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Chapter 8

AFTER a long interval, I am again impelled by the restless spirit within me
to continue my narration; but I must alter the mode which I have hitherto
adopted. The details contained in the foregoing pages, apparently trivial,
yet each slightest one weighing like lead in the depressed scale of human
afflictions; this tedious dwelling on the sorrows of others, while my own
were only in apprehension; this slowly laying bare of my soul's wounds:
this journal of death; this long drawn and tortuous path, leading to the
ocean of countless tears, awakens me again to keen grief. I had used this
history as an opiate; while it described my beloved friends, fresh with
life and glowing with hope, active assistants on the scene, I was soothed;
there will be a more melancholy pleasure in painting the end of all. But
the intermediate steps, the climbing the wall, raised up between what was
and is, while I still looked back nor saw the concealed desert beyond, is a
labour past my strength. Time and experience have placed me on an height
from which I can comprehend the past as a whole; and in this way I must
describe it, bringing forward the leading incidents, and disposing light
and shade so as to form a picture in whose very darkness there will be
harmony.

It would be needless to narrate those disastrous occurrences, for which a
parallel might be found in any slighter visitation of our gigantic
calamity. Does the reader wish to hear of the pest-houses, where death is
the comforter--of the mournful passage of the death-cart--of the
insensibility of the worthless, and the anguish of the loving heart--of
harrowing shrieks and silence dire--of the variety of disease, desertion,
famine, despair, and death? There are many books which can feed the
appetite craving for these things; let them turn to the accounts of
Boccaccio, De Foe, and Browne. The vast annihilation that has swallowed all
things--the voiceless solitude of the once busy earth--the lonely state
of singleness which hems me in, has deprived even such details of their
stinging reality, and mellowing the lurid tints of past anguish with poetic
hues, I am able to escape from the mosaic of circumstance, by perceiving
and reflecting back the grouping and combined colouring of the past.

I had returned from London possessed by the idea, with the intimate feeling
that it was my first duty to secure, as well as I was able, the well-being
of my family, and then to return and take my post beside Adrian. The events
that immediately followed on my arrival at Windsor changed this view of
things. The plague was not in London alone, it was every where--it came
on us, as Ryland had said, like a thousand packs of wolves, howling through
the winter night, gaunt and fierce. When once disease was introduced into
the rural districts, its effects appeared more horrible, more exigent, and
more difficult to cure, than in towns. There was a companionship in
suffering there, and, the neighbours keeping constant watch on each other,
and inspired by the active benevolence of Adrian, succour was afforded, and
the path of destruction smoothed. But in the country, among the scattered
farm-houses, in lone cottages, in fields, and barns, tragedies were acted
harrowing to the soul, unseen, unheard, unnoticed. Medical aid was less
easily procured, food was more difficult to obtain, and human beings,
unwithheld by shame, for they were unbeheld of their fellows, ventured on
deeds of greater wickedness, or gave way more readily to their abject
fears.

Deeds of heroism also occurred, whose very mention swells the heart and
brings tears into the eyes. Such is human nature, that beauty and deformity
are often closely linked. In reading history we are chiefly struck by the
generosity and self-devotion that follow close on the heels of crime,
veiling with supernal flowers the stain of blood. Such acts were not
wanting to adorn the grim train that waited on the progress of the plague.

The inhabitants of Berkshire and Bucks had been long aware that the plague
was in London, in Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester, York, in short, in all
the more populous towns of England. They were not however the less
astonished and dismayed when it appeared among themselves. They were
impatient and angry in the midst of terror. They would do something to
throw off the clinging evil, and, while in action, they fancied that a
remedy was applied. The inhabitants of the smaller towns left their houses,
pitched tents in the fields, wandering separate from each other careless of
hunger or the sky's inclemency, while they imagined that they avoided the
death-dealing disease. The farmers and cottagers, on the contrary, struck
with the fear of solitude, and madly desirous of medical assistance,
flocked into the towns.

But winter was coming, and with winter, hope. In August, the plague had
appeared in the country of England, and during September it made its
ravages. Towards the end of October it dwindled away, and was in some
degree replaced by a typhus, of hardly less virulence. The autumn was warm
and rainy: the infirm and sickly died off--happier they: many young
people flushed with health and prosperity, made pale by wasting malady,
became the inhabitants of the grave. The crop had failed, the bad corn, and
want of foreign wines, added vigour to disease. Before Christmas half
England was under water. The storms of the last winter were renewed; but
the diminished shipping of this year caused us to feel less the tempests of
the sea. The flood and storms did more harm to continental Europe than to
us--giving, as it were, the last blow to the calamities which destroyed
it. In Italy the rivers were unwatched by the diminished peasantry; and,
like wild beasts from their lair when the hunters and dogs are afar, did
Tiber, Arno, and Po, rush upon and destroy the fertility of the plains.
Whole villages were carried away. Rome, and Florence, and Pisa were
overflowed, and their marble palaces, late mirrored in tranquil streams,
had their foundations shaken by their winter-gifted power. In Germany and
Russia the injury was still more momentous.

But frost would come at last, and with it a renewal of our lease of earth.
Frost would blunt the arrows of pestilence, and enchain the furious
elements; and the land would in spring throw off her garment of snow,
released from her menace of destruction. It was not until February that the
desired signs of winter appeared. For three days the snow fell, ice stopped
the current of the rivers, and the birds flew out from crackling branches
of the frost-whitened trees. On the fourth morning all vanished. A
south-west wind brought up rain--the sun came out, and mocking the usual
laws of nature, seemed even at this early season to burn with solsticial
force. It was no consolation, that with the first winds of March the lanes
were filled with violets, the fruit trees covered with blossoms, that the
corn sprung up, and the leaves came out, forced by the unseasonable heat.
We feared the balmy air--we feared the cloudless sky, the flower-covered
earth, and delightful woods, for we looked on the fabric of the universe no
longer as our dwelling, but our tomb, and the fragrant land smelled to the
apprehension of fear like a wide church-yard.

