Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][subsumed][subsumed]

36.-ACCOUNT OF THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON.

EVELYN.

[JOHN EVELYN, of Wotton, Surrey, was a younger son of an ancient family. During a long life, in eventful times, he maintained a character for independence and honesty, without being a violent partisan ; and in a profligate age he displayed the decorous virtues of an English gentleman. His · Memoirs' were found about thirty-five years ago, in a mutilated state, in the old mansion in which he lived and died—Wotton, near Dorking; and they offer some of the most curious pictures we possess of the events and manners of the 17th century. We subjoin his narrative of the great fire of London, in 1666. Mr. Evelyn died in 1706, in his 86th year.]

1666. 2nd Sept. This fatal night about ten began that deplorable fire near Fish Street in London.

3. The fire continuing, after dinner I took coach with my wife and son and went to the Bank-side in Southwark, where we beheld that dismal spectacle, the whole city in dreadful flames near the water-side ; all the houses from the bridge, all Thames Street, and upwards towards Cheapside down to the Three Cranes were now consumed.

The fire having continued all this night, (if I may call that night which was as light as day for ten miles round about, after a dreadful manner,) when conspiring with a fierce eastern wind in a very dry season ; I went on foot to the same place, and saw the whole south part of the city burning from Cheapside to the Thames, and all along Cornhill, (for it kindled back against the wind as well as forward,) Tower Street, Fenchurch Street, Gracechurch Street, and so along to Bainard's Castle, and was now taking hold of St. Paul's Church, to which the scaffolds contributed exceedingly. The conflagration was so universal, and the people so astonished, that from the beginning, I know not by what despondency or fate, they hardly stirred to quench it, so that there was nothing heard or seen but crying out and lamentation, running about like distracted creatures, without at all attempting to save even their goods ; such a strange consternation there was upon them, so as it burned both in breadth and length, the churches, public halls, exchange, hospitals, monuments, and ornaments, leaping after a prodigious manner from house to house and street to street, at great distances one from the other; for the heat, with a long set of fair and warm weather, had even ignited the air and prepared the materials to conceive the fire, which devoured after an incredible manner, houses, furniture and everything. Here we saw the Thames covered with goods floating, all the barges and boats laden with what some had time and courage to save, as, on the other, the carts, &c., carrying out to the fields, which for many miles were strewed with moveables of all sorts, and tents erecting to shelter both people and what goods they could get away. Oh the miserable and calamitous spectacle ! such as haply the world had not seen the like since the foundation of it, nor be outdone till the universal conflagration. All the sky was of a fiery aspect, like the top of a burning oven, the light seen above forty miles round about for many nights. God

1ST QUARTER.

G

grant my eyes may never behold the like, now seeing above 10,000 houses all in one flame: the noise and cracking and thunder of the impetuous flames, the shrieking of women and children, the hurry of people, the fall of towers, houses, and churches was like an hideous storm, and the air all about so hot and inflamed, that at last one was not able to approaclı it; so that they were forced to stand still and let the flames burn out, which they did for near two miles in length and one in breadth. The clouds of smoke were dismal, and reached upon computation near fifty miles in length. Thus I left it this afternoon burning, a resemblance of Sodom, or the last day. London was, but is no more !

4. The burning still rages, and it has now gotten as far as the Inner Temple, all Fleet Street, the Old Bailey, Ludgate Hill, Warwick Lane, Newgate, Paul's Chain, Watling Street, now flaming, and most of it reduced to ashes ; the stones of Paul's flew like granados, the melting lead running down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements glowing with fiery redness, so as no horse nor man was able to tread on them, and the demolition had stopped all the passages, so that no help could be applied. The eastern wind still more impetuously drove the flames forward. Nothing but the Almighty power of God was able to stop them, for vain was the help of man.

