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The Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume 12 by Editor-In-Chief Rossiter Johnson

Part 2 out of 8

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less than eighteen or twenty of them were killed or so severely wounded as
to be taken up for dead; which was supposed to have been done by the people
in the infected houses which were shut up, and where they attempted to come
out and were opposed.

For example, not far from Coleman Street they blowed up a watchman with
gunpowder, and burned the poor fellow dreadfully; and while he made hideous
cries, and nobody would venture to come near to help him, the whole family
that were able to stir got out at the windows one story high, two that were
left sick calling out for help. Care was taken to give the latter nurses
to look after them, but the fugitives were not found till after the plague
abated, when they returned; but as nothing could be proved, so nothing
could be done to them.

It is to be considered, too, that as these were prisons without bars or
bolts, which our common prisons are furnished with, so the people let
themselves down out of their windows, even in the face of the watchman,
bringing swords or pistols in their hands, and threatening to shoot the
poor wretch if he stirred or called for help.

In other cases some had gardens and walls or palings between them and
their neighbors; or yards and back houses; and these, by friendship and
entreaties, would get leave to get over those walls or palings, and so go
out at their neighbors' doors, or, by giving money to their servants, get
them to let them through in the night; so that, in short, the shutting up
of houses was in no wise to be depended upon. Neither did it answer the end
at all; serving more to make the people desperate and drive them to violent
extremities in their attempts to break out.

But what was still worse, those that did thus break out spread the
infection by wandering about with the distemper upon them; and many that
did so were driven to dreadful exigencies and extremities and perished in
the streets or fields or dropped down with the raging violence of the fever
upon them. Others wandered into the country and went forward any way as
their desperation guided them, not knowing whither they went or would go,
till faint and tired; the houses and villages on the road refusing to admit
them to lodge, whether infected or no, they perished by the roadside.

On the other hand, when the plague at first seized a family, that is to
say, when any one of the family had gone out and unwarily or otherwise
caught the distemper and brought it home, it was certainly known by the
family before it was known to the officers who were appointed to examine
into the circumstances of all sick persons when they heard of their being

I remember--and while I am writing this story I think I hear the very
shrieks--a certain lady had an only daughter, a young maiden about nineteen
years old and who was possessed of a very considerable fortune. The young
woman, her mother, and the maid had been out for some purpose, for the
house was not shut up; but about two hours after they came home the young
lady complained she was not well; in a quarter of an hour more she vomited
and had a violent pain in her head. "Pray God," says her mother, in a
terrible fright, "my child has not the distemper!" The pain in her head
increasing, her mother ordered the bed to be warmed, and resolved to
put her to bed, and prepared to give her things to sweat, which was the
ordinary remedy to be taken when the first apprehensions of the distemper

While the bed was being aired, the mother undressed the young woman, and,
on looking over her body with a candle, immediately discovered the fatal
tokens. Her mother, not being able to contain herself, threw down her
candle and screeched out in such a frightful manner that it was enough to
bring horror upon the stoutest heart in the world. Overcome by fright, she
first fainted, then recovered, then ran all over the house, up the stairs
and down the stairs, like one distracted. Thus she continued screeching and
crying out for several hours, void of all sense, or at least government of
her senses, and, as I was told, never came thoroughly to herself again. As
to the young maiden, she was dead from that moment; for the gangrene which
occasions the spots had spread over her whole body, and she died in less
than two hours: but still the mother continued crying out, not knowing
anything more of her child, several hours after she was dead.

I went all the first part of the time freely about the streets, though not
so freely as to run myself into apparent danger, except when they dug the
great pit in the church-yard of our parish of Aldgate. A terrible pit it
was, and I could not resist the curiosity to go and see it. So far as I
could judge, it was about forty feet in length and about fifteen or sixteen
feet broad, and, at the time I first looked at it, about nine feet deep;
but it was said they dug it nearly twenty feet deep afterward, when they
could go no deeper, for the water.

They had dug several pits in another ground when the distemper began to
spread in our parish, and especially when the dead-carts began to go about,
which in our parish was not till the beginning of August. Into these pits
they had put perhaps fifty or sixty bodies each; then they made larger
holes, wherein they buried all that the cart brought in a week, which, by
the middle to the end of August, came to from two hundred to four hundred
a week. They could not dig them larger, because of the order of the
magistrates confining them to leave no bodies within six feet of the
surface. Besides, the water coming on at about seventeen or eighteen feet,
they could not well put more in one pit. But now at the beginning of
September, the plague being at its height, and the number of burials in our
parish increasing to more than were ever buried in any parish about London
of no larger extent, they ordered this dreadful gulf to be dug, for such it
was, rather than a pit.

They had supposed this pit would have supplied them for a month or more
when they dug it, and some blamed the churchwardens for suffering such a
frightful thing, telling them they were making preparations to bury the
whole parish, and the like; but time made it appear the church-wardens
knew the condition of the parish better than they did; for the pit being
finished September 4th, I think they began to bury in it on the 6th, and by
the 20th, which was just two weeks, they had thrown into it one thousand
one hundred fourteen bodies, when they were obliged to fill it up, the
bodies being within six feet of the surface.

It was about September 10th that my curiosity led or rather drove me to
go and see this pit again, when there had been about four hundred people
buried in it; and I was not content to see it in the daytime, as I had done
before, for then there would have been nothing to see but the loose earth;
for all the bodies that were thrown in were immediately covered with earth
by those they called the buriers, but I resolved to go in the night and see
some of the bodies thrown in.

There was a strict order against people coming to those pits, and that
was only to prevent infection; but after some time that order was more
necessary, for people that were infected and near their end, and delirious
also, would run to those pits, wrapped in blankets or rags, and throw
themselves in and bury themselves.

I got admittance into the church-yard by being acquainted with the sexton,
who, though he did not refuse me at all, yet earnestly persuaded me not to
go, telling me very seriously--for he was a good and sensible man--that it
was indeed their business and duty to run all hazards, and that in so doing
they might hope to be preserved; but that I had no apparent call except my
own curiosity, which he said he believed I would not pretend was sufficient
to justify my exposing myself to infection. I told him "I had been pressed
in my mind to go, and that perhaps it might be an instructing sight that
might not be without its uses." "Nay," says the good man, "if you will
venture on that score, i' name of God go in; for depend upon it, 'twill be
a sermon to you; it may be the best that you ever heard in your life. It is
a speaking sight," says he, "and has a voice with it, and a loud one, to
call us to repentance;" and with that he opened the door and said, "Go, if
you will."

His words had shocked my resolution a little and I stood wavering for a
good while; but just at that interval I saw two links come over from the
end of the Minories, and heard the bellman, and then appeared a dead-cart,
so I could no longer resist my desire, and went in. There was nobody that I
could perceive at first in the church-yard or going into it but the buriers
and the fellow that drove the cart or rather led the horse and cart; but
when they came up to the pit they saw a man going to and fro muffled up in
a brown cloak and making motions with his hands under his cloak, as if
he was in a great agony, and the buriers immediately gathered about him,
supposing he was one of those poor delirious or desperate creatures that
used to bury themselves. He said nothing as he walked about, but two or
three times groaned very deeply and loud, and sighed as he would break his

When the buriers came up to him they soon found he was neither a person
infected and desperate, as I have observed above, nor a person distempered
in mind, but one oppressed with a dreadful weight of grief, indeed, having
his wife and several of his children in the cart that had just come in, and
he followed it in an agony and excess of sorrow. He mourned heartily, as
it was easy to see, but with a kind of masculine grief that could not give
itself vent in tears, and, calmly desiring the buriers to let him alone,
said he would only see the bodies thrown in and go away; so they left
importuning him. But no sooner was the cart turned round and the bodies
shot into the pit promiscuously, which was a surprise to him, for he at
least expected they would have been decently laid in, though indeed he was
afterward convinced that was impracticable--I say, no sooner did he see the
sight but he cried out aloud, unable to contain himself.

I could not hear what he said, but he went backward and forward two or
three times and fell down in a swoon. The buriers ran to him and took him
up, and in a little while he came to himself, and they led him away to the
Pye tavern, over against the end of Houndsditch, where it seems the man was
known and where they took care of him. He looked into the pit again as
he went away, but the buriers had covered the bodies so immediately with
throwing in the earth that, though there was light enough, for there were
lanterns and candles placed all night round the sides of the pit, yet
nothing could be seen.

This was a mournful scene, indeed, and affected me almost as much as the
rest, but the other was awful and full of terror. The cart had in it
sixteen or seventeen bodies; some were wrapped up in linen sheets, some in
rugs, some all but naked or so loose that what covering they had fell from
them in being shot out of the cart, for coffins were not to be had for the
prodigious numbers that fell in such a calamity as his.

It was reported, by way of scandal upon the buriers, that if any corpse was
delivered to them decently wrapped in a winding-sheet, the buriers were
so wicked as to strip them in the cart and carry them quite naked to the
ground; but as I cannot easily credit anything so vile among Christians,
and at a time so filled with terrors as that was, I can only relate it and
leave it undetermined.

I was indeed shocked at the whole sight; it almost overwhelmed me, and I
went away with my heart full of the most afflicting thoughts, such as I
cannot describe. Just at my going out at the church-yard and turning up
the street toward my own house I saw another cart with links and a bellman
going before, coming out of Harrow Alley, in the Butcher Row, on the other
side of the way, and being, as I perceived, very full of dead bodies, it
went directly toward the church; I stood awhile, but I had no desire to
go back again to see the same dismal scene over again, so I went directly
home, where I could not but consider, with thankfulness, the risk I had

Here the poor unhappy gentleman's grief came into my head again, and,
indeed, I could not but shed tears in reflecting upon it, perhaps more than
he did himself; but his case lay so heavy upon my mind that I could not
constrain myself from going again to the Pye tavern, resolving to inquire
what became of him. It was by this time one o'clock in the morning and the
poor gentleman was still there; the truth was the people of the house,
knowing him, had kept him there all the night, notwithstanding the danger
of being infected by him, though it appeared the man was perfectly sound

It is with regret that I take notice of this tavern: the people were civil,
mannerly, and obliging enough, and had till this time kept their house open
and their trade going on, though not so very publicly as formerly; but a
dreadful set of fellows frequented their house, who, in the midst of all
this horror, met there every night, behaved with all the revelling and
roaring extravagances as are usual for such people to do at other times,
and, indeed, to such an offensive degree that the very master and mistress
of the house grew first ashamed and then terrified at them.

They sat generally in a room next the street, and, as they always kept
late hours, so when the dead-cart came across the street end to go into
Houndsditch, which was in view of the tavern windows, they would frequently
open the windows as soon as they heard the bell, and look out at them; and
as they might often hear sad lamentations of people in the streets or at
their windows as the carts went along, they would make their impudent mocks
and jeers at them, especially if they heard the poor people call upon God
to have mercy upon them, as many would do at those times in passing along
the streets.

These gentlemen, being something disturbed with the clatter of bringing the
poor gentleman into the house, as above, were first angry and very high
with the master of the house for suffering such a fellow, as they called
him, to be brought out of the grave into their house; but being answered
that the man was a neighbor, and that he was sound, but overwhelmed with
the calamity of his family, and the like, they turned their anger into
ridiculing the man and his sorrow for his wife and children; taunting him
with want of courage to leap into the great pit and go to heaven, as
they jeeringly expressed it, along with them; adding some profane and
blasphemous expressions.

They were at this vile work when I came back to the house, and as far as
I could see, though the man sat still, mute and disconsolate, and their
affronts could not divert his sorrow, yet he was both grieved and offended
at their words: upon this, I gently reproved them, being well enough
acquainted with their characters, and not unknown in person to two of them.
They immediately fell upon me with ill language and oaths: asked me what I
did out of my grave at such a time when so many honester men were carried
into the church-yard? and why I was not at home saying my prayers till the
dead-cart came for me?

I was indeed astonished at the impudence of the men, though not at all
discomposed at their treatment of me. However, I kept my temper. I told
them that though I defied them or any man in the world to tax me with any
dishonesty, yet I acknowledged that in this terrible judgment of God many a
better than I was swept away and carried to his grave. But to answer their
question directly, it was true that I was mercifully preserved by that
great God whose name they had blasphemed and taken in vain by cursing and
swearing in a dreadful manner; and that I believed I was preserved in
particular, among other ends of his goodness, that I might reprove them for
their audacious boldness in behaving in such a manner and in such an awful
time as this was; especially for their jeering and mocking at an honest
gentleman and a neighbor who they saw was overwhelmed with sorrow for the
sufferings with which it had pleased God to afflict his family.

