A Tale of the Plague | William Harrison Ainsworth

William Harrison Ainsworth (1805–82) was an extremely popular author in the early Victorian period. Born in Manchester and originally destined for a career in the law, he was never the most devoted student and disappointed his family by pursuing a literary career. A number of successful hits marked the beginning of his career: Rookwood (1834), a novel which features as its hero the famous Dick Turpin; Jack Sheppard (1839), based upon the life of the eponymous eighteenth-century burglar; a gothic romance titled The Tower of London (1840); and Old Saint Paul’s, which was originally serialised in The London Times and for which Ainsworth received a £1,000 advance. Old Saint Paul’s, an extract of which is included here, tells the story of the family of Stephen Bloundel who are living in London when the plague breaks out. Seeking to avoid the plague the family go into self-imposed quarantine. Ainsworth’s descriptions of an eerily quiet London and his morbid scenes of death and sickness are almost apocalyptic in nature. His model is clearly Daniel Defoe, whose account of the plague in Journal of the Plague Year (1722) he had read in depth and taken many details from. The extract below describes the plague at the beginning of the novel and the plague at its height.

William Harrison Ainsworth (Personal Collection)

Towards the middle of May, the bills of mortality began to swell greatly in amount, and though but few were put down to the plague, and a large number to the spotted fever (another frightful disorder raging at the period), it is well known that the bulk had died of the former disease. The rigorous measures adopted by the authorities (whether salutary or not has been questioned), in shutting up houses and confining the sick and sound within them for forty days, were found so intolerable, that most persons were disposed to run any risk rather than be subjected to such a grievance, and every artifice was resorted to for concealing a case when it occurred. Hence, it seldom happened, unless by accident, that a discovery was made. Quack doctors were secretly consulted, instead of the regular practitioners; the searchers were bribed to silence; and large fees were given to the undertakers and buriers to lay the deaths to the account of some other disorder. All this, however, did not blind the eyes of the officers to the real state of things. Redoubling their vigilance, they entered houses on mere suspicion; inflicted punishments where they found their orders disobeyed or neglected; sent the sound to prison,—the sick to the pest-house; and replaced the faithless searchers by others upon whom they could place reliance. Many cases were thus detected; but in spite of every precaution, the majority escaped; and the vent was no sooner stopped in one quarter than it broke out with additional violence in another.

By this time the alarm had become general. All whose business or pursuits permitted it, prepared to leave London, which they regarded as a devoted city, without delay. As many houses were, therefore, closed from the absence of the inhabitants as from the presence of the plague, and this added to the forlorn appearance of the streets, which in some quarters were almost deserted. For a while, nothing was seen at the great outlets of the city but carts, carriages, and other vehicles, filled with goods and movables, on their way to the country; and, as may be supposed, the departure of their friends did not tend to abate the dejection of those whose affairs compelled them to remain behind.

One circumstance must not be passed unnoticed, namely, the continued fineness and beauty of the weather. No rain had fallen for upwards of three weeks. The sky was bright and cloudless; the atmosphere, apparently, pure and innoxious; while the heat was as great as is generally experienced in the middle of summer. But instead of producing its usual enlivening effect on the spirits, the fine weather added to the general gloom and apprehension, inasmuch as it led to the belief (afterwards fully confirmed), that if the present warmth was so pernicious, the more sultry seasons which were near at hand would aggravate the fury of the pestilence. Sometimes, indeed, when the deaths were less numerous, a hope began to be entertained that the distemper was abating, and confidence was for a moment restored; but these anticipations were speedily checked by the reappearance of the scourge, which seemed to baffle and deride all human skill and foresight.

