MESSRS. EDITORS.—Being pleased to find in your valuable journal of the 19th ult. an article upon " Burning of the Dead," based upon the criticism of the New York Evening Post, upon a late work of an English author, I beg to suggest that you favor your readers with a fuller consideration of the subject, and if convenient, with a brief historic account of the practice. I like the somewhat poetical, but practical, and very useful ideas of the English surgeon, but would make one addition to his proposition, to make it accord with the old Roman and Grecian custom, that is, after the body shall have been burned, the ashes shall be gathered into an urn, and treasured among one's " household gods," thus placing within our own care, relics that we are now accustomed to consign to the custody of others. I would gladly see an opening wedge driven into that bnglioar "popular prejudice," and the people induced to give the matter a fair hearing, feeling assured that this is all that is needed to make the idea of burial, at some future time, as revolting as cremation now seems to be. Agreeing with you that cremation is necessary as a sanitary measure, I would cite the case of the Paris Academy of Medicine, which has again set the papers to writing, and the people to thinking earnestly, of the revival of this practice. They say that, in the summer time, the Parisian hospitals are crowded by the victims of pestilence engendered by the foul air of the graveyards in the neighborhood. The vicinity of the cemeteries is a constant source of mortality ; their putrid emanations filling the air, and the poison they emit impregnating the water ; are held chargeable for the many new and fearful diseases of the throat and lungs, which baffle all medical skill. Lamartine gives his adhesion to the project; and it should not be forgotten that Lord Byron and Trelawney reduced to ashes the body of the poet Shelley, and at his own request. To show that the case which you mention as having occurred some years ago in a western city is not without precedent in our own country, allow me to quote the following :— " Henry Laurens, of South Carolina, one of the most eminent men of our revolutionary era, the descendant of a French Huguenot family, a member of the first Provincial Congress, an intimate friend of Washington, t United States Minister to Holland, a signer Kpreliminaries of peace on the 20th of her, 1782, at Paris, in conjunction Iranfclin, Adams, and Jay ; dying in Charleston on the 8th of December, 1792, at the age of sixty-nine, concluded his will with the following condition, enjoining the fulfilment of it upon his son, as the terms upon -which he should inherit an estate of sixty tkousand pounds sterling : " I solemnly enjoin it on my son, as an indispensable duty, that as soon as he conveniently ca after my decease, he cause my body to be wrapped in twelve yards of tow-cloth, and burnt until it be entirely consumed ; and then, collecting my bones, deposit them wherever he may think proper. " And this request was literally complied with. Considered poetically, sanitarily, and economically, as a strictly national custom, not a religious rite, I believe the crematory view to unite these and other valuable desiderata ; and as ignorance and prejudice are easily offended, I trust that there may be soon applied to the subject a common deliberation, not forgetting COMMON SENSE. New York, June, 1858.
This article was originally published with the title "Cremation" in Scientific American 13, 43, 344 (July 1858)