WHATEVER may be said for or against cremation as a method of disposing of the bodies of the dead, frequent controversy on the subject in recent years has been the means of inducing people to give some thought to the whole matter of funeral reform.
Under a protecting cloud of sanctity, our funeral observances have been handed down unquestioned from generation to generation till the introduction of scientific cremation opened up a healthy discussion and forced the average mind to consider such things from the point of view of essentials.
We cannot give even a few moments of serious thought to cremation as opposed to earth-burial without being forced to define our real beliefs concerning an existence after death. Even orthodox minds may be surprised to discover how little assurance they have, when faced with the possibilities of a conscious sacrifice of their bodies to the flames.
Those who have but a tolerant smile for the orthodox beliefs in a spiritual existence are apt to hesitate when they contemplate the destruction of their physical bodies by a process of incineration, however scientifically it may be carried out.
"Why run any risks in so serious an experiment?" we may ask ourselves, when the grave, despite its obvious drawbacks, seems to offer, by contrast, some comparatively definite attractions.
In vain will the advocates of cremation argue the larger question of the welfare of the public health with those who have the smallest lingering doubts. A natural horror of fire is the first obstacle to be overcome if cremation is to become a general practice. Even "advanced" people dwelling in a certain garden suburb near London have been seen to cast uneasy glances at the tall chimney of the "grill room" as the crematorium is playfully called, which has been erected so conveniently at the entrance to their sylvan retreat.
The controversy between the advocates of the two methods of disposal is an old one.
At the death-bed of Gurca-Nanak, the founder of the Sikh's religion, the question arose as to whether his body should be buried--as was the custom of the Mussulmans--or cremated according to the practice of the Hindus.
Knowing their minds, Nanak ordered that flowers should be placed by the Hindus on the right of his body, and by their adversaries on the left. He promised that those offerings which remained fresh in the morning should have the disposal of his remains. After death had taken place the body was covered by a sheet. In the morning, when this was removed, nothing was found beneath it but the flowers, all of which were as fresh as when they were gathered. It is a beautiful story, but it leaves matters pretty much where they are to-day.
Looking backwards over the ages we find the method of the disposal of the dead in the following order:
2. A period of both burial and cremation or a partial burning of the body.
3. Cremation gradually becoming obsolete, and earth burial the general practice.
The Greeks and Romans originally buried their dead, but later cremation became customary.
Incineration was the general practice of the ancient world, with the exception of Egypt, which embalmed. Judea, which learnt its embalming and other practices from the Egyptians, buried in the sepulchre, and China in the earth (in accordance with the doctrine of Feng-Shin).
The Romans had so great a respect for all burial-places that the Christians were allowed to inter their dead undisturbed, whilst otherwise persecuted.
The Greeks continued both methods with a decided bias towards cremation. What was the reason underlying these preferences?
Clodd tells us "the well-nigh common practice of burning the dead in the Bronze Age was probably resorted to, as a yet more effective way of getting rid of the ghost than by the burial of the body."
Once again we shall note the primitive dread of being haunted, which plays so large a part in all our funeral customs.
Even the placing of weights on the body, and the construction of a ring-fence round it seems to have been considered as less efficacious, for to burn was to annihilate. Clodd adds "that it would be specially adopted by nomadic peoples, who, leaving their dead behind, would be unable to make provision for appeasing offerings at their graves. Hence the burning of the body to prevent the neglected ghost from following and harassing the living."
With the growth of Christianity cremation, which was generally practised, received a check, for, from the earliest times, the Christian Church put all the weight of her increasing influence against cremation and strictly forbade it to her converts; nor has she ever altered her attitude towards this form of disposal.
"The Christians execrated funeral pyres and condemned the sepultures of flames," Minucius Felix wrote in the third century, a statement which he thus qualified, "Nor do we fear, as you may suppose, any harm from this mode of sepulture, but we adhere to the old and better custom."
In considering cremation we must distinguish between the funeral pyre of the ancients and of primitive peoples, and the modern methods of scientific incineration.
