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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/617

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DISPOSAL OF THE DEAD.

mineral constituents will remain in a crucible. The gases will, ere night, be consumed by plants and trees. The ashes or any portion of them may be preserved in a funeral-urn, or may be scattered on the fields, which latter is their righteous destination. No scents or balsams are needed, as on Greek and Roman piles, to overcome the noxious effluvia of a corpse burned in open air. Modern science is equal to the task of thus removing the dead of a great city without instituting any form of nuisance; none such as those we tolerate everywhere from many factories, both to air and streams. Plans for the accomplishment of this have been considered; but discussion of the subject alone is aimed at here. To treat our dead after this fashion would return millions of capital without delay to the bosom of Mother Earth, who would give us back large returns at compound interest for the deposit.

Who can doubt now that the question is one of vital economy to the people of this country? This is still no reason why it should not be considered from the point of view of sentiment. And what has sentiment to urge on behalf of the present process? Let us see what the process is.

So far as I dare! for, could I paint, in its true colors, the ghastly picture of that which happens to the mortal remains of the dearest we have lost, the page would be too deeply stained for publication. I forbear, therefore, to trace the steps of the process which begins so soon and so painfully to manifest itself after that brief hour has passed, when "she lay beautiful in death." Such loveliness as that, I agree, it might be treason to destroy, could its existence be perpetuated, and did not Nature so ruthlessly and so rapidly blight her own handy-work, in furtherance of her own grand purpose. The sentiment of the survivor on behalf of preserving the beauty of form and expression, were it possible to do so, would, I confess, go far to neutralize the argument based on utility, powerful as it is. But a glimpse of the reality which we achieve by burial would annihilate, in an instant, every sentiment for continuing that process. Nay, more, it would arouse a powerful repugnance to the horrible notion that we too must some day become so vile and offensive, and, it may be, so dangerous; a repugnance surmountable only through the firm belief that after death the condition of the body is a matter of utter indifference to its dead life-tenant. Surely if we, the living, are to have sentiments, or to exercise any choice about the condition of our bodies after death, those sentiments and that choice must be in favor of a physical condition which cannot be thought of either as repulsive in itself or as injurious to others.

There is a source of very painful dread, as I have reason to know, little talked of, it is true, but keenly felt by many persons, at some time or another, the horror of which to some is inexpressible. It is the dread of premature burial; the fear lest some deep trance should be mistaken for death, and that the awakening should take place too