NOT INJURIOUS TO THE PUBLIC HEALTH:
INJURIOUS TO RELIGION AND MORALS.
THE subject of this address is Intramural Burial; that practice of interring the dead in Churchyards, which is coeval with the erection of Churches; which, until the unhappy period of the French Revolution, universally prevailed throughout the whole Western or Latin Church; but which is being rapidly subverted in this country, under the authority of Acts of Parliament recently passed. Attention was first drawn to this subject about thirty years since by Mr. Walker, who described the irregularities and indecencies of the graveyards, and which chiefly took place in those unconsecrated cemeteries, which were the property of individuals, or were attached to Dissenting Chapels. The Church considered herself not greatly affected by an inquiry, [3/4] which caused the Churchwardens to take greater pains in the care of the Churchyards, and which led, in some instances, to their enlargement; whilst the building of New Churches, with Burial-grounds attached to them, provided places of interment apparently proportionate to the increase of the population. These inquiries into the method of conducting funerals, revealed to the public the extent of the expenditure upon burial; whilst the profit, which thence accrued, not merely to the Clergy, but to the Parishes and the Undertakers, attracted the attention of the capitalists, and caused the formation of those Cemetery Companies, who, with the aid of the Legislature, have nearly succeeded in securing to themselves the monopoly of burial within the Metropolitan District.
The Cemetery system was at first unpopular; there was great difficulty in overcoming the ancient attachment to Parochial Burial-grounds; and but for the appearance of the Cholera in this country, and the subsequent patronage of the Government, it is doubtful whether the Cemeteries would have proved to be a profitable speculation. Had not extraordinary events occurred, the New Cemeteries would probably have been little more than Burial-grounds for persons dying in their neighbourhood, to which a preference was given, because sepulture could be obtained upon cheaper terms. But the arrival of the Cholera introduced a new kind of death, new views of disease, and new views of burial.
 I well remember, how the Medical Profession were baffled in their endeavours to provide remedies for an illness, which one of the most scientific men of the time described, as being distinguished from all other diseases, in its beginning instead of ending with death. For a time men confessed the Visitation of the Almighty, and the presence of His minister the Angel of Death. But the recurrence of the disease made it familiar. The Medical Practitioner viewed it with less alarm, and the Scientific man put forth the whole powers of his mind to weaken at least, if not to defeat it; and the Legislature was invoked to aid the attempt to check the disease; and when every man feared death, no one hesitated to give to the Government, and to its Boards of Health, arbitrary powers, such as Rome was wont in times of political anarchy to intrust to her dictators and her consuls. The disease has possibly become modified since its first appearance, and assumed a different type, and the assurance of its not being contagious either in the living body or the dead, has both secured attention to the sufferer, and afforded opportunity of watching its progress and providing remedies. And now Science has become so bold, as to consider her powers equal to the contest with this fatal disease, so that the Registrar-General of Births, &c. has not hesitated to ask, "Is London to continue every five years to be attacked by pestilence, and to lose so many thousands of its inhabitants? Cannot the conditions in [5/6] which disease is fatal be determined, and cannot they be removed?" And, in order to assist in the solution of these questions, the area of the districts, the elevation of the ground, and the annual value of the houses, were described in tables annexed to his report.
The progress and continuance of the Cholera having directed the attention of the Legislature to the Public Health; and individual members of the House of Commons having repeatedly alluded to the practice of Intramural Interment, a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed, in March, 1842, "to consider the expediency of framing some legislative enactments (due respect being paid to the rights of the Clergy) to remedy the evils arising from the interment of bodies within the precincts of large towns or of places densely peopled." The Committee made their report in the following June. The evidence taken before the Committee contained numerous admissions on the part of the Clergy, that the Graveyards were overcrowded and that more room was wanted: but as to actual injury to the health of towns, the evidence amounted to no more, than a presumption that the towns must be so affected, whilst a decided opinion was given by a most eminent Practitioner, that the actual vicinity of one of the crowded Burial-grounds was not injurious to the inhabitants of an Hospital closely adjoining it. The inquiry was instituted with a special direction to the Committee, that due respect should be paid to the rights of the Clergy, [6/7] and when the Committee in their Report resolved "that the interment of bodies was injurious to the health of the inhabitants of large towns, and recommended legislation, and that after a certain date Burials should be prohibited, except in the case of family vaults already existing, the same partaking of the nature of private property and being of limited extent," they still based all their recommendations upon the maintenance of the Parochial system, and the preservation of all the interests of the Parochial authorities.
The Report caused little anxiety. The Clergy and the Parochial authorities were gratified by the assurance that their rights would be respected, and private persons, who had purchased the right of Burial, considered themselves secure in the possession of their property.
It would seem, however, that the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons was insufficient for the purpose of producing those changes in the custom of burial, which were contemplated by the Patrons of the Public Health. And, accordingly, a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns was made at the request of the Secretary of State, Sir James Graham, by an individual, Mr. Edwin Chadwick. The result of this inquiry was embodied in a Report, which was presented by command of Her Majesty to both Houses of Parliament and printed in 1843. The Report embraced a great variety of topics, but the [7/8] whole force of the inquiry was embodied in this one sweeping conclusion: "That inasmuch as there appear to be no cases, in which the emanations from human remains in an advanced stage of decomposition, are not of a deleterious nature, so there is no case, in which the liability to danger should be incurred, either by interment, or by entombment in vaults (which is the most dangerous), amidst the dwellings of the living; it being established as a general conclusion, in respect to the physical circumstances of interment, from which no adequate grounds of exception have been established, that all interments in towns, where bodies decompose, contribute to the mass of atmospheric impurity, which is injurious to the Public Health." From this time Mr. Chadwick's book became the authority to which every one bowed, the principles therein developed being accepted by the Government as incontrovertible, the public press taking up the same argument, and no one considering it to be his duty to examine into the data, from which Mr. Chadwick had drawn his conclusions, or to explain to the public, in what proportion the death and burial of the human species might be supposed to affect the atmosphere, when compared with all the other influences which hourly affect it, and which proceed not only from every living body, but also from various arts and manufactures, which are the accompaniments of civilized life. I shall advert again to this part of my subject, and in the mean [8/9] time proceed with the history of our legislation on the subject of Burial.
