By Daniel Defoe

The Full Text

The full text of Defoe's book A Journal of the Plague Year, is found in the attached pdf file. It has been reformatted in part to put data into tables. The book, with 148 pages of A4 size, has no chapters, subheadings or index and is written as a continuous narrative. It can be downloaded and printed but not edited.

I have added below, the instruction of the Lord Mayor of London for managing the plague, which have many similarities to those announced by the British Government for managing the Coronavirus on 23 March 2020.

Brief Biography of Daniel Defoe (c.1660 to 24 April 1731)

We are accustomed to think of Daniel Defoe solely as the author of Robinson Crusoe but he was a prolific writer. The Wikipedia article describes him as a trader, writer, journalist, pamphleteer and spy. He was born in England as Daniel Foe in 1659 or 1660, probably in Fore Street in the parish of St. Giles, Cripplegate, in London. Thus he was a child at the time of the Great Plague in 1665. Later in life he added the prefix De to his name to sound more aristocratic. His father was a tallow merchant and a member of one of the London Guilds, the Worshipful Company of Butchers.

During his childhood there was the Great Plague of 1665, which killed 70,000, then the next year the Great Fire of London that largely destroyed the medieaval London of timber framed houses. Only Defoe's house and two others were left standing in his area. Another major crisis followed in 1667, during the Dutch Wars, when the Dutch Fleet sailed up the Medway to attack the docks and town. Defoe's parents were Dissenters, i.e. dissenting from the official state religion of the Church of England. Defoe was educated first in Dorking by the Rev. James Fisher at a boarding school then from about the age of 14 at a Dissenting Academy at Newington Green in London run by Charles Morton. He is believed to have attended the Unitarian Church there.

Dissenting academies were set up because the Grammar Schools of the time were run by the Anglican Church and you had to be an Anglican to attend or graduate from Oxford or Cambridge. The academies were designed partly to train future Ministers but often gave a much wider education than available elsewhere. Oxford and Cambridge were largely for the training of clerics, lawyers and physicians. The people who were Dissenters were barred from public office and were often manufacturers or merchants. They wanted their sons to have education fitting them for a role in business rather than the church or politics. Joseph Priestley, the Unitarian Minister, early chemist and the discoverer of oxygen was a teacher at the Warrington Dissenting Academy.

In 2004, I attended a one-day course at Wedgwood Memorial College in Staffordshire, entitled Daniel Defoe's London, given by Katherine Frank, the American author, who was writing a biography and subsequently published Crusoe: Daniel Defoe, Robert Knox and the Creation of a Myth in 2011. The following details are abstracted from my notes and afford information additional to that in the Wikipedia article.

In his early life Defoe had planned to be a Dissenting minister but instead he decided to go into business and set up as a wholesale hosier and general merchant.  In 1684, at the age of 24 he married Mary Tuffley, a cooper’s daughter who brought with her a dowry of £3,700.  In 1685, Defoe was part of the Monmouth rebellion but managed to escape from the aftermath.  Using the money from the dowry, Defoe was involved in some very risky investments including using the musk from the glands of civet cats and the construction of diving bells to find sunken treasure.  By 1692 he was bankrupt with debts of £17,000 and sent the Fleet Prison.  However, he reached a settlement with his creditors and was able to pay back about £12,000 over the following decade.  In 1693, he set up a brick and tile works in Tilbury and this seems to have been a reasonable business.  The Defoe family had 8 children of whom 7 grew to adulthood.

In 1697, he wrote his first full length book, An Essay on Projects and then from 1698 produced a stream of pamphlets on political, religious, economic and social issues.  In 1701 he produced The True-born Englishman, a satire in verse on English chauvinism and xenophobia.  The following year he published The Shortest Way with Dissenters, a satire against High Church Tories which caused an outcry from both Tories and Dissenters.  He had to go into hiding when a warrant was issued for his arrest.  He was caught in May 1703 and sent to Newgate.  On 7 July he was convicted of seditious libel, fined, and banned from publishing or speaking in public on religion or politics for seven years.  The greatest humiliation was being made to stand in the pillory on three occasions.  On the first occasion, on 29 July, his new poem A Hymn to the Pillory was sold by vendors to the crowd, who threw flowers at him. 

