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Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Defoe’

“The Quarantine House” – Now at the Principle Gallery


“But I must go back here to the particular incidents which occur to my thoughts of the time of the visitation, and particularly to the time of their shutting up the houses in the first part of their sickness; for before the sickness was come to its height people had more room to make their observations than they had afterward; but when it was in the extremity there was no such thing as communication with one another, as before.”

― Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, 1722


I see that we, as a nation, had over 70,000 new cases of covid-19 on Friday. It made me think about how this time has changed so many things in daily lives.

So much isolation, which I know is so difficult for so many of us. Economic pain from job losses and businesses closing. And those that do have jobs continue along with the nagging fear that they are putting themselves at risk every day. 

And that is without even mentioning the actual virus and its effects on the afflicted and their families.

It made me wonder how this compared to other times and other pandemics. I did a little skimming of A Journal of the Plague Year, written in 1722 by the author of the better known Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe. It tells in journal form the story of a man’s life in 1665 in London when the bubonic plague, the Black Death, ferociously struck that city. That particular episode of the Black Death killed over 100,000 Londoners which was abut a quarter of the population at the time. And that was not even close to being the worst case of the Plague. It literally killed hundreds of millions of people throughout Europe and Asia in the centuries when it was at its peak and it still persists in places where conditions allow it to continue. No herd immunity here, folks.

But looking through Defoe’s book and reading sections made me think how horrible it must have been at that time. To be afflicted often meant being boarded in your home. There would be no contact with the outside world. No internet, no cellphones, no Netflix or Instacart or Door Dash deliveries. You would be completely cut off and alone with your painful imminent death as your companion.

It’s a terrifying prospect. I don’t mean to bring you down with this but I just found it interesting. It made me realize how fortunate we are to have the technological connections that we have. I don’t say that easily because I often find myself damning the persistent and invasive nature of the technology even as I use it.

At least now we can get information, as poor and misinformed as it sometimes is. But imagine being ill, sitting in a dark, boarded up home without any idea what might be taking place outside those walls. No news of possible cures or therapies. No idea of whether this would ever end, that relief might come before death. 

I have a hard time imagining the horror of that situation. Nothing in my life, nor in probably most of yours out there, has prepared me for that.

There was another paragraph that sounded familiar:

“But it was impossible to beat anything into the heads of the poor. They went on with the usual impetuosity of their tempers, full of outcries and lamentations when taken, but madly careless of themselves, foolhardy and obstinate, while they were well. Where they could get employment they pushed into any kind of business, the most dangerous and the most liable to infection; and if they were spoken to, their answer would be, ‘I must trust to God for that; if I am taken, then I am provided for, and there is an end of me’, and the like. Or thus, ‘Why, what must I do? I can’t starve. I had as good have the plague as perish for want. I have no work; what could I do? I must do this or beg.”

It made me think again about those folks who have no choice but face the possibility of infection, about those business owners who are at risk at losing everything they have worked much of their lives for. It also reminded me of the foolhardy people who think they are somehow beyond the reach of the virus, that they do not have to concern themselves with the welfare of others. 

I am sure there were those same fools during the Black Death.

I don’t know that there’s a point here except to say that I am grateful for being able to ride this out in this era with our technologies, connections and conveniences rather than any of the pandemics from the past. All things considered, we are fortunate. Maybe not too smart but fortunate.

Perhaps two hundred years in the future some person going through a new pandemic of that time will look back on this in some digital archive and say, “Man, I am so glad I didn’t have to live back then!”

And hopefully, they will also be grateful for their own situation.

Be grateful for what you have and have a good day, folks. To that end, here’s a little William DeVaughn with one of my faves.

 

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