It's time for Part Seven of my serialization of A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe - the latest in our series Tales for Our Time, and a chronicle of a great city in a time of contagion. Right now, from Manhattan to Madrid, Mayfair to Mauritius, millions and millions of people are confined to their homes except for trips to the supermarket to forage for toilet paper. If you're chafing under de facto house arrest, in tonight's episode our chronicler of the Great Plague of London explores stratagems the locals used to bust out and evade the watchmen three and a half centuries ago:
It is true that the locking up the doors of people's houses, and setting a watchman there night and day to prevent their stirring out or any coming to them, when perhaps the sound people in the family might have escaped if they had been removed from the sick, looked very hard and cruel; and many people perished in these miserable confinements which, 'tis reasonable to believe, would not have been distempered if they had had liberty, though the plague was in the house; at which the people were very clamorous and uneasy at first, and several violences were committed and injuries offered to the men who were set to watch the houses so shut up; also several people broke out by force in many places, as I shall observe by-and-by. But it was a public good that justified the private mischief, and there was no obtaining the least mitigation by any application to magistrates or government at that time, at least not that I heard of. This put the people upon all manner of stratagem in order, if possible, to get out; and it would fill a little volume to set down the arts used by the people of such houses to shut the eyes of the watchmen who were employed, to deceive them, and to escape or break out from them, in which frequent scuffles and some mischief happened.
As we shall hear.
Members of The Mark Steyn Club can listen to me read Part Seven of our tale simply by clicking here and logging-in. And, if you've missed the beginning of A Journal of the Plague Year, you can start fresh with Part One and have a good old binge-listen here.
Our illustrations of the London plague doctors (see above) have attracted a lot of comment. John N, an Illinois member of The Mark Steyn Club, writes:
The 17th century PPE looks laughable, however: The cloak kept the disease-vector fleas off; the beak was stuffed with flowers (b/c the theory was disease was caused by bad smells) acting like a filter to prevent aerosolized plague bacilli from getting through; the eyepieces protected the eyes from aerosolized plague.
Trial and error resulted in what was probably the most effective PPE available at the time.
And they didn't have vast bloated useless sclerotic federal alphabet-soup agencies to ensure the supply chain is permanently seized up.
If you'd like to join John in The Mark Steyn Club, well, we'd love to have you along in this our third season. So please click here for more info - and don't forget, for fellow fans of classic fiction and/or poetry, our Steyn Club Gift Membership.
Do join me back here tomorrow for Part Eight of A Journal of the Plague Year.