I have no memoranda as to what took place in Parliament between the years 1843 and 1846; but the latter year is remarkable for the passing of the Act (9 & 10 Victoria, c. 96) for the more speedy Removal of Nuisances, and to enable the Privy Council during the following year to make any orders and regulations for the Prevention of Contagious Diseases, for the relief of the sufferers, and for the safe and speedy interment of any persons dying of such diseases. Penalties being inflicted for disobedience to any order which might be so made. This Act received the Royal Assent on the 28th August.
In June, 1847, an Act (10 & 11 Victoria, c. 34) was passed "for consolidating in one Act certain provisions for paving, lighting, and cleansing towns." This is the first Act of Parliament in which the mode of Burial became the subject of legislation. In that Act, under the head of "Nuisances," § ciii., it was enacted, that no coffin should be buried at a less depth than thirty inches below the ordinary surface of the Burial-ground, under a penalty not exceeding five pounds. The provision related only to coffins buried in graves, and not to those deposited in vaults or catacombs.
On the 31st August, 1848, the Act was passed (11 & 12 Victoria, c. 63) "for promoting the Public Health," which constituted the General Board of [9/10] Health, under the Presidentship of the First Commissioner of the Woods and Forests. It was in this Act of Parliament, §§ 82 & 83, that the Legislature first adopted the doctrine, that "Burial-grounds might be dangerous to the health of persons living in the neighbourhood, and Churches might be dangerous to the health of persons frequenting them by reason of the surcharged state of the vaults beneath," and power was accordingly given for closing the Churchyards only, though if the premises were true, power might with equal propriety have been given for shutting up the Churches. The power, however, of closing the ground was not to be exercised, unless there could be found sufficient means of interment within a convenient distance; and the certificate for closing the ground might contain exceptions, so as to prevent its being a total closing. But the most important clause of the Act, and that which has been attended with the most detriment to the authority of the Church, was the provision, that no new Burial-ground should be hereafter formed without the consent of the General Board of Health.
In 1849 the Legislature still proceeded in the same course. An Act (12 & 13 Vict. c. 111) was passed to amend "the Nuisances Removal and the Diseases Prevention Act," by which greater powers were given to the General Board of Health in England, and the powers of the Commissioners of Health in Ireland were extended to the closing of Burial-grounds in that country--the doctrine inculcated by [10/11] the title and provisions of the Act being this, that the burial of the dead was in itself a nuisance, and Churchyards in themselves dangerous to health.
In 1850 another Act (13 & 14 Vict. c. 52) was passed, intituled "An Act to provide for the Interment of the Dead in and near the Metropolis," in a certain district formed by the Act, and termed the Metropolitan Burial District. By the General Health Act of 1848 the Board of Health could close a Churchyard, but by the Act of 1850 this power was transferred to the Queen in Council. It would seem to have been the intention of the Government at that time to take into its own hands not only the providing Burial-grounds, but also the burial of the dead. In this Act it was enacted, that in any new Burial-ground no body should be buried within 200 yards of a dwelling-house, § 24. The duty of compensating the Incumbents was in this Act to a certain extent acknowledged, mention being made of "a Burial Service and Incumbents' Compensation Fund," and promises were made for compensation to Clerks and Sextons, as well as to the Parishes for the loss of the fees received and applied for parochial purposes, §§ 32 & 33. If the expense of carrying out the scheme should have exceeded the amount of the receipts for burial, the deficiency was to have been made good by a Burial-rate, not exceeding a penny in the pound, upon all the Parishes within the Metropolitan District; § 54. In the month of December of that year returns were made [11/12] by the Parishes, and by the Clergy, to the Board of Health of the amount of compensation which would be required for the loss of their fees; and I have it recorded in writing, that the officers of the Board of Health, after receiving the returns from my own Parish, intimated that the Board would act with the greatest liberality towards individuals, who should be affected by the Act, such as the Incumbent, Clerk, and Sexton. Thus far the Legislature seemed inclined to adhere to the original purpose expressed in the appointment of the Select Committee in 1842 respecting the rights of the Clergy. But though many of the Clergy have been impoverished, and all have encountered loss by the destruction of rights acknowledged by the Legislature to exist, all thought of remedying the injury appears to be abandoned.
The following year, 1851, was remarkable for the passing an Act of Parliament (14 & 15 Vict. c. 89) on the same subject, which favoured the commercial speculation of the Cemetery Companies by one of the most arbitrary enactments. Several Burial-grounds had been closed, but many remained open. It was natural, that they, who were deprived of the privilege of burying their dead in their ancient ground, should seek some other place of a similar character. They preferred Parochial grounds to Cemeteries; but the Legislature refused them the power of fulfilling their desire, and actually compelled all persons, who were Parishioners of [12/13] Parishes deprived of their burial places, to abstain from resorting to any burial place except certain Cemeteries described in the Schedule of the Act, the reason assigned being, lest the Burial-grounds of other parishes should be overcrowded, § 3. Every person who had the control of the Burial-ground used contrary to the Act being guilty of Misdemeanour. It might, I think, have been foreseen, that this Act of 1850, which made the Government the administrator of the rites of burial, was in itself too clumsy a structure to become permanent; but the clauses of that Act, which professed so fully the duty of compensation to the Clergy, lulled to sleep suspicion of injury and prevented any expression of feeling upon the subject; and in the mean time people became used to these arbitrary enactments, which were practically irresistible: the time, when people felt the evil, being that hour of sorrow for the loss of relations, in which the mind is compelled to bow beneath the hand of God, and is little disposed to resist the injustice and unkindness of the law.
In 1852 the Act of 1850 was repealed by an Act (15 & 16 Vict. c. 85) intituled "An Act amending the Laws concerning the Burial of the Dead in the Metropolis." This Act authorized the formation of Parochial Burial Boards; made the Commissioners of Sewers to be the Burial Board of the City of London; constituted any of the principal Secretaries of State the adviser of Her Majesty in Council as to closing the Churchyards; and gave to such [13/14] Secretary of State power to make such regulations in respect to Burial-grounds, as to him might seem proper.
The interference, however, of the Government did not stop here. In 1853 the powers conferred upon the Secretary of State were further enlarged by 16 & 17 Vict. c. 134, so as to prevent any city or town from enlarging their Burial-grounds without the previous approval of the Secretary of State; and to enable the Secretary of State to close the Burial-grounds in any city or town in England. And in 1854 the Act of 17 & 18 Vict. c. 87 extended the operation of the previous Acts, and limited the proximity of any new Burial-ground to any dwelling-house to 100 yards.
