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Requêtes, Ingénieur en chef au Corps Royal des Mines, Inspecteur-Général des Travaux souterrains du Département de la Seine. Paris.
THE Hydriotaphia of Sir Thomas Brown is one of the most
beautiful works of that admirable author. There is perhaps no other writer either of our own or of any other country, whose intellect had so perfectly assimilated all its stores of learning. His feelings seem always to have ended in meditation; and his meditations, on the other hand, always bring with them a subdued but vivid feeling. The number of the dead,' he says, 'long exceedeth all that shall live. The night of time far surpasseth the day; and who knows when was the æquinox? Every hour adds unto that current arithmetic which scarce stands one moment. And since death must be the Lucina of life, and even pagans could doubt whether thus to live were to die, since our longest sun sets at right descensions, and makes but winter arches, and therefore it cannot be long before we lie down in darkness, and have our light in ashes, since the brother of death daily haunts us with dying mementos, and time that grows old itself bids us hope no long duration, diuturnity is a dream and folly of expectation.To subsist in lasting mouuments, to live in their productions, to exist in their names, was large satisfaction unto old expectations, and made one part of their elysiums. But all this is nothing in the metaphysics of true belief. To live, indeed, is to be again ourselves; which being not only an hope but an evidence in noble believers, tis all one to lie in St. Innocent's church-yard, as in the sands of Egypt, ready to be any thing in the ecstacy of being ever, and as content with six foot as the moles of Adrianus.'
Man,' says the same writer, 'is a noble animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave; solemnizing nativities and deaths with equal lustre, nor omitting ceremonies of bravery in the infancy of his nature.' It is indeed worthy of notice, that the Caffres are the only savages who have ever been found in so brutal a state as to forsake their dead; for even among the most degraded tribes, some funeral custom is observed, which is always decent, and generally respectful: and though among the Caffres burial is the exclusive privilege of the king, and all other bodies are thrown to the hyenas, this arises not from a disrespect to the dead. It is never their intention that any person shall die naturally, and they who breathe their last in any sudden access of disease, escape the miserable fate of being cast to the wild beasts while they are yet breathing. These people are led to the commission of such inhumanity by a superstition connected with death, believing that if it occurs in their habitations, it will draw on them a continuance of calamities: the reason therefore that they have no funeral ceremo-`
nies is, that by the general practice none are suffered to die among them. The Caffres, therefore, can hardly be considered as an exception to the fact that an awful or tender feeling of respect for the remains of the dead belongs to human nature, and is retained even when many of its other instincts have been perverted or extinguished. No ruder savages have ever been discovered than those of New Holland: but even in that country Captain Flinders found skeletons placed upright in the hollow stumps of trees, and the skulls and bones painted or smeared partly red and partly white. So universal is this care, that although for the inhabitants of a maritime city, the most obvious and the easiest mode of disposing of the dead would be by committing them to the deep, no such method seems in any instance to have prevailed, because it would have the appearance of casting them away, rather than of depositing them in peace.
The Mahomedans pretend to shew the grave of Eve near Jidda; and a wild story has found its way into the Romish legends, that the bones of Adam were taken into the ark by Noah, and buried by him, after the waters had abated, on Mount Calvary, upon the very spot where the cross was placed. Leaving to such traditions as little credit as they deserve, it appears certain, that the earliest mode of disposing of the dead was by interment, and probably the earliest refinement that of having sepulchres in the rock. When nations have been desirous of doing honour to their dead, some have resorted to means for accelerating decomposition, others for preventing it. Cremation, by which the former object is best attained, fell into disuse in those countries where it once prevailed, partly because of the expense, fuel diminishing as population and agriculture increased, and partly, perhaps, because the early Christians may have thought it less congruous than interment, with the doctrine of the resurrection. According to Mr. Ward the missionary, who had opportunities of ascertaining the fact in India, the smallest quantity of wood which is sufficient to consume a hu
Civilians,' says Sir Thomas Brown, make sepulture but of the law of nations, others do naturally found it, and discover it also in animals. They that are so thickskinned as still to credit the story of the phoenix, may say something for animal burning. More serious conjecturers find some examples of sepulture in elephants, cranes, the sepulchral cells of pismires, and practice of bees, which civil society carrieth out their dead, and hath exequies if not interments.' A remarkable incident in the story of Sindbad the sailor seems founded upon this notion as it relates to elephants. This is mentioned because of a curious passage in the Transactions of the Missionary Society: speaking of these animals, Dr. Vanderkemp says, I was surprized that we never found skeletons or teeth of those that die spontaneously: but that they bury or hide their dead, I am now led to suspect by the following observation. One of our company killed an elephant, and went the next day unarmed with some of our women to take out its teeth. They found between fifteen and twenty elephants at work to take up the dead corpse with their tusks, but drove them away by their cries.'
man body is about three hundred weight. Even this is a considerable bulk, and an expense beyond the means of the poor; for whom indeed it seems unlikely that burning can any where have been in general use. The last instance of it in any Christian country, is that of Henry Laurens, the first President of the American Congress. He desired in his will that his body might be burnt, and required the performance of the wish from his children as a duty. One of his daughters when an infant had been laid out as dead in the small-pox, and was revived by the fresh air from the window, which during her illness had been carefully kept closed. This circumstance made him dread the possibility of being buried alive; and he had some whimsical notions of the purifying nature of fire, which he supported by texts of Scripture no ways relevant in his application of them. Such a purgatory would be as much easier than the Romanists' as it is less plausible. He that hath the ashes of his friend, says Sir Thomas Brown, hath an everlasting treasure. Savages, who seem never to have thought of incineration, have religiously preserved the bones of their friends. Some of the Orinoco tribes fasten their dead by a rope to the trunk of a tree on the shore, and sink the body in the river, and in the course of four and twenty hours the skeleton is picked perfectly clean by the fish. The Tapuyas reduced the bones to powder, and mingled them as an act of piety with their food. Some of the Moxo tribes had a similar custom: they made their powder into cakes with a mixture of maize, and considered it the surest pledge of friendship to offer and partake of this family bread.
Whatever relation there may have been between the Egyptians and the ancient Hindoos, they differed widely in their treatment of the dead. The Hindoos regarded the body as a clog upon the immortal part of our nature,—a shell which the spirit was to burst before it could take wing. A mansion,' says Menu, with bones for its rafters and beams, with nerves and tendons for cords; with muscles and blood for mortar, with skin for its outward covering;
-a mansion infested by age and sorrow, the seat of malady, harassed with pains, haunted with the quality of darkness, and incapable of standing long,—such a mansion of the vital soul let its occupier always cheerfully quit.' The Egyptians, on the contrary, thought that when the great cycle was complete, the soul would return to reanimate its fleshly mansion, and therefore they were at such extraordinary pains for keeping the old tenement in good repair;— though how the poor tenant was to be accommodated without the usual furniture of brains and intestines is a difficulty which might have puzzled them. Little did they foresee that the bodies which were so carefully embalmed for this purpose, and deposited in works of
such extraordinary labour as their catacombs, would one day become a regular article of trade with Europe, to be broken up and sold by the grain and scruple, and taken as medicine! When the old traveller, John Sanderson, returned to England, six hundred weight were brought home for the Turkey Company, in pieces. A preference was given to virgin mummy when this precious drug was in request. The virtue was certainly supposed to be more in the Egyptian than the spice. Fuller tells us, that in his days there were persons who maintained that the smelling to perfect mould made of men's consumed bodies is a preservative of life.'
The rudest mode of preserving the dead is that which Captain Tuckey found upon the Congo. Simmons requested a piece of cloth to envelope his aunt, who had been dead seven years, and was to be buried in two months, being now arrived at a size to make a genteel funeral. The manner of preserving corpses for so long a time is by enveloping them in cloth of the country, or in European cottons, the smell of putrefaction being only kept in by the quantity of wrappers which are successively multiplied as they can be procured by the relations of the deceased, or according to the rank of the person; in the case of a rich and very great man, the bulk acquired being only limited by the power of conveyance to the grave: so that the first hut in which the body is deposited becoming too small, a second, a third, even to a sixth, increasing in dimensions, is placed over it.' A custom somewhat resembling this was found in the province of Popayan, when first the Spaniards entered it: there the body was scorched over a fire before it was thus enveloped. A more loathsome custom prevails among the Caribs of Guiana. When one of their chiefs dies, his body is watched for thirty days by his wives, whose duty it is to keep close to it during that whole time, and not suffer a fly to alight upon it, while the insupportable stench attracts them by millions. At the end of that time it is buried, and one of the women with it, for a companion. The frequent custom among the American Indians of depositing food in their graves draws forth a curious remark from Pedro de Cieza: the devil makes them believe that they are to live again in a kingdom which he has prepared for them, and that they must take with them provisions for the journey, as if,' says the good Spaniard, hell were a long way off.'
The horrible manner in which the Parsees pollute the air with their dead, originates in a superstitious fear, which their sacred books inculcate, of polluting either Earth, Water, or Fire. Mr. Moore, therefore, in making his Guebre cast himself into the Fire which he adores, has committed as great a fault in costume, as if he were to represent Judas Maccabæus offering a sacrifice of swine
in the temple of Jerusalem. Kamdeen Shapoor was sent into Persia from India, about one hundred and fifty years ago, to procure information concerning the rites and forms of the Parsees. He said, Teach me how to make a place of sepulture. The learned replied, The place on which it is to be made must be waste, and be far from dwellings; near it must be no cultivation; nor the business necessarily attending the existence of dwellings; no habitation nor population must be near it.' This was part of the evidence on a trial at Bombay in 1808. A custom precisely like that of the Parsees prevails in Thibet, and from thence the old Persians may possibly have derived it: for a custom so strange, and so revolting to the common feelings of human nature is more likely to have been derived from one people by another, than to have sprung up from some caprice of imagination in both. In the Peruvian Andes the dead were placed in towers, and not covered with earth; but from Herrera's account it appears, that these were family sepulchres, and not places of public exposure. It is said of the ancient Phrygians, that when a priest died they placed his dead body upon a high pillar, as if he were to continue to instruct the people from thence after his death.
The Jews have some remarkable fancies concerning their dead. They seem, indeed, to be as much distinguished from their ancestors by the childish and monstrous superstitions with which their literature is filled, as by their firm adherence to that law against which they rebelled so often before it was abrogated. So well, however, are they now persuaded of the resurrection, that the name which they give to a burial place is the House of the Living, an expression finely implying that it is the dead alone who can be said to live truly. The body according to their notion has a certain indestructible part called Luz, which is the seed from whence it is to be reproduced. It is described as a bone in shape like an almond, and having its place at the end of the vertebræ; and truly this is not more absurd than the hypothesis which assigned the pineal gland for the seat of the soul. This bone, according to the Rabbis, can neither be broken by any force of man, nor consumed by fire, nor dissolved by water; and they tell us that the fact was proved before the Emperor Adrian, upon whom they imprecate their usual malediction, May his bones be broken!" In his presence Rabbi Joshua Ben Chauma produced a Luz: it was ground between two mill-stones, but came out as whole as it had been put in; they burnt it with fire, and it was found incombustible: they cast it in water, and it could not be softened; lastly, they hammered it upon an anvil, and both the anvil and hammer were broken without affecting the Luz. The Rabbinical writers, with their wonted perversion of Scripture, support this