Welcome to Part Two of A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, our latest audio adventure in Tales for Our Time and a chronicle of the Great Plague of London that three-and-a-half centuries later will ring very familiar in the age of social distancing and self-quarantining. I thank you for all your kind words about this thirty-fifth monthly yarn for our Mark Steyn Club members, but should add that, if you prefer your plague-year journals a little more raucous, our friend Bob Belvedere has a rocking pandemic hit parade, including at least one of my Songs of the Week and a classic by a certain legendary rocker who is a big fan of SteynOnline.
In tonight's episode of A Journal of the Plague Year our narrator wonders if it's time to get out of town - as many others, including his own brother, are doing:
This hurry of the people was such for some weeks that there was no getting at the Lord Mayor's door without exceeding difficulty; there were such pressing and crowding there to get passes and certificates of health for such as travelled abroad, for without these there was no being admitted to pass through the towns upon the road, or to lodge in any inn. Now, as there had none died in the city for all this time, my Lord Mayor gave certificates of health without any difficulty to all those who lived in the ninety-seven parishes, and to those within the liberties too for a while.
This hurry, I say, continued some weeks, that is to say, all the month of May and June, and the more because it was rumoured that an order of the Government was to be issued out to place turnpikes and barriers on the road to prevent people travelling, and that the towns on the road would not suffer people from London to pass for fear of bringing the infection along with them, though neither of these rumours had any foundation but in the imagination, especially at-first.
The "turnpikes and barriers" are presently going up all over the world, and not just at national borders. In Rome, the government has just banned the populace from fleeing the city for their country homes. In Madrid, friends of mine, having observed the deteriorating situation, decided to hightail it out of there for their rustic retreat. On the edge of the city they ran into one of those "turnpikes and barriers" - a Civil Guard roadblock - and were turned back: They had left it a couple of hours too late. We're in last-train-from-Berlin mode: timing is everything. All these developments of recent days would be familiar to Daniel Defoe.
As for the Lord Mayor's health certificates for "those within the liberties", that's not a reference to freemen of England or the like. "Liberty" was an English jurisdictional division in which regalian right was devolved to a local lordship. The liberties faded away over the years before vanishing at the end of the nineteenth century and either becoming counties (the Isle of Ely, the Soke of Peterborough) or being subsumed into neighboring local-government units. I can recall a genial old buffer who in conversation referred to "the Liberties of the Tower of London", causing my young self a moment of bafflement. But, as far as I'm aware, the only place where the term survives as an identification of the neighborhood is the Liberties of Dublin, which lie south of the Liffey down to Warrenmount. Lots of Guinness brewing and whiskey distilling, and a last vibe of old working-class Dublin ...although it's been a couple of years so it may be Sharia Central by now.
If you're not a Steyn Club member, I hope you'll consider joining us. It's not too grueling a schedule: we have a Clubland Q&A in which I answer your questions live around the planet (the last aired on Friday) and we also have some video poetry and live members-only shows if this lockdown is ever lifted.
Tales for Our Time started as an experimental feature we introduced as a bonus for Mark Steyn Club members, and, as you know, I said if it was a total stinkeroo, we'd eighty-six the thing and speak no more of it. But I'm thrilled to say it's proved very popular, and and we now have quite an archive. If you're a Club member and you incline more to the stinkeroo side of things, give it your best in the Comments Section below.
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