They received all reproof with the utmost contempt and made the greatest
mockery that was possible for them to do at me, giving me all the
opprobrious, insolent scoffs that they could think of for preaching to
them, as they called it, which, indeed, grieved me rather than angered me.
I went away, however, blessing God in my mind that I had not spared them
though they had insulted me so much.

They continued this wretched course three or four days after this,
continually mocking and jeering at all that showed themselves religious or
serious, or that were any way us; and I was informed they flouted in the
same manner at the good people who, notwithstanding the contagion, met at
the church, fasted, and prayed God to remove his hand from them.

I say, they continued this dreadful course three or four days--I think it
was no more--when one of them, particularly he who asked the poor gentleman
what he did out of his grave, was struck with the plague and died in a most
deplorable manner; and in a word, they were every one of them carried into
the great pit which I have mentioned above, before it was quite filled up,
which was not above a fortnight or thereabout.


A.D. 1666


In the reign of Charles II--the "Merry Monarch," of whom one of his
ministers observed that "he never said a foolish thing and never did a wise
one"--the calamities which happened eclipsed the merriment of his people,
if not that of the sovereign himself.

In 1666 England had not fully recovered from the civil wars of 1642-1651.
She was now at war with the allied Dutch and French, and was suffering from
the terrible effects of the "Great Plague" which ravaged London in 1665.
During September 2-5, 1666, occurred a catastrophe of almost equal horror.
A fire, which broke out in a baker's house near the bridge, spread on
all sides so rapidly that the people were unable to extinguish it until
two-thirds of the city had been destroyed.

Evelyn's account, from his famous _Diary_, is that of an eye-witness who
took a prominent part in dealing with the conflagration, during which
the inhabitants of London--like those of some of our cities in recent
times--"were reduced to be spectators of their own ruin." Besides
suspecting the French and Dutch of having landed and, as Evelyn records, of
"firing the town," people assigned various other possible origins for the
disaster, charging it upon the republicans, the Catholics, etc. It was
obviously due, as Hume thought it worth while to note, to the narrow
streets, the houses built entirely of wood, the dry season, and a strong
east wind.

"But the fire," says a later writer, "though destroying so much, was most
beneficial in thoroughly eradicating the plague. The fever dens in which it
continually lurked were burned, and the new houses which were erected were
far more healthy and better arranged."

In the year of our Lord 1666. 2d Sept. This fatal night, about ten, began
that deplorable fire near Fish Street, in London.

3. The fire continuing, after dinner I took coach with my wife and son, and
went to the Bankside in Southwark, where we beheld that dismal spectacle,
the whole city in dreadful flames near the water-side; all the houses from
the bridge, all Thames Street, and upward toward Cheapside, down to the
Three Cranes, were now consumed.

The fire having continued all this night--if I may call that night
which was as light as day for ten miles round about, after a dreadful
manner--when conspiring with a fierce eastern wind in a very dry season; I
went on foot to the same place, and saw the whole south part of the city
burning from Cheapside to the Thames, and all along Cornhill--for it
kindled back against the wind as well as forward--Tower Street, Fenchurch
Street, Gracechurch Street, and so along to Bainard's castle, and was
now taking hold of St. Paul's Church, to which the scaffolds contributed
exceedingly. The conflagration was so universal, and the people so
astonished, that from the beginning, I know not by what despondency or
fate, they hardly stirred to quench it; so that there was nothing heard
or seen but crying out and lamentation, running about like distracted
creatures, without at all attempting to save even their goods; such a
strange consternation there was upon them, so as it burned both in breadth
and length, the churches, public halls, exchange, hospitals, monuments,
and ornaments, leaping after a prodigious manner from house to house, and
street to street, at great distances one from the other; for the heat, with
a long set of fair and warm weather, had even ignited the air and prepared
the materials to conceive the fire, which devoured, after an incredible
manner, houses, furniture, and everything.

Here we saw the Thames covered with goods floating, all the barges and
boats laden with what some had time and courage to save, as, on the other,
the carts, etc., carrying out to the fields, which for many miles were
strewed with movables of all sorts, and tents erecting to shelter both
people and what goods they could get away. Oh, the miserable and calamitous
spectacle! such as haply the world had not seen the like since the
foundation of it, nor be outdone till the universal conflagration. All the
sky was of a fiery aspect, like the top of a burning oven, the light seen
above forty miles round about for many nights.

God grant my eyes may never behold the like, now seeing above ten thousand
houses all in one flame; the noise, and cracking, and thunder of the
impetuous flames, the shrieking of women and children, the hurry of people,
the fall of towers, houses, and churches was like a hideous storm, and the
air all about so hot and inflamed that at last one was not able to approach
it; so that they were forced to stand still and let the flames burn on,
which they did for near two miles in length and one in breadth. The clouds
of smoke were dismal, and reached, upon computation, near fifty miles in
length. Thus I left it this afternoon burning, a resemblance of Sodom or
the last day. London was, but is no more!

4. The burning still rages, and it has now gotten as far as the Inner
Temple, all Fleet Street, the Old Bailey, Ludgate Hill, Warwick Lane,
Newgate, Paul's Chain, Watling Street, now flaming, and most of it reduced
to ashes; the stones of St. Paul's flew like granados, the melting lead
running down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements glowing with
fiery redness, so as no horse nor man was able to tread on them, and the
demolition had stopped all the passages, so that no help could be applied.
The eastern wind still more impetuously drove the flames forward. Nothing
but the almighty power of God was able to stop them, for vain was the help
of man.

5. It crossed toward Whitehall; oh, the confusion there was then at that
court! It pleased his majesty to command me among the rest to look after
the quenching of Fetter Lane, and to preserve, if possible, that part of
Holborn, while the rest of the gentlemen took their several posts--for now
they began to bestir themselves, and not till now, who hitherto had stood
as men intoxicated, with their hands across--and began to consider that
nothing was likely to put a stop, but the blowing up of so many houses
might make a wider gap than any had yet been made by the ordinary method
of pulling them down with engines; this some stout seamen proposed early
enough to have saved nearly the whole city, but this some tenacious and
avaricious men, aldermen, etc., would not permit, because their houses must
have been of the first.

It was therefore now commanded to be practised, and my concern being
particularly for the hospital of St. Bartholomew, near Smithfield, where I
had many wounded and sick men, made me the more diligent to promote it, nor
was my care for the Savoy less. It now pleased God, by abating the wind,
and by the industry of the people, infusing a new spirit into them, and the
fury of it began sensibly to abate about noon, so as it came no further
than the Temple westward, nor than the entrance of Smithfield north; but
continued all this day and night so impetuous toward Cripplegate and the
Tower, as made us all despair. It also broke out again in the Temple, but
the courage of the multitude persisting, and many houses being blown up,
such gaps and desolations were soon made, as with the former three-days'
consumption, the back fire did not so vehemently urge upon the rest as
formerly. There was yet no standing near the burning and glowing ruins by
near a furlong's space.

The coal and wood wharfs, and magazines of oil, resin, etc., did infinite
mischief, so as the invective which a little before I had dedicated to his
majesty and published, giving warning what might probably be the issue of
suffering those shops to be in the city, was looked on as a prophecy.

The poor inhabitants were dispersed about St. George's Fields and
Moorfields, as far as Highgate, and several miles in circle, some under
tents, some under miserable huts and hovels, many without a rag, or any
necessary utensils, bed, or board; who, from delicateness, riches, and easy
accommodations in stately and well-furnished houses, were now reduced to
extremest misery and poverty.

In this calamitous condition I returned with a sad heart to my house,
blessing and adoring the mercy of God to me and mine, who in the midst of
all this ruin was like Lot, in my little Zoar, safe and sound.

7. I went this morning on foot from Whitehall as far as London bridge,
through the late Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, by St. Paul's, Cheapside,
Exchange, Bishopsgate, Aldersgate, and out to Moorfields, thence through
Cornhill, etc., with extraordinary difficulty clambering over heaps of yet
smoking rubbish, and frequently mistaking where I was. The ground under my
feet was so hot that it even burned the soles of my shoes.

In the mean time his majesty got to the Tower by water, to demolish the
houses about the graff, which, being built entirely about it, had they
taken fire, and attacked the White Tower, where the magazine of powder lay,
would undoubtedly not only have beaten down and destroyed all the bridge,
but sunk and torn the vessels in the river, and rendered the demolition
beyond all expression for several miles about the country.

At my return I was infinitely concerned to find that goodly church, St.
Paul's, now a sad ruin, and that beautiful portico--or structure comparable
to any in Europe, as not long before repaired by the King--now rent in
pieces, flakes of vast stones split asunder, and nothing remaining entire
but the inscription in the architrave, showing by whom it was built, which
had not one letter of it defaced. It was astonishing to see what immense
stones the heat had in a manner calcined, so that all the ornaments,
columns, friezes, and projectures of massy Portland stone flew off, even
to the very roof, where a sheet of lead covering a great space was totally
melted; the ruins of the vaulted roof falling broke into St. Faith's, which
being filled with the magazines of books belonging to the stationers, and
carried thither for safety, they were all consumed, burning for a week

It is also observable that the lead over the altar at the east end was
untouched, and among the divers monuments the body of one bishop remained
entire. Thus lay in ashes that most venerable church, one of the most
ancient pieces of early piety in the Christian world, besides near
one hundred more. The lead, ironwork, bells, plate, etc., melted; the
exquisitely wrought Mercer's Chapel, the sumptuous Exchange, the august
fabric of Christ Church, all the rest of the Companies' Halls, sumptuous
buildings, arches, all in dust; the fountains dried up and ruined, while
the very waters remained boiling; the _voragoes_ of subterranean cellars,
wells, and dungeons, formerly warehouses, still burning in stench and dark
clouds of smoke, so that in five or six miles traversing about I did not
see one load of timber consume, nor many stones but what were calcined
white as snow.

The people who now walked about the ruins appeared like men in a dismal
desert, or rather in some great city laid waste by a cruel enemy: to which
was added the stench that came from some poor creatures' bodies, beds, etc.
Sir Thomas Gresham's statue, though fallen from its niche in the Royal
Exchange, remained entire, when all those of the kings since the Conquest
were broken to pieces; also the standard in Cornhill, and Queen Elizabeth's
effigies, with some arms on Ludgate, continued with but little detriment,
while the vast iron chains of the city streets, hinges, bars, and gates of
prisons, were many of them melted and reduced to cinders by the vehement

I was not able to pass through any of the narrow streets, but kept the
widest; the ground and air, smoke and fiery vapor, continued so intense
that my hair was almost singed and my feet insufferably surheated. The
by-lanes and narrower streets were quite filled up with rubbish, nor could
one have known where he was but by the ruins of some church or hall that
had some remarkable tower or pinnacle remaining. I then went toward
Islington and Highgate, where one might have seen two hundred thousand
people of all ranks and degrees, dispersed and lying along by their heaps
of what they could save from the fire, deploring their loss, and, though
ready to perish for hunger and destitution, yet not asking one penny for
relief, which to me appeared a stranger sight than any I had yet beheld.

His majesty and council, indeed, took all imaginable care for their
relief, by proclamation for the country to come in and refresh them with
provisions. In the midst of all this calamity and confusion there was, I
know not how, an alarm begun that the French and Dutch, with whom we are
now in hostility, were not only landed, but even entering the city. There
was in truth some days before great suspicion of these two nations joining;
and now, that they had been the occasion of firing the town. This report
did so terrify that on a sudden there was such an uproar and tumult that
they ran from their goods, and, taking what weapons they could come at,
they could not be stopped from falling on some of those nations whom they
casually met, without sense or reason.

The clamor and peril grew so excessive that it made the whole court amazed,
and they did with infinite pains and great difficulty reduce and appease
the people, sending troops of soldiers and guards to cause them to retire
into the fields again, where they were watched all this night. I left them
pretty quiet, and came home sufficiently weary and broken. Their spirits
thus a little calmed, and the affright abated, they now began to repair
into the suburbs about the city, where such as had friends or opportunity
got shelter for the present, to which his majesty's proclamation also
invited them.