London now presented a lamentable spectacle. Not a street but had a house in it marked with a red cross—some streets had many such. The bells were continually tolling for burials, and the dead-carts went their melancholy rounds at night and were constantly loaded. Fresh directions were issued by the authorities; and as domestic animals were considered to be a medium of conveying the infection, an order, which was immediately carried into effect, was given to destroy all dogs and cats. But this plan proved prejudicial rather than the reverse, as the bodies of the poor animals, most of which were drowned in the Thames, being washed ashore, produced a horrible and noxious effluvium, supposed to contribute materially to the propagation of the distemper.

No precautionary measure was neglected; but it may be doubted whether any human interference could have averted the severity of the scourge, which, though its progress might be checked for a few days by attention, or increased in the same ratio by neglect, would in the end have unquestionably fulfilled its mission. The College of Physicians, by the king’s command, issued simple and intelligible directions, in the mother tongue, for the sick. Certain of their number, amongst whom was the reader’s acquaintance, Doctor Hodges, were appointed to attend the infected; and two out of the Court of Aldermen were required to see that they duly executed their dangerous office. Public prayers and a general fast were likewise enjoined. But Heaven seemed deaf to the supplications of the doomed inhabitants—their prayers being followed by a fearful increase of deaths. A vast crowd was collected within Saint Paul’s to hear a sermon preached by Doctor Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury,—a prelate greatly distinguished during the whole course of the visitation, by his unremitting charity and attention to the sick; and before the discourse was concluded, several fell down within the sacred walls, and, on being conveyed to their own homes, were found to be infected. On the following day, too, many others who had been present were seized with the disorder.

A fresh impulse was given to the pestilence from an unlooked for cause. It has been mentioned that the shutting up of houses and seclusion of the sick were regarded as an intolerable grievance, and though most were compelled to submit to it, some few resisted, and tumults and disturbances ensued. As the plague increased, these disturbances became more frequent, and the mob always taking part against the officers, they were frequently interrupted in the execution of their duty.

About this time a more serious affray than usual occurred, attended-with loss of life and other unfortunate consequences, which it may be worth while to relate, as illustrative of the peculiar state of the times. The wife of a merchant, named Barcroft, residing in Lothbury, being attacked by the plague, the husband, fearing his house would be shut up, withheld all information from the examiners and searchers. His wife died, and immediately afterwards one of his children was attacked. Still he refused to give notice. The matter, however, got wind. The searchers arrived at night, and being refused admittance, they broke into the house. Finding undoubted evidence of infection, they ordered it to be closed, stationed a watchman at the door, and marked it with the fatal sign. Barcroft remonstrated against their proceedings, but in vain. They told him he might think himself well off that he was not carried before the Lord Mayor, who would undoubtedly send him to Ludgate; and with other threats to the like effect, they departed.

The unfortunate man’s wife and child were removed the following night in the dead-cart, and, driven half-mad by grief and terror, he broke open the door of his dwelling, and, plunging a sword in the watchman’s breast, who opposed his flight, gained the street. A party of the watch happened to be passing at the time, and the fugitive was instantly secured. He made a great clamour, however,—calling to his neighbours and the bystanders to rescue him, and in another moment the watch was beaten off, and Barcroft placed on a post, whence he harangued his preservers on the severe restraints imposed upon the citizens, urging them to assist in throwing open the doors of all infected houses, and allowing free egress to their inmates.

Greedily listening to this insane counsel, the mob resolved to act upon it. Headed by the merchant, they ran down Thread-needle-street, and, crossing Stock’s Market, burst open several houses in Bearbinder-lane, and drove away the watchmen. One man, more courageous than the others, tried to maintain his post, and was so severely handled by his assailants, that he died a few days afterwards of the injuries he had received. Most of those who had been imprisoned within their dwellings immediately issued forth, and joining the mob, which received fresh recruits each moment, started on the same errand.

