Memorial Idealism

Date Published: 
September, 1920
Original Author: 
Houlan Cauchon
Consulting Engineer and Town Planner, Ottawa, Canada
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 34th Annual Convention

In the words of the poet William Cullen Bryant – “All that tread the globe are but a handful to the tribes that slumber in its bosom".

Our Dominion Astronomer, Dr. Otto Klotz, some years ago favored us with a short, but very original mathematical contribution, to show that if the world goes on increasing its population at the rate obtaining during the past century, it will within measureable time be overcrowded to extinction!

THE DELUGE: The deluge is of course the legendary funeral of note. Many painters have tried to depict it. The painting by Wouters shown you on the screen was being exhibited through Belgium in 1907, an unsuspected premonition of the national fate in 1914.

PREHISTORIC: The skulls and the bones, the burial caves and barrows, the Megaliths and Kurgans of prehistory are our data on the evolution of man.
The burial customs of the tribes give the key to the trend of human ascension, the skulls furnishing the anthropologists with the cephalic index, the proportion of width to length, that they wrangle so much about and what a mixing of races on the foughten fields of Europe.
Our time does not allow for a complete and detailed display of this one of the most interesting studies into which there has been so much painstaking and learned research. Henry Fairfield Osborn, Beddoe, Dennis, Madison Grant, Frazer, Grant Allen and many others are beacons that lead far afield in diverse directions to gather the threads of this very tangled skein. The few typical examples discussed and shown upon the screen may help us in analysis of our present problem and aid toward a synthetic solution.

SYMBOLISM: Longfellow tells us that- "Dust thou art, to dust returneth; Was not written of the soul."
We commemorate the soul, the living soul, not the clay that has crumbled; there is imposed upon us to express its idealism with understanding and with art.
Flinders Petrie writing on the character of Egyptian Art, holds that "The truest analysis of art, that of Tolstoy, results in defining it as a means of communicating emotion."
The question still seems an open one as to whether inhumation or cremation be the more ancient method of disposing of the dead; i.e., relatively among historic races. There is the theory of Rhode that the custom of burying the dead is of Indo-Aryan origin with the view of separating the body from the soul more rapidly, to give the latter its liberty the sooner.

BURIAL CUSTOMS: It appears at the time of Christ nearly all important races burned their dead except the Jews, which would account for their opposite custom of burial coming down through Christianity and western civilization to us.
Religious controversies which have raged around this subject are apart from our theme, it is largely a matter of sentiment. There is nothing as conservative as the dead-unless it be the near dead!
As our laws stand, one cannot be cremated unless expressly so stated in one's will-the living are given no discretion in a matter to which the departed have rarely given any thought.
Cremation seems to be slowly gaining recognition by its inherent attributes-the war has emphasized its physical advantages-and art can better express emotions in allegorical symbols.
What should be symbolized are the ideals that men have lived for-that the individual may have practiced-that the time proclaims.

ARCHITECTURE: Let us now turn to architecture described by Staham as "a great world wide art in which the human race has endeavored to realize in material form its aspirations after abstract sublimity.
What conclusions may be drawn as to reason and type; what best fitted to express our modern ideal of death?
And before reviewing this historic pageant may I urge upon you to seek and to favor the guidance of artists-architects and sculptors in the designing of monuments and to resist the trend of commercialism, art that is today well nigh overwhelming the living and the dead.
In one of my reports on the development of Hamilton (1917) there is reiterated my strong conviction that Commercialized Art is to Aesthetics, as Commercialized Vice is to Ethics--a defilement.


Rene de Saint-Marceaux, Sc.

HISTORIC TOMBS: Egypt from her prehistory, 8000 to 5500 BC has left us burials of figures crouched in square boxlike receptacles which evolved into the Mastabas and the Pyramid tombs of the ancient Empire and that prevailed for about two thousand years.
The Middle Empire which ran for about another thirteen centuries was the age of the Rock Cut Tombs which in turn brings us to the beginning of the New Empire about 1700 BC, the age of Temples which lasted to 340 BC.

The Egyptians believed that the conservation of the body after death was essential for its ultimate reunion with the soul-therefore, mummies.

The stepped pyramids of Sakkars with its five steps about two hundred feet of height is the oldest dating about 4000 BC.

The great pyramid built about 3700 BC by King Cheops (Khufu) in the Gizeh group was an astronomical observatory during his life and his tomb after death-it is the largest of some 70 pyramids in Egypt and covers 13½ acres, and is 451 feet or more high.

Computations run that from 100,000 to 350,000 men were employed for twenty years in building it-a government job, but magnificently done!

From its summit there is a view of the Lybian desert where the ancient tombs have been shrouded by the ever shifting sands.

The Mastabas or built tombs at Gizeh date from about 3900 BC. The Rock Cut Tombs begin about 3000 BC, the most important subsequently being those of Beni-Hassan.

With the beginning of the New Empire we get the Mausoleum of Queen Hatshepsu (about 1517 BC) known as the temple of Deir-el-Bahri on the opposite shore of the Nile from Karnac. It is some 900 years later than the Beni-Hasson caves.

The Egyptians continued building tombs without further evolution of ideas; they had their "Book of the Dead". A very interesting romance, "Uarda" by George Ebers, the great Egyptologist, describes the burial customs and the Necropolis of Thebes about fourteen centuries BC.

