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“2307. You cannot trace the illness of these persons directly to the grave-yard ?-No; but those diseases are generally of a low character."
“ 2309. Can you undertake to say that persons living in the immediate neighbourhood of a grave-yard are more frequently ill than persons living at a distance ?-No; I have not been able to make that observation.” This is another of Mr. Mackinnon's best witnesses.
9. Dr. ROBERT BENTLY TODD gave evidence of the greatest importance, when he came forward to defend the site of King's College Hospital against the attacks of Mr. Walker and Sir B. Brodie, who represented its vicinity as most pernicious to the patients of that Institution. Dr. Todd opens with the declaration, " that no inconvenience whatever has been felt from the contiguity of the grave-yard."
“Q. 2409. By the words,' no inconvenience,' do you wish the Committee to understand no sensible inconvenience to the health of the patients within the Hospital ?—Precisely so.
“ 2410. Have you reason to think that any disease has originated, or has been aggravated within that Hospital in consequence of the contiguity of the grave-yard in question ?-I am quite certain that nothing of the kind has happened.
“ 2427. Is it your opinion that that situation is as healthy as one which is more in the open air ?—I do think there is a good large volume of air, which the Hospital enjoys, in consequence of the existence of that burial-ground; I should be very sorry indeed to see the burial-ground removed."
Dr. Todd not only corroborates previous testimony, but cuts up Mr. Mackinnon's project by the roots. He shows that the said Hospital was formerly used as the workhouse of St. Clement's Danes, when it frequently contained 500 inmates at one time, and “ that it was a remarkably healthy workhouse.”
Such, with the single exception of Mr. Walker, are Mr. Mackinnon's Medical witnesses. Was ever failure more complete ? How Mr. Mackinnon can stand forth in the face of the Legislature, and, on the strength of such Evidence, ask for power to put an end to city sepulture on the score of public health, is to us most unaccountable ! The conduct of
“Bedlam beggars, from low farms,
Sometimes with lunatic bans, sometimes with prayers,
seems to us sagacity itself, as compared with that of the honourable Undertaker-General! He reasons without data ; he concludes without proof; he contradicts or overlooks the clearest facts, while he would set the legislative machine in operation to cure an evil wholly imaginary. Every step of his procedure is a riddle, an enigma, which can be solved only by its ecclesiastical bearings.
Mr. Walker, the Doctor of Drury-lane, is Mr. Mackinnon's principal reliance. But we must reserve the examination of this singular character as the subject of our next Letter, not because much space will be required for the demolition of his evidence, but because the monomaniac ardour which he manifests on the subject will enable us to show that the seat of the “ disease" of which we hear so much, is in his own imagination.
September 22, 1842.
EVIDENCE OF MR. WALKER EXAMINED.
GEORGE Alfred WALKER, Esq., has, for the space of about five years, been very assiduous in his inquiries into the subject of interment. He has brought to that pursuit superior talents, an industry which never tires, and an enthusiasm which brooks no check. He has written repeatedly on the question, and he has talked about it without intermission. It has, at length, become in his own breast a strong passion; and, on fire himself, he has succeeded in inflaming many others. Eager and impetuous, he declaims when he ought to reason; and neglecting facts, he gives the reins to fancy. The spirit of the philosopher is nowhere apparent in his evidence. Credulous and imaginative, he carries every thing to excess. Extravagance of thought and of diction mark his evidence throughout. According to our sepulchral reformer, every thing is wrong, and he was 'the first
to discover it. He is not aware of any one who " has given the same attention" to this subject as he has himself. The result is, that he has made discoveries of a very unexpected character, for which, no doubt, the people of England will be duly grateful.
Mr. Walker has done enough for immortality in the single article of leaden coffins. He has had the rare felicity of correcting, upon-this point, the error of many generations. Under question 794, he lays it down, that “it is quite useless to enclose bodies in lead;” at 872, he says, " The public will perhaps think that they do a very clever thing in putting the body of their friend in a leaden coffin, but it is not the least protection;" and again, at 793, he says, “Even leaden coffins placed in vaults cannot retain the destructive exhalations." Mark well this threefold assertion ! Before we accompany Mr. Walker into the mysterious regions of pure chemistry, let us settle this point of practical handicraft with him. That intelligent witness, Mr. Ford, flatly contradicts him (1743), justly contending that
no efluvia can arise from them if they are properly soldered.” This might suffice, but we must permit the Bishop of London also to rebuke the folly of the reckless and extravagant son of Galen. “I am persuaded,” says the observant Prelate, “that, in nineteen cases out of twenty, a properly made leaden coffin effectually prevents the escape of any gases.
any gases. I have been in a great many vaults where bodies have been buried in lead, without perceiving any unpleasant odour; and I do not believe that, generally speaking, any evil results from it. It has been the practice of the Church-building Commissioners, within the last twenty-four years, to sanction the construction of catacombs under churches arched with brick or stone; · and I have never heard from the clergymen or parish-officers, in any case, that any inconvenience has been experienced from interments in such vaults." (2918.)
