A few days ago the worthy members of the Hospital Committee were called together, they know not wherefore, to do they know not what; and, having formed themselves into "a committee of investigation," separated without investigating anything, and went home, they knew not why. The circular convening the meeting said of its business nothing, and the meeting very laboriously did nothing. The one thing they pretended to do, namely, to bottom the truth of our statements about the practice in the Howff, was the one thing which they carefully avoided doing. So far from seeking information, they shunned it, and, with plenty of disinterested witnesses at their call, called no witnesses but, with a beautiful and touching simplicity, contented themselves with hearing and registering the story of the offending grave-digger. Our Office hands could have disproved much of what the hoary coffin-smasher asserted before the Committee, but the object of the majority was, not to invite, but to shut out such testimony; and having accomplished their object, they report to the Council that they who had left undone what they ought to have done, and had done what they ought not to have done, had made inquiry into the circumstances of the recent interment in the Howff, and had found that the "grave was a grave fully ripe." Was there ever such a Committee, ever such an investigation, or ever such a lame and impotent conclusion? Mr YEAMAN shrewdly suggested that some one had been making fun of the good, unsuspicious Mr FOGGIE in sending him to the grave-digger for information as to that grave-digger's misdeeds; and Bailie OWER thought it might be as well to call the witnesses before closing the inquiry; but the rest seemed to have been too much charmed with the sexton's theory of the relative ripeness of corpses to be at all squeamish in deciding that in the Howff it is the proper and orthodox to put down the dead on the principle of buckets in a well, and that one coffin must come up whenever another goes down. A rotton coffin is, it seems, a ripe coffin, a grave full of rottenness is a ripe grave; and as the Howff, used for two hundred years past as a recepttacle of the dead, is brimful of rottenness, that is, according to the definition of Dundee's representative wisdom, a good reason why is should all be excavated afresh, and be made to receive new generations of dead.
In a recent number of the Advertiser we described a scene of a grave-yard desecration, as witnessed not only with our own eyes, but as seen by three of our compositors. Surprised and shocked by the spectacle, we called some of our printers to the window, and for some minutes watched the preceedings of the sexton and his worthy attendant. So shallow was the hole in which the old grave-digger was breaking up a coffin, that he stood all the while scarcely up to the hips, and the handle of his spade showed high above the surface of the ground. The digger, with lusty thrusts of his shovel, tugged and pushed at his work of destruction, and then cast up the broken pieces. These pieces were large sections, varying in size from one or two feet long, and the entire depth of a coffin side. In one large portion, the shoulder nagle of the broken coffin came up distinct and unshaken, adhering to all appearance as firmly as on the day on which it was put down in the ground. Ther colour of the wood resembled on the outside that of the neighbouring earth, and the grain or fibre showed slightly; but when the attendant chopped it in hatchet fashion with his spade, it broke with a fracture clean and white as the chips of a carpenter's yard. Three of the most respectable of our compositors, including our foreman, stood at the same window with our selves watching the doings we have described, and with us remarked the sound appearance of the wood when smashed into small pieces by the energetic assistant grave-digger. The occurrence took place at mid-day under our windows, and as it was plain that an indecent and revolting system of taking coffins out of full graves, in order to make room for fresh interments was being practiced in the very heart of a large and crowded town, we felt called upon to publish the facts.
What then of the present denial! In a former case there were three witnesses, and the charge was denied; in the present one there are four witnesses, and still we have denial. Yet not exactly denial. There was a grave, true; a full grave, true; and out of that grave a coffin was brought up at mid-day, true; and in that coffin was all that remained of a human being buried twelve years ago, again true. Well, then, the charge is proved. Oh no! it is not proved, say the resurrectionist and his defenders. How not? Hear the interesting apology. The grave, though full, was a twelve years grave. The body at the top a twelve years' coffin; and, in grave-diggers' slang, body, coffin, and grave, may all be considered "ripe" at twelve years. We are not jesting. The theory of the old man of the Howff is, that the Howff is a place where full-bodied people are, like full bodied port, put down to "ripen," and that when ripe, they may be taken up old and crusted, and have their vaults cleared for less ripe material.
Our readers will remember that two years ago, great sensation was caused in Dundee by the report that certain grave-yard ghouls, connected with the New Burial Ground, had been seen disinterring, not coffins, but actually taking up the sheeted dead, and wheeling them off in barrows to fill up other more convenient holes. This ghastly story appalled the public, but the Hospital Committe were slow to move on the matter, and it was not until the force of public opinion had made inquiry inevitable, that any inquiry be made. Well, did the offenders deny their acts! Of course they did, they denied them altogether- denied them bravely, stoutly, and with all the air of injured innocence. According to them there had been no dead body exhumed, no wheel-barrow progress, no violated grave; no, it was all an invention- all a fabrication got up for the injury of honest, decorous grace-diggers, by persons seeking notoriety. Was their denial true? Alas, no. Compelled to dig afresh in the scene of their sacrilege, their own spades revealed the body of a young woman they had exhumed.
