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David Hume Suicide


David Hume



David Hume

Version 1.0

Copyright notice: (c) 1995, James Fieser (email removed). This
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permission from the copyright holder. When quoting from this
text, please use the following citation: <Essays on Suicide and
the Immortality of the Soul: The Complete Unauthorized 1783
Edition>, David Hume, Version 1.0, ed. James Fieser (Internet
Release, 1995).

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This is a working draft. Please report errors to James Fieser
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Editor's Note: Hume's essays on the suicide and the immortality
of the soul were completed around 1755 and printed as part of a
book of essays titled <Five Dissertations>. When pre-release
copies of <Five Dissertations> provoked controversy among
influential readers, Hume and his printer Andrew Millar agreed to
have the two essays physically removed from the printed copies.
They were replaced with an essay titled "Of the Standard of
Taste," and the book of essays appeared in 1757 under the title
<Four Dissertations>. Rumors about the two withdrawn essays
circulated for years, and clandestine copies appeared anonymously
in French (1770) and later in English (1777). In 1783 the two
essays were published more openly, and this time with Hume's name
attached. Like the 1770 and 1777 publications, the 1783
publication was not authorized by Hume. Along with Hume's two
essays, the anonymous editor of the 1783 edition included his own
critical notes to Hume's two pieces, and excerpts from Rousseau's
<La Nouvelle Heloise> on the subject of suicide. The contents,
then, of the 1883 publication are as follows:

Preface                                         p. iii
Essay I. On Suicide (Hume)                      p. 1
Essay II. On the immortality of the soul (Hume) p. 23
Anti-Suicide (anonymous editor)                 p. 39
Immortality of the Soul (anonymous editor)      p. 53
Letter 114 from Rousseau's <Eloisa>             p. 67
Letter 115 from Rousseau's <Eloisa>             p. 90

A copy of the original two essays as they were printed in <Five
Dissertations> is in the possession of the National Library of
Scotland. That copy contains nineteen corrections in Hume's hand
and is Hume's final surviving revision of the essays. None of
these corrections appear in the 1783 edition.

* * * *










Never before published.

With REMARKS, intended as an Antidote to the

Poison contained in these Performances,






Printed for M. SMITH; and sold by the booksellers in

Fleet-street, and Paternoster-row.


(Price 3 s. 6 d. sewed)



THESE two Essays on <Suicide> and <the Immortality of the Soul>,
though not published in any edition of his works, are generally
attributed to the late ingenious Mr. Hume.
The well-known contempt of this eminent philosopher for the
common convictions of mankind, raised an apprehension of the
contents from the very title of these pieces. But the celebrity
of the author's name, renders them, notwithstanding, in some
degree objects of great curiosity.
Owing to this circumstance, a few copies have been
clandestinely circulated, at a large price, for some time, but
without any comment. The very mystery attending this mode of
selling them, made them more an object of request than they would
otherwise have been. {iv}
The present publication comes abroad under no such
restraint, and possesses very superior advantages. The <Notes>
annexed are intended to expose the sophistry contained in the
original Essays, and may shew how little we have to fear from the
adversaries of these great truths, from the pitiful figure which
even Mr. Hume makes in thus violently exhausting his last
strength in an abortive attempt to traduce or discredit them.
The two very matterly Letters from the Eloisa of Rosseau on
the subject of <Suicide>, have been much celebrated, and we hope
will be considered as materially increasing the value of this
curious collection.
The admirers of <Mr. Hume> will be pleased with seeing the
remains of a favourite author rescued in this manner from that
oblivion to which the prejudices of his countrymen had, in all
appearance, consigned them; and even the religious part of
mankind have some reason of triumph from the striking instance
here given of truth's superiority to error, even when error has
all the advantage of an elegant genius, and a great literary
reputation to recommend it.



