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On another occasion he walks to Greenwich: “In my way seeing a coffin with a dead body therein, dead of the plague, lying in an open close belonging to Coome Farm, which was carried out last night, and the parish have not appointed any body to bury it; but only set a watch there all day and night, that nobody should go thither or come thence: this disease making us more hard to one another than we are to dogs."
On the 30th of August he writes: “Lord! how every body's looks and discourse in the street is of death, and nothing else; and few people going up and down, that the town is like a place distressed and forsaken” And on the 31st: “In the City died this week 7,496, and of them 6,102 of the Plague. But it is found that the true number of the dead this week is near 10,000; partly from the poor that cannot be taken notice of through the greatness of the number, and partly from the Quakers and others that will not have any bell ring for them.”
Early in September the still and lonely streets assumed another aspect. In the middle of each a large bonfire was kindled, and kept alight night and day, for the purification of the air. Every six houses on each side of the way were assessed towards the expense of maintaining it. A heavy rain extinguished them; but as the colder weather approached the disease began to diminish in intensity, and as the weekly death-total lowered, the people recovered their confidence. A few shops were opened. Fugitives returned. Intercourse with the outer world was gradually renewed. The King and Court, who had done nothing to reassure the inhabitants, or relieve their anxieties, made their appearance.
In the first week of March the deaths by the plague had decreased to
42. By the end of April it was almost extinct, after having carried off upwards of a hundred thousand victims; and Londoners were free to turn their thoughts to the war with Holland, and the severe naval disasters, into which an arbitrary and incompetent Government had hurried the country.
A three days' sea-fight, in which Monk, at the head of an inferior force, had bravely but unsuccessfully withstood the Dutch under De Ruyter, ended in the loss of several English war-ships, and the retreat of the rest to Dover. On the 15th of June Mr. Evelyn went to Sheerness : “There I beheld the sad spectacle—more than half that gallant bulwark of the kingdom miserably shattered; hardly a vessel entire, but appearing so many wrecks and hulls, so cruelly had the Dutch mangled us. The “sad sight” drew from him a confession that “none knew for what reason we first engaged in this ungrateful war."
While the kingdom was thus convulsed by the combined shocks of war and pestilence, another affliction befell it: the destruction by fire of a great portion of its capital. We turn to the Diary of Mr. Evelyn, and under the date of “ Sunday, September the 2nd,” we read :
“ This fatal night, about ten, begun that deplorable fire near Fish Street, in London."
On that same night, or rather, at three o'clock in the morning, Mr. Pepys was standing in his night-gown at his bedroom window in Seething Lane, and from the glare and glow of the western sky, judging the fire was some distance off, grew sufficiently relieved to go to bed again, and to sleep. It had broken out in the house of a baker named Farryan, at Pudding Lane, near the Tower, and impelled by a strong east wind, swept over the city for three nights and days, until it terminated at Pye Corner, in Giltspur Street.
September 3rd.—The fire continuing, after dinner I took coach with my wife and son, and went to the Bankside in Southwark, where we beheld that dismal spectacle, the whole city in dreadful flames near the water side; all the houses from the Bridge, all Thames Street, and upwards towards Cheapside, down to the Three Cranes, were now consumed.
“The fire having continued all this night (if I may call that night which was as light as day for ten miles round about, after a dreadful manner) when co-inspiring with a fierce eastern wind in a very dry season, I went on foot to the same place, and saw the whole south part of the city burning from Cheapside to the Thames, and all along Cornhill (for it kindled back against the wind as well as forward), Tower Street, Fenchurch Street, Gracious Street, and so along to Baynard's Castle, and was now taking hold of St. Paul's Church, to which the scaffolds contributed exceedingly. The conflagration was so universal, and the people so astonished, that from the beginning, I know not by what despondency or fate, they hardly stirred to quench it, so that there was nothing heard or seen but crying out and lamentation, running about like distracted creatures, without at all attempting to save even their goods, such a strange consternation there was upon them, so as it burned both in breadth and length, the Churches, Public Halls, Exchange, Hospitals, Monuments, and ornaments, leaping after a prodigious manner from house to house and street to street, at great distances one from the other; for the heat, with a long set of fair and warm weather, had even ignited the air, :and prepared the materials to receive the fire, which devoured after an incredible manner, houses, furniture, and everything. Here we saw the Thames covered with goods floating, all the barges and boats laden with what some had time and courage to save, as, on the other, the carts, &c., carrying out to the fields, which for many miles were strewed with movables of all sorts, and tents erecting to shelter both people and what goods they could get away. Oh, the miserable and calamitous spectacle ! such as haply the world had not seen the like since the foundation of it, nor to be outdone till the universal conflagration. All the sky was of a fiery aspect, like the top of a burning oven, the light seen above forty miles round about for many nights. God grant my eyes may never behold the like, nor seeing above 10,000 houses all in one flame; the noise and cracking and thunder of the impetuous flame., the shrieking of women and children, the hurry of people, the fall of towers, houses, and churches, was like an hideous storm, and the air all about so hot and inflamed that at last one was not able to approach it, so that they were forced to stand still and let the flames burn on, which they did for near two miles in length and one in breadth. The clouds of smoke were dismal, and reached upon computation near fifty miles in length. Thus I left it this afternoon burning, a resemblance of Sodom, of the last day. London was, but is no more !”
Let us turn for a moment to Mr. Pepys. Taking a boat at the Tower Stairs, he proceeded slowly up the river, which was red with the flames of the burning houses at the water-side. Distracted people were hurrying to get their little property on board the lighters ; no effort was anywhere being made, and probably none would then have been successful, to check the progress of the conflagration. Pepys arrived at Whitehall, and told his story to the King, begging him, as the only possible mode of stopping the fire, to order houses to be pulled down. The King sent him to the Lord Mayor with the necessary instructions. In Cannon Street he encountered the dazed and terrified magistrate, who exclaimed : “Lord ! what can I do? I am spent. People will not obey me.” He had been pulling down houses, had been up all night, and weary and distraught, must go home and refresh himself. Later in the day, Pepys embarked at Paul's wharf on another tour of inspection. He fell in with the Royal barge, carrying the King and the Duke of York, who ordered the immediate demolition of a number of houses; but the fire swept on with such rapidity that little could be done. The river (says Pepys) was full of lighters and boats taking in goods, while “good goods” were floating about in the water ; and he noted—a proof of the old English love of music—that hardly one lighter or boat in three that had the goods of a house in, but had also a pair of virginals. It was a warm, fine evening, and Pepys remained on the river until late, though showers of sparks fell about him like a rain of fire. The flakes would leap up from a burning house, and then descend upon another many yards distant, and set that a-burning. As in many streets the buildings were all of timber, with thatched roofs, while the Thames Street warehouses were stored with oil and brandy, and pitch and tar, we need not wonder at the swift, resistless advance of the destroyer, As night came on, Pepys landed at the little ale-house on the Bankside, where he stayed and saw the fire grow “in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and