Loud shouts were now raised of—”Open the doors! No plague prisoners! No plague prisoners!” and the mob set off along the Poultry. They halted, however, before the Great Conduit, near the end of Bucklersbury, and opposite Mercer’s Hall, because they perceived a company of the Train-bands advancing to meet them. A council of war was held, and many of the rabble were disposed to fly; but Barcroft again urged them to proceed, and they were unexpectedly added by Solomon Eagle, who, bursting through their ranks, with his brazier on his head, crying, “Awake! sleepers, awake! the plague is at your doors! awake!” speeded towards the Train-bands, scattering sparks of fire as he pursued his swift career. The mob instantly followed, and, adding their shouts to his outcries, dashed on with such fury that the Train-bands did not dare to oppose them, and, after a slight and ineffectual resistance, were put to rout.

Barcroft, who acted as leader, informed them that there was a house in Wood-street shut up, and the crowd accompanied him thither. In a few minutes they had reached Bloundel’s shop, but finding no one on guard—for the watchman, guessing their errand, had taken to his heels—they smeared over the fatal cross and inscription with a pail of mud gathered from the neighbouring kennel, and then broke open the door. The grocer and his apprentice hearing the disturbance, and being greatly alarmed at it, hurried to the shop, and found it full of people.

“You are at liberty Mr. Bloundel,” cried the merchant, who was acquainted with the grocer. “We are determined no longer to let our families be imprisoned at the pleasure of the Lord Mayor and aldermen. We mean to break open all the plague houses, and set free their inmates.”

“For Heaven’s sake, consider what you are about, Mr. Barcroft,” cried the grocer. “My house has been closed for nearly a month. Nay, as my son has entirely recovered, and received his certificate of health from Doctor Hodges, it would have been opened in three days hence by the officers; so that I have suffered all the inconvenience of the confinement, and can speak to it. It is no doubt very irksome, and may be almost intolerable to persons of an impatient temperament: but I firmly believe it is the only means to check the progress of contagion. Listen to me, Mr. Barcroft—listen to me, good friends, and hesitate before you violate laws which have been made expressly to meet this terrible emergency.”

Here he was checked by loud groans and upbraidings from the bystanders.

“He tells you himself that the period of his confinement is just over,” cried Barcroft. “It is plain he has no interest in the matter, except that he would have others suffer as he has done. Heed him not, my friends; but proceed with the good work. Liberate the poor plague prisoners. Liberate them. On! on!”

“Forbear, rash men,” cried Bloundel, in an authoritative voice. “In the name of those you are bound to obey, I command you to desist.”

“Command us!” cried one of the bystanders, raising his staff in a menacing manner. “Is this your gratitude for the favour we have just conferred upon you? Command us, forsooth! You had better repeat the order, and see how it will be obeyed.”

“I do repeat it,” rejoined the grocer, firmly. “In the Lord Mayor’s name, I command you to desist, and return to your homes.”

The man would have struck him with his staff, if he had not been himself felled to the ground by Leonard. This was the signal for greater outrage. The grocer and his apprentice were instantly assailed by several others of the mob, who, leaving them both on the floor covered with bruises, helped themselves to all they could lay hands on in the shop, and then quitted the premises.

It is scarcely necessary to track their course further; and it may be sufficient to state, that they broke open upwards of fifty houses in different streets. Many of the plague-stricken joined them, and several half-naked creatures were found dead in the streets on the following morning. Two houses in Blackfriars-lane were set on fire, and the conflagration was with difficulty checked; nor was it until late on the following day that the mob could be entirely dispersed. The originator of the disturbance, Barcroft, after a desperate resistance, was shot through the head by a constable.

The result of this riot, as will be easily foreseen, was greatly to increase the pestilence; and many of those who had been most active in it perished in prison of the distemper. Far from being discouraged by the opposition offered to their decrees, the city authorities enforced them with greater rigour than ever, and, doubling the number of the watch, again shut up all those houses which had been broken open during the late tumult.

Bloundel received a visit from the Lord Mayor, Sir John Lawrence, who, having been informed of his conduct, came to express his high approval of it, offering to remit the few days yet unexpired of his quarantine. The grocer, however, declined the offer, and with renewed expressions of approbation, Sir John Lawrence took his leave.