ONEconsiderable advantage that arises from Philosophy,
consists in the sovereign antidote which it affords to
superstition and false religion. All other remedies against that
pestilent distemper are vain, or at least uncertain. Plain good
sense and the practice of the world, which alone serve most
purposes of life, are here found ineffectual: History as well as
daily experience furnish instances of men endowed with the {2}
strongest capacity for business and affairs, who have all their
lives crouched under slavery to the grossest superstition. Even
gaiety and sweetness of temper, which infuse a balm into every
other wound, afford no remedy to so virulent a poison; as we may
particularly observe of the fair sex, who tho' commonly possest
of their rich presents of nature, feel many of their joys blasted
by this importunate intruder. But when found Philosophy has once
gained possession of the mind, superstition is effectually
excluded, and one may fairly affirm that her triumph over this
enemy is more complete than over most of the vices and
imperfections incident to human nature. Love or anger, ambition
or avarice, have their root in the temper and affection, which
the soundest reason is scarce ever able fully to correct, but
superstition being founded on false opinion, must immediately
vanish when true philosophy has inspired juster sentiments of
superior powers. The contest is here more equal between the
distemper and the medicine, {3} and nothing can hinder the latter
from proving effectual but its being false and sophisticated.
ITwill here be superfluous to magnify the merits of
Philosophy by displaying the pernicious tendency of that vice of
which it cures the human mind. ([editor's note] 1) The
superstitious man says Tully[1] is miserable in every scene, in
every incident in life; even sleep itself, which banishes all
other cares of unhappy mortals, affords to him matter of new
terror; while he examines his dreams, and finds in those visions
of the night prognostications of future calamities. I may add
that tho' death alone can put a full period to his misery, he
dares not fly to this refuge, but still prolongs a miserable
existence from a vain fear left he offend his Maker, by using the
power, with which that beneficent being has endowed him. The
presents of God and nature are ravished from us by this {4} cruel
enemy, and notwithstanding that one step would remove us from the
regions of pain and sorrow, her menaces still chain us down to a
hated being which she herself chiefly contributes to render
'TISobserved by such as have been reduced by the
calamities of life to the necessity of employing this fatal
remedy, that if the unseasonable care of their friends deprive
them of that species of Death which they proposed to themselves,
they seldom venture upon any other, or can summon up so much
resolution a second time as to execute their purpose. So great is
our horror of death, that when it presents itself under any form,
besides that to which a man has endeavoured to reconcile his
imagination, it acquires new terrors and overcomes his feeble
courage: But when the menaces of superstition are joined to this
natural timidity, no wonder it quite deprives men of all power
over their lives, since even many pleasures and enjoyments, {5}
to which we are carried by a strong propensity, are torn from us
by this inhuman tyrant. Let us here endeavour to restore men to
their native liberty, by examining all the common arguments
against Suicide, and shewing that that action may be free from
every imputation of guilt or blame, according to the sentiments
of all the antient philosophers. ([editor's note] 2)
IFSuicide be criminal, it must be a transgression of our
duty either to God, our neighbour, or ourselves. -- To prove that
suicide is no transgression of our duty to God, the following
considerations may perhaps suffice. In order to govern the
material world, the almighty Creator has established general and
immutable laws, by which all bodies, from the greatest planet to
the smallest particle of matter, are maintained in their proper
sphere and function. To govern the animal world, he has endowed
all living creatures with bodily and mental powers; with senses,
passions, {6} appetites, memory, and judgement, by which they are
impelled or regulated in that course of life to which they are
destined. These two distinct principles of the material and
animal world, continually encroach upon each other, and mutually
retard or forward each others operation. The powers of men and of
all other animals are restrained and directed by the nature and
qualities of the surrounding bodies, and the modifications and
actions of these bodies are incessantly altered by the operation
of all animals. Man is stopt by rivers in his passage over the
surface of the earth; and rivers, when properly directed, lend
their force to the motion of machines, which serve to the use of
man. But tho' the provinces of the material and animal powers are
not kept entirely separate, there results from thence no discord
or disorder in the creation; on the contrary, from the mixture,
union, and contrast of all the various powers of inanimate bodies
and living creatures, arises that sympathy, harmony, {7} and
proportion, which affords the surest argument of supreme wisdom.
The providence of the Deity appears not immediately in any
operation, but governs every thing by those general and immutable
laws, which have been established from the beginning of time. All
events, in one sense, may be pronounced the action of the
Almighty, they all proceed from those powers with which he has
endowed his creatures. A house which falls by its own weight, is
not brought to ruin by his providence, more than one destroyed by
the hands of men; nor are the human faculties less his
workmanship, than the laws of motion and gravitation. When the
passions play, when the judgment dictates, when the limbs obey;
this is all the operation of God, and upon these animate
principles, as well as upon the inanimate, has he established the
government of the universe. Every event is alike important in the
eyes of that infinite being, who takes in at one glance the most
distant regions of space, and {8} remotest periods of time. There
is no event, however important to us, which he has exempted from
the general laws that govern the universe, or which he has
peculiarly reserved for his own immediate action and operation.
The revolution of states and empires depends upon the smallest
caprice or passion of single men; and the lives of men are
shortened or extended by the smallest accident of air or dies,
sunshine or tempest. Nature still continues her progress and
operation; and if general laws be ever broke by particular
volitions of the Deity, 'tis after a manner which entirely
escapes human observation. As on the one hand, the elements and
other inanimate parts of the creation carry on their action
without regard to the particular interest and situation of men;
so men are entrusted to their own judgment and discretion in the
various shocks of matter, and may employ every faculty with which
they are endowed, in order to provide for their ease, happiness,
or {9} preservation. What is the meaning then of that principle,
that a man who tired of life, and hunted by pain and misery,
bravely overcomes all the natural terrors of death, and makes his
escape from this cruel scene: that such a man I say, has incurred
the indignation of his Creator by encroaching on the office of
divine providence, and disturbing the order of the universe?
Shall we assert that the Almighty has reserved to himself in any
peculiar manner the disposal of the lives of men, and has not
submitted that event, in common with others, to the general laws
by which the universe is governed? This is plainly false; the
lives of men depend upon the same laws as the lives of all other
animals; and these are subjected to the general laws of matter
and motion. The fall of a tower, or the infusion of a poison,
will destroy a man equally with the meanest creature; an
inundation sweeps away every thing without distinction that comes
within the reach of its fury. Since therefore the lives of men
{10} are for ever dependant on the general laws of matter and
motion, is a man's disposing of his life criminal, because in
every case it is criminal to encroach upon these laws, or disturb
their operation? But this seems absurd; all animals are entrusted
to their own prudence and skill for their conduct in the world,
and have full authority as far as their power extends, to alter
all the operations of nature. Without the excercise of this
authority they could not subsist a moment; every action, every
motion of a man, innovates on the order of some parts of matter,
and diverts from their ordinary course the general laws of
motion. Putting together, therefore, these conclusion, we find
that human life depends upon the general laws of matter and
motion, and that it is no encroachment on the office of
providence to disturb or alter these general laws: Has not every
one, of consequence, the free disposal of his own life? And may
he not lawfully employ that power with which nature has endowed
him? In order {11} to destroy the evidence of this conclusion, we
must shew a reason why this particular cafe is excepted; is it
because human life is of such great importance, that 'tis a
presumption for human prudence to dispose of it? But the life of
a man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an
oyster. And were it of ever so great importance, the order of
human nature has actually submitted it to human prudence, and
reduced us to a necessity, in every incident, of determining
concerning it. -- Were the disposal of human life so much
reserved as the peculiar province of the Almighty, that it were
an encroachment on his right, for men to dispose of their own
lives; it would be equally criminal to act for the preservation