The earliest pyre was merely a heap of wood upon which the body was placed, and in most cases only half destroyed, for it is no easy matter to reduce to ashes a body containing a large percentage of fluid matter. This altar-like erection must have been very nearly related to the pagan sacrifice of human and animal offerings to the gods, and may have had something to do with the Christian attitude.
Pine or other resinous wood was selected, and some light combustible materials added such as dried grass and twigs, in order to set the pyre alight. Oak and hard woods generally, that resist the flames, take twice as long in producing the same results. With these materials oil, pitch, etc., were in later use, adding much to the heat and effectiveness of the flames.
Christianity found the Romans building their pyres of pine logs constructed altar-wise. The interstices were stuffed with pitch and brushwood to which sweet-smelling gums were added, the structure being decorated with the symbolic branches of cypress. When all was prepared the uncoffined body was placed in position, and the chief mourner, with head averted, set fire to the pyre with a torch. When the whole was reduced to ashes, wine was poured on the embers to cool them. The bones were then reverently collected, washed with milk and placed with perfume in a cinerdry urn.
The poor who were unable to do things on such a lavish scale had to rest contented with cheaper and less effective methods; as an alternative they could bury their dead in the catacombs, or cast them with the slaves into a common pit.
These cruder forms of destroying the body by fire are still to be met with in certain parts of the world.
In Siam the ceremony of cremating a king is, or was, conducted with an elaborate ritual.
The body was placed in a sitting posture in a special form of chair, beneath which reposed a golden vessel. A quantity of mercury having been poured down the throat to dry up the body, a golden mask was put over the face of the dead ruler. A grand procession of state visited the body each day and ceremoniously emptied the fluid from the jar into the river. When the body was sufficiently dried it was placed in a large urn, where it remained for about a year. Meanwhile preparations were made for the final ceremony.
Logs of the finest sandal wood were collected in the forests to form a catafalque some three hundred feet in height, to which the body was presently brought by a procession of great magnificence to be deposited on the summit of the pyre. For seven days public games took place in honour of the occasion, as the Romans honoured their dead by gladiator shows.
The final act was the ceremonial lighting of the pyre by the heir to the throne. After the flames had done their work the ashes were collected, mixed with clay and distributed as souvenirs amongst the people.
In the times of plague or war cremation has sometimes been excused by those who were otherwise opposed to the practice.
We have a curious instance of its use as a precautionary measure in the romantic circumstances attending the cremation of the body of the poet Shelley.
Many of those to whom the picture depicting the event is familiar (the original hangs in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) might suppose that the method of disposal was chosen in this instance by the poet as a dramatic ending to a romantic career; or it might be thought that Byron, who was present, was responsible for the unusual arrangements. The facts are worth recalling. Shelley and his friend Williams were travelling in Italy when they were both drowned. A good deal of mystery surrounded the accident, it having been suggested that their boat was purposely capsized. The bodies were not recovered for some ten days after the catastrophe, when they were washed up in different parts of the shore at Via Reggio. Here they were temporarily buried in the sand whilst the authorities made the necessary arrangements for their cremation.
The fact is that there was no option in the matter, for, according to Italian law, anything washed up from the sea must be burnt on the shore where it is found. This is an old precautionary measure against the introduction of plague into a sea-girt country which has suffered so often from such visitations. A military guard was at once dispatched to the spot in order to see that the regulations in force were strictly adhered to. The soldiers collected driftwood from the beach and pine logs from an adjacent forest for the funeral pyre, and a grid of iron was provided in order to secure a proper combustion on which the wood was piled. These arrangements were carried out under the personal supervision of an officer from the Office of Health. The body of Williams was cremated first, and that of Shelley on the following day. Frankincense, salt, wine and oil were thrown on to the burning pyre, and in a few hours all that remained of the poet's body--except the heart, which was recovered from the flames--was gathered up to be interred in the Protestant cemetery of Rome, where Keats had been buried.
Leigh Hunt witnessed the proceedings with much emotion from Byron's carriage, whilst Byron, unable to bear the sickening odours, left before the body was consumed. "Don't repeat this with me," he said. "Let my carcase rot where it falls."