Three days afterwards, the Examiner of Health pronounced the grocer’s house free from infection. The fatal mark was obliterated from the door; the shutters were unfastened; and Bloundel resumed his business as usual. Words are inadequate to describe the delight that filled the breast of every member of his family, on their first meeting after their long separation. It took place in the room adjoining the shop. Mrs. Bloundel received the joyful summons from Leonard, and, on descending with her children, found her husband and her son Stephen anxiously expecting her. Scarcely able to make up her mind as to which of the two she should embrace first, Mrs. Bloundel was decided by the pale countenance of her son, and rushing towards him, she strained him to her breast, while Amabel flew to her father’s arms. The grocer could not repress his tears; but they were tears of joy, and that night’s happiness made him ample amends for all the anxiety he had recently undergone.

“Well, Stephen, my dear child,” said his mother, as soon as the first tumult of emotion had subsided,—”well, Stephen,” she said, smiling at him through her tears, and almost smothering him with kisses, “you are not so much altered as I expected; and I do not think, if I had had the care of you, I could have nursed you better myself. You owe your father a second life, and we all owe him the deepest gratitude for the care he has taken of you.”

“I can never be sufficiently grateful for his kindness,” returned Stephen, affectionately.

“Give thanks to the beneficent Being who has preserved you from this great danger, my son, not to me,” returned Bloundel. “The first moments of our reunion should be worthily employed.”

So saying, he summoned the household, and, for the first time for a month, the whole family party assembled, as before, at prayer. Never were thanksgivings more earnestly, more devoutly uttered. All arose with bright and cheerful countenances; and even Blaize seemed to have shaken off his habitual dread of the pestilence. As he retired with Patience, he observed to her, “Master Stephen looks quite well, though a little thinner. I must ascertain from him the exact course of treatment pursued by his father. I wonder whether Mr. Bloundel would nurse me if I were to be suddenly seized with the distemper?”

Ainsworth’s Old Saint Paul’s (penny edition from John Dicks)

“If he wouldn’t, I would,” replied Patience.

“Thank you, thank you,” replied Blaize. “I begin to think we shall get through it. I shall go out to-morrow and examine the bills of mortality, and see what progress the plague is making. I am all anxiety to know. I must get a fresh supply of medicine, too. My private store is quite gone, except three of my favourite rufuses, which I shall take before I go to bed to-night. Unluckily, my purse is as empty as my phials.”

“I can lend you a little money,” said Patience. “I haven’t touched my last year’s wages. They are quite at your service.”

“You are too good,” replied Blaize; “but I won’t decline the offer. I heard a man crying a new anti-pestilential elixir, as he passed the house yesterday. I must find him out and buy a bottle. Besides, I must call on my friend Parkhurst, the apothecary.—You are a good girl, Patience, and I’ll marry you as soon as the plague ceases.”

“I have something else to give you,” rejoined Patience. “This little bag contains a hazel-nut, from which I have picked the kernel, and filled its place with quicksilver, stopping the hole with wax. Wear it round your neck, and you will find it a certain preservative against the pestilence.”

“Who told you of this remedy?” asked Blaize, taking the bag.

“Your mother,” returned Patience.

“I wonder I never heard of it,” said the porter.

“She wouldn’t mention it to you, because the doctor advised her not to put such matters into your head,” replied Patience. “But I couldn’t help indulging you. Heigho! I hope the plague will soon be over.”

“It won’t be over for six months,” rejoined Blaize, shaking his head. “I read in a little book, published in 1593, in Queen Elizabeth’s reign, and written by Simon Kelway, ‘that when little children flock together, and pretend that some of their number are dead, solemnizing the burial in a mournful sort, it is a certain token that a great mortality is at hand.’ This I have myself seen more than once. Again, just before the great sickness of 1625, the churchyard wall of St. Andrew’s, Holborn, fell down. I need not tell you that the same thing occurred after the frost this winter.”

“I heard of it,” replied Patience: “but I did not know it was a bad sign.”

“It is a dreadful sign,” returned Blaize, with a shudder “The thought of it brings back my old symptoms. I must have a supper to guard against infection—a slice of toasted bread, sprinkled with vinegar, and powdered with nutmeg.”

And chattering thus, they proceeded to the kitchen.

Before supper could be served, Dr. Hodges made his appearance. He was delighted to see the family assembled together again, and expressed a hearty wish that they might never more be divided. He watched Amabel and Leonard carefully, and seemed annoyed that the former rather shunned than favoured the regards of the apprentice.

Leonard, too, looked disconcerted; and though he was in possession of his mistress’s promise, he did not like to reclaim it. During the whole of the month, he had been constantly on the watch, and had scarcely slept at night, so anxious was he to prevent the possibility of any communication taking place between Rochester and his mistress. But, in spite of all his caution, it was possible he might be deceived. And when on this, their first meeting, she returned his anxious gaze with averted looks, he felt all his jealous misgivings return.

Supper, meanwhile, proceeded. Doctor Hodges was in excellent spirits, and drank a bottle of old sack with great relish. Overcome by the sight of his wife and children, the grocer abandoned himself to his feelings. As to his wife, she could scarcely contain herself, but wept and laughed by turns—now embracing her husband, now her son, between whom she had placed herself. Nor did she forget Doctor Hodges; and such was the exuberance of her satisfaction, that when the repast was ended, she arose, and, flinging her arms about his neck, termed him the preserver of her son.

“If any one is entitled to that appellation it is his father,” replied Hodges, “and I may say, that in all my experience I have never witnessed such generous self-devotion as Mr. Bloundel has exhibited towards his son. You must now be satisfied, madam, that no person can so well judge what is proper for the safety of his family as your husband.”

“I never doubted it, sir,” replied Mrs. Bloundel.

“I must apprise you, then, that he has conceived a plan by which he trusts to secure you and his children and household from any future attack,” returned Hodges.

“I care not what it is, so it does not separate me from him,” replied Mrs. Bloundel.

“It does not,” replied the grocer. “It will knit us more closely together than we have yet been. I mean to shut up my house, having previously stored it with provisions for a twelvemonth, and shall suffer no member of my family to stir forth as long as the plague endures.”

“I am ready to remain within doors, if it continues twenty years,” replied his wife. “But how long do you think it will last, doctor?”

“Till next December, I have no doubt,” returned Hodges.

The Plague at its Height

[Months passed and] everything proceeded as before within his quiet dwelling; and, except that the family were diminished in number, all appeared the same. It is true they wanted the interest, and indeed the occupation, afforded them by the gentle invalid, but in other respects, no difference was observable. Devotional exercises, meals, the various duties of the house, and cheerful discourse, filled up the day, which never proved wearisome. The result proved the correctness of Mr. Bloundel’s judgment. While the scourge continued weekly to extend its ravages throughout the city, it never crossed his threshold; and, except suffering in a slight degree from scorbutic affections, occasioned by the salt meats to which they were now confined, and for which the lemon and lime-juice, provided against such a contingency, proved an efficacious remedy, all the family enjoyed perfect health.