of life as for its destruction. If I turn aside a stone which is
falling upon my head, I disturb the course of nature, and I
invade the peculiar province of the Almighty, by lengthening out
my life beyond the period which by the general laws of matter and
motion he had assigned it. ([editor's note] 3) {12}
A hair, a fly, an insect is able to destroy this mighty
being whose life is of such importance. Is it an absurdity to
suppose that human prudence may lawfully dispose of what depends
on such insignificant causes? It would be no crime in me to
divert the <Nile> or <Danube> from its course, were I able to
effect such purposes. Where then is the crime of turning a few
ounces of blood from their natural channel? -- Do you imagine
that I repine at Providence or curse my creation, because I go
out of life, and put a period to a being, which, were it to
continue, would render me miserable? Far be such sentiments from
me; I am only convinced of a matter of fact, which you yourself
acknowledge possible, that human life may be unhappy, and that my
existence, if further prolonged, would become ineligible; but I
thank Providence, both for the good which I have already enjoyed,
and for the power with which I am endowed of escaping the ill
that {13} threatens me.[2] To you it belongs to repine at
providence, who foolishly imagine that you have no such power,
and who must still prolong a hated life, tho' loaded with pain
and sickness, with shame and poverty -- Do not you teach, that
when any ill befals me, tho' by the malice of my enemies, I ought
to be resigned to providence, and that the actions of men are the
operations of the Almighty as much as the actions of inanimate
beings? When I fall upon my own sword, therefore, I receive my
death equally from the hands of the Deity as if it had proceeded
from a lion, a precipice, or a fever. The submission which you
require to providence, in every calamity that befals me, excludes
not human skill and industry, if possible by their means I can
avoid or escape the calamity: And why may I not employ one remedy
as well as another? -- If my life be not my own, it were criminal
for me to put it in danger, as {14} well as to dispose of it; nor
could one man deserve the appellation of <hero>, whom glory or
friendship transports into the greatest dangers, and another
merit the reproach of <wretch> or <misereant> who puts a period
to his life, from the same or like motives. -- There is no being,
which possesses any power or faculty, that it receives not from
its Creator, nor is there any one, which by ever so irregular an
action can encroach upon the plan of his providence, or disorder
the universe. Its operations are his works equally with that
chain of events which it invades, and which ever principle
prevails, we may for that very reason conclude it to be most
favoured by him. Be it animate, or inanimate, rational, or
irrational, 'tis all a cafe: its power is still derived from the
supreme Creator, and is alike comprehended in the order of his
providence. When the horror of pain prevails over the love of
life; when a voluntary action anticipates the effects of blind
causes, 'tis only in consequence of those {15} powers and
principles which he has implanted in his creatures. Divine
providence is still inviolate, and placed far beyond the reach of
human injuries. 'Tis impious says the old Roman superstition[3]
to divert rivers from their course, or invade the prerogatives of
nature. 'Tis impious says the French superstition to inoculate
for the small-pox, or usurp the business of providence by
voluntarily producing distempers and maladies. 'Tis impious says
the modern <European> superstition, to put a period to our own
life, and thereby rebel against our Creator; and why not impious,
say I, to build houses, cultivate the ground, or fail upon the
ocean? In all these actions we employ our powers of mind and
body, to produce some innovation in the course of nature; and in
none of them do we any more. They are all of them therefore
equally innocent, or equally criminal. <But you are placed by
providence, like a centinal, in a particular station, {16} and
when you desert it without being recalled, you are equally guilty
of rebellion against your almighty sovereign, and have incurred
his displeasure>. -- I ask, why do you conclude that providence
has placed me in this station? For my part I find that I owe my
birth to a long chain of causes, of which many depended upon
voluntary actions of men. <But providence guided all these
causes, and nothing happens in the universe without its consent
and co-operation>. If so, then neither does my death, however
voluntary, happen without its consent; and whenever pain or
sorrow so far overcome my patience, as to make me tired of life,
I may conclude that I am recalled from my station in the clearest
and most express terms. 'Tis providence surely that has placed me
at this present in this chamber: But may I not leave it when I
think proper, without being liable to the imputation of having
deserted my post or station? When I shall be dead, the principles
of {17} which I am composed will still perform their part in the
universe, and will be equally useful in the grand fabrick, as
when they composed this individual creature. The difference to
the whole will be no greater than betwixt my being in a chamber
and in the open air. The one change is of more importance to me
than the other; but not more so to the universe.
-- 'TISa kind of blasphemy to imagine that any created
being can disturb the order of the world, or invade the business
of Providence! It supposes, that that being possesses powers and
faculties, which it received not from its creator, and which are
not subordinate to his government and authority. A man may
disturb society no doubt, and thereby incur the displeasure of
the Almighty: But the government of the world is placed far
beyond his reach and violence. And how does it appear that the
Almighty is displeased with those actions that disturb society?
By the principles {18} which he has implanted in human nature,
and which inspire us with a sentiment of remorse if we ourselves
have been guilty of such actions, and with that of blame and
disapprobation, if we ever observe them in others: -- Let us now
examine, according to the method proposed, whether Suicide be of
this kind of actions, and be a breach of our duty to our
<neighbour> and to <society>.
A MANwho retires from life does no harm to society: He
only ceases to do good; which, if it is an injury, is of the
lowest kind. -- All our obligations to do good to society seem to
imply something reciprocal. I receive the benefits of society,
and therefore ought to promote its interests; but when I withdraw
myself altogether from society, can I be bound any longer? But
allowing that our obligations to do good were perpetual, they
have certainly some bounds; I am not obliged to do a small good
to society at the expence of a {19} great harm to myself; why
then should I prolong a miserable existence, because of some
frivolous advantage which the public may perhaps receive from me?
If upon account of age and infirmities, I may lawfully resign any
office, and employ my time altogether in fencing against these
calamities, and alleviating, as much as possible, the miseries of
my future life: why may I not cut short these miseries at once by
an action which is no more prejudicial to society? -- But suppose
that it is no longer in my power to promote the interest of
society, suppose that I am a burden to it, suppose that my life
hinders some person from being much more useful to society. In
such cases, my resignation of life must not only be innocent, but
laudable. And most people who lie under any temptation to abandon
existence, are in some such situation; those who have health, or
power, or authority, have commonly better reason to be in humour
with the world. ([editor's note] 4) {20}
A MANis engaged in a conspiracy for the public interest;
is seized upon suspicion; is threatened with the rack; and knows
from his own weakness that the secret will be extorted from him:
Could such a one consult the public interest better than by
putting a quick period to a miserable life? This was the case of
the famous and brave <Strozi> of <Florence>. -- Again, suppose a
malefactor is justly condemned to a shameful death, can any
reason be imagined, why he may not anticipate his punishment, and
save himself all the anguish of thinking on its dreadful
approaches? He invades the business of providence no more than
the magistrate did, who ordered his execution; and his voluntary
death is equally advantageous to society, by ridding it of a
pernicious member.
THATSuicide may often be consistent with interest and
with our duty to ourselves, no one can question, who allows that
age, {21} sickness, or misfortune, may render life a burthen, and
make it worse even than annihilation. I believe that no man ever
threw away life, while it was worth keeping. For such is our
natural horror of death, that small motives will never be able to
reconcile us to it; and though perhaps the situation of a man's
health or fortune did not seem to require this remedy, we may at
least be assured that any one who, without apparent reason, has
had recourse to it, was curst with such an incurable depravity or
gloominess of temper as must poison all enjoyment, and render him
equally miserable as if he had been loaded with the most grievous
misfortunes. -- If suicide be supposed a crime, 'tis only
cowardice can impel us to it. If it be no crime, both prudence
and courage should engage us to rid ourselves at once of
existence, when it becomes a burthen. 'Tis the only way that we
can then be useful to society, by setting an example, which if
imitated, would preserve to every one his chance for happiness in
life, {22} and would effectually free him from all danger of