Such has been the course of legislation on the subject of Burial for the last ten or twelve years. Beginning with the Metropolis, it has been extended to other parts of the country, and will most probably, in another year or two, have within its grasp every Church and Churchyard in the United Kingdom. It has destroyed the Common-law right of burial in the Churchyard, which has been heretofore the right of every inhabitant of a Parish; it has wholly impoverished some important Benefices, and deprived all the Incumbents of the Metropolis of some part of their maintenance; it has transferred the control of the Churchyards from the Bishop of the Diocese to the Secretary of State; and it has taught the people to regard the burial of the dead, as one of "the nuisances" appendant to a dense population.
 The care of the Public Health has been the ostensible ground for these proceedings. A despotic power was given to the Secretary of State, because men considered it to be their duty to unite in their endeavours to check the progress of the Cholera, and to remove out of the way every thing, which predisposed the human frame for the reception of the disease. But it is more than probable, that if the Legislature or the Public had entertained the slightest suspicion, that the Secretary of State would have used that power, so as not only to deprive families and individuals of their vested rights of burial, purchased by themselves at great cost, and secured to them by law, but even to leave whole parishes without any place for the burial of their dead, they would have made further inquiries, as to the evils which were to be remedied, and paused before they invested any Member of the Government with the power to inflict such private and public injury.
But whilst we admit that the care of the public health has been the one object of the Legislature, we cannot conceal from ourselves the fact, that other motives have been brought to bear upon the Public, apparently derived from refinement and delicacy, but really having their origin in a philosophical distaste for the emblems and the reality of death. The terms "shocking," "disgusting," "disgraceful," "demoralizing," are constantly applied to the presence of the dead body in the dwelling-house, as well as to the ordinary accidents of burial,--and whilst [15/16] Historical Science is permitted to ransack the Barrow of the Celt or the Saxon, or to disentomb the contents of a Necropolis; and ethnology determines by the form of the skull the race; and physiology the age and sex by the form of the bones,--and all this is detailed with the minutest accuracy in the philosophical journal, or the daily newspaper, and not a word is said of "disgust;"--the casting up of the skull and of the bones in a Parish Grave is pronounced to be shocking to humanity,--a sufficient reason for closing the Burial-ground, so as to prevent the desecration of the remains of the dead, and its demoralizing influences, For the widening of a street it matters not what becomes of the dead; but when the Churchyard is to be closed, then refinement is at a loss for terms to describe her feelings of abhorrence at the thought of disturbing a single body, until decomposition of all its parts is complete. The one great object of the opponents of Intramural Burial appears to be the entire separation of the mansions of the dead from the houses of the living; the modern Hygeist advocating the measure for the sake of the public health, and the modern Epicurean, because nothing is so painful to him as the thought or the sight of death.
I am fully aware, how much I may have to encounter in thus expressing my sentiments; but being of opinion, that the abolition of Intramural Interment is injurious in the highest degree to Religion and to Morals, and that no proof has been as yet adduced, that [16/17] English Churches and Churchyards, though containing the bodies of the faithful of many bygone generations, are in any way whatever sources of disease, or dangerous to the public health, I cannot any longer forbear giving vent in public to feelings, which I have expressed to many friends in private; and endeavouring, at whatever cost, to avert from my Church and country as great an evil as can befall us,--a neglect of the dead, and loss of their example. I have no object but the care of religion and the promotion of virtue; and in seeking to prevent the dead from being thrust into banishment, and exiled from their homes, and for ever cast out of sight, I believe that I shall be helped not only by arguments of religion, but also by the deductions of science; nature herself being found to minister to piety, neither forbidding us to shun the chamber, when death has closed the eyes of those whom we loved, nor commanding us, through fear of contagion, to commit their bodies to the earth in remote and desert places, where the living rarely have concourse, and near to which there is no human habitation.
It matters not in this argument, that other nations have either altered their customs, or have different habits and feelings from our own. It is with the habits and feelings of English men and English Christians that we have to do; with a nation blessed with a climate which permits us, with very rare exceptions, not to part from our dead the moment the breath has left their bodies; and which allows us time [17/18] for preparation of their funeral, for watching the progress of decay, and delaying the painful process of closing up for ever their remains from our view. Far less blessed are those nations, whom the law or the climate compels to hasty burial; death in such cases teaches an awful, but, I believe, a very soon-forgotten lesson. There is no time to mourn, and therefore no time to meditate; it is a shock, but not an enduring pain; an act of grief, which produces no habit of sorrow.
It may seem presumptuous, that I should call in question the opinion which so dignified a body, as a Select Committee of the House of Commons, has recorded; "that the practice of interment within the precincts of large towns is injurious to the health of the inhabitants thereof;" and especially, when I find that so honoured a name as that of him whom I was proud to call my friend, and who has so recently gone to his rest, the religious, the disinterested, the consistent Sir R. Inglis, was attached to it. I believe, however, that there are very few persons, who will not readily acknowledge, that it is the specific character of such Reports, that they are arguments for particular measures, rather than statements of all the reasons which might be adduced on both sides; justifications of proceedings, rather than proofs of their necessity. And it must also be borne in mind, that Parliaments are as liable as other bodies of men to err in judgment, and though we are bound in conscience to [18/19] obey their laws, we are not bound to believe that their proceedings are always wise, or their enactments always just.
Many years since I suggested to the Professor of Chemistry at King's College, the late lamented Mr. Daniel, to explain by experiment the chemical process which takes place in burial, by burying some organic matter under earth, and enclosing a similar portion in a leaden box, and testing the gases evolved from the box, or from the earth which covered the decaying mass. His answer at that time to me was, "gaseous chemistry is too much in its infancy to enable us to come to any result." I made a similar application to another scientific person, but I found him so fully convinced by constant observations of the nature of the decomposition of organic bodies, and its effects upon the living, of the harmless character of interment, as to be of opinion that experiment was needless in so plain a case. It is an easy thing to use scientific terms, such as "miasma," and "gases," and "deleterious emanations;" and if you talk scientifically, or appear to do so, you may easily persuade simple-minded persons to distrust their own experience, and though they are not aware of any thing being wrong, to make them begin to think, it may be so, and that though they are themselves in health, it might have been otherwise. But assertion or suggestion is one thing, and proof another; and in a matter, which is purely of a chemical character, and has nothing to do with moral [19/20] probabilities, we have a right to demand, not opinions and presumptions, but experiments; not conjectures about wholesomes and unwholesomes, but facts duly attested, and deductions clearly drawn.