A.D. 1666


Many admirers of Sir Isaac Newton have asserted that his was the most
gigantic intellect ever bestowed on man. He discovered the law of
gravitation, and by it explained all the broader phenomena of nature, such
as the movements of the planets, the shape and revolution of the earth, the
succession of the tides. Copernicus had asserted that the planets moved,
Newton demonstrated it mathematically.

His discoveries in optics were in his own time almost equally famous,
while in his later life he shared with Leibnitz the honor of inventing
the infinitesimal calculus, a method which lies at the root of all the
intricate marvels of modern mathematical science.

Newton should not, however, be regarded as an isolated phenomenon, a genius
but for whom the world would have remained in darkness. His first flashing
idea of gravitation deserves perhaps to be called an inspiration. But in
all his other labors, experimental as well as mathematical, he was but
following the spirit of the times. The love of science was abroad, and its
infinite curiosity. Each of Newton's discoveries was claimed also by other
men who had been working along similar lines. Of the dispute over the
gravitation theory Sir David Brewster, the great authority for the career
of Newton, gives some account. The controversy over the calculus was even
more bitter and prolonged.

It were well, however, to disabuse one's mind of the idea that Newton's
work was a finality, that it settled anything. As to why the law of
gravitation exists, why bodies tend to come together, the philosopher had
little suggestion to offer, and the present generation knows no more than
he. Before Copernicus and Newton men looked only with their eyes, and
accepted the apparent movements of sun and stars as real. Now, going one
step deeper, we look with our brains and see their real movements which
underlie appearances. Newton supplied us with the law and rate of the
movement--but not its cause. It is toward that cause, that great "Why?"
that science has ever since been dimly groping.

In the year 1666, when the plague had driven Newton from Cambridge, he was
sitting alone in the garden at Woolsthrope, and reflecting on the nature of
gravity, that remarkable power which causes all bodies to descend toward
the centre of the earth. As this power is not found to suffer any sensible
diminution at the greatest distance from the earth's centre to which we can
reach--being as powerful at the tops of the highest mountains as at the
bottom of the deepest mines--he conceived it highly probable that it must
extend much further than was usually supposed. No sooner had this happy
conjecture occurred to his mind than he considered what would be the effect
of its extending as far as the moon. That her motion must be influenced
by such a power he did not for a moment doubt; and a little reflection
convinced him that it might be sufficient for retaining that luminary in
her orbit round the earth.

Though the force of gravity suffers no sensible diminution at those small
distances from the earth's centre at which we can place ourselves, yet he
thought it very possible that, at the distance of the moon, it might differ
much in strength from what it is on the earth. In order to form some
estimate of the degree of its diminution, he considered that, if the moon
be retained in her orbit by the force of gravity, the primary planets must
also be carried round the sun by the same power; and by comparing the
periods of the different planets with their distances from the sun he found
that, if they were retained in their orbits by any power like gravity, its
force must decrease in the duplicate proportion, or as the squares of their
distances from the sun. In drawing this conclusion, he supposed the planets
to move in orbits perfectly circular, and having the sun in their centre.
Having thus obtained the law of the force by which the planets were drawn
to the sun, his next object was to ascertain if such a force emanating from
the earth, and directed to the moon, was sufficient, when diminished in the
duplicate ratio of the distance, to retain her in her orbit.

In performing this calculation it was necessary to compare the space
through which heavy bodies fall in a second at a given distance from the
centre of the earth, viz., at its surface, with the space through which the
moon, as it were, falls to the earth in a second of time while revolving
in a circular orbit. Being at a distance from books when he made this
computation, he adopted the common estimate of the earth's diameter then
in use among geographers and navigators, and supposed that each degree of
latitude contained sixty English miles.

In this way he found that the force which retains the moon in her orbit,
as deduced from the force which occasions the fall of heavy bodies to the
earth's surface, was one-sixth greater than that which is actually
observed in her circular orbit. This difference threw a doubt upon all his
speculations; but, unwilling to abandon what seemed to be otherwise so
plausible, he endeavored to account for the difference of the two forces
by supposing that some other cause must have been united with the force of
gravity in producing so great velocity of the moon in her circular orbit.
As this new cause, however, was beyond the reach of observation, he
discontinued all further inquiries into the subject, and concealed from his
friends the speculations in which he had been employed.

After his return to Cambridge in 1666 his attention was occupied with
optical discoveries; but he had no sooner brought them to a close than his
mind reverted to the great subject of the planetary motions. Upon the death
of Oldenburg in August, 1678, Dr. Hooke was appointed secretary to the
Royal Society; and as this learned body had requested the opinion of Newton
about a system of physical astronomy, he addressed a letter to Dr. Hooke
on November 28, 1679. In this letter he proposed a direct experiment for
verifying the motion of the earth, viz., by observing whether or not bodies
that fall from a considerable height descend in a vertical direction; for
if the earth were at rest the body would describe exactly a vertical line;
whereas if it revolved round its axis, the falling body must deviate from
the vertical line toward the east.

The Royal Society attached great value to the idea thus casually suggested,
and Dr. Hooke was appointed to put it to the test of experiment. Being
thus led to consider the subject more attentively, he wrote to Newton that
wherever the direction of gravity was oblique to the axis on which the
earth revolved, that is, in every part of the earth except the equator,
falling bodies should approach to the equator, and the deviation from the
vertical, in place of being exactly to the east, as Newton maintained,
should be to the southeast of the point from which the body began to move.

Newton acknowledged that this conclusion was correct in theory, and Dr.
Hooke is said to have given an experimental demonstration of it before the
Royal Society in December, 1679. Newton had erroneously concluded that the
path of the falling body would be a spiral; but Dr. Hooke, on the same
occasion on which he made the preceding experiment, read a paper to the
society in which he proved that the path of the body would be an eccentric
ellipse _in vacuo_, and an ellipti-spiral if the body moved in a resisting

This correction of Newton's error, and the discovery that a projectile
would move in an elliptical orbit when under the influence of a force
varying in the inverse ratio of the square of the distance, led Newton, as
he himself informs us in his letter to Halley, to discover "the theorem
by which he afterward examined the ellipsis," and to demonstrate the
celebrated proposition that a planet acted upon by an attractive force
varying inversely as the squares of the distances, will describe an
elliptical orbit in one of whose _foci_ the attractive force resides.

But though Newton had thus discovered the true cause of all the celestial
motions, he did not yet possess any evidence that such a force actually
resided in the sun and planets. The failure of his former attempt to
identify the law of falling bodies at the earth's surface with that which
guided the moon in her orbit, threw a doubt over all his speculations, and
prevented him from giving any account of them to the public.

An accident, however, of a very interesting nature induced him to resume
his former inquiries, and enabled him to bring them to a close. In June,
1682, when he was attending a meeting of the Royal Society of London, the
measurement of a degree of the meridian, executed by M. Picard in 1679,
became the subject of conversation. Newton took a memorandum of the result
obtained by the French astronomer, and having deduced from it the diameter
of the earth, he immediately resumed his calculation of 1665, and began to
repeat it with these new data. In the progress of the calculation he saw
that the result which he had formerly expected was likely to be produced,
and he was thrown into such a state of nervous irritability that he was
unable to carry on the calculation. In this state of mind he intrusted it
to one of his friends, and he had the high satisfaction of finding his
former views amply realized. The force of gravity which regulated the fall
of bodies at the earth's surface, when diminished as the square of the
moon's distance from the earth, was found to be almost exactly equal to the
centrifugal force of the moon as deduced from her observed distance and

The influence of such a result upon such a mind may be more easily
conceived than described. The whole material universe was spread out before
him; the sun with all his attending planets; the planets with all their
satellites; the comets wheeling in every direction in their eccentric
orbits; and the systems of the fixed stars stretching to the remotest
limits of space. All the varied and complicated movements of the heavens,
in short, must have been at once presented to his mind as the necessary
result of that law which he had established in reference to the earth and
the moon.

After extending this law to the other bodies of the system, he composed a
series of propositions on the motion of the primary planets about the sun,
which were sent to London about the end of 1683, and were soon afterward
communicated to the Royal Society.

About this period other philosophers had been occupied with the same
subject. Sir Christopher Wren had many years before endeavored to explain
the planetary motions "by the composition of a descent toward the sun, and
an impressed motion; but he at length gave it over, not finding the means
of doing it." In January, 1683-1684, Dr. Halley had concluded from Kepler's
law of the periods and distances, that the centripetal force decreased in
the reciprocal proportion of the squares of the distances, and having one
day met Sir Christopher Wren and Dr. Hooke, the latter affirmed that he had
demonstrated upon that principle all the laws of the celestial motions. Dr.
Halley confessed that his attempts were unsuccessful, and Sir Christopher,
in order to encourage the inquiry, offered to present a book of forty
shillings value to either of the two philosophers who should, in the space
of two months, bring him a convincing demonstration of it. Hooke persisted
in the declaration that he possessed the method, but avowed it to be his
intention to conceal it for time. He promised, however, to show it to Sir
Christopher; but there is every reason to believe that this promise was
never fulfilled.

In August, 1684, Dr. Halley went to Cambridge for the express purpose of
consulting Newton on this interesting subject. Newton assured him that he
had brought this demonstration to perfection, and promised him a copy of
it. This copy was received in November by the doctor, who made a second
visit to Cambridge, in order to induce its author to have it inserted in
the register book of the society. On December 10th Dr. Halley announced
to the society that he had seen at Cambridge Newton's treatise _De Motu
Corporum_, which he had promised to send to the society to be entered upon
their register, and Dr. Halley was desired to unite with Mr. Paget, master
of the mathematical school in Christ's Hospital, in reminding Newton of his
promise, "for securing the invention to himself till such time as he can be
at leisure to publish it."

On February 25th Mr. Aston, the secretary, communicated a letter from
Newton in which he expressed his willingness "to enter in the register
his notions about motion, and his intentions to fit them suddenly for the
press." The progress of his work was, however, interrupted by a visit of
five or six weeks which he made in Lincolnshire; but he proceeded with such
diligence on his return that he was able to transmit the manuscript to
London before the end of April. This manuscript, entitled _Philosophic
Naturalis Principia Mathematics_ and dedicated to the society, was
presented by Dr. Vincent on April 28, 1686, when Sir John Hoskins, the
vice-president and the particular friend of Dr. Hooke, was in the chair.

Dr. Vincent passed a just encomium on the novelty and dignity of the
subject; and another member added that "Mr. Newton had carried the thing
so far that there was no more to be added." To these remarks the
vice-president replied that the method "was so much the more to be prized
as it was both invented and perfected at the same time." Dr. Hooke took
offence at these remarks, and blamed Sir John for not having mentioned
"what he had discovered to him"; but the vice-president did not seem to
recollect any such communication, and the consequence of this discussion
was that "these two, who till then were the most inseparable cronies, have
since scarcely seen one another, and are utterly fallen out." After the
breaking up of the meeting, the society adjourned to the coffee house,
where Dr. Hooke stated that he not only had made the same discovery, but
had given the first hint of it to Newton.

An account of these proceedings was communicated to Newton through two
different channels. In a letter dated May 22d Dr. Halley wrote to him
"that Mr. Hooke has some pretensions upon the invention of the rule of the
decrease of gravity being reciprocally as the squares of the distances
from the centre. He says you had the notion from him, though he owns the
demonstration of the curves generated thereby to be wholly your own. How
much of this is so you know best, as likewise what you have to do in this
matter; only Mr. Hooke seems to expect you would make some mention of him
in the preface, which it is possible you may see reason to prefix."

This communication from Dr. Halley induced the author, on June 20th,
to address a long letter to him, in which he gives a minute and able
refutation of Hooke's claims; but before this letter was despatched another
correspondent, who had received his information from one of the members
that were present, informed Newton "that Hooke made a great stir,
pretending that he had all from him, and desiring they would see that
he had justice done him." This fresh charge seems to have ruffled the
tranquillity of Newton; and he accordingly added an angry and satirical
postscript, in which he treats Hooke with little ceremony, and goes so far
as to conjecture that Hooke might have acquired his knowledge of the law
from a letter of his own to Huygens, directed to Oldenburg, and dated
January 14,1672-1673. "My letter to Hugenius was directed to Mr. Oldenburg,
who used to keep the originals. His papers came into Mr. Hooke's
possession. Mr. Hooke, knowing my hand, might have the curiosity to look
into that letter, and there take the notion of comparing the forces of the
planets arising from their circular motion; and so what he wrote to me
afterward about the rate of gravity might be nothing but the fruit of my
own garden."

In replying to this letter Dr. Halley assured him that Hooke's "manner of
claiming the discovery had been represented to him in worse colors than
it ought, and that he neither made public application to the society for
justice nor pretended that you had all from him." The effect of this
assurance was to make Newton regret that he had written the angry
postscript to his letter; and in replying to Halley on July 14, 1686, he
not only expresses his regret, but recounts the different new ideas which
he had acquired from Hooke's correspondence, and suggests it as the best
method "of compromising the present dispute" to add a _scholium_ in which
Wren, Hooke, and Halley are acknowledged to have independently deduced the
law of gravity from the second law of Kepler.

At the meeting of April 28th, at which the manuscript of the _Principia_
was presented to the Royal Society, it was agreed that the printing of
it should be referred to the council: that a letter of thanks should be
written to its author; and at a meeting of the council on May 19th it was
resolved that the manuscript should be printed at the society's expense,
and that Dr. Halley should superintend it while going through the press.
These resolutions were communicated by Dr. Halley in a letter dated May
22d; and in Newton's reply on June 20th, already mentioned, he makes the
following observations:

"The proof you sent me I like very well. I designed the whole to consist
of three books; the second was finished last summer, being short, and only
wants transcribing and drawing the cuts fairly. Some new propositions I
have since thought on which I can as well let alone. The third wants the
theory of comets. In autumn last I spent two months in calculation to no
purpose, for want of a good method, which made me afterward return to the
first book and enlarge it with diverse propositions, some relating to
comets, others to other things found out last winter. The third I now
design to suppress. Philosophy is such an impertinently litigious lady that
a man had as good be engaged in lawsuits as have to do with her. I found it
so formerly, and now I can no sooner come near her again but she gives me
warning. The first two books, without the third, will not so well bear the
title of _Philosophies Naturalis Principia Mathematica_; and therefore I
had altered it to this: _de Moti Corporum, Libri duo_. But after second
thoughts I retain the former title. 'Twill help the sale of the book, which
I ought not to diminish now 'tis yours."

In replying to this letter on June 29th Dr. Halley regrets that our
author's tranquillity should have been thus disturbed by envious rivals,
and implores him in the name of the society not to suppress the third book.
"I must again beg you," says he, "not to let your resentments run so high
as to deprive us of your third book, wherein your applications of your
mathematical doctrine to the theory of comets, and several curious
experiments which, as I guess by what you write ought to compose it,
will undoubtedly render it acceptable to those who will call themselves
philosophers without mathematics, which are much the greater number."

To these solicitations Newton seems to have readily yielded. His second
book was sent to the society, and presented on March 2, 1687. The third
book was also transmitted, and presented on April 6th, and the whole work
was completed and published in the month of May, 1687.

Such is the brief account of the publication of a work which is memorable
not only in the annals of one science or of one country, but which will
form an epoch in the history of the world, and will ever be regarded as the
brightest page in the records of human reason. We shall endeavor to convey
to the reader some idea of its contents, and of the brilliant discoveries
which it disseminated over Europe.

The _Principia_ consists of three books. The first and second, which occupy
three-fourths of the work, are entitled _On the Motion of Bodies_, and the
third bears the title _On the System of the World_. The two first books
contain the mathematical principles of philosophy, namely, the laws and
conditions of motions and forces; and they are illustrated with several
philosophical _scholia_ which treat of some of the most general and
best-established points in philosophy, such as the density and resistance
of bodies, spaces void of matter, and the motion of sound and light.
The object of the third book is to deduce from these principles the
constitution of the system of the world; and this book has been drawn up in
as popular a style as possible, in order that it may be generally read.

The great discovery which characterizes the _Principia_ is that of the
principle of universal gravitation, as deduced from the motion of the moon,
and from the three great facts or laws discovered by Kepler. This principle
is: _That every particle of matter is attracted by or gravitates to every
other particle of matter, with a force inversely proportional to the
squares of their distances_. From the first law of Kepler, namely, the
proportionality of the areas to the times of their revolution, Newton
inferred that the force which kept the planet in its orbit was always
directed to the sun; and from the second law of Kepler, that every planet
moves in an ellipse with the sun in one of its foci, he drew the still more
general inference that the force by which the planet moves round that focus
varies inversely as the square of its distance from the focus. As this law
was true in the motion of satellites round their primary planets Newton
deduced the equality of gravity in all the heavenly bodies toward the sun,
upon the supposition that they are equally distant from its centre; and
in the case of terrestrial bodies he succeeded in verifying this truth by
numerous and accurate experiments.

By taking a more general view of the subject Newton demonstrated that a
conic section was the only curve in which a body could move when acted
upon by a force varying inversely as the square of the distance; and he
established the conditions depending on the velocity and the primitive
position of the body, which were requisite to make it describe a circular,
an elliptical, a parabolic, or a hyberbolic orbit.

Notwithstanding the generality and importance of these results, it still
remained to be determined whether the forces resided in the centres of
the planets or belonged to each individual particle of which they were
composed. Newton removed this uncertainty by demonstrating that if a
spherical body acts upon a distant body with a force varying as the
distance of this body from the centre of the sphere, the same effect
will be produced as if each of its particles acted upon the distant body
according to the same law. And hence it follows that the spheres, whether
they are of uniform density or consist of concentric layers, with densities
varying according to any law whatever, will act upon each other in the same
manner as if their force resided in their centres alone.

But as the bodies of the solar system are very nearly spherical they will
all act upon one another, and upon bodies placed on their surfaces, as if
they were so many centres of attraction; and therefore we obtain the law of
gravity which subsists between spherical bodies, namely, that one sphere
will act upon another with a force directly proportional to the quantity of
matter, and inversely as the square of the distance between the centres
of the spheres. From the equality of action and reaction, to which no
exception can be found, Newton concluded that the sun gravitated to the
planets, and the planets to their satellites; and the earth itself to
the stone which falls upon its surface, and, consequently, that the two
mutually gravitating bodies approached to one another with velocities
inversely proportional to their quantities of matter.

Having established this universal law, Newton was enabled not only to
determine the weight which the same body would have at the surface of the
sun and the planets, but even to calculate the quantity of matter in the
sun, and in all the planets that had satellites, and even to determine the
density or specific gravity of the matter of which they were composed. In
this way he found that the weight of the same body would be twenty-three
times greater at the surface of the sun than at the surface of the earth,
and that the density of the earth was four times greater than that of the
sun, the planets increasing in density as they receded from the centre of
the system.

If the peculiar genius of Newton has been displayed in his investigation
of the law of universal gravitation, it shines with no less lustre in the
patience and sagacity with which he traced the consequences of this fertile
principle. The discovery of the spheroidal form of Jupiter by Cassini had
probably directed the attention of Newton to the determination of its
cause, and consequently to the investigation of the true figure of the
earth. The next subject to which Newton applied the principle of gravity
was the tides of the ocean.

The philosophers of all ages had recognized the connection between the
phenomena of the tides and the position of the moon. The College of Jesuits
at Coimbra, and subsequently Antonio de Dominis and Kepler, distinctly
referred the tides to the attraction of the waters of the earth by the
moon; but so imperfect was the explanation which was thus given of the
phenomena that Galileo ridiculed the idea of lunar attraction, and
substituted for it a fallacious explanation of his own. That the moon is
the principal cause of the tides is obvious from the well-known fact that
it is high water at any given place about the time when she is in the
meridian of that place; and that the sun performs a secondary part in their
production may be proved from the circumstance that the highest tides take
place when the sun, the moon, and the earth are in the same straight line;
that is, when the force of the sun conspires with that of the moon; and
that the lowest tides take place when the lines drawn from the sun and moon
to the earth are at right angles to each other; that is, when the force of
the sun acts in opposition to that of the moon.

By comparing the spring and neap tides Newton found that the force with
which the moon acted upon the waters of the earth was to that with which
the sun acted upon them as 4.48 to 1; that the force of the moon produced
a tide of 8.63 feet; that of the sun, one of 1.93 feet; and both of them
combined, one of 10-1/2 French feet, a result which in the open sea does
not deviate much from observation. Having thus ascertained the force of the
moon on the waters of our globe, he found that the quantity of matter in
the moon was to that in the earth as 1 to 40, and the density of the moon
to that of the earth as 11 to 9.

The motions of the moon, so much within the reach of our own observation,
presented a fine field for the application of the theory of universal
gravitation. The irregularities exhibited in the lunar motions had been
known in the time of Hipparchus and Ptolemy. Tycho had discovered the great
inequality, called the "variation," amounting to 37', and depending on the
alternate acceleration and retardation of the moon in every quarter of
a revolution, and he had also ascertained the existence of the annual
equation. Of these two inequalities Newton gave a most satisfactory

Although there could be little doubt that the comets were retained in their
orbits by the same laws which regulated the motions of the planets, yet
it was difficult to put this opinion to the test of observation. The
visibility of comets only in a small part of their orbits rendered it
difficult to ascertain their distance and periodic times; and as their
periods were probably of great length, it was impossible to correct
approximate results by repeated observations. Newton, however, removed this
difficulty by showing how to determine the orbit of a comet, namely,
the form and position of the orbit, and the periodic time, by three
observations. By applying this method to the comet of 1680 he calculated
the elements of its orbit, and, from the agreement of the computed places
with those which were observed, he justly inferred that the motions of
comets were regulated by the same laws as those of the planetary bodies.
This result was one of great importance; for as the comets enter our system
in every possible direction, and at all angles with the ecliptic, and as
a great part of their orbits extends far beyond the limits of the solar
system, it demonstrated the existence of gravity in spaces far removed
beyond the planet, and proved that the law of the inverse ratio of the
squares of the distance was true in every possible direction, and at very
remote distances from the centre of our system.

Such is a brief view of the leading discoveries which the _Principia_ first
announced to the world. The grandeur of the subjects of which it treats,
the beautiful simplicity of the system which it unfolds, the clear and
concise reasoning by which that system is explained, and the irresistible
evidence by which it is supported might have insured it the warmest
admiration of contemporary mathematicians and the most welcome reception in
all the schools of philosophy throughout Europe. This, however, is not the
way in which great truths are generally received. Though the astronomical
discoveries of Newton were not assailed by the class of ignorant pretenders
who attacked his optical writings, yet they were everywhere resisted by the
errors and prejudices which had taken a deep hold even of the strongest

The philosophy of Descartes was predominant throughout Europe. Appealing to
the imagination, and not to the reason, of mankind it was quickly received
into popular favor, and the same causes which facilitated its introduction,
extended its influence and completed its dominion over the human mind. In
explaining all the movements of the heavenly bodies by a system of vortices
in a fluid medium diffused through the universe Descartes had seized upon
an analogy of the most alluring and deceitful kind. Those who had seen
heavy bodies revolving in the eddies of a whirlpool or in the gyrations
of a vessel of water thrown into a circular motion had no difficulty in
conceiving how the planets might revolve round the sun by an analogous
movement. The mind instantly grasped at an explanation of so palpable a
character and which required for its development neither the exercise
of patient thought nor the aid of mathematical skill. The talent and
perspicuity with which the Cartesian system was expounded, and the show by
which it was sustained, contributed powerfully to its adoption, while
it derived a still higher sanction from the excellent character and the
unaffected piety of its author.

Thus intrenched, as the Cartesian system was, in the strongholds of the
human mind, and fortified by its most obstinate prejudices, it was not to
be wondered at that the pure and sublime doctrines of the _Principia_, were
distrustfully received and perseveringly resisted. The uninstructed mind
could not readily admit the idea that the great masses of the planets were
suspended in empty space and retained in their orbits by an invisible
influence residing in the sun; and even those philosophers who had been
accustomed to the rigor of true scientific research, and who possessed
sufficient mathematical skill for the examination of the Newtonian
doctrines, viewed them at first as reviving the occult qualities of the
ancient physics, and resisted their introduction with a pertinacity which
it is not easy to explain.