Defoe was released on 8 November by which time his potential as a propagandist had been spotted by Robert Harley, a Tory government minister.  He was employed as an informer and spy.  The following year, 1704, he began publishing The Review, a regular newspaper, which he continued single handed until 1713 and at the same time published many other pamphlets while still conducting his work for Harley.  He travelled around Britain often under assumed names and in disguise.  In 1706/7 he canvassed for the Union with Scotland and spent much of the next three years in Scotland, producing a Scottish edition of The Review.   In 1710 he published a massive work History of the Union of Great Britain.  A further series of pamphlets ensued on a variety of topics.  In 1713 he was arrested because of three ironic pamphlets on the Hanoverian Succession.  However, in 1714, Queen Anne died and George I succeeded.  Defoe then worked for the new Whig government and wrote pamphlets against the Diving Right of Kings. 

In 1715 he wrote The Family Instructor, an early self-help book written in the form of a fictional dialogue about religion in the family.  He also published An Appeal to Honour and Justice, a defence of his life and writing as if he had reached the end of his life.  The publisher claimed that he was dying following a fit of apoplexy. 

At the age of 59, in 1719, he produced Robinson Crusoe, which was a great success but its sequel, Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe was not nearly so good.  The following year he continued his prolific output with Memoirs of a Cavalier, Captain Singleton and Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe and in 1721 he published Moll Flanders, Due Preparations for the Plague, Religious Courtship, A Journal of the Plague Year and Colonel Jacque.  In 1722 he performed his Tour through the Eastern Counties of England. In 1724 he produced Roxana, A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain and A New Voyage around the World.

Defoe wrote under the pseudonym of Andrew Moreton a series of pamphlets on social issues including, in 1725, Everybody’s Business is Nobody’s Business on controlling sluttish female servants, putting the industrious poor to work and getting rid of vermin such as shoe-cleaners and link boys.  The latter were torch carriers who were hired to take people through the dark streets of London but often took them to gangs of thieves.  In the same year he produced The Complete English Tradesman and A General History of Discoveries and Improvements.  In 1726, he published Conjugal Lewdness on the ‘use and abuse of the marriage bed.’  Under the name of Andrew Moreton he published in 1827 Augustus Triumphans proposing schemes for a London University, suppressing prostitution, gambling and gin-drinking.

His creditors reappeared during the 1720s and Defoe went into hiding and lived in various lodgings around London.  In 1730 he produced a pamphlet against street hawkers and peddlers.  He died on 26 April 1731 in lodgings in Ropemakers’ Alley and was buried at a Dissenters’ Burial ground in Bunhill Field, where a monument was erected to him in 1870. His wife, Mary, had inherited money from her brother in 1728 but the will specified that none should be paid to Daniel and she does not appear to have helped him with his debts.  Defoe may have had an illegitimate son.  His own sons seem to have had different views and some of them wrote pamphlets. 

Defoe could be considered to be lower middle class although the term was not used then.  His father was a shopkeeper and a member of a livery company.  He was literate and wrote about the lives of ordinary people.  As a Dissenter of the Presbyterian persuasion he identified with the underdog and those suffering persecution.  He lived on the edge of society and after his appearance in the pillory and imprisonment for debt and slander he could never aspire to be a gentleman.  Instead, he was to be known as a notorious journalist. 

Defoe believed in progress and invention and had a plan to make London the most flourishing city in the world.  This included a university, a foundling hospital (the first was not until 1741), banning the sale of gin and street lighting.  Defoe loved lists, measuring and quantifying things.  He estimated that a complete circuit of London was 36 miles 2 furlongs and 39 rods but other contemporary writers estimated that London was 5 miles from east to west and 2.25 miles from north to south making a circumference of only 14.5 miles.  He supported Locke’s theory that the government could rule only with the consent of the governed. 

He was the most prolific writer in English, but with many of his pamphlets written anonymously it is hard to know just how much he wrote.  Sometimes he wrote two pamphlets a day and five books in a year.  At the same time he was working as a spy and informer.  Robert Harley had two informers - Defoe who came in through the back door and Jonathan Swift who came through the front door and dined with the family. 

