and Thorne; and in some of these cases analyses of the water were made, which showed it to be impure, and to contain organic matters from sewage. "A very good case," continues Dr. Parkes, "at the Garnkirk works in Glasgow, is recorded by Dr. Perry. Dr. De Renzy, the Sanitary Commissioner of the Punjab, has also published a remarkable paper on the extinction of typhoid fever in Milbank prison, and shows, from statistics of many years, that the fever has entirely disappeared since the use of Thames water was given up. The disappearance was coincident with the change in the water-supply. Two excellent cases are recorded by Dr. Clifford Albutt, and one by Dr. Wohlrab, which are free from ambiguity. Another clear case is recorded by Dr. Latham. Typhoid fever was introduced into a village and spread by the agency of contaminated water."*

Dr. Parkes thinks the evidence not conclusive as to which is the greater source of typhoid disease, foul air, or impure water. But it seems to me the decision of such a question is not important. The evidence which he brings forward amply supports the conclusion at which he arrives, namely, that the disease may be soonest engendered by impure water; "two or three days only elapsing before the symptoms are marked.”

[ocr errors]

The author is of the opinion that "a very sudden and localized outbreak, of either typhoid fever or cholera, is almost certainly owing to introduction of the poison by water." And he likewise associates many of the most fatal maladies of Christendom with the use of impure water. "Although," he observes, "it is not at present possible to assign to every impurity in water its exact share in the production of disease, or to prove the precise influence on the public health of water which is not extremely impure, it appears certain that the health of a community always improves when an abundant and pure water is given; and, apart from this actual evidence, we are entitled to conclude, from other considerations, that an abundant and good water is a sanitary necessity." +

The essential poison in all these epidemics of typhoid *Practical Hygiene, pp. 46, 47. + Ibid., p. 56. Ibid., p. 56.

fever appears to be associated with bacteria, an alga which is known to be numerously developed in the waters of surface wells, sewage, sinks, and stagnant pools. Indeed, microscopists are well acquainted with several varieties of them; and quite recently the eminent German microscopist, Dr. Frederick Cohn, has discovered a new alga in well-water at Breslau, Germany, which he has named crenothinx polyspora.


The growing knowledge of etiological causes tends strongly to implicate this source as the chief fountain of the virulent fevers and miserable cachexias which have for their proximate cause the horrid reality of blood-poisoning. "The induction is strikingly confirmed in the history of typhoid fever and dysentery in the city where the writer lived and practised during the earlier part of his professional career. Before the introduction of water from the country rivulets, and a thorough system of street sewerage, both of these diseases, with the added one of diphtheria, were alarmingly prevalent in the beautiful city of Newburgh and its suburbs. It was a matter of grave surprise among its inhabitants that a town so beautifully located, so high above the river, with such rare advantages for drainage, as its hill-side position afforded, should not be the most salubrious spot on earth. But at the period of which we are writing (1860) the water was supplied by wells and the collections of those infernal cavernous pits called cisterns, of which no house was then regarded complete that had not, at least, one. There was absolutely no drainage except that afforded by the hill-side and the possible cesspool from the house sink. To this disability must be added the old, time-honored graveyard in the centre of the village, around which the inhabitants thickly settled, its position being a convenient plateau at a considerable elevation, and, at the same time, easily accessible to the ferry, steamboats, cars, etc. Of course, numerous wells supplied the water of the neighborhood, many of which were in close proximity to the iniquitous graveyard referred to. And even now, within a few yards of that city of the dead,' stands a public pump in active * Quarterly Journal Microscopic Science, April, 1873.

demand among people of a certain sort, the water from it being cooler in warm weather than that from the hydrant, and possessed of some other unexplainable qualities which endear it to the palate of these people. To what extent the soakings of the graveyard with its crumbling tenements were concerned in giving the palatable flavor to the beverage it is, of course, impossible to say with any degree of precision; but it was never possible for us to ignore the suspicious connection altogether, nor to doubt that the relation of the two was that of cause and sequence."