Now the whole case is this. Ever since Churches were erected in England, it has been our national custom to bury our dead within them and without. Around those hallowed spots remain all that was earthly, not only of the great and good, but of the miserable and the wretched, the rich and the poor, the old and young, of all the countless myriads of human beings, who for a thousand successive years have lived and died. They are indeed in crowds; but the substances, of which their remains consist, are not foreign to the soil, nor uncongenial with its nature, nor incapable of assimilation with it; but as our act of committal to the ground declares, they have gone, "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
We are in death, what we are in life--dust with animation is life, but without animation it is dust still. Organic life is the noblest work of chemical combination, elaborated by the hand of nature, which is God's minister; and Organic death, if we may use the term, is the analysis and dissolution of bodies, which have done the service, for which they were appointed. But Death, scientifically speaking, is as natural to the world as Life, and the chemical processes which take place in death, to use a cant phrase of modern times, as "normal," as all the [20/21] functions of life. It is a remarkable fact, not unimportant in the present inquiry, that of all the organic beings, from the minutest insect that floats in air or water, or dwells on earth, to the leviathans of the deep and the beasts of the forest, from the first development of life in the simplest organism to its full perfection in man, man alone is buried. The dust, of which man is made, alone is deposited with care in the earth, or is enclosed in the tomb, where death unseen completes his work. And though vast numbers of organic beings die as food for other orders, yet vast still, as compared with the number of the human race, must be the number of those who die by the hand of death; the substances of which they were formed dissolving all around us in the earth, and air, and water, and exhibiting to us physically the awful truth, that "in the midst of life we are in death." Such is, I believe, the condition of this earth; the very ground we tread, the water we drink, the air we breathe, is teeming with life and with death, each in one constant round being the cause and the effect of the other. But it is the business of Science, as it is of Religion, to enlighten, not to terrify, and to assure mankind, that Nature as well as Scripture attests, that "every creature of God is good," and that death, not less than life, subserves in time to the good of man. Now the fact, that we are able to live to so great an extent free from disease, though surrounded, as I have observed, on all sides by the death and dissolution of [21/22] organic beings, seems to me a proof, how innoxious a thing in respect of health is death; and when to this you add, that the bodies of men, who die and who are buried or entombed, are not undergoing dissolution in the air, but that earth, and walls, and metals are interposed between us and them, I think it must be evident, that if the process, which death sets up in organic bodies, be injurious to health, the unburied are alone in a condition to produce that effect. I may state, that having for many years conversed much with men of science, chemists, physiologists, and physicians, I never heard any chemical principle alleged, or argument from analogy brought forward, from which it could be concluded, that the atmosphere of our Churches or our Churchyards is unwholesome or dangerous to health, which would not equally prove, that all places are unwholesome, or what is probably the real truth, that there is no place however generally healthy, no substance however generally nutritious, that is not found to be to some person, under some circumstances an exciting cause of disease.
I have described the manner in which, as inhabitants of this earth, we are surrounded by death, and noticed a distinction most material in this argument, that man is buried or entombed. But supposing that the bodies were not buried--is there proof, that in their decay they would poison the atmosphere, and generate disease? Experience would seem to show the contrary. The effects are well known, [22/23] which the exposure to the fetid odours and putrid exhalations of the dissecting-room, for months and years together, produces upon the human frame, where the hand is in perpetual contact with the liquefying substance, and the eye is poring over the minutely divided fibre, and watching the course of the nerve, and not a breath of air can be exhaled by the action of the lungs, which is not sensibly affected by the decaying mass. The science of surgery may have its victims, but it is certain, that the contact with putrescence does not generally injure health or shorten life. It has upon the body sensible effects easily shaken off, and of no long continuance; nor would I believe the most thoughtful Professor deem it necessary to warn his young pupils, that they must prepare themselves in their attendance in the dissecting-room for the hour of sickness, and hazard the loss of health. The Clinical student, who watches unremittingly the progress of fever, and sits by the bedside of the patient, and administers medicine to stop the ebbing tide of life, runs great risk; the living body is dangerous to hover over, the body recently dead is deadly to him, who punctures himself in his too hasty search into the actual cause of death, but the body, which is perfectly dead and cold, is harmless although beginning to be decomposed. And that this is known to be the case, is, I think, evident from the fact, that the dissecting-rooms of the Metropolis, though contiguous to Hospitals, and in the midst of densely peopled neighbourhoods, [23/24] have never been accounted amongst the nuisances injurious to the public health; but if putrefying organic matter does not render the neighbourhood of dissecting-rooms unhealthy, what ground is there for the supposition, that such matter, not in contact with the atmosphere, but hidden beneath the earth and enclosed in vaults, can be dangerous to the public health?
But it may be said, it is the overcrowded state of the Churches, the surcharged condition of the Churchyards, which renders it probable, that they are injurious to health. As to the overcrowded state of the Churches in the City of London and elsewhere, I have reason to believe, that that condition is far from being recent. I willingly admit the fact, that the Churches of this country are full of the remains of the dead. In my Archidiaconal visitations I have always observed, that the footings of the walls settle inwards, the result of excavations to make room for the dead; and the fact that the floor of the Churches are on the lower, and the Churchyard on the higher level, is attributable to the same cause. The damp also, which is so common in country Churches, frequently arises from the evaporation of water in ancient graves within the building. In all the Churches of the City of London, even those built since the fire, which have been lately repewed or repaired, and which have come under my notice, it is really marvellous to discover, that the whole area is full of coffins and of [24/25] bodies--a proof of the existence of a wealthy and a dense population, who in former times accounted it honourable to be buried within the Church; the number of modern interments being very few, generally members of families brought for interment in the family vault, their names being remembered only by the most ancient inhabitants. But admitting this to be the condition of every Church in the kingdom, from the Cathedral to the Church of the smallest parish, what proof, I demand, is there that this presence of the dead has been dangerous to the public health? When we consider, that burial within Churches has been the practice in England for a thousand years, that in ancient times pestilences and plagues, far more destructive than the Cholera, swept our cities and towns; and that for three centuries at least Science, medical and philosophical, has been making continual progress, is it not incredible, that, if the burial of the dead within Churches be injurious to health, nothing should ever have occurred to make men suspect, that going to Church made them ill; nay more, when you bear in mind, that the Clergy in populous towns all but live in their Churches for days together, that their houses are, in very numerous instances, in Churchyards; that the Churchyard is the resort on Sundays of the whole population, sitting on tombs, and standing over graves; and that it has been, and still is, very frequently the play-place, not only of the clergyman's family, but even of all the children of the [25/26] parish; when I say you put all these facts together, is it not beyond the bounds of probability that the Church, the Churchyard, and its vicinity, should be dangerous to health, and that nothing should ever have occurred to lead men to avoid these mansions of the dead, as fraught with sources of death to themselves?
