The Plague in Pepys’s London

Email from a distinguished, very thoughtful, and classically educated, pillar of the UK establishment concludes:
“Meanwhile I send you our warmest wishes for a better 2021 than this Plague Year. I’m reading Pepys’s Journal and although the disease killed perhaps a quarter of the population of London, they seem to have remained rather more cheerful than their modern counterparts.”
To which I responded:
“On Pepys’s London: a morbid thought, but we really do seem to have lost our acceptance of death, making our societies psychologically brittle and tormented.”
Another friend pointed me (on Facebook) to C.S. Lewis’s famous “Living in an Atomic Age” essay from 1948 – which seems very on point more than 70 years later.

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.”
“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

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