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النشر الإلكتروني

THE COMPANION.

No. XVII. WEDNESDAY, APRIL 30, 1828.

"Something alone yet not alone, to be wished, and only to be found, in a friend."-SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE.

SUBJECTS FOR DISSECTION.

THE difficulty of procuring bodies for the anatomist, whose science is so obviously connected with the interests of humanity, has at length obtained the notice of parliament; and a committee has been appointed to inquire into the means of doing it away. It appears that there are six or seven hundred students of anatomy in London, three parts of whom are obliged to go into other countries to find the means of pursuing their investigations. Mr Warburton said, that “if due facilities of obtaining subjects were afforded, the number of students in this country would not be less than 1,000, and taking the necessary supply of subjects to each student at two, the number required would be 2,000. According to the existing usage, none but the bodies of murderers could be legally obtained for dissection; but it was quite obvious that the supply thus afforded was totally insufficient. The number of bodies for the county of Middlesex in cases of murder, was only in the proportion of five in seven years."

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Is it possible that this rate can be true? There is consolation so far, at all events. On the other hand, the necessity for 2,000 dead bodies in hand, is a little startling. Mr Warburton mentioned a circumstance, illustrative of the importance of the human subject, to anatomical explanation, from which the House appear to have

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expected a more awful impression. "He was informed," he said, "of a fact which really occurred in this metropolis lately, which he would mention to the House in illustration of this matter. It was at the Mechanics' Institute. Some lectures were given on anatomy and dissection: it was found that without having the actual subject brought in, the lecturer was not able to explain satisfactorily some of the soft parts of the human body. A subject was procured, and brought into the lecture-room carefully covered. The lecturer then proceeded with the explanation to about 1,200 persons; one or two of whom, of delicate stomachs, retired—(a laugh)—the rest remained, and immediately comprehended the complete anatomy before them. The body was now the property of the mechanics."

On this piece of illustration, Mr Peel remarked," As to the anecdote which the Hon. Member related of the 1,200 mechanics, he (Mr Peel) listened with attention, expecting that the Hon. Member would follow it up, by telling the House that those admiring mechanics, one and all, instantly volunteered to give up their own bodies for dissection. (Much laughing.)"

The House did not deny the importance of the motion. On the contrary, they appeared to be fully impressed with it; but Mr Peel justly said, that "it was hard to contend against those feelings among the people, which the Hon. Gentleman called prejudices; and impossible not to respect those feelings of regard which the people retained for their relatives, even beyond the grave. Whatever regulations were adopted, he thought it would` be found extremely difficult to effect the desired object."

In Paris, it appears, it is easy enough to get subjects, In Dublin it is easier than in England. In Naple In Naples and other countries of the south, where they tumble the dead into pits, and seem to think no more of them than of so many bits of plaster, might be easier still. Life runs more merrily in the veins of the people of those countries, France and even Ireland included, than in the bodies of our beef-eating and fire-side brethren; and this

*We have not entered upon this point, though an important one; because we conceive that the feelings of kindred would alter with those of society at large. As it is, they can give way to other feelings esteemed honourable, such as the desire to ascertain what was the cause of a person's death.

makes them less thoughtful of what happens after death. The famous appeal of the condemned man in 'Measure for Measure,' is in true northern taste, and would have become Hamlet still better than a northern Italian

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'Aye, but to die, and go we know not where ;
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;

This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod," &c.

Dr Johnson was found sitting and repeating these lines a little before his death.

On the other hand, nothing seems more curious, on this very account, than the dislike which people's imaginations entertain of having their bodies "disturbed," as they call it, in the grave, and taken out to be disposed of in another manner; that is to say, delivered from this very obstruction and rotting, and mingled more speedily with the elements. It is still more wonderful to consider how easily they contemplate being buried at all, especially when the public are horrified now and then with stories of men prematurely put in the earth, and of bodies that are found to have turned in their graves. On reading those stories, and considering the probability of some of them, one might reasonably be astonished to think, how it is, that the very imaginations which induce men to shudder at the idea of being disturbed in their graves (feeling themselves alive, as it were, so far), do not make society rise up against the present system of interment, and demand the ancient custom of urn-burial,-of being reduced at once to ashes, and gathered into that pure and graceful depository. But here lies the secret; for the old custom is not the prevailing one; and custom lords it, even over the most tyrannical of our fears. "To lie in cold obstruction and to rot," presents a terrible idea, both on account of its unnaturalness to our living sensations and its continuity;-nay, to be disturbed at all, is to the dreamer of the coffin very shocking;-and yet the same man will be more shocked at the notion of being burnt; and little, if at all, moved with those circumstances attending upon corruption, which imply a disturbing of the most loathsome description. The reason is, that his fathers were not burnt. They were put into coffins; they were subject to be stolen by resurrection-men, and eaten by worms;