It is safe to say that if no better methods of incineration had been devised than those which have been described nothing would have been heard of the modern revival.
Before we follow the introduction and growth of scientific cremation let us see what inducement it offered as compared to burial.
In the year 1658 Sir Thomas Browne published a quaint book entitled "Hydriutaphia or Non-Burial," but it was Sir Henry Thompson who first seriously brought the matter to public notice in this country.
If we would discover in what spirit he approached the subject we cannot do better than examine the actual terms of the problem he had set himself to solve.
"Given a dead body to resolve it into carbonic acid, water and ammonia, rapidly, safely and not unpleasantly."
We may be amused to find the scientific mind throwing in as a last clause or sop to suit more delicate stomachs, "that the process should not be unpleasant.'"
The early advocate of the scientific system drew the most encouraging pictures of the commercial value of their proposals. The actual number of tons of bone imported into this country for the purposes of manufacture and manure was most carefully computed, and the benefit to the community in pounds, shillings and pence to be derived from human remains, formed what they supposed would be one of their most convincing arguments. Yet another proposition which was seriously set forth in favour of cremation was the possibility of producing gas for lighting purposes by means of a retort or kind of "mortuary gasometer."
As a French writer observed, "If you want to prevent cremation in France--a country which has a deep veneration for her dead--you cannot do better than spread abroad such arguments as these."
But, after all, it is a point of view. If we are quite satisfied that a corpse is simply so much fat, so much water, ammonia, lime and so forth, and nothing else, what possible harm can there be in separating such parts from the whole as would be usefully employed for manufacture or agricultural purposes.
Many eminent scientists as well as others have bequeathed their remains to science. Jeremy Bentham, the famous philosopher, left his body to the University College Hospital, where it was preserved, fully dressed, and may be seen by the curious. Sir Victor Horsley bequeathed his skull and brain to the Neurological Society of London, but his untimely death in Mesopotamia prevented the fulfilment of the promise.
We have read of the methods alleged to have been adopted by the Germans in their "Kadavar Utilization Establishment," a commercial enterprise, about which full and gruesome stories were related. We were told that the corpses from the battlefields, neatly tied up in bundles, find their way to this establishment. Here they are passed on by a system of endless chains from one process to another, leaving behind them all sorts of valuable by-products, particularly those of which a shortage existed in the enemy countries. But why not? Whence the horror which was expressed, be the facts true or otherwise. Here we have a materialistically minded nation putting into practice in times of stress, those principles advocated by the pioneers of cremation in times of peace, namely the use of the bodies of the dead for utilitarian purposes.
The position is surely logical if we believe that a corpse is so much decaying flesh--and nothing more.
About the time that the advocates of cremation started their propaganda, science was in the main not only opposed to the spiritual aspects of death, but was considered by many as the appointed means by which a purely materialistic conception would be brought about. As we know, the unexpected happened, and some of our leading scientists to-day are not only taking us in the opposite direction, but leading us both farther and faster than many of us are inclined to be led. Let us remember that the utilization of human remains was not the only claim put forward in favour of the funeral reforms advocated. For instance, the pioneers insisted that the compulsory cremation of all persons dying of infectious diseases would do very much towards stamping out certain epidemics.
They further claimed that by doing away with the burial grounds, not only would the public health be safeguarded but that a vast acreage of land, instead of lying idle, could be put under cultivation and a considerable revenue gained thereby. These ideas were the main arguments put forward by the cremationists.
To many minds, they went a long way in establishing a reasonable case against earth burial. Leaving aside as a separate question the use of the bodies of the dead for utilitarian purposes (a doctrine which is certainly repugnant to a vast majority of people) we have two main claims to consider; first, the utilization of land which would otherwise be conserved as burial grounds for an indefinite period, with the consequent loss of revenue; and secondly, that cremation is a cleaner and a more expeditious method, and as such, a necessity in the interests of the public health.
It is the latter which appeals to the majority of those who prefer incineration to the thought of bodies rotting in a grave.
Before dealing with what we may term the "spiritual" side of the matter, let us see what reply the defenders of earth burial give to the challenge of the cremationists, "that the interment of bodies in the earth is necessarily dangerous to the living."
