Freethought Archives > Baron d'Holbach > The System of Nature
Education, Morals, and the Laws suffice to
Of the desire of Immortality.--Of Suicide.
IT is not then in an ideal world, existing no where perhaps, but in the imagination of man, that he must seek to collect motives calculated to make him act properly in this; it is in the visible world that will be found incitements to divert him from crime; to rouse him to virtue. It is in Nature,--in experience,--in truth, that he must search out remedies for the evils of his species; for motives suitable to infuse into the human heart, propensities truly useful to society; calculated to promote its advantage; to conduce to the end for which it was designed.
If attention has been paid to what has been said In the course of this work, it will he seen that above all it is education that will best furnish the true means of rectifying the errors, of recalling the wanderings of mankind. It is this that should scatter the Seeds in his heart; cultivate the tender shoots; make a profitable use of his dispositions; turn to account those faculties, which depend on his organization: which should cherish the fire of his imagination, kindle it for useful objects; damp it, or extinguish it for others; in short, it is this which should make sensible souls contract habits which are advantageous for society and beneficial to the individual. Brought up in this manner, man would not have occasion for celestial punishments, to teach him the value of virtue; he would not need to behold burning gulphs of brimstone under his feet, to induce him to feel horror for crime; Nature without these fables, would teach much better what he owes to himself; the law would point out what he owes to the body politic, of which he is a member. It is thus, that education grounded upon utility, would form valuable citizens to the state; the depositaries of power would distinguish those whom education should have thus formed, by reason of the advantages which they would procure for their country; they would punish those who should be found injurious to it; it would make the citizens see, that the promises of reward which education held forth, the punishments denounced by morals, are by no means vain; that in a state well constituted, virtue is the true, the only road to happiness; talents the way to gain respect; that inutility conducts to misfortune: that crime leads to contempt.
A just, enlightened, virtuous, and vigilant government, who should honestly propose the public good, would have no occasion either for fables or for falsehoods, to govern reasonable subjects; it would blush to make use of imposture, to deceive its citizens; who, instructed in their duties, would find their interest in submitting to equitable laws; who would be capable of feeling the benefit these have the power of conferring on them; it would feel, that habit is sufficient to inspire them with horror, even for those concealed crimes that escape the eyes of society; it would understand that the visible punishments of this world impose much more on the generality of men, than those of an uncertain and distant futurity: in short, it would ascertain that the sensible benefits within the compass of the sovereign power to distribute, touch the imagination of mortals more keenly, than those vague recompences which are held forth to them in a future existence: above all, it would discover that those on whom these distant advantages do operate, would be still more attached to virtue by receiving their reward both here and hereafter.
Man is almost every where so wicked, so corrupt, so rebellious to reason, only because he is not governed according to his Nature, nor properly instructed in her necessary laws: he is almost in every climate fed with superstitious chimeras; submitted to masters who neglect his instruction or who seek to deceive him. On the face of this globe, may be frequently witnessed unjust sovereigns, who, enervated by luxury, corrupted by flattery, depraved by licentiousness, made wicked by impunity, devoid of talents, without morals, destitute of virtue, are incapable of exerting any energy for the benefit of the states they govern; they are consequently but little occupied with the welfare of their people; indifferent to their duties; of which indeed they are often ignorant. Such governors suffer their whole attention to be absorbed by frivolous amusement; stimulated by the desire of continually finding means to feed their insatiable ambition they engage in useless depopulating wars; and never occupy their mind with those objects which are the most important to the happiness of their nation: yet these weak men feel interested in maintaining the received prejudices, and visit with severity those who consider the means of curing them: in short themselves deprived of that understanding, which teaches man that it is his interest to be kind, just, and virtuous; they ordinarily reward only those crimes which their imbecility makes them imagine as useful to them; they generally punish those virtues which are opposed to their own imprudent passions, but which reason would point out as truly beneficial to their interests. Under such masters is it surprising that society should be ravaged; that weak beings should be willing to imitate them; that perverse men should emulate each other in oppressing its members; in sacrificing its dearest interests; in despoiling its happiness? The state of society in such countries, is a state of hostility of the sovereign against the whole, of each of its members the one against the other. Man is wicked, not because he is born so, but because he is rendered so; the great, the powerful, crush with impunity the indigent and the unhappy; these, at the risk of their lives seek to retaliate, to render back the evil they have received: they attack either openly or in secret a country, who to them is a step-mother, who gives all to some of her children, and deprives the others of every thing: they punish it for its partiality, and clearly show that the motives borrowed from a life hereafter are impotent against the fury of those passions to which a corrupt administration has given birth; that the terror of the punishments in this world are too feeble against necessity; against criminal habits; against dangerous organization uncorrected by education.
