Page images
PDF
EPUB

Besides, it is easy to Mew how the air, by the sensible ill qualities discoursed of in the last chapter, Tould favour infectious diseases, by rendering the body obnoxious to them.

Indeed other hurtful qualities of the air are more to be regarded than its heat alone : for the plague is sometimes stopt, while the heat of the fealon increases, upon the emendation of the air in other refpects. At Smyrna the plague, which is yearly carried thither by ships, constantly ceases about the 2 4th of June, by the dry and clear weather they always have at that time ; tlie unwholesome damps being then dissipated that annoy the country in the spring. However, the heat of the air is of so much confequence, that if any ship brings it in the winter-months of November, December, January, or February, it never spreads; but if later in the year, as in April or afterwards, it continues till the time before mentioned.

But moreover, what was said before of some latent disorders in the air having a share in spreading the plague, will likewise have place in these countries; as the last plague in the city of London remarkably proves, the seeds of which, upon its first entrance, and while it was confined to a house or two, preferved thenifelves through a hard frosty winter, and again put forth their malignant quality as foon as the warmth of the spring gave them force : but, at the latter end of the next winter, they were fupprefied fo as to appear no more, though in the month of December more than half the parishes of the city were infected.

A corrupted state of air is, without doubt, neceffary to give these contagious atoms their full force ;

far

H 2

for otherwise it were not easy to conceive how the plague, when once it had seized any place, should ever cease but with the destruction of all the inhabi. tants : which is readily accounted for by fupposing an emendation of the qualities of the air, and the reftoring of it to a healthful state capable of diffipating and suppressing the malignity.

On the other hand, it does not appear, that the air, however corrupted, is usually capable of carrying infection to a very great distance ; but that commonly the plague is spread from town to town by infected persons and goods : for there are numberless in, stances where the plague has caused a great mortality in towns, while other towns and villages, very near them, have been entirely free. And hence it is, that the plague fometimes spreads from place to place very irregularly. Thuanus * speaks of a plague in Italy, which one year was at Trent and Verona, the next got into Venice and Padua, leaving Vicenza, an intermediate place, untouched, though the next year that also felt the same stroke : a certain proof that the plague was not carried by the air from Verona to Padua and Venice ; for the infected air must have tainted all in its passage. We have had lately in France one instance of the same nature, when the plague was carried at once out of Provence several leagues into the Gevaudan. Usually indeed the plague, especially when more violent than ordinary, spreads from infected places into those which border upon them : which probably is sometimes effected by some little communication infected towns are obliged to hold with the country about them for the fake of ne* Hiftor. lib. lxii,

cessaries,

ceffaries, the subtilty of the venom now and then eluding the greatest precautions; and at other times by such as withdraw themselves from infected places into the neighbourhood.

I own it cannot be demonstrated, that when the plague makes great ravage in any town, the number of sick shall never be great enough to load the air with infectious effluvia, emitted from them in fich plenty, that they may be conveyed by the winds into a neighbouring town or village, without being dispersed so much as to hinder their producing any ill effects; especially since it is not unusual for the air to be fo far charged with these noxious atoms, as to leave no place within the infected town secure : infomuch that when the distemper is at its height, all shall be indifferently infected, as well those who keep from the fick, as those who are near them; though, at the beginning of a plague, to avoid all communication with the diseased, is an effcctual defence. However, I do not think this is often the case : just as the smoke with which the air of the city of London is constantly impregnated, especially in winter, is not carried many miles distant; though the quantity of it is vaftly greater than the quantity of infectious effluvia, that the most mortal plague could generate.

But, to conclude what relates to the air, since the ill qualities of it in these northern countries are not alone fufficient to excite the plague, without import. ed contagion, this thews the errour of a common opi. nion, countenanced by authors of great name *, that we are necesfarily visited with the plague once in thirty or forty years : which is a mere fancy, without * Sydenham de peste.

foundation fame

foundation either in reason or experience; and therefore people ought to be delivered from such vain fears. Since the peftilence is never originally bred with us, but always brought accidentally from abroad, its coming can have no relation to any certain period of time. And although our three or four last plagues have fallen ont nearly at such intervals, yet that is much too short a compass of years to be a foundation for a general rule. Accordingly we see that almost fourscore years have passed over without any calamity of this kind.

The air of our climate is so far from being ever the original of the true plague, that most probably it never produces those milder infectious distempers, the finall-pox and mealles. For these diseases were not heard of in Europe before the Moors had entered Spain : and (as I have observed in the preface) they were afterwards propagated and spread through all nations, chiefly by means of the wars with the Saracens.

Moreover, we are so far from any necessity of these periodical returns of the plague, that, on the contrary, though we have had several strokes of this kind, yet there are instances of bad contagions from abroad being brought over to us, which have proved less malignant here, when our northern air has not been disposed to receive such impressions.

The sweating sickness, before hinted at, called Sudor Anglicus and Febris Ephemera Britannica, because it was commonly thought to have taken its rife here, was most probably of a foreign original : and though not the common plague with glandular tumours, and carbuncles, yet a real peftilence from the

mate.

same cause, only altered in its appearance, and abated in its violence, by the falutary influence of our cli

For it preserved an agreement with the common plague in many of its lymptoms, as exceflive faintness and inquietudes, inward burnings, &c. thete fymptoms being no where observed in to intense a degree as here they are described to have been, except in the true plague : and, what is much more, it was likewise a contagious disease.

The first time this was felt here, which was in the year 1485, it began in the army with which King Henry VII. came from France and landed in Wales *: and it has been supposed by some to have been brought from the famous siege of Rhodes by the Turks three or four years before, as may be collected from what Dr Keyes says in one place of his treatise on this disease t. Besides, of the several returns which this has made since that time, viz. in the years 1506, 1517, 1528, and 1551, that in the year 1528 may very justly be suspected to have been owing to the common peftilence, which at those times raged in Italy 7, as I find one of our historians has long ago conjectured || : and the others were very probably from a Turkish infection. If at least fome of these returns were not owing to the remains of former attacks, a suitable constitution of air returning to put the latent feeds in action before they were quite destroyed. It is the more probable that this

* Vid. Caium de febr. ephemer. Britan. and Lord Bacon's history of Henry VII. + Pag. 162. edit. Lovan. | Vid. Rondinelli contagio in Firenze, & Summonte histor. di Napoli. ll Lord Herbert's history of Henry VIII.

disease

« PreviousContinue »