Pisando la tierra dura
de continuo el hombre esta
y cada passo que da
es sobre su sepultura.[1]

Yet notwithstanding these disadvantages winter was breathing time; and we
exerted ourselves to make the best of it. Plague might not revive with the
summer; but if it did, it should find us prepared. It is a part of man's
nature to adapt itself through habit even to pain and sorrow. Pestilence
had become a part of our future, our existence; it was to be guarded
against, like the flooding of rivers, the encroachments of ocean, or the
inclemency of the sky. After long suffering and bitter experience, some
panacea might be discovered; as it was, all that received infection died--
all however were not infected; and it became our part to fix deep the
foundations, and raise high the barrier between contagion and the sane; to
introduce such order as would conduce to the well-being of the survivors,
and as would preserve hope and some portion of happiness to those who were
spectators of the still renewed tragedy. Adrian had introduced systematic
modes of proceeding in the metropolis, which, while they were unable to
stop the progress of death, yet prevented other evils, vice and folly, from
rendering the awful fate of the hour still more tremendous. I wished to
imitate his example, but men are used to

--move all together, if they move at all,[2]

and I could find no means of leading the inhabitants of scattered
towns and villages, who forgot my words as soon as they heard them
not, and veered with every baffling wind, that might arise from an
apparent change of circumstance.

I adopted another plan. Those writers who have imagined a reign of peace
and happiness on earth, have generally described a rural country, where
each small township was directed by the elders and wise men. This was the
key of my design. Each village, however small, usually contains a leader,
one among themselves whom they venerate, whose advice they seek in
difficulty, and whose good opinion they chiefly value. I was immediately
drawn to make this observation by occurrences that presented themselves to
my personal experience.

In the village of Little Marlow an old woman ruled the community. She had
lived for some years in an alms-house, and on fine Sundays her threshold
was constantly beset by a crowd, seeking her advice and listening to her
admonitions. She had been a soldier's wife, and had seen the world;
infirmity, induced by fevers caught in unwholesome quarters, had come on
her before its time, and she seldom moved from her little cot. The plague
entered the village; and, while fright and grief deprived the inhabitants
of the little wisdom they possessed, old Martha stepped forward and said--
"Before now I have been in a town where there was the plague."--"And you
escaped?"--"No, but I recovered."--After this Martha was seated more
firmly than ever on the regal seat, elevated by reverence and love. She
entered the cottages of the sick; she relieved their wants with her own
hand; she betrayed no fear, and inspired all who saw her with some portion
of her own native courage. She attended the markets--she insisted upon
being supplied with food for those who were too poor to purchase it. She
shewed them how the well-being of each included the prosperity of all. She
would not permit the gardens to be neglected, nor the very flowers in the
cottage lattices to droop from want of care. Hope, she said, was better
than a doctor's prescription, and every thing that could sustain and
enliven the spirits, of more worth than drugs and mixtures.

It was the sight of Little Marlow, and my conversations with Martha, that
led me to the plan I formed. I had before visited the manor houses and
gentlemen's seats, and often found the inhabitants actuated by the purest
benevolence, ready to lend their utmost aid for the welfare of their
tenants. But this was not enough. The intimate sympathy generated by
similar hopes and fears, similar experience and pursuits, was wanting here.
The poor perceived that the rich possessed other means of preservation than
those which could be partaken of by themselves, seclusion, and, as far as
circumstances permitted, freedom from care. They could not place reliance
on them, but turned with tenfold dependence to the succour and advice of
their equals. I resolved therefore to go from village to village, seeking
out the rustic archon of the place, and by systematizing their exertions,
and enlightening their views, encrease both their power and their use among
their fellow-cottagers. Many changes also now occurred in these spontaneous
regal elections: depositions and abdications were frequent, while, in the
place of the old and prudent, the ardent youth would step forward, eager
for action, regardless of danger. Often too, the voice to which all
listened was suddenly silenced, the helping hand cold, the sympathetic eye
closed, and the villagers feared still more the death that had selected a
choice victim, shivering in dust the heart that had beat for them, reducing
to incommunicable annihilation the mind for ever occupied with projects for
their welfare.

Whoever labours for man must often find ingratitude, watered by vice and
folly, spring from the grain which he has sown. Death, which had in our
younger days walked the earth like "a thief that comes in the night," now,
rising from his subterranean vault, girt with power, with dark banner
floating, came a conqueror. Many saw, seated above his vice-regal throne, a
supreme Providence, who directed his shafts, and guided his progress, and
they bowed their heads in resignation, or at least in obedience. Others
perceived only a passing casualty; they endeavoured to exchange terror for
heedlessness, and plunged into licentiousness, to avoid the agonizing
throes of worst apprehension. Thus, while the wise, the good, and the
prudent were occupied by the labours of benevolence, the truce of winter
produced other effects among the young, the thoughtless, and the vicious.
During the colder months there was a general rush to London in search of
amusement--the ties of public opinion were loosened; many were rich,
heretofore poor--many had lost father and mother, the guardians of their
morals, their mentors and restraints. It would have been useless to have
opposed these impulses by barriers, which would only have driven those
actuated by them to more pernicious indulgencies. The theatres were open
and thronged; dance and midnight festival were frequented--in many of
these decorum was violated, and the evils, which hitherto adhered to an
advanced state of civilization, were doubled. The student left his books,
the artist his study: the occupations of life were gone, but the amusements
remained; enjoyment might be protracted to the verge of the grave. All
factitious colouring disappeared--death rose like night, and, protected
by its murky shadows the blush of modesty, the reserve of pride, the
decorum of prudery were frequently thrown aside as useless veils. This was
not universal. Among better natures, anguish and dread, the fear of eternal
separation, and the awful wonder produced by unprecedented calamity, drew
closer the ties of kindred and friendship. Philosophers opposed their
principles, as barriers to the inundation of profligacy or despair, and the
only ramparts to protect the invaded territory of human life; the
religious, hoping now for their reward, clung fast to their creeds, as the
rafts and planks which over the tempest-vexed sea of suffering, would bear
them in safety to the harbour of the Unknown Continent. The loving heart,
obliged to contract its view, bestowed its overflow of affection in triple
portion on the few that remained. Yet, even among these, the present, as an
unalienable possession, became all of time to which they dared commit the
precious freight of their hopes.