BYthe mere light of reason it seems difficult to prove
the <Immortality> of the <Soul>; the arguments for it are
commonly derived either from <metaphysical> topics, or <moral> or
<physical>. But in reality 'tis the Gospel and the Gospel alone,
that has brought <life and immortality to light>.

I. METAPHYSICALtopics suppose that the soul is
immaterial, and that 'tis impossible {24} for thought to belong
to a material substance. -- ([editor's note] 1) But just
metaphysics teach us that the notion of substance is wholly
confused and imperfect, and that we have no other idea of any
substance, than as an aggregate of particular qualities, inhering
in an unknown something. Matter, therefore, and spirit, are at
bottom equally unknown, and we cannot determine what qualities
inhere in the one or in the other. ([editor's note] 2) They
likewise teach us that nothing can be decided <a priori>
concerning any cause or effect, and that experience being the
only source of our judgements of this nature, we cannot know from
any other principle, whether matter, by its structure or
arrangement, may not be the cause of thought. Abstract reasonings
cannot decide any question of fact or existence. -- But admitting
a spiritual substance to be dispersed throughout the universe,
like the etherial fire of the <Stoics>, and to be the only
inherent subject of thought, we have reason to conclude {25} from
<analogy> that nature uses it after the manner she does the other
substance, <matter>. She employs it as a kind of paste or clay;
modifies it into a variety of forms and existences; dissolves
after a time each modification, and from its substance erects a
new form. As the same material substance may successively compose
the bodies of all animals, the same spiritual substance may
compose their minds: Their consciousness, or that system of
thought which they formed during life, may be continually
dissolved by death. And nothing interests them in the new
modification. The most positive asserters of the mortality of the
soul, never denied the immortality of its substance. And that an
immaterial substance, as well as a material, may lose its memory
or consciousness, appears in part from experience, if the soul be
immaterial. -- Reasoning from the common course of nature, and
without supposing any new interposition of the supreme cause,
which ought always to be excluded from philosophy, {26} what is
incorruptible must also be ingenerable. The Soul therefore if
immortal, existed before our birth; and if the former existence
no ways concerned us, neither will the latter. -- Animals
undoubtedly feel, think, love, hate, will, and even reason, tho'
in a more imperfect manner than men; are their souls also
immaterial and immortal? ([editor's note] 3)

II. LETus now consider the moral arguments, chiefly those
derived from the justice of God, which is supposed to be farther
interested in the farther punishment of the vicious and reward of
the virtuous. -- But these arguments are grounded on the
supposition that God has attributes beyond what he has exerted in
this universe, with which alone we are acquainted. Whence do we
infer the existence of these attributes? -- 'Tis very safe for us
to affirm, that whatever we know the Deity to have actually done,
is best; but 'tis very dangerous to affirm, that he must always
do {27} what to us seems best. In how many instances would this
reasoning fail us with regard to the present world? -- But if any
purpose of nature be clear, we may affirm, that the whole scope
and intention of man's creation, so far as we can judge by
natural reason, is limited to the present life. With how weak a
concern from the original inherent structure of the mind and
passions, does he ever look farther? What comparison either for
steadiness or efficacy, betwixt so floating an idea, and the most
doubtful persuasion of any matter of fact that occurs in common
life. There arise indeed in some minds some unaccountable terrors
with regard to futurity; but these would quickly vanish were they
not artificially fostered by precept and education. And those who
foster them, what is their motive? Only to gain a livelihood, and
to acquire power and riches in this world. Their very zeal and
industry therefore is an argument against them. {28}
WHATcruelty, what iniquity, what injustice in nature, to
confine all our concern, as well as all our knowledge, to the
present life, if there be another scene still waiting us, of
infinitely greater consequence? Ought this barbarous deceit to be
ascribed to a beneficent and wife being? -- Observe with what
exact proportion the task to be performed and the performing
powers are adjusted throughout all nature. If the reason of man
gives him great superiority above other animals, his necessities
are proportionably multiplied upon him; his whole time, his whole
capacity, activity, courage, and passion, find sufficient
employment in fencing against the miseries of his present
condition, and frequently, nay almost always are too slender for
the business assigned them. -- A pair of shoes perhaps was never
yet wrought to the highest degree of perfection which that
commodity is capable of attaining. Yet it is necessary, at least
very useful, that there should be some politicians and moralists,
{29} even some geometers, poets, and philosophers among mankind.
The powers of men are no more superior to their wants, considered
merely in this life, than those of foxes and hares are, compared
to <their> wants and to their period of existence. The inference
from parity of reason is therefore obvious. --
ONthe theory of the Soul's mortality, the inferiority of
women's capacity is easily accounted for. Their domestic life
requires no higher faculties, either of mind or body. This
circumstance vanishes and becomes absolutely insignificant, on
the religious theory: the one sex has an equal task to perform as
the other; their powers of reason and resolution ought also to
have been equal, and both of them infinitely greater than at
present. As every effect implies a cause, and that another, till
we reach the first cause of all, which is the Deity; every thing
that happens is ordained by him, and nothing can be the object of
his punishment or vengeance. -- By what rule are punishments {30}
and rewards distributed? What is the divine standard of merit and
demerit? shall we suppose that human sentiments have place in the
Deity? How bold that hypothesis. We have no conception of any
other sentiments. -- According to human sentiments, sense,
courage, good manners, industry, prudence, genius, &c. are
essential parts of personal merits. Shall we therefore erect an
elysium for poets and heroes like that of the antient mythology?
Why confine all rewards to one species of virtue? Punishment,
without any proper end or purpose, is inconsistent with <our>
ideas of goodness and justice, and no end can be served by it
after the whole scene is closed. Punishment, according to <our>
conception, should bear some proportion to the offence. Why then
eternal punishment for the temporary offences of so frail a
creature as man? Can any one approve of <Alexander>'s rage, who
intended to extirminate a whole nation because they had seized
his favorite horse Bucephalus?[5] {31}
HEAVENand Hell suppose two distinct species of men, the
good and the bad; but the greatest part of mankind float betwixt
vice and virtue. -- Were one to go round the world with an
intention of giving a good supper to the righteous, and a sound
drubbing to the wicked, he would frequently be embarrassed in his
choice, and would find that the merits and the demerits of most
men and women scarcely amount to the value of either. -- To
suppose measures of approbation and blame different from the
human confounds every thing. Whence do we learn that there is
such a thing as moral distinctions, but from our own sentiments?
-- What man who has not met with personal provocation (or what
good-natured man who has) could inflict on crimes, from the sense
of blame alone, even the common, legal, frivolous punishments?
And does any thing steel the breast of judges and juries against
the sentiments of humanity but reflection on necessity and public
interest? {32} By the Roman law those who had been guilty of
parricide and confessed their crime, were put into a sack alone
with an ape, a dog, and a serpent, and thrown into the river.
Death alone was the punishment of those whose who denied their
guilt, however fully proved. A criminal was tried before
<Augustus>, and condemned after a full conviction, but the humane
emperor, when he put the last interrogatory, gave it such a turn
as to lead the wretch into a denial of his guilt. "You surely
(said the "prince) did not kill your father."[6] This lenity
suits our natural ideas of <right> even towards the greatest of
all criminals, and even though it prevents so inconsiderable a
sufference. Nay even the most bigotted priest would naturally
without reflection approve of it, provided the crime was not
heresy or infidelity; for as these crimes hurt himself in his
<temporal> interest and advantages, perhaps he may not be
altogether so {33} indulgent to them. The chief source of moral
ideas is the reflection on the interest of human society. Ought
these interests, so short, so frivolous, to be guarded by
punishments eternal and infinite? The damnation of one man is an
infinitely greater evil in the universe, than the subversion of a
thousand millions of kingdoms. Nature has rendered human infancy
peculiarly frail and mortal, as it were on purpose to refute the
notion of a probationary state; the half of mankind die before
they are rational creatures.