Dr. Brouardel, the eminent French authority, who had spent the greater part of his life in the study of various aspects of death, gives the following, based on the result of exhaustive experiments: "I believe that when coffins are placed from five to six and a half feet deep, and covered with earth, the hydrogen and hydrocarbons which are given off during decomposition are absorbed by the thickness of the earth," a result which is consistent with general experience.
As a reply to the argument that a large and valuable area of ground is locked up and rendered profitless by its use as cemeteries and burial grounds, the critic Amedee Latour said, that "had cremation been the accepted form of disposal since the time of Socrates, humanity would have died out long since, as a result of cold brought about by the destruction of all the available combustible materials."
To this, Marini, the exponent of cremation, objects that whilst it might have been so had the old funeral pyre been used, modern methods render anything of the kind impossible.
Even from the strictly utilitarian point of view, there are very reasonable objections to be raised against the practice of cremation, when we consider how much of our knowledge of the past is derived from what we have discovered in the graves of the ancients--how great would have been our loss had the funeral fires swept everything before them, leaving us at the most a few urns full of unprofitable ashes.
But a still stronger argument against cremation is the very great incentive it affords to crime.
Sir Henry Thompson realized this, and he suggested an expedient as a means of overcoming the difficulty which is hardly convincing.
Two carboys were to be supplied, one in which the stomach would be preserved, and a second to be provided for the intestines in case the interests of justice necessitated a post-mortem examination being made for poison. The suggestion is ridiculous, and in practice open to fraud. As to the sanitary side of the question--the less said about it the better.
It was probably with a view to preventing crime that stringent laws were in force against cremation, till recently modified by the insistence of the pioneers of the modern movement.
In France it was illegal till the year 1889, when it was allowed under certain restrictions. The safeguard provided against foul play is absurd.
Two doctors have to view the corpse before incineration, and give a certificate of death to the authorities--a precaution which is ridiculed by Dr. Brouardel as hopelessly inadequate without an analysis which is not even suggested by French law, and certainly could not be insisted upon in general practice.
The first serious experiments in modern cremation were carried out by Brunetti in Italy in the year 1869. The apparatus bearing his name was exhibited in Vienna in 1873, the process being conducted in the open.
A later contrivance invented by Siemens was of the closed type.
We shall not be surprised to find that Germany was early in the field, having erected an apparatus in Gotha in the year 1878. Between the years 1887 and 1906 nearly every country in Europe had erected a crematorium.
The French installed the Gorini furnaces, a municipal venture first used for the destruction of anatomical parts from the hospitals and later for those who had died of smallpox. The first building erected disgusted the art-loving Parisian who likened it to a "dust destructor" or "sewage farm," for it certainly compared very unfavourably with the English efforts at Woking.
In the early forms of incineration, the body placed on the pyre was literally roasted by the flames, and reduced to a cinder.
The first scientific efforts were in the direction of the forming of a wall of flame, covering but not touching the body. In its perfected state, a light pine shell is provided in which the body reposes wrapped in a flannel shroud. The coffin is placed on a platform during the funeral service, at the conclusion of which, mechanism set in motion by a lever in the chapel, carries the coffin out of sight of those present on its way to the furnace, where coffin and body are soon reduced to ashes by the intensity of the heat.
To burn a special form of furnace-coke in a forced draught is a very different and much less costly matter than the old method of burning wood, as used by the ancients. If a sufficient demand existed to keep the modern type of furnace at the proper temperature, the cost of a cremation need not exceed half a crown.
The first cremation at Woking took place on March 26th, 1885, the "Gorini" furnace being used.
The first "sublect" was a woman, a fact which appears to have been overlooked by the leaders of the "Woman's Movement," for purposes of propaganda, and to whom the writer respectfully commends it.
Three years later, nearly a hundred bodies had been dealt with, and the accommodation was improved by the erection of further buildings.
