Nicolas Poussin (1594–1655) was born in Normandy, France and received a basic education before running away to Paris at the age of eighteen to become an artist. Having spent some time in Paris under the tutelage of several French and Flemish artists where he honed his craft. Poussin specialised in painting religious scenes as well as depictions of the classical era.
Stephen Basdeo is a historian and writer based in Leeds, UK.
Plague, or Yersinia pestis, has “plagued” humankind throughout history. Since at least the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 500s—and likely for much longer before that—it has claimed millions of lives. This section presents the voices of people throughout history who have recorded their experiences of the plague and who have also represented it in popular culture.
A poem originally written by Susannah Frances Reynolds and published in the Teetotaler. Transcribed by Stephen Basdeo and Jessica Elizabeth Thomas
I concluded this was a case of genuine malignant cholera, and in consequence felt somewhat alarmed and anxious for the safety of the family. I examined the house, and found the walls dark-looking and damp. The whole place had an air of discomfort; the woman had been washing for two days previous, and had been drying her clothes in the house; damp stockings were hung around the bed place, and undried clothes on lines. I examined the close or yard, and found one wretched dirty old petty or closet for the whole pile of houses, and near to it some small houses where animals were kept, with much filth about them, and human excrement in the channel of the yard and near to the closet.
Presented here is an abridged version of Mary Shelley’s post-apocalyptic pandemic novel “The Last Man” (1826). The plague makes its way across the world killing all in its path and eventually arrives in England. Many of the motifs we find in modern-day apocalypse movies can be found in Shelley’s novel: lawlessness and rioting, the rise of religious madmen, the hoarding of food, and scenes of desolate towns and cities. The extract presented here is a highly abridged one which provides an overview of how Shelley imagined the end of the world as ushered in by a pandemic.
This poem was originally written in 1850 and published in the Home Circle, a magazine edited by Pierce Egan the Younger (1814-80): Ye by whom once the clear blue sky / And zephyrs of returning spring / Were hailed with joy, but now no more / Responses from the spirit bring.
A poem written by Susannah Frances Reynolds in 1841 and transcribed by Jessica Elizabeth Thomas: Oft does th’ unconscious vessel fly / To distant coasts were billows high / In dread confusion roar; / And of the danger unaware.