When H. F., the first-person narrator of Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, writes that the flight of the upper classes from London in June 1665 “filled me with very serious Thoughts,” the epistemological and figural provenance of his account of his “Thoughts” shows Defoe’s affinity with the discourse of empiricism. In what follows, I suggest that the plague compels a formal articulation of character that belies the apparently unimpeded alliance of “Sensation” and “Ideas,” a form of character that proceeds from Locke’s countervailing insistence upon a reality that cannot be sensed. The mechanical or corpuscular philosophy advanced by Robert Boyle—whose foundational development of particulate matter theory was central to Locke’s education in the 1660s—entails an etiology of the plague that never crosses the threshold of perception.


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pp. 153-167
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