The Common Nature of Epidemics

Thomas Southwood Smith (1788 – 1861) — sanitary reformer and physician to the London Fever Hospital.

[…] The predisposing causes of epidemics may be divided into two classes—External and Internal. The external are those which vitiate the atmosphere; the internal are those which more immediately vitiate the blood.

[…] The earnest attention which has been recently directed to the first class of causes has led to an advancement in the science of prevention, the importance of which it is impossible to over-estimate. To give only one illustration of the action of a predisposing cause, I select as my example, Overcrowding.

The Statistical Society of London some time ago appointed a Committee of its Council to make a house-to-house examination of the parish of Marylebone, with a view to ascertain how many families in the parish occupied a single room as a living and sleeping room. In the course of this inquiry, one of the examiners came to a house in which there was one remarkable room.

It was occupied not by one family only, but by five. A separate family ate, drank, and slept in each of the four corners of this room; a fifth occupied the centre.

“But how can you exist,” said the visitor to a poor woman whom he found in the room (the other inmates being absent on their several avocations), “how can you possibly exist?”

“Oh, indeed, your honour,” she replied, “we did very well until the gentleman in the middle took in a lodger.



Island of Barra — 1955

National Library of Scotland

Ten-minute 1955 silent film, shot on the Scottish island of Barra

The history of Barra bears some study too — particularly with regard to the hardships the islanders faced in the past (this was mainly due to the actions of those who had taken ownership of the island). The archaeology is also of great interest.

What lies beneath splendour

Found the following whilst reading an *old book on archaeology and art:

[…] Nürnberg being a “free city” was governed by its own appointed magistrates, having independent courts of law. The executive council of state consisted of eight members, chosen from the thirty patrician families who, by the privilege granted to them from the thirteenth century, ruled the city entirely. In process of time these privileges assumed the form of a civic tyranny, which was felt to be intolerable by the people, and occasionally opposed by them. The fierce religious wars of the sixteenth century assisted in destroying this monopoly of power still more; yet now that it is gone for ever, it has left fearful traces of its irresponsible strength. All who sigh for “the good old times,” should not moralise over the fallen greatness of the city, and its almost deserted but noble town-hall; but descend below the building into the dark vaults and corridors which form its basement; the terrible substructure upon which the glorious municipal palace of a free imperial self-ruled city was based in the Middle Ages, into whose secrets none dared pry, and where friends, hope, life itself, were lost to those who dared revolt against the rulers.

There is no romance-writer who has imagined more horrors than we have evidences were perpetrated under the name of justice in these frightful vaults, unknown to the busy citizens around them, within a few feet of the streets down which a gay wedding procession might pass, while a true patriot was torn in every limb, and racked to death by the refined cruelty of his fellow-men. The heart sickens in these vaults, and an instinctive desire to quit them takes possession of the mind, while remaining merely as a curious spectator within them. The narrow steps leading to them are reached through a decorated doorway, and the passage below receives light through a series of gratings. You shortly reach the labyrinthine ways, totally excluded from external light and air, and enter one after another confined dungeons, little more than six feet square, cased with oak to deaden sounds, and to increase the difficulty of attempted escape.

To make these narrow places even more horrible, strong wooden stocks are in some, and day and night prisoners were secured in total darkness, in an atmosphere which even now seems too oppressive to bear. In close proximity to these dungeons is a strong stone room, about twelve feet wide each way, into which you descend by three steps. It is the torture-chamber. The massive bars before you are all that remain of the perpendicular rack, upon which unfortunates were hung with weights attached to their ankles. Two such of stone, weighing each fifty pounds, were kept here some years back, as well as many other implements of torture since removed or sold for old iron. The raised stone bench around the room was for the use of the executioner and attendants. The vaulted roof condensed the voice of the tortured man, and an aperture on one side gave it freedom to ascend into the room above, where the judicial listeners waited for the faltering words which succeeded the agonising screams of their victim.

So much we know and still see, but worse horrors were dreamily spoken of by the old Nürnbergers; there was a tradition of a certain something that not only destroyed life, but annihilated the body of the person sacrificed. The tradition took a more definite form in the seventeenth century, and the “kiss of the Virgin” expressed this punishment, and was believed to consist in a figure of the Virgin, which clasped its victim in arms furnished with poignards, and then opening them, dropped the body down a trap on a sort of cradle of swords, arranged so as to cut it to pieces, a running stream below clearing all traces of it away. […]




Being Papers on Art, in relation to

Archæology, Painting, Art-Decoration, and Art-Manufacture.


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