5. It crossed towards Whitehall ; oh the confusion there was then at that court ! It pleased his majesty to command me among the rest to look after the quenching of Fetter Lane end, to preserve if possible that part of Holborn, whilst the rest of the gentlemen took their several posts, (for now they began to bestir themselves, and not till now, who hitherto had stood as men intoxicated, with their hands across,) and began to consider that nothing was likely to put a stop but the blowing up of so many houses as might make a wider gap than any had yet been made by the ordinary method of pulling them down with engines ; this some stout seamen proposed early enough to have saved nearly the whole city, but this some tenacious and avaricious men, aldermen, &c., would not permit, because their houses must have been of the first. It was therefore now commanded to be practised, and my concern being particularly for the hospital of St. Bartholomew near Smithfield, where I had many wounded and sick men, made me the more diligent to promote it, nor was my care for the Savoy less. It now pleased God, by abating the wind, and by the industry of the people, infusing a new spirit into them, that the fury of it began sensibly to abate about noon, so as it came no farther than the Temple westward, nor than the entrance of Smithfield north ; but continued all this day and night so impetuous towards Cripplegate and the Tower as made us all despair. It also broke out again in the Temple, but the courage of the multitude persisting, and many houses being blown up, such gaps and desolations were soon made, as with the former three days' consumption, the back fire did not so vehemently urge upon the rest as formerly. There was yet no standing near the burning and glowing ruins by near a furlong's space.

The coal and wood wharfs and magazines of oil, rosin, &c., did infinite mischief, so as the invective which a little before I had dedicated to his majesty and published, giving warning what might probably be the issue of suffering those shops to be in the city, was looked on as a prophecy.

The poor inhabitants were dispersed about St. George's Fields and Moorfields, as far as Highgate, and several miles in circle, some under tents, some under miserable huts and hovels, many without a rag or any necessary utensils, bed or board ; who, from delicateness, riches, and easy accommodations in stately and well furnished houses, were now reduced to extremest misery and poverty.

In this calamitous condition I returned with a sad heart to my house, blessing and adoring the mercy of God to me and mine, who in the midst of all this ruin was like Lot, in my little Zoar, safe and sound.

7. I went this morning on foot from Whitehall as far as London Bridge, through the late Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, by St. Paul's, Cheapside, Exchange, Bishopgate, Aldersgate, and out to Moorfields, thence through Cornhill, &c., with extraordinary difficulty, clambering over heaps of yet smoking rubbish, and frequently mistaking where I was. The ground under my feet was so hot, that it even burnt the soles of my shoes. In the mean time his majesty got to the Tower by water, to demolish the houses about the graff, which being built entirely about it, had they taken fire and attacked the White Tower where the magazine of powder lay, would undoubtedly not only have beaten down and destroyed all the bridge, but sunk and torn the vessels in the river, and rendered the demolition beyond all expression for several miles about the country.

At my return I was infinitely concerned to find that goodly church St. Paul's now a sad ruin, and that beautiful portico (for structure comparable to any in Europe, as not long before repaired by the king) now rent in pieces, flakes of vast stone split asunder, and nothing remaining entire but the inscription in the architrave, showing by whom it was built, which had not one letter of it defaced. It was astonishing to see what immense stones the heat had in a manner calcined, so that all the ornaments, columns, friezes, and projectures of massy Portland stone flew off, even to the very roof, where a sheet of lead covering a great space was totally melted; the ruins of the vaulted roof falling broke into St. Faith's, which being filled with the magazines of books belonging to the stationers, and carried thither for safety, they were all consumed, burning for a week following. It is also observable that the lead over the altar at the east end was untouched, and among the divers monuments, the body of one bishop remained entire. Thus lay in ashes that most venerable church, one of the most ancient pieces of early piety in the Christian world, besides near 100 more.

