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houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the city, in a most horrid, malicious, bloody flame, not like the fireflame of an ordinary fire.”
On Tuesday, September 4th, the whole south part of the city, as far as Ludgate Hill, was burning, and the fire began to take hold of the great Cathedral of St. Paul's, which was surrounded by scaffolding for its repair. “The stones of Paul's flew like grenades, the melting lead running down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements glowing with fiery redness, so as no horse, nor man, was able to tread on them, and the demolition had stopped all the passages, so that no help could be applied; the eastern wind still more impetuously driving the flames forward.” On this day the houses near the Tower were blown up, and the same judicious expedient was adopted in other places.
On the 5th the fire moved towards Whitehall, throwing the Court into a state of great excitement. It is only fair to say that Charles and the Duke of York on this occasion set an admirable example, and particular streets were now given in charge to gentlemen of the Court, who directed the means of extinguishing the flames. The people took heart, and vigorously carried out the orders given to them. The civic authorities no longer ignored the advice which some seamen had proffered at the outset, that the houses should be blown up before the flames reached them. “It now pleased God," says Evelyn, “ by abating the wind, and by the industry of the people, infusing a new spirit into them, that the fury of it begun sensibly to abate about noon, so as it came no further than the Temple westward, nor than the entrance of Smithfield north ; but continued all this day and night so
impetuous towards Cripplegate and the Tower, as made us all despair : it also broke out again in the Temple, but the courage of the multitude persisting, and many houses being blown up, such gaps and desolations were soon made, as with the former three days' consumption, the back fire did not so vehemently rage upon the rest as previously. There was yet no standing near the burning and glaring ruins by near a furlong's space.
“The poor inhabitants were dispersed about St. George's Fields, and Moorfields as far as Highgate, and several miles in circle, some under tents, some under miserable huts and hovels, many without a rag or any necessary utensils, bed or board, who, from delicateness, riches, and easy accommodations in stately and wellfurnished houses, were now reduced to extremest misery and poverty.
“In this calamitous condition I returned with a sad heart to my house, blessing and adoring the mercy of God to me and mine, who in the midst of all this ruin was like Lot, in my little Zoar, safe and sound.”
On the 6th Mr. Pepys was up about five o'clock, and went with his men to Bishopsgate, which had hitherto escaped, but where now the fire had broken out. This gave great grounds to people, and to me too, says Pepys, to think there is some kind of plot at work; but he went with the men, and did put it out in a little time, so that that was well again. “ It was pretty to see how hard the women did work in the cannells, sweeping of water ; but then they would scold for drink and be as drunk as devils. I saw good butts of sugar broke open in the street, and people give and take handfuls out and put into beer and drink it. And now all being pretty well, I took boat, and
over to Southwark, and took boat on the other side of the bridge, and so to Westminster, thinking to shift myself, being all in dirt from top to bottom, but could not there find any place to buy a shirt or a pair of gloves, Westminster Hall being full of people's goods, those in Westminster having removed all their goods, and the Exchequer money put into vessels to carry to Nonsuch, but to the Swan, and there was trimmed, and then to White Hall, but saw nobody, and so home. A sad sight to see how the river looks : no houses nor church near it, to the Temple, where it [the fire] stopped.”
To relieve the wants of the poor and houseless liberal contributions were made by the King, the nobility, and the clergy. Collections were made in those parts of the city which had not suffered by the visitation, and alms distributed daily to the needy. At one time peril of famine seemed imminent, but the King issued proclamations calling upon the country people to bring in supplies of provisions, and facilities were offered to the people to leave the ruins by a royal decree that they should be at liberty to pursue their occupations in all towns and cities, a guarantee being given that such reception should entail no material burthen upon parishes. Truly it can have been no hardship to quit a scene so desolate and dreary! Few of us but know the bleak and cheerless aspect of the ruin caused by fire: the blackened, shattered walls, the confused mass of wreckage and dilapidation, the silence and confusion where but a few hours before all was order, and life, and comfort. Think of this miserable picture when extended over so wide an area as was covered by the Great Fire! think of the misery and gloom represented by the destruction of nine and eighty churches, thirteen thousand : To
two hundred dwelling-houses, a vast number of stately public buildings, hospitals, schools, and libraries ! The total amount of the loss in money has been estimated at £7,335,000.*
Speaking of this historic event, Richard Baxter says :“ It was a sight that might have given any man a lively sense of the vanity of this world, and all the wealth and glory of it, and of the future conflagration of all the world. To see the flames mount up towards heaven, and proceed so furiously without restraint: To see the streets filled with people astonished, that had scarce sense left them to lament their own calamity: To see the fields filled with heaps of goods; and sumptuous buildings, ruinous rooms, costly furniture, and household stuff, yea, warehouses and furnished shops and libraries, all on a flame, and none durst come near to receive anything: To see the King and nobles ride about the streets, beholding all these desolations, and none could afford the least relief: To see the air, as far as could be beheld, so filled with the smoke, that the sun shone through it with a colour like blood; yea, even when it was setting in the west, it so appeared to them that dwelt on the west side of the city. But the dolefullest. sight of all was afterwards, to see what a ruinous, confused place the city was, by chimnies and steeples only standing in the midst of cellars and heaps of rubbish; so that it was hard to know where the streets had been, and dangerous, of a long time, to pass through the ruins, because of vaults and fire in them. No man that seeth not such a thing can have a right apprehension of the
* Happily, only eight lives were lost ; and by sweeping away the reeking, squalid lanes and alleys of the East End, the Great Tire may possibly have prevented the return of the Plague,
dreadfulness of it.” But on the insolent courtiers who fluttered round the King, and on the higher classes generally, no such impression seems to have been produced. “None of the nobility,” says Pepys, “ came out of the country at all to help the King, or comfort him, or prevent commotions.” The courtiers said that the rebellious city being ruined, the King was absolute, and indeed, had never been truly king before. One profligate young naval commander" made mighty sport of it,” and rejoiced that the citizens' wives might be corrupted at a reduced cost.
In his “Annus Mirabilis ” Dryden concludes his description of the Fire with a reference to the popular superstition which associated it and the Plague with the appearance of two comets :
“ The utmost malice of the stars is past,
And two dire comets, which have scourged the town,
Or dimly in their sinking sockets frown.” It might well be thought that, after two such terrible visitations, “ the utmost malice of the stars ” had, indeed, been exhausted; but England's cup of bitterness was not yet full. She had drunk deep of national disaster; she had yet to drink of national disgrace. The Fire and the Pestilence were evils for which her people were hardly responsible; but the appearance of a foreign fleet in the Medway was directly owing to their own weakness—to the decay of the old patriotic spirit. The England of Cromwell and Blake had undergone a pitiful change; the heroic temper of her sons had deteriorated under the corrupting influence of a venal Government and profligate Court.
Writing on the 31st of December, 1666, Pepys says: *“ Thus ends this year of public wonder and mischief to