Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

searching examination in our courts of law, have exercised such self-control as to betray no proof of insanity-where no ingenuity of the most expert lawyer could surprise them into a discovery of the illusions and hallucinations which haunted them. We are endowed with a mysterious command over our thoughts, by which we can direct them to a subject which it is expedient that we should consider, and withdraw them in great measure from what is distasteful. But this command depends chiefly on self-control; if it be discarded, then one fixed idea may take possession of the mind, and may lead to most disastrous consequences. This is a marked feature in almost every case of insanity, and is observed in most cases of suicide. Medical superintendents in lunatic asylums are so fully aware that a fixed idea belongs to most cases of the malady which they are appointed to treat, that their first care on the arrival of a patient is to elicit what his fixed idea is, and when it is ascertained, to endeavour to withdraw his mind from it, by every means that can be devised. The fixed idea brings on the reverie which engenders hallucinations and illusions, and oftentimes an utter repugnance to exertion. There have been instances where suicide has been prevented by a sudden turn which has arrested the attention. Pinel mentions the case of a man who had left his house one night with a determination to drown himself; on his way he was attacked by robbers, and having made a vigorous resistance, the intention of suicide was totally dissipated. Dr. Burrows records a similar case-that of a woman who went out with the like intent, and was interrupted by something falling on her head; she changed her mind, and instead of going to the water returned home. But a more interesting account of revulsion of feeling, was given by a Piedmontese nobleman, and may be found in a note in Rogers's poem of Italy. He was hurrying along the streets, to throw himself into the river; "I felt a sudden check," said he," and on turning round beheld a little boy; there are six of us,' said he, we are dying for want of food;"" the nobleman followed the child to his miserable home, and relieved the starving family; "their burst of gratitude," added he, overcame me, and went as a cordial to my heart t; fool that I was, to think of leaving a world where such pleasure was to be had so cheaply."

Poor Cowper under his attacks of despondency made several attempts to destroy himself. One night, when suffering from deep depression, he called a hackney coach from the stand, and told

the driver to leave him at the Tower stairs; the coachman drove towards the city; two hours passed, and he was still driving about the streets; at last he stopped, but it was at Cowper's door. When expostulated with, he could offer no explanation, but said that though he had been in the habit of going to the Tower frequently during the week, he was ashamed to say, that he had tried in vain that evening to find the place. Cowper got out of the carriage and hastened to the retirement of his chamber; there, on his knees, he offered up a prayer of thanksgiving for the divine interposition in his favour.

Chateaubriand was diverted from his purpose of self-destruction, while making the attempt; its failure confirmed his belief in fatalism; and so he concluded that his hour was not yet come; He speaks of the dread which he had of his father, and tells how when under his eyes, he sat motionless; "a cold perspiration," he goes on to say, "broke on my brow, the last ray of reason fled-I had a gun, the worn out trigger of which often went off unexpectedly; I loaded this gun with three balls, and went to a spot at a considerable distance from the great mall; I cocked the gun, put the end of the barrel into my mouth; I struck the butt end against the ground; I repeated the attempt several times, but unsuccessfully; the appearance of a game-keeper interrupted me in my design. Supposing that my hour was not yet come, I deferred the execution of my project to another day; that day never came."

Suicide has not only been prevented, but it has been accelerated by accidental circumstances; two years have not yet run their course, since M. Gerard de Nerval perished by his own hand-his loss was deeply regretted in the literary world of Paris; he was a man of considerable talent and information; he was a welcome contributor to reviews; an unfinished piece, intended for the Revue Parisienne, was actually found in his pocket after his death,-the string by which he hanged himself to a door in the Place de Chatelet, was a piece of strong tape, apparently an apron string. It is supposed that the accidental circumstance of his having picked it up, suggested the fatal act; he was at the time suffering from a nervous affection. Sir Charles Bell mentions the case of a barber, a steady industrious man, who was one day shaving a customer,-one of the surgeons of the Middlesex hospital. The conversation turned on a recently attempted suicide; the Surgeon observed that the man had mistaken the right

place for cutting the throat; the barber asked where the cut should have been made; the Surgeon said it should have been made at the carotid artery, and showed exactly where it was situated. The barber listened attentively; in a few minutes the surgeon heard a noise at the back of the shop, and on reaching the spot, he found that the barber had cut his own throat, exactly in the manner which had been explained, and with the razor he had just used in shaving the surgeon. The power of sudden impulse points out strongly the necessity for the habitual exercise of self-control, and teaches that it is not only requisite in the trying emergencies of life, but in its daily

occurrences.

