Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/614

This page has been validated.
596
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

we may have done of harm to others during life. But, being deceased, I take it we can have no wishes or feelings touching this subject. What is best to be done with the dead is then mainly a question for the living, and to them it is one of extreme importance. When the globe was thinly-peopled, and when there were no large bodies of men living in close neighborhood, the subject was an inconsiderable one and could afford to wait, and might indeed be left for its solution to sentiment of any kind. But the rapid increase of population forces it into notice, and especially man's tendency to live in crowded cities. There is no necessity to prove, as the fact is too patent, that our present mode of treating the dead, namely, that by burial beneath the soil, is full of danger to the living. Hence intramural interment has been recently forbidden, first step in a series of reforms which must follow. At present we who dwell in towns are able to escape much evil by selecting a portion of ground distant—in this year of grace 1873—some five or ten miles from any very populous neighborhood, and by sending our dead to be buried there—laying by poison nevertheless, it is certain, for our children's children, who will find our remains polluting their water-sources, when that now distant plot is covered, as it will be, more or less closely by human dwellings. For it can be a question of time only when every now waste spot will be utilised for food-production or for shelter, and when some other mode of disposing of the dead than that of burial must be adopted. If, therefore, burial in the soil be certainly injurious either now or in the future, has not the time already come to discuss the possibility of replacing it by a better process? We cannot too soon cease to do evil and learn to do well. Is it not indeed a social sin of no small magnitude to sow the seeds of disease and death broadcast, caring only to be certain that they cannot do much harm to our own generation? It may be granted, to anticipate objection, that it is quite possible that the bodies now buried may have lost most, if not all, their power of doing mischief by the time that the particular soil they inhabit is turned up again to the sun's rays, although this is by no means certain; but it is beyond dispute that the margin of safety as to time grows narrower year by year, and that pollution of wells and streams which supply the living must ere long arise wherever we bury our dead in this country. Well, then, since every buried dead body enters sooner or later into the vegetable kingdom, why should we permit it, as it does in many cases, to cause an infinity of mischief during the long process?

Let us at this point glance at the economic view of the subject, for it is not so unimportant as, unconsidered, it may appear. For it is an economic subject whether we will it or not. No doubt a sentiment repugnant to any such view must arise in many minds, a sentiment altogether to be held in respect and sympathy. Be it so; the question remains strictly a question of prime necessity in the economic