The experience of immemorial time had taught us formerly to count our
enjoyments by years, and extend our prospect of life through a lengthened
period of progression and decay; the long road threaded a vast labyrinth,
and the Valley of the Shadow of Death, in which it terminated, was hid by
intervening objects. But an earthquake had changed the scene--under our
very feet the earth yawned--deep and precipitous the gulph below opened
to receive us, while the hours charioted us towards the chasm. But it was
winter now, and months must elapse before we are hurled from our security.
We became ephemera, to whom the interval between the rising and setting sun
was as a long drawn year of common time. We should never see our children
ripen into maturity, nor behold their downy cheeks roughen, their blithe
hearts subdued by passion or care; but we had them now--they lived, and
we lived--what more could we desire? With such schooling did my poor
Idris try to hush thronging fears, and in some measure succeeded. It was
not as in summer-time, when each hour might bring the dreaded fate--until
summer, we felt sure; and this certainty, short lived as it must be, yet
for awhile satisfied her maternal tenderness. I know not how to express or
communicate the sense of concentrated, intense, though evanescent
transport, that imparadized us in the present hour. Our joys were dearer
because we saw their end; they were keener because we felt, to its fullest
extent, their value; they were purer because their essence was sympathy--
as a meteor is brighter than a star, did the felicity of this winter
contain in itself the extracted delights of a long, long life.

How lovely is spring! As we looked from Windsor Terrace on the sixteen
fertile counties spread beneath, speckled by happy cottages and wealthier
towns, all looked as in former years, heart-cheering and fair. The land was
ploughed, the slender blades of wheat broke through the dark soil, the
fruit trees were covered with buds, the husbandman was abroad in the
fields, the milk-maid tripped home with well-filled pails, the swallows and
martins struck the sunny pools with their long, pointed wings, the new
dropped lambs reposed on the young grass, the tender growth of leaves--

Lifts its sweet head into the air, and feeds
A silent space with ever sprouting green.[3]

Man himself seemed to regenerate, and feel the frost of winter yield to
an elastic and warm renewal of life--reason told us that care and sorrow
would grow with the opening year--but how to believe the ominous voice
breathed up with pestiferous vapours from fear's dim cavern, while nature,
laughing and scattering from her green lap flowers, and fruits, and
sparkling waters, invited us to join the gay masque of young life she
led upon the scene?

Where was the plague? "Here--every where!" one voice of horror and dismay
exclaimed, when in the pleasant days of a sunny May the Destroyer of man
brooded again over the earth, forcing the spirit to leave its organic
chrysalis, and to enter upon an untried life. With one mighty sweep of its
potent weapon, all caution, all care, all prudence were levelled low: death
sat at the tables of the great, stretched itself on the cottager's pallet,
seized the dastard who fled, quelled the brave man who resisted:
despondency entered every heart, sorrow dimmed every eye.

Sights of woe now became familiar to me, and were I to tell all of anguish
and pain that I witnessed, of the despairing moans of age, and the more
terrible smiles of infancy in the bosom of horror, my reader, his limbs
quivering and his hair on end, would wonder how I did not, seized with
sudden frenzy, dash myself from some precipice, and so close my eyes for
ever on the sad end of the world. But the powers of love, poetry, and
creative fancy will dwell even beside the sick of the plague, with the
squalid, and with the dying. A feeling of devotion, of duty, of a high and
steady purpose, elevated me; a strange joy filled my heart. In the midst of
saddest grief I seemed to tread air, while the spirit of good shed round me
an ambrosial atmosphere, which blunted the sting of sympathy, and purified
the air of sighs. If my wearied soul flagged in its career, I thought of my
loved home, of the casket that contained my treasures, of the kiss of love
and the filial caress, while my eyes were moistened by purest dew, and my
heart was at once softened and refreshed by thrilling tenderness.

Maternal affection had not rendered Idris selfish; at the beginning of our
calamity she had, with thoughtless enthusiasm, devoted herself to the care
of the sick and helpless. I checked her; and she submitted to my rule. I
told her how the fear of her danger palsied my exertions, how the knowledge
of her safety strung my nerves to endurance. I shewed her the dangers which
her children incurred during her absence; and she at length agreed not to
go beyond the inclosure of the forest. Indeed, within the walls of the
Castle we had a colony of the unhappy, deserted by their relatives, and in
themselves helpless, sufficient to occupy her time and attention, while
ceaseless anxiety for my welfare and the health of her children, however
she strove to curb or conceal it, absorbed all her thoughts, and undermined
the vital principle. After watching over and providing for their safety,
her second care was to hide from me her anguish and tears. Each night I
returned to the Castle, and found there repose and love awaiting me. Often
I waited beside the bed of death till midnight, and through the obscurity
of rainy, cloudy nights rode many miles, sustained by one circumstance
only, the safety and sheltered repose of those I loved. If some scene of
tremendous agony shook my frame and fevered my brow, I would lay my head on
the lap of Idris, and the tumultuous pulses subsided into a temperate flow
--her smile could raise me from hopelessness, her embrace bathe my
sorrowing heart in calm peace. Summer advanced, and, crowned with the sun's
potent rays, plague shot her unerring shafts over the earth. The nations
beneath their influence bowed their heads, and died. The corn that sprung
up in plenty, lay in autumn rotting on the ground, while the melancholy
wretch who had gone out to gather bread for his children, lay stiff and
plague-struck in the furrow. The green woods waved their boughs
majestically, while the dying were spread beneath their shade, answering
the solemn melody with inharmonious cries. The painted birds flitted
through the shades; the careless deer reposed unhurt upon the fern--the
oxen and the horses strayed from their unguarded stables, and grazed among
the wheat, for death fell on man alone.

