Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/616

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of foreign bones are rendered absolutely necessary by the hoarding of our own some six feet below the surface. The former we acquire at a large cost for the original purchase and for freight. The latter we place, not in the upper soil where they would be utilized, but in the lower soil, where they are not merely useless, but where they often mingle with and pollute the streams which furnish our tables. And, in order to effect this absurd, if not wicked result, we incur a lavish expenditure! I refer, of course, to the enormous sums which are wasted in effecting burial according to our present custom, a part of the question which can by no means be passed over. For the funeral rites of the 80,000 in London last year, let a mean cost of ten pounds per head be accepted as an estimate which certainly does not err on the side of excess.[1] Eight hundred thousand pounds must therefore be added as absolute loss, to the costs already incurred in the maintenance of the system. Thus we pay every way and doubly for our folly.

What, then, is it proposed to substitute for this custom of burial? The answer is easy and simple. Do that which is done in all good work of every kind—follow Nature's indication, and do the work she does, but do it better and more rapidly. For example, in the human body she sometimes throws off a diseased portion in order to save life, by slow and clumsy efforts, it is true, and productive of much suffering; the surgeon performs the same task more rapidly and better, follows her lead, and improves on it. Nature's many agents, laden with power, the over-action of which is harmful, we cannot stop, but we tame, guide, and make them our most profitable servants. So here, also, let us follow her. The naturally slow and disagreeable process of decomposition which we have made by one mode of treatment infinitely more slow and not less repulsive, we can, by another mode of treatment, greatly shorten, and accomplish without offense to the living. What in this particular matter is naturally the work of weeks or months, can be perfectly done in an hour or two.

The problem to be worked is: Given a dead body, to resolve it into carbonic acid, water, and ammonia, and the mineral elements, rapidly, safely, and not unpleasantly.

The answer may be practically supplied in a properly-constructed furnace. The gases can be driven off without offensive odor the

  1. Items comprised in the calculation: 1. Cost of shroud, coffin, labor of digging a grave—essential now in all burials. 2. Cost of funeral-carriages, horses, trappings, and accoutrements.
    Ornamental coffins in wood and metal.
    Vaults and monumental art—more or less employed in all funerals above the rank of pauper.

    The cost of simple modes of transit is not included in the calculation, because necessary in any case, whatever the destination of the body. The above-named items are only necessary in the case of interment in a grave; and not one would be required, for example, in the case of cremation, or burning of the body.