"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

01 March 2017


An excellent book ...

When the Light began to be Dusky after School, some bold Sparks would creep into the Church-yard and, as they said, catch the Shaddowes of dead Men (and these no simple Phantasies to me now). But such Sport was not for me, and in the most part I kept my own Company: my studdyes were of a more solitary kind, and I laid out my little Money for books. One of my School-fellows, Elias Biscow, lent me Doctor faustus which pleased me, especially when he travelled in the Air, seeing all the World, but I was much troubled when the Devil came to fetch him and the consideration of that horrible End did so much to haunt me that I often dreamed of it. All the time I had from School, on Thursdays in the Afternoon and Saturday, I spent in reading on such things: the next I met with was Fryar Bacon, and then I read Montelion, Knight of the Oracle and Ornatus; borrowing the Book of one Person, when I had read it myself I lent it to another who lent me one of their owne so that, altho' sometimes at School I wanted Pens, Inke, Paper and other Necessaries, I never wanted Books.

When I was not at my Reading, I was often walking about. I had a thousand Threadbare topicks to excuse my absence from School, for I had gotten a haunt of Rambling and could not leave it: at first light I would slip on my Breeches over my Nakednesse, wash me and comb me, and then creep out into the Air. My Church now rises above a populous Conjunction of Alleys, Courts and Passages, Places full of poor People, but in those Years before the Fire the Lanes by Spittle- Fields were dirty and unfrequented: that part now called Spittle-Fields Market, or the Flesh-Market, was a Field of Grass with the Cows feeding on it. And there where my Church is, where three roads meet, viz Mermaid Alley, Tabernacle Alley and Balls Alley, was open ground until the Plague turned it into a vast Mound of Corrupcion. Brick Lane, which is now a long well-paved Street, was a deep dirty Road, frequented by Carts fetching Bricks that way into White- chappel from Brick-kilns in the Fields (and had the Name on that account). Here I rambled as a Boy, and yet also was often walking abroad into that great and monstrous Pile of London: and as I felt the City under my Feet I had a habit of rowling Phrases around my Head, such as Prophesie Now, Devouring Fire, Violent Hands, which I would then inscribe in my Alphabeticall Pocket-Book along with any other odd Fancies of my own. Thus would I wander, but as like as not I would take my self to a little Plot of Ground close by Angell Alley and along the New Key. Here I used to sit against a peece of Ancient Stone and set my Mind thinking on past Ages and on Futurity. There was before me a stone Pedestal on which was fix'd an old rusty Horizontal Dial, with the Gnomon broke short off, and it was with an inexpressible Peacefulnesse that I gazed upon this Instrument of Time: I remember it as well as if it were Yesterday, and not already burned beneath the Weight of Years. (And now I consider: have I been living in a Dreame?) But of this I may speaker again in another Place, and I shall return in the mean time to my History for which I will, like a State Historian, give you the Causes as well as the Matter of Facts. I never had any faculty in telling of a Story, and one such as mine is will be contemned by others as a meer Winter Tale rather than that they should be brought to be afraid of another World and subjected to common Terrours which they despised before; for thus, to cut short a long Preamble, I have come to the most grievous story of the Plague.

I am perswaded that most Wretches let the World go wag: all is well, Jack has Joan, the Man has his Mare again, as they say, and they walk as it were above the Precipeece with no Conception of the vast Gulph and frightful Abyss of Darknesse beneath them; but it is quite another Case with me. The Mind in Infancy, like the Body in Embrio, receives impressions that cannot be removed and it was as a meer Boy that I was placed in the Extremity of the Human State: even now, a Crowd of Thoughts whirl thro' the Thorowfare of my Memory for it was in that fateful year of the Plague that the mildewed Curtain of the World was pulled aside, as if it were before a Painting, and I saw the true Face of the Great and Dreadfull God.

Peter Ackroyd, from Hawksmoor

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