In the former case the witnesses stood by, while the grave-digger took up limbs, covered with flesh, and wrung the flesh through his hands like a piece of wash leather, asserting as he did so that it was nothing, and would soon moulder away. In the present case the digger, in the presence of witnesses, breaks up with violence a tough, well preserved coffin, and afterwards protests that the coffin was nothing, and was already "mouldered," and mixed with earth. In the former instance, the man was watched as he smashed up limb, and yet he afterwards protested that there had been no smashing; and in the present instance, although a man received the large square pieces of coffin, and broke them into pieces of the size and appearance of firewood, it is stoutly said that the wood needed no breaking. In the New Burial Ground, "the body of a female, whole and entire,-the linen in which she was wrapped just about as fresh as when it lay on the undertaker's shelf"- was taken up from the ground which the Superintendent said had not been opened since 1853; and one of the men employed there asserts that bodied will sometimes remain "more of less undecayed for fifeteen, twenty, and even twenty seven years;" yet in the discussion of the case under consideration, it was gravely contended by some who ought to show a higher sense of moral feeling and more decent regards for the ashes of the dead, as well as for the sanitary requirements of the living, that it was expedient and right for the officials of the Howff to open up full graves and exhume and break up the coffins that have been underground for the space of ten or twelve years. It was urged that unless this revolting practice be tolerated the Howff must be closed. Well be it so. Rather than tolerate such outrage by all means close the Howff. But we may remark in passing the liberties we complain of are not taken with the graves of the rich. The granite headstone, the ponderous vault, the aspiring obelisk warn off the invading spade, and it is the resting places of the poor that are treated much in the spirit observed by Hood when he wrote-
"Rattle his bones over the stones,
He's only a pauper whom nobody owns."
The old grave-digger avers that the grave now in question was "as ripe a grave as ever opened." and as he is a connoisseur in such matters, and talks of corpses as if, like oranges, they were things packed in boxes in a green state, only to be taken out when ripe and juicy, we leave the question of their age and mellowness in his hands. No cheesemonger trying, with an eye to business, his stock of Stiltons, could judge more authoritatively when his goods have acquired the much desiderated quality of mouldiness, than does the experienced sexton, who with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground, prowls about the Howff in search of graves that have grown marketably ripe. To him how vain would be Shakespeares appeal.
Kind friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
To dig the dust inclosed here.
With him the corpse is not put down to await the sounding of the last trump, but only to wait until Mr Kettle the grave-diggershall report it ripe enough to have its house sliced with a spade. But here a difficulty presents itself. "A Dismissed Grave-Digger." writing to our paper in March 1858, in extenuation of the wheel barrow removal of a young woman, says that, although the part of the ground from which the corpse was wheeled away had not been used for fifteen years, the bodies were in many cases entire, the bones covered with flesh, and the coffins in such surprising preservation, that in almost every instance they had to be broken up with a mattock."
The offender at the New Ground was a Mr KETTLE; the present offender at the Old Ground is also a Mr KETTLE; and the bother is that here we have two "KETTLES" which, when placed in pretty much the same fire, sing two opposite tunes. KETTLE the first came to grief over the removal of an entire body from the grave where it had lain- so says our "Dismissed Grave-Digger" - for fifteen years; but KETTLE the second steams and vapours with indignation at the supposition that there should be any remnants to disturb at the end of twelve years. KETTLE the first, or his assistant, tells us how they, in the New Ground, chopped up the coffins "with a mattock," and how they packed away the flesh of the obstructive corpses in recesses dug in the sides of the new graves. KETTLE the last meets with neither bones nor remains of any kind, in a grave of far more recent date. Like an experienced wine merchant, he of the Howff knows the ages, vintages, and present condition of all his underground stock, and edifies a gaping Committee by informing its assembled members that he can predicate with certainty the time when his vintage of 1848 will prove in fit condition- or rather will be, as he expresses it- ripe.
We picture to ourselves the Hospital Committee, seated in solemn conclave. we see its decent canny members listening with unaffected simplicity to the old man's story; we see Mr Councillor FOGGIE, the convener, hazily luminous as the sun in a Dutch mist; we see the TOWN-CLERK, with spectacles on nore, and contenance sober and solemn, writing down, in syllables serious and slow, as a contribution to the archives of the Town, the grave-diggers' opinion that the grave "was a ripe grave;" and lastly, we see the Clerk, the Convener, and the Committee, going home, feeling one and all a little simple as, wandering homewards, they become slowly concious of the fact that they had met without an object, had proceeded without a plan, had called no evidence but that of the culprit himself, and had ended by incurring the censure of that cheif of philosophers, who has written that- "He who judgeth a cause before he heareth it is not wise."
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