I happened upon this description by Dryden of London on the day of a naval battle which eventually led to the Treaty of Breda in 1667. Something of a surprise appearing as it does at the start of his ‘Essay of Dramatic Poesy‘ but I thought you might like his description of how it felt in a time before news media!
It was that memorable day, in the first summer of the late war, when our navy engaged the Dutch: a day wherein the two most mighty and best appointed fleets which any age had ever seen disputed the command of the greater half of the globe, the commerce of nations, and the riches of the universe…the noise of the cannon from both navies reached our ears about the City; so that all men being alarmed with it, and in dreadful suspense of the event which we knew was then deciding, every one went following the sound as his fancy led him; and leaving the town almost empty, some took towards the park, some cross the river, others down it; all seeking the noise in the depth of silence.
He describes a group of friends taking a barge and then “they made haste to shoot the bridge, and left behind them that great fall of waters which hindered them from hearing what they desired: after which, having disengaged themselves from many vessels which rode at anchor in the Thames, and almost blocked up the passage towards Greenwich, they ordered the watermen to let fall their oars more gently; and then, everyone favouring his own curiosity with a strict silence, it was not long ere they perceived the air break about them like the noise of distant thunder, or or swallows in a chimney: those little undulations of sound, athough almost vanishing before they reached them, yet still seeming to retain somewhat of their first horror which they had betwixt the fleets.”
The friends pass the time as they return home discussing poetry inspired by the thought of all the terrible verses likely to be written by “those eternal rhymers, who watch a battle with more diligence than the ravens and birds of prey”. They get back to Somerset Stairs where they disembark: “The company were all sorry to separate so soon, though a great part of the evening was already spent; and stood a while looking back at the water, which the moon-beams played upon, and made it appear like floating quick-silver…”