Defoe wrote his Journal of the Plague Year but would have been only five at the time. The initials at the end are H.F. This could refer to his uncle, Henry Foe. Defoe draws on the bills of mortality for the parishes of London for some of his figures.  Like many others of the time he saw the plague as divine retribution.  Houses were locked up and guarded for 40 days from the last death in the household by a day and a night watchman to prevent people leaving and spreading the disease.  However, Defoe relates accounts of people escaping.  Markets were shut and there was a shortage of food.  The plague began in December 1664, picked up gradually during early 1665 and peaked in the summer.  It died out in January 1666.  Many of the wealthier people fled the city and the court moved to Oxford.  Many physicians and clergy also left the city.  The total official deaths were 68,596 but the real total was probably 75,000.  One of the measures taken was to kill all dogs and cats, which may not have helped with the rat population but may have reduced flea transfer to humans from rats.





'WHEREAS in the reign of our late Sovereign King James, of happy memory, an Act was made for the charitable relief and ordering of persons infected with the plague, whereby authority was given to justices of the peace, mayors, bailiffs, and other head-officers to appoint within their several limits examiners, searchers, watchmen, keepers, and buriers for the persons and places infected, and to minister unto them oaths for the performance of their offices.  And the same statute did also authorise the giving of other directions, as unto them for the present necessity should seem good in their directions.  It is now, upon special consideration, thought very expedient for preventing and avoiding of infection of sickness (if it shall so please Almighty God) that these officers following be appointed, and these orders hereafter duly observed. 

Examiners to be appointed in every Parish. 

'First, it is thought requisite, and so ordered, that in every parish there be one, two, or more persons of good sort and credit chosen and appointed by the alderman, his deputy, and common council of every ward, by the name of examiners, to continue in that office the space of two months at least.  And if any fit person so appointed shall refuse to undertake the same, the said parties so refusing to be committed to prison until they shall conform themselves accordingly. 

The Examiner's Office. 

‘That these examiners he sworn by the aldermen to inquire and learn from time to time what houses in every parish be visited, and what persons be sick, and of what diseases, as near as they can inform themselves; and upon doubt in that case, to command restraint of access until it appear what the disease shall prove.  And if they find any person sick of the infection, to give order to the constable that the house be shut up; and if the constable shall be found remiss or negligent, to give present notice thereof to the alderman of the ward. 


'That to every infected house there be appointed two watchmen, one for every day, and the other for the night; and that these watchmen have a special care that no person go in or out of such infected houses whereof they have the charge, upon pain of severe punishment.  And the said watchmen to do such further offices as the sick house shall need and require: and if the watchman be sent upon any business, to lock up the house and take the key with him; and the watchman by day to attend until ten of the clock at night, and the watchman by night until six in the morning. 


'That there be a special care to appoint women searchers in every parish, such as are of honest reputation, and of the best sort as can be got in this kind; and these to be sworn to make due search and true report to the utmost of their knowledge whether the persons whose bodies they are appointed to search do die of the infection, or of what other diseases, as near as they can.  And that the physicians who shall be appointed for cure and prevention of the infection do call before them the said searchers who are, or shall be, appointed for the several parishes under their respective cares, to the end they may consider whether they are fitly qualified for that employment, and charge them from time to time as they shall see cause, if they appear defective in their duties. 

'That no searcher during this time of visitation be permitted to use any public work or employment, or keep any shop or stall, or be employed as a laundress, or in any other common employment whatsoever. 

Chirurgeons (former word for surgeons)

'For better assistance of the searchers, forasmuch as there hath been heretofore great abuse in misreporting the disease, to the further spreading of the infection, it is therefore ordered that there be chosen and appointed able and discreet chirurgeons, besides those that do already belong to the pest-house, amongst whom the city and Liberties to be quartered as the places lie most apt and convenient; and every of these to have one quarter for his limit; and the said chirurgeons in every of their limits to join with the searchers for the view of the body, to the end there may be a true report made of the disease. 

'And further, that the said chirurgeons shall visit and search such- like persons as shall either send for them or be named and directed unto them by the examiners of every parish, and inform themselves of the disease of the said parties. 