In many countries the morals of the people are neglected; the government is occupied only with rendering them timid; with making them miserable. Man is almost every where a slave; it must then follow of necessity, that he is base, interested, dissimulating, without honour, in a word that he has the vices of the state of which he is a citizen. Almost every where he is deceived; encouraged in ignorance; prevented from cultivating his reason; of course he must be stupid, irrational, and wicked almost every where he sees vice applauded, and crime honoured; thence he concludes vice to be a good; virtue, only a useless sacrifice of himself: almost every where. he is miserable, therefore he injures his fellow-men in a fruitless attempt to relieve his own anguish: it is in vain to show him heaven in order to restrain him; his views presently descend again to earth; he is willing to be happy at any price; therefore, the laws which have neither provided for his instruction, for his morals, nor his happiness, menace him uselessly; he plunges on in his pursuits, and these ultimately punish him, for the unjust negligence of his legislators. If politics more enlightened, did seriously occupy itself with the instruction, with the welfare of the people; if laws were more equitable; if each society, less partial, bestowed on its members the care, the education, and the assistance which they have a right to expect; if governments less covetous. and more vigilant, were sedulous to render their subjects more happy, there would not be seen such numbers of malefactors, of robbers, of murderers, who every where infest society; they would not be obliged to destroy life, in order to punish wickedness; which is commonly ascribable to the vices of their own institutions: it would be unnecessary to seek in another life for fanciful chimeras, which always prove abortive against the infuriate passions; against the real wants of man. In short, if the people were instructed, they would be more happy; politics would no longer be reduced to the exigency of deceiving them, in order to restrain them; nor to destroy so many unfortunates, for having procured necessaries, at the expence of their hard-hearted fellow-citizens.
When it shall be desired to enlighten man, let him always have truth laid before him. Instead of kindling his imagination by the idea of those punishments that a future state has in reserve for him, let him be solaced--let him be succoured; or, at least, let him be permitted to enjoy the fruit of his labour--let not his substance be ravished from him by cruel imposts--let him not be discouraged from work, by finding all his labour inadequate to support his existence; let him not be driven into that idleness, that will surely lead him on to crime: let him consider his present existence, without carrying his views to that which may attend him after his death; let his industry be excited--let his talents be rewarded--let him be rendered active, laborious, beneficent, and virtuous, in the world he inhabits; let it be shown to him, that his actions are capable of having an influence over his fellow-men. Let him not be menaced with the tortures of a future existence when he shall be no more; let him behold society armed against those who disturb its repose; let him see the consequence of the hatred of his associates; let him learn to feel the value of their affection; let him be taught to esteem himself; let him understand, that to obtain it, he must have virtue; above all, that the virtuous man in society has nothing to fear, but every thing to hope.
If it be desired to form honest, courageous, industrious citizens, who may be useful to their country, let them beware. of inspiring man from his infancy with an ill-founded dread of death; of amusing his imagination with marvellous fables; of occupying his mind. with his destiny in a future life, quite useless to be known, which has nothing in common with his real felicity. Let them speak of immortality to intrepid, noble souls; let them show it as the price of their labours to energetic minds, who are solely occupied with virtue; who springing forward beyond the boundaries of their actual existence--who, little satisfied with eliciting the admiration, with gaining the love of their contemporaries, are will also to wrest the homage, to secure the affection of future races. Indeed, this is an immortality to which genius, talents, above all virtue, has a just right to pretend; do not therefore let them censure--do not let them endeavour to stifle so noble a passion in man; which is founded upon his nature; which is so calculated to render him happy; from which society gather the most advantageous fruits.
