Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/January 1876/Editor's Table
|←Correspondence||Popular Science Monthly Volume 8 January 1876 (1876)
ALL over the world, in all times of which we know any thing, and among tribes of men of every grade, the most intense and powerful feelings of human nature have gathered around the dead, the graves where they are buried, and the rites of sepulture. Besides the ties of affection that are sundered by death, and which are often so deep and strong that their rapture leaves life a desolation, the imagination is also brought into exalted activity, and religious hopes, fears, and anxieties, and the terrors of superstition regarding a future life, combine to heighten the solemn interest of the occasion. As men are ruled through their feelings, and as the more powerful the feelings the more complete is their subjection to those who can skillfully work upon them, it is not to be supposed that these potent emotions concerning the dead would remain unutilized by parties ambitious of influence over the consciences and conduct of men. It is an important part of the polity of the Roman Catholic Church to use the powerful sentiments that are associated with death, the dead body, and the grave in which it rests, for the promotion of the objects of ecclesiastical ambition. That corporation assumes the prerogative of consecrating or cursing the ground to be used for the burial of the dead, as apart of its larger claim to control the destiny of people in the future world. And, for many centuries, this has been one of the most potent means of its influence. The case of Joseph Guibord, of Montreal, which has now perhaps reached its close, affords an instructive illustration both of the character of this old churchly assumption, of the tenacity with which it is still held, and of the vigor with which it is maintained wherever there is power to enforce it. The circumstances have been widely published, but it is desirable here briefly to recall the leading facts:
A literary society in Montreal, known as the "Canadian Institute," some years ago introduced into its library a number of works that came under the ban of the Roman Catholic Church. The Bishop of Montreal disapproved them and commanded their exclusion, which being refused by the Institute, the bishop appealed to Rome, and a papal decree was fulminated. The society remaining contumacious, the bishop pronounced a ban upon its members excommunicating them and forbidding them the last offices of the Church in "the article of death." The consequences of this decree first fell upon Guibord, Who died in 1869. His estate owned a burial-lot in the Catholic cemetery of Notre-Dame, and the widow applied for ecclesiastical burial for her husband. This was refused: he could not be buried in his own lot, and the only place permitted for the remains was the unconsecrated part of the cemetery devoted to excommunicants, malefactors, suicides, and unbaptized infants. The case was then taken to civil trial and a long lawsuit followed; the Canadian Superior Court, the tribunal of last resort, deciding ultimately against the priest and trustees of the cemetery. This decision not being respected by the Catholic authorities, an appeal was taken to the Privy Council, and a royal decree issued commanding the priest
??and trustees of the cemetery to inter the mortal remains of Guibord in consecrated ground. The priest replied that he was forbidden to do this by the bishop, and could not comply. An order was then served on him under the decree of the Privy Council, and the funeral appointed for the 2d of September. The priest, however, refused to be present. The members of the "Canadian Institute" and their friends, numbering about three hundred, accompanied Guibord's remains, from the vault of the Protestant cemetery where they had been placed, to the Catholic cemetery, where they were met by a mob of some five hundred French Canadians who closed and barred the gates, and refused entrance to the hearse, which was attacked with stones by the mob that had rapidly increased to about two thousand. They drove back the procession with derisive shouts, filled up the grave, and tore down the cross at its head.
The burial was thus defeated, and riotous demonstrations were continued for two or three days. Preparations were then made by the civil authorities for enforcing the burial, the military were called out to maintain order, and on the 16th of November, after six years of contention and delay, the body of Guibord was placed in his lot, the coffin being bedded in cement as a protection against the violation of the grave.
We do not refer to these facts merely as furnishing a new example of the inevitable collision that arises between the civil authority and the Roman Catholic Church wherever that organization feels able to assert its power—of which so much has recently been said. But the case impressively illustrates a single and most interesting phase of this ancient conflict. In the attempt to get the bones of an old man, long since dead, into their final and chosen resting-place, a city is convulsed with riot, a whole province thrown into excitement, a rancorous religious quarrel aroused, expensive legal proceedings entailed, and battalions of soldiers with muskets and cannon, have at last to be invoked to carry out the mandate of a judicial tribunal. All this has resulted from the action of an ecclesiastical body which for centuries has pursued this policy of using the graveyard and its associated superstitions as a means of spiritual domination and temporal profit. Guibord was in favor of having certain books in a library to read. His Church declared that he should not have them there. He adhered to his opinion, and the Church then declared that he should not have Christian burial. The appeal to his superstitions was not strong enough to move him, but it thrilled the community with a painful agitation, and for many centuries such appeals and threats have been powerful enough to intimidate and keep in subjection countless millions of people. For more than a thousand years the Catholic Church has maintained its claim, against the civil authority, to the ownership and custody of the dead, and by attaching the place of interment to the church, by prohibiting heretics from Christian burial and making it ignominious to repose in any but consecrated earth, and by digging up the bones of those who are alleged to have entertained false opinions, burning them and scattering the ashes to the winds or casting them into the floods, the Romish ecclesiastics have not only made the church-yard a copious source of pecuniary emolument, but "a vital portion of the material machinery for enforcing spiritual obedience and theological conformity."