The changes to which dead organic matter is subjected, and by which it is either desiccated and preserved, or putrefied and decomposed, are dependent upon a great variety of circumstances. I do not know the chemical character of that earth, which is found in the interior of Churches, generally, or of those which have come under my notice in the City of London, and of which decayed vegetable matter, the produce of the coffins, forms a considerable part. I have, however, availed myself of the assistance of one of the most eminent analysts now living, to ascertain the nature of the soil of my own Churchyard, in the Parish of St. Giles', Cripplegate. That Churchyard has existed for at least seven hundred years; the Parish has always been populous; and it has been in times of pestilence, as the Registers attest, the burial place of so many thousand persons, that it is now incredible, how space could have been found, in which to deposit so many dead corpses. I submitted to my friend portions of the earth, both from the surface and from a depth of six feet below; the two specimens exhibited upon analysis no distinctive differences; but were found, as might have [26/27] been expected, highly charged with ammonia. The earth had the qualities, which are attendant upon every heap of the farmer's treasure, upon every highly-cultivated field; and if by the rays of the sun, and by evaporation, ammonia be disengaged, who is the physiologist that will say, "avoid that place because it is dangerous to health?" If the vicinities of some Churchyards be unwholesome, it will be found, on a candid examination, that other causes of disease exist there, such as filth and poverty; such as every where engender disease, whether in the proximity of a Churchyard or not.
Before, however, I leave this the chemical part of my subject, I cannot refrain from a few remarks, upon what is termed "the mixture of deleterious substances with the atmosphere." Experience proves, that within certain localities certain diseases are engendered, and that the traveller, who remains there for a certain time, is sure to contract the disease; but no such effects have been known to follow from temporary or constant residence near or in any Churchyard in England; neither has it been proved, that Churchyards send forth emanations which are deleterious. But if this were the case, it would not follow, that the Churchyards would make the atmosphere unwholesome, it being a well-known fact, that the mixture of several substances, which are themselves deleterious and destructive of life, does not give to the atmosphere a deleterious character. It is with gaseous products, as it is with [27/28] mineral and vegetable substances. In the concentrated form, they are poisons and productive of death; in the diluted form, they contribute to life and health. The Ammonia, which slightly breathed, and in a diluted form, into the nostrils, revives the nervous system, and restores the action of the heart, if taken in a concentrated form into the lungs, would occasion instant death. The Carbonic acid gas at the bottom of the well or in a deep grave is deadly, and not less so in the fermenting vats of the great breweries, which are scattered through this great Metropolis; but mixed with the atmospheric air, or with water, it is so harmless, that we regard the bubbles in the water, as proofs of the purity and excellence of the well. So it is with numerous articles of the Materia Medica, the most effective and most powerful remedies of which are minute doses of substances commonly accounted poisons.
I will not dwell longer on the chemical part of my subject. Enough has, I think, been said to render questionable the truth of the principle adopted by the Legislature, that interment in towns is dangerous to health, and to show, that further inquiry ought to be made, before our Churches and Churchyards are for ever closed against the admission of the dead. From the communications which I have had with scientific persons, who have had occasion to weigh well the evidence, which has been adduced upon the subject of Intramural Burial, I am confident as to the result of a new inquiry, provided [28/29] that the evidence were sifted by competent persons, and the examination made in the manner suited to the subject and its all-important consequences, namely, upon oath.
I proceed to the second part of my subject--the assertion "that the abolition of Intramural Interment is injurious to Religion and to Morals." When I speak thus, I have in view the alteration, which the substitution of Cemetery burial for burial in the Churches and Churchyards of the Metropolis has made in the relation of the Clergy to the Inhabitants. It has separated the people from us, diminished our intercourse with them, and hindered us in our duty. The Church and Churchyard of the Parish has hitherto been one of the strongest ties to bind the people at large to the Communion of our Church. The right of sepulture in the Churchyard was a right belonging to the poor as well as to the rich; it was their pride to bury their dead with due honour, to have the service read by their own minister, and large was the amount which persons, even of the humblest rank, paid to the Parishes to secure to the surviving members of the family the privilege of burial in the same grave. Burial bound, I say, the people in the Metropolis to the Established Church. It brought the wealthy tradesman, who had been deprived by sickness of some dear relative, into close communication with his Clergyman, it gave the Clergyman in populous parishes a knowledge of the distress which had [29/30] befallen many a family; and I believe, that the attendance of the family at Church upon the day of the funeral, was frequently the means of reminding many a careless Christian, how he had neglected his duty of frequenting the House of God, as he beheld the family pew, in which in his earlier years he was wont to find a place. Even the poorest, whose shabby clothing, or whose want of leisure kept them away from the Church, still regarded that Church as in some degree their own; there lay their dearest relations, their husbands, their wives, their parents, their children, and to it they looked as their last home. This affection for the House of God, though derived from natural feeling and connexions, has kept up in many minds a veneration for Religion, a regard for things sacred, a belief that man has some higher interests than those of this lower world, together with a secret consciousness, that as the Church was intended for the use of the living, the being taken to the Church when dead was a public reproof, almost a putting to shame, of those careless souls, who in their lifetime seldom or ever appeared within its walls.
