Edwin Chadwick.

Report on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty's principal secretary of state for the Home department online

. (page 21 of 27)
Online LibraryEdwin ChadwickReport on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty's principal secretary of state for the Home department → online text (page 21 of 27)
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insult. With burial grounds that are undrained, for example, the
associations expressed by the labouring classes on the occasion of
burial there, are similar to those which would arise on plunging a
sentient body into a “watery grave.” Where there is nothing visible to
raise such painful associations, a feeling of dislike is manifested to
the “common” burial grounds in crowded districts, or to their
“dreariness” in the districts which are the least frequented.

The Rev. H. H. Milman, the rector of St. Margaret’s, Westminster,
probably adverts to these associations when questioned before the
Committee of the House of Commons with reference to the expediency of
discontinuing burial in his own parish.

2744. In reference to the churchyard of St. Margaret’s, is that full
or not?—It is very full.

2745. Can you with convenience inter there?—My own opinion is, that
interment ought to be discontinued there for several reasons; not
because I have ever heard of any noxious effect upon the health of
the neighbourhood, _but on account of the public situation; it is a
thoroughfare_, and, in point of fact, it has been a cemetery so
long, and it is so crowded, that interment cannot take place without
interfering with previous interments.

Mr. Wordsworth, in a paper first published by Mr. Coleridge, has thus
expressed the same sentiments, and the feelings, which it is submitted,
are entitled to regard, in legislating upon this subject:—

“In ancient times, as is well known, it was the custom to bury the dead
beyond the walls of towns and cities, and among the Greeks and Romans
they were frequently interred by the way sides.

“I could here pause with pleasure, and invite the reader to indulge with
me in contemplation of the advantages which must have attended such a
practice. We might ruminate on the beauty which the monuments thus
placed must have borrowed from the surrounding images of nature, from
the trees, the wild flowers, from a stream running within sight or
hearing, from the beaten road, stretching its weary length hard by. Many
tender similitudes must these objects have presented to the mind of the
traveller, leaning upon one of the tombs, or reposing in the coolness of
its shades, whether he had halted from weariness, or in compliance with
the invitation, ‘Pause traveller,’ so often found upon the monuments.
And to its epitaph must have been supplied strong appeals to visible
appearances or immediate impressions, lively and affecting analogies of
life as a journey—death as a sleep overcoming the tired wayfarer—of
misfortune as a storm that falls suddenly upon him—of beauty as a flower
that passeth away, or of innocent pleasure as one that may be
gathered—of virtue that standeth firm as a rock against the beating
waves, of hope undermined insensibly like the poplar by the side of the
river that has fed it, or blasted in a moment like a pine tree by the
stroke of lightning on the mountain top—of admonitions and
heart-stirring remembrances, like a refreshing breeze that comes without
warning, or the taste of the waters of an unexpected fountain. These and
similar suggestions must have given formerly, to the language of the
senseless stone, a voice enforced and endeared by the benignity of that
nature with which it was in unison.

“We in modern times have lost much of these advantages; and they are but
in a small degree counter-balanced to the inhabitants of large towns and
cities, by the custom of depositing the dead within or contiguous to
their places of worship, however splendid or imposing may be the
appearance of those edifices, or however interesting or salutary may be
the associations connected with them. Even were it not true, that tombs
lose their monitory virtue when thus obtruded upon the notice of men
occupied with the cares of the world, and too often sullied and defiled
by those cares; yet still, when death is in our thoughts, nothing can
make amends for the want of the soothing influences of nature, and for
the absence of those types of renovation and decay which the fields and
woods offer to the notice of the serious and contemplative mind. To feel
the force of this sentiment, let a man only compare, in imagination, the
unsightly manner in which our monuments are crowded together in the
busy, noisy, unclean, and almost grassless churchyard of a large town,
with the still seclusion of a Turkish cemetery in some remote place, and
yet further sanctified by the grove of cypress in which it is

