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Michigan State University

Defoe and the Plague in London 1664-1665: Spiritual Aspects

Guide accompanies a small book exhibit in the Lobby of the Main Library.

Spiritual Aspects

Spiritual Aspects and Plague in London 1664-1665

  • H.F., the protagonist in Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, dismisses the notion that God sent the plague, believing it spread by natural means from natural causes.  Yet, when the plague departed he said “Just then it pleased God, as it were, by his immediate Hand to disarm this Enemy.”
  • Although this idea was fading by the 17th century, in general, Christians believed in some notion of individual and collective/societal wrongdoing as a cause of plague.
  • In December, 1663 and in March, 1664, bright comets appeared in the sky.  People claimed to see fire and coffins in the heavens and heard sounds of cannon.  They believed these sights and sounds were signs from God of imminent punishment for their immoral behavior. The plague was the punishment.
  • People continued to go out to Church even if they did not leave home for any other reason during the plague.
  • People worked on putting their spiritual houses in order before falling ill. Two characters in Defoe's Due Preparations for the Plague, a brother and sister, do this.  People wanted to face death calmly, ready and eager to meet Christ. They confessed their sins and repented of them, reconciled with those with whom they were at odds, paid their bills and debts, and resolved to live more temperately, honestly, and healthfully. 
Michigan State University