It is through institutions and customs, as well as by precepts and exhortations, that the knowledge of Religion, and even the Christian Church itself, exists in the world. Every Church is a sermon, every Churchyard a warning, to the thoughtless. It is by ceremonies and by symbols which have a religious character, that the thought of [30/31] religion is presented to the mind. It is from without, that impressions are made upon the spiritual principle, which dwells within. It is by the interweaving of religious actions with natural duties, that human society imbibes the rudiments of religious thought, and advances to the knowledge of God, as the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sanctifier of those to whom He gives the knowledge of His revealed will. I will not charge the Legislature with the intention of separating, as much as possible, the people of this country from the Church of Christ and the communion of the Established Church; but it is too evident, that such is the tendency of recent laws. Our Registrars of Births are so many public officers of the State, instructing and causing the people every where to give to their infants, that which is not a Christian name, and there are thousands, who every year now forego the privilege of Baptism for their children, having been taught by the State a new custom, that of naming children without Baptism; as if in the eyes of a Christian Legislature it were of the utmost importance to name children as soon as born, but of little consequence, whether children are baptized or not. Our Registrars of Marriages are also so many public officers, whose duty it is to facilitate the separation of the people from the Church, and to afford every means for propagating the belief that Marriage is a civil contract, which it is not disreputable to make without any religious ceremony whatever. And the Cemetery system runs in the [31/32] same direction, it is a carrying away the people from their Parish Churches and Churchyards, a severing the tie between them and their lawful minister, the legislation which accompanies it being wholly secular, depriving the Church of authority over her own Churchyards, and even the Bishops of the power to consecrate a Churchyard without the previous sanction of a Secretary of State. As it is not a matter of indifference, in what place those solemn acts are performed which bind men to God or to each other, so neither is it unimportant, in what kind of place we perform those duties, which follow from the disruption of earthly ties by the hand of death. Baptism is valid wherever administered, and Marriage is binding wherever celebrated; but the reality of our admission into the Christian covenant is more strongly typified in the Church than in the drawing-room; and marriage vows are strengthened, as well as hallowed, when made in the House of God. And so it is with Burial. The Cemetery may have been duly consecrated and set apart for the burial of the dead according to law, but its separation from the ordinary place of worship deprives it of more than half its sanctity. There is nothing there, which reminds men of their communion with Christ and with each other as members of His Church, or of their own duty of assembling together at other times besides the occasion of a funeral. Cemetery Burial may be awful, decent, and serious, but as compared with Church Burial it is rather a work of civil [32/33] respect than a solemn act of religion; we have done our duty to the deceased, but we have not strengthened the ties of our affection to the Church to which we belong. Society may be demoralized by the withdrawal of religious actions, as well as by the introduction of vice. As respects the poor, the being compelled, as they now are, to carry their dead to a long distance, attended by the smallest number of friends and relations, is destructive of that solemnity, which was wont to attend the walking funeral from the poor man's residence to his Parish Church; and the diminution of the number of mourners, now necessary to avoid expense, is a narrowing of the exercise of the best feelings, as it causes the fewest tears of the fewest relations to be shed over the grave. The solemnities of death used to unite all the members of the family in paying respect to the dead, and recognizing the ties of nature by which they were bound, but journeys to distant Cemeteries, and all the noise and rapidity of the railway, dissipate serious thought, and make burial the work of business rather than of religion. Modern Cemetery burial appears to me injurious to religion, in the exact proportion in which it separates the Parishioner from his Parish, and from the place of worship, and of weekly, if not of daily, concourse. Cemeteries are indeed of Christian origin; but Christian burial has lost its distinctive feature, if the place of interment be not adjoining to the Church. Heathen examples have been quoted to persuade the people to forego this privilege, and [33/34] the law of the Twelve Tables of Ancient Rome, and the Rescripts of Roman emperors have been adduced, which forbad Intramural burial; and it has been almost cast in our teeth, as if heathens were wiser than Christians, and as if Nature herself had taught men, that the bodies of the dead ought not to find any place among the abodes of the living. A closer inquiry into the nature of Roman burial will show, that in the desire to perpetuate the memory of the dead there was no difference between Heathen and Christian Rome, that the thing farthest from their thought was the desire to bury their dead in unfrequented places, that extramural was not extra-social burial. The greatest novelty, and the greatest violation of all the principles with respect to Burial adopted by Heathen as well as by Christian Rome, is the modern Cemetery system, the burying the dead in places where society has no concourse, the legally prohibiting the place of sepulture of our relative, our friend or patron, from occurring to our sight, except at those times when some fresh bereavement compels us to cross such Deserts of the Dead, as have been formed at Woking Common or at Kensall Green.
It requires no deep knowledge of Roman antiquity to become acquainted with the fact, that every Roman family had their own burial-place on their own property; and that if that property lay on a public road, there the sepulchres were placed. The law of the Twelve Tables did, indeed, forbid [34/35] burial within the city, Hominem mortuum in urbe neve sepelito, neve unto;" but though it appears from the discussion upon this law, in Cicero de legibus, I. ii. 23, that bodies were prohibited from being burned within the city as a precaution against fire; there is not the slightest intimation, that burial within the city was prohibited on the score of health. The prohibition of burial rested upon other grounds, viz. that it was not competent to any individual to appropriate to his own use a part of the public soil, and to give to it by burial the character of "locus religiosus." [Rosini Antiq. Rom. L. v. c. 39; L. xii. c. 6.] To this effect are the statements of Cicero, "In urbe lex sepeliri vetat; sic decretum a Pontificum collegio, non esse jus in loco publico fieri sepulcrum;" and again, "Statuit enim collegium, locum publicum non potuisse privata religions obligari." And that this law even after its enactment was not universal in its obligation, is evident from the question put to Cicero by Atticus, "Quid qui post XII. in urbe sepulti sunt clari viri?" "How happens it that after this law eminent men were buried in the city?" The answer of Cicero being most remarkable, as showing that there were in his time families in Rome, who had not been deprived by the law of the Twelve Tables of their rights previously acquired, as well as others, who had virtutis causa" been buried within the city subsequently to the passing of that law. "Credo, Tite, fuisse aut eos, quibus hoc ante legem [35/36] virtutis causa tributum est, ut Publicolae, ut Tiburto, quod eorum posteri jure tenuerunt; aut eos, siqui hoc ut C. Fabricius, virtutis causa soluti legibus consecuti sunt."
