This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
I am induced to make some remarks upon this subject, in consequence of a discussion which took place at a meeting of the Polytechnic Club of the American Institute, in reference to a quality attributed to this material, and until lately generally admitted, as a preservative of animal matter from putrefaction and decay, To fall into this error was very natural, when a piece of decaying or tainted beef, covered for a few hours with pulverized charcoal, could be taken out and found to be inodorous, and free from impure ingredients, as far as taste and smell were concerned. The inference seemed almost conclusive that charcoal would not only arrest putrefaction, but restore the animal fiber to all its peculiar and healthful properties as food. Here it can be seen how readily the plain, practical man of business, as well as eminently scientific men, can honestly endorse and sustain opinions which are plausibly upheld by appearances and ingenious experiments, which, on more thorough investigation, may be found to be erroneous.
In a communication of Professor Way, before the Royal Agricultural Society Of England, he sets forth that the noxious gases resulting from the putrefaction of animal matter generally, (consisting principally of sulphureted hydrogen and sul-phuret of ammonia,) each particular animal substance, excretion, or otherwise, had its peculiar odor. Although abundantly perceptible by the senses, and in many cases, as in musk, almost inexhaustible, yet it was inappreciable in weight.
The causes of the action of charcoal, and the difference in the effect of wood or animal charcoal, need not be considered now in explanation of the single question, Is charcoal a preservative of animal substances against decay and putrefaction? Bearing directly upon this question, we have a paper from Dr. J. Stenhouse, of England, furnished to the Journal of the Society Of Arts, with an interesting ac-oount of experiments made with a view of testing this peculiar property attributed to charcoal. The bodies of two dogs were placed in a wooden box, on a layer of charcoal powder a few inches in depth, and covered with the same material, and the box left open in the laboratory of an eminent chemical manufacturer. No effluvia was ever perceptible; and on examination, at the end of six months, scarcely any thing remained except the bones. Experiments were subsequently made with a full-grown cat, and with two rats; the bodies soon became in a highly putrid state, without the slightest perceptible odor in the room.
These experiments can be readily made, and seem to establish the fact that, so far from arresting animal decomposition, it promotes putrefaction, by rapidly absorbing the gases which arise from it. Pulverized charcoal, then, favors putrefaction and decay, and stores away in its cells the pestilential gases which may destroy the living, when returning to earth that which, according to the laws of nature, belongs there.
Let us hereafter ascertain more fully the uses to which this cheap and perfect deodorizer can be applied. During the unhealthy seasons, can we bring down and store away for manure poisonous miasma, and purify the air 1 By the proper use of this material may we not seize upon that pestilence which "walketh in darkness," and, under the providence of God, strip it of half its terrors, and save many from death?
Let us experiment with this cheap material. Let us see that our stables and pens are well supplied, and all decompositions in the vicinity of our dwellings rendered inodorous; and then let us inquire if the manure we have gathered from our barn yards, and hog pens, and poultry houses, is not intrinsically worth as much as all the cost of the material, together with the labor of applying it. Indeed, that we may thus deodorize and store away in the most convenient manner, all animal and vegetable putrescences that we can collect upon our farms, to be conveniently and cheaply distributed upon our gardens and farms.
Powdered charcoal can be purchased at a very low rate; and as it possesses, more than any other substance, the power of attracting, condensing, and retaining ammonia within its cells, would it not be well to experiment upon the economy of a more general use of this material, and its more extensive use in the compost heap?
The season is approaching when a consideration of this subject may elicit facts of value to farmers and gardeners, to whom it is often as important to call attention to established facts, as new theories, and ingenious and costly experiments.
[This subject is interesting and important enough to be thoroughly discussed. The valuable properties of charcoal as a deodorizer have long been known and used, and are not brought in question by Mr. Lawton and the Polytechnic Club. It seems to us, however, that they have assumed the whole question. There is nothing to be gained in discussing a question unless it is based upon some known basis, clearly stated. After reading Mr. Lawton's article, we can not perceive wherein the opinions of "plain, practical men of business," or "eminently scientific men," are proved to be erroneous. These men have made no such claims as are here ascribed to them. What scientific man has ever claimed that a covering of charcoal dust would preserve from decay the body of a dead dog? Let the claims of scientific and practical men be fairly stated before we proceed with an argument. They have made certain claims in behalf of charcoal dust, but we must deny that they are of the nature here ascribed to them. Let us get our premises fairly established, Mr. Lawton, and then the argument will follow with some hope of beneficial results.
What you say of charcoal as a deodorizer is good and valuable. - Ed].