Journal of a Plague Year by Daniel DeFoe

This book was written in 1720, but it describes very vividly what it was like to live in London in 1665, the year that the black death killed about a quarter of the population.

It has uncanny resemblances to what we are experiencing today: the fear and uncertainty, social distancing, quack medicines, government closures of public gatherings, and overworked doctors, nurses, and gravediggers.

PPE in London, 1665

The plague doctor is a notoriously frightening sight. The red rod is important – it is to be three feet in length, and it indicates that the person holding it has permission to get close to a plague victim, while others should stay away from him. The mask was filled with herbs in the beak part – to keep the smells at bay.

In this book, the author gets courage from Psalm 91:

2 I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress:
my God; in Him will I trust.
3 Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler,
and from the noisome pestilence.

It’s not because he thinks he will be unscathed, but rather, “my times were in His hands, He was able to keep me in a time of the infection as in a time of health; and if He did not think fit to deliver me, still I was in His Hands, and it was meet He should do with me as should seem good to Him.” In short, although he could have left town, instead he felt called to stay in London and write down his observations, hoping somehow that the fractured and chaotic events would begin to fit together and make sense.

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