The idea of being buried in total oblivion, of having nothing in common after his death with the beings of his species; of losing all possibility of again having any influence over them, is a thought extremely painful to man; it is above all afflicting to those who possess an ardent imagination. The desire of immortality, or of living in the memory of his fellow men, was always the passion of great souls; it was the motive to the actions of all those who have played a great part on the earth. Heroes whether virtuous or criminal, philosophers as well as conquerors, men of genius and men of talents, those sublime personages who have done honor to their species, as well as those illustrious villains who have debased and ravaged it, have had an eye to posterity in all their enterprises; have flattered themselves with the hope of acting upon the souls of men, even when they themselves should no longer exist. If man in general does not carry his views so far, he is at least sensible to the idea of seeing himself regenerated in his children; whom he knows are destined to survive him; to transmit his name; to preserve his memory; to represent him in society; it is for them that he rebuilds his cottage; it is for them that he plants the tree which his eyes will never behold in its vigour; it is that they may be happy that he labours. The sorrow which embitters the life of those rich men, frequently so useless to the world, when they have lost the hope of continuing their race, has its source in the fear of being entirely forgotten: they feel that the useless man dies entirely. The idea that his name will be in the mouths of men, the thought that it will be pronounced with tenderness, that it will be recollected with kindness, that it will excite in their hearts favourable sentiments, is an illusion that is useful; is a vision suitable to flatter even those who know that nothing will result from it. Man pleases himself with dreaming that he shall have power, that he shall pass for something in the universe, even after the term of his human existence; he partakes by imagination in the projects, in the actions, in the discussions of future ages, and would be extremely unhappy if he believed himself entirely excluded from their society. The laws in all countries have entered into these views; they have so far been willing to console their citizens for the necessity of dying, by giving them the means of exercising their will, even for a long time after their death: this condescension goes to that length, that the dead frequently regulate the condition of the living during a long series of years.
Every thing serves to prove the desire in man of surviving himself. Pyramids, mausoleums, monuments, epitaphs, all show that he is willing to prolong his existence even beyond his decease. He, is not insensible to the judgment of posterity;, it is for him the philosopher writes; it is to astonish him that the monarch erects sumptuous edifices, gorgeous palaces; it is his praises, it is his commendations, that the great man already hears echo in his ears; it is to him that the virtuous citizen appeals from unjust laws; from prejudiced contemporaries--happy chimera! generous illusion! mild vision! its power is so consoling, so bland, that it realizes itself to ardent imaginations; it is calculated to give birth, to sustain, to nurture, to mature enthusiasm of genius, constancy of courage, grandeur of soul, transcendency of talent; its force is so gentle, its influence so pleasing, that it is sometimes able to repress the vices, to restrain the excesses of the most powerful men; who are, as experience has shown, frequently very much disquieted for the judgment of their posterity; from a conviction that this will sooner or later avenge the living of the foul injustice which they may be inclined to make them suffer.
No man, therefore, can consent to be entirely effaced from the remembrance of his fellows; some men have not the temerity to place themselves above the judgment of the future human species, to degrade themselves in his eyes. Where is the being who is insensible to the pleasure of exciting the tears of those who shall survive him; of again acting upon their souls; of once more occupying their thoughts; of exercising upon them his power even from the bottom of his grave? Let then eternal silence be imposed upon those superstitious beings, upon those melancholy men, upon those furious bigots, who censure a sentiment from which society derives so many real advantages; let not mankind listen to those passionless philosophers who are willing to smother this great, this noble spring of his soul; let him not be seduced by the sarcasms of those voluptuaries, who pretend to despise an immortality, towards which they lack the power to set forward; the desire of pleasing posterity, of rendering his name agreeable to generations yet to come, is a respectable, a laudable motive, when it causes him to undertake those things, of which the utility may be felt, of which the advantages may have an influence not only over his contemporaries, but also over nations who have not yet an existence. Let him not treat as irrational, the enthusiasm of those beneficent beings, of those mighty geniuses, of those stupendous talents, whose keen, whose penetrating regards, have foreseen him even in their day; who have occupied themselves for him; for his welfare; for his happiness; who have desired his suffrage; who have written for him; who have enriched him by their discoveries; who have cured him of some of his errors. Let him render them the homage which they have expected at his hands; let him, at least, reverence their memory for the benefits he has derived from them; let him treat their mouldering remains with respect, for the pleasure he receives from their labours; let him pay to their ashes a tribute of grateful recollection, for the happiness they have been sedulous to procure for him. Let him sprinkle with his tears, let him hallow with his remembrance, let him consecrate with his finest sensibilities, the urns of Socrates, of Phocion; of Archimedes; of Anaxarchus; let him wash out the stain that their punishment has made on the human species; let him expiate by his regret the Athenian ingratitude, the savage barbarity of Nicocreon; let him learn by their example to dread superstitious fanaticism; to hold political intolerance in abhorrence; let him fear to harrass merit; let him be cautious how he insults virtue, in persecuting those who may happen to differ from him in his prejudices.