And now every other consideration was merged in the alarm occasioned by the daily increasing fury of the pestilence. Throughout July the excessive heat of the weather underwent no abatement, but in place of the clear atmosphere that had prevailed during the preceding month, unwholesome blights filled the air, and, confining the pestilential effluvia, spread the contagion far and wide with extraordinary rapidity. Not only was the city suffocated with heat, but filled with noisome smells, arising from the carcasses with which the close alleys and other out-of-the-way places were crowded, and which were so far decomposed as not to be capable of removal. The aspect of the river was as much changed as that of the city. Numbers of bodies were thrown into it, and, floating up with the tide, were left to taint the air on its banks, while strange, ill-omened fowl, attracted thither by their instinct, preyed upon them. Below the bridge, all captains of ships moored in the Pool, or off Wapping, held as little communication as possible with those on shore, and only received fresh provisions with the greatest precaution. As the plague increased, most of these removed lower down the river, and many of them put out entirely to sea. Above the bridge, most of the wherries and other smaller craft had disappeared, their owners having taken them up the river, and moored them against its banks at different spots, where they lived in them under tilts. Many hundreds of persons remained upon the river in this way during the whole continuance of the visitation.

August had now arrived, but the distemper knew no cessation. On the contrary, it manifestly increased in violence and malignity. The deaths rose a thousand in each week, and in the last week in this fatal month amounted to upwards of sixty thousand!

But, terrible as this was, the pestilence had not yet reached its height. Hopes were entertained that when the weather became cooler, its fury would abate; but these anticipations were fearfully disappointed. The bills of mortality rose the first week in September to seven thousand, and though they slightly decreased during the second week—awakening a momentary hope—on the third they advanced to twelve thousand! In less than ten days, upwards of two thousand persons perished in the parish of Aldgate alone; while Whitechapel suffered equally severely. Out of the hundred parishes in and about the city, one only, that of Saint John the Evangelist in Watling-street, remained uninfected, and this merely because there was scarcely a soul left within it, the greater part of the inhabitants having quitted their houses, and fled into the country.

The deepest despair now seized upon all the survivors. Scarcely a family but had lost half of its number—many, more than half—while those who were left felt assured that their turn would speedily arrive. Even the reckless were appalled, and abandoned their evil courses. Not only were the dead lying in the passages and alleys, but even in the main thoroughfares, and none would remove them. The awful prediction of Solomon Eagle that “grass would grow in the streets, and that the living should not be able to bury the dead,” had come to pass. London had become one vast lazar-house, and seemed in a fair way of becoming a mighty sepulchre.

During all this time, Saint Paul’s continued to be used as a pest-house, but it was not so crowded as heretofore, because, as not one in fifty of the infected recovered when placed under medical care, it was not thought worth while to remove them from their own abodes. The number of attendants, too, had diminished. Some had died, but the greater part had abandoned their offices from a fear of sharing the fate of their patients. In consequence of these changes, Judith Malmayns had been advanced to the post of chief nurse at the cathedral. Both she and Chowles had been attacked by the plague, and both had recovered. Judith attended the coffin-maker, and it was mainly owing to her that he got through the attack. She never left him for a moment, and would never suffer any one to approach him—a necessary precaution, as he was so much alarmed by his situation that he would infallibly have made some awkward revelations. When Judith, in her turn, was seized, Chowles exhibited no such consideration for her, and scarcely affected to conceal his disappointment at her recovery. This want of feeling on his part greatly incensed her against him, and though he contrived in some degree to appease her, it was long before she entirely forgave him. Far from being amended by her sufferings, she seemed to have grown more obdurate, and instantly commenced a fresh career of crime. It was not, however, necessary now to hasten the end of the sick. The distemper had acquired such force and malignity that it did its work quickly enough—often too quickly—and all she sought was to obtain possession of the poor patients’ attire, or any valuables they might possess worth appropriating. To turn to the brighter side of the picture, it must not be omitted that when the pestilence was at its height, and no offers could induce the timorous to venture forth, or render assistance to the sufferers, Sir John Lawrence the Lord Mayor, the Duke of Albermarle, the Earl of Craven, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, devoted themselves to the care of the infected, and supplied them with every necessary they required. Among the physicians, no one deserves more honourable mention than Doctor Hodges, who was unremitting in his attentions to the sufferers.