The history of the antagonism between the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, regarding the ownership and control of the dead, is of great interest; and a very able sketch of this subject by an eminent legal writer will be found in the present number of The Monthly. It is part of a report on the "Law of Burial" made to the Supreme Court of the State of New York, by Hon. Samuel B. Ruggles. When Beekman Street was widened several years ago, a slice of land was taken from the "Brick Church" property to be converted to public use, and the ground thus appropriated embraced certain vaults long ago constructed for the reception of the dead. The question arose in regard to the legal control and redisposition of the bodies contained in these vaults, and Mr. Ruggles was appointed as a referee to take evidence and make a report upon the subject. In this masterly document, he touched upon the historical aspects of the legal question, showing that the old view, held by the Roman and Saxon law, was that the civil authority had jurisdiction in the case, and that under the common law the bodies of deceased persons are subject to the control of those next of kin. The Church, early in the days of its power, subverted this principle, and under the title of "ecclesiastical cognizance" established its exclusive authority over the burial of the dead, and even carried its assumptions so far as to decree, not only who should be allowed to lie in consecrated earth, but who should be allowed to be interred at all! The part of Mr. Ruggles's report which we reprint will be found of general interest to readers, and in a high degree instructive in connection with the Guibord case.
The influence of national characteristics upon the pursuit of science is an interesting subject of observation and reflection. For while there is a broad general agreement among scientific students of all nationalities as to what science is, and the mental methods or processes involved in its extension, there is a marked diversity among the people of different countries in the organized arrangements for its promotion, the feelings that impel its pursuit, and the relations of scientific bodies to what may be called the outlying and adjoining departments of thought, culture, and mental activity. The contrast, for example, between the Germans and the English in the policy and management of their great popular scientific associations is, in various respects, striking and instructive, and an intelligent correspondent of Nature has lately drawn attention to some of their peculiarities, which are so suggestive as to deserve a special notice.
The writer intimates that the "Association of German Natural Philosophers and Physicians," which was founded in 1822, is the original of the British Association, which was established some years later, and modeled in various respects upon the German pattern. Speaking of the late meeting which was held in September at Gratz, the chief town of Styria, in one of the most beautiful valleys of the Austrian Alps, after noting that the number of those in attendance corresponds very nearly with the average number of attendants at the British Association, he adds that, although this may be a merely fortuitous resemblance, yet "both associations are convened for the same number of days; both hold the same number of general and sectional meetings; they resemble each other in the nature of the recreations offered to visitors—excursions, dinners, and concerts, to which, in Germany and Austria, are added balls and theatrical performances, while England has the private hospitality of its nobles and rich manufacturers and merchants to offer, which does not enter into the German programme, or certainly does not appear in it to the same extent. A festivity of a peculiar character, in addition to those named, was offered by the municipality of Gratz: an illumination by bonfires of the mountains surrounding the town, a sight of most impressive beauty."
The chief points of contrast in the proceedings of the two bodies are stated to be that, "generally speaking, there are no evening meetings in Germany, and, the festivals being of a public nature (not depending upon private hospitality), the connection between the visitors is greater than it is at the British meetings. The peculiarity of the German meetings is the absence of a president; two chargés d'affaires being nominated to conduct the business of the Association—one a natural philosopher and the other a physician. The sections nominate new presidents for each of their daily meetings. A consequence of this arrangement is a certain want of formality. No retrospective introductions (presidential addresses) are offered at the opening of the sectional meetings, no criticisms of the work of fellow-workers by more or less competent critics, no sweeping remarks on the state of science in general. In two respects the British Association has an indisputable advantage over the German meetings. Those splendidly illustrated evening lectures addressed to the general public, which form one of the attractions of the meetings in the United Kingdom, are not offered in Germany. Again, the funds of the German Association are small; they are spent for the purposes of each meeting, and no money can be given in grants for scientific purposes, as is done in Great Britain. On the other hand, the German Association offers the advantage of a speedy publication of its transactions. Instead of publishing an annual volume long after the close of the meetings, the German Association offers a daily paper, giving the proceedings in a more or less condensed form, according to the notes given by members to the general or sectional secretaries. Generally, some supplementary numbers are issued completing the report within one month after the conclusion of the meeting."
