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DANIEL DE FOE: 1661-1731,
De Foe, a London tradesman, became in middle life an active political writer. In 1704 he commenced the first English periodical, The Review, a literary and political journal, which continued for about nine years, appearing every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, the days on which the post left London for the country. Having abandoned politics, he published in 1719 his Robinson Crusoe, the extraordinary success of which prompted him to write a variety of other fictions, amongst which are Moll Flanders, Life of Colonel Jack, Memoirs of a Cavalier, History of the Great Plague, &c.
THE GREAT PLAGUE IN LONDON.
From The History of the Plague.
Much about the same time I walked out into the fields towards Bow, for I had a great mind to see how things were managed in the river and among the ships; and as I had some concern in shipping, I had a notion that it had been one of the best ways of securing one's self from the infection to have retired into a ship; and musing how to satisfy my curiosity in that point, I turned away over the fields, from Bow to Bromley, and down to Blackwall, to the stairs that are there for landing or taking water.
Here I saw a poor man walking on the bank or sea-wall, as they call it, by himself. I walked a while also about, seeing the houses all shut up; at last I fell into some talk at a distance, with this poor man. First I asked him how people did thereabouts.
'Alas! sir,' says he, 'almost desolate; all dead or sick. Here are very few families in this part, or in that village'-pointing at Poplar'where half of them are not dead already, and the rest sick.' Then he, pointing to one house: There they are all dead,' said he, 'and the house stands open; nobody dares go into it. A poor thief,' says he, 'ventured in to steal something, but he paid dear for his theft, for he was carried to the churchyard too, last night.' Then he pointed to several other houses. "There,' says he, 'they are all dead -the man and his wife and five children. There,' says he, 'they are shut up; you see a watchman at the door; and so of other houses.' 'Why,' says I, 'what do you here all alone?'
'Why,' says he, 'I am a poor desolate man: it hath pleased God I am not yet visited, though my family is, and one of my children dead.'
'How do you mean then,' said I, 'that you are not visited?'
'Why,' says he, 'that is my house'-pointing to a very little low-boarded house-and there my poor wife and two children live,' said he, 'if they may be said to live; for my wife and one of the children are visited, but I do not come at them.' And with that word I saw the tears run very plentifully down his face; and so they did down mine too, I assure you.
'But,' said I, 'why do you not come at them? How can you abandon your own flesh and blood?'
'O, sir,' says he, 'the Lord forbid. I do not abandon them; I work for them as much as I am able; and blessed be the Lord, I keep them from want.' And with that I observed he lifted up his eyes to heaven with a countenance that presently told me I had happened on a man that was no hypocrite, but a serious, religious, good man; and his ejaculation was an expression of thankfulness, that, in such a condition as he was in, he should be able to say his family did not want.
'Well,' says I, 'honest man, that is a great mercy, as things go now with the poor. But how do you live then, and how are you kept from the dreadful calamity that is now upon us all?'
'Why, sir,' says he, 'I am a waterman, and there is my boat,' says he ; ' and the boat serves me for a house: I work in it in the day, and I sleep in it in the night; and what I get I lay it down upon that stone,' says he, shewing me a broad stone on the other side of the street, a good way from his house; 'and then,' says he, 'I halloo and call to them till I make them hear, and they come and fetch it.'
'Well, friend,' says I, 'but how can you get money as a waterman? Does anybody go by water these times?'
'Yes, sir,' says he, 'in the way I am employed, there does. Do you see there,' says he, 'five ships lie at anchor?'-pointing down the river a good way below the town-' and do you see,' says he, 'eight or ten ships lie at the chain there, and at anchor yonder ?'pointing above the town. All those ships have families on board, of their merchants and owners, and such like, who have locked themselves up, and live on board, close shut in, for fear of the infection; and I tend on them to fetch things for them, carry letters, and do what is absolutely necessary, that they may not be obliged to come on shore; and every night I fasten my boat on board one of the ship's boats, and there I sleep by myself; and blessed be God, I am preserved hitherto.'
'Well,' said I, 'friend, but will they let you come on board after you have been on shore here, when this has been such a terrible place, and so infected as it is?'
'Why, as to that,' said he, 'I very seldom go up the ship-side, but deliver what I bring to their boat, or lie by the side, and they hoist it on board. If I did, I think they are in no danger from me, for I never go into any house on shore, or touch anybody, no, not of my own family; but I fetch provisions for them.'
'Nay,' says I, 'but that may be worse, for you must have those provisions of somebody or other; and since all this part of the town is so infected, it is dangerous so much as to speak with anybody; for the village,' said I, 'is, as it were, the beginning of London, though it be at some distance from it.'