Let him strew flowers over the tombs of an Homer--of a Tasso--of a Shakespeare--of a Milton--of a Goldsmith; let him revere the immortal shades of those happy geniuses, whose songs yet vibrate on his ears; whose harmonious lays excite in his soul the most tender sentiments; let him bless the memory of all those benefactors to the people, who were the delight of the human race; let him adore the virtues Of a Titus--of a Trajan--of an Antoninus--of a Julian: let him merit in his sphere, the eulogies of future ages; let him always remember, that to carry with him to the grave the regret of his fellow man, he must display talents; evince integrity; practice virtue. The funeral ceremonies of the most powerful monarchs, have rarely been wetted with the tears of the people, they have commonly drained them while living. The names of tyrants excite the horror of those who bear them pronounced. Tremble then cruel kings! ye who plunge your subjects into misery; who bathe them with bitter tears--who ravage nations--who deluge the land with the vital stream--who change the fruitful earth into a barren cemetery; tremble for the sanguinary traits under which the future historian will paint you, to generations yet unborn: neither your splendid monuments--your imposing victories--your innumerable armies, nor your sycophant courtiers, can prevent posterity from avenging their grandfathers; from insulting your odious manes; from treating your execrable memories with scorn; from showering their contempt on your transcendant crimes.
Not only man sees his dissolution with pain, but again, he wishes his death may be an interesting event for others. But, as we have already said, he must have talents--he must have beneficence--he must have virtue, in order, that those who surround him, may interest themselves in his condition; that those who survive him, may give regret to his ashes. Is it, then, surprising if the greater number of men, occupied entirely with themselves, completely absorbed by their own vanity, devoted to their own puerile objects, for ever busied with the care of gratifying their vile passions, at the expence, perhaps, of their family happiness, unheedful of the wants of a wife, unmindful of the necessity of their children, careless of the calls of friendship, regardless of their duty to society, do not by their death excite the sensibilities of their survivors; or that they should be presently forgotten? There is an infinity of monarchs of which history does not tell us any thing, save that they have lived. In despite of the inutility in which men for the most part pass their existence, maugre the little care they bestow, to render themselves dear to the beings who environ them; notwithstanding the numerous actions they commit to displease their associates; the self love of each individual, persuades him, that his death must he an interesting occurrence: few men but think themselves an Euryalus in friendship, all expect to find a Nisus, thus man's over-weening philauty shows him to say thus the order of things are overturned at his decease. O mortal! feeble and vain! Dost thou not know the Sesostris's, the Alexanders, the Caesars are dead? Yet the course of the universe is not arrested; the demise of those famous conquerors, afflicting to some few favoured slaves, was a subject of delight for the whole human race. Dost thou then foolishly believe that thy talents ought to interest thy species, that they are of sufficient extent to put it into mourning at thy decease? Alas! The Corneilles, the Lockes, the Newtons, the Boyles, the Harveys, the Montesquieus, the Sheridans are no more! Regretted by a small number of friends, who have presently consoled themselves by their necessary avocations, their death was indifferent to the greater number of their fellow citizens. Darest thou then flatter thyself, that thy reputation, thy titles, thy riches, thy sumptuous repasts, thy diversified pleasures, will make thy funeral a melancholy event! It will be spoken of by some few for two days, and do not be at all surprised: learn that there have died in former ages, in Babylon, in Sardis, in Carthage, in Athens, in Rome, millions of citizens more illustrious, more powerful, more opulent, more voluptuous, than thou art; of whom, however, no one has taken care to transmit to thee even the names. Be then virtuous, 0 man! in whatever station thy destiny assigns thee, and thou shalt be happy in thy life time; do thou good and thou shalt be cherished; acquire talents and thou shalt be respected; posterity shall admire thee, if those talents, by becoming beneficial to their interests, shall bring them acquainted with the name under which they formerly designated thy annihilated being. But the universe will not be disturbed by thy loss; and when thou comest to die, whilst thy wife, thy children, thy friends, fondly leaning over thy sickly couch, shall be occupied with the melancholy task of closing thine eyes, thy nearest neighbour shall perhaps be exulting with joy!