The lead, iron work, bells, plate, &c., melted ; the exquisitely wrought Mercers' Chapel, the sumptuous Exchange, the august fabric of Christ Church, all the rest of the Companies' Halls, sumptuous buildings, arches, all in dust; the fountains dried up and ruined, whilst the very waters remained boiling; the voragoes of subterranean cellars, wells, and dungeons, formerly warehouses, still burning in stench and dark clouds of smoke, so that in five or six miles traversing about I did not see one load of timber unconsumed, nor many stones but what were calcined white as snow. The people who now walked about the ruins appeared like men in a dismal desert, or rather in some great city laid waste by a cruel enemy: to which was added the stench that came from some poor creatures' bodies, beds, &c. Sir Thomas Gresham’s statue, though fallen from its niche in the Royal Exchange, remained entire, when all those of the kings since the Conquest were broken to pieces ; also the standard in Cornhill, and Queen Elizabeth's effigies, with some arms on Ludgate, continued with but little detriment, whilst the vast iron chains of the city streets, hinges, bars, and gates of prisons, were many of them melted and reduced to cinders by the vehement heat. I was not able to pass through any of the narrow streets, but kept the widest, the ground and air, smoke and fiery vapour continued so intense that my hair was almost singed and my feet insufferably surheated. The bye lanes and narrower streets were quite filled up with rubbish, nor could one have known where he was, but by the ruins of some church or hall, that had some remarkable tower or pinnacle remaining. I then went towards Islington and Highgate, where one might have seen 200,000 people of all ranks and degrees dispersed and lying along by their heaps of what they could save from the fire, deploring their loss, and though ready to perish for hunger and destitution, yet not asking one penny for relief, which to me appeared a stranger sight than any I had yet beheld. His majesty and council indeed took all imaginable care for their relief by proclamation for the country to come in and refresh them with provisions In the midst of all this calamity and confusion, there was, I know not how, an alarm begun that the French and Dutch, with whom we are now in hostility, were not only landed but even entering the city. There was in truth some days before great suspicion of those two nations joining ; and now, that they had been the occasion of firing the town. This report did so terrify, that on a sudden there was such an uproar and tumult that they ran from their goods, and taking what weapons they could come at, they could not be stopped from falling on some of those nations whom they casually met, without sense or reason. The clamour and peril grew so excessive that it made the whole court amazed, and they did with infinite pains and great difficulty reduce and appease the people, sending troops of soldiers and guards to cause them to retire into the fields again, where they were watched all this night. I left them pretty quiet, and came home sufficiently weary and broken. Their spirits thus a little calmed, and the affright abated, they now began to repair into the suburbs about the city, where such as had friends or opportunity got shelter for the present, to which his majesty's proclamation also invited them.

37.—THE RED FISHERMAN.

PRAED. [WINTHROP MACKWORTH PRAED was the son of Mr. Sergeant Praed. In 1820, while at Eton College, he prepared and brought out, with the aid of other young men, a periodical work entitled “The Etonian,' which went through four editions. He was subsequently, while at Trinity College, Cambridge, one of the principal contributors to · Knight's Quarterly Magazine.' Mr. Praed's university career was one of almost unequalled brilliancy: In 1831, having previously been called to the bar, he was returned to Parliament for a Cornish borough. His heaith was always somewhat feeble; and the promises of his youth were closed by his early death in 1840.]

The Abbot arose, and closed his book, Companionless, for a mile or more,
And donned his sandal shoon,

He traced the windings of the shore. Aud wandered forth alone to look

Oh, beauteous is that river still, Upon the summer moon :

As it winds by many a sloping hill, A starlight sky was o'er his head, And many a dim o'er-arching grove, A quiet breeze around ;

And many a flat and sunny cove, And the flowers a thrilling fragrance shed, And terraced lawns whose bright arcades

And the waves a soothing sound : The honey-suckle sweetly shades, It was not an hour, nor a scene, for aught And rocks whose very crags seem bowers, But love and calm delight;

So gay they are with grass and flowers. Yet the holy man had a cloud of thought But the Abbot was thinking of scenery, On his wrinkled brow that night.