The Babylonian laws of Hammurabi, over twenty-two centuries BC, the oldest code known, contain minute instructions regarding the care of the irrigation canals-the penalty for their neglect being greater than that for beating one's wife. But Babylon has left us no tombs; all their structures being of clay, have crumbled and only a few titles reward the searchers in the palace mounds. Similarly with the annals of the Kings of Assyria.

China, likewise, whose accepted history, if a bit mythical, goes back according to W. G. Old and others, to 2943 BC-the approximate date of the Deluge-has few tombs to tells its early standing.

There, apparently almost everyone with a few dynastic exceptions has been buried in the back garden and China is one vast cemetery the sacredness of which in the worship of its ancestors has made it very difficult to introduce civilization by the desecrating railway!

Their temples were halls for ancestors worship. To God they erected their altars in the open.

Greek art has left us the record of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (350 BC) in Asia Minor, the excavated remains of which are now in the British Museum. It is from these that comes the famous slab representing the extermination of the Amazons by the Greeks.

The Greeks being a highly cultured people usually raised memorials to abstract ideals-not to house the mortal remains like the monument of Lysicrates at Athens.

Italy is a land of many tombs. Each city of ancient Etruria had its Necropolis, a thousand years and more BC, the finds from which fill museums and help to trace the genesis of Roman art and customs.

The distinguishing Etruscan feature was the podium and tumulus and also the more usual subterranean vaults.

An interesting feature of the later are the funerary urns which at a certain period were often in the form of miniature huts indicative of the architecture of the day. It is from this source that we gather that the Etruscans began to change from round to square dwellings about the seventh century BC.

The Romans, on the other hand, built their tombs above ground the greatest of which was the Mole of Hadrian; now since the Middle Ages, the fortress Castle of St. Angelo.

The Street of the Tombs at Athens was copied on a colossal scale in the Appian Way outside the St. Sebastian Gate and where the great round bastion-like tomb of Cecelia Matella still stands sentinel over so many others in complete ruins. Both the Hadrian and Matella tombs show Etruscan influence in form.

The Christian Catacombs are a subject by themselves, the outcome of necessitous circumstances and not of display.

The Temple Tomb of Diocletian at Spalato on the Dalmatian coast, early fourth century, shows the incoming influence of Eastern thought on Western architecture and which with the rise of Christianity to power, evolved to custom of burial crypts and monuments in Mediaeval Cathedrals; enduring to our day.

The tomb of the Popes in Saint Peters; from the Renaissance are the most magnificent examples of their kind.

Westminster Abbey, the shrine of England's Great, and the Pantheon for those of France and Napoleon's tomb are also outstanding examples of this custom.

Nor must one forget a Campo Santo at Genoa.

In passing it may be noted that the Parsee towers and the Burning Ghats of India are not classed as tombs.

India claims, however, the culmination, in the seventeenth century, of woman in India.


Now I am encouraged to submit the theories I hold in their application to the city of Hamilton, where my reports on railway reorganization, on highways and on general development, have already been so kindly and so sympathetically received-and where they are beginning to be carried out.

The magnificent high level entrance to Hamilton with its beautiful cemetery aligning the route to the west appeals to me greatly as a possible revival of the street of the Tombs in Athens and of the atmosphere that hallowed the majesty of the Appian Way-where there was no shrinking from death by the myriads who passed cheerfully into its shadow.

It should, however, manifest the highest symbolism and the purest art in the tombs and shafts that hedge the way-and it were better they stood for the collective ideals of social units.

Such splendid tombs should not vie with each other in size nor in ostentation, but solely in dignity and simple beauty. Those who have been privileged to know Stoughton Holborn's "Need for Art in Life" will realize the vision.

There appears today in our cemeteries too great an assumption, an obsession of invidious personality, as Veblen might say.

As an example of Symbolism: in the suggested Mountain Stadium as shown, my thought was that as a War Memorial it would express the sacrifice of the dead for the living-for the continuity of the race.

Further, the suggestion includes a composition symbolic of the struggle of man in the quest of freedom in evolution on the Altar of Human Sacrifice.

Thus in the center of the great traffic circle facing the Terminal, a tall Obelisk would be centered on a pyramidal series of massive concentric and circular altar stones, the whole resting in the center of a large fountain pool.

At the foot of the Obelisk figures symbolizing the fecundity of the Earth would be backed against the base of the shaft. Around these on the upper degree of the altar, groups of men of the stone Age struggling by instinct; descending, a degree of men of the Metal Age struggling for
survival and again a degree lower the sword and the javelin battling for conquest; and again down a degree further ahorse and afoot champions of the Cross and the Crescent down finally to the broader ledge on the Altar of Time, where, amidst all the panoply and horrors of modern war, the Conflagration of our own flesh and blood is incense supreme in retribution for all ignorance and in merit of ultimate freedom.

The blood of conflict mingling with the springs that fertilize the earth overflows from age to age into the oblivion in the sea of Time, into the ether of Eternity, through which this planet wanders beyond our realms of consciousness.

Reverting to a comprehensive Necropolis for Hamilton.

Let it be something splendid, real, like the Castel d'Asso Valley of Tombs-and sufficient for ages-such is the mountain top, rim and the southerly sloping talus on the northerly side of this valley, where the Guelph road climbs over its heights.

My professional usefulness as an engineer and a town planner lies perhaps mainly in regional and city planning for the living, yet is not without grave concern in the disposition of the Necropolis where we all of the League of Nations will eventually find passive transition.

May I trust that these views of an outside observer have proved of sympathetic interest and stimulation.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 34th Annual Convention held at Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
September 7, 8, 9 and 10, 1920