With summer and mortality grew our fears. My poor love and I looked at each
other, and our babes.--"We will save them, Idris," I said, "I will save
them. Years hence we shall recount to them our fears, then passed away with
their occasion. Though they only should remain on the earth, still they
shall live, nor shall their cheeks become pale nor their sweet voices
languish." Our eldest in some degree understood the scenes passing around,
and at times, he with serious looks questioned me concerning the reason of
so vast a desolation. But he was only ten years old; and the hilarity of
youth soon chased unreasonable care from his brow. Evelyn, a laughing
cherub, a gamesome infant, without idea of pain or sorrow, would, shaking
back his light curls from his eyes, make the halls re-echo with his
merriment, and in a thousand artless ways attract our attention to his
play. Clara, our lovely gentle Clara, was our stay, our solace, our
delight. She made it her task to attend the sick, comfort the sorrowing,
assist the aged, and partake the sports and awaken the gaiety of the young.
She flitted through the rooms, like a good spirit, dispatched from the
celestial kingdom, to illumine our dark hour with alien splendour.
Gratitude and praise marked where her footsteps had been. Yet, when she
stood in unassuming simplicity before us, playing with our children, or
with girlish assiduity performing little kind offices for Idris, one
wondered in what fair lineament of her pure loveliness, in what soft tone
of her thrilling voice, so much of heroism, sagacity and active goodness
resided.

The summer passed tediously, for we trusted that winter would at least
check the disease. That it would vanish altogether was an hope too dear--
too heartfelt, to be expressed. When such a thought was heedlessly uttered,
the hearers, with a gush of tears and passionate sobs, bore witness how
deep their fears were, how small their hopes. For my own part, my exertions
for the public good permitted me to observe more closely than most others,
the virulence and extensive ravages of our sightless enemy. A short month
has destroyed a village, and where in May the first person sickened, in
June the paths were deformed by unburied corpses--the houses tenantless,
no smoke arising from the chimneys; and the housewife's clock marked only
the hour when death had been triumphant. From such scenes I have sometimes
saved a deserted infant--sometimes led a young and grieving mother from
the lifeless image of her first born, or drawn the sturdy labourer from
childish weeping over his extinct family.

July is gone. August must pass, and by the middle of September we may hope.
Each day was eagerly counted; and the inhabitants of towns, desirous to
leap this dangerous interval, plunged into dissipation, and strove, by
riot, and what they wished to imagine to be pleasure, to banish thought and
opiate despair. None but Adrian could have tamed the motley population of
London, which, like a troop of unbitted steeds rushing to their pastures,
had thrown aside all minor fears, through the operation of the fear
paramount. Even Adrian was obliged in part to yield, that he might be able,
if not to guide, at least to set bounds to the license of the times. The
theatres were kept open; every place of public resort was frequented;
though he endeavoured so to modify them, as might best quiet the agitation
of the spectators, and at the same time prevent a reaction of misery when
the excitement was over. Tragedies deep and dire were the chief favourites.
Comedy brought with it too great a contrast to the inner despair: when such
were attempted, it was not unfrequent for a comedian, in the midst of the
laughter occasioned by his disporportioned buffoonery, to find a word or
thought in his part that jarred with his own sense of wretchedness, and
burst from mimic merriment into sobs and tears, while the spectators,
seized with irresistible sympathy, wept, and the pantomimic revelry was
changed to a real exhibition of tragic passion.

It was not in my nature to derive consolation from such scenes; from
theatres, whose buffoon laughter and discordant mirth awakened distempered
sympathy, or where fictitious tears and wailings mocked the heart-felt
grief within; from festival or crowded meeting, where hilarity sprung from
the worst feelings of our nature, or such enthralment of the better ones,
as impressed it with garish and false varnish; from assemblies of mourners
in the guise of revellers. Once however I witnessed a scene of singular
interest at one of the theatres, where nature overpowered art, as an
overflowing cataract will tear away the puny manufacture of a mock cascade,
which had before been fed by a small portion of its waters.

I had come to London to see Adrian. He was not at the palace; and, though
the attendants did not know whither he had gone, they did not expect him
till late at night. It was between six and seven o'clock, a fine summer
afternoon, and I spent my leisure hours in a ramble through the empty
streets of London; now turning to avoid an approaching funeral, now urged
by curiosity to observe the state of a particular spot; my wanderings were
instinct with pain, for silence and desertion characterized every place I
visited, and the few beings I met were so pale and woe-begone, so marked
with care and depressed by fear, that weary of encountering only signs of
misery, I began to retread my steps towards home.

I was now in Holborn, and passed by a public house filled with uproarious
companions, whose songs, laughter, and shouts were more sorrowful than the
pale looks and silence of the mourner. Such an one was near, hovering round
this house. The sorry plight of her dress displayed her poverty, she was
ghastly pale, and continued approaching, first the window and then the door
of the house, as if fearful, yet longing to enter. A sudden burst of song
and merriment seemed to sting her to the heart; she murmured, "Can he have
the heart?" and then mustering her courage, she stepped within the
threshold. The landlady met her in the passage; the poor creature asked,
"Is my husband here? Can I see George?"

"See him," cried the woman, "yes, if you go to him; last night he was taken
with the plague, and we sent him to the hospital."

The unfortunate inquirer staggered against a wall, a faint cry escaped her
--"O! were you cruel enough," she exclaimed, "to send him there?"

The landlady meanwhile hurried away; but a more compassionate bar-maid gave
her a detailed account, the sum of which was, that her husband had been
taken ill, after a night of riot, and sent by his boon companions with all
expedition to St. Bartholomew's Hospital. I had watched this scene, for
there was a gentleness about the poor woman that interested me; she now
tottered away from the door, walking as well as she could down Holborn
Hill; but her strength soon failed her; she leaned against a wall, and her
head sunk on her bosom, while her pallid cheek became still more white. I
went up to her and offered my services. She hardly looked up--"You can do
me no good," she replied; "I must go to the hospital; if I do not die
before I get there."

There were still a few hackney-coaches accustomed to stand about the
streets, more truly from habit than for use. I put her in one of these, and
entered with her that I might secure her entrance into the hospital. Our
way was short, and she said little; except interrupted ejaculations of
reproach that he had left her, exclamations on the unkindness of some of
his friends, and hope that she would find him alive. There was a simple,
natural earnestness about her that interested me in her fate, especially
when she assured me that her husband was the best of men,--had been so,
till want of business during these unhappy times had thrown him into bad
company. "He could not bear to come home," she said, "only to see our
children die. A man cannot have the patience a mother has, with her own
flesh and blood."