The necessary funds in the early days of the movement in England were subscribed by a few ardent reformers, amongst whom the Dukes of Bedford and Westminster took a large share of the financial responsibilities. The Duke of Bedford provided a private crematorium for the exclusive use of his family, which was first used at his own death in 1891.
In France, any person of age has the right to dispose of his or her body by will to be either buried or cremated as they may desire. These instructions are legally binding on the executors, who render themselves liable to a considerable fine in the event of non-compliance. This opens up an interesting point, for very strong views are commonly held on the matter.
In this country a person ceases to have any legal control of his body at the moment of death, so that one wishing to be cremated or buried is the case may be, whose relatives are likely to take an opposite view of the matter, must resort to a trick.
Property should be left in these circumstances to those responsible for the disposal of the body, conditionally upon the wishes expressed being faithfully fulfilled.
A good story illustrating the point was told by the late Sir Benjamin Richardson--one of the early advocates of cremation.
An old gentleman called on Sir Benjamin one day. He stated that he had been so much impressed by what he had read on the subject that he most earnestly desired that his body should be cremated at his death, but his family would not hear of such a thing. In these circumstances he begged Sir Benjamin to consent to act as executor in order that his wishes might be carried out. Sir Benjamin explained the legal position, and suggested his visitor should leave a large sum of money to the cremation society in the event of objections being raised by his daughter, who would otherwise receive his fortune.
Shortly after this interview the old gentleman died. Almost immediately Sir Benjamin received a visit from a clergyman, who said he had heard of his father-in-law's peculiar desire to be cremated, but he was sorry to say he could not allow this to take place as both he and his wife held very strong views on the subject. Sir Benjamin Richardson observed "that of course if it was really against the wishes of the family he could do nothing to prevent them disposing of the body by burial, but," he added, "as a matter of fact, I'm jolly glad, for in that case my society will benefit to the extent of something like ten thousand pounds." This unexpected announcement produced the desired effect.
On the following day Sir Benjamin received a letter from the clergyman, who wrote that after due consideration the family had decided that as it would be a greater sin to allow the money to go to the society they withdrew all opposition to the cremation of their relative's remains.
It has been stated that from the earliest times to the present the voice of the Christian Church has ever been emphatically raised against any form of cremation. It is true that since its introduction into this country less than fifty years ago a number of the laity and even the clergy of the Established Church, as also those of various other Protestant bodies, have submitted to this form of disposal, but they have done so as a matter of individual preference and on the strength of a personal opinion. They have ignored, not denied, what history makes so perfectly and indisputably clear, that since the inception of Christianity it has been not only a non-Christian practice but one that was strictly forbidden. In dealing with the Christian standpoint we must therefore differentiate, without making any invidious distinction, between those who without denying a tradition hold an individual opinion, and act as their private inclination dictates, and those who place the Christian tradition before their individual preferences. Generally speaking, however, the advocates and supporters of the modern crematorium are those who, for want of a better term, may be described as "free thinkers."
Superficially, the reason why the Early Church objected to the funeral pyre is that the body of its Founder was burled, but this in itself can hardly be called a logical reason. Traditionally, the body was not buried in the earth, as we bury, but walled up in a sepulchre, according to the manner of the Jews.
We have considered reasons given by early Christian writers for such common funeral practices as the ceremonious washing of the dead, "because this was done to the body of our Lord." In view of the fact that these were customs of Jewish origin we must trace them further back than the Christian era if we wish to know something more about them. The Jews notoriously acted in all matters affecting personal cleanliness and hygiene with an extraordinary discernment.
How great was the horror of cremation among the Jews is clear from the fact that the burning of the body was added to the death penalty as a final indignity, much in the same manner as a felon was condemned at one time by the laws of our own country, first to be hanged, then drawn and quartered.
The burning of the body of Saul might seem to be a remarkable exception to the rule, but the immediate circumstances must be taken into account. In the first place, Saul died by his own hand, and secondly, his mutilated remains were secured only by a dangerous expedient from the victorious Philistines. In this case, if we follow the narrative, we shall find a strong supposition that the remains were thus destroyed by fire as the only means of saving them from greater indignities. The matter is still further elucidated by the fact that the burning of the body was held to account for the three years of famine in the time of David.
