Book Review: Premature Burial and How It May Be Prevented

Title: Premature Burial and How It May Be Prevented

Author: William Tebb and Edward Perry Vollum, and Walter R. Hadwen. – Jonathan Sale (ed.)

Publisher: Hesperus Press Limited.

Year: 2012 reprint of 1905 original, first published 1896.

Pages: 121

Format: Hardcover

I paid: £4.42 – (£1.62 + £2.80 P&P) 3rd party seller World of Books Ltd. via Amazon

My Rating:  1 star

The original title of this publication is: Premature burial and how it may be prevented: with special reference to trance, catalepsy, and other forms of suspended animation.

I bought this for research purposes as I’m currently writing a short story that features a Waiting Mortuary. I had actually read the original 1896 and 1905 publications in .pdf format back in 2017, but I wanted a hard copy for my bookshelf as easy reference. My research collection always freaks visitors out.

I was disappointed in this reprint for a variety of reasons:

1) It renames some of the chapters. For instance, Chapter 9 in the original is titled: Premature Burial and Cremation in India: The Towers of Silence. In the reprint, it is simply The Towers of Silence, which gives little indication of the content. It omits Chapter 15 of the original entitled: Treatment of the Dead.  

2) It also completely cuts out the 6 appendices that deal with topics such as:

  • Historical Cases of Restoration from Apparent Death
  • Resuscitation of Still-Born and other Infants
  • Recovery of the Drowned
  • The Jewish Practice of Early Burial
  • Summary of Ordinances,etc., Relating to the Inspection of Corpses and Interments.

I’ve only listed five here because the sixth is a Misc. section. But you may agree, those topics sound quite interesting.

3) The text has also been mutilated. I don’t know whether the editor felt it needed severe dumbing down for a modern audience, but it has lost much of its original feel. In addition, many of the references to scholars of antiquity (Greeks and Romans), are cut from the reprint. When ancient sources are mentioned, they are severely cut. Some of the original sources cited from newspapers and medical journals have also been left out.


The Undertakers’ and Funeral Directors’ Journal of May, 1888, has a case in point.


The Undertakers’ and Funeral Directors’ Journal of May, 1888, narrates an interesting and apparently trustworthy story.


Quintillian explains why the Romans delayed burials as follows :- “For what purpose do ye imagine that long-delayed interments were invented? Or on what account is it that the mournful pomp of funeral solemnities is always interrupted by sorrowful groans and piercing cries? Why, for no other reason, but because we have seen persons return to life after they were about to be laid in the grave as dead.”


Quintillian explains why the Romans delayed burials as follows: ‘Because we have seen persons return to life after they were about to be laid in the grave as dead.’

That second example does my head in because omitting much of the quote obliterates the original voice.

4) The 35 page Bibliography has been omitted, as has the index and footnotes — not that they would have made sense since much of the publication is not there.

I was under the impression that reprints of Public Domain works should add value to the original, such as in a Foreward or additional footnotes/end notes. I feel the exact opposite has happened here. Jonathan Sale has effectively castrated it.

I’ll stick with my original pdf copy for research and only keep this thing on my bookshelf because the cover is pretty. I don’t know what I expected for such a cheap price, even if it was a 2nd hand copy of a reprint. Although the original selling price was £9.99. After having done a bit more research, I’ve found other reprints of the original with the full 410 pages reproduced from scanned documents for around £13, so I will get one of those.

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