Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

either from a fondness for, and connexion with, some company, or some companion, already addicted to this practice; which affords an almost irresistible invitation to take a share in the indulgences which those about us are enjoying with so much apparent relish and delight; or from want of regular employment, which is sure to let in many superfluous cravings and customs, and often this amongst the rest; or, lastly, from grief or fatigue, both which strongly solicit that relief which inebriating liquors administer, and also furnish a specious excuse for complying with the inclination. But the habit, when once set in, is continued by different motives from those to which it owes its origin. Persons addicted to excessive drinking suffer, in the intervals of sobriety, and near the return of their accustomed indulgence, a faintness and oppression circa præcordia, which it exceeds the ordinary patience of human nature to endure. This is usually relieved for a short time by a repetition of the same excess; and to this relief, as to the removal of every long continued pain, they who have once experienced it, are urged almost beyond the power of resistance. This is not all : as the liquor loses its stimulus, the dose must be increased, to reach the same pitch of elevation or ease; which increase proportionably accelerates the progress of all the maladies that drunkenness brings on. Whoever reflects upon the violence of the craving in the advanced stages of the habit, and the fatal termination to which the gratification of it leads, will, the moment he perceives in himself the first symptoms of a growing inclination to intemperance, collect his resolution to this point; or (what perhaps he will find his best security) arm himself with some peremptory rule, as to the times and quantity of his indulgences. I own myself a friend to the laying down of rules to ourselves of this sort, and rigidly abiding by them. They may be exclaimed against as stiff, but they are often salutary. Indefinite resolutions of abstemiousness are apt to yield to extraordinary occasions; and ertraordinary occasions to occur perpetually. Whereas, the stricter the rule is, the more tenacious we grow of it; and many a man will abstain rather than break his rule, who would not easily be brought to exercise the same mortification from higher motives. Not to mention, that when our rule is once known, we are provided with an answer to every importunity.

There is a difference, no doubt, between convivial intemperance, and that solitary sottishness which waits neither for company nor invitation. But the one, I am afraid, commonly ends in the other; and this last in the basest degradation to which the faculties and dignity of human nature can be reduced.

CHAP. III.

SUICIDE. THERE is no subject in morality in which the consideration of general consequences is more necessary than in this of suicide. Particular and extreme cases of suicide may be imagined, and may arise, of which it would be difficult to assign the particular mischief, or from that consideration alone to demonstrate the guilt; and these cases have been the chief occasion of confusion and doubtfulness in the question; albeit this is no more than what is sometimes true of the most acknowledged vices. I could propose many possible cases even of murder, which, if they were detached from the general rule, and governed by their own particular consequences alone, it would be no easy undertaking to prove criminal.

The true question in this argument is no other than this: May every man who chooses to destroy his life, innocently do so? Limit and distinguish the subject as you can, it will come at last to this question.

For shall we say, that we are then at liberty to commit suicide when we find our continuance in life become useless to mankind ? Any one who pleases may make himself useless; and melancholy minds

are

are prone to think themselves useless, when they really are not so. Suppose a law were promulgated, allowing each private person to destroy every man he met, whose longer continuance in the world he judged to be useless; who would not condemn the latitude of such a rule? who does not perceive that it amounts to a permission to commit murder at pleasure ? A similar rule, regulating the right over our own lives, would be capable of the same extension. Beside which, no one is useless for the purpose of this plea, but he who has lost every capacity and opportunity of being useful, together with the possibility of re- . covering any degree of either; which is a state of such complete destitution and despair as cannot, I believe, be predicated of any man living.

Or rather, shall we say, that to depart voluntarily out of life is lawful for those alone who leave none to lament their death? If this consideration is to be taken into the account at all, the subject of debate will be, not whether there are any to sorrow for us, but whether their sorrow for our death will exceed that which we should suffer by continuing to live. Now this is a comparison of things so indeterminate in their nature, capable of so different a judgment, and concerning which the judgment will differ so much according to the state of the spirits, or the pressure of any present anxiety, that it would vary little, in hypochondriacal constitutions, from an unqualified licence to commit suicide, whenever the distresses which men felt, or fancied, rose high enough to overcome the pain and dread of death. Men are never tempted to destroy themselves but when under the oppression of some grievous uneasiness: the restrictions of the rule therefore ought to apply to these cases. But what effect can we look for from a rule which proposes to weigh our pain against that of another; the misery that is felt, against that which is only conceived ; and in so corrupt a balance as the party's own distempered imagination.

In like manner, whatever other rule you assign, it

S'acoll.

will ultimately bring us to an indiscriminate toleration of suicide, in all cases in which there is danger of its being committed. It remains, therefore, to inquire what would be the effect of such a toleration? evidently the loss of many lives to the community, of which some might be useful or important; the affliction of many families, and the consternation of all : for mankind must live in continual alarm for the fate of their friends and dearest relations, when the restraints of religion and morality are withdrawn; when every disgust which is powerful enough to tempt men to suicide, shall be deemed sufficient to justify it; and when the follies and vices, as well as the inevitable calamities of human life, so often make existence a burden.

A second consideration, and perfectly distinct from the former, is this: By continuing in the world, and in the exercise of those virtues which remain within our power, we retain the opportunity of meliorating our condition in a future state. This argument, it is true, does not in strictness prove suicide to be a crime ; but if it supply a motive to dissuade us from committing it, it amounts to much the same thing. Now there is no condition in human life which is not capable of some virtue, active or passive. Even piety and resignation under the sufferings to which we are called testify a trust and acquiescence in the Divine counsels, more acceptable, perhaps, than the most prostrate devotion; afford an edifying example to all who observe them; and may hope for a recompence among the most arduous of human virtues. These qualities are always in the power of the miserable ; indeed of none but the miserable.

The two considerations above stated belong to all cases of suicide whatever. Besides which general reasons, each case will be aggravated by its own proper and particular consequences ; by the duties that are deserted; by the claims that are defrauded; by the loss, affliction, or disgrace, which our death, or the manner of it, causes our family, kindred, or friends; by the occasion we give to many to suspect the sincerity of our moral and religious professions, and, together with ours, those of all others; by the reproach we draw upon our order, calling, or sect; in a word, by a great variety of evil consequences attending upon peculiar situations, with some or other of which every actual case of suicide is chargeable.

I refrain from the common topics of “ deserting our post," “ throwing up our trust,” “ rushing uncalled into the presence of our Maker," with some others of the same sort, not because they are common (for that rather affords a presumption in their favour), but because I do not perceive in them much argument to which an answer may not easily be given.

Hitherto we have pursued upon the subject the light of nature alone; taking, however, into the account the expectation of a future existence, without which our reasoning upon this, as indeed all reasoning upon moral questions, is vain; we proceed to inquire, whether any thing is to be met with in Scripture, which may add to the probability of the conclusions we have been endeavouring to support. And here I acknowledge, that there is to be found neither any express determination of the question, nor sufficient evidence to prove that the case of suicide was in the contemplation of the law which prohibited murder. Any inference, therefore, which we deduce from Scripture can be sustained only by construction and implication : that is to say, although they who were authorized to instruct mankind have not decided a question which never, so far as appears to us, came before them; yet, I think, they have left enough to constitute a presumption how they would have decided it, had it been proposed or thought of.

What occurs to this purpose is contained in the following observations.

1. Human life is spoken of as a term assigned or prescribed to us : “Let us run with patience the race

« AnteriorContinuar »