Infection hath shut up four thousand doors

These fragments come from a text entitled London’s Lamentation, written by Thomas Dekker, and published in 1625. Dekker was a notorious pamphleteer and social commentator, and this text acts as an admonishment to the thousands of people who have fled the capital in an attempt to escape the plague. For as Dekker points out, with so many people leaving London to its fate, there are few left to care for the sick and dying.  These fragments paint a stark and terrifying picture of London in the grip of a terrible epidemic.

Thou maist here see (as through a Perspective-Glasse) the miserable estate of London, in this heavy time of contagion. It is a picture not drawne to the life, but to the death of above twelve thousand, in lesse then six weekes. If thou art in the Countrey, cast thine eye towards us here at home, and behold what we endure.

None thrive but Apothecaries, Butchers, Cookes, and Coffin-makers. Coach-men ride a cock-horse, and are so full of ladish trickes, that you cannot be jolted sixe miles from London, under thirty or forty shillings. Never was Hackney-flesh so deare.  Few woollen Drapers sell any Cloth, but every Church-yard is every day full of linnen Drapers: and the Earth is the great Warehouse, which is piled up with winding-sheetes.

There were never so many burials, yet never such little weeping. A teare is scarce to be taken off from the cheeke of a whole Family for they that should shed them, are so accustomed, and so hardned to dismall accidents, that weeping is almost growne out of fashion. Why, says a Mother, do I shower teares downe for my Husband or Childe, when I, before tomorrow morning, shall go to them, and never have occasion to weepe any more?

(Whilst I am setting these things downe, Thursday the 1st of July brought me that this weeke have departed 3000 soules and that the Plague is much increased).

Infection hath shut up, from the beginning of June, to the middle of July, almost foure thousand doors. Foure thousand crosses set on these doors. Foure thousand Red-Crosses have frighted the Inhabitants in a very little time. But greater is their number who have beene frighted, and fled out of the City at the setting up of those Crosses. In many Church-yards, Graves still gaping for more want of roome, they are compelled to dig Graves like little Cellers, piling up forty or fifty in a Pit.

A woman (with a Child in her armes) passing through Fleet-street, was strucke sicke upon a sudden; the Childe leaning to her cheeke, immediately departed. The Mother perceiving no such matter, but finding her owne heart wounded to the death, she sat downe neere to a shop where hot Waters were sold. The charitable woman of that shop, perceiving by the poore wretches countenance how ill she was, ran in all haste to fetch her some comfort; but before she could come, the Woman was quite dead: and so her childe and she went lovingly together to one Grave.

A Gentleman having spent his time in the Warres, and comming but lately over in health, and lusty state of body, going along the streets, fell suddenly downe and dyed, never uttering more words then these, Lord, have mercy upon me. Another dropped downe dead by All gate, at the Bell-Taverne door.

A Flax-man in Turnebull street, being about to send his Wife to market, on a sudden felt a pricking in his arme, neare the place where once he had a sore, and pon this, plucking up his sleeve, he called to his Wife to stay; there was no neede to fetch any thing for him from Market: for, see (quoth he) I am marked: and so shewing Gods Tokens, dyed in a few minutes after.

A man was in his Coffin, to be put into a Grave, in Cripple-gate Church-yard, and the Bearers offering to take him out, he opened his eyes, and breathed; but they running to fetch Aqua vita for him, before it came, he was full dead.

A lusty country fellow, that came to towne to get Harvest-worke, having sixteene or eighteene shillings in his Purse, fell sicke in some lodging he had, in Old-street; was in the night time thrust out of doors, and none else receiving him, he lay upon Straw, under Suttons Hospitall wall, neere the high way, and there miserably dyed.

A woman going along Barbican, in the moneth of July, on a Wednesday, the first of the Dog-daies, went not farre, but suddenly fell sicke, and sat downe. The gaping multitude perceiving it, stood round about her, afarre off; she making signes for a little drinke.  Money was given by a stander by to fetch her some, but the uncharitable Woman of the Ale-house denyed to lend whosoever a cup of cold water, and her Pot to any infected companion.  The poore soule dyed suddenly, and yet, albeit all fled from her when she lived, yet being dead, some (like Ravens) seized upon her body (having good clothes about her) stripped her, and buried her, none knowing what she was, or from whence she came.

How many every day drop downe staggering, strucke with infection in the open Streets?  What numbers breathe their last upon Stalles?  How many creepe into Eatries, and Stables, and there dye?  How many lye languishing in the common High-wayes, and in the open Fields, on Pads of Straw, end their miserable lives, unpittied, unrelieved, unknowne? The Gospell has a long time cryed out against our iniquities, but we are deafe, sleepy and sluggish; and now there is a Thunder from Heaven to wake us.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Comments are closed.

All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers:

© Shakespeare's England 2009-2014