Samuel Pepys: Forced Entry

At the time of writing, The recorded UK 2020 death rate for coronavirus (69,051) had just overtaken the recorded death rate for the Great Plague of London (68,596), the bubonic pandemic which broke out in the capital in 1665.

The day-to-day accounts of the spread of that pestilence by 17th century London diarist Samuel Pepys have found new relevance during the current situation. Soul City Wanderer briefs.

Soul City Wanderer’s own book Soul City Wandering was released in 2020. Available in paperback or on Kindle, it encourages readers to rediscover their urban surroundings.

During the early lockdown in 2020, social media was awash with quotes from the mid-17th century commentator Samuel Pepys, purportedly from the diary entries he made during the Great Plague of London.

The widely-shared quote read: On hearing ill rumour that Londoners may soon be urged into their lodgings by Her Majesty’s men, I looked upon the street to see a gaggle of striplings making fair merry, and no doubt spreading the plague well about. Not a care had these rogues for the health of their elders!

The quote’s obvious pertinence to the lockdown situation meant it quickly went ‘viral’, with the ‘entry’ repeated thousands of times across Twitterfeeds and Facebook accounts. But social-media had been duped, as the quote was actually from a parody account. However, as a salute to a great London predecessor, Soul City Wanderer has collated the following genuine plague entries from Pepys’s diary which may strike a chord:

  • Aug 30, 1665: Lord! How everybody looks, and discourse in the street is of death, and nothing else, and few people going up and down, that the town is like a place distressed and forsaken.
  • Sep 3, 1665: Lord! To consider the madness of the people of the town, who will (because they are forbid) come in crowds along with the dead corpses to see them buried.
  • Sep 4, 1665: A watch is constantly kept night and day to keep the people in, the plague making us cruel as dogs one to another.

But the most poignant entry comes from the middle of August:

  • Aug 15, 1665: What a happy thing it would be if when we are in our graves (as Shakespeare resembles it) we could dream, and dream but such dreams as this, then we should not need to be so fearful of death, as we are this plague time.

Pepys first mentions the plague in his diary entry of April 30th, 1665. The total recorded plague deaths in London that year was 68,596.

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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