Prejudiced, no doubt, in favor of his own metaphysical views, Leibnitz
himself misapprehended the principles of the Newtonian philosophy, and
endeavored to demonstrate the truths in the _Principia_ by the application
of different principles. Huygens, who above all other men was qualified
to appreciate the new philosophy, rejected the doctrine of gravitation as
existing between the individual particles of matter and received it only
as an attribute of the planetary masses. John Bernouilli, one of the first
mathematicians of his age, opposed the philosophy of Newton. Mairan, in the
early part of his life, was a strenuous defender of the system of vortices.
Cassini and Maraldi were quite ignorant of the _Principia_, and occupied
themselves with the most absurd methods of calculating the orbits of
comets long after the Newtonian method had been established on the most
impregnable foundation; and even Fontenelle, a man of liberal views and
extensive information, continued, throughout the whole of his life, to
maintain the doctrines of Descartes.

The chevalier Louville of Paris had adopted the Newtonian philosophy
before 1720; Gravesande had introduced it into the Dutch universities at a
somewhat earlier period; and Maupertuis, in consequence of a visit which
he paid to England in 1728, became a zealous defender of it; but
notwithstanding these and some other examples that might be quoted, we must
admit the truth of the remark of Voltaire, that though Newton survived the
publication of the _Principia_ more than forty years, yet at the time of
his death he had not above twenty followers out of England.


A.D. 1671


In the seventeenth century appeared "a class of rovers wholly distinct from
any of their predecessors in the annals of the world, differing as widely
in their plans, organizations, and exploits as in the principles that
governed their actions." These adventurers were a piratical gang called
buccaneers, or sometimes, as in the following narrative, freebooters, who
became noted for their exploits in the West Indies and on South American

The nucleus of this association of pirates is traced to bands of
smugglers--English, French, and Dutch--who carried on a secret trade with
the island of Santo Domingo. Later they settled there and on other islands,
and after a while began to prey upon Spanish commerce. In 1630 they made
their chief head-quarters on the island of Tortuga; in 1655 they aided in
the English conquest of Jamaica, and ten years later settled the Bahamas.
All these islands became centres of their activities.

Most renowned among the leaders of the buccaneers was Sir Henry Morgan, a
Welshman, who died in Jamaica in 1688. For years he carried stolen riches
to England, and Charles II rewarded him with knighthood. Having pillaged
parts of Cuba, he took and ransomed Puerto Bello, in Colombia (1668), and
Maracaibo, in Venezuela (1669). In 1670 Morgan gathered a fleet of nearly
forty vessels, and a force of over two thousand men, for the greatest of
the exploits of the buccaneers, the capture and plunder of the wealthy city
of Panama.

By the end of the century the buccaneers had become dispersed among
contending European armies, and little more was heard of them.

Morgan's plan of capturing Panama was apparently attended with innumerable
difficulties. The chief obstacle was the position of that city on the
Pacific coast at such a great distance from the Caribbean Sea; and not an
individual on board the fleet was acquainted with the road that led to
the goal. To remedy this inconvenience, Morgan determined, in the first
instance, to go to the island of St. Catharine, where the Spaniards
confined their criminals, and thence to supply himself with guides.

The passage was rapid. Morgan landed in that island one thousand men, who,
by threatening to put to death everyone that hesitated for a moment to
surrender, so terrified the Spaniards that they speedily capitulated. It
was stipulated that, to save at least the honor of the garrison, there
should be a sham fight. In consequence of this, a very sharp fire ensued,
from the forts on one side, and on the other from the ships; but on both
sides the cannons discharged only powder. Further, to give a serious
appearance to this military comedy, the governor suffered himself to be
taken, while attempting to pass from Fort Jerome to another fort. At the
beginning the crafty Morgan did not rely too implicitly on this feint; and
to provide for every event, he secretly ordered his soldiers to load
their fusees with bullets, but to discharge them in the air, unless they
perceived some treachery on the part of the Spaniards. But his enemies
adhered most faithfully to their capitulation; and this mock engagement, in
which neither party was sparing of powder, was followed for some time with
all the circumstances which could give it the semblance of reality. Ten
forts surrendered, one after another, after sustaining a kind of siege or
assault; and this series of successes did not cost the life of a single
man, nor even a scratch, on the part either of the victors or of the

All the inhabitants of the island were shut up in the great fort of Santa
Teresa, which was built on a steep rock; and the conquerors, who had not
taken any sustenance for twenty-four hours, declared a most serious war
against the horned cattle and game of the district.

In the isle of St. Constantine Morgan found four hundred fifty-nine
persons of both sexes; one hundred ninety of whom were soldiers, forty-two
criminals, eighty-five children, and sixty-six negroes. There were ten
forts, containing sixty-eight cannons, which were so defended in other
respects by nature that very small garrisons were deemed amply sufficient
to protect them. Besides an immense quantity of fusees and grenades--which
were at that time much used--upward of three hundred quintals of gunpowder
were found in the arsenal. The whole of this ammunition was carried on
board the pirate's ships; the cannon, which could be of no service to them,
were spiked; their carriages were burned, and all the forts demolished
excepting one, which the freebooters themselves garrisoned. Morgan
selected three of the criminals to serve him as guides to Panama. These he
afterward, on his return to Jamaica, set at liberty, even giving them a
share in the booty.

The plan, conceived by this intrepid chieftain, inspired all his companions
in arms with genuine enthusiasm; it had a character of grandeur and
audacity that inflamed their courage; how capable they were of executing it
the subsequent pages will demonstrate.

Panama, which stood on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, in the ninth degree
of northern latitude, was at that time one of the greatest, as well as most
opulent cities in America. It contained two thousand large houses, the
greater number of which were very fine piles of building, and five thousand
smaller dwellings, each mostly three stories in height. Of these, a pretty
considerable number were erected of stone, all the rest of cedar-wood, very
elegantly constructed and magnificently furnished. That city was defended
by a rampart and was surrounded with walls. It was the emporium for the
silver of Mexico and the gold of Peru, whence those valuable metals were
brought on the backs of mules--two thousand of which animals were kept for
this purpose only--across the isthmus toward the northern coast of the
Pacific. A great commerce was also carried on at Panama in negroes; which
trade was at that time almost exclusively confined to the English,
Dutch, French, and Danes. With this branch of commerce the Italians were
intimately acquainted. They gave lessons in it to all the rest of Europe;
and, as two things were necessary, in which the Genoese were by no means
deficient--money and address--they were chiefly occupied in the slave
trade, and supplied the provinces of Peru and Chile with negroes.

At the period now referred to, the President of Panama was the principal
intendant or overseer of the civil department, and captain-general of all
the troops in the viceroyalty of Peru. He had in his dependency Puerto
Bello and Nata, two cities inhabited by the Spaniards, together with the
towns of Cruces, Panama, Capira, and Veragua. The city of Panama had also a
bishop, who was a suffragan of the Archbishop of Lima.

The merchants lived in great opulence; and their churches were decorated
with uncommon magnificence. The cathedral was erected in the Italian
style, surmounted with a large cupola, and enriched with gold and silver
ornaments; as also were the eight convents which this city comprised. At
a small distance from its walls there were some small islands, alike
embellished by art and by nature, where the richest inhabitants had their
country houses; from which circumstance they were called the "gardens of
Panama." In short, everything concurred to render this place important and
agreeable. Here several of the European nations had palaces for carrying on
their commerce; and among these were the Genoese, who were held in great
credit, and who had vast warehouses for receiving the articles of their
immense trade, as also a most magnificent edifice. The principal houses
were filled with beautiful paintings and the masterpieces of the arts,
which had here been accumulated--more from an intense desire of being
surrounded with all the splendor of luxury--since they possessed the means
of procuring it--than from a refined taste. Their superabundance of gold
and silver had been employed in obtaining these splendid superfluities,
which were of no value but to gratify the vanity of their possessors.

Such was Panama in 1670, when the freebooters selected it as the object
of their bold attempt, and as the victim of their extravagancies, and
immortalized their name by reducing it to a heap of ruins.

In the execution of this design, which stupefied the New World, they
displayed equal prudence and cruelty. Previous to the adoption of any other
measure, it was necessary that the pirates should get possession of Fort
St. Laurent, which was situated on the banks of the river Chagres. With
this view, Morgan detached four ships, with four hundred men, under the
command of the intrepid Brodely, who had happily succeeded in victualling
the fleet, and who was intimately acquainted with the country. Morgan
continued at the island of St. Catharine with the rest of his forces.

His plan was to dissemble his vast projects against Panama as long as it
was possible, and to cause the pillage of Fort St. Laurent to be regarded
as a common expedition to which he would confine himself. Brodely
discharged his commission with equal courage and success. That castle
was situated on a lofty mountain, at the mouth of the river, and was
inaccessible on almost every side. The first attempts were fruitless; and
the freebooters, who advanced openly, without any other arms than their
fusees and sabres, at first lost many of their comrades; for the Spaniards
not only made use of all their artillery and musketry against them, but
were also seconded by the Indians that were with them in the fort and whose
arrows were far more fatal than the bullets.

The assailants saw their companions-in-arms fall by their side without
being able to avenge them. The danger of their present situation and
the nature of their arms seemed to render the enterprise altogether
impracticable. Their courage began to waver, their ranks were thrown into
disorder, and they already thought of retiring, when the provocations of
the Spaniards inspired them with new vigor. "You heretic dogs," cried they
in a triumphant tone; "you cursed English, possessed by the devil! Ah, you
will go to Panama, will you? No, no; that you shall not; you shall all bite
the dust here, and all your comrades shall share the same fate."

From these insulting speeches the pirates learned that the design of their
expedition was discovered; and from that moment they determined to carry
the fort or die to a man upon the spot. They immediately commenced the
assault in defiance of the shower of arrows that were discharged against
them, and undismayed by the loss of their commander, both of whose legs had
been carried away by a cannon-ball. One of the pirates, in whose shoulder
an arrow was deeply fixed, tore it out himself, exclaiming: "Patience,
comrades, an idea strikes me; all the Spaniards are lost!" He tore some
cotton out of his pocket, with which he covered his ramrod, set the cotton
on fire, and shot this burning material, in lieu of bullets, at the houses
of the fort, which were covered with light wood and the leaves of palm
trees. His companions collected together the arrows which were strewed
around them upon the ground, and employed them in a similar manner. The
effect of this novel mode of attack was most rapid; many of the houses
caught fire; a powder-wagon blew up. The besieged, being thus diverted from
their means of defence, thought only of stopping the progress of the fire.
Night came on; under cover of the darkness the freebooters attempted also
to set on fire the palisades, which were made of a kind of wood that was
easily kindled. In this attempt likewise they were crowned with success.
The soil, which the palisades supported, fell down for want of support,
and filled up the ditch. The Spaniards nevertheless continued to defend
themselves with much courage, being animated by the example of their
commander, who fought till the very moment he received a mortal blow. The
garrison had, throughout, the use of their cannon, which kept up a most
violent fire; but the enemy had already made too much progress to be
disconcerted with it; they persevered in their attack, until they at length
became masters of the fort.

A great number of Spaniards, finding themselves deprived of all resource,
precipitated themselves from the top of the walls into the river, that
they might not fall alive into the hands of the freebooters, who made only
twenty-four prisoners, and ten of these were wounded men, who had concealed
themselves among the dead, in the hope of escaping their ferocious
conquerors. These twenty-four men were all that remained of three hundred
forty who had composed the garrison, which had shortly before been
reënforced, for the President of Panama, having been apprised from
Carthagena of the real object of the pirates' expedition, came to encamp,
with thirty-six hundred men, in the vicinity of the threatened city. This
information was confirmed to the freebooters after the capture of the fort.
At the same time they learned that among this body of troops there were
four hundred horsemen, six hundred Indians, and two hundred mulat-toes; the
last of whom, being very expert in hunting bulls, were intended, in case of
necessity, to send two thousand of those animals among the freebooters.

It is scarcely credible that Brodely continued to command, notwithstanding
the severity of his wounds; but he would not, by retiring, compromise the
advantages which he had so dearly purchased; for out of four hundred men
who had composed his little army, one hundred sixty had been killed, eighty
wounded; and of these eighty, sixty were altogether out of the battle.