Let not then man occupy himself with his condition that may be to come, but let him sedulously endeavour to make himself useful, to those with whom he lives; let him for his own peculiar happiness render himself dutiful to his parents--faithful to his wife--attentive to his children--kind to his relations---true to his friends--lenient to his servants; let him strive to become estimable in the eyes of his fellow citizens; let him faithfully serve a country which assures to him his welfare; let the desire of pleasing posterity, of meriting its applause, excite him to those labours that shall elicit their eulogies: let a legitimate self-love, when he shall be worthy of it, make him taste in advance those commendations which he is willing to deserve; let him learn to love himself--to esteem himself; but never let him consent that concealed vices, that sacred crimes, shall degrade him in his own eyes; shall oblige him to be ashamed of his own conduct.
Thus disposed, let him contemplate his own decease with the same indifference, that it will he looked upon by the greater number of his fellows; let him expect death with constancy; wait for it with calm resignation; let him learn to shake off those vain terrors with which superstition, would overwhelm him; let him leave to the enthusiast his vague hopes; to the fanatic his mad-brained speculations; to the bigot those fears with which he ministers to his own melancholy; but let his heart, fortified by reason, corroborated by a love of virtue, no longer dread a dissolution that will destroy all feeling.
Whatever may be the attachment man has to life, whatever may be
his fear of death, it is every day witnessed, that habit, that
opinion, that prejudice, are motives sufficiently powerful to
annihilate these passions in his breast; to make him brave danger;
to cause him to hazard his existence. Ambition, pride, jealousy,
love, vanity, avarice, the desire of glory, that deference of
opinion which is decorated with the sounding title of a point of
honour, have the efficacy to make him shut his eyes to danger;
to laugh at peril; to push him on to death: vexation, anxiety of
mind, disgrace, want of success, softens to him its hard features;
makes him regard it as a door that will afford him shelter from the
injustice of mankind: indigence, trouble, adversity, familiarizes
him with this death, so terrible to the happy. The poor man,
condemned to labour, inured to privations, deprived of the comforts
of life, views its approach with indifference: the unfortunate,
when he is unhappy, when he is without resource, embraces it in
despair; the wretched accelerates its march as soon as he sees that
happiness is no longer within his grasp.
Man in different ages, in different countries, has formed opinions extremely various upon the conduct of those, who have had the temerity to put an end to their own existence. His ideas upon this subject, as upon all others, have taken their tone from his religion, have been governed by his superstitious systems, have been modified by his political institutions. The Greeks, the Romans, and other nations, which every thing conspired to make intrepid, to render courageous, to lead to magnanimity, regarded as heroes, contemplated as Gods, those who voluntarily cut the thread of life. In Hindoostan, the Brahmin yet knows how to inspire even women with sufficient fortitude to burn themselves upon the dead bodies of their husbands. The Japanese, upon the most trifling occasion, takes no kind of difficulty in plunging a dagger into his bosom.
Among the people of our own country, religion renders man less prodigal of life; it teaches that it is offensive to the Deity that he should destroy himself. Some moralists, abstracting the height of religious ideas, have held that it is never permitted to man to break the conditions of the covenant that he has made with society. Others have looked upon suicide as cowardice; they have thought that it was weakness, that it displayed pusillanimity, to suffer, himself to be overwhelmed with the shafts of his destiny; and have held that there would be much more courage. more elevation of soul, in supporting his afflictions. in resisting the blows of fate.
If nature be consulted upon this point, it will be found that all the actions of man, that feeble plaything in the hands of necessity, are indispensable; that they depend on causes which move him in despite of himself--that without his knowledge, make him accomplish at each moment of his existence some one of its decrees. If the same power that obliges all intelligent beings to cherish their existence, renders that of man so painful, so cruel, that he finds it insupportable he quits his species; order is destroyed for him, he accomplishes a decree of Nature, that wills he shall no longer exist. This Nature has laboured during thousands of years, to form in the bowels of the earth the iron that must number his days.