III. THE<Physical> arguments from the analogy of nature
are strong for the mortality of the soul, and are really the only
philosophical arguments which ought to be admitted with regard to
this question, or indeed any question of fact. -- Where any two
objects are so closely connected that all alterations which we
have ever seen in the one, are attended with proportionable
alterations in the other; we ought to conclude {34} by all rules
of analogy, that, when there are still greater alterations
produced in the former, and it is totally dissolved, there
follows a total dissolution of the latter. -- Sleep, a very small
effect on the body, is attended with a temporary extinction, at
least a great confusion in the soul. -- The weakness of the body
and that of the mind in infancy are exactly proportioned, their
vigour in manhood, their sympathetic disorder in sickness; their
common gradual decay in old age. The step further seems
unavoidable; their common dissolution in death. The last symptoms
which the mind discovers are disorder, weakness, insensibility,
and stupidity, the fore-runners of its annihilation. The farther
progress of the same causes encreasing, the same effects totally
extinguish it. Judging by the usual analogy of nature, no form
can continue when transferred to a condition of life very
different from the original one, in which it was placed. Trees
perish in the water, fishes in the air, animals in the earth.
Even so small a difference as that of climate is often {35}
fatal. What reason then to imagine, that an immense alteration,
such as is made on the soul by the dissolution of its body and
all its organs of thought and sensation, can be effected without
the dissolution of the whole? Every thing is in common betwixt
soul and body. The organs of the one are all of them the organs
of the other. The existence therefore of the one must be
dependant on that of the other. -- The souls of animals are
allowed to be mortal; and these bear so near a resemblance to the
souls of men, that the analogy from one to the other forms a very
strong argument. Their bodies are not more resembling; yet no one
rejects the argument drawn from comparative anatomy. The
<Metempsychosis> is therefore the only system of this kind that
philosophy can harken to. ([editor's note] 4)
NOTHINGin this world is perpetual, every thing however
seemingly firm is in continual flux and change, the world itself
gives symptoms of frailty and dissolution. How contrary to
analogy, therefore, to imagine {36} that one single from,
seemingly the frailest of any, and subject to the greatest
disorders, is immortal and indissoluble? ([editor's note] 5) What
daring theory is that! how lightly, not to say how rashly
entertained! How to dispose of the infinite number of posthumous
existences ought also to embarrass the religious theory. Every
planet in every solar system we are at liberty to imagine peopled
with intelligent mortal beings, at least we can fix on no other
supposition. For these then a new universe must every generation
be created beyond the bounds of the present universe, or one must
have been created at first so prodigiously wise as to admit of
this continual influx of beings. ([editor's note] 6) Ought such
bold suppositions to be received by any philosophy, and that
merely on there pretext of a bare possibility? When it is asked
whether <Agamemnon> <Thersites Hannibal>, <Varro>, and every
stupid clown that ever existed in <Italy>, <Scythia>, <Bactria>
or <Guinea>, are now alive; can any man think, that a scrutiny of
nature will furnish arguments {37} strong enough to answer so
strange a question in the affirmative? The want of argument
without revelation sufficiently establishes the negative. --
"<Quanto facilius> (says <Pliny>[7]) "<certius que sibi quemque
credere, ac specimen securitatis antigene tali sumere
experimento>." Our insensibility before the composition of the
body, seems to natural reason a proof of a like state after
dissolution. Were our horrors of annihilation an original
passion, not the effect of our general love of happiness, it
would rather prove the mortality of the soul. For as nature does
nothing in vain, she would never give us a horror against an
impossible event. She may give us a horror against an
unavoidable; yet the human species could not be preserved had not
nature inspired us with and aversion toward it. All doctrines are
to be suspected which are favoured by {38} our passions, and the
hopes and fears which gave rise to this doctrine are very
'TISan infinite advantage in every controversy to defend
the negative. If the question be out of the common experienced
course of nature, this circumstance is almost if not altogether
decisive. By what arguments or analogies can we prove any state
of existence, which no one ever saw, and which no way resembles
any that ever was seen? Who will repose such trust in any
pretended philosophy as to admit upon its testimony the reality
of so marvellous a scene? Some new species of logic is requisite
for that purpose, and some new faculties of the mind, that may
enable us to comprehend that logic.
NOTHINGcould set in a fuller light the infinite
obligations which mankind have to divine revelation, since we
find that no other medium could ascertain this great and
important truth. {39}


