or the wail of woe, from the infected dwellings; at another, the merry song, or the loud and careless laugh, issuing from the wassailers at the tavern, or the inmates of the brothel. Men became so familiarized with the form, that they steeled their feelings against the terrors, of death. They waited each for his turn with the resignation of the Christian or the indifference of the Stoic. Some devoted themselves to exercises of piety, others sought relief in the riot of dissipation and the recklessness of despair.
September came; the heat of the atmosphere began to abate, but, contrary to expectation, the mortality
increased. Formerly a hope of recovery might be indulged ; now infection was the certain harbinger of death, which followed generally in the course of three days, often within the space of twenty-four hours. The privy council ordered an experiment to be tried, which was grounded on the practice of former times. To dissipate the pestilential miasm, fires of sea-coal, in the proportion of one fire to every twelve houses, were kindled in every street, court, and alley of London and Westminster. They were kept burning three days and nights, and were at last extinguished by a heavy and continuous fall of rain. The next bill exhibited a considerable reduction in the amount of deaths; and the survivors congratulated each other on the cheering prospect. But the cup was soon dashed from their lips, and in the following week, more than ten thousand victims, a number hitherto unknown, sunk under the augmented violence of the disease. Yet even now, when hope had yielded to despair, their deliverance was at hand. The high winds, which usually accompany the autumnal equinox, cooled and purified the air; the fever, though equally contagious, assumed a less malignant form; and its ravages were necessarily more confined, from the diminution of the population on which it had hitherto fed. The weekly burials successively decreased from thousands to hundreds; and in the beginning of December, seventy-three parishes were pronounced clear of the disease. The intelligence was hailed with joy by the emigrants, who returned in crowds to take possession of their homes, and resume their usual occupations. In February, the court was once more fix
ed at Whitehall, and the nobility and gentry followed the footsteps of the sovereign. Though more than one hundred thousand individuals are said to have perished, yet in a short time the chasm in the population was no longer discernible.
THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON.
The year which followed the calamity described in the preceding pages was distinguished by another great disaster in London. On the night of the 2d of September, 1666, a fire broke out in a bake-house in Pudding Lane, near Fish Street, one of the most crowd. ed districts of the city. The spot was surrounded by wooden buildings with tarred roofs, and a long succes. sion of warm and fair weather had dried these combustible materials to such a degree that they took fire with inconceivable rapidity. The shops and stores in the neighbourhood were filled with the most inflammable materials, and the conflagration quickly spread, and raged so furiously, that the inhabitants were panicstruck at the beginning, and stood amazed, without the power to use prompt and energetic means for checking the fire. Moreover, by some accident which is not explained, the pipes for conducting water from the New River were found empty, and the machinery for raising water from the Thames, being near the spot where the fire broke out, was soon burned. At the approach of day, the wind, which had sprung up from