If the relation of man with Nature be examined, it will be found that his engagement was neither voluntary on his part, nor reciprocal on the part of Nature. The volition of his will had no share in his birth; it is commonly against his will that he is obliged to finish life; his actions are, as we have proved, only the necessary effects of unknown causes which determine his will. He is, in the hands of Nature, that which a sword is in his own hands; he can fall upon it without its being able to accuse him with breaking his engagements; or of stamping with ingratitude the hand that holds it: man can only love his existence on condition of being happy; as soon as the entire of nature refuses him this happiness; as soon as all that surrounds him becomes incommodious to him, as soon as his melancholy ideas offer nothing but afflicting pictures to his imagination; he already exists no longer; he is suspended in the void; he quits a rank which no longer suits him; in which he finds no one interest; which offers him no protection; which overwhelms him with calamity; in which he can no more be useful either to himself or to others.
If the covenant which unites man to society be considered, it will be obvious that every contract is conditional, must be reciprocal; that is to say, supposes mutual advantages between the contracting parties. The citizen cannot be bound to his country, to his associates, but by the bonds of happiness. Are these bonds cut asunder? He is restored to liberty. Society, or those who represent it, do they use him with harshness, do they treat him with injustice, do they render his existence painful? Does disgrace hold him out to the finger of scorn; does indigence menace him in an obdurate world? Perfidious friends, do they forsake him in adversity? An unfaithful wife, does she outrage his heart? Rebellious, ungrateful children, do they afflict his old age? Has he placed his happiness exclusively on some object which it is impossible for him to procure? Chagrin, remorse, melancholy, and despair, have they disfigured to him the spectacle of the universe? In short, for whatever cause it may be: if he is not able to support his evils, he quits a world, which from henceforth, is for him only a frightful desert he removes himself for ever from a country he thinks no longer willing to reckon him amongst the number of her children--he quits a house that to his mind is ready to bury him under its ruins--he renounces a society, to the happiness of which he can no longer contribute; which his own peculiar felicity alone can render dear to him: and could the man be blamed, who, finding himself useless; who being without resources, in the town where destiny gave him birth, should quit it in chagrin, to plunge himself in solitude? Death appears to the wretched the only remedy for despair; it is then the sword seems the only friend, the only comfort that is left to the unhappy: as long as hope remains the tenant of his bosom--as long as his evils appear to him at all supportable--as long as he flatters himself with seeing them brought to a termination--as long as he finds some comfort in existence, however slender, he will not consent to deprive himself of life: but when nothing any longer sustains in him the love of this existence, then to live, is to him the greatest of evils; to die, the only mode by which he can avoid the excess of despair. This has been the opinion of many great men: Seneca, the moralist, whom Lactantius calls the divine Pagan, who has been praised equally by St. Austin and St. Augustine, endeavours by every kind of argument to make death a matter of indifference to man. Cato has always been commended, because he would not survive the cause of liberty; for that he would not live a slave. Curtius, who rode voluntarily into the gap, to save his country, has always been held forth as a model of heroic virtue. Is it not evident, that those martyrs who have delivered themselves up to punishment, have preferred quitting the world to living in it contrary to their own ideals of happiness? When Samson wished to be revenged on the Philistines, did he not consent to die with them as the only means? If our country is attacked, do we not voluntarily sacrifice our lives in its defence?
That society who has not the ability, or who is not willing to procure man any one benefit, loses all its rights over him; Nature, when it has rendered his existence completely miserable, has in fact, ordered him to quit it: in dying he does no more than fulfil one of her decrees, as he did when he first drew his breath. To him who is fearless of death, there is no evil without a remedy; for him who refuses to die, there yet exists benefits which attach him to the world; in this case let him rally his powers--let him oppose courage to a destiny that oppresses him--let him call forth those resources with which Nature yet furnishes him; she cannot have totally abandoned him, while she yet leaves him the sensation of pleasure; the hopes of seeing a period to his pains.
Man regulates his judgment on his fellows, only by his own peculiar mode of feeling; he deems as folly, he calls delirium all those violent actions which he believes but little commensurate with their causes; or which appear to him calculated to deprive him of that happiness, towards which he supposes a being in the enjoyment of his senses, cannot cease to have a tendency: he treats his associate as a weak creature, when he sees him affected with that which touches him but lightly; or when he is incapable of supporting those evils, which his self-love flatters him, he would himself he able to endure with more fortitude. He accuses with madness whoever deprives himself of life, for objects that he thinks unworthy so dear a sacrifice; he taxes him with phrenzy, because he has himself learned to regard this life as the greatest blessing. It is thus that he always erects himself into a judge of the happiness of others--of their mode of seeing--of their manner of feeling: a miser who destroys himself after the loss of his treasure, appears a fool in the eyes of him who is less attached to riches; he does not feel, that without money, life to this miser is only a continued torture; that nothing in the world is capable of diverting him from his painful sensations: he will proudly tell you, that in his place he had not done so much; but to be exactly in the place of another man, it is needful to have his organization--his temperament--his passions--his ideas; it is in fact needful to be that other; to be placed exactly in the same circumstances; to be moved by the same causes; and in this case all men, like the miser, would sacrifice their life, after being deprived of the only source of their happiness.
