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.
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.
“Traitor!” cried M. Delville, when he had managed to put himself in possession of the contents of the letter; “I could tear your very flesh from your body; but I prefer the adoption of other measures, which I shall put into immediate effect, and thus avenge my injured honour;” and having delivered himself of this eloquent oration, M. Delville reeled, fell back into his chair, and relieved his sorrows by the powerful medicine recommendable in such cases—Moëtt’s best Champagne.
“The days were passed in amusements of all kinds—the evenings in dancing, fétes champétres, or with music and cards. There were barges upon the canals, beautifully fitted up for the use of the visitors who were fond of water-excursions; hounds and huntsmen for the chase; and shooting apparatus for the sportsman. The ponds were filled with an abundance of fine fish; and many sought a recreation in, to me, the cruel art of angling. Thus was time whiled away on the wings of pleasure; and ennui was banished from those halls of delight.