The bodies of the French and English were interred; but those of the
Spaniards were thrown down from the top of the fort and remained in a heap
at the foot of its walls. Brodely found much ammunition and abundance of
provisions, with which he was the more satisfied, as he knew that the grand
fleet was greatly in want of both those articles. He caused the fort to be
rebuilt, as far as was practicable, in order that he might defend himself
there in case the Spaniards should make a speedy attempt to retake it. In
this situation he waited for Morgan, who in a short time appeared with his

As the pirates approached, they beheld the English flag flying on the fort,
and abandoned themselves to the most tumultuous joy and excessive drinking,
without dreaming of the dangers occurring at the mouth of the river
Chagres, beneath whose waters there was a sunken rock. The coasting pilots
of those latitudes came to their assistance, but their intoxication and
their impatience would not permit them to attend to the latter. This
negligence was attended with most fatal consequences and cost them four
ships, one of which was the admiral's vessel. The crews, however, together
with their ladings, were saved. This loss greatly affected Morgan, who
was wholly intent upon his vast designs, but who, nevertheless, made his
entrance into St. Laurent, where he left a garrison of five hundred men. He
also detached from his body of troops one hundred fifty men for the purpose
of seizing several Spanish vessels that were in the river.

The remainder of his forces Morgan directed to follow himself. They carried
but a small supply of provisions, not only that his march might not be
impeded, but also because the means of conveyance were very limited.
Besides, he was apprehensive lest he should expose to famine the garrison
he had left in the fort, which did not abound with provisions, and was cut
off on every side from receiving supplies; and it was likewise necessary
that he should leave sufficient for the support of all the prisoners and
slaves, whose number amounted very nearly to one thousand.

After all these steps had been taken, Morgan briefly addressed his
comrades, whom he exhorted to arm themselves with courage calculated to
subdue every obstacle, that they might return to Jamaica with an increase
of glory, and riches sufficient to supply all their wants for the rest of
their lives. At length, on January 18th, he commenced his march toward
Panama, with a chosen body of freebooters, who were thirteen hundred

The greatest part of their journey was performed by water, following the
course of the river. Five vessels were laden with the artillery; and the
troops were placed in a very narrow compass on board thirty-two boats. One
reason why they had brought only a small quantity of provisions was because
they hoped to meet with a supply on their route; but on the very day of
their arrival at Rio de los Bravos the expectations of the pirates were
frustrated. At the place where they landed they literally found nothing:
the terror which they everywhere inspired had preceded them; the Spaniards
had betaken themselves to flight, and had carried with them all their
cattle and even the very last article of their movables. They had cut the
grain and pulse without waiting for their maturity, the roots of which were
even torn out of the ground: the houses and stables were empty.

The first day of their voyage was spent in abstinence, tobacco affording
them the only gratification that was not refused them. The second day was
not more prosperous. In addition to the various impediments by which their
passage was obstructed, want of rain had rendered the waters of the river
very shallow, and a great number of trees had fallen into it, presenting
almost insurmountable obstacles. On their arrival at the Cruz de Juan
Gallego, they had no other alternative left but to abandon their boats and
pursue their route by land; otherwise, they must have resigned themselves
to the confusion necessarily consequent on retracing their steps.

Animated, however, by their chieftains, they determined to try the
adventure. On the third day their way led them to a forest, where there was
no beaten path, and the soil of which was marshy. But it was indispensably
necessary that they should leave this wretched passage, in order that they
might reach--with incredible difficulties, indeed--the town of Cedro Bueno.
For all these excessive fatigues they found no indemnification whatever;
there were no provisions, not even a single head of game.

These luckless adventurers at length saw themselves surrounded by all the
horrors of famine. Many of them were reduced to devour the leaves of trees;
the majority were altogether destitute of sustenance. In this state of
severe privations, and with very light clothing, they passed the nights
lying on the shore, benumbed with cold, incapable of enjoying, even in the
smallest degree, the solace of sleep, and expecting with anxiety the return
of day. Their courage was supported only with the hope of meeting
some bodies of Spaniards, or some groups of fugitive inhabitants, and
consequently of finding provisions, with an abundance of which the latter
never failed to supply themselves when they abandoned their dwellings.
Further, the pirates were obliged to continue their route at a small
distance only from the river, as they had contrived to drag their canoes
along with them, and, whenever the water was of sufficient depth, part
of the men embarked on board them, while the remainder prosecuted their
journey by land. They were preceded a few hundred paces by an advanced
guard of thirty men under the direction of a guide who was intimately
acquainted with the country; and the strictest silence was observed, in
order that they might discover the ambuscades of the Spaniards, and, if it
were possible, make some of them prisoners.

On the fourth day the freebooters reached Torna Cavellos, a kind of
fortified place which also had been evacuated, the Spaniards having carried
away with them everything that was portable and consumed the rest by fire.
Their design was to leave the pirates neither movables nor utensils; in
fact, this was the only resource left them by which they could reduce those
formidable guests to such a state of privation as to compel them to retire.
The only things which had not been burned or carried off were some large
sacks of hides, which were to these freebooters objects of avidity, and
which had almost occasioned a bloody dispute. Previously to devouring them,
it was necessary to cut them into pieces with all possible equity. Thus
divided, the leather was cut into small bits, these were scraped and
violently beaten between two stones. It was then soaked in water, in order
to become soft, after which it was roasted; nor, thus prepared, could it
have been swallowed if they had not taken most copious draughts of water.

After this repast the freebooters resumed their route, and arrived at
Torna-Munni, where also they found an abandoned fortress. On the fifth day
they reached Barbacoas; but still no place presented to their view either
man, animal, or any kind of provisions whatever. Here likewise the
Spaniards had taken the precaution of carrying away or destroying
everything that could serve for food. Fortunately, however, they discovered
in the hollow of a rock two sacks of flour, some fruit, and two large
vessels filled with wine. This discovery would have transported with joy a
less numerous troop; but, to so many famished men it presented only very
feeble resource. Morgan, who did not suffer less from hunger than the rest,
generously appropriated none of it to his own use, but caused this scanty
supply to be distributed among those who were just ready to faint. Many,
indeed, were almost dying. These were conveyed on board the boats, the
charge of which was committed to them; while those who had hitherto had the
care of the vessels, were reunited to the body that was travelling by land.
Their march was very slow, both on account of the extreme weakness of these
men, even after the very moderate refreshment they had just taken, as well
as from the roughness and difficulties of the way; and during the fifth day
the pirates had no other sustenance but the leaves of trees and the grass
of the meadows.

On the following day the freebooters made still less progress; want of food
had totally exhausted them, and they were frequently obliged to rest. At
length they reached a plantation, where they found a vast quantity of maize
in a granary that had just been abandoned. What a discovery was this to men
whose appetites were sharpened by such long protractions! A great many of
them devoured the grains in a raw state; the rest covered their shares
with the leaves of the banana-tree, and thus cooked or roasted the maize.
Reinvigorated by this food, they pursued their route; and, on the same day,
they discovered a troop of Indians on the other side of the river, but
those savages betook themselves to flight, so that it was impossible to
reach them. The cruel freebooters fired on them and killed some of them;
the rest escaped, exclaiming: "Come, you English dogs, come into the
meadow; we will there wait for you."

To this challenge the pirates were little tempted to answer. Their supply
of maize was exhausted; and they were further obliged to lie down in the
open air without eating anything. Hitherto, in the midst of privations the
most severely painful, as well as of the most difficult labors, they had
evinced an inexhaustible patience, but at length violent murmurs arose.
Morgan and his rash enterprise became the object of their execrations: a
great number of the freebooters were desirous of returning; but the rest,
although discontented, declared that they would rather perish than not
terminate an expedition so far advanced and which had cost them so much

On the following day they crossed the river and directed their march toward
a place which they took for a town or, at all events, for a village, where,
to their great satisfaction, they thought they perceived at a distance the
smoke issuing from several chimneys. "There, at last," said they, "we shall
surely find both men and provisions." Their expectations were completely
frustrated; not a single individual appeared throughout the place. They
found no other articles of sustenance but a leather sack full of bread,
together with a few cats and dogs, which were instantly killed and
devoured. The place where they had now arrived was the town of Cruces, at
which were usually landed those commodities which were conveyed up the
river Chagres, in order to be carried by land to Panama, which was eight
French leagues distant. Here were some fine warehouses built of stone, and
likewise some stables belonging to the King of Spain, which, at the moment
of the pirates' arrival, were the only buildings that remained untouched,
all the inhabitants having betaken themselves to flight after they had set
their houses on fire.

Every corner of these royal buildings was ransacked by the freebooters, who
at length discovered seventeen large vessels full of Peruvian wine, which
were immediately emptied. Scarcely, however, had they drunk this liquor,
which was to recruit their exhausted strength, than they all fell ill.
At first they thought the wine was poisoned; they were overwhelmed with
consternation, and were fully persuaded that their last hour was come.
Their terrors were unfounded; as their sudden indisposition was easily
accounted for by the nature of the unwholesome food they had so recently
taken, by the extreme diminution of their strength, and the avidity with
which they had swallowed the wine; in fact, they found themselves much
better on the following day.

As Morgan had been reduced to the necessity of removing, at this place, to
a distance from all his ships, he was obliged to land all his men, not even
excepting those who were most exhausted by weakness. The shallops alone,
with sixty men, were sent to the spot where his vessels and largest ships
had been left. A single shallop only was reserved to carry news, if
occasion offered, to the flotilla. Morgan prohibited every man from
going alone to any distance; and even required that they should not make
excursions in troops amounting to less than a hundred men. Famine, however,
compelled the freebooters to infringe this prohibition. Six of them went
out to some distance in quest of food; the event justified the foresight of
their chieftain. They were attacked by a large body of Spaniards, and could
not without very great difficulty regain the village: they had also the
mortification to see one of their comrades taken prisoner.

Morgan now determined to prosecute his march. After reviewing his
companions-in-arms he found that they amounted to eleven hundred men. As he
foresaw that they were apprehensive lest their lost comrade should betray
the secret of their enterprise and the state of their forces, Morgan made
them believe that he had not been taken; that he had only lost his way in
the woods, but had now returned to the main body.

The freebooters were on the eighth day of their painful journey, and
nothing but the hope of speedily terminating their labors could support
them much longer, for they had now ascertained that they were on the way to
Panama. An advanced guard of two hundred men was therefore formed, which
was to watch the movements of the enemy. They marched onward for a whole
day without perceiving any living object whatever, when suddenly a shower
of three or four thousand arrows was discharged upon them from the top of
a rock. For some minutes they were struck with astonishment; no enemy
presented himself to their view. They beheld around them, at their feet,
above their heads, nothing but steep rocks, trees, and abysses; and,
without striking a single blow, they reckoned twenty of their comrades
killed or wounded. This unexpected attack not being continued, they pursued
their march across a forest, where, in a hollow way, they fell upon a
large body of Indians who opposed their progress with much valor. In this
engagement the freebooters were victorious, though they lost eight killed
and ten wounded.

They made every possible effort to catch some of the fugitives, but these
fled away with the velocity of stags across the rocks, with all the
turnings and windings of which they were intimately acquainted. Not a
single man fell into their hands; the Indian chieftain was wounded;
and, notwithstanding he lay on the ground, he continued to fight
most obstinately until he received a mortal blow. He wore a crown of
party-colored feathers. His death made a great impression on the Indians
and was the principal cause of their defeat. The ground on which they had
attacked the pirates was so favorable that one hundred men would have been
fully sufficient to have destroyed the whole troop of freebooters. The
latter availed themselves of the inconceivable negligence of the Spaniards
in not taking more effectual measures for the defence of such an important
pass. They exerted all possible diligence to make their way out of this
labyrinth of rocks, where a second attack of a similar kind would have been
attended with consequences of the most fatal tendency to them, and to get
into an open and level country.

On the ninth day they found themselves in a plain or spacious meadow,
entirely divested of trees, so that nothing could shelter them against the
ardor of the solar rays. It rained, however, most copiously at the
moment of their arrival; and this circumstance added yet more to their
difficulties. In a short time they were wetted to their skins. In case of a
sudden attack their arms and ammunition would have afforded them but little
assistance; while the Spaniards would be able most effectively to use their
spears, which could not be damaged by the rain.