To return to the grocer. While the plague was thus raging around him, and while every house in Wood-street except one or two, from which the inmates had fled, was attacked by the pestilence, he and his family had remained untouched. About the middle of August, he experienced a great alarm. His second son, Hubert, fell sick, and he removed him to one of the upper rooms which he had set aside as an hospital, and attended upon him himself. In a few days, however, his fears were removed and he found, to his great satisfaction, that the youth had not been attacked by the plague, but was only suffering from a slight fever, which quickly yielded to the remedies applied. About the same time, too, he lost his porter, Dallison. The poor fellow did not make his appearance as usual for two days, and intelligence of his fate was brought on the following day by his wife, who came to state that her husband was dead, and had been thrown into the plague-pit at Aldgate. The same night, however, she brought another man, named Allestry, who took the place of the late porter, and acquainted his employer with the deplorable state of the city.

Two days afterwards, Allestry himself died, and Mr. Bloundel had no one to replace him. He thus lost all means of ascertaining what was going forward; but the deathlike stillness around him, broken only by the hoarse tolling of a bell, by a wild shriek or other appalling cry, proclaimed too surely the terrible state of things. Sometimes, too, a passenger would go by, and would tell him the dreadful height to which the bills of mortality had risen, assuring him that ere another month had expired, not a soul would be left alive in London.


On the tenth of September, which was afterwards accounted the most fatal day of this fatal month, a young man of a very dejected appearance, and wearing the traces of severe suffering in his countenance, entered the west end of London, and took his way slowly towards the city. He had passed Saint Giles’s without seeing a single living creature, or the sign of one in any of the houses. The broad thoroughfare was completely grown over with grass, and the habitations had the most melancholy and deserted air imaginable. Some doors and windows were wide open, discovering rooms with goods and furniture scattered about, having been left in this state by their inmates; but most part of them were closely fastened up.

As he proceeded along Holborn, the ravages of the scourge were yet more apparent. Every house, on either side of the way, had a red cross, with the fatal inscription above it, upon the door. Here and there, a watchman might be seen, looking more like a phantom than a living thing. Formerly, the dead were conveyed away at night, but now the carts went about in the daytime. On reaching Saint Andrew’s, Holborn, several persons were seen wheeling hand-barrows filled with corpses, scarcely covered with clothing, and revealing the blue and white stripes of the pestilence, towards a cart which was standing near the church gates. The driver of the vehicle, a tall, cadaverous-looking man, was ringing his bell, and jesting with another person, whom the young man recognised, with a shudder, as Chowles. The coffin-maker also recognised him at the same moment, and called to him, but the other paid no attention to the summons and passed on.

Crossing Holborn Bridge, he toiled faintly up the opposite hill, for he was evidently suffering from extreme debility, and on gaining the summit was obliged to support himself against a wall for a few minutes, before he could proceed. The same frightful evidences of the ravages of the pestilence were observable here, as elsewhere. The houses were all marked with the fatal cross, and shut up. Another dead-cart was heard rumbling along, accompanied by the harsh cries of the driver, and the doleful ringing of the bell. The next moment the loathly vehicle was seen coming along the Old Bailey. It paused before a house, from which four bodies were brought, and then passed on towards Smithfield. Watching its progress with fearful curiosity, the young man noted how often it paused to increase its load. His thoughts, coloured by the scene, were of the saddest and dreariest complexion. All around wore the aspect of death. The few figures in sight seemed staggering towards the grave, and the houses appeared to be plague-stricken like the inhabitants. The heat was intolerably oppressive, and the air tainted with noisome exhalations. Ever and anon, a window would be opened, and a ghastly face thrust from it, while a piercing shriek, or lamentable cry, was uttered. No business seemed going on—there were no passengers—no vehicles in the streets. The mighty city was completely laid prostrate.

Ainsworth, William Harrison, Old Saint Paul’s, 3 vols (London: Cunningham, 1841).

Carver, Stephen. The Author who Outsold Dickens: The Life and Work of W.H. Ainsworth (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2020)