(1) THIS elaborate eulogium on philosophy points obliquely
at religion, which we christians consider as the only sovereign
antidote to every disease incident to the mind of man. It is
indeed hard to say what reason might do were it freed from all
restraints, especially if a succession of philosophers were
incessantly improving on one another as they went on, avoiding
and correcting the mistakes of those who preceded them in the
same pursuit, till at last one complete and rational system was
effected. Great things might probably be accomplished in this
manner. But no such plan in fact ever was or is likely to be
finished. Neither priestcraft, nor magisterial powers, however,
cramped the progress of improving reason, or baffled the genius
of enquiring man. The principles of religion and virtue were
freely canvassed by the boldest spirits of antiquity. In truth,
the superior advantage and necessity of the christian religion
seems manifest from this particular circumstance, {40} that it
has taken away every possible restraint from natural religion,
allowing it to exert itself to the utmost in finding out the
fundamental truths of virtue, and in acquiescing in them, in
openly avowing and acknowledging them when revealed, in extending
the views and expectations of men, in giving them more just and
liberal sentiments, and in publickly and uniformly disclaiming
any intention of establishing a kingdom for its votaries or
believers in this world.
THEdoctrines of the gospel are not intended to instruct
us in the knowledge of every thing which may be really useful in
the present life, far less of every thing, which, from curiosity
alone, we may have a mighty desire to know. Revelation considers
mankind in their highest capacity, as the rational and
accountable subjects of God, and as capable both of present and
future happiness or misery, according to their behaviour. Its
chief, if not its sole design, is to give us those views and
impressions of our nature, of our state, of the perfections, the
counsels, the laws, and the government of God, which, under the
influence of providence, are the immediate and infallible means
of the purity, of the comfort, and of the moral order, rectitude,
and excellence of our immortal souls. As corrupted and
disordered, we are incapable of true happiness, till purified and
restored to order. As guilty and {41} mortal creatures, we can
have no true consolation without the hopes of pardon in a future
and seperate state of existence. As surrounded with dangers, and
obnoxious to every dismal apprehension, we can possess no solid,
or permanent content, but in the sincere and well grounded
convictions of that gracious and righteous administration so
minutely and explicitly delineated in the scriptures. It is
evident, therefore, that the principal excellence and utility of
revealed truths upon the sanctification and consolation of our
hearts. They tally exactly with the present circumstances of
mankind, and are admirably adapted to cure every disease, every
disorder of the human mind, to beget, to cherish, and confirm
every pure, every virtuous, every pious disposition.
MANKINDare certainly at present in a state of the deepest
corruption and depravity, and at the same time apt to continue
strangely insensible of the misery and danger to which, under the
government of infinite wisdom, it necessarily renders them.
Nothing can be conceived more fit to rouse them from their
lethargy, and to awaken them to a just sense of their condition,
than a messenger from Heaven, clothed with divine authority,
setting before them the intrinsic {42} baseness, malignity, and
wretchedness of vice, together with the certain, the dreadful,
the eternal consequences of continuing in it.
COULDwe enter upon a particular view of all those
maladies and disorders which infest and destroy the souls of men,
it were easy to shew, that a steadfast belief of religion is, in
truth, the most natural and the best antidote or remedy for each
of them. It is obvious, or least, that the clear and full
manifestation, which the gospel has given of the character of
God, and the laws of his moral government, and of the terms of
salvation through faith in the religion of his son, are all
finely calculated to root out the principles of superstition, and
all false notions, destructive to the virtue and happiness of
mankind, and to plant in their room whatever has a natural and
direct tendency to promote our virtue, our perfection, our
(2) CLEOMENES, king of Sparta, when suffering under
misfortune, was advised to kill himself by Tharyceon. "Thinkest
thou, wicked man, (said he) to shew thy fortitude by rushing upon
death, an expedient always at hand, the dastardly resource of the
{43} basest minds? Better than we, by the fortune of arms, or
overpowered by numbers, have left the field of battle to their
enemies; but he who, to avoid pain, or calamity, or censures of
men, gives up the contest, we are to seek death, that death ought
to be in action. It is base to live or die only for ourselves.
All we gain by suicide is to get our own reputation, or doing the
least service to our country. In hopes, then, we may yet be of
some use to others, both methinks are bound to preserve life as
long as we can. Whenever these hopes shall have altogether
abandoned us, death, if sought for, will readily be found.
(3) OFall the refines cobwebs, to which sophistry has
given birth, this seems at once the most elaborate and the most
flimsy. It seems one of the first and most indisputable maxims in
all found reasoning, that no ideas whatever should have a place
in the premises, which do not communicate a sensible energy to
the conclusion. But where is the connection between the beginning
and end of this wire-drawn argument. What have the various
beautiful facts, thus elegantly stated, to do with a man's taking
away his own {44} life? Though the greatest philosopher be of no
more consequence to the general system of things than an oyster,
and though the life of the one were, in every respect, as
perfectly insignificant as that of the other, still the meanest
of mankind is not without importance in his own eyes. And where
is he who is guided uniformly, in all his actions, more by a
sense of his relation to the universe at large, than by the value
he retains for himself, or the deference he has to his own
NOdeduction, however plausible, can produce conviction in
any rational mind, which originates in a supposition grossly
absurd. Is it possible to conceive the author of nature capable
of authenticating a deed, which ultimately terminates in the
total annihilation of the system? By which of the creatures
beneath us is the first law of their being thus daringly
violated? And if suicide be eligible to man, under any possible
misfortune or distress, why not to them? Are not they also
subject to the various miseries which arise from wayward
accidents and hostile elements? Why, therefore, open a door for
our escape from those evils of which others have their share, to
whom, however, it must remain for ever shut? {45}
INtruth, the existence of all animals depends entirely on
their inviolable attachment to self-preservation. Their attention
to all is accordingly the obvious and common condition of all
their natures. By this great and operative principle nature has
chiefly consulted her own safety. Our philosopher's notions are
so extremely hostile to her most essential institutions, that she
could not possibly survive a general conviction of them. And, in
spite of all the sophistry he is master of, the question here
will eternally recur, whether the wisdom of nature, or the
philosophy of our author, deserves the preference.
(4) THISapology for the commission, arising from man's
insignificance in the moral world, from the reciprocation of
social duty being dissolved, or from the benefit resulting from
the voluntary dismission of being, is contrary to the soundest
principles of jurisprudence, to the condition of human nature,
and to the general establishment of things.
THATa man who retires from life <ad libitum>, does no
harm to society, is a proposition peculiarly absurd and
erroneous. What is {46} lawful for one, may be lawful for all,
and no society can subsist in the conviction of a principle thus
hostile to its being.
ITseems to be a maxim in human existence, that no
creature has a right to decide peremptorily on the importance,
utility, or necessity of his own being. There are an infinite
variety of secret connections and associations in the vast system
of things, which the eye of created wisdom cannot explore.
MANis not, perhaps, so ignorant of anything, or any
creature, as of himself. His own system, after all the art and
inquisition of human ingenuity, is still to him the profoundest
mystery in nature. His knowledge and faculties are adequate to
the sphere of his duty. Beyond this, his researches are
impertinent, and all his acquisitions useless. He has no adequate
notions what the laws of the universe are with respect to any
species of existence whatever. A cloud rests on the complicated
movements of this great machine, which baffles all the
penetration of mortals: and it will for ever remain impossible
for man, from the most complete analysis of his present
situation, to judge, with any degree of precision, of his own
consequence, either as a citizen of the world at large, or as a
member of any particular society. {47}
FINALcauses form a system of knowledge too wonderful for
man. It is the perrogative of nature alone to decide upon them.
In the fulness of time, her creative hand brought him into
existence, and it belongs to her alone, in consequence of an
arrangement equally wonderful and mysterious to dismiss him from
his present mode of being. This is an authority with which she
alone is invested, and which, according to our apprehensions, it
is impossible fro her to delegate. Dissolution, as well as
creation, is hers. and he who would attempt to infringe her
sovereignty in this instance, would usurp a prerogative which
does not belong to him, and become a traitor to the laws of his
being. Nay, on this extravagant and licentious hypothesis, the
right of assuming and relinquishing existence is made reciprocal.
For he who arrogates the liberty of destroying himself, were he
possessed of the power, might also be his own creator; his
imaginary insignificance to society being as inconclusive in the
one case, as any chimerical advantage that may accidentally
strike him can be in the other. It is a strange doctrine, which
cannot be established, but at the obvious expence of what seem
the plainest dictates of common sense.
INDEED, the absurdities of this daring and paradoxical
doctrine are endless and infinite. {48} When we come to pronounce
on the condition of human infancy, and to separate childhood, or
non-age, from a state of maturity, we can scarce trace one useful
or salutary consequence it is calculated to produce in society.
In this view children seem less adapted to serve any special or
important end, than even beetles, gnats, or flies. Experience,
however, has long convinced the world of their present
inestimable value from their future destination. And were a
legislator, from the plausible pretext of their being a burden to
the state, to exterminate the race of mankind in the
insignificant stage of infancy, his decree, like that of a
certain monster recorded in the gospel, would shock the
sentiments of every nation under heaven, in whom there remained
only the dregs of humanity.
ITis not only impossible for a man to decide, in any
given period, of the progress of his existence, or what utility
or consequence he may be to society; but without the faculty of
prescience, it is still more impracticable for him to divine what
purposes he may be intended to serve in the many mysterious
revolations of futurity. How far his mortal may be connected with
his immortal life, must rest with him who has the sole disposal
of it. But who told him that his load of misery was too much to
bear, that he was not able to sustain {49} it? or that his
merciful father would not proportionate his sufferings to his
abilities? How does he know how short-lived the pressure of
incumbent sorrow may prove? It becomes not him to prescribe to
his maker, or because his evils are enormous, to conclude they
must be permanent. Rash man! thy heart is in the hand of heaven,
and he <who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb>, may either
lighten the burthen that oppresses thee, or blunt the edge of
that sensibility, from which it derives the greatest poignancy.
What medicine is to the wounds of the body, that resignation is
to those of the soul. Be not deficient in this virtue, and life
will never prescribe a duty you cannot perform, or inflict a pang
which you cannot bear. Resignation changes the grizzly aspect of
affliction, turns sickness into health, and converts the gloomy
forebodings of despair into the grateful presentiments of hope.
Besides, the most insignificant instruments are sometimes, in the
hands of eternal providence, employed in bringing about the most
general and beneficent revolutions. It is by making weakness thus
subservient to power, evil to good, and pain to pleasure, that he
who governs the world illustrates his sovereinty and omnipotence.
Till, then, thou art {50} able to comprehend the whole mysterious
system of every possible existence, till thou art certain that
thy life is totally insignificant, till thou art convinced it is
not in the might of infinite power to render thee serviceable
either to thyself or others, counteract not the benignity of
providence by suicide, or, in this manner, by the blackest of all
treasons, betray thy trust, and wage, at fearful odds, hostility
against the very means and author of thy being.
ONEvery obvious consequence arising from suicide, which
none of its advocates appear to have foreseen, and which places
it in a light exceedingly gross and shocking, is, that it
supposes every man capable, not only of destroying himself, but
of delegating the power of committing murder to another. That
which he may do himself, he may commission any one to do for him.
On this supposition, no law, human or divine, could impeach the
shedding of innocent blood. And on what principle, of right or
expediency, admit that which produces such a train of the most
horrid and detestable consequences?
(5) THEpreceding note is, perhaps, the most audacious
part in the whole of this very extraordinary performance. In our
holy religion it is expressly declared that no murderer hath
eternal life abiding in him; that murderers shall in no wise
inherit the kingdom of God, and that it is the prerogative of
heaven alone to kill and make alive. It is a fundamental {51}
doctrine in the gospel, that, except ye repent, ye shall all
likewise perish. And how are they to perform their duty, who, in
the instant of dying, contract a guilt, which renders it
indispensible. But this horrid supposition is repugnant to the
whole genius of revelation, which inculcates every virtue that
can possibly administer to our present and future welfare. It
inforces obedience and resignation to the righteous government of
God. It inspires and produces those very dispositions which it
recommends. All its doctrines, exhortations, and duties, are
formed to elevate the mind, to raise the affections, to regulate
the passions, and to purge the heart of whatever is hostile to
happiness in this or another life. This impious slander on the
christian faith is the obvious consequence of the grossest
inattention to its nature and tendency. It is calculated chiefly
to make us happy. And what happy man was ever yet chargeable with
suicide? In short, we may as well say, that, because the
physician does not expressly prohibit certain diseases in his
prescriptions, the very diseases are authenticated by the
remedies devised, on purpose to counteract them. {52}


