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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/615

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DISPOSAL OF THE DEAD.

system of a crowded country. Nature will have it so, whether we like it or not. She destines the material elements of my body to enter the vegetable world on purpose to supply another animal organism which takes my place. She wants me, and I must go. There is no help for it. When shall I follow—with quick obedience, or unwillingly, truant-like, traitor-like, to her and her grand design? Her capital is intended to bear good interest and to yield quick return; all her ways prove it—"increase and multiply" is her first and constant law. Shall her riches be hid in earth to corrupt and bear no present fruit, or be utilized, without loss of time, value, and interest, for the benefit of starving survivors? Nature hides no talent in a napkin; we, her unprofitable servants only, thwart her ways and delay the consummation of her will.

Is a practical illustration required? Nothing is easier. London was computed, by the census of 1871, to contain 3,254,260 persons, of whom 80,430 died within the year. I have come to the conclusion, after a very carefully-made estimate, that the amount of ashes and bone-earth—such as is derived by perfect combustion—belonging to and buried with those persons, is by weight about 206,820 pounds. The pecuniary value of this highly-concentrated form of animal solids is very considerable. For this bone-earth may be regarded as equivalent to at least six or seven times its weight of dried but unburned bones, as they ordinarily exist in commerce. The amount of other solid matters resolvable by burning into the gaseous food of plants, but rendered unavailable by burial for, say fifty or a hundred years or more, is about 5,584,000 pounds, the value of which is quite incalculable, but it is certainly enormous as compared with the preceding.

This is for the population of the metropolis only; that of the United Kingdom for the same year amounted to 31,483,700 persons, or nearly ten times the population of London. Taking into consideration a somewhat lower death-rate for the imperial average, it will at all events be quite within the limit of truthful statement to multiply the above quantities by nine in order to obtain the amount of valuable economic material annually diverted in the United Kingdom, for a long term of years, from its ultimate destiny by our present method of interment.

The necessary complement of this ceaseless waste of commodity most precious to organic life, and which must be replaced, or the population could not exist, is the purchase by this country of that same material from other countries less populous than our own, and which can, therefore, at present spare it. This we do to the amount of much more than half a million pounds sterling per annum.[1]

Few persons, I believe, have any notion that these importations

  1. Value of bones imported into the United Kingdom, of which by far the larger part is employed for manure, has been in 1866, £409,590; 1869, £600,029; 1872, £753,185.—Statistical Abstract, No. 20.—Spottiswoode, 1873.