A Journal of the Plague Year

A Journal of the Plague Year Summary and Analysis of "In other Cases, some had Gardens, and Walls..." to "It was thought that there were not less than 10000 Houses forsaken..."


The shutting up of houses did not really deter people from getting out, as they devised a multitude of ways to escape. This was deleterious to the city because these escapees spread the infection further when they wandered the streets. Many perished on the roads because they did not know where to go and were refused entry to other villages or towns. Oftentimes the master of the house where sickness took hold did not inform the authorities right away, but went about in public and accidentally spread the disease.

The narrator believed there may have been some truth to the rumor that some people knowingly went about spreading the disease, but he doubted it. He admired the people that had saved enough foodstuffs in preparation for the coming plague and willingly shut themselves up; these people often emerged unscathed and healthy at the plague's close.

During this time there were stories of some people being frightened at the sight of sickness or death in their loved ones. The narrator recounts one moving story of a mother who was frightened to death by her daughter's illness. Others were "frighted out of their Senses, some out of their Memory, and some out of their Understanding..."

The narrator took to walking about the streets at this time. One day his attention was arrested by a giant pit that was being dug in the churchyard. It was in his own parish of Aldgate, and the neighboring parish of WhiteChapel, that the plague would grow the most fearsome. The pit turned out not to be deep enough. In two weeks the officials had thrown in 1,114 bodies. The narrator visited the pit again when word came of how full it was. An order existed preventing people from coming to see the pit because of the risk of infection, but there were some cases of people throwing themselves into it because they longed for death or because they were crazed.

The narrator was deeply affected by one man who was filled with grief over the death of his wife and children. He bore it well, but was clearly distressed. He was shocked at how crudely the bodies were thrown into the pit, and had to be led away by friends to Pye Tavern on the end of Houndsditch. The narrator remarked how the bodies of both rich and poor alike were thrown into the pit because there were no coffins and no point in distinguishing the dead.

That evening the narrator could not get the poor mournful gentleman out of his mind and decided to go to Pye Tavern to see how he was faring. It was after one o'clock in the morning but the people of the house still entertained him there. Unfortunately, there was also a small group of men who stayed at the tavern and behaved poorly and callously every evening. They would watch the dead-carts and mourning people on the streets and mock and jeer at them. That evening they turned their scorn on the grief-stricken man, ridiculing his sorrow and taunting him to also leap into the pit. The man remained seated, mute and disconsolate.

The narrator tried to force the men to desist their cruelty and profanity, but they fell to criticizing him instead, asking him why he was saved from the grave when more honest men than he had died. The narrator conceded that better men had died, but told his criticizers that God was looking out for him and had thus far spared his life. The men responded with the grossest and most barbarous language. What shocked the narrator was that they also included blasphemies and talk of atheism; they mocked the plague being from "the hand of God" and laughed at religious displays.

Three to four days later, however, one of the men died, and not long after the rest of the group were carried into the grave. Thankfully at this time many people began to flock to church and evince great concern for their immortal souls. People were zealous in their religious exercises. The narrator was perturbed at the fate of the rude men and their immense wickedness, believing that they would be examples of God's justice. The narrator tried not to be too offended by their harsh words, and endeavored to pray for their souls.

Here H.F. returns to the subject of shutting up houses, reminding readers of the violence suffered by the watchmen by families desiring to escape. However, the narrator found no evidence that people who were infected desired to infect the healthy. He knew of several pious and religious people who forbade their families to come near them in order to keep them safe and healthy.

On the whole, the shutting up of houses did not deter the spread of the plague because many people ran away and infected others unwittingly. One man who escaped made it to an inn, where he died anyway, and others who came into contact with him died soon after.


In this section the human toll of the plague becomes clear. There are varied reactions to it, which range from the depression and quiet fortitude of the man who lost his family to the mocking, blasphemous, and jeering behavior of the men at Pye Tavern. The men who joke and scorn are clearly just as afraid of the plague as their brethren are, but their response is far different; indeed, despite the distasteful way in which they conduct themselves, their responses are no less valid and are even welcome in their frank and sincere expression of rage and confusion. They see no need to remain sober and calm, but rather prefer to give vent to the dark thoughts and anger that many Londoners were feeling at this time.

When the men die, H.F. believes that while it is impossible to rule on the internal state of anyone and make judgments about whether or not a man deserved God's punishment, such men who continually flouted God's commandments and blasphemed him publicly and wantonly might expect to feel the hand of God upon them. H.F. thought "it could not but seem reasonable to believe, that God would not think fit to spare by his Mercy such open declared Enemies, that should insult his Name and Being, defy his Vengeance, and mock at his Worship and Worshipers, at such a Time..." (67). Despite his judgmental attitude, H.F. wonders whether or not he felt this way because of the personal affront the men levied upon him; "I was doubtful in my Thoughts, whether the Resentment I retain'd was not all upon my own private Account, for they had given me a great deal of ill Language too..." (68). H.F. is admirable for this rational and probing examination into the causes of his own anger.

H.F. also addresses the rumor that certain Londoners willingly spread the disease (he comes back to this topic several times in the text). He explains that there may have been a small sliver of truth to such whispers, but that he doubted it was as widespread as purported. He believed that there was actually a high degree of people who infected others unwittingly, due to their unawareness that they carried the disease and their ignorance regarding transmission. Sometimes the master of the house delayed in letting the authorities know that one of his family members was affected; while this was dangerous, it was also understandable because families were loath to shut themselves up in their houses. Of course, this was one of the only ways to prevent healthy people from getting sick, but the restriction of freedom was not very palatable.

Also in this section is H.F.'s encounter with the great pit. He writes that the parish of Aldgate dug a great pit and "a terrible Pit it was, and I could not resist my Curiosity to go and see it; as near as I may judge, it was about 40 Foot in Length, and about 15 or 16 Foot broad; and at the Time I first looked at it, about nine Foot deep..." The officials thought the pit would be deep enough but it proved too small to accommodate all of the dead. There were strict orders that no people were to come near it, especially as some people threw themselves in. H.F., who found the pit "very, very, very dreadful, and as no Tongue can express," (58) nonetheless was drawn to it "and got Admittance into the Church-Yard by being acquainted with the Sexton, who attended, who tho' he did not refuse me at all, yet earnestly perswaded me not to go..." (60).

The usage of the pit in the Journal recalls biblical imagery, such as when the followers of Korah are thrown into a pit after they rebel against Moses and when the Psalmist of Psalm 7 wrote of a great pit that symbolized alienation from God. H.F. cannot resist the pit even though he knows it is forbidden to him, and scholar Everett Zimmerman writes that "the narrator's curiosity about the appalling sight is not idle: he desires, in the fullest metaphoric sense, to see into the pit, to comprehend the plague and the human condition that it reveals." The pit is thus a metaphor for the plague itself in all of its dark, incomprehensible, and terrible reality. Scholar Nicholas Seager agrees, writing "the pit is a conceit representing our inability to comprehend or record."