Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/39

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29
THE BLACK DEATH IN NEW ENGLAND.

that appear in the worst eruptive fevers, with black patches all over the skin, from which the disease received the name Black Death. The patient was next seized with violent vomitings of blood; he sometimes died at once, and he seldom survived more than two days. It is stated that, toward the end of the pestilence, many lives were saved by puncturing the boils.

It was a fearful time. The population of England and Wales numbered probably between three and four millions, and of these at least one-half, or more than a million persons, perished. Stowe says that the scourge "so wasted and spoyled the people that scarce the tenth person of all sorts was left alive." Another old writer says: "There died an innumerable sort, for no man but God only knew how many." In six months from January 1st there died in the city of Norwich more than 57,000 persons. In the graveyard of Spittle Croft, thirteen acres of land, which was used for the burial of the dead, because the London graveyards were "choke full," there were buried 50,000 persons. Parliament was prorogued in January, on account of the plague having broken out in Westminster, and again in March, on account of the increase of the disease. On the 16th of June, 1350, an important public regulation was made, "because," as the law ran, "a great part of our people is dead of the plague."

Not only the people but the cattle were infected. The disease was highly contagious. Death was in the air. "The pestilential breath of the sick who spat blood," says Hecker, "caused a terrible contagion far and near, for even the vicinity of those who had fallen of the plague was certain death, so that parents abandoned their infected children, and all the ties of kindred were dissolved!"

Half the population, or more than a million souls! What a stretch of the imagination does it require to cover such an appalling calamity! Cities were reduced to towns; towns to hamlets. The work of the husbandman ceased. The dead were unburied, and lay in the fields rotting in the sun. People stayed in their own houses, often half clothed and half famished, waiting for the destroyer to come.

In the year 1664 a similar visitation of the plague came upon London. The disease was perhaps not as swift and violent as had been the black death three hundred years before, but it was of the same general character. It broke out in Drury Lane in December. It had been raging for a considerable period in Holland, and the minds of the English people had been filled with apprehension for months. If Defoe's narrative is true, the people believed that they had supernatural warnings of the impending catastrophe. The symptoms of this disorder were similar to the black death, except that it was usually preceded by dimness of vision, and the discolored patches on the body were livid, instead of black. At the beginning of the following summer the disease fearfully increased. We may get an idea of the scene at the beginning of the calamity, from some little incidents recorded in the