§ 173. Careful visible arrangements, of an agreeable nature, raise
corresponding mental images and associations which diminish the terrors
incident to the aspect of death. Individuals who have purchased portions
of decorated cemeteries for their own interment in the metropolis, make
a practice of visiting them for the sake, doubtless, of those solemn but
tranquil thoughts which the place inspires as personally connected with
themselves. The establishment of a cemetery at Highgate was strongly
opposed by the inhabitants, but when its decorations with flowers and
shrubs and trees, and its quiet and seclusion were seen, applications
were made for the purchase of keys, which conferred the privilege of
walking in the cemetery at whatever time the purchaser pleased. If the
chief private cemeteries in the suburbs of the metropolis were thrown
open on a Sunday, they would on fine days be often thronged by a
respectful population. Such private cemeteries as have been formed,
though pronounced to be only improvements on the places of burial in
this country, and far below what it would yet be practicable to
accomplish, have indisputably been viewed with public satisfaction, and
have created desires of further advances by the erection of national
cemeteries. Abroad the national cemeteries have obtained the deepest
hold on the affections of the population. I have been informed by an
accomplished traveller, who has carefully observed their effects, that
cemeteries have been established near to all the large towns in the
United States. To some of these cemeteries an horticultural garden is
attached; the garden walks being connected with the places of interment,
which, though decorated, are kept apart. Those cemeteries are places of
public resort, and are there observed, as in other countries, to have a
powerful effect in soothing the feelings of those who have departed
friends, and in refining the feelings of all. At Constantinople, the
place of promenade for Europeans is the cemetery at Pera, which is
planted with cypress, and has a delightful position on the side of a
hill overlooking the Golden Horn. The greatest public cemetery attached
to that capital is at Scutari, which forms a beautiful grove, and
disputes in attraction, as a place for readers, with the fountains and
cloisters of the Mosques.

§ 174. In Russia, almost every town of importance has its burial place
at a distance from the town, laid out by the architect of the
government. It is always well planted with trees, and is frequently
ornamented with good pieces of sculpture. Nearly every German town has
its cemetery at a distance from the town, planted with trees and
ornamented with public and private monuments. Most of the cemeteries
have some choice works of art or public monument, which alone would
render them an object of attraction. For instance, at Saxe Weimar, the
cemetery contains the tombs of Goethe and Schiller placed in the
mausoleum of the ducal family. In Turkey, Russia, and Germany the poorer
classes have the advantages of interment in the national cemeteries. In
Russia it is the practice to hold festivals twice a-year over the graves
of their friends. In several parts of Germany similar customs prevail.
At Munich, the festival on All Saints’ Day (November the 1st) is
described as one of the most extraordinary spectacles that is to be seen
in Europe.[33] The tombs are decorated in a most remarkable manner with
flowers, natural and artificial, branches of trees, canopies, pictures,
sculptures, and every conceivable object that can be applied to ornament
or decorate. The labour bestowed on some tombs requires so much time,
that it is commenced two or three days beforehand, and protected while
going on by a temporary roof. During the whole of the night preceding
the 1st of November, the relations of the dead are occupied in
completing the decoration of the tombs, and during the whole of All
Saints’ Day and the day following, being All Souls’ Day, the cemetery is
visited by the entire population of Munich, including the king and
queen, who go there on foot, and many strangers from distant parts. Mr.
Loudon states that, when he was there, it was estimated that 50,000
persons had walked round the cemetery in one day, the whole, with very
few exceptions, dressed in black. On November the 3rd, about mid-day,
the more valuable decorations are removed, and the remainder left to
decay from the effects of time and weather.

