An Ill Time to Be Sick

Welcome to the latest in our series of audio adventures, Tales for Our Time, and Part Three of my serialization of A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. We’re always happy to hear from Mark Steyn Club members who enjoy our radio adaptations, and this account of the Great Plague of 1665 seems to be proving popular – or, at any rate, pertinent. Geoffrey Nicholson, a member from the locked-down London of 2020, writes:

Mark, thanks for this reading. This is a great choice of book. Another illustration of ‘plus ça change…’ And of course that those who forget history are at the very least going to be very surprised when it happens again. I hope this time the civilised world heeds your warnings about reducing our openness to threats from abroad in all their forms.

Indeed, Geoffrey. When this is over, if the civilized world simply returns to business as usual, the Chinese will plan their next coronas accordingly.

Speaking of plus ça change, in tonight’s episode of A Journal of the Plague Year, our narrator begins with a mordant observation:

It was a very ill time to be sick in, for if any one complained, it was immediately said he had the plague…

Ours is also an ill time to be sick – because, if you haven’t got coronavirus, you’re screwed. If you have a stroke or fall off the roof, a trip to hospital will end with you either getting the thing from the waiting room Coke machine, or being turned away because all the stroke and broken leg docs have been redeployed to the Covid ward. The teller of our tale notes other similarities with our time:

One day, being at that part of the town on some special business, curiosity led me to observe things more than usually, and indeed I walked a great way where I had no business. I went up Holborn, and there the street was full of people, but they walked in the middle of the great street, neither on one side or other, because, as I suppose, they would not mingle with anybody that came out of houses, or meet with smells and scent from houses that might be infected.

The Inns of Court were all shut up; nor were very many of the lawyers in the Temple, or Lincoln’s Inn, or Gray’s Inn, to be seen there. Everybody was at peace; there was no occasion for lawyers.

Happy the land that can say such a thing, even in the midst of a plague. Today, at the US Supreme Court and elsewhere, the judges have managed to make an already sclerotic justice system even more so and put an indefinite hold on all hearings. For a seventeenth-century take on our twenty-first century contagion, members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear Part Three of our chronicle simply by clicking here and logging-in. Parts One and Two can be found here.

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