For my senior paper as a history undergraduate, I wrote about early modern English plague literature: mostly obscure pamphlets, plus one very well-known novel, containing stories about the plague in London during the multiple outbreaks the city endured from 1563-1665. At the time, the only way I could access this literature was via microfilm, and I found the microfilm via an online but not web-based catalog. After a couple of hours reading on a microfilm machine, I printed out all of my sources at once.
After I finished the paper, as a nice sort of wrap-up project, I went down to a copy shop and had all of the pamphlets I'd collected bound into one volume in the style of a course reader. The one exception was Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year, which has always been widely available. It took some work to track all the sources down and I didn't want to throw them out. A year or two later, I learned that they'd all been digitized but weren't available without a library subscription. I kept my reader.
Due to the ongoing global pandemic, I recently took my reader off the shelf for the first time in years and it turns out that quite a few of these texts are freely available online now. So as a service to anyone who might want to read historical literature from other kinds of epidemics, I'm posting the table of contents to my reader as a biblography with links.
I don't plan on re-reading these myself right now, but I will note that they show a real range of responses. Many of them are somber, as you would expect, but there's also a surprising amount of humor. If you're familiar with the Monty Python "Bring out your dead" sketch, you might be surprised to find precursors of that here. Other themes you'll find are a regular tension between city and country as people fled the outbreaks. Thomas Dekker's The Wonderfull Yeare is probably a good place to start.
For reference, London experienced severe outbreaks of plague in the following years:
You can see those dates reflected in the publication dates of the pamphlets below. Note that I haven't included a link to Defoe's A Journal of a Plague Year because so many copies are available online. It's also the only contemporaneous work of plague literature I found that wasn't actually published during or shortly after a London outbreak. Though it's about 1665, it came out in 1722 when there was a plague in Marseilles and there were fears another one would start in London too.
I can't claim this bibliography is comprehensive, but it was everything I could find in English centering on London and the plague in the English Short Title Catalog in 1998. I've organized it in a loosely chronological way, in order of outbreak. But I've grouped it by author, so if an author wrote more than one pamphlet then all of their pamphlets are listed in a row starting with the oldest.
When I couldn't find a free online copy, I've noted that and left in the microfilm reel number. You can either look up the reel yourself, or search for it in the very non-free Early English Books Online database, should you have access through a library that can afford access. It's possible I've missed an online copy or two, as non-standard English spellings in the titles make it hard to do exact searches. If you find any more, please let me know and I'll update the post.
Bullein, William. A dialogue against the feuer pestilence. From the edition of 1578, collated with the earlier editions of 1564 and 1573. Edited by Mark W. Bullen and A. H. Bullen. London: Published for the Early English text society by N. Trubner & co., 1888.
Balmford, James. A short dialogue concerning the plagues infection : published to preserue
bloud, through the blessing of God. London : 1603.
Dekker, Thomas. The plague pamphlets of Thomas Dekker. Edited by F. P. Wilson. Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1925.
(Scanned images of reprint)
Dekker's plague pamphlets include the following:
- The Wonderfull Yeare (1603) (Text-only copy)
- Newes from Graves-end (1604)
- The Meeting of Gallants (1604)
- A Rod for Run-awayes (1625)
- London Looke Backe (1630)
- The Blacke Rod and the White Rod (1630)
B. V., S. O., T. O., A. L., V. S. The run-awyaes [sic] answer to a booke called, A rodde for runne-awayes. In vvhich are set downe a defense for their running, with some reasons perswading some of them neuer to come backe. The vsage of Londoners by the countrey people; drawne in a picture, artificially looking two waies, (foorth-right, and a-squint:) with an other picture done in lant-skipp, in which the Londoners and countrey-men dance a morris together. Lastly, a runne-awaies speech to his fellow run-awaies, arming them to meete death within the listes, and not to shunne him. Oxford: 1625.
Petowe, Henry. Londoners their entertainment in the countrie. Or the whipping of runnawayes Wherein is described, Londons miserie. The countries crueltie. And mans inhumanitie. London: 1604.
_______. The countrie ague. Or, London her vvelcome home to her retired children Together, with a true relation of the warlike funerall of Captaine Richard Robyns, one of the twentie captaines of the trayned bands of the citie of London, which was performed the 24. day of September last, 1625. in armes, in the time of this visitation which the rumour in the countrey went currant, that London had not people enough left aliue to bury her dead. By Henry Petovve, Marshall of the Artillerie Garden, London. London:
Spenser, Benjamin. Lachrymae Londinenses: Or, Londons Lamentations and Teares. London:
1626. Microfilm. Ann Arbor, Mich. : University Microfilms International (Early English books, 1475-1640; Reel 580:03).
(No free online copy found)
_______. Vox Civitatis, or Londons Complaint against her Children in the Covntrey.
Shewing to them her: infirmitie, povertie, desolate misery. Vpbraiding them with: vnkindnesse, vncharitablenesse, distrustfulnesse. Informing them of her: Comfort in God. Counsell to them. Chiding the Countrey for their: Ignorance of God and his hand, Hard-heartednesse in: entertaining, burying. Taken from her owne mouth, and written by Benjamin Spenser Master in Arts. London: 1625. Microfilm. Ann Arbor, Mich. : University Microfilms International (Early English books, 1475-1640; Reel 1671:24). Also reprinted 1636.
(Scanned images of reprint)
_______. Vox Ruris, Reverberating Vox Civitatis, Complaining this yeare 1636, without cause
against the Covntrie. Wherein: 1. The Cities first complaint in the yeare 1625 is in the generall heads repeated, approved, and compared with the Countries estate. 2. The Scribe thereof vindicated. 3. The publisher of it this yeare rebuked. 4. The last Edition disallowed. 5. The Citie Childrens behaviour in the Countrie reproved. Taken from her owne common report, and written by Notarius Rusticus. London: 1637. Microfilm. Ann Arbor, Mich. : University Microfilms International (Early English books, 1475-1640; Reel 1322:04).
(No free online copy found)
Taylor, John. The Fearefull Summer, or, Londons Calamity, the Countries Courtesy, and both Their Misery. Oxford: 1625. (Text-only copy)
T. B. (Thomas Brewer). The vveeping lady: or, London like Niniuie in sack-cloth Describing the mappe of her owne miserie, in this time of her heauy visitation; with her hearty prayers, admonition, and pious meditations, as the occasions of them offer themselues in her passion.London : 1625.
_______. Lord have Mercy upon Vs. The World, A Sea, A Pest-house. The one full of Stormes,
and dangers, the other full of Soares and Diseases. The observance from These, (though especially accomodated to the times of this heavy Contagion,) fitted for all times. For all Men, and all Times of sicke, of the Cause of this Sicknesse. London: 1636. Microfilm. Ann Arbor, Mich. : University Microfilms International (Early English books, 1475-1640; Reel 1747:17).
(No free online copy found)
_______. A dialogue betuuixt a cittizen, and a poore countrey man and his wife, in the countrey, where the citizen remaineth now in this time of sicknesse written by him in the countrey, who sent the coppy to a friend in London ; being both pitifull and pleasant.
(Scanned images) (Text-only copy of earlier edition)
Austin, William. Epiloimia epe, or, The anatomy of the pestilence : a poem in three parts:
describing the deplorable condition of the city of London under its merciless dominion, 1665 : what the plague is, together with the causes of it : as also, the prognosticks and most effectual means of safety, both preservative and curative. London : 1666.