We continue our voyage through the Great Plague of London in our latest Tale for Our Time: A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, the year in question being 1665.
If you're growing a bit weary of those bits on the news where they show you arty shots of the Place de la Concorde or Fifth Avenue utterly deserted, well, in tonight's episode, our narrator gives us the 17th century equivalent:
I cannot omit taking notice what a desolate place the city was at that time. The great street I lived in ...was more like a green field than a paved street, and the people generally went in the middle with the horses and carts. It is true that the farthest end towards Whitechappel Church was not all paved, but even the part that was paved was full of grass also; but this need not seem strange, since the great streets within the city, such as Leadenhall Street, Bishopsgate Street, Cornhill, and even the Exchange itself, had grass growing in them in several places; neither cart or coach were seen in the streets from morning to evening, except some country carts to bring roots and beans, or peas, hay, and straw, to the market, and those but very few compared to what was usual.
Not a good time to be an Uber driver now, not a good time to be a coachman then:
As for coaches, they were scarce used but to carry sick people to the pest-house, and to other hospitals, and some few to carry physicians to such places as they thought fit to venture to visit; for really coaches were dangerous things, and people did not care to venture into them, because they did not know who might have been carried in them last, and sick, infected people were, as I have said, ordinarily carried in them to the pest-houses, and sometimes people expired in them as they went along.
And, then as now, the medical staff were sucked into the death toll:
It is true, when the infection came to such a height as I have now mentioned, there were very few physicians which cared to stir abroad to sick houses, and very many of the most eminent of the faculty were dead, as well as the surgeons also; for now it was indeed a dismal time, and for about a month together, not taking any notice of the bills of mortality, I believe there did not die less than 1500 or 1700 a day, one day with another.
If you're a member of The Mark Steyn Club you can hear my reading of Part Fourteen of our serialization of A Journal of the Plague Year simply by clicking here and logging-in. All previous episodes can be found here - so you can choose whether to listen each night twenty minutes before you lower your lamp, or save them up for a weekend binge-listen now that you've exhausted the vaults of Netflix.
Our nocturnal adventures now have a morning sibiling in the new audio Coronacopia editions of The Mark Steyn Show with news, songs, poetry, elegies and more. Nathan B, a Steyn Club member from the afflicted city of New York, is enjoying them:
Mark, thanks for doing these regular audio shows. It's nice to have new things to look forward to since so much of the country has shut down.
On that note, since it seems like everything is closing up for a little while, how about reading W M Praed's poem "Good Night to the Season" in a future edition?
Our Etonian readers of a poetic bent will recognize that name, Nathan. And, given that "the season" has been canceled around the world, it's an excellent choice I may well take you up on.
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