Welcome to Part Twenty-Eight of our latest audio adventure: A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. In tonight's episode, as our account of the Great Plague of London winds toward its finale, the experts begin to detect the flattening of the curve:
I remember my friend Dr Heath, coming to see me the week before, told me he was sure that the violence of it would assuage in a few days; but when I saw the weekly bill of that week, which was the highest of the whole year, being 8297 of all diseases, I upbraided him with it, and asked him what he had made his judgement from... 'Look you,' says he, 'by the number which are at this time sick and infected, there should have been twenty thousand dead the last week instead of eight thousand, if the inveterate mortal contagion had been as it was two weeks ago; for then it ordinarily killed in two or three days, now not under eight or ten; and then not above one in five recovered, whereas I have observed that now not above two in five miscarry. And, observe it from me, the next bill will decrease, and you will see many more people recover than used to do; for though a vast multitude are now everywhere infected, and as many every day fall sick, yet there will not so many die as there did, for the malignity of the distemper is abated';—adding that he began now to hope, nay, more than hope, that the infection had passed its crisis and was going off; and accordingly so it was, for the next week being, as I said, the last in September, the bill decreased almost two thousand.
Of course, the minute the curve starts flattening, everyone wants to re-open the economy:
The audacious creatures were so possessed with the first joy and so surprised with the satisfaction of seeing a vast decrease in the weekly bills, that they were impenetrable by any new terrors, and would not be persuaded but that the bitterness of death was past; and it was to no more purpose to talk to them than to an east wind; but they opened shops, went about streets, did business, and conversed with anybody that came in their way to converse with, whether with business or without, neither inquiring of their health or so much as being apprehensive of any danger from them, though they knew them not to be sound...
But it had another effect, which they could not check; for as the first rumour had spread not over the city only, but into the country, it had the like effect: and the people were so tired with being so long from London, and so eager to come back, that they flocked to town without fear or forecast, and began to show themselves in the streets as if all the danger was over. It was indeed surprising to see it, for though there died still from 1000 to 1800 a week, yet the people flocked to town as if all had been well.
James P, a First Week Founding Member of the Steyn Club from Texas, observes:
It is fascinating as Mark notes in his introduction how little has changed in terms of government response ...though the Lord Mayor of London in 1665 seems to have been more effective at ensuring those out of work got food as compared to the current stimulus check mess.
That is true, James. The Lord Mayor, Sir John Lawrence, was term-limited to a single year before he had to return to his profession (haberdashery), but if he were running almost anywhere today he would be the small-government candidate - and evidently he had less difficulty impressing his will on his modest number of official than, say, Steve Mnuchin does on the far more bloated bureaucracy of the United States Treasury.
If you'd like to know more about The Mark Steyn Club, please click here - and don't forget our special gift membership. Do join me tomorrow evening, Friday, for Part Twenty-Nine of A Journal of the Plague Year.