Intramural burial was also prohibited by the Roman emperors Hadrian and Diocletian. [Digest. L. xlvii. Tit. xii. De sepulcro violato, § 3. Codex, L. iii. Tit. xliv. De religiosis et sumtibus funerum, § 12. Diocletianus et Maximianus.] But whilst it may be remarked, that Religion, not Health, was the ground of the prohibition, "Ne sanctum municipiorum jus polluatur;" it is also to be observed, that in so many of the Municipia was burial within the walls permitted by law, that Ulpian, in his Remarks upon the Rescript of Hadrian, suggests the question, whether the Imperial Rescript, which forbad the practice, overrides the Municipal law which permits it, and determines the point in favour of the supreme authority of the Rescript. We have the fullest evidence as to the manner in which the rich and the renowned amongst the Romans were buried; Jacobus Gutherius de Jure Manium. L. ii. c. 33. Graevii Thes. T. 12.] all the public roads were [36/37] decorated with the tombs of the dead; publicity, not privacy, was the distinctive character of Roman burial. [Nicolaus Bergierius de publicis et militaribus Imperii Rom. Viis, L. ii. c. 34. Fabricii descriptio urbis Rom. c. xx.] They buried in public, and erected statues in public, because, as Cicero says, "Vita mortuorum in memoria vivorum est posita." [Philippica ix. 5.] They would have considered that system of burial which removed their dead out of their sight, and therefore out of their mind, as a misfortune and disgrace. But how and where the poor were buried is not so evident: we know but of one place in Rome which is mentioned by Horace, similar places being supposed to have generally existed outside the towns. [Petri Morestelli Pompa feralis, L. v. c. 5. Graevii i. 12. Varro (De puticulis) Lib. iv.]
Huc prius angustis ejecta cadavera cellis
Conservus viri portanda locabat in area.
Hoc miserae plebi stabat commune sepulchrum,
Pantolabo scurrae Nomentanoque nepoti.
 Mille pedes in fronte trecentos cippus in agrum
Hic dabat: Heredes monumentum ne sequeretur.
Nunc licet Esquiliis habitare salubribus, atque
Aggere in aprico spatiari; quo modo tristes
Albis informem spectabant ossibus agrum." SERMON I. 8.
[The Burial-ground thus described by Horace was of a remarkable character. It was as the inscription "Heredes monumentum ne sequeretur" plainly declares, "sepulcrum familiare," not "sepulcrum hereditarium," a Burial-place limited to the "familia" of the deceased, though possibly in the term "familia" his household might be included; but in which the heirs of his property or of his estate were to have no right. It was also of unusual magnitude, 300 yards in length and 100 in depth; the space which by decree of the Senate was given for the sepulture of Servius Sulpicius, his children and descendants in the Campus Esquilinus, was only a square of 30 feet. (Cicero, Philippica ix. 7.) But how this vast private Burial-place, set apart for the use of a particular family should become "commune sepulcrum," and that "miserae plebi," is not easily to be explained, no property being more strictly protected by the Roman law from alienation than the sites of sepulchres. It would seem that the Poet saw a moral in the change which had taken place, and which had converted a sepulchre of the rich and proud Roman, and from which even heirs were to be excluded, into a common Burial-ground for the most wretched and lowest of the people.--Gutherius de Jure Manium. L. iii. c. 9, 10. Gruteriani Indicis, c. 17 and 20. Morcelli de Stylo Inscript. Lat. vol. ii. p. 75.]
The place thus described was outside the ancient city, but it lay on the high-road to Labicum on the Via Labicana. It has been supposed, that the poet Horace applies the epithet "salubres" to the Esquiliae, as newly acquired either by the removal of the Burialground, or by a stop being put to the practice of burning bodies in that quarter. [Barthol. Marliani Urbis Rom. Topog. iv. 19. Graevii Thes. T. iii.] I am inclined to think that in the verse "Nunc licet Esquiliis habitare salubribus," the words "licet habitare" are the emphatic part of the sentence and that the allusion is not to a change in the healthiness of the Esquiliae, but to the enlargement of the City by Augustus, and the [38/39] inclusion of the whole Esquiline mount within the walls; the legal results of which proceeding would be, the concession of the ground which formed the Pomaerium to building purposes, and the restriction of the use of the Burial-ground, as now being within the walls. [Alex. Donatus de Urbe Rom. i. 13. Graevii Thes. T. iii.] I repeat, however, that the extramural burial of the Ancients was not extra-social. It was, indeed, Christianity, which taught men the doctrine, that there was no legal uncleanness, no polluting principle in bodies which when alive were "the Temples of the Holy Ghost;" which in process of time rendered obsolete all the laws of heathen Rome, founded upon the heathen notion of pollution by the dead, and attached Cemeteries to the Churches in cities for the common use of all the faithful, poor as well as rich; but this change scarcely made burial more conspicuous than before; it was a new practice, but in conformity with, and not in opposition to, the feelings and principles upon which society had for ages already acted. [M. A. Frances Tractatus de Cathedralibus. C. 17. De sepulturis. C. 26. De Ceemeteriis Eccles. Cathed. Venetiis. 1698.] It is remarkable, that the strongest testimony which can be adduced for the continuance of extramural burial in the Roman empire, contains also the most conclusive evidence of its publicity, and of its nearness to human habitation. "To this end," says Chrysostom, "the Deity has provided, that tombs should be every where erected, to remind us of our infirmity. Every city, every village, has tombs at its entrance. [39/40] If a man is hastening to enter into a city, adorned with royalty, and wealth, and power, and other dignities, before he sees what he has imagined, he beholds what he is. There are tombs at the gates, and tombs in the frontage of the fields. Every where there is presented the lesson of our humiliation, and we are first taught into what we are resolved, before we behold the sights within the city." [Chrysostom. Homil. LXXXIX. Tom. vi. p. 841. Ed. 1612.]
No proceedings can be more opposed to the principles upon which Heathens, as well as Christians, have hitherto acted with regard to burial, than those which have been of late years adopted by the Legislature of this Country. The authority of the Secretary of State is now actively employed not only in separating in burial the present from former generations, but in preventing future generations from being exemplary in succession to each other.
To bury the dead in places apart from human habitation is to overwhelm their memories in darkness; it is the putting the Candle under the Bushel, instead of on the Candlestick; it is a forbidding the [40/41] light of the noble, the wise, and the good, who are departed, so to shine before men, that they may remember their good works and be excited to follow their example.
