The Spectator

And end to decent dying

And end to decent dying
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From 22 March 1986: They used to say that war is the ruin of serious soldiering. Too much disorder, too many accidents. So it could be said of the bubonic plague: it spoilt dying completely. There was so much to fear. Not merely a sudden, unexplained and incurable form of disease, since brevity of life and mysterious illness were commonplace; besides, there was no lack of plague-theories and official nostrums. What was truly dreadful was the subversion and mockery of all that was usually done to dignify the final moment, of the pains taken to celebrate death, and prevent him from doing irreparable harm to the community. So plague gave death a bad name, and for more than 300 years no Englishman could grow up without expecting to witness or suffer one outbreak or more before he died.