We were set down at St. Bartholomew's, and entered the wretched precincts
of the house of disease. The poor creature clung closer to me, as she saw
with what heartless haste they bore the dead from the wards, and took them
into a room, whose half-opened door displayed a number of corpses, horrible
to behold by one unaccustomed to such scenes. We were directed to the ward
where her husband had been first taken, and still was, the nurse said, if
alive. My companion looked eagerly from one bed to the other, till at the
end of the ward she espied, on a wretched bed, a squalid, haggard creature,
writhing under the torture of disease. She rushed towards him, she embraced
him, blessing God for his preservation.

The enthusiasm that inspired her with this strange joy, blinded her to the
horrors about her; but they were intolerably agonizing to me. The ward was
filled with an effluvia that caused my heart to heave with painful qualms.
The dead were carried out, and the sick brought in, with like indifference;
some were screaming with pain, others laughing from the influence of more
terrible delirium; some were attended by weeping, despairing relations,
others called aloud with thrilling tenderness or reproach on the friends
who had deserted them, while the nurses went from bed to bed, incarnate
images of despair, neglect, and death. I gave gold to my luckless
companion; I recommended her to the care of the attendants; I then hastened
away; while the tormentor, the imagination, busied itself in picturing my
own loved ones, stretched on such beds, attended thus. The country afforded
no such mass of horrors; solitary wretches died in the open fields; and I
have found a survivor in a vacant village, contending at once with famine
and disease; but the assembly of pestilence, the banqueting hall of death,
was spread only in London.

I rambled on, oppressed, distracted by painful emotions--suddenly I found
myself before Drury Lane Theatre. The play was Macbeth--the first actor
of the age was there to exert his powers to drug with irreflection the
auditors; such a medicine I yearned for, so I entered. The theatre was
tolerably well filled. Shakspeare, whose popularity was established by the
approval of four centuries, had not lost his influence even at this dread
period; but was still "Ut magus," the wizard to rule our hearts and govern
our imaginations. I came in during the interval between the third and
fourth act. I looked round on the audience; the females were mostly of the
lower classes, but the men were of all ranks, come hither to forget awhile
the protracted scenes of wretchedness, which awaited them at their
miserable homes. The curtain drew up, and the stage presented the scene of
the witches' cave. The wildness and supernatural machinery of Macbeth, was
a pledge that it could contain little directly connected with our present
circumstances. Great pains had been taken in the scenery to give the
semblance of reality to the impossible. The extreme darkness of the stage,
whose only light was received from the fire under the cauldron, joined to a
kind of mist that floated about it, rendered the unearthly shapes of the
witches obscure and shadowy. It was not three decrepid old hags that bent
over their pot throwing in the grim ingredients of the magic charm, but
forms frightful, unreal, and fanciful. The entrance of Hecate, and the wild
music that followed, took us out of this world. The cavern shape the stage
assumed, the beetling rocks, the glare of the fire, the misty shades that
crossed the scene at times, the music in harmony with all witch-like
fancies, permitted the imagination to revel, without fear of contradiction,
or reproof from reason or the heart. The entrance of Macbeth did not
destroy the illusion, for he was actuated by the same feelings that
inspired us, and while the work of magic proceeded we sympathized in his
wonder and his daring, and gave ourselves up with our whole souls to the
influence of scenic delusion. I felt the beneficial result of such
excitement, in a renewal of those pleasing flights of fancy to which I had
long been a stranger. The effect of this scene of incantation communicated
a portion of its power to that which followed. We forgot that Malcolm and
Macduff were mere human beings, acted upon by such simple passions as
warmed our own breasts. By slow degrees however we were drawn to the real
interest of the scene. A shudder like the swift passing of an electric
shock ran through the house, when Rosse exclaimed, in answer to "Stands
Scotland where it did?"

Alas, poor country;
Almost afraid to know itself! It cannot
Be called our mother, but our grave: where nothing,
But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile;
Where sighs, and groans, and shrieks that rent the air,
Are made, not marked; where violent sorrow seems
A modern extasy: the dead man's knell
Is there scarce asked, for who; and good men's lives
Expire before the flowers in their caps,
Dying, or ere they sicken.

Each word struck the sense, as our life's passing bell; we feared to look
at each other, but bent our gaze on the stage, as if our eyes could fall
innocuous on that alone. The person who played the part of Rosse, suddenly
became aware of the dangerous ground he trod. He was an inferior actor, but
truth now made him excellent; as he went on to announce to Macduff the
slaughter of his family, he was afraid to speak, trembling from
apprehension of a burst of grief from the audience, not from his
fellow-mime. Each word was drawn out with difficulty; real anguish painted
his features; his eyes were now lifted in sudden horror, now fixed in dread
upon the ground. This shew of terror encreased ours, we gasped with him,
each neck was stretched out, each face changed with the actor's changes--
at length while Macduff, who, attending to his part, was unobservant of the
high wrought sympathy of the house, cried with well acted passion:

All my pretty ones?
Did you say all?--O hell kite! All?
What! all my pretty chickens, and their dam,
At one fell swoop!

A pang of tameless grief wrenched every heart, a burst of despair was
echoed from every lip.--I had entered into the universal feeling--I
had been absorbed by the terrors of Rosse--I re-echoed the cry of Macduff,
and then rushed out as from an hell of torture, to find calm in the free
air and silent street.

Free the air was not, or the street silent. Oh, how I longed then for the
dear soothings of maternal Nature, as my wounded heart was still further
stung by the roar of heartless merriment from the public-house, by the
sight of the drunkard reeling home, having lost the memory of what he would
find there in oblivious debauch, and by the more appalling salutations of
those melancholy beings to whom the name of home was a mockery. I ran on at
my utmost speed until I found myself I knew not how, close to Westminster
Abbey, and was attracted by the deep and swelling tone of the organ. I
entered with soothing awe the lighted chancel, and listened to the solemn
religious chaunt, which spoke peace and hope to the unhappy. The notes,
freighted with man's dearest prayers, re-echoed through the dim aisles, and
the bleeding of the soul's wounds was staunched by heavenly balm. In spite
of the misery I deprecated, and could not understand; in spite of the cold
hearths of wide London, and the corpse-strewn fields of my native land; in
spite of all the variety of agonizing emotions I had that evening
experienced, I thought that in reply to our melodious adjurations, the
Creator looked down in compassion and promise of relief; the awful peal of
the heaven-winged music seemed fitting voice wherewith to commune with the
Supreme; calm was produced by its sound, and by the sight of many other
human creatures offering up prayers and submission with me. A sentiment
approaching happiness followed the total resignation of one's being to the
guardianship of the world's ruler. Alas! with the failing of this solemn
strain, the elevated spirit sank again to earth. Suddenly one of the
choristers died--he was lifted from his desk, the vaults below were
hastily opened--he was consigned with a few muttered prayers to the
darksome cavern, abode of thousands who had gone before--now wide yawning
to receive even all who fulfilled the funeral rites. In vain I would then
have turned from this scene, to darkened aisle or lofty dome, echoing with
melodious praise. In the open air alone I found relief; among nature's
beauteous works, her God reassumed his attribute of benevolence, and again
I could trust that he who built up the mountains, planted the forests, and
poured out the rivers, would erect another state for lost humanity, where
we might awaken again to our affections, our happiness, and our faith.