'And forasmuch as the said chirurgeons are to be sequestered from all other cures, and kept only to this disease of the infection, it is ordered that every of the said chirurgeons shall have twelve-pence a body searched by them, to be paid out of the goods of the party searched, if he be able, or otherwise by the parish. 


'If any nurse-keeper shall remove herself out of any infected house before twenty-eight days after the decease of any person dying of the infection, the house to which the said nurse-keeper doth so remove herself shall be shut up until the said twenty-eight days be expired.'



Notice to be given of the Sickness. 

'The master of every house, as soon as anyone in his house complaineth, either of blotch or purple, or swelling in any part of his body, or falleth otherwise dangerously sick, without apparent cause of some other disease, shall give knowledge thereof to the examiner of health within two hours after the said sign shall appear. 

Sequestration of the Sick. 

'As soon as any man shall be found by this examiner, chirurgeon, or searcher to be sick of the plague, he shall the same night be sequestered in the same house; and in case he be so sequestered, then though he afterwards die not, the house wherein he sickened should be shut up for a month, after the use of the due preservatives taken by the rest.         Airing the Stuff. 

'For sequestration of the goods and stuff of the infection, their bedding and apparel and hangings of chambers must be well aired with fire and such perfumes as are requisite within the infected house before they be taken again to use.  This to be done by the appointment of an examiner. 

Shutting up of the House. 

'If any person shall have visited any man known to be infected of the plague, or entered willingly into any known infected house, being not allowed, the house wherein he inhabiteth shall be shut up for certain days by the examiner's direction. 

None to be removed out of infected Houses, but, &C. 

'Item, that none be removed out of the house where he falleth sick of the infection into any other house in the city (except it be to the pest-house or a tent, or unto some such house which the owner of the said visited house holdeth in his own hands and occupieth by his own servants); and so as security be given to the parish whither such remove is made, that the attendance and charge about the said visited persons shall be observed and charged in all the particularities before expressed, without any cost of that parish to which any such remove shall happen to be made, and this remove to be done by night.  And it shall be lawful to any person that hath two houses to remove either his sound or his infected people to his spare house at his choice, so as, if he send away first his sound, he not after send thither his sick, nor again unto the sick the sound; and that the same which he sendeth be for one week at the least shut up and secluded from company, for fear of some infection at the first not appearing. 

Burial of the Dead. 

'That the burial of the dead by this visitation be at most convenient hours, always either before sun-rising or after sun-setting, with the privity of the churchwardens or constable, and not otherwise; and that no neighbours nor friends be suffered to accompany the corpse to church, or to enter the house visited, upon pain of having his house shut up or be imprisoned. 

'And that no corpse dying of infection shall be buried, or remain in any church in time of common prayer, sermon, or lecture.  And that no children be suffered at time of burial of any corpse in any church, churchyard, or burying-place to come near the corpse, coffin, or grave.  And that all the graves shall be at least six feet deep. 

'And further, all public assemblies at other burials are to be foreborne during the continuance of this visitation. 

No infected Stuff to be uttered. 

'That no clothes, stuff, bedding, or garments be suffered to be carried or conveyed out of any infected houses, and that the criers and carriers abroad of bedding or old apparel to be sold or pawned be utterly prohibited and restrained, and no brokers of bedding or old apparel be permitted to make any outward show, or hang forth on their stalls, shop-boards, or windows, towards any street, lane, common way, or passage, any old bedding or apparel to be sold, upon pain of imprisonment.  And if any broker or other person shall buy any bedding, apparel, or other stuff out of any infected house within two months after the infection hath been there, his house shall be shut up as infected, and so shall continue shut up twenty days at the least. 

No Person to be conveyed out of any infected House. 

'If any person visited do fortune, by negligent looking unto, or by any other means, to come or be conveyed from a place infected to any other place, the parish from whence such party hath come or been conveyed, upon notice thereof given, shall at their charge cause the said party so visited and escaped to be carried and brought back again by night, and the parties in this case offending to be punished at the direction of the alderman of the ward, and the house of the receiver of such visited person to be shut up for twenty days. 

Every visited House to be marked. 

'That every house visited be marked with a red cross of a foot long in the middle of the door, evident to be seen, and with these usual printed words, that is to say, "Lord, have mercy upon us," to be set close over the same cross, there to continue until lawful opening of the same house. 