(1) The ingenuity of Scepticism has been long admired, but
here the author boldly outdoes all his former out-doings. Much
has been said against the authenticity of religion, on the
supposition that the evidence to which she appeals, is not either
sufficiently general or intelligible to the bulk of mankind. But
surely an argument is not conclusive in one case, and
inconclusive in another. Admit this reasoning against revelation
to be valid, and you must also admit it against our author's
hypothesis. There never at least was an objection started, that
could, in the remotest degree, affect the truths of the gospel,
more intricate, metaphysical, and abstracted, than that by which
our essayest would destroy the popular doctrine of the soul's
<immortality>. How many live and die in this salutary conviction,
to whom these refined speculations must forever remain as
unintelligible as if they had {53} never been formed! It is a
sentiment so congenial to the heart of man, that few of the
species would chuse to exist without it. Unable, as they are, to
account for its origin, they cordially and universally indulge
it, as one of their tenderest, best, and last feelings. It
inhabits alike the rudest and most polished minds, and never
leaves any human breast, which is not either wholly engrossed by
criminal pleasure, deadened by selfish pursuits, or perverted by
false reasoning. It governs with all the ardor and influence of
inspiration, and never meets with any opposition but from the
weak, the worthless, or the <wise above what is written>. All the
world have uniformly considered it as their last resource in
every extremity, and for the most part still regard and cherish
the belief of it, as an asylum in which their best interests are
ultimately secured or deposited, beyond the reach of all
temporary disaster or misfortune. Where, therefore, is the
probability of exterminating so popular and prevailing a notion,
by a concatenation of ideas, which, perhaps, not one out of a
million in any country under Heaven is able to trace or
(2) The natural perceptions of pleasure of pain cannot be
said to act on the mind as one part of matter does on another.
The substance of the soul we do not know, but are {54} certain
her ideas must be immaterial. And these cannot possibly act
either by contact of impulse. When one body impels another, the
body moved is affected only by the impulse. But the mind,
whenever roused by any pleasing or painful sensation, in most
cases looks round her, and deliberates whether a change of state
is proper, or the present more eligible; and moves or rests
accordingly. Her perceptions, therefore, contribute no further to
action, than by exciting her active powers. On the contrary,
matter is blindly and obstinately in that state in which it is,
whether of motion or rest, till changed by some other adequate
cause. Suppose we rest the state of any body, some external force
is requisite to put it in motion; and, in proportion as this
force is greater or small, the motion must be swift or slow. Did
not this body continue in its former state, no external force
would be requisite to change it; nor, when changed, would
different degrees of force be necessary to move it in different
degrees of velocity. When motion is impressed on any body, to
bring it to rest, an <extra> force must always be applied, in
proportion to the intended effect. This resistance is observeable
in bodies both when moved in particular directions, and to bear
an exact proportion to the <vis impressa>, and to the quantity of
matter moved. Were it possible to extract from matter the
qualities of solidity and extension, {55} the matter whence such
qualities were extracted would no longer resist; and consequently
resistance is the necessary result of them, which, therefore, in
all directions must be the same. The degree of resistance in any
body being proportionate to the <vis impressa>, it follows, when
that body is considered in any particular state, whether of
motion or rest, the degrees of resistance must either
indefinitely multiply, or decrease, according to all possible
degrees of the moving force. But when the same body is considered
absolutely, or without fixing any particular state, the
resistance is immutable; and all the degrees of it, which that
body would exert upon the accession of any impressed force, must
be conceived as actually in it. Nor can matter have any tendency
contrary to that resistance, otherwise it must be equal or
superior. If equal, the two contrary tendencies would destroy
each other. If superior, the resistance would be destroyed. Thus
change would eternally succeed to change without one intermediate
instant, so that no time would be assigned when any body was in
any particular state. Gravitation itself, the most simple and
universal law, seems far from being a tendency natural to matter;
since it is found to act internally, and not in proportion to the
superfices of any body; which it would not do, if it were only
the mechanical action of matter upon matter. {56} From all this,
it appears, that matter considered merely as such, is so far from
having a principle of spontaneous motion, that it is stubbornly
inactive, and must eternally remain in the same state in which it
happens to be, except influenced by some other -- that is, some
immaterial power. Of such a power the human soul is evidently
possessed; for every one is conscious of an internal activity,
and to dispute this would be to dispute us out of one of the most
real and intimate perceptions we have.
Though a material automaton were allowed possible, how
infinitely would it fall short of that force and celerity which
every one feels in himself. how sluggish are all the movements
which fall under our observation. How slow and gradual their
transitions from one part of space to another. But the mind, by
one instantaneous effort, measures the distance from pole to
pole, from heaven to earth, from one fixed star to another; and
not confined within the limits of the visible creation, shoots
into immensity with a rapidity to which even that of lightning,
or sunbeams, is no comparison. Who then shall assign a period,
which, though depressed with so much dead weight, is ever active,
and unconscious of fatigue or relaxation? The mind is not only
herself a principle of action, but probably actuates the body,
without the {57} assistance of any intermediate power, both from
the gradual command which she acquires of its members by habit,
and from a capacity of determining, in some measure, the quantity
of pleasure or pain which any sensible perception can give her.
Supposing the interposing power a spirit, the same difficulty of
spirit acting upon matter still remains. And the volition of our
own mind will as well account for the motion of the body, as the
formal interference of any other spiritual substance. And we may
as well ask, why the mind is not conscious of that interposition,
as why she is ignorant of the means by which she communicates
motion to the body.
(3) It is always bad reasoning to draw conclusions from the
premises not denied by your adversary. Whoever, yet, of all the
assertors of the soul's immortality, presumed to make a monopoly
of this great privilege to the human race? Who can tell what
another state of existence may be, or whether every other species
of animals may not possess principles an immortal as the mind of
man? But that mode of reasoning, which militates against all our
convictions, solely on account of the unavoidable ignorance to
which our sphere in the universe subjects us, can never be
satisfactory. Reason, it is true, cannot altogether solve every
doubt which arises concerning this important truth. But neither
is there any other {58} truth, of any denomination whatever,
against which sophistry may not conjure up a multitude of
exceptions. We know no mode of existence but those of matter and
spirit, neither of which have uniformly and successfully defied
the extreme subtilty of argumentation. Still a very great
majority of mankind are staunch believers in both. So well
constituted is the present disposition of things, that all the
principles essential to human life and happiness continue, as it
is likely they ever will, to operate, in spite of every sort of
clamour which sophistry or scepticism has raised or can raise
against them.
(4) There is not a single word in all this elaborate and
tedious deduction, which has not been urged and refuted five
hundred times. Our ignorance of the divine perfections, as is
usual with this writer, is here stated as an unanswerable
exception to the conclusion usually drawn from them. But he very
artfully overlooks, that this great ignorance will be equally
conclusive as applied to either side of the argument. When we
compare, however, the character of God, as a wise superintendant,
and generous benefactor, with the state in which things at
present appear, where virtue is often depressed and afflicted,
and vice apparently triumphs, it will be treated with the infamy
it merits, and virtue receive that {59} happiness and honour,
which, from its own intrinsic worth, it deserves, and, from its
conformity to the nature of God, it has reason to expect.
This subject, perhaps, has been too much exaggerated, and
some pious men have weakly thought, the best way to convince us
that order and happiness prevailed in a future state, was to
persuade us that there was none at all in this. External
advantages have been taken for the only goods of human nature;
and, because, in this view, all things speak the appearance of
mal-administration, we have been taught to expect a government of
rectitude and benevolence hereafter. Let us, on the contrary,
candidly own that virtue is sovereignly and solely good, left, by
depreciating her charms, we obliquely detract from the character
of God himself. Let us confess her undowered excellence superior
to all the inconveniences that may attend her, even in the
present situation. But, without allowing some difference between
poverty and riches, sickness and health, pain and pleasure, &c.
we shall have no foundation to preference; and it will be in vain
to talk of selecting where no one choice can be more agreeable or
disagreeable to nature than another. Upon this difference,
therefore, however it be called, let the present argument
proceed. {60}
If infinite goodness be the spirit and characteristic of
this universal government, then every advantage, however
inconsiderable in kind or degree, must either be supposed
immediately bestowed on virtue; or, at least, that such
retributions will, at some time, be made her, as may not only
render her votaries equal, but superior to those of vice, in
proportion to their merit. But how different the case is in human
life, history and observation may easily convince us; so that
one, whose eyes are not intent on the character of God, and the
nature of virtue, would often be tempted to think this world a
theatre merely intended for mournful spectacles and pomps of
horror. How many persons do we see perish by the mere wants of
nature, who, had they been in different circumstances, would have
thanked God with tears of joy for the power of communicating
those advantages they now implore from others in vain? While, at
the same time, they have, perhaps, the additional misery of
seeing the most endeared relations involved in the same
deplorable fate! How often do we see those ties which unite the
soul and body, worn out by the gradual advances of a lingering
disease, or burst at once by the sudden efforts of unutterable
agony? While the unhappy sufferers, had they been continued in
life, might have diffused happiness, not only through the narrow
circle of their {61} friends and neighbourhood, but as
extensively as their country, and even the world at large. How
many names do we see buried in obscurity, or soiled with
detraction, which ought to have shone the first in fame? How many
heroes have survived the liberties of their country, or died in
abortive attempts to preserve them; and, by their fall, only left
a larger field for the lawless ravages of tyranny and oppression?
But were it possible, how long and insuperable would be the
task to enumerate all the ingredients which compose the present
cup of bitterness? And is this the consummation of things? Will
supreme and essential goodness no way distinguish such as have
invariably pursued his honour, and the interest of his
government, from those who have industriously violated the order
he has appointed in things? who have blotted the face of nature
with havock, murder, and desolation; and shewn a constant
intention to counteract all the benevolent designs of providence?
It is confessed that the virtuous, happy in the possession of
virtue alone, make their exit from the present scene with
blessings to the Creator, for having called them to existence,
and given them the glorious opportunity of enjoying what is in
itself supremely eligible. They are conscious that this felicity
can receive no accession from any external lustre or advantage
{62} whatever. Yet it seems highly necessary in the divine
administration, that those who have been dazzled with the false
glare of prosperous wickedness, should at last be undeceived;
that they should at last behold virtue conspicuous, in all her
native splendor and majesty as she shines, the chief delight of
God, and ultimate happiness of all intelligent nature.
The language of religion, and our own hearts, on this
important argument, is equally comfortable and decisive. It
accumulates and enforces whatever can inspire us with confidence
in that God, who is not the God of the dead, but of the living;
who reigns in the invisible, as well as in the visible world; and
whose attention to our welfare ceases not with our lives, but is
commensurate to the full extent of our being. Indeed the votaries
of the soul's mortality may as well be honest for once, and speak
out what so many fools think in their hearts. For what is God to
us, or we to him, if our connection extends but to the pitiful
space allotted us in such a pitiful world as this is? To be sure,
no absurdity will be rejected, which can smother the feelings, or
keep the vices of profligates in countenance; but, if only made
like worms and reptiles beneath our feet, to live this moment,
and expire the next, to struggle in a wretched life with every
internal and external calamity, {63} that can assault our bodies,
or infest our minds; to bear the mortifications of malignity, and
the unmerited abhorrence of those who perhaps may owe us the
greatest and tenderest esteem, and then, sunk in everlasting
oblivion, our fate would stand on record, in the annals of the
universe, an eternal exception to all that can be called good.
Suppose a father possessed of the most exquisite tenderness
for his son, delighted with his similarity of form, his promising
constitution, his strength, gracefulness, and agility, his
undisguised emotions of filial affection, with the various
presages of a superior genius and understanding. Let us suppose
this father pleased with the employment of improving his
faculties, and inspiring him with future hopes of happiness and
dignity: but that he may give him a quicker sensibility to the
misfortunes of others, and a more unshaken fortitude to sustain
his own, he often prefers younger brethren, and even strangers,
to those advantages which otherwise merit, and the force of
nature would determine him to bestow on so worthy an offspring.
Let us go further, and imagine, if we can, that this father,
without the least diminution of tenderness, or any other apparent
reason, destroys his son in the bloom of life, and height of
expectation: Who would not lament the fate of such a youth with
inconsolable tears? {64} Doomed never more to behold the
agreeable light of Heaven! never more to display his personal
graces, nor exercise his manly powers, never more to feel his
heart warm with benevolent regards, nor taste the soul-
transporting pleasure of obliging and being obliged! Blotted at
once from existence, and the fair creation, he sinks into silence
and oblivion, with all his sublime hopes disappointed, all his
immense desires ungratified, and all his intellectual faculties
unimproved. Without mentioning the instinctive horror which must
attend such an action, how absurd to reason, and how inconsistent
with the common feelings of humanity would it be to suppose a
father capable of such a deed. Forbid it, God! forbid it, Nature!
that we should impute to the munificent father of being and
happiness, what, even in the lowest of rational creatures, would
be monstrous and detestable!
(5) The truth is, that form which all mankind have deemed
immortal, is so far from being the frailest, that it seems in
fact the most indissoluble and permanent of any other we know.
All the rational and inventive powers of the mind happily
conspire to proclaim her infinitely different in nature, and
superior in dignity to every possible modification of pure
matter. Were mankind {65} joined in society, was life polished
and cultivated, were the sciences and arts, not only of utility,
but elegance, produced by matter? by a brute mass? A substance so
contrary to all activity and intelligence, that it seems the work
of an omnipotent hand alone to connect them. What judgement
should we form of that principle which informed and enlightened a
Galileo, a Copernicus, or a Newton? What inspiration taught them,
to place the fun in the center of this system, and assign the
various orbs their revolutions round him, reducing motions so
diverse and unequal, to uniform and simple laws? Was it not
something like that great eternal mind, which first gave
existence to those luminous orbs, and prescribed each of them
their province? Whence the infinite harmony and variety of sound,
the copious flows of eloquence, the bolder graces and more
inspired elevations of poetry, but from a mind, an immaterial
being, the reflected image of her all-perfect Creator, in whom
eternally dwells all beauty and excellence. Were man only endowed
with a principle of vegetation, fixed to one peculiar spot, and
insensible of all that passed around him; we might, then, with
some colour, suppose that energy, if it may be so called,
perishable. Were, he like animals possessed of mere vitality, and
qualified only to move and feel, still we might have some reason
to fear that, {66} in some future period of duration, our Creator
might resume his gift of existence. but can any one, who pretends
to the least reflection, imagine that such a being as the human
soul, adorned with such extensive intellectual powers, will ever
cease to be the object of that love and care which eternally
holds the universe in its embrace? Did she obtain such a
boundless understanding merely to taste the pleasure of
exercising it? to catch a transient glance of its objects, and
perish? Formed, as she is, to operate on herself, and all things
round her, must she cease from action, while yet the mighty task
is scarce begun? must she lose those faculties, by which she
retains the past, comprehends the presents and presages the
future? must she contemplate no more those bright impressions of
divinity, which are discovered in the material world; nor those
stronger, and more animated features of the same eternal beauty
which shine in her own god-like form? And must she be absorbed
forever in the womb of unessential nothing? Strange, that in the
view, and even in the arms of infinite power and goodness, a dawn
so fair and promising, should at one be clouded with all the
horrors of eternal night? Such a supposition would be contrary
the whole conduct and laws of nature. {67}