He who deprives himself of his existence, does not adopt this extremity, so repugnant to his natural tendency; but when nothing in this world has the faculty of rejoicing him; when no means are left of diverting his affliction; when reason no longer acts; his misfortune whatever it may be, for him is real; his organization, be it strong, or be it weak, is his own, not that of another: a man who is sick only in imagination, really suffers considerably; even troublesome dreams place him in a very uncomfortable situation. Thus when a man kills himself, it ought to be concluded, that life, in the room of being a benefit, had become a very great evil to him; that existence had lost all its charms in his eyes; that the entire of nature was to him destitute of attraction; that it no longer contained any thing that could seduce him; that after the comparison which his disturbed imagination had made of existence with non-existence, the latter appeared to him preferable to the first.
Many will consider these maxims as dangerous; they certainly account why the unhappy cut the thread of life, in a manner not corresponding with the received prejudices; but, nevertheless, it is a temperament soured by chagrin, a bilious constitution, a melancholy habit, a defect in the organization, a derangement in the mind; it is in fact necessity and not reasonable speculations, that breed in man the design of destroying himself. Nothing invites him to this step so long as reason remains with him; or whilst he yet possesses hope, that sovereign balm for every evil: as for the unfortunate, who cannot lose sight of his sorrows--who cannot forget his pains--who has his evils always present to his mind; he is obliged to take counsel from these alone: besides, what assistance, what advantage can society promise to himself, from a miserable wretch reduced to despair; from a misanthrope overwhelmed with grief; from a wretch tormented with remorse, who has no longer any motive to render himself useful to others--who has abandoned himself--who finds no more interest in preserving his life? Frequently, those who destroy themselves are such, that had they lived, the offended laws must have ultimately been obliged to remove them from a society which they disgraced; from a country which they had injured.
As life is commonly the greatest blessing for man, it is to be presumed that he who deprives himself of it, is compelled to it by an invincible force. It is the excess of misery, the height of despair, the derangement of his brain, caused by melancholy, that urges man on to destroy himself. Agitated by contrary impulsions, he is, as we have before said, obliged to follow a middle course that conducts him to his death; if man be not a free-agent, in any one instant of his life, he is again much less so in the act by which it is terminated.
It will be seen then, that he who kills himself, does not, as it is pretended, commit an outrage on nature. He follows an impulse which has deprived him of reason; adopts the only means left him to quit his anguish; he goes out of a door which she leaves open to him; he cannot offend in accomplishing a law of necessity: the iron hand of this having broken the spring that renders life desirable to him; which urged him to self-conservation, shows him he ought to quit a rank or system where he finds himself too miserable to have the desire of remaining. His country or his family have no right to complain of a member, whom it has no means of rendering happy; from whom consequently they have nothing more to hope: to be useful to either, it is necessary he should cherish his own peculiar existence; that he should have an interest in conserving himself--that he should love the bonds by which he is united to others--that he should be capable of occupying himself with their felicity--that he should have a sound mind. That the suicide should repent of his precipitancy, he should outlive himself, he should carry with him into his future residence, his organs, his senses, his memory, his ideas, his actual mode of existing, his determinate manner of thinking.
In short, nothing is more useful for society, than to inspire
man with a contempt for death; to banish from his mind the false
ideas he has of its consequences. The fear of death can never do
more than make cowards; the fear of its consequences will make
nothing but fanatics or melancholy beings, who are useless to
themselves, unprofitable to others. Death is a resource that ought
not by any means to be taken away from oppressed virtue; which the
injustice of man frequently reduces to despair. If man feared death less, he would neither be a slave nor
superstitious; truth would find defenders more zealous; the rights
of mankind would be more hardily sustained; virtue would be
intrepidly upheld: error would be more powerfully opposed; tyranny
would be banished from nations: cowardice nourishes it, fear
perpetuates it. In fact, man can neither be contented nor happy
whilst his opinions shall oblige him to tremble.
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