Fortunately for me those circumstances were of rare occurrence that obliged
me to visit London, and my duties were confined to the rural district which
our lofty castle overlooked; and here labour stood in the place of pastime,
to occupy such of the country people as were sufficiently exempt from
sorrow or disease. My endeavours were directed towards urging them to their
usual attention to their crops, and to the acting as if pestilence did not
exist. The mower's scythe was at times heard; yet the joyless haymakers
after they had listlessly turned the grass, forgot to cart it; the
shepherd, when he had sheared his sheep, would let the wool lie to be
scattered by the winds, deeming it useless to provide clothing for another
winter. At times however the spirit of life was awakened by these
employments; the sun, the refreshing breeze, the sweet smell of the hay,
the rustling leaves and prattling rivulets brought repose to the agitated
bosom, and bestowed a feeling akin to happiness on the apprehensive. Nor,
strange to say, was the time without its pleasures. Young couples, who had
loved long and hopelessly, suddenly found every impediment removed, and
wealth pour in from the death of relatives. The very danger drew them
closer. The immediate peril urged them to seize the immediate opportunity;
wildly and passionately they sought to know what delights existence
afforded, before they yielded to death, and

Snatching their pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life,[4]

they defied the conquering pestilence to destroy what had been, or to
erase even from their death-bed thoughts the sentiment of happiness
which had been theirs.

One instance of this kind came immediately under our notice, where a
high-born girl had in early youth given her heart to one of meaner
extraction. He was a schoolfellow and friend of her brother's, and usually
spent a part of the holidays at the mansion of the duke her father. They
had played together as children, been the confidants of each other's little
secrets, mutual aids and consolers in difficulty and sorrow. Love had crept
in, noiseless, terrorless at first, till each felt their life bound up in
the other, and at the same time knew that they must part. Their extreme
youth, and the purity of their attachment, made them yield with less
resistance to the tyranny of circumstances. The father of the fair Juliet
separated them; but not until the young lover had promised to remain absent
only till he had rendered himself worthy of her, and she had vowed to
preserve her virgin heart, his treasure, till he returned to claim and
possess it.

Plague came, threatening to destroy at once the aim of the ambitious and
the hopes of love. Long the Duke of L----derided the idea that there
could be danger while he pursued his plans of cautious seclusion; and he so
far succeeded, that it was not till this second summer, that the destroyer,
at one fell stroke, overthrew his precautions, his security, and his life.
Poor Juliet saw one by one, father, mother, brothers, and sisters, sicken
and die. Most of the servants fled on the first appearance of disease,
those who remained were infected mortally; no neighbour or rustic ventured
within the verge of contagion. By a strange fatality Juliet alone escaped,
and she to the last waited on her relatives, and smoothed the pillow of
death. The moment at length came, when the last blow was given to the last
of the house: the youthful survivor of her race sat alone among the dead.
There was no living being near to soothe her, or withdraw her from this
hideous company. With the declining heat of a September night, a whirlwind
of storm, thunder, and hail, rattled round the house, and with ghastly
harmony sung the dirge of her family. She sat upon the ground absorbed in
wordless despair, when through the gusty wind and bickering rain she
thought she heard her name called. Whose could that familiar voice be? Not
one of her relations, for they lay glaring on her with stony eyes. Again
her name was syllabled, and she shuddered as she asked herself, am I
becoming mad, or am I dying, that I hear the voices of the departed? A
second thought passed, swift as an arrow, into her brain; she rushed to the
window; and a flash of lightning shewed to her the expected vision, her
lover in the shrubbery beneath; joy lent her strength to descend the
stairs, to open the door, and then she fainted in his supporting arms.

A thousand times she reproached herself, as with a crime, that she should
revive to happiness with him. The natural clinging of the human mind to
life and joy was in its full energy in her young heart; she gave herself
impetuously up to the enchantment: they were married; and in their radiant
features I saw incarnate, for the last time, the spirit of love, of
rapturous sympathy, which once had been the life of the world.

I envied them, but felt how impossible it was to imbibe the same feeling,
now that years had multiplied my ties in the world. Above all, the anxious
mother, my own beloved and drooping Idris, claimed my earnest care; I could
not reproach the anxiety that never for a moment slept in her heart, but I
exerted myself to distract her attention from too keen an observation of
the truth of things, of the near and nearer approaches of disease, misery,
and death, of the wild look of our attendants as intelligence of another
and yet another death reached us; for to the last something new occurred
that seemed to transcend in horror all that had gone before. Wretched
beings crawled to die under our succouring roof; the inhabitants of the
Castle decreased daily, while the survivors huddled together in fear, and,
as in a famine-struck boat, the sport of the wild, interminable waves, each
looked in the other's face, to guess on whom the death-lot would next fall.
All this I endeavoured to veil, so that it might least impress my Idris;
yet, as I have said, my courage survived even despair: I might be
vanquished, but I would not yield.

One day, it was the ninth of September, seemed devoted to every disaster,
to every harrowing incident. Early in the day, I heard of the arrival of
the aged grandmother of one of our servants at the Castle. This old woman
had reached her hundredth year; her skin was shrivelled, her form was bent
and lost in extreme decrepitude; but as still from year to year she
continued in existence, out-living many younger and stronger, she began to
feel as if she were to live for ever. The plague came, and the inhabitants
of her village died. Clinging, with the dastard feeling of the aged, to the
remnant of her spent life, she had, on hearing that the pestilence had come
into her neighbourhood, barred her door, and closed her casement, refusing
to communicate with any. She would wander out at night to get food, and
returned home, pleased that she had met no one, that she was in no danger
from the plague. As the earth became more desolate, her difficulty in
acquiring sustenance increased; at first, her son, who lived near, had
humoured her by placing articles of food in her way: at last he died. But,
even though threatened by famine, her fear of the plague was paramount; and
her greatest care was to avoid her fellow creatures. She grew weaker each
day, and each day she had further to go. The night before, she had reached
Datchet; and, prowling about, had found a baker's shop open and deserted.
Laden with spoil, she hastened to return, and lost her way. The night was
windless, hot, and cloudy; her load became too heavy for her; and one by
one she threw away her loaves, still endeavouring to get along, though her
hobbling fell into lameness, and her weakness at last into inability to
move.

She lay down among the tall corn, and fell asleep. Deep in midnight, she
was awaked by a rustling near her; she would have started up, but her stiff
joints refused to obey her will. A low moan close to her ear followed, and
the rustling increased; she heard a smothered voice breathe out, Water,
Water! several times; and then again a sigh heaved from the heart of the
sufferer. The old woman shuddered, she contrived at length to sit upright;
but her teeth chattered, and her knees knocked together--close, very
close, lay a half-naked figure, just discernible in the gloom, and the cry
for water and the stifled moan were again uttered. Her motions at length
attracted the attention of her unknown companion; her hand was seized with
a convulsive violence that made the grasp feel like iron, the fingers like
the keen teeth of a trap.--"At last you are come!" were the words given
forth--but this exertion was the last effort of the dying--the joints
relaxed, the figure fell prostrate, one low moan, the last, marked the
moment of death. Morning broke; and the old woman saw the corpse, marked
with the fatal disease, close to her; her wrist was livid with the hold
loosened by death. She felt struck by the plague; her aged frame was unable
to bear her away with sufficient speed; and now, believing herself
infected, she no longer dreaded the association of others; but, as swiftly
as she might, came to her grand-daughter, at Windsor Castle, there to
lament and die. The sight was horrible; still she clung to life, and
lamented her mischance with cries and hideous groans; while the swift
advance of the disease shewed, what proved to be the fact, that she could
not survive many hours.

While I was directing that the necessary care should be taken of her, Clara
came in; she was trembling and pale; and, when I anxiously asked her the
cause of her agitation, she threw herself into my arms weeping and
exclaiming--"Uncle, dearest uncle, do not hate me for ever! I must tell
you, for you must know, that Evelyn, poor little Evelyn"--her voice was
choked by sobs. The fear of so mighty a calamity as the loss of our adored
infant made the current of my blood pause with chilly horror; but the
remembrance of the mother restored my presence of mind. I sought the little
bed of my darling; he was oppressed by fever; but I trusted, I fondly and
fearfully trusted, that there were no symptoms of the plague. He was not
three years old, and his illness appeared only one of those attacks
incident to infancy. I watched him long--his heavy half-closed lids, his
burning cheeks and restless twining of his small fingers--the fever was
violent, the torpor complete--enough, without the greater fear of
pestilence, to awaken alarm. Idris must not see him in this state. Clara,
though only twelve years old, was rendered, through extreme sensibility, so
prudent and careful, that I felt secure in entrusting the charge of him to
her, and it was my task to prevent Idris from observing their absence. I
administered the fitting remedies, and left my sweet niece to watch beside
him, and bring me notice of any change she should observe.

I then went to Idris, contriving in my way, plausible excuses for remaining
all day in the Castle, and endeavouring to disperse the traces of care from
my brow. Fortunately she was not alone. I found Merrival, the astronomer,
with her. He was far too long sighted in his view of humanity to heed the
casualties of the day, and lived in the midst of contagion unconscious of
its existence. This poor man, learned as La Place, guileless and
unforeseeing as a child, had often been on the point of starvation, he, his
pale wife and numerous offspring, while he neither felt hunger, nor
observed distress. His astronomical theories absorbed him; calculations
were scrawled with coal on the bare walls of his garret: a hard-earned
guinea, or an article of dress, was exchanged for a book without remorse;
he neither heard his children cry, nor observed his companion's emaciated
form, and the excess of calamity was merely to him as the occurrence of a
cloudy night, when he would have given his right hand to observe a
celestial phenomenon. His wife was one of those wondrous beings, to be
found only among women, with affections not to be diminished by misfortune.
Her mind was divided between boundless admiration for her husband, and
tender anxiety for her children--she waited on him, worked for them, and
never complained, though care rendered her life one long-drawn, melancholy
dream.

He had introduced himself to Adrian, by a request he made to observe some
planetary motions from his glass. His poverty was easily detected and
relieved. He often thanked us for the books we lent him, and for the use of
our instruments, but never spoke of his altered abode or change of
circumstances. His wife assured us, that he had not observed any
difference, except in the absence of the children from his study, and to
her infinite surprise he complained of this unaccustomed quiet.

He came now to announce to us the completion of his Essay on the
Pericyclical Motions of the Earth's Axis, and the precession of the
equinoctial points. If an old Roman of the period of the Republic had
returned to life, and talked of the impending election of some
laurel-crowned consul, or of the last battle with Mithridates, his ideas
would not have been more alien to the times, than the conversation of
Merrival. Man, no longer with an appetite for sympathy, clothed his
thoughts in visible signs; nor were there any readers left: while each one,
having thrown away his sword with opposing shield alone, awaited the
plague, Merrival talked of the state of mankind six thousand years hence.
He might with equal interest to us, have added a commentary, to describe
the unknown and unimaginable lineaments of the creatures, who would then
occupy the vacated dwelling of mankind. We had not the heart to undeceive
the poor old man; and at the moment I came in, he was reading parts of his
book to Idris, asking what answer could be given to this or that position.

