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The History of the Great Plague in London is one of that particular class of compositions which hovers between romance and history. Undoubtedly De Foe embodied a number of traditions upon this subject with what he might actually have read, or of which he might otherwise have received direct evidence. This dreadful disease, which, in the language of Scripture, might be described as “the pestilence which walketh in darkness, and the destruction that wasteth at noon-day," was indeed a fit subject for a pencil so veracious as that of De Foe. Had he not been the author of Robinson Crusoe, De Foe would have deserved immortality for the genius which he has displayed in this work.
SIR WALTER SCOTT.
It was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard, in ordinary discourse, that the plague was returned again in Holland; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus. It mattered not from whence it came; but all agreed it was come into Holland again.
We had no such thing as printed newspapers in those days, to spread rumours and reports of things, and to improve them by the invention of men, as I have lived to see practised since. But such things as those were gathered from the letters of merchants, and others, who corresponded abroad, and from them was handed about by word of mouth only; so that things did not spread instantly over the whole nation, as they do now. But it seems that the government had a true account of it, and several counsels were held about ways to prevent its coming over, but all was kept very private. Hence it was that this rumour died off again, and people began to forget it, as a thing we were very little concerned in, and that we hoped was not true; till the latter end of November, or the beginning of December, 1664, when two men, said to be Frenchmen, died of the plague in Longacre, or rather at the upper end of Drury-lane. The family
they were in, endeavoured to conceal it as much as possible; but as it had gotten some rent in the discourse of the neighbourhood, the secretaries of state got knowledge of it. And concerning themselves to inquire about it, in order to be certain of the truth, twoʻphysicians and a surgeon were ordered to go to the house, and make inspection. This they did, and finding evident tokens of the sickness upon both the bodies that were dead, they gave their opinions, publicly, that they died of the plague. Whereupon it was given in to the parish clerk, and he also returned them to the hall; and it was printed in thc weekly bill of mortality in the usual manner, thus:
PLAGUE, 2. PARISAES INFECTED, 1. The people showed a great concern at this, and began to be alarmed all over the town, and the more, because in the last week in December, 1664, another man died in the same house, and of the same distemper: and then we were easy again for about six weeks, when none hariny died with any marks of infection, it was said the distemper was gone; but after that, I think it was about the 12th of February, another died in another house, but in the same parish, and in the
This turned the people's eyes pretty much towards that end of the town; and the weekly bills showing an increase of burials in St. Giles's parish more than usual, it began to be suspected that the plagne was among the people at that end of the town; and that many had died of it, though they had taken care to keep it as much from the knowledge of the public as possible. This possessed the heads of the people very much, and few cared to go through Drury-lane, or the other streets suspected, unless they had extraordinary business, that obliged them to it.
This increase of the bills stood thus; the usual number of burials in a week, in the parishes of St. Giles's in the Fields, and St. Andrew's, Holborn, were from twelve to seventeen or nineteen each, few more or less ; but from the time that the plague first began in St Giles's parish, it was observed that the ordinary burials increased in number considerably. For example: