Philobiblon: A morning of plague

Thursday, October 07, 2004

A morning of plague

I had an interesting morning yesterday the Institute of Historical Research's "The Great Plague of London: experiences and explanations". Yes, I know I have odd ideas of entertainment.

Lots of good stuff, but I was particularly taken with a paper from Dr Patrick Wallis of the LSE on "doctoring the plague", which explored attitudes to what physicians should do when the dreaded disease struck. What they actually mostly did was ran away, and, he indicated most people thought this was perfectly reasonable, particularly since this was what almost all of their patients, those who were wealthy enough to pay them, did.

e.g., he presented James Balmford, vicar of St Olave's Southwark: "As for Phisitions, I onely propound this question: Whether they be bound in conscience to be resident, in regard of their profession and ability to do good, or they may use their liberty to shift for themselves, & (as they thinke) for their lives, in regard they are no publicke persons and live (not by common stipend, but) by what they can get." The vicar came down on the second side.
This from A Short Dialogue Concerning the Plagues Infection (London 1603)

Although Dr Wallis pointed out that the good vicar himself was under something of a cloud in the subject. He stayed in town, but refused to visit dying plague victims.


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