Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/598

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
588
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

London at this time had a population of nearly half a million. The deaths from the plague during 1665, as reported in the bills of mortality, are 68,596. By far the larger number of these occurred in August, September and October. The weekly mortality from the disease rose from a few cases in May to over 7,000 per week in September. It may, indeed, be close to the truth when Defoe states that 3,000 were said to have been buried in one night.

The great plague of London in 1665 was by no means the only visitation of that kind. From the time of the black death in 1348, London had a continuous record of plague infection. On an average it had an epidemic of plague every fifteen years. Some of these were fully as severe as that of 1665. Thus, in 1603, with a population of 250,000, there were over 33,000 reported deaths from the plague. In 1625, 41,000 died of pest out of a population of 320,000.

One of the most remarkable facts in connection with the great plague is this—that it was the last in England. The great fire of 1666 is supposed to have extinguished the plague, but this cannot be said to be true. The disease continued to a slight extent in 1666 and isolated cases were reported as late as 1679, but after that date it disappeared completely and from that time until this year England has been absolutely free from the plague. The sudden extinction of the plague in England after it had becomes domesticated, so to speak, for nearly three centuries, is indeed difficult to explain. Creighton sees an inhibiting influence in the growth of the practice of burial in coffins. But the absence of famine, together with the cessation of domestic wars and strife and the abeyance of want and misery, had not a little effect. As will presently be seen, the extinction of the plague in England was no more remarkable than its disappearance from Western Europe.

The history of plague in the seventeenth century does not close with the London epidemic. From 1675-1684 the disease ravaged Northern Africa, Turkey, and from thence invaded Austria and even reached Southern Germany. The Vienna outbreak of 1679 can be said to have been no less terrible than that of Milan or of London. The deaths from the plague in Vienna in that year have been variously estimated at from 70,000 to double that number.

From Vienna the plague reached Prague, where in 1861 it is said to have caused no less than 83,000 deaths. It is not to be wondered at that a nation scourged by thirty years of relentless warfare, by religious persecution and finally tried thus severely by the plague should inscribe upon the equestrian statue of their patron saint the heartrending appeal, 'Lord, grant that we do not perish.'

The close of the seventeenth century saw the disappearance of the plague from Western Europe. In Eastern Europe, however, the disease continued to exist even during the eighteenth century. Neverthe-