Suicide, is a term expressing either the crime of self-murder; or it is applied to the person committing such unnatural deed.
It is remarkable, that this violation of divine and human law, has prevailed chiefly among the most civilized nations; and that it occurs more frequently among the wealthy, than the indigent classes of society. A combination of circumstances generally co-operates, to induce an unsettled mind to commit such unjustifiable crime : thus, it has been urged, that the copious use of tea, animal food, spirituous- liquors, and the sulphureous exhalations of pit-coal, in a variable climate, instigate to suicide ; because they uniformly tend to depress and enervate the human constitution. It would exceed our limits, to refute the absurdity of such notions; and, though the perpetration of this rash act may sometimes originate from insanity, yet We may confidently maintain, that it is more frequently the result of a defective education furnishing no fixed moral principles, and consequently laying the foundation of vicious habits; such as gaming, and dissipation followed by disappointed ambition, or the desire of avoiding public disgrace ; than the consequence of ennui, or a weary life. Hence, various pu-nishments have been devised in different countries, to be inflicted on the bodies of those who thus outrageously terminate their existence.
With a view to deter unprincipled individuals from the commission of suicide, the British legislature has enacted, that all the personal property of a felo de se shall be confiscated to the Crown, while the body is not only excluded from interment in consecrated ground, but also directed by the coroner's warrant to be buried in a public highway; being pierced with an iron stake, to add to the ignominy. Although the utmost rigour of the law is, in later times, seldom exerted on those occasions; yet we humbly conceive, that the present lenity is not compatible with the frequency of the offence; nor does it appear on critical investigation, that a posthumous corporal punishment is likely to produce the desired effect on profligate characters. Hence, we are of opinion, that preventive measures are, in this respect, the only means left to the power of the State; because, after the crime is committed, neither confiscation of property (which seems to involve open injustice to the distressed relations of the deceased), nor public exposure of the body, are calculated to give the least reparation to the injured community. On the contrary, such spectacles of executions after death, cannot fail to make a very unfavourable impression on the attending populace ; to steel their hearts against refined moral feelings; and to render them in a manner indifferent, respecting the consequences of good and bad actions.
Thus, experience has proved, that numberless fts are committe during those public exhibitions of criminals; so that it is not lad, but good examples, which have a beneficial effect on the. minds and morals of a people, who are yet susceptible of improvement. For these obvious reasons, we propose that every individual in whom symptoms of despair, either by serious verbal declaration, or by his inconsistent actions, are discoverable, ought to be strictly guarded, reproved, and even punished, though at first in a lenient degree ; for instance, by solitary confinement, hard labour, a sparing diet, etc. without permitting the use of dangerous weapons, or any other instruments. Farther, by teaching young persons to set a just value on life, and the dignity of human nature, they will not easily acquire false conceptions of pride and honour; or estimate things only by their influence on the external senses ; or wish to appear of greater importance than they are entitled to, either by their merits or rank in society.
Besides, there are many other causes which ultimately lead to suicide: among those of a physical nature, we shall only mention, 1. Hypochondriac and melancholic complaints, arising from inveterate obstructions in the abdomen ; and, 2. A very tender and irritable nervous system. Farther, if we ask the intelligent divine, respecting the origin of this growing evil, he will justly observe, that it chiefly arises from immoral habits, and the neglect of public or private worship; - the honest lawyer will allow, that it is often the consequence of unsuccessful litigation; - but the experienced physician maintains, with equal justice and truth, that it originates from excessive re-on ; from the vicious custom of drinking immoderate quantities of vinous and spirituous liquors; from eating late and hot suppers; night-gambling : and from indulgence in ons of every description.
Those of our readers who wish to investigate this interesting theme, will derive information and amusement from the perusal of Mr. Moore's Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide (2 vols. 4to. 1l. lls.6d. boards, Rivington, 1790), in which its are fully considered, and illustrated by numerous historical examples.