The Historical Sources of Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year
by Watson Nicholson (9781511648332)

The Historical Sources of Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year
Watson Nicholson
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 192
Category: History
Publisher: Createspace
ISBN: 9781511648332
ISBN-10: 1511648333

The author of this most interesting treatise on Defoe's famous narrative has compiled with evident labor and research a great mass of corroborative material to prove the truth of the story told by Defoe, and he has certainly succeeded in his effort. All Defoe's most improbable statements, statistics, recitals of terrible sights to be seen in the streets or of the horrible misfortunes befalling individuals or families are found to be actual reproductions of facts which can be verified by official statements or by historic documents. Even the story of Solomon Eagle, the Quaker, who ran naked in the streets raving, Dr. Nicholson thinks he has duplicated by the narrative of the performances of other eccentric Quakers. He admits that the narrative of the three men who escaped from the city and wandered about the country, has a fictitious ring. Dr. Nicholson's main contention is that "Defoe's Journal" should be classed as history, not fiction, and he mentions in a somewhat grieved manner that in libraries, or in such series as Everyman's Library, it is put under the head of fiction. He excuses Defoe's use of the first person singular in the narrative as merely a pardonable ruse to make his book more generally popular and unlike a dry-as-dust history. We must confess that though we feel that Dr. Nicholson has done a service to the book in establishing the essential accuracy of its details, our conviction is that any book which claims to be a narration of facts written by one who participated in them, must be classed as fiction, if the author did not actually see what he relates or was not an actor in them. Thackeray's "Henry Esmond" is as accurate historically as the "Journal" which Defoe claims was written by a sadler of London, yet no one would think of classing it under any other class than fiction. It is true that the "Journal" is not a novel because it contains no plot, but just as it is not strictly speaking a novel, neither can it be classed otherwise than as a fictitious narrative, having been written by a fictitious person. Dr. Nicholson's work is a valuable contribution to the literature of the plague, as well as to the bibliography of Defoe. The "Journal" was written at a time when the people of London were apprehensive of another plague visitation; the plague was raging at Marseilles, from whence its entry into London was feared. Defoe, with true journalistic instinct, promptly wrote a timely book. The recent influenza epidemic has brought to the minds of many people a realistic conception of what such visitations involve. It is to be hoped that Dr. Nicholson's book will revive interest in one of the most famous of the English classics, and that the lessons that Defoe tried to teach his generation will be of some benefit to ours. -"Annals of Medical History," Volume 3 [1921]

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