[This book by Daniel Defoe is not broken up into chapters, so I am creating arbitrary (there, I admit it) breaks wherever it seems logical to do so. At times the paragraphs run terribly long, so I also take the liberty (cheeky blighter that I am) of inserting some paragraph breaks. I hope you understand! I am just trying to make it easier for you to read and to follow along. An opportunity to discuss each episode of Defoe's account follows in the comments area. Bear in mind that as a newspaper man, Defoe was not above inserting fabricated details or quotes or descriptions, or anything else that might make for a good story. See the Introduction to the series for an examination of Defoe's literary and historical merits.
In Part One, the numbers of victims of the plague seem to ebb and flow, lulling the people into a false sense of safety as they hoped the plague was abating. But then they find out that many deaths were wrongly attributed to other causes in an attempt to prevent mass panic. Now the truth comes out, and the number of victims continues to climb.]
The face of London was now, indeed, strangely altered; I mean the whole mass of buildings, city liberties, suburbs, Westminster, Southwark, and altogether; for as to the particular part called the city, or within the walls, that was not yet much infected. But in the whole, the face of things, I say, was much altered. Sorrow and sadness sat upon every face, and though some part were not yet overwhelmed, yet all looked deeply concerned; and as we saw it apparently coming on, so every one looked on himself and his family as in the utmost danger.
Were it possible to represent those times exactly to those that did not see them, and give the reader due ideas of the horror that everywhere presented itself, it must make just impressions upon their minds, and fill them with surprise. London might well be said to be all in tears. The mourners did not go about the streets, indeed; for nobody put on black, or made a formal dress of mourning for their nearest friends; but the voice of mourning was truly heard in the streets.
The shrieks of women and children at the windows and doors of their houses, where their nearest relations were perhaps dying, or just dead, were so frequent to be heard as we passed the streets, that it was enough to pierce he stoutest heart in the world to hear them. Tears and lamentations were seen almost in every house, especially in the first part of the visitation; for towards the latter end, men's hearts were hardened, and death was so always before their eyes that they did not so much concern themselves for the loss of their friends, expecting that themselves should be summoned the next hour.
Business led me out sometimes to the other end of the town, even when the sickness was chiefly there. And as the thing was new to me, as well as to everybody else, it was a most surprising thing to see those streets, which were usually so thronged, now grown desolate, and so few people to be seen in them, that if I had been a stranger, and at a loss for my way, I might sometimes have gone the length of a whole street, I mean of the by-streets, and see nobody to direct me, except watchmen set at the doors of such houses as were shut up; of which I shall speak presently.
One day, being at that part of the town on some special business, curiosity led me to observe things more than usually; and indeed I walked a great way where I had no business. I went to Holborn, and there the street was full of people. But they walked in the middle of the great street, neither on one side or other, because, as I suppose, they would not mingle with anybody that came out of houses, or meet with smells and scents from houses that might be infected.
The inns of court were all shut up, nor were very many of the lawyers in the Temple*, or Lincoln's Inn, or Gray's Inn, to be seen there.
[* The four inns of court in London which have the exclusive right of calling to the bar, are the Inner Temple, the Middle Temple, Lincoln's Inn, and Gray's Inn. The Temple is so called because it was once the home of the knights Templars.]
When I speak of rows of houses being shut up, I do not mean shut up by the magistrates, but that great numbers of persons followed by the court, by the necessity of their employments, and other dependencies; and as others retired, really frighted with the distemper, it was a mere desolating of some of the streets. But the fright was not yet near so great in the city, abstractedly so called, and particularly because, though they were at first in a most inexpressible consternation, yet, as I have observed that the distemper intermitted often at first, so they were, as it were, alarmed and unalarmed again, and this several times, till it began to be familiar to them; and that even when it appeared violent, yet seeing it did not presently spread in to the city, or the east or south parts, the people began to take courage, and to be as I may say, a little hardened. It is true, a vast many people fled, as I have observed; yet they were chiefly from the west end of the town, and from that we call the heart of the city, that is to say, among the wealthiest of the people, and such persons as were unincumbered with trades and business. But of the rest, the generality staid, and seemed to abide the worst; so that in the place we call the liberties, and in the suburbs, in Southwark, and in the east part, such as Wapping, Ratcliff, Stepney, Rotherhithe, and the like, the people generally staid, except here and there a few wealthy families, who, as above, did not depend upon their business.
It must not be forgot that the city and suburbs were prodigiously full of people at the time of this visitation, I mean at the time that it began. For though I have lived to see a further increase, and mighty throngs of people settling in London, more than ever; yet we had always a notion that numbers of people which – the wars being over, the armies disbanded, and the royal family the monarchy being restored – had flocked to London to settle in business, or to depend upon and attend the court for the rewards of services, perferments, and the like, was such that town was computed to have in it above a hundred thousand people more than ever it held before. Nay, some took upon them to say it had twice as many, because all the ruined families of the royal family flocked hither, all the soldiers set up trades here, and abundance of families settled here. Again, the court brought with it a great flux of pride and new fashions; all people were gay and luxurious, and the joy of the restoration had brought a vast many families to London.
You can read the Introduction at: http://minnieapolis.newsvine.com/_news/2010/09/22/5157294-the-history-of-the-plague-in-london-by-daniel-defoe-intro-