§ 175. A review of the circumstances influencing the public feeling, and
of the tendencies marked by the recent changes of practice in this
country, and of the effects of the public institutions for interment
amongst other civilised nations, enforce the conclusion that those
arrangements to which the attention of the population is so earnestly
directed, should be made with the greatest care, and that places of
public burial demand the highest order of art in laying out the sites,
and decorating them with trees and architectural structures of a solemn
and elevating character. National arrangements with such objects, would
be followed up and supported by the munificence of private individuals,
and by various communities. It is observable in the metropolis, and in
the larger towns that the direction of private feeling in the choice of
sepulture is less affected by locality or neighbourhood, than by classes
of profession or occupation, or social communion when living, and that
such feeling would tend to association in the grave and monumental
decoration. A proposal has been in circulation for the purchase of a
portion of one of the new cemeteries, for the erection of a mausoleum
for persons of the naval and military professions—members of the United
Service clubs. At the public cemetery of Mayence are interred 150
veteran soldiers, officers and privates, natives of the town, who were
buried in one spot, denoted by a monument on which each man’s name and
course of service is inscribed in gold letters, and the monument is
surmounted by a statue of the general under whom they served. At Berlin
there is a cemetery connected with the _Invaleiden haus_ founded by
Frederick the Great, in which many of the generals are buried with the
private soldiers. The ground is well laid out, and ornamented with
monuments, the latest of which are executed by Tieck, and other
celebrated sculptors. This cemetery forms the favourite walk of the old
soldiers. The great moral force, and the consolation to the dying and
the incentive to public spirit whilst living, derivable from the natural
regulations of a public cemetery, is almost entirely lost in this
country, except in the few cases where public monuments are provided in
the cathedrals. In the metropolis it would be very difficult to find the
graves of persons of minor fame who have advanced or adorned any branch
of civil or military service, or have distinguished themselves in any
art or science. Yet there are few occupations which could not furnish
examples for pleasurable contemplation to the living who are engaged in
them, and claim honour from the public. The humblest class of artisans
would feel consolation and honour in interment in the same cemetery with
Brindley, with Crompton, or with Murdoch, the artisan who assisted and
carried out the conceptions of Watt; or with Emerson, or with Simpson,
the hand-loom weaver, who became professor of mathematics at Woolwich;
or with Ferguson, the shepherd’s son; or with Dollond, the improver of
telescopes, whose earliest years were spent at a loom in Spitalfields;
or with others who “have risen from the wheelbarrow” and done honour to
the country, and individually gained public attention from the ranks of
privates; such for example as John Sykes, Nelson’s cockswain, an old and
faithful follower, who twice saved the life of his admiral by parrying
the blows that were aimed at him, and at last actually interposed his
own person to meet the blow of an enemy’s sabre which he could not by
any other means avert, and who survived the dangerous wound he received
in this act of heroic attachment. The greater part of the means of
honour and moral influence on the living generation derivable from the
example of the meritorious dead of every class, is at present in the
larger towns cast away in obscure grave-yards and offensive charnels.
The artisans who are now associated in communities which have from their
beneficent objects a claim to public regard, might if they chose it have
their spaces set apart for the members of their own occupation, and
whilst they derive interest from association with each other, they would
also derive consolation from accommodation within the same precincts as
the more public and illustrious dead.

§ 176. It is due to the memory of Sir Christopher Wren, to state that
extra-mural or suburban cemeteries formed part of his plan for the
rebuilding of London after the great fire. “I would wish,” says he,
“that all burials in churches might be disallowed, which is not only
unwholesome, but the pavements can never be kept even, nor pews upright:
and if the church-yard be close about the church, this is also
inconvenient, because the ground being continually raised by the graves,
occasions in time a descent by steps into the church, which renders it
damp, and the walls green, as appears evidently in all old churches. It
will be inquired where, then, shall be the burials?—I answer, in
cemeteries seated in the outskirts of the town; and since it has become
the fashion of the age to solemnize funerals by a train of coaches (even
where the deceased are of moderate condition), though the cemeteries
should be half a mile or more distant from the church, the charge need
be little or no more than usual; the service may be first performed in
the church: but for the poor and such as must be interred at the parish
charge, a public hearse of two wheels and one horse may be kept at small
expense, the usual bearers to lead the horse, and take out the corpse at
the grave. A piece of ground of two acres, in the fields, will be
purchased for much less than two roods amongst the buildings. This being
enclosed with a strong brick wall, and having a walk round, and two
cross walks, decently planted with yew trees, the four quarters may
serve four parishes, where the dead need not be disturbed at the
pleasure of the sexton, or piled four or five upon one another, or bones
thrown out to gain room. In these places beautiful monuments may be
erected; but yet the dimensions should be regulated by an architect, and
not left to the fancy of every mason; for thus the rich with large
marble tombs would shoulder out the poor: when a pyramid, a good bust,
or statue on a proper pedestal will take up little room in the quarters,
and be properer than figures lying on marble beds: the walls will
contain escutcheons and memorials for the dead, and the real good air
and walks for the living. It may be considered, further, that if the
cemeteries be thus thrown into the fields, they will bound the excessive
growth of the city with a graceful border which is now encircled with
scavenger’s dung-stalls.”[34]

§ 177. I might submit the concurrent opinions of several distinguished
clergymen, communicated in reference to the general view of the
importance of a large change in the practice of town interments, and the
formation of suburban cemeteries, as being indeed conformable to the
practice of the Jews and early Christians, and recognised in the words
“There was a dead man carried _out_.” It was the ancient practice, as is
perhaps indicated in the term exsequies, to bury outside of the
town.[35] To this practice it is clear that the earliest Christians
conformed. It was their custom to assign to the martyrs the most
conspicuous places, over which altars or monuments were erected, where
the believers used to assemble for nightly worship, so that it may
rather be said of them that their burial places were their churches,
than that their churches were their burial places.[36] When the temples
of the heathen gods were converted into Christian churches, the _bones_
or relics of these illustrious persons, together with the altars, were
removed and placed within the churches. The early practice of burial in
the cemeteries near the earthly remains of those holy persons, being
deemed a great privilege when those remains were removed, naturally led
to the idea of its continuation, by the interment of _bodies_ in or
about the first accustomed objects of worship. Nevertheless, interment
in the interior of the church was held to be an unusual piece of good
fortune, and when the Emperor Constantine, who had constituted
Christianity the religion of the state, had granted to him a grave
within the porticos of the church, it was esteemed the most unheard-of
distinction. The ancient Greeks and Romans thought that a corpse
contaminated a sacred place, and this idea as to the corpse was retained
by the early Christians. When some persons in Constantinople began to
make an invasion upon the laws, under pretence that there was no express
prohibition of burying in churches, Theodosius, by a new law, equally
forbade them burying in cities and burying in churches; and this whether
it was only the ashes or relics of any bodies kept above ground in urns
or whole bodies laid in coffins; for the same reasons that the old laws
had assigned, viz., that they might be examples and memorials of
mortality and the condition of human nature to all passengers, and also
that they might not defile the habitations of the living but leave it
pure and clean to them. St. Chrysostom, in one of his homilies upon the
martyrs, says, “As before when the festival of the Maccabees was
celebrated all the country came thronging into the city; so now when the
festival of the martyrs who lie buried in the country is celebrated, it
was fit the whole country should remove thither.” In like manner,
speaking of the festival of Drossis the martyr, he says, “Though they
had spiritual entertainment in the city, yet their going out to the
saints in the country afforded them both great profit and pleasure.” The
Council of Tribur, in the time of Charlemagne, to prevent the abuse of
burying within churches, decreed that _no layman_ should thenceforth be
buried within a church; and that if in any church graves were so
numerous that they could not be concealed by a pavement the place was to
be converted into a cemetery, and the altar to be removed elsewhere and
erected in a place where sacrifice could be religiously offered to God.

