Selections from A Journal of the Plague Year

From the opening pages of Daniel Defoe’s novel (the plague struck London in 1665; the book was published in 1722):

We had no such thing as printed newspapers in those days to spread rumours and reports of things, … as I have lived to see practised since. But such things as these were gathered from the letters of merchants and others who corresponded abroad, and from them was handed about by word of mouth only; so that things did not spread instantly over the whole nation, as they do now.

This last bill [count of burials] was really frightful, being a higher number than had been known to have been buried in one week since the preceding visitation of 1656.

We continued in these hopes for a few days, but it was but for a few, for the people were no more to be deceived thus; they searched the houses and found that the plague was really spread every way, and that many died of it every day.

… all that could conceal their distempers did it, to prevent their neighbours shunning and refusing to converse with them, and also to prevent authority shutting up their houses; which, though it was not yet practised, yet was threatened, and people were extremely terrified at the thoughts of it.

… the richer sort of people, especially the nobility and gentry from the west part of the city, thronged out of town with their families and servants in an unusual manner…. it filled me with very serious thoughts of the misery that was coming upon the city, and the unhappy condition of those that would be left in it.

… there was no getting at the Lord Mayor’s door without exceeding difficulty; there were such pressing and crowding there to get passes and certificates of health for such as travelled abroad, for without these there was no being admitted to pass through the towns upon the road, or to lodge in any inn.

I had two important things before me: the one was the carrying on my business and shop, which was considerable, and in which was embarked all my effects in the world; and the other was the preservation of my life in so dismal a calamity as I saw apparently was coming upon the whole city.

It was a very ill time to be sick in, for if any one complained, it was immediately said he had the plague.

… we perceived the infection kept chiefly in the out-parishes, which being very populous, and fuller also of poor, the distemper found more to prey upon than in the city…

... it was a most surprising thing to see those streets which were usually so thronged now grown desolate…

[In Holborrn,] the street was full of people, but they walked in the middle of the great street, neither on one side or other, because, as I suppose, they would not mingle with anybody that came out of houses…