THE VESTED RIGHTS OF DEATH!
THE Times of the past week contains a most affecting and heart-stirring
appeal (in the way of advertisement) "to the Rectors, Vicars, and
Incumbents of England, the proprietors of vaults; also, to the Parish
Clerks and Sextons, &c., of the Burial Grounds in England!" This
address issueth from the office of "Fitch and Son, 17, Union-street,
Southwark, those champions of the metropolitan interred. They say - and we can
easily imagine the big tears rolling down their cheeks as they sob forth the
"Gentlemen -Your attention should be particularly directed to a BILL introduced into Parliament last Session for the benefit of the proprietors of the new cemeteries, but under the plausible title of "A Bill for the Improvement of the Health of Towns," and which, if passed into a law in its present shape, will be one of the greatest attacks on private property that was ever known, and the greatest outrage on the feelings of human nature, by closing those time-hallowed spots where our forefathers have rested for centuries."
This desecrating bill enacts-
"That from and after the 31st day of December, 184-, no burial or interment of any dead body shall take place in or within the distance of two miles from the precincts or boundaries of the cities of London or Westminster, or the borough of Southwark, or within one mile of any other city, town, or borough, in England, &c. &c."
Now, if this bill pass, will it not peril the fees - the burial fees - of Messrs. the Rectors, Vicars, Incumbents, and also of Parish Clerks and Sextons? Do we not hear the Death's Head, at No. 17,. Union-street, Southwark, crying, with truly sepulchral voice-. "Fees! -fees! -fees!"
Not but what we give Messrs. Fitch and Son credit for higher, for more solemn motives. They doubtless feel that the "time-hallowed" custom of burying the dead among the living, keeps a perpetual lesson of mortality before otherwise unthinking man. Besides, when seated in our pews, the preacher saith - "I have said to corruption, thou art my father: to the worm, thou art my mother and my sister," - are not our religious sympathies wondrously quickened by the charnel-house effiuvia reeking from the vaults below? Do we not arrive at a closer affinity to corruption, when another sense is appealed to from many things around us? And then, what perpetual mementoes are tombstones erected in the highway of London life! How do their solemn enunciations smite the breast of mere money-getting selfishness! How many an attorney, perched on the outside of an omnibus, as the vehicle lingered by a London church-yard, has caught an assurance that he was only a son of dust, a thing of worms, that might be stark to-morrow; and, touched by such assurance, how has he refused to do the harsh bidding of some reckless client, and has wrought an amicable and all but costless arrangement between creditor and debtor; when, had no tombstone stood in his path twixt Brompton and the Bank, he had never thought of his dust - had had no suspicion that by any possibility he could die to-morrow!
We are convinced of it, it is for the precious sake of these humanising influences, that Messrs. Fitch and Son appeal to "Rectors, Vicars," &c. - and no - not for fees!
Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1842
March 12th. She died on the afternoon of the eighth. On the morning of the
ninth, I wrote, as in duty bound, to her stepmother at Hammersmith. There
was no answer. I wrote again; my letter was returned to me this morning unopened. For all that woman cares, Mary might be buried with a pauper's funeral; but
this shall never be, if I pawn everything about me, down to the very gown that is on my back. The bare thought of Mary being buried by the workhouse gave me the spirit to dry my eyes, and go to the undertaker's, and tell him how I was placed. I said if he would get me an estimate of all that would have to be paid, from first to last, for the cheapest decent funeral that could be had, I would undertake to raise the money. He gave me the estimate, written in this way, like a common bill:
A walking funeral complete............Pounds 1 13 8
Vestry.......................................0 4 4
Rector.......................................0 4 4
Clerk........................................0 1 0
Sexton.......................................0 1 0
Beadle.......................................0 1 0
Bell.........................................0 1 0
Six feet of ground...........................0 2 0
Total Pounds 2 8 4
If I had the heart to give any thought to it, I should be inclined to wish that the Church could afford to do without so many small charges for burying poor people, to whose friends even shillings are of consequence. But it is useless to complain; the money must be raised at once. The charitable doctor--a poor man himself, or he would not be living in our neighborhood--has subscribed ten shillings toward the expenses; and the coroner, when the inquest was over, added five more. Perhaps others may assist me. If not, I have fortunately clothes and furniture of my own to pawn. And I must set about parting with them without delay, for the funeral is to be to-morrow, the thirteenth.
Wilkie Collins, The Diary of Anne Rodway, in Household Words, 26 July 1856