Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2020: EPIDEMIC – Pt. 5 – Voices in Time

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover, quotes, and images are from Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2020: EPIDEMIC, except where noted.]
[Click or right-click on a photo may give the option to open it separately.]
[NEW to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 50+ LQ summaries I jump right in.]

[This is a READING section, for those who might stumble in looking for photography. My edits/summaries of the L.Q. historical journal continue.]

My previous musings on this issue are linked here: Epidemic.

L.Q. has generously posted the Epidemic Table of ContentsUnderlined items are links to literary extracts or author references. The same can be found for any issue at its Voices In Time online.

Judging from the number of asterisks in my Table of Contents, print edition, CONTAINMENT was the section I thought of most highly. Ten of the twenty-four extracts are available free online, for literary sleuths who can find them. I might even mention some of them.

The very first extract received my coveted double asterisk award and is a contemporary piece (2014) by Sheri Fink. It’s a diary of one day at an Ebola clinic in Africa. Remember the form you had to fill at that time for doctor’s visits and the like? ‘Have you traveled recently, been exposed to anyone with Ebola, etc.’ Shades of today’s COVID forms. One of the gentler paragraphs from Ms. Fink:

“Two men wearing yellow protective suits and thick rubber gloves left the clinic carrying a body bag on a stretcher. As they walked through tropical forest filled with birdsong, another man followed behind, spraying the dirt path until the brown leaves glistened with bleach solution. They were burying a thirty-eight year-old man. In the final stages of his illness, he had left his bed, disoriented, and curled up against a fifty-year-old woman who had died. A nurse found them lying together the next morning, a scene Dr. Hatch called “simultaneously touching and horrifying.”” (p. 89)

Contemporary author Carlo M. Cipolla recreates stay-at-home orders in Faith, Reason, and the Plague in Seventeenth-Century Tuscany. Gravediggers were uncooperative and only in it for the money.

Heinrich Heine writes of cholera in 1832 Paris, the fear that it was actually purposeful poisoning, and the mob hysteria and murders resulting. Free.

A piece by the Ladies’ National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, England, 1869, is quite noteworthy. ‘Possible prostitutes’ were required to register, to prevent the spread of disease. Any woman could be accused, without proof.

“Any woman can be dragged into court and required to prove that she is not a common prostitute. The magistrate can condemn her if a policeman swears only that he “has good cause to believe” her to be one. The accused has to rebut not positive evidence but the state of mind of her accuser.”

“Women who through dread of imprisonment have been induced to register themselves as common prostitutes now pursue their traffic under the sanction of Parliament; and the houses where they congregate, so long as the government surgeons are satisfied with the health of their inmates, enjoy, practically, as complete a protection as a church or a school.” (p. 99)

“The advocates of the system have utterly failed to show, by statistics or otherwise, that these regulations have in any case, after several years’ trial, and when applied to one sex only, diminished disease, reclaimed the fallen, or improved the general morality of the country.” (p. 100) (Free.)

“The acts were repealed in 1886”. (Only 17 years later.)

Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders) provides a fictional narrative of the 1665 London plague, written 60 years after. He notes that people of means lived on ships in the Thames, and lesser boatmen stayed in whatever river craft they had, though many were taken ill acquiring provisions. Shades of COVID-19, notes on the author also mention:

“In March 2020 the billionaire David Geffen posted a photo on Instagram of his $590 million yacht resting at anchor. “Isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus,” he wrote. One London yacht broker noted a boom in luxury yacht rentals during the pandemic. “One family has taken a yacht for nine weeks,” the broker said, “and we have also had two long-term bookings for yachts of 130 feet and 230 feet.”” (p. 106) (Free.)
(p. 123)

Social distancing, shelter-in-place, stay-at-home, it has all been done before. Even ‘enforced lockdown’, such as described by Ozanam about 1815 Naples, published 1817-1823, so current at the time.

“All assemblages of persons were forbidden; the churches were closed, as well as the public eating houses and saloons; severe penalties were inflicted on those who disobeyed this latter order. All domestic animals were destroyed, seeing the properties that wool, fur, and hair have on retaining and transmitting contagious miasms. The town slaughterhouses were closed, and the only meat admitted was that with the hides off. All suspected objects were immediately burned, to avoid the spirit of rapine or a badly understood insight of danger as to the things considered unsafe. All citizens, under penalty of death, were obliged to make declarations of such articles. An individual taken in the violation of this act was judged by a drumhead court-martial and promptly executed on the public square.” (p. 109) (Free.)

From Richard Preston’s book The Hot Zone there is a somewhat graphic 1989 account of euthanizing 400+ lab monkeys which have been exposed to Ebola. It isn’t pretty. You will have to pay to read this one.