[ocr errors]

Meanwhile those infectious diseases, diarrhoea and dysentery, were fatally rife in the Summer months, and typhoid fever equally so in the Spring and Autumn. Indeed, there are few old inhabitants in that city who have not gone through a regular siege of those maladies; while many members of the community, of every grade and condition, have succumbed to their ravages. The most fatal prevalence of the disorders was in the immediate neighborhood of the old cemetery referred to, extending eastward to the streets below and southward to the affluent settlements. In each of these localities the mysterious visitations of typhoid Providence were of frequent and fatal occurrence, attacking doctors and their clients indiscriminately. The introduction of pure water, closing up old wells and cesspools and their allied iniquity-cisternsand the construction of ample sewerage, have measurably dissipated those diseases from that city; and Newburgh may now justly claim a high place among the wholesome districts of the continent. The sanitary improvements, however, did not reach the antiquated graveyard. That is still retained in its midst, a pet infection, which the worship of memories holds too sacred for removal or molestation. It is impossible, however, to withstand the conviction that it is a serious offence against the physical welfare of the city. Indeed, we are fully persuaded that as long as we depend upon the distillations of the earth for a water-supply, whether by well or streams, the prevalent method of disposing of the remains of

*Cited from the author's article in the NATIONAL QUARTERLY REVIEW for December, 1873, entitled Responsibility of Government for the Public Health.

the dead is a mischievous one. The cemetery and graveyard must be a source of impurity to both air and water, and a serious depravation of the public health. In regard to the plague that devastated Persia in 1872, we saw it stated that "the commission which was organized for the purpose of ascertaining the cause of the plague which for so long a period ravaged certain provinces in Persia, attribute the source of the poison to caverns in the earth in which those who died of the plague forty years ago were buried, and which caverns have recently been reopened. The present plague commenced almost immediately upon the opening of these caverns. One of the persons first seized had been engaged in this work, and is said to have disinterred a quantity of human bones; another person, who likewise had removed some bones from one of these caverns, was also attacked. The plague, thus begun, spread from these sources as a nucleus; and from other facts, gathered by the commissioners, they decided that this was the real origin of the disease."*

Similar observations have been made by many writers, and the most sceptical individual cannot fail to find corroborative evidence of the evil of interring the dead in all our populous towns and cities. Naturally enough, the evil is more manifest in the Old World than in the New. In England, Mr. Chadwick's "Report on Interments in Towns," and the "Report on Intramural Sepulture," of the General Board of Health (1850), show "that in church-yards thickly crowded with dead [bodies] vapors are given off which, if not productive of any specific disease, yet increase the amount both of sickness and mortality. In some instances this may be from contamination of the drinking water; but in other cases, as in the houses bordering the old city graveyard, where the water was supplied by public companies, the air also must have been in fault. In the houses which closely bordered the old city yards, which were crowded with bodies, cholera was very fatal in 1849; and I was informed," says Dr. Parkes, "by some practitioners that no cases recovered. I was also informed that all other diseases in these localities assumed a very violent and

*New York Daily Tribune, Oct. 30th, 1873.

unfavorable type."* The writer is speaking of experience in London. In Paris the public health has been frequently affected injuriously, not only by exhuming the bodies of the dead, but also, if Tardieu is to be accredited, by the exhalations of graveyards. + And Fourcroy states that "there are a thousand instances of the pernicious effects of cadaveric exhalations." The evil cannot but increase with the increasing age of the earth and the continuance of the present method of disposing of the remains of the dead. Sanitary science, ere long, will have to deal with it, and the sooner it does so and puts an end to intramural burials the better it will be for human life. No sentimental regard for the bodies of the dead should be allowed to compromise the welfare of the living. But, so long as the sentiment of mankind is adverse to the practice of burning the remains of the dead, it must be respected, of course. It is not too much to hope, however, that the progress of enlightenment will ultimately modify the horror which one feels in respect of cremation. It matters little in fact what becomes of the bodies of the dead,-indeed, nothing at all to the dead. Nature claims her own in the certain process of time; and man by having hermetically sealed his body in a box and buried it in the earth, only delays a process which is as right and proper as it is inevitable and certain. Moreover, by delaying the breaking-up of the body and the returning of dust to dust, consequences most dire come to it and to the bodies of the living. The worms prey upon it; offensive gases are generated; and these are diffused through the soil, and find their way into the subterranean streams that supply our wells, escaping finally in the air where they should have gone at first. How much better to hasten than to retard the requirements of nature, and give back at once to mother earth what rightfully belongs to her, and whom it is vain to attempt to cheat! Let the ancient custom of cremation be revived. The welfare of the living, we repeat, is of vastly more consequence than the bodies of the dead.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »