For the year 2020, I proposed returning to the kind of year we had in 2015 when we spent two months in Oxford, England, visiting museums, concerts, lectures and evensongs. This year, we signed up for lectures, concerts, plays, rugby games and photo exhibitions – all of which have been canceled because of our current plague.
I all reminds me of what Daniel Defoe wrote about 1664 in “A Journal of the Plague Year:”
Thinking of their graves might have “most happily led the people to fall upon their knees, make confession of their sins, and look up to their merciful Saviour for pardon, imploring His compassion on them in surely a time of their distress.”
But no. Instead, the people turned to “extremes of folly:” conjurors, witches, mountebanks, multitudes of pills, potions, and preservatives, odious and fatal preparations, some with mercury, charms, philtres, exorcisms, amulets and certain words or figures, particularly the word Abracadabra, formed in a triangle or pyramid, thus: —
Defoe says he will not spend much time on these “follies,” but notes:
As in “worthless nonsense,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. As in synonyms like: balderdash, baloney (also boloney), beans, bilge, blah (also blah-blah), blarney, blather, blatherskite, blither, bosh, bull [slang], bunk, bunkum (or buncombe), claptrap, codswallop [British], crapola [slang], crock, drivel, drool, fiddle, fiddle-faddle, fiddlesticks, flannel [British], flapdoodle, folderol (also falderal), folly, foolishness, fudge, garbage, guff, hogwash, hokeypokey, hokum, hoodoo, hooey, horsefeathers [slang], humbug, humbuggery, jazz, malarkey (also malarky), moonshine, muck, nerts [slang], nonsense, nuts, piffle, poppycock, punk, rot, rubbish, senselessness, silliness, slush, stupidity, taradiddle (or tarradiddle), tommyrot, tosh, trash, twaddle.
Sounds about right, and who knew Defoe was a fortune teller? This will go down much easier with a little hydroxychloroquine.
(To be continued)
My friend Don suggested this as “an addition to your historical Daniel Defoe reporting:”
A LETTER FROM F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, QUARANTINED IN 1920 IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE DURING THE SPANISH INFLUENZA OUTBREAK:
Dearest Rosemary, It was a limpid dreary day, hung as in a basket from a single dull star. I thank you for your letter. Outside, I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that, he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza. I’m curious of his sources. The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us. You should see the square, oh, it is terrible. I weep for the damned eventualities this future brings. The long afternoons rolling forward slowly on the ever-slick bottomless highball. Z. says it’s no excuse to drink, but I just can’t seem to steady my hand. In the distance, from my brooding perch, the shoreline is cloaked in a dull haze where I can discern an unremitting penance that has been heading this way for a long, long while. And yet, amongst the cracked cloudline of an evening’s cast, I focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow. Faithfully Yours, F. Scott Fitzgerald ~ 1920