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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/613

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DISPOSAL OF THE DEAD.

velous and beautiful example of intimate relation between the two kingdoms.

I return to consider man's interference with the process in question just hinted at in the quotation, "Bury the dead out of my sight."

The process of decomposition affecting an animal body is one that has a disagreeable, injurious, often fatal influence on the living man if sufficiently exposed to it. Thousands of human lives have been cut short by the poison of slowly-decaying and often diseased animal matter. Even the putrefaction of some of the most insignificant animals has sufficed to destroy the noblest. To give an illustration which comes nearly home to some of us—the graveyard pollution of air and water alone has probably found a victim in some social circle known to more than one who may chance to read this paper. And I need hardly add that in times of pestilence its continuance has been often due mainly to the poisonous influence of the buried victims.

Man, then, throughout all historic periods, has got rid of his dead kin after some fashion. He has either hidden the body in a cave and closed the opening to protect its tenant from wild beasts, for the instinct of affection follows most naturally even the sadly-changed remains of our dearest relative; or, the same instinct has led him to embalm and preserve as much as may be so preservable—a delay only of Nature's certain work—or the body is buried beneath the earth's surface, in soil, in wood, in stone, or metal—each mode another contrivance to delay, but never to prevent, the inevitable change. Or, the body is burned, and so restored at once to its original elements, in which case Nature's work is hastened, her design anticipated, that is all. And, after burning, the ashes may be wholly or in part preserved in some receptacle in obedience to the instinct of the survivor, referred to above. All forms of sepulture come more or less under one of these heads.[1]

One of the many social questions waiting to be solved, and which must be solved at no very remote period, is, Which of these various forms of treatment of the dead is the best for survivors?

This question may be regarded from two points of view, both possessing importance, not equally perhaps; but neither can be ignored.

A. From the point of view of Utility; as to what is best for the entire community.

B. From the point of view of Sentiment; the sentiment of affectionate memory for the deceased, which is cherished by the survivor.

I assume that there is no point of view to be regarded as belonging to the deceased person, and that no one believes that the dead has any interest in the matter. We who live may anxiously hope—as I should hope at least—to do no evil to survivors after death, whatever

  1. "Burial at sea" is a form of exposure, the body being rapidly devoured by marine animals.