Lord have Mercy on London – contagion denial in 1665

A superb example of 17th century prose from Dr. Nathaniel Hodges, 1629-1688, the leading commentator of his day on the London Plague of 1665. We learn from the extract below that there were idiots then as there are today, specifically those who chose to believe that the Plague was not contagious. No masks or self-isolation for them. Hodges disposes of them very elegantly.  From: Vindiciæ medicinæ & medicorum: or An apology for the profession and professors of physick In answer to the several pleas of illegal practitioners; wherein their positions are examined, their cheats discovered, and their danger to the nation asserted.

Notwithstanding that infection is so apparent in the Pest, yet some have lately in their discourses and pamphlets, argued that it is not Contagious, such persons deserve rather the magistrates censure than my refutation: the Order published by Queen Elizabeth was in those days the most proper expedient to suppress that opinion, which is not otherwise now then by Authority to be silenced: these ground their hypotheses upon the escape of some persons who converse with the infected, but this proof is not admittable as sufficient, because there are very many causes why such bodies are not equally obnoxious to Contagion as others; for besides the particular Providence of God who is pleased to protect some in the same danger in which others do perish, the security of such persons may be attributed to the shape of their pores not admitting pestilential atoms of a disproportioned figure, or vigour of the spirits to expel this enemy before he can fixe in their bodies, certainly such persons might as rationally affirm that Bullets will not wound and kill, because some in the hottest battails amidst showers of small shot walk untoucht by any of them, when as these escape rather upon the account of the various happy postures they are in during the charge, then their fancy of being shot-free.

These infectious irradiations flowing from bodies inflamed with the Pest, as they constantly issue out by transpiration, and other more open passages, so they diffuse their malignity accordingly as they are more or less subtile and spiritual; if therefore the snuff of a candle, which emits a gross and visible fume, can in few moments so taint the circumambient air in a large room, so as to render it most offensive to our smell; certainly Pestilential exhalations by very many degrees more fine and subtile, can insensibly and beyond such narrow limits spread their poison, corrupting the air, and making it pernicious to bodies dispos’d to receive such impressions; the motion of these malignant corpuscles cannot by any help be discerned, neither can any account be given of their scent as some do vainly imagine: touching the steam of infected bodies, I confess that when Buboes are opened, Carbuncles cast off their Eschar, the Pestilential emanations being imbodied in grosser va∣pours issuing from such sores, may possibly be hereupon sensible to the Nose, as in opening other impostumes, and dressing common sordid ulcers is evident; the like reason may be given of their vomitings, stools, and sweats; hence it is that some have perceived the moment of their seisure, which sent they could not otherwise express, then by a cadaverous, and as it were a suffocating stanch; but (al∣though I have been very inquisitive in this particular) I may confidently averre, that not one in two hundred hath been apprehensive by scent of the infection, the venenate particles communicating their malignity in a way imperceptable to our Senses.

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