The German scientists are furthermore contrasted with those of England by their more pronounced repudiation of utilitarian aims, English science has flourished under the stimulus of a pressure from the practical arts which has powerfully influenced the direction of investigation; the problems being given by art are accepted by science for solution. The eminence of England in commerce, navigation, manufactures, and locomotion, has impressed itself upon English science, which, while recognizing its true work to be the increase of original knowledge and new discoveries, will yet not lose sight of the great practical results to be attained through such discoveries, German science, on the other hand, still influenced by the spirit of its barren philosophies, vehemently protests against this alliance with the practical and the useful. It is never done denouncing the sordid, bread-and-butter philosophy of the English, In exemplification of this feeling, a passage is given from an address of Lieutenant Weyprecht on arctic explorations, in which he says: "Originally it was the wish for material gain in the shape of fur and fish-oil that prompted arctic exploration. Later on, this cause was replaced by the ambition of geographical discoveries, such as are easily understood by the general public. The running after this sort of fame gradually assumed such proportions that arctic exploration became a sort of international steeple-chase toward the north-pole, a system opposed to true scientific discoveries. Topographical geography must be subordinated, in arctic regions, to physical geography. Geographical discovery derives its value only from scientific discoveries connected with it. The exploration of the great and unknown latitudes near the poles of our globe must be continued without regard to the expenditure of money and of life which it demands. But its ulterior aim must be higher than the mere sketching, and christening in different languages, of islands, bays, and promontories buried in ice, and the mere reaching of higher latitudes than those reached by our predecessors. One reason of the indifferent results of previous expeditions is, that they have been unconnected with each other. The progress of meteorology consists in comparison, and every success it has obtained, such as the laws of storms, the theory of winds, etc., is the result of simultaneous observations. The aim of future arctic explorers must be to make simultaneous observations, extending over the period of a whole year, with identical instruments and according to identical rules. In the first place, they will have to consider natural philosophy and meteorology, botany, zoology, and geology, and only in the second place the discovery of geographical details. I do not intend in what I said to depreciate the merits of my arctic predecessors, whose sacrifices few can appreciate better than I do. In giving utterance for the first time to these opinions, which I have taken time in forming, I complain against myself, and I condemn the greater part of the results of my own arduous labors."
Germany is again contrasted with England in the completeness with which science is separated from religion, a result we should hardly have expected among a people so prone to philosophical speculation. Their scientists pursue their investigations, with but very small regard to the bearings they may have upon theological beliefs. The writer whom we have quoted gives an illustration of this in a lecture delivered at the Gratz meeting by Prof. Benedict on the history of Clime with regard to ethnology and anthropology. "He touched upon delicate ground, asserting that every action is based less on liberty than on compulsion; that our acts are governed by natural laws, and not by theological opinions; and that punishment may act as a corrective of perverted human nature, but is chiefly the outflow of the desire of society to avenge wrongs inflicted upon it. The best prevention of crime depends upon the increase of our knowledge of those circumstances that necessarily engender it. In England a speech like this would, no doubt, have raised a storm of theological indignation. In Germany the clergy is distinguished by its absence from scientific meetings. The separation of natural science and orthodoxy is complete, and no opposition was therefore offered to these remarks."
The tendency of English science to occupy itself more or less with religious questions has several causes. In the first place, there is a large and cultivated clerical class whose professional duties are nominal, and who devote themselves earnestly to scientific studies. These mingle in the scientific societies and associations, and bring with them the bias of theological doctrine. Much money has, moreover, been expended in England, in the way of prizes, to be given to writers for making scientific books, for the advancement of theological views; and, as shown by the Bridgewater treatises, some of the most eminent and influential scientific men have sanctioned this practice, which has been much imitated by others of inferior ability. Such a course could hardly fail to arouse reaction and stimulate controversy. But, besides these causes, a cause still more efficient has been in operation there, in the rise of a school of psychology, that has brought old and fundamental theological doctrines and dogmas into the arena of scientific scrutiny, so that scientific men, in the performance of their duty as investigators, find themselves brought into collision with the "defenders of the faith."
But, while English science is much complicated with theology, it is but very little affected by politics. On the other hand, the political perturbations of German thought are deeply felt in its scientific assemblages. "While English science is laboring to free itself from undue theological influence, German science is struggling for freedom of thought from undue political influences. This was the burden of the opening addresses of the September meeting. The Association was formed upward of half a century ago, and the writer in Nature says that politics entered into the intentions of its founder—the celebrated Oken, Professor of Zoölogy at Jena—as well as of many of its original members." "When German unity was nothing but a treasonable aim of persecuted patriots, every meeting of Germans from different states served to spread and to give fresh vigor to this aim, and was in itself a protest against the division into small states of the common country, and against persecutions such as Oken himself has had to suffer. Ay, and even now, when the old wishes have been fulfilled, and no division separates government and nation, remains of the old political undercurrent can still be traced in some of these meetings."
The interest of German men of science in political subjects is, therefore, an incident of the disturbed condition of the people, rather than any tendency to the purely scientific study of political and social problems.
We have a great amount of declamation on the dignity of mind, but we shall have a rational appreciation of that dignity just in proportion as we understand the laws of mind: what we need, therefore, is a broader and clearer apprehension of mental science. The attention of students of this subject is called to the weighty and suggestive article which opens the present number of The Monthly, on "The Comparative Psychology of Man." It treats of a phase of the subject of great moment, but hitherto only slightly regarded. It will be evident to all readers that the view taken by the writer is one that must be permanently recognized in future if mental phenomena are to be interpreted on strict scientific principles. But the article, moreover, remarkably exemplifies the close interdependence of the higher and more complex sciences. Those who have been slow to comprehend the alleged important bearing that psychology has upon sociology will see that the two subjects are so inextricably involved—the mental organism and the social organism having been developed together by intimate interaction—that neither can be elucidated in a really scientific way without working out its relations to the other. The article affords an excellent illustration of the fruitfulness of investigation from the genetic point of view.