Whom will you believe, the quiet Bishop, or the effervescent Apothecary? This is not, however, we repeat, a thing of mere opinion, but a thing both of chemical analysis and of practical handicraft. The specific gravity of lead is 11.407; that of iron is only from 7.6 to 7:8; and Mr. Walker tells us, that a illed sheet of such a body is only a riddle, a reticle, or a corn-sieve ! Is such a man to be reasoned with ? Then, as to the joint, which, properly managed, is the strongest part of the fabric,we have read his evidence to undertakers and plumbers of the first respectability, and all their remarks implied, that if the doctors of his neighbourhood knew no more of physic than he did of lead, the mortality round about Drury-lane--even were the reports of its excess as true as they are false—was at once accounted for!
Not only, it seems, are leaden coffins an absurdity, but we are all likewise wrong with regard both to the expense and the form of wooden coffins. “I think," says our sapient Surgeon, “ there is a great deal of unnecessary expense as to coffins ; that the French are wiser than we are; they seldom
pay more than five or seven francs for a coffin.” (872.) " It is exceedingly similar to an orange-chest, in the form of a roof at the top.” (879.) The Jewish and other importers of oranges may turn this hint to account. We are equally wrong, too, it would appear, with respect to our graves.
We should use as light a coffin as possible, and on no account should they be placed in pits." He proposes that the English should bury men exactly as the Lowland Scotch plant potatoes. After the fashion of the French “fosses communes," he would have a trench of any given width, and four feet in depth, “the earth being thrown up on either side;" and thus he would have the bodies “ deposited side by side, (like salmon on a marble slab,) but not one upon another. The mortality of the day being received, the earth is thrown on the coffins thus deposited, until the fosse is filled, when another place is dug and occupied in the same manner.” (832.)
The zeal of Mr. Walker may be further illustrated by the fact, that he employed the witness Whittaker to procure him a quantity of gas from a coffin. This the witness did by boring a hole in the lid of a leaden coffin, and then applying to it the mouth of an India-rubber bottle. Whittaker, having obtained the precious load, set off with it to Drury-lane. Mr. Walker, overjoyed at the acquisition of such a treasure, set to the work of analysis; but, not having his process ready, he passed it. through water instead of mercury, by which he lost a great deal of it. Our philosopher's pains, on this occasion, added but
little to his chemical knowledge; although, rightly improved, they might have served to increase his practical wisdom. In one minute after the gas was brought into his shop, it escaped so rapidly that his sister and cousin smelt it on the third story, and fled from the house. The chemist himself became very ill, and kept his bed for a week—the lamentable but natural reward of his folly. And this is one of the awful facts on which Mr. Mackinnon grounds the principle of his Bill !
Mr. Walker went on discoursing to the Committee on the horrors of the tomb and the pestilential gases which rise from all the grave-yards of London, mingling together like the streams of a hundred fountains, and loading the air of every street with deadly poison, till the hair of the Honourable Members stood on end! Poor Mr. Mackinnon, it is believed, cried out,
“Oh! sight Of terror, foul and ugły to behold,
Horrid to think, how horrible to feel !" and then addressed the witness in the following strain of excited alarm
“Q. 833. Your impression is, that, wherever they open a grave in the grave-yards in this town, the opening it opens a VOLCANO for the emission of these gases ?” “UNQUESTIONABLY," was the awful reply! The prophet of terror, at question 836, however, rather abates the Vesuvian horrors of the stricken Chairman, by a figure more familiar than Ætna to English ears and eyes since Father Thames began to adorn his gigantic bosom with ornaments of Boulton and Watt's formation. Speaking of the practice of keeping open graves, he says: “ There is thus a funnel for the gas to escape !" The funnel by which Mr. Walker's folly escapes must be of a wide diameter! If fullgrown men will dance a whirligig, surely they might find some fitter place for their fantastic exhibitions than the tomb! There is an end to the operations of reason, if grave acts of legislation are to be founded on such nonsense. 66 Volcanoes !" "Funnels!" Has common sense abdicated her ancient throne in favour of a new occupant ?
We have said enough to enable you to form some notion of our funereal philosopher, and will now proceed to examine his