THE Plague of 1603, which is said to have swept away 30, 578 persons, is one of the four great plagues of London of the seventeenth century. Historians, in their desire to account for these visitations, talk glibly about the sanitary arrangements of the City, the scant supply of good water, the crowded houses, and so forth as helping to spread the Plague. No doubt these things did help and encourage the visitation. Let us point out, however, that the City a hundred years after the plague of 1666--say, in 1766--was far more crowded than at that time, that its sanitary arrangements were no better, and that the people, though the New River water was laid on, continued to drink the water of the City wells (not, certainly, so many as before the fire), which received the filtrations and the pollutions of a hundred and fifty burial-grounds. They also continued their cess-pools, their narrow lanes, and their kennels filled with refuse of all kinds. Yet in the eighteenth century there was no plague. Let us also point out that parts of all great cities in Europe were, and are still, extremely crowded and filthy, yet no plague. In other words, it is dangerous to be unwashed, but not in itself a sufficient cause of plague. There must have been causes, of which one knows nothing, why the Plague should take hold of the City on four separate occasions in one century, and after devastating it on a grand scale, should go away for good. All the precautions observed in 1666 are recorded to have been taken in 1603. Women who had to do with the sick and the dead, if they went abroad, carried in their hands a red staff, so that people gave them a wide berth. Warnings were issued against attending funerals; dogs were killed; infected houses were marked with a red cross; streets were cleansed; bonfires were lit at street corners; the grave-diggers and the conductors of the dead carts did their work with the protection of tobacco; a thick cover of earth was laid upon the dead. The people, thrown out of work by thousands, were relieved and maintained by the Corporation and the City Companies.
There exists a strange and whimsical account of this plague entitled TheWonderful Yeare 1603