8.05.2010

Enfants perdus


The years 1665 and 1666 were not a great time to be in London.

While it was not as virulent as the Black Death which swept Europe in the 14th Century, The Great Plague of London of 1665 – bubonic plague carried by fleas – killed 100,000 persons, or 20 percent of the city's population.

The following year, on Sunday, 2 September 1666, a fire started in a bakery and for four days swept across London.

Quoting Wikipedia: “The Great Fire of London was a major conflagration that swept through the central parts of the English city of London, from Sunday, 2 September to Wednesday, 5 September 1666. The fire gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman City Wall. It threatened, but did not reach, the aristocratic district of Westminster, Charles II's Palace of Whitehall and most of the suburban slums. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St. Paul's Cathedral and most of the buildings of the City authorities. It is estimated that it destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City's 80,000 inhabitants. The death toll from the fire is unknown and is traditionally thought to have been small, as only six verified deaths were recorded. This reasoning has recently been challenged on the grounds that the deaths of poor and middle-class people were not recorded anywhere, and that the heat of the fire might have cremated many victims, leaving no recognisable remains.”

During these back-to-back disasters, Daniel Defoe was a little boy, who had played on the streets of London, perhaps daydreaming about being marooned on an island. Samuel Pepys was a young man of 33, writing about these events in his diary. John Milton was laboring over his manuscript of “Paradise Lost,” to be published a year later in 1667. John Bunyan was in prison.

One can only wonder how many children perished who might have given the world great works, how many daydreams never found their way to print, how many works in progress were lost, how many unknown artists and musicians and writers never had a chance at fame.

It was the worst of times, and for what survived, the best of times.

9 comments:

airth10 said...

Thanks for that look back in history.

I would say those disasters didn't snuff out any potential creativity but gave birth to it in the likes of Defoe and Milton. The anguish of those times developed the sensibilities of those writers.

Humankind and civilization has always developed through perverse means. It gives meaning to the idiom, there is always a silver lining.

B.J. said...

Airth: Nice to hear from a subject of the Queen! You make a very good point, my friend. No better evidence than Charles Dickens! As for the premise of my post, I don’t guess we will ever know, will we? Not too long ago, DemWit made the same statement about the Civil War in the U.S. BJ

airth10 said...

I think there is evidence that we develop from adversity, like with the medical techniques that have come as a result of war.

From the fires in London, London developed better city planning and thus, in the long run, a safer city.

I don't think the world would have the human rights it does if wasn't first for the second world war and its human atrocities.

Similarly, from the oil spill in the Gulf the oil industry will develop new save guards. It was another learning experience. It is not cost effective for them to allow such a thing to occur again.

We develop through perverse means.

Loulou La Poule said...

I credit my interest in history, particularly in the details we can know of daily life in a given period, with whatever perspective I'm able to bring to a contemplation of our time. When that perspective, and my courage along with it, wavers, I know where to go to regain it. Pick a period and, as long as it had a literature, it has lessons for us.

Thanks for this piece. You made today's Perspective Lesson easy for me.

tnlib said...

I do love history. Of course I studied the London fire but since I'm a relic I've forgotten the details. Many thanks for such an interesting post.

I realize that some good can come out of diversity but does that diversity have to be so devastating? Is the cost of lives worth it? We should be able to invent and develop without the devastation but just a little more slowly.

Is the sacrifice of six million lives in Nazi Germany worth the lives that are still being lost in the Middle East. I don't see much humanity in any of that.

Or, did the killing of 90,000 to 155,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki accomplish anything but bigger and more powerful weapons?

Frodo, and a Paul or two said...

"Keep on the sunny side of life," and imagine that among all those thousands there were lots named Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. Shame it wasn't just a few more.

Tiny said...

Tiny loves both history and literature. Thanks for the enjoyable and informative lesson for today. If we want to know about the realms beyond the earth realm, read Milton's Inferno.

In Egypt the scarab beetle is a sacred symbol. Growing up on the farm, we called them doodle bugs. Other's call them dung beetles because they lay their eggs in dung and roll them up into a dung ball.

Remember the bumper stickers that had "Shit Happens?" The bettle shows us that when it does happen new life emerges from it.

B.J. said...

Wow, guys! I am always amazed at the various thoughts which emerge from your comments! Airth simplified says, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Frodo says (I think), “The bad was eliminated along with the good.” Tiny’s beetle example is priceless. LouLou reminds us that history and literature have lessons for today. And tnlib asks some very poignant and perceptive questions. I learn so much from you guys! BJ

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