« It takes a plague to know a plague » may be said both of the principle of inoculation and of the historiography of epidemics. Certainly this was true of Daniel Defoe’s book, The TournaI of the Plaugue Year, which was ostensibly about the Great Plague of London in 1665 but which actually was contribution to the planning of the plague in 1721 when both the bubonic plague and the smallpox re-appeared in Europe and the western Atlantic.
In 1721 the bubonic plague appeared in Marseilles where it was met with religious piety and repressive quarantine. In the Dutch ports cargoes were burnt and sailors forced to swim ashore naked. In London merchants, reeling under the interruptions of their profits by the financial scandals of the South Sea Bubble, were reluctant to agree to similar measures of quarantine. The danger appeared at a conjuncture of a) rural guerilla movement in some recently exproporiated Royal forests, b) serious strikes by the industrial weavers of London, c) an urban crime wave, and d) mobs rioting against the Royal dynasty.
These instabilities took place amidst a widespread debate about the indiscipline of the working class and the desirability of establishing workhouses. The Government, therefore, called upon the Bishop of London to stress the gravity of the situation, so he hired Daniel Defoe to take up his pen to contribute to the formation of that moral panic characterizing the biomanagement of epidemic.