Today’s installment concludes The Great London Plague,
our selection from History of the Plague in London by Daniel Defoe.
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Previously in The Great London Plague.
I was indeed shocked at the whole sight; it almost overwhelmed me, and I went away with my heart full of the most afflicting thoughts, such as I cannot describe. Just at my going out at the church-yard and turning up the street toward my own house I saw another cart with links and a bellman going before, coming out of Harrow Alley, in the Butcher Row, on the other side of the way, and being, as I perceived, very full of dead bodies, it went directly toward the church; I stood awhile, but I had no desire to go back again to see the same dismal scene over again, so I went directly home, where I could not but consider, with thankfulness, the risk I had run.
Here the poor unhappy gentleman’s grief came into my head again, and, indeed, I could not but shed tears in reflecting upon it, perhaps more than he did himself; but his case lay so heavy upon my mind that I could not constrain myself from going again to the Pye tavern, resolving to inquire what became of him. It was by this time one o’clock in the morning and the poor gentleman was still there; the truth was the people of the house, knowing him, had kept him there all the night, notwithstanding the danger of being infected by him, though it appeared the man was perfectly sound himself.
It is with regret that I take notice of this tavern: the people were civil, mannerly, and obliging enough, and had till this time kept their house open and their trade going on, though not so very publicly as formerly; but a dreadful set of fellows frequented their house, who, in the midst of all this horror, met there every night, behaved with all the revelling and roaring extravagances as are usual for such people to do at other times, and, indeed, to such an offensive degree that the very master and mistress of the house grew first ashamed and then terrified at them.
They sat generally in a room next the street, and, as they always kept late hours, so when the dead-cart came across the street end to go into Houndsditch, which was in view of the tavern windows, they would frequently open the windows as soon as they heard the bell, and look out at them; and as they might often hear sad lamentations of people in the streets or at their windows as the carts went along, they would make their impudent mocks and jeers at them, especially if they heard the poor people call upon God to have mercy upon them, as many would do at those times in passing along the streets.
These gentlemen, being something disturbed with the clatter of bringing the poor gentleman into the house, as above, were first angry and very high with the master of the house for suffering such a fellow, as they called him, to be brought out of the grave into their house; but being answered that the man was a neighbor, and that he was sound, but overwhelmed with the calamity of his family, and the like, they turned their anger into ridiculing the man and his sorrow for his wife and children; taunting him with want of courage to leap into the great pit and go to heaven, as they jeeringly expressed it, along with them; adding some profane and blasphemous expressions.
They were at this vile work when I came back to the house, and as far as I could see, though the man sat still, mute and disconsolate, and their affronts could not divert his sorrow, yet he was both grieved and offended at their words: upon this, I gently reproved them, being well enough acquainted with their characters, and not unknown in person to two of them. They immediately fell upon me with ill language and oaths: asked me what I did out of my grave at such a time when so many honester men were carried into the church-yard? and why I was not at home saying my prayers till the dead-cart came for me?
I was indeed astonished at the impudence of the men, though not at all discomposed at their treatment of me. However, I kept my temper. I told them that though I defied them or any man in the world to tax me with any dishonesty, yet I acknowledged that in this terrible judgment of God many a better than I was swept away and carried to his grave. But to answer their question directly, it was true that I was mercifully preserved by that great God whose name they had blasphemed and taken in vain by cursing and swearing in a dreadful manner; and that I believed I was preserved in particular, among other ends of his goodness, that I might reprove them for their audacious boldness in behaving in such a manner and in such an awful time as this was; especially for their jeering and mocking at an honest gentleman and a neighbor who they saw was overwhelmed with sorrow for the sufferings with which it had pleased God to afflict his family.
They received all reproof with the utmost contempt and made the greatest mockery that was possible for them to do at me, giving me all the opprobrious, insolent scoffs that they could think of for preaching to them, as they called it, which, indeed, grieved me rather than angered me. I went away, however, blessing God in my mind that I had not spared them though they had insulted me so much.
They continued this wretched course three or four days after this, continually mocking and jeering at all that showed themselves religious or serious, or that were any way us; and I was informed they flouted in the same manner at the good people who, notwithstanding the contagion, met at the church, fasted, and prayed God to remove his hand from them.
I say, they continued this dreadful course three or four days — I think it was no more–when one of them, particularly he who asked the poor gentleman what he did out of his grave, was struck with the plague and died in a most deplorable manner; and in a word, they were every one of them carried into the great pit which I have mentioned above, before it was quite filled up, which was not above a fortnight or thereabout.
This ends our series of passages on The Great London Plague by Daniel Defoe from his book History of the Plague in London. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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