Modern orthodox Jews oppose cremation as "not in consonance with the spirit of Judaism." Dr. Herman Adler, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, pronounced it "a violation of Jewish laws."
More liberal minds have held that it is the duty of a Rabbi to officiate if asked to do so at the funeral of a co-religionist, rather than to refuse on the grounds that cremation is an anti-Jewish practice. Others would give their services as ministers of religion, but retire before the actual cremation. Such instances are, however, quite modern and notable as exceptions only.
The Jews, believing that the stages, of decay in the grave were experienced as physical pain by the deceased as an atonement for sins, might very well hesitate to commit their remains to the flames.
A Jew recently deceased, left a remarkably unorthodox provision in his will, insisting amongst other things that he should be cremated and the ashes cast to the winds without any religious ceremony or memorial.
A representative of the Daily News, wishing to learn the attitude of the Jewish community on the matter, approached the Chevra Kadisha, one of the leading Jewish societies connected with the rites of the dead. Here he learned that "the Society has on several occasions deprecated cremation as opposed to the sentiment and spirit of Judaism."
It would seem, therefore, that whether the Christian merely adopted the Jewish custom because it was Jewish, and despised cremation because it was pagan--or if they disposed of the body of their Founder in the Jewish manner for some separate reason--the fact remains that neither Jews nor Christians can be cremated without violating the most ancient and sacred traditions of their respective beliefs.
That such reasons will not deter many professing either faith from so disposing of their bodies goes without saying.
The revival of psychic investigation came much into vogue about the same time as scientific cremation. The growth of this cult has been very remarkable, and it may be interesting to note what the modern occultist has to say about the matter. Amongst a lot of contradictory experiences we gather that it is generally held that the spiritual counterpart or personality does not leave the body for a considerable time after death, and that it is attached meanwhile to the seats of the emotions by a cord visible to those who are psychic. Any violent interruption of the slow processes of nature is therefore harmful. In this connection it is interesting to remember that the Jews did not seal the sepulchre after the dead had been deposited there till three days after death had taken place, during which time the relatives constantly visited the tomb hoping that signs of returning life might be manifested.
In the ancient world the Egyptians are credited with a very special knowledge of occult matters, and they performed very many most elaborate rites for the dead, with which the Israelites became familiar, having learnt embalming from them. To this nation incineration was utterly opposed to their traditional practices.
Without any attempt to dogmatize on a subject about which really very little is defined, even a superficial study of the question of cremation will show us that this method of disposal is certainly not a necessity from the sanitary point of view. That it introduced a certain element of danger in the hands of the criminal, and that it is directly opposed to western practice and tradition.
It may be said in favour of cremation that it is both quick and cleanly, and that it dispenses with the necessity of burial grounds. In its place we have the "columbary" or dove-cot, so called from the niches or pigeon holes it provides for the cinerary urns containing the ashes. These receptacles, which may be hired for a term of years, take up so little space that it would be difficult to spend any large sums of money on their adornment.
In this matter they certainly have an advantage over the grave. As a rule a marble lining and a bronze grille enclosing the aperture is the sum total of extravagance. Needless to add that in most cases the vulgarity and shoddy ugliness peculiar to the undertaker's works has left its impress on the urn and casket. The inscription is invariably lettered in the worst possible style, or perhaps more correctly in no style at all.
Here and there, as the eye wanders over row upon row of niches, an exception may be found, designed perhaps by an artist, and not selected from the catalogue of the trader.
With such exceptions, by far the best receptacles are those which are either actual replicas of, or designs based on the ancient Greek or Roman examples found in the catacombs and elsewhere.
Undoubtedly the revival of cremation has necessitated the reconsideration of many funeral practices, and it might be reasonably hoped that "grave goods" would have been abolished amongst other things.
This unfortunately is not the case, for it is quite common to find in the niches sentimental offerings for the solace of the departed spirit--if for any other purpose what is the object of placing it in or near the urn, photographs of relations, artificial flowers, favoured volumes of poetry and other personal trifles?