Idris could not refrain from a smile, as she listened; she had already
gathered from him that his family was alive and in health; though not apt
to forget the precipice of time on which she stood, yet I could perceive
that she was amused for a moment, by the contrast between the contracted
view we had so long taken of human life, and the seven league strides with
which Merrival paced a coming eternity. I was glad to see her smile,
because it assured me of her total ignorance of her infant's danger: but I
shuddered to think of the revulsion that would be occasioned by a discovery
of the truth. While Merrival was talking, Clara softly opened a door behind
Idris, and beckoned me to come with a gesture and look of grief. A mirror
betrayed the sign to Idris--she started up. To suspect evil, to perceive
that, Alfred being with us, the danger must regard her youngest darling, to
fly across the long chambers into his apartment, was the work but of a
moment. There she beheld her Evelyn lying fever-stricken and motionless. I
followed her, and strove to inspire more hope than I could myself
entertain; but she shook her head mournfully. Anguish deprived her of
presence of mind; she gave up to me and Clara the physician's and nurse's
parts; she sat by the bed, holding one little burning hand, and, with
glazed eyes fixed on her babe, passed the long day in one unvaried agony.
It was not the plague that visited our little boy so roughly; but she could
not listen to my assurances; apprehension deprived her of judgment and
reflection; every slight convulsion of her child's features shook her frame
--if he moved, she dreaded the instant crisis; if he remained still, she
saw death in his torpor, and the cloud on her brow darkened.

The poor little thing's fever encreased towards night. The sensation is
most dreary, to use no stronger term, with which one looks forward to
passing the long hours of night beside a sick bed, especially if the
patient be an infant, who cannot explain its pain, and whose flickering
life resembles the wasting flame of the watch-light,

Whose narrow fire
Is shaken by the wind, and on whose edge
Devouring darkness hovers.[5]

With eagerness one turns toward the east, with angry impatience
one marks the unchequered darkness; the crowing of a cock, that
sound of glee during day-time, comes wailing and untuneable--the creaking
of rafters, and slight stir of invisible insect is heard and felt as the
signal and type of desolation. Clara, overcome by weariness, had seated
herself at the foot of her cousin's bed, and in spite of her efforts
slumber weighed down her lids; twice or thrice she shook it off; but at
length she was conquered and slept. Idris sat at the bedside, holding
Evelyn's hand; we were afraid to speak to each other; I watched the stars
--I hung over my child--I felt his little pulse--I drew near the
mother--again I receded. At the turn of morning a gentle sigh from the
patient attracted me, the burning spot on his cheek faded--his pulse beat
softly and regularly--torpor yielded to sleep. For a long time I dared
not hope; but when his unobstructed breathing and the moisture that
suffused his forehead, were tokens no longer to be mistaken of the
departure of mortal malady, I ventured to whisper the news of the change to
Idris, and at length succeeded in persuading her that I spoke truth.

But neither this assurance, nor the speedy convalescence of our child could
restore her, even to the portion of peace she before enjoyed. Her fear had
been too deep, too absorbing, too entire, to be changed to security. She
felt as if during her past calm she had dreamed, but was now awake; she
was

As one
In some lone watch-tower on the deep, awakened
From soothing visions of the home he loves,
Trembling to hear the wrathful billows roar;[6]

as one who has been cradled by a storm, and awakes to find the
vessel sinking. Before, she had been visited by pangs of fear--now, she
never enjoyed an interval of hope. No smile of the heart ever irradiated
her fair countenance; sometimes she forced one, and then gushing tears
would flow, and the sea of grief close above these wrecks of past
happiness. Still while I was near her, she could not be in utter despair--
she fully confided herself to me--she did not seem to fear my death, or
revert to its possibility; to my guardianship she consigned the full
freight of her anxieties, reposing on my love, as a wind-nipped fawn by the
side of a doe, as a wounded nestling under its mother's wing, as a tiny,
shattered boat, quivering still, beneath some protecting willow-tree. While
I, not proudly as in days of joy, yet tenderly, and with glad consciousness
of the comfort I afforded, drew my trembling girl close to my heart, and
tried to ward every painful thought or rough circumstance from her
sensitive nature.

One other incident occurred at the end of this summer. The Countess of
Windsor, Ex-Queen of England, returned from Germany. She had at the
beginning of the season quitted the vacant city of Vienna; and, unable to
tame her haughty mind to anything like submission, she had delayed at
Hamburgh, and, when at last she came to London, many weeks elapsed before
she gave Adrian notice of her arrival. In spite of her coldness and long
absence, he welcomed her with sensibility, displaying such affection as
sought to heal the wounds of pride and sorrow, and was repulsed only by her
total apparent want of sympathy. Idris heard of her mother's return with
pleasure. Her own maternal feelings were so ardent, that she imagined her
parent must now, in this waste world, have lost pride and harshness, and
would receive with delight her filial attentions. The first check to her
duteous demonstrations was a formal intimation from the fallen majesty of
England, that I was in no manner to be intruded upon her. She consented,
she said, to forgive her daughter, and acknowledge her grandchildren;
larger concessions must not be expected.

To me this proceeding appeared (if so light a term may be permitted)
extremely whimsical. Now that the race of man had lost in fact all
distinction of rank, this pride was doubly fatuitous; now that we felt a
kindred, fraternal nature with all who bore the stamp of humanity, this
angry reminiscence of times for ever gone, was worse than foolish. Idris
was too much taken up by her own dreadful fears, to be angry, hardly
grieved; for she judged that insensibility must be the source of this
continued rancour. This was not altogether the fact: but predominant
self-will assumed the arms and masque of callous feeling; and the haughty
lady disdained to exhibit any token of the struggle she endured; while the
slave of pride, she fancied that she sacrificed her happiness to immutable
principle.

False was all this--false all but the affections of our nature, and the
links of sympathy with pleasure or pain. There was but one good and one
evil in the world--life and death. The pomp of rank, the assumption of
power, the possessions of wealth vanished like morning mist. One living
beggar had become of more worth than a national peerage of dead lords--
alas the day!--than of dead heroes, patriots, or men of genius. There was
much of degradation in this: for even vice and virtue had lost their
attributes--life--life--the continuation of our animal mechanism--
was the Alpha and Omega of the desires, the prayers, the prostrate ambition
of human race.

[1] Calderon de la Barca.
[2] Wordsworth.
[3] Keats.
[4] Andrew Marvell.
[5] The Cenci
[6] The Brides' Tragedy, by T. L. Beddoes, Esq.

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