A Journal of the Plague Year

A Journal of the Plague Year Summary and Analysis of "I returned to my own Dwelling very well satisfied with my Days Journey..." to "Here the Watch plac'd upon Bow Bridge would have question'd them..."


Not all of the people who removed themselves to ships escaped the infection; in fact, many of them perished. Some who thought they escaped had carried the distemper onboard with them. Many did not have time to shore up the provisions they needed.

The "strange Temper of the People of London contributed extremely to their own Destruction." The numbers of the dead grew even higher. Some parishes thought they were safe and were cavalier about their behavior, but were eventually surprised when the plague came upon them anyway. The rich crowded onto their ships and the poor went into their "Hoys, Smacks, Lighters, and Fishing-boats," but they were afflicted anyway. It was a sorry state at the sea-faring end of town.

Compassion was seen to fall off in some places; children ran away from their parents and parents abandoned their children. There was not a complete lack of "the Bowels of Love, all Concern for one another", and the narrator noted that there were "many Instances of immovable Affection, Pity, and Duty in many..."

Pregnant women faced the most terrible situations. They could often not find a midwife or someone to assist them in their labor. Those who they could procure were often useless and ignorant. Oftentimes the child or both mother and child would be lost during birth. Sometimes the mother had the plague and infected her newborn. The narrator includes detailed lists of the amounts of women and children who perished.

Women who were nursing also faced difficulties. Many hundreds of infants starved because there were no nurses. Afflicted mothers also poisoned their children with their milk. The narrator hoped that if the plague returned, pregnant or nursing women would leave the city right away. He told of "dismal Stories of living Infants being found sucking the Breasts of their Mothers, or Nurses, after they have been dead of the Plague." These horrific scenes were common. The narrator told of a man whose grief was immeasurable due to the death of his wife and newly-born child. He died of grief not long after they passed away.

The narrator remarked that he had heard of some who had "grown stupid with the insupportable Sorrow", and of one man whose shoulders began to stoop due to the weight of his depression.

In the Eastern part of the city, people were still surprised when they fell ill because they thought themselves immune. One tragic element of the plague was that all of the dogs and cats had to be killed in order to prevent them from spreading the disease.

The narrator then begins the tale of the three men whose conduct provides a model for all to follow. Thomas was a sail-maker, John was a biscuit baker, and Richard was a joiner (carpenter). The three men decided that it was best to leave London and pass through towns to avoid the plague. The biscuit baker, John, said that the whole of the kingdom was his native country and town, and that he ought to be able to venture out into it and look for solace. He believed that he "was born in England, and have a Right to live in it if I can."

The discussion of whether or not to leave took place in July. The numbers of dead steadily increased throughout that time. The three men prepared to leave, pooling their money together and trying to take as little baggage as possible. They brought a tent with them to sleep under. A horse carried their baggage, and they had one gun. John the biscuit baker had been a soldier and considered himself one again. The joiner brought his bag of tools in case he could find work along the way. The men set out and moved to the East, away from the part of the city where the plague was violently raging.


More realities of living during the plague surface in this section. Some of the most terrible experiences befell pregnant women and nursing mothers. Those who were pregnant often died of the plague and thus killed their child; transmitted it to their child during or after birth; or died not long after childbirth and left their newborn motherless. Those who were nursing transmitted the disease to their child. H.F. was horrified by these stories and thus counsels pregnant or nursing mothers to leave the city early if the plague ever returned.

The fact that Defoe intended this Journal to provide advice and counsel were the plague to return is absolutely apparent in these melancholy episodes of pregnant and nursing women. It is also apparent in the story of the three men that begins in this section. Readers of the Journal were not to forget its didactic function, which was to help them better understand what to do if plague came back to London. The stories, rumors, anecdotes, personal recollections, bills of mortality, and Orders were supposed to provide information to readers, not merely entertainment.

As for the killing of dogs and cats, one of the oft-overlooked melancholy elements of life during plague, it was practiced both publicly by city officials and by private citizens. The Plague Orders called for the destruction of all domestic pets, exempting only a few hunting dogs. Defoe also wrote of this in his Due Preparations for the Plague, detailing how one man tried to protect his family by causing "all the rats and mice in his house to be effectually poisoned and destroyed, and all the cats and dogs to be killed, and buried deep in the ground in his yard." This absence of animals would no doubt add to the sense of quiet and loneliness a Londoner felt when traversing the streets during the height of the distemper.

In his story of the three men, H.F. refers to the Lepers of Samaria; John, the soldier, is trying to convince his brother Thomas to depart from the city, reasoning "Our Condition at this Rate is worse than any Bodies else; for we can either go away nor stay here; I am of the same Mind with the Lepers of Samaria, If we stay here we are sure to die..." (120). This biblical story is found in 2 Kings 7:3-4 and Luke 17:12-16. In 2 Kings the verses read: "And there were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate: and they said one to another, Why sit we here until we die? If we say, We will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there: and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die."

The verses from Luke read: "And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan."