Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

the east, blew very strong, and hourly increased in violence. The fire now advanced with frightful veloci. ty, leaping from roof to roof through the air, and fastening upon houses at a great distance. The Lord Mayor, who had it in his power, by acting with promptness and decision, to arrest the progress of the flames, exhibited nothing but timidity and irresolution. A party of sailors suggested to him the expedient of blowing up houses with gunpowder; the plan was approved, but that functionary thought himself obliged to wait till he could obtain the consent of the owner; and before this could be done the flames had anticipated him.

The ensuing night, “if night,” says an eyewitness, “it could be called, which was light as day for ten miles round,” presented a most magnificent, but appalling spectacle. Above ten thousand buildings were on fire at one moment, sending upward a pyramid of flame that could be seen for forty miles. The whole sky was in a bright glow, as if the grand cope of heaven were embraced in the conflagration. A column of flame a mile in diameter now moved with a terrific and irresistible march from east to west; and every blast of the furious wind scattered through the air innumerable flakes of fire, which, falling on inflammable substances, kindled new conflagrations. The roaring of the flames, which resembled thunder, the scorching heat, the lurid glare of the atmosphere, the crash of falling towers, steeples, and walls; the hurry and clamor of tumultuous crowds, and the shrieking of the distracted people, all combined to fill every breast with such astonishment and terror as have seldom been exhibited in the history of human calamities.

The consternation was augmented by reports that a conspiracy existed between the Dutch, then at war with England, and the papists and republicans, to burn the whole city. Men were said to have been arrested carrying with them fulminating powders; others to have been seen throwing fire-balls into the houses, as they stole along the streets. The French residents in London, to the number of twenty thousand, were said to have taken up arms, and commenced massacring every Englishman that came in their way. In the general confusion and fright, all these stories were believed, and the terror of the credulous inhabitants was raised to the highest point. The confusion every: where became redoubled. All were mingled together in the greatest disorder; men laboring to extinguish the flames; citizens conveying away their families and goods ; crowds flying from the imaginary massacre ; other crowds in arms hastening to oppose the murderers; and mobs surrounding and ill-treating every stranger, foreigner, and reputed papist, who ventured into the streets.

The fire raged with the greatest fury during four days and nights. 66 The stones of Paul's,” says Evelyn, “flew like grenadoes; the melted lead running down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements glowing with fiery redness, so as no horse nor man was able to tread on them. The air all about was so hot and inflamed, that, at the last, one was not able to approach it, so that they were forced to stand still and let the flames burn on, which they did for near two miles in length and one in breadth. The clouds also of smoke were dismal, and reached, upon compu• tation, near fifty miles in length.” The whole city was now threatened with destruction, and an attempt was made, when too late, to check the progress of the flames by blowing up houses. Large chasms were thus formed in the path of the rushing conflagration; but such was the fury of the wind, that the huge burning flakes were carried across the empty spaces and rendered all such attempts abortive. At length the wind began to subside, and, some very large openings having been made with gunpowder, the further advance of the conflagration was impeded, and it gradually died away, though several months elapsed before the flames were fully quenched.

Two thirds of London were in this manner reduced to ashes; thirteen thousand two hundred houses and eighty-nine churches were consumed ; an immense population was driven into the fields, houseless, and in a state of utter destitution. In the suburbs of the city, more than two hundred thousand people were to be seen lying on the bare ground, or under sheds hastily erected. The government applied all possible means for the relief of these unfortunate people; but it may easily be imagined what an amount of loss and suffering existed beyond the power of public or private charity to mitigate. All sorts of opinions were current for a long while as to the cause of the fire. Many persons were apprehended on suspicion of incendiar. ism; and one man, confessing the fact, was condemned and executed ; but there is no doubt that he was in. sane and innocent. Not a few considered the calamity as a special visitation of the Almighty, and looked no further for its origin. Among other explanations of this sort, was one put forth by certain wise characters, that it was designed as a signal rebuke of the Londoners for their gluttony, which was clearly proved by the fact that it began in Pudding Lane and ended in Pie Corner. The general prejudice against the papists, however, caused the fire to be ascribed to them by the greater part of the people; and on the monument erected to perpetuate the memory of this great calam. ity, which, according to the well-known lines of Pope,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

"pointing to the skies, Like a tall bully, lifts its head and lies,it was recorded, that “the burning of this Protestant city was begun and carried on by the treachery and malice of the Popish faction.” This assertion, although notoriously without a shadow of proof, was allowed to remain till within about ten years, when it was erased by public authority.

THE SOUTH SEA BUBBLE.

The early part of the last century was rendered famous by the number and magnitude of "bubbles," a name given to extravagant and ruinous financial schemes, and tricks of speculation. The most celebrated of all these was the South Sea Bubble, which enriched for a moment vast multitudes of people in England, and then plunged them into hopeless ruin. Fraud, folly, and accident, all combined to pro

!

ment

lam

estani

7 and

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ers,

duce this singular catastrophe. The original scheme con

was projected by Sir John Blunt, a man who was bred the

a scrivener, but who had the invention and boldness Pie

to start a financial project of most gigantic dimensions. Dists,

This was no less than to discharge the national debt the by the instrumentality of the South Sea Company, of

which Blunt was a director. He had the cunning and

plausibility to meet successfully all the objections of Pope the government to the scheme, and a bill was passed

by parliament, in 1720, authorizing the South Sea Company to assume all the public debt.

Blunt had taken the hint of his plan from the famous Mississippi Scheme formed by John Law, which, in the preceding year, had raised such a ferment in France, and entailed ruin upon many thousand families in that kingdom. In the project of Law there was something substantial. An exclusive trade to Louisiana promised some advantages, though the design was defeated by the frantic eagerness of the people. Law himself became the dupe of the French Regent, who transferred the burden of fifteen hundred millions of the king's debts to the shoulders of the subjects, while the projector was sacrificed as the scape-goat of the

political iniquity. The South Sea Scheme promised dered no comntercial advantage of any importance. It was sles," buoyed up by nothing but the folly and rapacity of

individuals, which became so blind and extravagant, cele : that Blunt, with moderate talents, was able to impose

upon the whole nation, and make tools of the other directors of the Company, to serve his own purposes and

those of a few associates. When this projector found prou that the South Sea stock did not rise according to his

[ocr errors]

ancial

which le in

ruin.

a

« VorigeDoorgaan »