"A man (says Bishop Jeremy Taylor, in the first chapter of his Holy Dying,) may read a sermon the best and most passionate that ever man preached, if he shall but enter into the sepulchres of kings. In the same Escurial where the Spanish princes live in greatness and power, and decree war or peace, they have wisely placed a Cemetery, where their ashes and their glory shall sleep till time shall be no more. And where our kings have been crowned, their ancestors lie interred, and they must walk over their grandsire's head to take his crown. There is an acre sown with royal seed, the copy. There the greatest change, from rich to naked, from ceiled roofs to arched coffins, from living like gods to die like men. There the warlike and the peaceful, the fortunate and the miserable, the beloved and the despised princes mingle their dust, and lay down their symbol of mortality, and tell all the world, that when we die, our ashes shall be equal to kings, and our pains or our crowns shall be less." But are these lessons only taught at Westminster or Windsor? Or is it only Kings and Queens, who by such associations are reminded of their mortality, and taught to emulate the virtues or shun the vices of their predecessors? Are there no persons in the world beneath the rank, or whose achievements are less, than those of a [41/42] Nelson or Wellington, whose memory deserves to be perpetuated by Burial in places of constant resort? Are Statesmen the only persons, whose last resting place should never be forgotten? Are Poets the only persons whom it is fit to inter in the Abbey; and Painters, and Architects, and Royal Academicians, the only persons whose remains should repose in St. Paul's? Happily for England, greatness and goodness, "what is lovely and of good report, what is truly virtuous and worthy of praise," is not limited to heroes, or statesmen, or to the men of genius, or to those who are skilled in art; nor is it such persons alone, that the nation should remember, or our sons and daughters be exhorted to revere and love. There is not a single county or city or town, there is hardly a village or hamlet in England, which does not contain men and women of all gradations in society, who are loved and honoured in their lives as benefactors to the circle in which they live, around whose graves crowds will not willingly assemble to deplore their loss, and whose monument in the Church, or tombstone in the burying ground, would not serve to keep alive their memory, and to renew the story of their virtues through many long years. It is not the death of the noble, the wealthy, or the learned, which alone call forth these feelings; it is not only the burial-place of the aged rector, which still keeps in mind his long and laborious ministry, or the slab upon the wall, which records the early death of the zealous curate, [42/43] who sacrificed his life to duty, which has encouraged many of us to follow their example; but even the grave of the village schoolmaster, and of the good man of the farm, or the good wife of the cottage, and the tomb of the old and faithful servant of the good and the noble, teach lessons as useful to society, as encouraging to virtue, as productive of good, as those which are learned from the monument of a Nelson, or the statue of a Peel.
But if we are no longer to derive this use from our Churches and Churchyards, or if the places allotted for the dead be no longer places of concourse, is it not manifest that all these lessons, lessons the value of which even the Heathen understood, will be no longer taught? I cannot better exemplify the principles I have adduced, than by describing my own personal experience of the lesson to be learned from Intramural Burial, and if all who hear me acknowledge, that each in his own sphere of duty is continually addressed in the same manner, can we think that the members of our congregation, both old and young, are not reading the same lesson, or that we alone have eyes to see and hearts to understand?
In the Chapel of the Charterhouse how interesting to the members of the foundation are the memorials of the dead! There our Founder has reposed beneath a splendid tomb for nearly two centuries and a half, and being dead yet speaketh to us all, both old and young, reminding us not to disgrace his bounty, and exciting us to thankfulness to [43/44] God. But thus to teach in death will be forbidden to future Benefactors. No future Lord Chief Justice of England, who may arise from the Scholars of the Charterhouse, can consign his body, as the late Lord Ellenborough did, to be interred in the Founder's Vault, in token of his affection for the place of his education, and to be even in death an example to stimulate his schoolfellows to exertions like his, in the hope of like reward. My Schoolmaster lies beneath my feet, my predecessor in the Preachership also; there repose the friends with whom I have lived for thirty years; and there also ought to have reposed one lately taken from us, our Second Master, the much beloved and lamented Oliver Walford: his burial in our Chapel would have still more endeared that sacred place to his friends, his schoolfellows, and his pupils, and ever served to prolong his memory amongst those who annually there assemble on the anniversary of our Founder's death. I go to my Parish Church--there is the grave of Milton; in my Parish he lived and died: there is Fox the Martyrologist, and Speed the Historian, and there are the monumental tablets of several of my predecessors--men of various endowments and abilities, which forcibly remind me that my course must end like theirs, and that I, like them, must pass to give account. They teach a lesson which we shall be forbidden to give. Monuments enclosed within the gates of Cemeteries are uninstructive, few have leisure, and fewer still the will, to go there and read.
 I must now close my remarks upon the all-important subject of Intramural Burial. I am well aware of the reponsibility which I have incurred in asserting, that though the Legislature of this country has determined "that Intramural burial is dangerous to the public health," the truth of the proposition still remains to be proved. I have endeavoured to show how much the interests of religion and morality are affected by the recent measures; how contrary the proceedings of the Government in closing our Churches and Churchyards against burial are to the whole usage of the Christian Church; how opposed is the retired and secluded character of modern Cemeteries to the feelings and the practices even of the Heathen. I have spoken in behalf of the ministers of a Church, whose rights have been invaded and destroyed in violation of the public pledge given by the House of Commons in their instructions to the Select Committee of 1842, and in behalf of the members of a Church who are oppressed and injured; the Legislature having protected Jews and Quakers in the possession of their burial-places, whilst the members of the Church of England are deprived of their private vaults and burying-places, acquired both by inheritance and by purchase, in opposition to the special recommendation of that Select Committee; the most earnest application to permit the burial of the Nobleman in his own resting place, of the Canon in his cathedral, or by the side of his wife, and of the aged Pastor in [45/46] his own church, having been made to the Secretaries of State, but made in vain. Let Cemeteries be formed for those who approve them, but let not the private rights of individuals, or the public right of parishioners to be buried in their own burial-ground, be taken away upon grounds, the truth of which has not been established, neither science nor experience affording so much as a probability, that interment in Churches or Churchyards is injurious to public health. If regulations are required for burial, let them be made, and let every facility be given for the enlargement of the existing Churchyards. Let every thing be done to preserve the dead, whether buried in catacombs or in graves, from being unduly or prematurely disturbed. If the capitalist has been permitted by the Legislature to make the burial of the people a trade, we would not disturb his privilege; all that we ask for ourselves is, not to be debarred the use of our own Churches and Churchyards upon false and insufficient grounds, and that Churches and Churchyards shall not be closed, merely because their condition or their locality is not found to be in accordance with regulations, which have been without due advice and consideration prescribed by the Secretary of State.