and they disliked extremely the apprehension of being interred, as well as the very appalling things mentioned by Shakspeare; but as they underwent all this, their sons must undergo it.

We do not state these prejudices, to laugh at them. There is something in the reverence for existing things, which we also deeply respect, and which we would only trench upon by degrees, and with due regard to what the natural changes of the world assist in bringing about. Besides, we partake of them, in common with everybody who has a real sympathy with mankind. We confess, that if any one could give us our choice tomorrow of being burnt after death, instead of buried, our imaginations would run through the whole process of the fire, and feel inclined to give up their classical predilections. It would appear a sort of new martyrdom at the stake; dead, it is true; void of sensation, says reason; but then we know nothing of death; we have no experience of it; and can only think of death itself with our living ideas; all which is told us by reason also. We might even follow our particles in their flight, and wonder what those burning atoms experience.

Nevertheless, so abhorrent is human nature from confinement and want of motion, and so appalling to a breathing creature, above every other idea, is that of being pressed down, or having the mouth covered, that "if we were a king" (as the little boys say), and could do as proper little-boy kings ought, who sit with crowns on their heads and sceptres in their hands from breakfast till dinner, we certainly conceive, that on the seventh day from our coronation, and after ordering a world of improvements for the benefit of our living subjects, we should insist upon making fuel of them when they were dead. We should of course occupy an urn ourselves, in due course of time; and upon our urn should be written," Here lies the man who would suffer nobody to be idle, or without leisure; who hindered the old from marrying the young, and allowed the unhappily married not to be a torment to one another; who rescued the living from intolerance, and the dead from corruption; and saw no more end to the hopes of man, than to the number of the stars."

After this rhapsody (which by the way, comprises almost the whole substance of our creed) the reader may ask, what would

become of our zeal in behalf of science, and of such interests of our loving and living subjects as required a knowledge of anatomy. The question, we allow, has a startling look; but in so generous and loving a community as we should rule over, the difficulty would surely come to nothing. We would proclaim the merits of a new species of sacrifice after death; one, that delayed indeed the body's mixture with the elements, but only delayed it, and was a gallant thing for the imagination to encounter in behalf of the welfare of society. We would have children taught it; parents should be shown how useful it might turn out to their own children; poets and men of letters should help to render it desirable; and if loving anatomical subjects still failed us for a season, we would proclaim rewards for it, not of money, but of honour. A man's urn should be distinguished by some mark for it; or he should be allowed, while living, some privileges, not mercenary, nor yet unuseful to others: or a train of children, when his body was ultimately consigned to the urn, should follow it to his tomb with garlands and a song of thanks,-(which would give him a flowery idea of death);-in short, that principle in man should be appealed to, which, however mercenary a community may be in other respects, has never yet, when aided by education, been found wanting to the call of circumstances, even in all the living shapes of martyrdom; from the self-sacrifice of the patriot in his dungeon, or the pale and worn scholar at the stake, down to that of the poorest soldier, who thinks it worth dying in a Forlorn Hope for a glance of his captain's eye.

It will be said, that no such principle could be brought to bear on the present object, considering the manners and customs now existing. We doubt it;--not indeed, in its full effect, or in the forms we have been amusing ourselves with supposing; though we think that in these, as in all other cases, influential persons are never aware how much they could effect by laying aside a little of that mistrust, and ill-opinion of men, which they themselves may have contributed to warrant, and appealing handsomely to what is handsome in the human spirit. We heard the other day of a school, in which the master threw open his orchard to the boys, or at least took away all defence of it, and all punishment for its robbery, appealing only to their honour and future manhood:-and not an

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