Just ahead of Part Twenty-Five of my serialization of A Journal of the Plague Year, a quick reminder that this weekend's Song of the Week will be a special audio edition of listener requests: If you've got a number you'd like me to play, you can pitch your proposal here.
Sunday's show will be a doom-and-gloom reliever, so let's bring on the doom to make sure we've earned it. Written in 1722 by Daniel Defoe, this "journal" is a blazingly vivid account of events half-a-century earlier - the Great Plague of London. Tonight's episode concerns itself with what our age calls "asymptomatic carriers" and which Defoe characterizes rather more arrestingly as "walking putrefied carcases":
This frequently puzzled our physicians, and especially the apothecaries and surgeons, who knew not how to discover the sick from the sound; they all allowed that it was really so, that many people had the plague in their very blood, and preying upon their spirits, and were in themselves but walking putrefied carcases whose breath was infectious and their sweat poison, and yet were as well to look on as other people, and even knew it not themselves...
There then follows some discussion of 1665-style "test kits", involving halitosis, glass, glutinous scum and poultry. Also in tonight's episode, in recent days our comments section has seen some vigorous debate on whether Covid-19 deaths are being under- or over-reported. Daniel Defoe had no doubt which side of the coin that one came down on:
It was our received opinion at that time, and I believe upon very good grounds, that the fraud lay in the parish officers, searchers, and persons appointed to give account of the dead, and what diseases they died of; and as people were very loth at first to have the neighbours believe their houses were infected, so they gave money to procure, or otherwise procured, the dead persons to be returned as dying of other distempers; and this I know was practised afterwards in many places, I believe I might say in all places where the distemper came, as will be seen by the vast increase of the numbers placed in the weekly bills under other articles of diseases during the time of the infection ...aged, consumptions, vomitings, imposthumes, gripes, and the like, many of which were not doubted to be infected people.
Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear Part Twenty-Five of our adventure simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes of A Journal of the Plague Year can be found here, and three-dozen more Tales for Our Time here.
See you for Part Twenty-Six of A Journal of the Plague Year tomorrow.