They found a metal examination table on wheels and rolled it into the bleed area. Jerry divided the people into subteams: a bleed team (to work at the bleed table), a euthanasia team (to put monkeys to death), and a necropsy team (to open up the monkeys and take samples and bag the carcasses in biohazard bags).” (p. 118) 

It brings to mind that COVID-19 has been detected in some animals. Seventeen MILLION farm minks in Denmark were euthanized and buried, only to be dug up again when decay gas caused them to rise to the surface. Apparently there are mink farms all over the world. I’m shocked there is such a large market for fur products, but I’ve been naive.

Poet John Keats provides a brief passage on ship quarantine in the Bay of Naples, his own demise from tuberculosis not too far off, we can now say.

Harper’s Weekly writes in 1892 of New York quarantine of ships from Europe, which were rather glibly allowed to cross the Atlantic:

“When the health officer boarded the Moravia, he was blandly told by the captain and the ship’s surgeon that the boat had a clean bill of health, and that they were in a hurry to get into the ship’s dock. An examination of the surgeon’s report showed that there had been twenty-four cases of “cholerine” and twenty-two deaths during the voyage. The health officer at once ordered that the Moravia should steam to lower Quarantine, in the outer bay. A little examination showed that the “cholerine” on the Moravia was Asiatic cholera of the most fatal type, as 90 percent of those attacked died, and died quickly after showing the first symptoms. When 50 percent of those attacked by cholera succumb, the disease is considered to be very virulent. It is unlikely that those on the Moravia had proper nursing or medical attention. The doctor had not even taken the temperature of those who were ill.” (p. 124)

(p. 129)

“A lazaretto or lazaret is a quarantine station for maritime travellers. Lazarets can be ships permanently at anchor, isolated islands, or mainland buildings. In some lazarets, postal items were also disinfected, usually by fumigation. This practice was still being done as late as 1936, albeit in rare cases.” Wikipedia

John Howard gives an account of 18th century lazarettos in Europe:

“At Malta there are two kinds of quarantine performed: one by ships with clean bills of health and the other by ships with foul bills. The first, called the petty quarantine, lasts eighteen days, and the ships which perform it lie at the entrance of the port near the health office. In order to enable the passengers and crews, without producing danger, to buy provisions and converse with their friends, there are en- closures separated by stone posts, with rails and palisades; and two soldiers stationed to prevent any  improper communication.
The other, called the great quarantine, is performed at a lazaretto which is situated on a peninsula near the city.” (p. 129)

Historian Carlo Ginzburg recounts the accusations and executions against 14th century lepers:

“…the chronicle of the monastery of St. Catherine de Monte Rotomagi, writes,
In the entire kingdom of France, the lepers were imprisoned and condemned by the pope. Many were sent to the stake; the survivors were confined to their dwellings. Some confessed that they had conspired to kill all the healthy Christians, noble or not noble, and to obtain power over the entire world.” (p. 135)

“This is the first time in the history of Europe that such a huge program of segregation was undertaken. In succeeding centuries other protagonists would take the lepers’ place: the mad, the poor, criminals, and Jews. But the lepers led the way.” (p. 136)

S. Josephine Baker tells us about Typhoid Mary, who carried and spread the disease, but was asymptomatic:

“It was my fate to take an active—rather too active, in fact—part in the story of Mary Mallon. Typhoid Mary, who came to have no other name, to the public at least, died on November 11, 1938, at the Riverside Hospital of the Department of Health on North Brother Island. She was seventy years old and since 1907 had been virtually a prisoner of the city.” (p. 139)

“Typhoid Mary made me realize for the first time what sweeping powers are vested in public health authorities. There is very little that a board of health cannot do in the way of interfering with personal and property rights for the protection of the public health.” (p. 141) (Free.) Wikipedia enlightens also.

We are approaching the end of the CONTAINMENT section. Next up, RECOVERY.

But first: DEMOCRACY is here!

My digital copy of the Fall 2020 issue has arrived. Considering our recent presidential election, it is not a moment too soon.

“Democracy, the Fall 2020 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, explores the history of people joining together to form movements, governments, and communities from the ancient world through the present day.” (L.Q. email.)


(L.Q. email.)

To be continued…

The standard notes:
1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. It is white-covered, printed on high quality paper throughout, with richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, and 221 pages up to a page or two of addenda at the back.
2. Each issue contains extracts about the title topic from great authors and thinkers spanning all recorded history. It begins with an eloquent, to a fault, preamble/introduction by editor Lewis Lapham. The main body is called Voices In Time and contains 3 or 4 subcategories of the topic with about 25 extracts per section. Noteworthy sidebars, side quotes, and depictions of appropriate art from the ages are liberally distributed throughout. Several extended contemporary essays bring up the rear. There are several other small sections every issue (Among the Contributors, Conversations, Miscellany, ‘The Graphic’).
3. Per the L.Q. website:
“Lapham’s Quarterly embodies the belief that history is the root of all education, scientific and literary as well as political and economic. Each issue addresses a topic of current interest and concern—war, religion, money, medicine, nature, crime—by bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past.”
4. I encourage all to subscribe to this fine publication. It is a rich supplement to anyone’s reading.

6 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2020: EPIDEMIC – Pt. 5 – Voices in Time

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