In view of the fact that the Dismal Trader has been responsible for conserving from one generation to another the rags and tatters of pagan survivals, it may be interesting to inquire what are the views of the modern undertaker on the sublect of cremation, but let him speak for himself. The following is an extract from a letter written by an undertaker to the editor of the Undertaker's Journal:
"Has the undertaker considered the value of cremation from the commercial point of view? Looking it straight in the face, I think if it became more general the undertakers would not be required to supply much in the way of 'beautiful caskets,' and possibly at times the crudest and cheapest form of coffin would be used to convey the body to the crematorium. If such is the case," he continues, "the undertakers are acting in a most noble and unselfish manner in advocating cremation, or they have failed to realize the importance from this point and possibly have never considered the value of embalming."
Here, then, we have a frank and unvarnished admission of a fact that cannot be too widely recognized, namely, that the undertaker is a tradesman, and as such we must expect him to "push" the line which brings in most grist to his mill, and as long as the public is foolish enough to be gulled by his "pinkings and prickets" he is going to provide them--naturally!
Before leaving the subject of cremation there is one little matter which seems worth attention.
When the dramatic moment arrives for the coffin to pass from the sight of the mourners on its way to destruction, and before it goes forward to its fiery ordeal, the undertaker "behind the scenes" is given an opportunity to remove the "beautiful furniture" with which the coffin is provided.
The writer was informed by an undertaker that it was "generally hired," a fact which no doubt is always made quite clear to the distressed relatives when the funeral arrangements are made. But there seems a possibility of this little matter being forgotten as a case reported recently in the daily press seems to indicate. A lady saw a coffin-plate bearing her husband's name exhibited as an advertisement in the window of an undertaker, whom she promptly and successfully sued. This leads one to wonder what happens to the coffin or casket in similar circumstances. Cannot one imagine as the great craftsman contemplates the labour and artistry of his craft about to be ruthlessly and even needlessly committed to the flames, that he may desire to "snatch" from the burning, so to speak, the child of his creation, not overlooking, of course, to deduct its second-hand value from the bill.
We have seen the ancient practice of embalming recommended to the trade as a more profitable matter than cremation.
If we know anything at all of the activities of the modern undertaker we must have noted that the study of scientific embalming is receiving at the present time the greatest attention from all progressive members of the trade.
Even Canada has its "Embalmers' Association," and we find their annual convention being "opened with prayer," for prayer is, of course, more or less connected with the business, and the undertaker generally, and particularly the embalmer is a great stickler for niceties, as the following quotations will show.
A gentleman described as a Professor, in speaking on the subject of embalming, urges the necessity of a close attention to detail. For instance, he advises that "the body should be laid in a comfortable position in the casket." "Everything just exactly as you would like to have it done for one of your own family," he advises. In order to demonstrate the point he gives us an instance within his own experience of neglect in such matters. It appears that a young friend of the Professor had died unexpectedly "in the East," the body being embalmed and forwarded to him, presumably for burial. The embalming seems to have satisfied an expert examination, but other things were most irregular. "They had put a suit on him," we are told, "but the trousers were turned up"--evidently not the permanent turn up so often recommended by the tailor, "for straw and stuff" were disclosed in the folds. Moreover, the clothes had not been brushed, "Fortunately," says the Professor, "the body came to my establishment, but suppose it had gone home first!" There were other marks of carelessness exhibited in this particular instance, which were, no doubt, put right with a generous hand.
"I don't object to spraying the casket and lining with some nice perfume in order to get the odour of flowers instead of the odour of death," he continues, and one cannot help wondering if there must be an odour of some kind, if the honest and homely smell of carbolic or some other clean disinfectant would not be preferable to a choice blend of corpse and camellias recommended by the Professor.
What is there to be said for or against embalming? From the point of view of the trade it has no doubt very much to commend it, for you can sell your richest, most beautiful casket and obtain in addition a liberal fee for embalming.
In cases where a body is brought from a distance, certainly some such sanitary methods might be usefully employed, but we have still to be convinced that there is any circumstance or combination of circumstances where the removal of a body from the place where death occurs is either necessary or advisable.