Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Sot for All His Life

The title page for Defoe's "Journal of the Plague Year."We love it when our books speak to each other. In 1722, Daniel DeFoe published his Journal of the Plague Year (London: E. Nutt, 1722). In it he refers to one physician who warded off infection with prodigious alcohol consumption:
Nether did I do, what I know some did, keep the Spirits always high and hot with Cordials, and Wine, and such things, and which, as I observ'd, one learned Physician used himself so much to, as that he could not leave them off when the Infection was quite gone, and so became a Sot for all his Life after.
Defoe was only a child when the Plague hit London in 1665, so he drew on other accounts for his "eye-witness" Journal. One of his principle sources was Nathanial Hodges's Loimologia: or an Historical Account of the Plague in London in 1665.  We have the 1721 London edition of that work and it has a curious passage where Hodges described the methods he used to ward off infection.

Before dinner he had a glass of Sack "to warm the Stomach, refresh the Spirits, and dissipate any beginning Lodgment of the Infection." This was followed by a heavy dinner with plenty of wine. The early evening was spent visiting patients, then he ended the day "by drinking to Cheerfulness of my old favourite Liqour."

More alarming, he always carried wine with him and would have a glass "if in the Day-time I found the least Approaches of the Infection," such as "Guidiness, Loathing of the Stomach, and Faintness." Hum, I wonder what could have caused those symptoms--other than the Plague, of course?

A printed table of funerals.
Sobering statistics from Loimologia
To relive a Plague year and marvel that anyone survived at all, ask for Val 825D36 S21 (Defoe, see page 276) and Rare RC114.Q5 1721 (Hodges, see page 222).

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