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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/596

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586
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

in 1630, the deaths from all diseases are said to have amounted to 186,000. The Milan outbreak has been graphically described by Manzoni, in his celebrated 'I Promessi Sposi' Unrecognized, the disease entered Milan in October, 1629. The mild cases which were met with during the winter months lulled the fears of the people and encouraged the mass of physicians to deny the existence of the plague. But in April the disease began to assert itself in terrible earnest. The frenzied populace, blind to the contagiousness of the disease, were possessed with the strange hallucination that obtained during former plague epidemics in other Italian cities, that the pest spread because of poison scattered about by evil-minded persons. Suspicious strangers were, as a result, stoned in the streets, imprisoned and even put to death by legal process because of such fanatical beliefs. To offset the growing pestilence, the people demanded of the Archbishop that a solemn religious procession be held, and that the holy relics of Saint Charles be exposed. At first this was refused, but eventually it was granted. The procession bearing the saintly body was solemnly held on the 11th of June. The fanatical security which these devotions engendered was rudely shattered when, a few days later, the disease burst forth with renewed activity among all classes in all parts of the city. Nevertheless, as Manzoni observes, the faith was such that none recognized that the procession itself was directly the cause of the new outburst of the disease by facilitating the spread of the contagion. Again the belief asserted itself that the 'untori,' or poisoners, mixed with the crowd and with their unguents and powders had infected as many as possible. From that day the fury of the contagion continued to grow to such an extent that scarcely a house remained exempt from the disease. The number of patients in the pesthouse rose from 2,000 to 12,000, and later reached 17,000. The daily mortality rose from 500 to 1,200, then 1,500, and is even said to have reached 3,500. Milan, before the epidemic, was said to have had a population of from 200,000 to 250,000. The loss by death has been variously estimated at from 140,000 to 186,000. All these deaths were not due to the plague. Thus, large numbers of children died as a result of starvation consequent upon the death of their parents from the plague.

The horrors attendant upon such a dreadful visitation can well be imagined. Scarcity of help in removing the dead and in taking care of the sick made itself felt, to say nothing of the lack of food. Enormous trenches, one after another, were filled with the bodies of the victims, carried thither by the hardened monatti, the counterpart of the Florentine becchini, so well portrayed by Lord Lytton in his 'Rienzi.' These bearers of the sick and dead "were naturally recruited from the lowest criminal classes, and it can, therefore, cause but little wonder that