About as much, in sooth,
He gazed on the river that gurgled by, As a lover thinks of constancy,
But he thought not of the reeds ;

Or an advocate of truth.
He clasped his gilded rosary,

He did not mark how the skies in wrath But he did not tell the beads :

Grew dark above his head; If he looked to the Heaven, 't was not to He did not mark how the mossy path invoke

Grew damp beneath his tread; The Spirit that dwelleth there; And nearer he came, and still more near, If he opened his lips, the words they spoke To a pool, in whose recess Had never the tone of

prayer.

The water had slept for many a year, A pious Priest might the Abbot seem, Unchanged, and motiunless; He had swayed the crosier well ;

From the river stream it spread away, But what was the theme of the Abbot The space of half a rood ; dream,

The surface had the hue of clay, The Abbot were loth to tell.

And the scent of human blood;

6

The trees and the herbs that round it grew The line the Abbot saw hiro throw
Were venomous and foul ;

Had been fashioned and formed long ages And the birds that through the bushes flew

ago : Were the vulture and the owl; And the hands that worked his foreign The water was as dark and rank

vest, As ever a company pumped ;

Long ages ago had gone to their rest : And the perch that was netted and laid You would have sworn, as you looked on on the bank,

them, Grew rotten while it jumped :

He had fished in the flood with Ham and And bold was he who thither came

Shem!
At midnight, man or boy ;
For the place was cursed with an evil

There was turning of keys, and creaking

of locks, name,

As he took forth a bait from his iron box. And that name was "The Devil's Decoy!

Minnow or gentle, worm or fly— The Abbot was weary as Abbot could be, It seemed not such to the Abbot's eye: And he sat down to rest on the stump of Gaily it glittered with jewel and gem, a tree :

And its shape was the shape of a diadem. When suddenly rose a dismal tone It was fastened a gleaming hook about, Was it a song, or was it a moan ? By a chain within, and a chain without; "Oh, ho! Oh, ho!

The Fisherman gave it a kick and a spin, Above,-below !

And the water fizzed as it tumbled in ! Lightly and brightly they glide and go :

From the bowels of the earth, The hungry and keen to the top are leaping,

Strange and varied sounds had birth; The lazy and fat in the depths are sleeping;

Now the battle's bursting peal, Fishing is fine when the pool is muddy,, Neigh of steed, and clang of steel; Broiling is rich when the coals are ruddy!'

Now an old man's hollow groan In a monstrous fright, by the murky light,

Echoed from the dungeon stone ; He looked to the left, and he looked to

Now the weak and wailing cry the right.

Of a stripling's agony ! And what was the vision close before him, That flung such a sudden stupor o'er him? Cold, by this, was the midnight air; ’T was a sight to make the hair uprise, But the Abbot's blood ran colder,

And the life-blood colder run : When he saw a gasping knight lie there, The startled Priest struck both his thighs, With a gash beneath his clotted hair, And the Abbey clock struck one! And a hump upon his shoulder.

And the loyal churchman strove in vain All alone, by the side of the pool,

To mutter a Pater Noster : A tall man sate on a three-legged stool,

For he who writhed in mortal pain, Kicking his heels on the dewy sod,

Was camped that night on Bosworth plain, And putting in order his reel and rod.

The cruel Duke of Glo'ster! Red were the rags his shoulders wore, And a high red cap on his head he bore; There was turning of keys, and creaking His arms and his legs were long and bare; of locks, And two or three locks of long red hair As he took forth a bait from his iron box. Were tossing about his scraggy neck, It was a haunch of princely size, Like a tattered flag o'er a splitting wreck. Filling with fragrance earth and skies. It might be time, or it might be trouble, The corpulent Abbot knew full well Had bent that stout back nearly double; The swelling form and the steaming smell Sunk in their deep and hollow sockets Never a monk that wore a hood That blazing couple of Congreve rockets ; Could better have guessed the very wood And shrunk and shrivelled that tawny skin, Where the noble hart had stood at ba.y, Till it hardly covered the bones within. Weary and wounded, at close of day.

« EelmineJätka »