Monday, April 24, 2006

I will not live to regret that gooseberry fool…

2. By eating a pound of Red Cherries upon a wager

11. By eating a Cucumber

12. By a Melon

13. By Redishes

14. By Drinking Water

23. By a dinner of Soales in Fish Street

26. By a Codling Tart and Cream

27. By a dish of French beanes

28. By Cabbages

29. By Turneps and Carrets

30. By eating the Fat near the Rump of a Loyne of Mutton

41. By an immoderate eating of Caveare and Anchovies

42. By a gooseberry fool

43. By a rotten Shoulder of Mutton

44. By a dish of Eels

49. By dead Beer

51. By eating Pork and Bacon

57. By the crudities of plentiful meals

60. By eating of Quinces

62. By Pompions, Musmillions, and Cucumbers…

Have you got it yet? I have culled from the complete list the dietary causes to which sufferers assigned their miserable condition. Others, however, blamed a variety of animals:

18. By a Cat in Catter wouling

19. By a Spaniel

17. By drying of Cloathes before the door

52. By Tame Pigeons that flew up and down an Alley…

With what we would consider greater plausibility, human agents were seen by some as involved in the etiology of their problem, both individuals, and groups held under some social prejudice:

15. By a Tanker bearer

16. By a Chair woman

47. By idle Beggars who wandered from place to place

54. By the Rakers or Ragg women…

Others were categorical about place:

8. By an infected Hackney Coach

9. By an infected Sedan

10. By an infected Cushion whereon the Waterman confessed there sate a woman that within two houres after died suddenly

37. By wetting the Feet in a slip out of a Boat by the Water side

We are in the year 1665: and there were some who were self-critical enough to place the blame for their woe on their own moral failings as Christians:

46. By an undue and immoderate venery

48. By frequenting scurvy Tipling houses and Bowling allies

A large group of sufferers followed a medical orthodoxy, and blamed various forms of bad air, mal aria:

4. By a Sink shut up by reason of the Waters not running in their backside

5. By the opening of a vault that had been many years shut

39. By a house of Office near a Man’s Window

40. By close Chambers nastily kept, and looking southward

53. By the fumes of Church Vaults, slaughter houses, and shallow graves

64. By conversing with a man of stinking breath

67. By standing fasting before an infected house

73. By an Eastern Window

Others saw the contagion as having spread to them on some other medical basis:

22. By opening the pores, and excessive sweat in walking

32. By a Cold which turned first into a putrid Fever, and last into the Plague

33. By si(t)ting up too late, and so drying and inflaming the Blood, and weakening Nature

35. By neglecting to let blood at the usual time

56. By the stopping of the monthly courses

68. By a letter received from an infected person

63. By festered Wounds and Sores

70. By an infected Pair of gloves…

And one or two made guesses about their misery that perhaps had more than a little truth, as the fatal vector of the disease got close to their bodies:

3. By a coat one bought of a Broker behind St Clements Church

38. By a burden of Linnen carried from St Giles to Chelsey

55. By entertaining all sorts of comers, as brokers, and particularly by buying bed clothes and hangings.

These are all taken from The shutting up of houses as it is practised in England soberly debated (1665), a tract like the exactly contemporary Golgotha …with an humble witness against the Cruel Advice and Practice of Shutting-up, arguing against the forcible incarceration of everyone in any household that had been ‘visited’ by the plague. The anonymous author reports this survey, taken from the reports of any surviving witnesses, of what the plague-stricken assigned their infection to: and none of these causes are there to be debunked, rather their variety is there to show that the means of transmission are so various, that the standard means of preventing the spread of plague has no merit. He rather proposes that the practice of shutting up is counter-productive: fastening people in their homes with the sick and dying promotes melancholy, which leads to fever, and then triggers the plague itself.

The tract is voiced for the afflicted, denied ‘the freedom of the Ayre’ and the visits from genuinely skilful doctors and concerned and kind family (the author inveighs against the nurses appointed by the city authorities as the ‘off-scouring of the City’ and ‘dirty, ugly and unwholesome Haggs’, who watched for the moment to ransack the houses).

Both of these tracts recommend the practices of the Dutch authorities, who allowed the sick out at appointed times (wearing marks to identify their condition), though the author of Golgotha strongly commends the healthful properties of tobacco smoke.

My colleague, Professor Justin Champion, mentioned this 17th century vox pop. survey in passing, while lamenting the fact that he is called on a weekly basis by the media to supply a quote or a context every time the word ‘plague’ comes up.


phoenix said...

Wow! I always knew cabbages did more harm then the alleged world of good. On the other hand, I never for one imagined these evil vegs being put to blame for helping transmit the plague. I only wonder what our author thought about some of these strange beliefs. How serious was he when reporting these claims?!!

DrRoy said...

It suits the author's overall rhetorical purpose, Phoenix, to imply that all these imputed causes are equally likely to be valid. (And how very recognisable it is to have something arbitrary to an outsider that you pin down as the thing that made you ill, as these unfortunates do.) If the vectors (as we would say) of the plague are so manifold, the usual precautions are ridiculous. As Justin Champion says to people, even our accepted explanations for the transmission of plague still tend to be specific to our culture: Anglophones go for rat fleas, while French scholarship emphasises head-lice (apparently). You will probably have seen that there are scholars who deny that the Black Death itself was anything to do with Yersinia Pestis, but was an unknown viral disease, which bubonic plague happens to resemble. Investigations of the dental pulp of plague victims does seem to confirm that bacterium was the culprit (but I don't think they have got teeth from before the 16th century).