No human means could remedy this inconvenience. The pirates had only to
abandon themselves to their fate. Morgan most ardently desired that
some prisoner might fall into his hands, from whose confessions, either
voluntary or involuntary, he might obtain some information by which to
direct his march. With this intention, fifty men were detached in different
directions, with a promised reward of three hundred piasters, out of the
society's stock, to the man who should bring in either a Spaniard or an
Indian, exclusive of the share of booty to which he should be entitled.

About noon they ascended a steep hill, from whose summit they began to
discover the Pacific. At this sight, which announced the speedy termination
of their miseries, they were transported with joy. From the top of this
eminence they also perceived six ships departing from Panama, and sailing
toward the islands of Taroga and Tarogiela, which were situated in the
vicinity of that city. Panama itself for the present escaped their
observation; but how was their satisfaction increased on beholding, in a
valley, a vast number of bulls, cows, horses, and particularly of asses,
which were under the care of some Spaniards, who betook themselves to
flight the moment they saw the formidable pirates approaching? To the
latter no _rencontre_ could be more desirable. They were ready to faint
with famine and fatigue; the sustenance which they immediately devoured
would contribute to give them that strength which every moment would become
so necessary to them, and it is altogether inconceivable how the Spaniards
could abandon such a prey to their famished enemies. This want of foresight
can only be accounted for by the panic with which the Spaniards were

The spot which had just been deserted was occupied for some hours by the
freebooters; they stood in great need of rest, and were in much greater
want of provisions. They rushed therefore on the animals that had been left
behind, of which they killed a great number, and devoured their half-raw
flesh with such avidity that the blood streamed in torrents from their lips
over the whole of their bodies. What could not be consumed on the spot they
carried away with them, for Morgan, apprehensive of an attack by the flower
of the Spaniards' troops, allowed them only a small space of time for
repose. They resumed their march, but the uncertainty in which they had so
long been involved was not yet at an end.

Notwithstanding all that chieftain's experience, his spies could not
succeed in taking a single prisoner--a circumstance, which seems almost
incredible in a populous country--and after nine days' march Morgan was
deprived of every hint that was so essentially necessary to him. Further,
the freebooters were utterly ignorant how near they were to Panama, when,
from the summit of a hill, they discovered the towers of that city. They
could not refrain from shouting for joy. The air reëchoed with the sound of
trumpets and cymbals; they threw up their caps in the air, vociferating,
"Victory! victory!" In this place they halted and pitched their camp, with
the firm determination of attacking Panama on the following day.

At this time the Spaniards were in the utmost confusion. The first
defensive step which they deemed it advisable to take was to despatch
fifty horsemen for the purpose of reconnoitring the enemy. The detachment
approached the camp within musket-shot and offered some insults to the
freebooters, but speedily returned toward the city, exclaiming, "_Perros,
nos veromos!_" ("You dogs, we will see you again!") Shortly after a second
detachment of two hundred men appeared, who occupied every pass, in order
that, after the victory--which they considered as infallible--not one
single pirate might escape. The freebooters, however, beheld with the
utmost concern the measures which were adopted in order to block them up,
and, previously to every other consideration, turned their attention toward
their abundant supply of provision. As they were prohibited from kindling
any fire, they devoured the meat they had brought with them _entirely in
a raw state_. They could not conceive how the Spaniards could carry their
neglect or their fancied security to such a length as not to disturb that
repose of which they stood so greatly in need; nor how they could allow
them the necessary leisure for recruiting their exhausted strength and thus
become the more fit for battle. They availed themselves of this oversight
and were perfectly at ease; after they had glutted themselves with animal
food they lay down upon the grass and slept quietly. Throughout the night
the Spaniards made their artillery roar without intermission, in order to
display their vigilance.

On the ensuing day, which was the tenth of their march, January 27, 1671,
the pirates advanced at a very early hour, with their military music, and
took the road leading to Panama. By the advice, however, of one of their
guides, they quitted the main road and went out of the way across a thick
wood through which there was no footpath. For this the Spaniards were
unprepared, having confined themselves to the erection of batteries and
construction of redoubts on the highway. They soon perceived the inutility
of this measure and were obliged to relinquish their guns in order to
oppose their enemies on the contrary side; but not being able to take their
cannons away from their batteries, they were, consequently, incapacitated
from making use of one part of their defensive means.

After two hours' march the freebooters discovered the hostile army, which
was a very fine one, well equipped, and was advancing in battle array. The
soldiers were clad in party-colored silk stuffs, and the horsemen were
seated upon their mettlesome steeds as if they were going to a bull-fight.
The President in person took the command of this body of troops, which
was of considerable importance, both for the country and likewise for the
forces supported there by Spain. He marched against the pirates with four
regiments of the line consisting of infantry, besides twenty-four
hundred foot-soldiers of another description, four hundred horsemen, and
twenty-four hundred wild bulls under the conduct of several hundred Indians
and negroes.

This army, which extended over the whole plain, was discovered by the
pirates from the summit of a small eminence, and presented to them a most
imposing appearance, insomuch that they were struck with a kind of terror.
They now began to feel some anxiety as to the event of an engagement with
forces so greatly superior to them in point of numbers, but they were soon
convinced that they must actually conquer or die, and encouraged each other
to fight till the very last drop of their blood was shed; a determination
this, which, on the part of these intrepid men, was by no means a vain

They divided themselves into three bodies, placed two hundred of their best
marksmen in the front, and marched boldly against the Spaniards, who
were drawn up in order of battle on a very spacious plain. The Governor
immediately ordered the cavalry to charge the enemy, and the wild bulls to
be at the same time let loose upon them. But the ground was unfavorable for
this purpose; the horsemen encountered nothing but marshes, behind which
were posted the two hundred marksmen, who kept up such a continual and
well-directed fire that horses and men fell in heaps beneath their shots
before it was possible to effect a retreat. Fifty horsemen only escaped
this formidable discharge of musketry.

The bulls, on whose services they had calculated so highly, it became
impracticable to drive among the pirates. Hence such a confusion arose as
to completely reverse the whole plan of the battle. The freebooters, in
consequence, attacked the Spanish infantry with so much the greater vigor.
They successively knelt on the ground, fired, and rose up again. While
those who were on one knee directed their fire against the hostile army,
which began to waver; the pirates, who continued standing, rapidly charged
their fire-arms. Every man, on this occasion, evinced a dexterity and
presence of mind which decided the fate of the battle. Almost every shot
was fatal. The Spaniards, nevertheless, continued to defend themselves with
much valor, which proved of little service against an exasperated enemy
whose courage, inflamed by despair, derived additional strength from their
successes. At length the Spaniards had recourse to their last expedient:
the wild cattle were let loose upon the rear of the freebooters.

The buccaneers were in their element: by their shouts they intimidated the
bulls, at the same time waving party-colored flags before them; fired on
the animals and laid them all upon the ground, without exception. The
engagement lasted two hours; and notwithstanding the Spaniards were so
greatly superior, both in numbers and in arms, it terminated entirely
in favor of the freebooters. The Spaniards lost the chief part of their
cavalry, on which they had built their expectations of victory; the
remainder returned to the charge repeatedly, but their efforts only tended
to render their defeat the more complete. A very few horsemen only escaped,
together with some few of the infantry who threw down their arms to
facilitate the rapidity of their flight. Six hundred Spaniards lay dead on
the field of battle; besides these, they sustained a very considerable loss
in such as were wounded and taken prisoner.

Among the latter were some Franciscans who had exposed themselves to the
greatest dangers in order that they might animate the combatants and afford
the last consolations of religion to the dying. They were conducted into
Morgan's presence, who instantly pronounced sentence of death upon them.
In vain did these hapless priests implore that pity which they might have
expected from a less ferocious enemy. They were all killed by pistol-shots.
Many Spaniards who were apprehensive lest they should be overtaken in their
flight had concealed themselves in the flags and rushes along the banks
of the river. They were mostly discovered and hacked to pieces by the
merciless pirates.

The freebooters' task, however, was by no means completed. They had yet to
take Panama, a large and populous city, which was defended by forts and
batteries, and into which the Governor had retired, together with the
fugitives. The conquest of this place was the more difficult, as the
pirates had dearly purchased their victory, and their remaining forces were
in no respect adequate to encounter the difficulties attending such an
enterprise. It was, however, determined to make an attempt. Morgan had just
procured from a wounded captive Spanish officer the necessary information;
but he had not a moment to lose. It would not do to allow the Spaniards
time to adopt new measures of defence; the city was therefore assaulted on
the same day, in defiance of a formidable artillery which wrought great
havoc among the freebooters; and at the end of three hours they were in
possession of Panama.

The capture of that city was followed by a general pillage. Morgan, who
dreaded the consequence of excessive intoxication--especially after his men
had suffered such a long abstinence--prohibited them from drinking any
wine under the severest penalties. He foresaw that such a prohibition would
infallibly be infringed, unless it were sanctioned by an argument far
more powerful than the fear of punishment. He therefore caused it to be
announced that he had received information that the Spaniards had poisoned
all their wine. This dexterous falsehood produced the desired effect, and
for the first time the freebooters were temperate.

The majority of the inhabitants of Panama had betaken themselves to flight.
They had embarked their women, their riches, all their movables that were
of any value and small in bulk, and had sent this valuable cargo to
the island of Taroga. The men were dispersed over the country, but in
sufficiently great numbers to appear formidable to the pirates, whose
forces were much diminished, and who could not expect any assistance from
abroad. They therefore continued constantly together, and for their greater
security, most of them encamped without the walls.

We have now reached the time when Morgan committed a barbarous and
incomprehensible action, concerning which his comrades--some of whom were
his historians--have given only a very ambiguous explanation.

Notwithstanding that all the precious articles had been carried away from
Panama, there still remained--as in every great European trading city--a
vast number of shops, warehouses, and magazines filled with every kind of
merchandise. Besides a very great quantity of wrought and manufactured
articles, the productions of luxury and industry, that city contained
immense stores of flour, wine, and spices; vast magazines of that metal
which is justly deemed the most valuable of all because it is the most
useful: extensive buildings, in which were accumulated prodigious stores of
iron tools and implements, anvils and ploughs which had been received from
Europe and were destined to revive the Spanish colonies. Some judgment may
be formed respecting the value of the last-mentioned articles only when it
is considered that a quintal (one hundredweight) of iron was sold at Panama
for thirty-two piasters (about thirty-three dollars).

All these multifarious articles, so essentially necessary for furnishing
colonists with the means of subsistence, were, it should seem, of no value
in the estimation of the ferocious Morgan because he could not carry them
away; although, by preserving them, he might have made use of them by
demanding a specific ransom for them. Circumstances might also enable him
to derive some further advantages from them, but, in fact, whatever was
distant or uncertain presented no attraction to this barbarian, who was
eager to enjoy, but more ardent to destroy.

He was struck by one consideration only. All these bulky productions of
art and industry were for the moment of no use to the freebooters. Of what
importance to him was the ruin of many thousand innocent families? He
consulted only the ferocity of his character, and without communicating his
design to any individual he secretly caused the city to be set on fire
in several places. In a few hours it was almost entirely consumed. The
Spaniards that had remained in Panama--as well as the pirates themselves,
who were at first ignorant whence the conflagration proceeded--ran together
and united their efforts in order to extinguish the flames. They brought
water, and pulled down houses, with a view to prevent the further progress
of that destructive element. All their exertions were fruitless. A violent
wind was blowing, and, in addition to this circumstance, the principal part
of the buildings in that city were constructed of wood. Its finest houses,
together with their valuable furniture, among which was the magnificent
palace belonging to the Genoese, the churches, convents, courthouse, shops,
hospitals, pious foundations, warehouses loaded with sacks of flour, nearly
two hundred other warehouses filled with merchandise--all were reduced to
ashes! The fire also consumed a great number of animals, horses, mules, and
many slaves who had concealed themselves and who were burned alive. A very
few houses only escaped the fire, which continued burning upward of four
weeks. Amid the havoc produced in every quarter by the conflagration, the
freebooters did not neglect to pillage as much as they possibly could, by
which means they collected a considerable booty.

Morgan seemed ashamed of his atrocious act; he carefully concealed that he
had ever executed it, and gave out that the Spaniards themselves had set
their city on fire.


A.D. 1672


Seldom has any people held out so heroically against overwhelming numbers
as did the Dutch in 1672. Of the various wars during the reign of Louis
XIV, that which he carried on against Holland was one of the most
important. By its settlement, at the Peace of Nimwegen (1678-1679), the
long hostilities between France and Holland and their allies were brought
to a close, and Holland was once more saved from threatened destruction.

