n that wistful note, I leave the description of the events of my theatre triumphs in the spring of ’94. Factually, those triumphs had already passed, and my family and musical associates were living on the fruit of my prior endeavors. As always, when we look backward the past dresses itself in the brightest, most colorful hues, while the present seems less engaging. Tomorrow we will long for today with the same intensity. Does this make me a pessimist?
Alternatively, it is a universal sympathy, at least with those of us who cherish our youth and endeavors, above money and fame, that we long for the immediacy of creative work and performance; I’ve found, you need the vigor and health to do it. For all my aspirations to crumble into a pile of obligations (even meaningful ones), and meaningless chores, was to lose sight of my ‘living water’—the hope in an unseen hand of Divine Light.
I ask you, my audience, whoever you shall be (if this account is published): is not this longing for the heart of adventure, whether in arts, war, or career as universal as the basic urge to survive when one is bodily threatened? Perhaps the threat of physical extinguishment is easier to comprehend than the surrender of its spiritual counterpart, which in many ways precedes the end of a man’s life.
That irrational but vital longing to go on is an impetus that once set in motion at birth, overcomes our essential inertia, until reacted on by opposing forces, which we fight with all our will. Could we stop this longing for immortal life at the gut level, even in our most base, disbelieving phase of life? It is the author of our noblest aspirations, and may even be at the root of our baser desires and deeds.
Youth thinks itself immortal, never giving thought to its seeming far off end, until the truth of circumstance bends back our vision to the fragility of our mortal frame; that’s the ‘sine qua non’ of our human orbital path. If ‘twere not pulled downward by the gravity of daily events, we would launch ourselves to a distant star of immortal aspirations far beyond the practical. No, this is not the world for those realizations.
Take bold action, counter the obvious enemy, the invader or calamity bent on your destruction, easy to identify; yet how does one battle the daily, monthly, yearly stealer of our cherished hopes, the ticking of Nature’s clock, with the same alacrity? If you feel you are far from done in this world, while a million cares sweep you along a raging current into a sea of difficulty, you feel justified in a primal response of ‘fight or flight’. The paradox is this: who or what are you fighting, and who or what force is chasing you to the horizon of your reason?
Like Sir Isaac’s gravity, there are bonds of family and friendship that tug one back to the mundane, but what happens when suddenly these are temporarily suspended, perhaps by a ‘momentary lapse of reason’ caused by a bit of bad beef, tainted water, or in my case, a suspicious illness of obscure origin. Then there’s the unmeasured effect of grief and its constant counterparts of poor food, overwork, and emotional burden. Is the cause a physical, spiritual, or mental one? Perhaps it wasn’t a case of fear bringing its own fulfillment, but the tiny fact itself: a stray flea bite from a dirty rat, or a vapor breathed from daily humors on an overcrowded city street whilst I was in a weakened state.
Whatever the cause, I was the affected end. I was as convinced then, as I am unsure now, of my trouble, believing I had contracted something. The plague, that very spring spreading slowly through the southwestern sections of London, had threatened to again bring a full restoration of that darkest hour of my childhood, in that most evil of years, 1666.
At the deeper level of my spirit in my dream-driven visions, I cannot say for sure what I was fleeing. Perhaps the record of these dreams, scribbled in my journal, and which served as the basis for my musical plans to compose a new opera, will show clearly, what really happened. Yet, happen it did. Of 1666, I can relate only the shortest summary of that dark year, whose terror scarred me for life. In truth, history did not and does not ever repeat itself exactly, but rather sends us whirling in reaction, or commanding in action in exactly the measure to which our understanding of its lessons are pointing True North.
t was June in 1665, the weather set in hot, and the rumors of plague had been confirmed, with the weekly bills of burial showing an increase in St. Giles parish, where it seems to have all began, rather cryptically back in December, ’64. Two men, said to be Frenchmen, died of the plague in Long Acre, at the upper end of Drury Lane.
The increase in the bills from the usual number of burials in a week, in the parishes of St. Giles-in-the-Fields and St. Andrews, was considerable from the time the plague began. Unless they had extraordinary business that obliged them to do it, very few cared to go through Drury Lane or the other streets suspected...
continued in "The Last Renaissance Man" Narrative to Chapter Six based on Daniel DeFoe's "A Journal of the Plague Year"