Amongst the distinct clerical orders of the Primitive Church, Bingham
(book iii. chap. 7) reckons the _Psalmistæ_, the _Copiatæ_, and the
_Parabolani_. The Psalmistæ, or the canonical singers, were appointed to
retrieve and improve the psalmody of the church. The business of the
Copiatæ was to take care of funerals and provide for the decent
interment of the dead. St. Jerome styles them _Fossarii_, from digging
of graves; and in Justinian’s Novels they are called _Lecticarii_, from
carrying the corpse or bier at funerals. And St. Jerome, speaking of one
that was to be interred, “The _Clerici_,” says he, “whose office it was,
wound up the body, digged the earth,” and so, according to custom, “made
ready the grave.” Constantine incorporated a body of men to the number
of 1100 in Constantinople, under the name of _Copiatæ_, for the service
in question, and so they continued to the time of Honorius and
Theodosius, junior, who reduced them to 950; but Anastatius augmented
them again to the first number, which Justinian confirmed by two novels,
published for that purpose. Their office was to take the whole care of
funerals upon themselves, and to see that all persons had a decent and
honourable interment. Especially they were obliged to perform this last
office to the poorer people without exacting anything of their relations
upon that account. The _Parabolani_ were incorporated at Alexandria to
the number of 500 or 600, who were deputed to attend upon the sick, and
take care of their bodies in time of weakness.[37] [Cod. Theod., leg.
43:—“Parabolani, qui ad curanda debilium corpora deputantur, quingentos
esse ante præcipimus; sed quia hos minus sufficere in præsenti
cognovimus, pro quingentis sex centos constitui præcipimus,” &c.] They
were called _Parabolani_ from their undertaking (Παραβολον ἔργον) a most
dangerous office in attending the sick. The foundation of a great city
like Constantinople must have brought the magnitude of the service of
the burial of the whole population distinctly under view, and have
necessitated comprehensive and systematic arrangements of a
corresponding extent, by the superintendence of superior officers
through the gradations of duty of a disciplined force, which, even with
the Eastern redundance of service, could scarcely have failed to be
efficient and economical as compared with numerous separated and
isolated efforts. A great prototype was thus gained, and the
well-considered gradations of duty and service of the great city was
carried out as far as practicable in the small parish. In some churches,
where there was no such standing office as the Copiatæ or the
Parabolani, the Penitents were obliged to take upon themselves the
office and care of burying the dead; “and this by way of discipline and
exercise of humility and charity which were so becoming their station.”
_Bingham_, book xviii. cap. 2. The state of administrative information
in these our times may surely be deplored, when any views can be
entertained of making the small parish and the rude and barbarous
service (multiplied, at an enormous expense) of the really
unsuperintended common gravedigger and sexton, the prototypes for this
most important and difficult branch of public administration of the
greatest metropolis in the modern world.

On a full consideration I think it will be apparent that the exclusion
of the burial of corpses in churches or in churchyards, and the adoption
of burials in cemeteries, and the conspicuous interment there of all
individuals whose lives and services have graced communities, will, in
so far as it is carried out, be in principle a return to the primitive
practice, restoring to the many the privilege, of which they are
necessarily deprived by burials in churches, of association in sepulture
with the illustrious dead, and giving to these a wider sphere of
attention and honour, and beneficent influence.

On the immediate question of the arrangements for sepulture I beg leave
to submit for consideration the following extracts from a communication
from the Rev. H. Milman, which is more peculiarly due to him, as his
examination before the Committee of the House of Commons does not appear
to have elicited his full and matured opinions on the important

I cannot but consider the sanitary part of the question, as the most
dubious, and as resting on less satisfactory evidence than other
considerations involved in the inquiry. The decency, the solemnity,
the Christian impressiveness of burial, in my opinion, are of far
greater and more undeniable importance.

It must unquestionably be a government measure in its management as
well as its organization. If you have understood my evidence as
recommending parochial, rather than a general administration, such
was not my intention. I thought that I had left that point quite
open. When I stated (2729) the alternative of cemeteries provided by
the national funds, and by parochial taxation, I represented the
unpopularity of the latter mode of taxation: and (in 2782) I
suggested certain advantages to be derived from the more general and
public administration. The Committee, however, who seemed to incline
strongly towards the parochial system, went off in that direction,
and the questions turned rather on the practicability of that
system, and the manner in which it might be organized.

Further reflection leads me to the strong conviction that the

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Online LibraryEdwin ChadwickReport on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty's principal secretary of state for the Home department → online text (page 21 of 27)