Louis, having invaded the Spanish Netherlands, had reluctantly consented to
the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668), by which he retained a small part of
the Low Countries. By insisting on this treaty Holland gave deep offence
to the French monarch, who in 1672 began a war of revenge against the
Netherlands, where his schemes of large acquisition had been thwarted. His
first attempt was to isolate Holland, and having purchased the King of
Sweden, he bribed Charles II of England, uncle of William of Orange, to
enter into a secret treaty against the Netherlands.

The principal events of the war are narrated by Davies, who shows how the
old spirit of the Dutch returned to them in this supreme hour of new peril
to their liberties.

The Dutch, though, in defence of their religion and liberties, they had
beaten the first soldiers in the world, were never essentially a military
nation; and in 1672 a long interval of peace, and devotion to the pursuits
of commerce, had rendered them quite unfit for warlike enterprises. The
army was entirely disorganized; the officers, appointed by the magistrates
of the towns on the score of relationship or party adherence, without
the slightest regard to their efficiency, were suffered, without fear of
punishment, to keep the numbers of their regiments incomplete, in order
that they might appropriate the pay of the vacancies; while the men,
independent and undisciplined, were allowed to spend their time in the
pursuit of some gainful trade or peaceful occupation, instead of practising
military exercises. The disputes concerning the appointment of a
captain-general had impeded any fresh levies, the recruits refusing to take
the oath to the States except in conjunction with the Prince of Orange, and
had induced many of the best and most experienced officers to take service
in the French army; the fortifications of the towns were in a dilapidated
condition, and no measures had been adopted for the security of the

Such was the state to which party spirit had reduced a nation filled with
brave, intelligent, and virtuous inhabitants, and governed by statesmen as
able and wise as the world ever saw, when the two most powerful sovereigns
of Europe declared war against her. The manifests were both issued on the
same day. That of the King of England is strongly marked by the duplicity
which was the distinguishing characteristic both of himself and of his
court as then constituted. From the style of the document one might be led
to suppose that he was forced into the war with extreme reluctance and
regret, and only in consequence of the impossibility of obtaining redress
by any other means for the deep injuries he had sustained. He declared
that, so far back as the year 1664, his Parliament had complained of the
wrongs and oppressions exercised by the Dutch on his subjects in the East
Indies, and for which they had refused to make reparation by amicable

They had openly refused him the honor of the flag, one of the most ancient
prerogatives of his crown; had sought to invite the King of France to
hostilities against him; and had insulted his person and dignity by the
abusive pictures and medals exposed in all their towns. This expression was
understood to allude to a medal complained of three years before, and to
a portrait of Cornelius de Witt, in the perspective of which was a
representation of the burning of Chatham. Cornelius de Witt being an
ex-burgomaster of Dordrecht, the council of that town had, with a
natural pride, caused this picture to be painted and hung up in the
council-chamber. The extreme sensitiveness manifested by Charles on this
point appeared to the States rather superfluous in a monarch whose own
kingdom teemed with the most offensive truths relative to himself and his

As if determined that the mode of commencing hostilities should be as
lawless and unjust as the war itself, the court of England, several days
before the declaration was issued, had commanded Sir Robert Holmes to
attack the Dutch Smyrna fleet on its return. While cruising near the Isle
of Wight, Holmes met the admiral, Sprague, by whom he was informed of the
near approach of the vessels; but, anxious to secure to himself the whole
of the booty, estimated at near a million and a half of guilders, he
suffered Sprague to sail away in ignorance of his instructions, and leaving
him with no more than nine frigates and three yachts. His covetousness,
happily, proved the salvation of the fleet. After a short encounter of two
days' duration, Holmes was forced to retire, having captured no more than
three or four of the more inconsiderable ships, while the remainder gained
their harbors in safety.

The King of France appeared, by the tenor of his declaration of war, to
imagine that his power and dignity entitled him to set at naught alike the
natural rights of mankind and the law of nations; it resembled, indeed,
rather the threat of a predatory incursion on the part of a barbarian chief
than the justification of the taking up of arms by a civilized government.
Without adducing a single cause of complaint, he satisfied himself with
declaring that the conduct of the States had been such as it was not
consistent with his glory to endure any longer.

If anything, indeed, could justify the arrogant tone assumed by Louis, the
circumstances in which he found himself would have done so. An army of one
hundred twenty thousand, able and well-equipped troops, commanded by Condé
and Turenne, and numbering in its ranks volunteers of the noblest families
in France eager to distinguish themselves under the eye of their sovereign;
funds lavishly supplied by the able minister of finance, Colbert; with vast
magazines of ammunition and every other necessary collected, and winter
quarters secured in the neighboring and friendly territories of Cologne and
Muenster, seemed means almost absurdly disproportioned in magnitude to the
end to be attained. At the same time he was but too well informed of the
defenceless condition of the enemy. Jan de Witt and the States conceived
that his first attempt would be upon Maestricht, the possession of which he
was known to have long coveted, and that the difficulties of its conquest
would be sufficient to deter from further enterprise a monarch of whose
military prowess no very high idea was entertained, and who was supposed to
be far more enamoured of the pomp and circumstance of war than of its toils
and dangers. They accordingly fortified and provided Maestricht with
the utmost care, leaving the frontier towns on the Rhine in an utterly
inefficient state of defence. Aware of this fact, Louis commenced his
operations on the side of Cleves, and, separating his army into four
divisions, laid siege simultaneously to as many places. He himself summoned
the town of Rhynberg, the Duke of Orleans sat down before Orsay, Condé was
commanded to reduce Wesel, and Turenne, Burick. All surrendered within a
week. To give an account of the capture of the towns which followed, would
be but to heap example upon example of cowardice or treachery, or--as they
are generally found together--both.

Nothing less than entire unanimity and the most undaunted resolution could
have enabled the Dutch to resist the overwhelming force employed against
them; whereas, the miserable effect of the internal dissensions of the
republic had been to destroy for the time all mutual confidence. In some
places the garrisons, despising their incapable commanders, refused to act;
or the governors, mistrustful of their undisciplined troops, lost all hope
of prolonging a defence; in others, the detestation entertained by the
magistrates toward the Orange party was so great that, preferring to submit
to France rather than to a native stadtholder, they hastened to deliver up
their towns to the invader; on the other hand, the friends of the house
of Orange looked not without some complacency on the misfortunes which
threatened the state, and which they hoped would reduce it to the necessity
of raising the Prince to the dignities of his family; while in those places
where the Catholics were numerous, the populace, under the guidance of the
priests, forced both garrisons and governments to open their gates to the
sovereign whom they hailed as the restorer of their religion. With scarcely
a show of opposition, therefore, Louis advanced to the Rhine.

The drought of the summer was so excessive that this river had become
fordable in three places, which, being pointed out to the French by some
peasants of Guelderland, the King determined on attempting the passage
between Schenkenschans and Arnhem, near the Tollhuys, a village and tower
about two miles distant from the separation of the branch of the river
called the Wahal. The Prince of Orange, who was stationed with about
twenty-two thousand men at Arnhem, and along the banks of the Yssel,
instead of concentrating his forces to oppose the passage of the enemy,
contented himself with detaching De Montbas to guard the Betuwe, and to
throw succors if requisite into Nimwegen. But this general, deeming the
troops placed under his command insufficient for the purpose required,
abandoned his post. He was arrested and sent to Utrecht, but afterward
allowed to escape. Immediately on the retreat of Montbas the Prince
despatched General Wurtz, but still with a vastly inadequate force, to
occupy the post at the Tollhuys. The French cuirassiers, led on by the
Counts de Guiche and Revel, first waded into the ford under the fire of
the artillery from the tower, which, however, as there were no more than
seventeen men stationed in it, was not very formidable. They were followed
by a number of volunteers, and in a short time the whole of the cavalry
passed over with trifling loss. The Dutch troops, discouraged as well by
the unexpectedness of the attempt as by their own inferiority in number,
were driven back after a short skirmish. A bridge was then thrown across
the river for the infantry, and thus this famous passage was accomplished
with comparative ease and safety.

As the position of the Prince of Orange on the Yssel, which in consequence
of the drought was fordable throughout nearly the whole of its course, was
now no longer tenable, he retired to Utrecht, abandoning Arnhem to the
enemy, who soon after received the submission of Nimwegen and the whole of
Guelderland, Thiel, and the Bommel. In order to put Utrecht into a state of
defence, the Prince considered it necessary to burn down all the suburbs;
a measure which, when he proposed to the States of the Province, he found
them reluctant to comply with. He therefore immediately quitted that city,
and with the whole of his forces made a further retreat into Holland. Thus
left wholly unprotected, the States of Utrecht conceived that the only
resource which remained to them was to mollify the conqueror by a speedy
submission; and accordingly, while Louis was yet at Doesburg, they sent
deputies to tender to him the keys of the city and the submission of the
whole province. The King shortly after entered Utrecht in triumph.

While the good-fortune, rather than the arms, of Louis subdued Guelderland
and Utrecht, his allies, the Bishops of Cologne and Muenster, found no more
vigorous resistance in Overyssel. Oldenzeel, Entschede, and other small
towns yielded at once to their summons; Deventer, though well garrisoned
and amply provided, was surrendered at once by the municipal government,
who, by their exhortations and example, induced that of Zwol to adopt a
like disgraceful course of conduct. The easily acquired spoil was divided
among the captors; the King of France, who had furnished a subsidy of
troops, placed garrisons in Campen and Elburg; the Archbishop of Cologne
retained Deventer; Groll and Breevoort being allotted to the Bishop of
Muenster, while Zwol was held in common. The troops of these warlike
prelates exercised everywhere unbounded license and cruelties. Numbers
of unhappy families were driven from their homes, and, taking refuge in
Holland, added to the consternation which prevailed there.

This province was now in imminent danger. No barrier remained, as it
appeared, to oppose the progress of the enemy; the army of the Prince had
dwindled to about thirteen thousand men; two of the frontier towns, Woerden
and Oudewater, had solicited safeguards from the invaders; and Naarden was
surprised by the Count of Rochefort. Had he marched on at once to Muyden he
might have occupied that town also, a post of immense importance from
its situation, as ships going to Amsterdam must come within reach of its
cannon; and by means of a sluice there, the surrounding country may at
any time be inundated. It had been left destitute of a garrison; but, the
French commander remaining two or three days inactive at Naarden, time was
afforded to John Maurice of Nassau to enter Muyden with a strong body of
troops, and the chance thus lost was gone forever.

Amazed at the rapid advances of the invader, and dispirited by the symptoms
of daily increasing aversion which the great body of the people manifested
to his government, the courage of Jan de Witt at this crisis so entirely
forsook him that he took upon himself the disgrace of being the first to
propose to the States of Holland that they should implore mercy from the
conqueror. The resolution was immediately adopted, and by them proposed to
the States-General, where it was passed with the dissentient voice only
of Zealand, who was of opinion that they should treat simultaneously with
England, from whence that province had to apprehend the principal danger. A
deputation was accordingly sent to Louis, at Keppel, near Doesburg, headed
by De Groot, and commissioned to inquire upon what terms his majesty was
inclined to grant peace to the republic. They were answered by Louvois,
that the King was not disposed to restore any of the conquests he had made
or to enter into any negotiation unless the deputies were furnished with
full powers and instructions as to what the States intended to offer.
Returning to The Hague, De Groot made his report to the States of Holland,
and, representing the desperate condition of their affairs, recommended
that Louis should be gratified with Maestricht and all the other towns of
the generality; and that a sum should be offered him to defray the expenses
of the war, provided the King would leave them in possession of their
liberty and sovereignty. Leyden, Haarlem, and most of the other towns
followed the example of the nobles in receiving these pusillanimous
counsels with approbation.

Amsterdam, however, proved that the spirit of the "Gueux" was not yet
utterly extinct in Holland. Prevailing with four towns of North Holland to
follow their example, the Council of Amsterdam refused to send deputies to
debate upon the question of granting full powers to the ambassadors, and
made vigorous preparations for the defence of their city. They repaired
the fortifications, and strengthened them with considerable outworks, the
magistrates themselves being the first to sacrifice their magnificent
country houses in the suburbs for this purpose; they assigned to each of

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