Today's plague, the Corona virus, has infected 75,031,946 people internationally and has killed 1,663,900 people so far, reports WorldoMeters.
| Triumph of death ... Breugel the Elder's portrayal of Black Death, depicting the Black Death in Europe, painted in the 1560s by Breugel the Elder. 'The Triumph of Death' portrays an army of skeletons overrunning a pestilence-scourged landscape. |
-- Image by courtesy Museo del Prado, Madrid
Today we know, plus or minus, how to avoid catching it and most of us seem to follow the advice.
If we do get infected, we know that for the majority there's a very good chance of survival thanks to present-day medical knowledge.
However, for Daniel Defoe and his population, expert knowledge was extremely limited.
Take this example of his report of the arrival of the plague in his London neighbourhood:
|But now, at the beginning of September, the plague raging in a dreadful manner, and the number of burials in our parish increasing to more than was ever buried in any parish about London of no larger extent, they ordered this dreadful gulf to be dug — for such it was, rather than a pit ...|
… they had dug several pits in another ground, when the distemper began to spread in our parish, and especially when the dead-carts began to go about, which was not, in our parish, till the beginning of August.
200 to 400 a week
Into these pits they had put perhaps fifty or sixty bodies each; then they made larger holes wherein they buried all that the cart brought in a week, which, by the middle to the end of August, came to from 200 to 400 a week; …
and they could not well dig them larger, because of the order of the magistrates confining them to leave no bodies within six feet of the surface; and the water coming on at about seventeen or eighteen feet, they could not well, I say, put more in one pit.
But now, at the beginning of September, the plague raging in a dreadful manner, and the number of burials in our parish increasing to more than was ever buried in any parish about London of no larger extent, they ordered this dreadful gulf to be dug—for such it was, rather than a pit.
Bury the whole parish
They had supposed this pit would have supplied them for a month or more when they dug it, and some blamed the churchwardens for suffering such a frightful thing, telling them they were making preparations to bury the whole parish, and the like …
But time made it appear the churchwardens knew the condition of the parish better than they did: for, the pit being finished the 4th of September, I think, they began to bury in it the 6th, and by the 20th, which was just two weeks, they had thrown into it 1,114 bodies when they were obliged to fill it up, the bodies being then come to lie within six feet of the surface.
Next time we feel driven to curse the lockdown rules and the seriousness of our situation, perhaps we really ought to grab Mr Defoe's book and read at least a few paragraphs.
Oddly Daniel Defoe is best known for his highly imaginative fiction Robinson Crusoe, yet for our world right now, his A Journal of the Plague Year deserves a place on every modern bookshelf.
My quotes and reading of the story comes from the Digireads dot com Kindle edition of the book. It's thoroughly recommended.