Every visited House to be watched. 

'That the constables see every house shut up, and to be attended with watchmen, which may keep them in, and minister necessaries unto them at their own charges, if they be able, or at the common charge, if they are unable; the shutting up to be for the space of four weeks after all be whole. 

'That precise order to be taken that the searchers, chirurgeons, keepers, and buriers are not to pass the streets without holding a red rod or wand of three feet in length in their hands, open and evident to be seen, and are not to go into any other house than into their own, or into that whereunto they are directed or sent for; but to forbear and abstain from company, especially when they have been lately used in any such business or attendance. 


 That where several inmates are in one and the same house, and any person in that house happens to be infected, no other person or family of such house shall be suffered to remove him or themselves without a certificate from the examiners of health of that parish; or in default thereof, the house whither he or they so remove shall be shut up as in case of visitation. 


'That care be taken of hackney-coachmen, that they may not (as some of them have been observed to do after carrying of infected persons to the pest-house and other places) be admitted to common use till their coaches be well aired, and have stood unemployed by the space of five or six days after such service.'



The Streets to be kept Clean. 

'First, it is thought necessary, and so ordered, that every householder do cause the street to be daily prepared before his door, and so to keep it clean swept all the week long. 

That Rakers take it from out the Houses. 

'That the sweeping and filth of houses be daily carried away by the rakers, and that the raker shall give notice of his coming by the blowing of a horn, as hitherto hath been done. 

Laystalls to be made far off from the City. 

'That the laystalls be removed as far as may be out of the city and common passages, and that no nightman or other be suffered to empty a vault into any garden near about the city. 

Care to be had of unwholesome Fish or Flesh, and of musty Corn. 

'That special care be taken that no stinking fish, or unwholesome flesh, or musty corn, or other corrupt fruits of what sort soever, be suffered to be sold about the city, or any part of the same. 

'That the brewers and tippling-houses he looked unto for musty and unwholesome casks. 

'That no hogs, dogs, or cats, or tame pigeons, or conies, be suffered to be kept within any part of the city, or any swine to be or stray in the streets or lanes, but that such swine be impounded by the beadle or any other officer, and the owner punished according to Act of Common Council, and that the dogs be killed by the dog-killers appointed for that purpose.'



'Forasmuch as nothing is more complained of than the multitude of rogues and wandering beggars that swarm in every place about the city, being a great cause of the spreading of the infection, and will not be avoided, notwithstanding any orders that have been given to the contrary: It is therefore now ordered, that such constables, and others whom this matter may any way concern, take special care that no wandering beggars be suffered in the streets of this city in any fashion or manner whatsoever, upon the penalty provided by the law, to be duly and severely executed upon them. 


 That all plays, bear-baitings, games, singing of ballads, buckler-play, or such-like causes of assemblies of people be utterly prohibited, and the parties offending severely punished by every alderman in his ward. 

Feasting prohibited. 

'That all public feasting, and particularly by the companies of this city, and dinners at taverns, ale-houses, and other places of common entertainment, be forborne till further order and allowance; and that the money thereby spared be preserved and employed for the benefit and relief of the poor visited with the infection. 


'That disorderly tippling in taverns, ale-houses, coffee-houses, and cellars be severely looked unto, as the common sin of this time and greatest occasion of dispersing the plague.  And that no company or person be suffered to remain or come into any tavern, ale-house, or coffee-house to drink after nine of the clock in the evening, according to the ancient law and custom of this city, upon the penalties ordained in that behalf. 

'And for the better execution of these orders, and such other rules and directions as, upon further consideration, shall be found needful: It is ordered and enjoined that the aldermen, deputies, and common councilmen shall meet together weekly, once, twice, thrice or oftener (as cause shall require), at some one general place accustomed in their respective wards (being clear from infection of the plague), to consult how the said orders may be duly put in execution; not intending that any dwelling in or near places infected shall come to the said meeting while their coming may be doubtful.  And the said aldermen, and deputies, and common councilmen in their several wards may put in execution any other good orders that by them at their said meetings shall be conceived and devised for preservation of his Majesty's subjects from the infection. 




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