The inquests on suicides are truly a melancholy study, but it is not without its use; it exhibits in stern reality the fatal effects of want of self-control, and a lamentable deficiency of trust in Divine Providence, and it may suggest to such as would recoil with horror from the crime for which there is no repentance, that there is something to be answered for, by those who by over severity, neglect, or want of sympathy and tenderness, may have had some share, although it may be a remote one, in the fatal catastrophe. Who can say the guilt of the poor negro, torn from home and all that he loves, who escapes from captivity by death, is not shared, nay more than shared, by his ruthless task-master?-Horror, dismay, and constant dread, during the reign of Robespierre, made life insupportable to many in France who died by their own hands. Was not the tyrant answerable for the catastrophe? The comparative rarity of suicides in lunatic asylums since the humane mode of treatment has been introduced, proves that they had been much more frequently the result of despair than of insanity. Must not the meinory of the boy, who hanged himself in the curtain, because his mother scolded him over much, have haunted her, as if she had been accessory to the crime?-The weariness of life frequently arises from a constitutional melancholy, which if not combated by religion and by reason, will take such hold upon the mind, that no argument or variety can dissipate it. It is not unfrequently found where all outward circumstances are eminently calculated to dispel it." I feel a horror of the world"-it is thus one writes to the friends he is about voluntarily to leave; "ennui consumes my existence; my good friends, I bid you adieu, for I am resolved to die."

in the

He

Among the many interesting cases recorded Journal of Psychological Medicine,* is that of a gentleman, not more than twenty-five years of age, who possessed every worldly advantage, and who was surrounded by a family by whom he was tenderly beloved. betrayed an unhappy disposition from his infancy; though taciturn, gloomy and sad, he could not say why he was so; pressed to partake in the amusements of his friends, he would seldom join in them; he invariably treated his family with a reserve which no kindness on their part could overcome; an exclusive idea had probably long taken possession of his mind; at last, for three or four weeks it was observed that he seemed to take great interest in fashioning a plank of wood, about which he employed himself. When asked for what he was preparing it, he replied that they would see for what it was intended, when it was finished. One morning, having made his usual enquiries about his father's health, and having taken his breakfast, he retired to his own room, from which he never again came out alive; he was found quite dead in the strange wooden construction about which he had been engaged. It is accurately described in the journal, in which we met with. the details of the event. A fire-arm was fixed before him, a plank fastened to the wall behind him to deaden the balls, and a basket of bran beneath him to receive his blood; he had written several sentences with a pencil on the walls, and on a small casket containing some letters referring to the fatal design, which there is every reason to think he had contemplated for a long time. The time which he had spent in making his preparations, the methodical manner in which they were completed, proved that the plan had been conceived long before. One of the letters found in the casket runs thus,-"I am going to heaven with my mother and Eugene D, that is, if those who destroy themselves are admitted to the celestial habitations. No one on earth can address a reproach to me, touching my honor, probity and conscience. I die satisfied on these three points. I regret that my death is useless to my parents and my country." He had written on the panel, "The apparatus for my end is completed. Adieu, father, brother, relations and friends-if it be God's will we shall meet again in the next world; in my left hand I hold the weapon which is about to

Edited by Doctor Winslow.

send me there. Adieu, adieu, adieu; pray God for the repose of my soul." A few words were written alluding to the plank and the basket of bran: " by that contrivance the trace of my blood will not stain the floor, and the impression of the four bullets about to traverse my body, will be marked only on this plank; it is already sufficient that my father's house should be the scene of my death." Such precautions had he taken to spare his family the pain of seeing the marks of the fatal catastrophe, while with a strange inconsistency he was about to plunge them in irreparable misery; he left a few lines to the painter who had recently taken his likeness; "when you receive this letter, I shall live only in the picture which you have so ably executed; my eyes will be veiled, and my image alone can recall to my poor father, what they formerly were. On the point of quitting life, I must set aside the painful thought that I am saying an eternal adieu to my dear relations. More fortunate than they, nothing but the separation is terrible to me; my resolve accomplished, all will be annihilated-imagination, organs; and I shall be inaccessible to all temptations; but that is not enough; egotism never had a place in my heart, and the intoxicating anticipation of the repose which I shall enjoy in death, does not blind me to the afflicting position in which I leave my father and brother; may they find in the features so faithfully copied by you, some consolation for their own sorrow; by two o'clock to-morrow morning I shall have yielded up my soul to God, unless some unforeseen obstacle prevent it." In his letter to his father he speaks of the ennui which embittered his life as beyond endurance," and in the conflict," he adds, "I should certainly become a prey to insanity." It is curious to observe in almost all the documents left by suicides, how assured they feel, not only of repose but of an immediate translation to a celestial abode.

It is remarkable that suicides in lunatic asylums leave no writing after them, while those who are at large invariably do; in letters, pieces of poetry, or narrative, they reveal their feelings and their motives. In speaking of writing, it is a remarkable fact, as stated by that experienced and accurate observer, Doctor Conolly, that insanity is easily detected in the writing of the lunatic, not only in the style, but even in the handwriting those who may have the power of concealing their insanity in a court of justice, under the most searching crossexamination, will, nevertheless, betray it in their writing.

:

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »