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Retrospective Review .
Vol. VII. PART II.
Art. I.-Britain's Remembrancer; containing a Narrative of
the Plague lately past, a Declaration of the Mischiefs present, and a Prediction of Judgements to come, (if Repentance prevent not.) It is dedicated (for the glory of God) to Posteritie, and to these times (if they please) by Geo. Wither.
Job xxxii. 8, 9, 10, 18, 21, 22. Surely, there is a spirit in man; but the inspiration of the Almighty giveth understanding
Great men are not always wise, neither do the aged always understand judgement.
Therefore, I say, hear me, and I will shew also my opinion.
I will not accept the person of man, neither will I give flattering titles to man.
For I may not give flattering titles, lest my Maker take me away suddenly.
READ ALL, OR CENSURE NOT. For he that answereth a matter before he hear it, it is shame and folly to him. Prov. xviii. 13.
Imprinted for Great Britaine, and are to be sold by John Gris
mond, in Ivie Lane. 1628. Relation Historique, de tout ce qui s'est passé en Marseilles pen
dant la dernière peste. 12mo. 1723.
Histoire de la dernière peste de Marseilles, Ain, Arles, et Toulon,
par Martin, 12mo. 1732. A Historical Relation of the Plague at Marseilles in the year
1720; containing a circumstantial Account of the Rise and Progress of the Calamity, and the Ravages it occasioned; with many curious and interesting Particulars relative to that period. Translated from the French Manuscript of M. Bertrand, Physician at Marseilles, who attended during the whole time of the
Malady. By Anne Plumptre. London, 1805. The Plague of Athens, which happened in the second year of the
Peloponnesian War. First described in Greek by Thucydides, then in Latin by Lucretius, since attempted in English by the Right Reverend Father in God, Thomas (Sprat,) Lord Bishop of Rochester. 1709.
In a former number, when we were attempting, with the aid of Defoe, to give a picture of London under the visitation of the Plague, we alluded to the writers who had considered this terrible malady a noble subject for the display of their poetic genius, and, at the same time, promised to examine its capabilities in this respect, in a future article, and to collect some specimens of the manner in which it had been treated by the principal poets who had made it their theme. There can be no doubt, that the gigantic and tremendous ravages of this disorder elevate it far above the rank of ordinary and ignoble maladies, and render it a fine field for the developement of poetical power. No scene in which man can be placed affords situations more awful or pathetic, or which call upon our common nature for a deeper sympathy. The plague is as a moral earthquake; it suddenly changes the face of man's nature, it dissolves the oldest and most sacred ties, it overturns the most established virtues, and, in an instant, fills a whole people with ruin and desolation. While the infliction lasts, there is a tragedy in every house; the city where it happens is a vast theatre, on which tens of thousands are acting the last fatal scenes; on one plagueday as many awful passions are roused, as occur in a century of healthful ages. Murder is vulgar; it is an unnecessary trouble; the great murderer is at work; wait a few seconds, and your victim will fall, plague-struck, under your hands. They who reckoned upon spending whole lives together are suddenly rent asunder; the lover sees his beloved die before him, or perhaps they die in each other's sight, each departing on different journies, or, what is worse, he who would have died the day before for the salvation of the one he adored, now loathes her; avoids, or, may be, forcibly drives her from him with
horror and disgust. She who yesterday hung caressing upon a husband's neck, to-day does the last kind office, by dragging his body from her presence by a rope. Some boldly determine to die together, and plunge into one another's arms, and meet a common death, giving and taking the poison of infection, Others, under the influence of despair, sit down to meet their enemy, thus inviting his stroke; others, but wounded by his unerring blow, wander raving and lunatic, unharming others, for the grass is growing in the market-place, and in the busiest scenes of bustle there is a deadly and unnatural tranquillity. In short, the finest and the most appalling events of all antiquity are crowded together into one brief space—in a single week all the events in the long roll of the history of human passions are run over, far too rapidly for the pen of the witness to record them. If then the history of one fatal crime, or of the calamities of one unfortunate sufferer, have been such instruments in the hand of the poet, what a million-headed tragedy is the plague? The robber, the ravisher, the miser, the hero, the devotee, the impostor, the unnatural father or mother, the impetuous lover, the insidious villain, the faithful friend, the angelic female, the lustful hypocrite, all perform their parts, and show themselves in their true colours. The mask is dropped, there is no time for duplicity, the shortest way to the end desired must be pursued when the time for all is so brief. As for changes of fortune, no period is so rich as this, the distant heir in a day sees all obstacles removed between him and immense wealth, but alas ! he dies in taking possession; the poor are rich, and the rich are poor, for he who has lands and houses, unless he have money, is poor indeed. He rolls in wealth he cannot touch, and his wife or child
a drachm of Mithridate” before he can avail himself of a farthing. Credit is gone, for both the debtor and creditor will shift the scene before the bill is paid ; the acknowledged thief prowls about with impunity, because judge, and jury, and witness, are in all probability doomed to death before the day of trial. When such are the incidents of the plague, together with a host of others even' more remarkable, can we wonder that many poets have taken the idea from Thucydides, and presented the subject in various points of view? 'Of the narration of Thucydides, we have already spoken. He appears to have been the first who found occasion to dwell upon the horrors of the plague. He did so in a manner to leave nothing to be desired. Lucretius observed the richness of the materials, and worked them into his poem, On the Nature of Things. Virgil wrote a rival description of a plague among cattle, in the Georgics; and Ovid has made use of some characteristic touches in the Metamorphoses. The subject is alluded to by other classical poets. Statius,
Silius Italicus, and Manilius, are among the number. In modern times, the recurrence of this infliction has awaked many pens to the task of recording or simplifying its calamities. Boccacio gives a sketch of the plague of Florence in the Introduction to his Decameron. Wither, in his Britain's Remembrancer, describes the great plague of London in the reign of James I., of which he was an eye-witness, and moralizes his song at very great, and we are sorry to add, tedious length. Sprat, Bishop of Rochester, versified the passages of Thucydides, which relate to this topic, and added such touches as he (very erroneously) deemed would heighten the effect. Thomson, in his Seasons, and Armstrong, in his Art of preserving Health, have some fine thoughts, and animated description, respecting this scourge of mankind. These are nearly all the authors whom our limits will allow u to quote from, in thus attempting to shew the manner in which the principal poets have succeeded in impressing their readers with deep emotions on this subject. We must also be allowed to make some extracts from a very excellent History of the Plugue at Marseilles in 1720, by M. Bertrand, himself an eyewitness and fatal sufferer from its dreadful ravages, translated not long ago by the late Miss Plumptre.
In the description of bodily ailments, however severe or fatal, there is something disgusting, and below the dignity of poetry. This is a difficulty which must have been felt by all writers on the subject, and have rendered the task of Lucretius by no means an easy one.
For he was the first who ennobled perspirations, diarrhea, blanes, convulsion, and delirium, and taught disease the secret of harmony and rhythm. A catalogue of symptoms, though interesting, in the highest degree, in the historian, to say the least, sounds flat and tedious in verse. The poet, however, has endeavoured to dignify the subject, by avoiding all familiarity of expression; and even, when dwelling upon mere personal disease, has contrived to raise deep emotions of commiseration, if not those of elevated and elevating sympathy,
The following is a very spirited picture of a patient labouring under this calamity; though minute in its detail, there is a force in the description which saves it from merely horrifying the reader.
“ Nec requies erat ulla mali : defessa jacebant