'That is true,' added he, but you do not understand me right. I do not buy provisions for them here; I row up to Greenwich, and buy fresh meat there, and sometimes I row down the river to Woolwich, and buy there: then I go to single farmhouses on the Kentish side, where I am known, and buy fowls, and eggs, and butter, and bring to the ships, as they direct me, sometimes one, sometimes the other. I seldom come on shore here; and I came only now to call my wife, and hear how my little family do, and give them a little money which I received last night.'
'Poor man!' said I, and how much hast thou gotten for them?"
'I have gotten four shillings,' said he, 'which is a great sum, as things go now with poor men; but they have given me a bag of bread too, and a salt fish, and some flesh; so all helps out.' 'Well,' said I, 'and have you given it them yet?' 'No,' said he, but I have called, and my wife has answered that she cannot come out yet; but in half an hour she hopes to come, and I am waiting for her. Poor woman!' says he, 'she is brought sadly down; she has had a swelling, and it is broke, and I hope she will recover, but I fear the child will die; but it is the Lord!' Here he stopped, and wept very much.
'Well, honest friend,' said I, 'thou hast a sure comforter, if thou hast brought thyself to be resigned to the will of God; He is dealing with us all in judgment.'
'O, sir,' says he, 'it is infinite mercy if any of us are spared; and who am I to repine?'
'Say'st thou so,' said I; and how much less is my faith than thine!'
At length, after some further talk, the poor woman opened the door, and called 'Robert, Robert ;' he answered, and bid her stay a few moments and he would come; so he ran down the common stairs to his boat, and fetched up a sack in which was the provisions he had brought from the ships; and when he returned, he hallooed again; then he went to the great stone which he shewed me, and emptied the sack, and laid all out, everything by themselves, and then retired; and his wife came with a little boy to fetch them away; and he called, and said, such a captain had sent such a thing, and such a captain such a thing; and at the end adds: God has sent it all; give thanks to Him.' When the woman had taken up all, she was so weak, she could not carry it at once in, though the weight was not much neither; so she left the biscuit, which was in a little bag, and left a little boy to watch it till she came again.
'Well, but,' says I to him, 'did you leave her the four shillings too, which you said was your week's pay?'
'Yes, yes,' says he; 'you shall hear her own it.' So he calls again: 'Rachel, Rachel'—which it seems was her name—' did you take up the money?'
'Yes,' said she. 'How much was it?' said he. Four shillings and a groat,' said she. Well, well,' says he, 'the Lord keep you all;' and so he turned to go away.
As I could not refrain contributing tears to this man's story, so neither could I refrain my charity for his assistance; so I called him. 'Hark thee, friend,' said I, 'come hither, for I believe thou art in health, that I may venture thee;' so I pulled out my hand, which was in my pocket before, 'Here,' says I, 'go and call thy Rachel once more, and give her a little more comfort from me ; God will never forsake a family that trust in Him as thou dost :' so gave him four other shillings, and bid him go lay them on the stone, and call his wife.
I have not words to express the poor man's thankfulness, neither could he express it himself, but by tears running down his face. He called his wife, and told her God had moved the heart of a stranger, upon hearing their condition, to give them all that money; and a great deal more such as that he said to her. The woman, too, made signs of the like thankfulness, as well to Heaven as to me, and joyfully picked it up; and I parted with no money all that year that I thought better bestowed.
JONATHAN SWIFT: 1667-1745.
Dr Swift, Dean of St Patrick's, Dublin, was the most powerful and original prose-writer of the period. His works are chiefly of a political character, and were written only to serve a temporary end; yet they are such models of satirical composition, that they still continue to form a constituent portion of every good English library. Those most read are Gulliver's Travels, a satire on mankind and the institutions of civilised countries; The Tale of a Tub, a burlesque of the disputes among the Catholics, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians; and The Battle of the Books, a satire on literary controversies.
VISIT TO THE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES AT LAGADO.
A Satire on Pretended Philosophers and Projectors.
From Gulliver's Travels.
I was received very kindly by the warden, and went for many days to the academy. Every room hath in it one or more projectors, and I believe I could not be in fewer than five hundred rooms. The first man I saw was of a meagre aspect, with sooty hands and face, his hair and beard long, ragged, and singed in several places. His clothes, shirt, and skin were all of the same colour. He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put into phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. He told me he did not doubt in eight years more that he should be able to supply the governor's gardens with sunshine at a reasonable rate; but he complained that his stock was low, and entreated me to give him something as an encouragement to ingenuity, especially since this had been a very dear season for cucumbers. I made him a small present, for my lord had furnished me with money on purpose, because he knew their practice of begging from all who go to see them.
I saw another at work to calcine ice into gunpowder, who likewise shewed me a treatise he had written concerning the malleability of fire, which he intended to publish.
There was a most ingenious architect, who had contrived a new method for building houses, by beginning at the roof, and working downwards to the foundation; which he justified to me by the like practice of those two prudent insects, the bee and the spider.