Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 59.djvu/412

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE GREAT MORTALITY.
By PROFESSOR EDWARD P. CHEYNEY.

IN every city of the civilized world to-day, armed and watchful men are standing on guard against a dreaded invader; men armed with knowledge obtained from scientific investigation, with experience drawn from former attacks, with authority of law to enter every household and set aside every individual claim in the work of resistance to the first onset of the foe. This anticipated enemy is the bubonic plague, and the officials of boards of health form a civic guard against it more nearly impassable than any military cordon. Yet with all this watchfulness, with the expenditure of vast sums in delimitation and extirpation, with the relatively cleanly surroundings of daily life in this century, the plague has within the last five years broken through the barriers and made its way into various cities of Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and North and South America. Not only in its indigenous home in India, but in Sydney and Honolulu, in Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro, in Glasgow and San Francisco, in Cairo and Cape Town, it has made a longer or shorter lodgment.

There was a time when there was no such guard against invasion, when the same disease passed westward from its Asiatic birthplace in a fierce attack upon the nations of Europe, and found no measures taken to resist its advance; indeed, in the squalid houses and streets of medieval towns and villages, there was every inducement to enter and batten on populations unfitted by habits of life or by medical knowledge to expel, resist or even mollify their enemy.

"In the year of grace 1349," an old chronicle says, "a great mortality of mankind advanced over the world; beginning in the regions of the north and east and ending with so great a destruction that scarcely half of the people remained. Then towns once full of men became destitute of inhabitants, and so violently did the pestilence increase that the living were scarce able to bury the dead," So sudden, so mysterious, so fatal was this pestilence that even the dry medieval annalist personified it, spoke of it as if it were some active sentient personality. "Very many of those who were attacked in the morning it carried out of human affairs before noon; and no one whom it willed to die did it permit to live longer than three or four days."

Friar Clyn, in his 'Chronicle of Ireland,' after giving many details of the plague, says: "I, therefore, brother of John Clyn of the order of