<The following Letters on> SUICIDE <are

extracted from> ROSSEAU's ELOISA.


<To Lord B-------.>

YES, my Lord, I confess it; the weight of life is too
heavy for my soul. I have long endured it as a burden; I have
lost every thing which could make it dear to me, and nothing
remains but irksomeness and vexation. I am told, however, that I
am not at liberty to dispose of my life, without the permission
of that Being from whom I received it. I am sensible likewise
that you have a right over it by more titles than one. Your care
has twice preserved it, and your goodness is its constant
security. I will never {68} dispose of it, till I am certain that
I may do it without a crime, and till I have not the least hope
of employing it for your service.
You told me that I should be of use to you; why did you
deceive me? Since we have been in London, so far from thinking of
employing me in your concerns, you have been kind enough to make
me your only concern. How superfluous is your obliging
solicitude! My lord, you know I abhor a crime, even worse than I
detest life; I adore the supreme Being -- I owe every thing to
you; I have an affection for you; you are the only person on
earth to whom I am attached. Friendship and duty may chain a
wretch to this earth: sophistry and vain pretences will never
detain him. Enlighten my understanding, speak to my heart; I am
ready to hear you, but remember, that despair is not to be
imposed upon.
You would have me apply to the test of reason: I will; let
us reason. You desire me to deliberate in proportion to the
importance {69} of the question in debate; I agree to it. Let us
investigate truth with temper and moderation; let us discuss this
general proposition with the same indifference we should treat
any other. Roebeck wrote an apology for suicide before he put an
end to his life. I will not, after his example, write a book on
the subject, neither am I well satisfied with that which he has
penned, but I hope in this discussion at least to imitate his
I have for a long time meditated on this awful subject. You
must be sensible that I have, for you know my destiny, and yet I
am alive. The more I reflect, the more I am convinced that the
question may be reduced to this fundamental proposition. Every
man has a right by nature to pursue what he thinks good, and
avoid what he thinks evil, in all respects which are not
injurious to others. When our life therefore becomes a misery to
ourselves, and is of advantage to no one, we are at liberty to
put an end to our being. If there is any such thing as a clear
and self-evident {70} principle, certainly this is one, and if
this be subverted, there is scarce an action in life which may
not be made criminal.
Let us hear what the philosophers say on this subject.
First, they consider life as something which is not our own,
because we hold it as a gift; but because it has been given to
us, is it for that reason our own? Has not God given these
sophists two arms? nevertheless, when they are under
apprehensions of a mortification, they do not scruple to amputate
one, or both if there be occasion. By a parity of reasoning, we
may convince those who believe in the immortality of the soul;
for if I sacrifice my arm to the preservation of something more
precious, which is my body, I have the same right to sacrifice my
body to the preservation of something more valuable, which is,
the happiness of my existence. If all the gifts which heaven has
bestowed are naturally designed for our good, they are certainly
too apt to change their nature; and Providence has endowed us
with reason, that we may discern the difference. If this rule
{71} did not authorize us to chuse the one, and reject the other,
to what use would it serve among mankind?
But they turn this weak objection into a thousand shapes.
They consider a man living upon earth as a soldier placed on
duty. God, say they, has fixed you in this world, why do you quit
your station without his leave? But you, who argue thus, has he
not stationed you in the town where you was born, why therefore
do you quit it without his leave? is not misery, of itself, a
sufficient permission? Whatever station Providence has assigned
me, whether it be in a regiment, or on the earth at large, he
intended me to stay there while I found my situation agreeable,
and to leave it when it became intolerable. This is the voice of
nature, and the voice of God. I agree that we must wait for an
order; but when I die a natural death, God does not order me to
quit life, he takes it from me; it is by rendering life
insupportable, that he orders me to quit it. In the first case, I
resist with all my force; in the second, I have the merit of
obedience. {72}
Can you conceive that there are some people so absurd as to
arraign suicide as a kind of rebellion against Providence, by an
attempt to fly from his laws? but we do not put an end to our
being in order to withdraw ourselves from his commands, but to
execute them. What! does the power of God extend no farther than
to my body? is there a spot in the universe, is there any being
in the universe, which is not subject to his power, and will that
power have less immediate influence over me when my being is
refined, and thereby becomes less compound, and of nearer
resemblance to the divine essence? no, his justice and goodness
are the foundation of my hopes; and if I thought that death would
withdraw me from his power, I would give up my resolution to die.
This is one of the quibbles of the Phaedo, which, in other
respects, abounds with sublime truths. If your slave destroys
himself, says Socrates to Cebes, would you not punish him, for
having unjustly deprived you of your property; {73} prithee, good
Socrates, do we not belong to God after we are dead? The case you
put is not applicable; you ought to argue thus: if you incumber
your slave with a habit which confines him from discharging his
duty properly, will you punish him for quitting it, in order to
render you better service? the grand error lies in making life of
too great importance; as if our existence depended upon it, and
that death was a total annihilation. Our life is of no
consequence in the sight of God; it is of no importance in the
eyes of reason, neither ought it to be of any in our sight; when
we quit our body, we only lay aside an inconvenient habit. Is
this circumstance so painful, to be the occasion of so much
disturbance? My Lord, these declaimers are not in earnest. Their
arguments are absurd and cruel, for they aggravate the supposed
crime, as if it put a period to existence, and they punish it, as
if that existence was eternal.
With respect to Plato's Phaedo, which has furnished them
with the only specious argument that has ever been advanced, the
question {74} is discussed there in a very light and desultory
manner. Socrates being condemned, by an unjust judgment, to lose
his life in a few hours, had no occasion to enter into an
accurate enquiry whether he was at liberty to dispose of it
himself. Supposing him really to have been the author of those
discourses which Plato ascribes to him, yet believe me, my lord,
he would have meditated with more attention on the subject, had
he been in circumstances which required him to reduce his
speculations to practice; and a strong proof that no valid
objection can be drawn from that immortal work against the right
of disposing of our own lives, is, that Cato read it twice
through the very night that he destroyed himself.
The same sophisters make it a question whether life can ever
be an evil? but when we consider the multitude of errors,
torments, and vices, with which it abounds, one would rather be
inclined to doubt whether it can ever be a blessing. Guilt
incessantly besieges the most virtuous of mankind. Every moment
he lives he is in danger of falling a prey to the wicked, or of
being wicked himself. To {75} struggle and to endure, is his lot
in this world; that of the dishonest man is to do evil, and to
suffer. In every other particular they differ, and only agree in
sharing the miseries of life in common. If you required
authorities and facts, I could recite you the oracles of old, the
answers of the sages, and produce instances where acts of virtue
have been recompensed with death. But let us leave these
considerations, my lord; it is to you whom I address myself, and
I ask you what is the chief attention of a wise man in this life,
except, if I may be allowed the expression, to collect himself
inwardly, and endeavour, even while he lives, to be dead to every
object of sense? The only way by which wisdom directs us to avoid
the miseries of human nature, is it not to detach ourselves from
all earthly objects, from every thing that is gross in our
composition, to retire within ourselves, and to raise our
thoughts to sublime contemplations? If therefore our misfortunes
are derived from our passions and errors, with what eagerness
should we wish for a state which will deliver us both from the
one and the other? What is {76} the fate of those sons of
sensuality, who indiscreetly multiply their torments by their
pleasures? they in fact destroy their existence by extending
their connections in this life; they increase the weight of their
crimes by their numerous attachments; they relish no enjoyments,
but what are succeeded by a thousand bitter wants; the more
lively their sensibility, the more acute their sufferings; the
stronger they are attached to life, the more wretched they
But admitting it, in general, a benefit to mankind to crawl
upon the earth with gloomy sadness, I do not mean to intimate
that the human race ought with one common consent to destroy
themselves, and make the world one immense grave. But there are
miserable beings, who are too much exalted to be governed by
vulgar opinion; to them despair and grievous torments are the
passports of nature. It would be as ridiculous to suppose that
life can be a blessing to such men, as it was absurd in the
sophister Possidonius to deny that is was an {77} evil, at the
same time that he endured all the torments of the gout. While
life is agreeable to us, we earnestly wish to prolong it, and
nothing but a sense of extreme misery can extinguish the desire
of existence; for we naturally conceive a violent dread of death,
and this dread conceals the miseries of human nature from our
sight. We drag a painful and melancholy life, for a long time
before we can resolve to quit it; but when once life becomes so
insupportable as to overcome the horror of death, then existence
is evidently a great evil, and we cannot disengage ourselves from
it too soon. Therefore, though we cannot exactly ascertain the
point at which it ceases to be a blessing, yet at least we are
certain in that it is an evil long before it appears to be such,
and with every sensible man the right of quitting life is, by a
great deal, precedent to the temptation.
This is not all. After they have denied that life can be an
evil, in order to bar our right of making away with ourselves;
they confess immediately afterwards that it is an {78} evil, by
reproaching us with want of courage to support it. According to
them, it is cowardice to withdraw ourselves from pain and
trouble, and there are none but dastards who destroy themselves.
O Rome, thou victrix of the world, what a race of cowards did thy
empire produce! Let Arria, Eponina, Lucretia, be of the number;
they were women. But Brutus, Cassius, and thou great and divine
Cato, who didst share with the gods the adoration of an
astonished world, thou whose sacred and august presence animated
the Romans with holy zeal, and made tyrants tremble, little did
thy proud admirers imagine that paltry rhetoricians, immured in
the dusty corner of a college, would ever attempt to prove that
thou wert a coward, for having preferred death to a shameful
O the dignity and energy of your modern writers! How
sublime, how intrepid are you with your pens? but tell me, thou
great and valiant hero, who dost so courageously decline the
battle, in order to endure the pain of living somewhat longer;
when spark of fire {79} lights upon your hand, why do you
withdraw it in such haste? how? are you such a coward that you
dare not bear the scorching of fire? nothing, you say, can oblige
you to endure the burning spark; and what obliges me to endure
life? was the creation of a man of more difficulty to Providence,
than that of a straw? and is not both one and the other equally
the work of his hands?
Without doubt, it is an evidence of great fortitude to bear
with firmness the misery which we cannot shun; none but a fool,
however, will voluntarily endure evils which he can avoid without
a crime; and it is very often a great crime to suffer pain
unnecessarily. He who has not resolution to deliver himself from
a miserable being by a speedy death, is like one who would rather
suffer a wound to mortify, than trust to a surgeon's knife for
his cure. Come, thou worthy -- cut off this leg, which endangers
my life. I will see it done without shrinking, and will give that
hero leave to call me coward, who suffers his leg to mortify,
because he dares not undergo the same operation. {80}
I acknowledge that there are duties owing to others, the
nature of which will not allow every man to dispose of his life;
but, in return, how many are there which give him a right to
dispose of it? let a magistrate on whom the welfare of a nation
depends, let a father of a family who is bound to procure
subsistence for his children, let a debtor who might ruin his
creditors, let these at all events discharge their duty;
admitting a thousand other civil and domestic relations to oblige
an honest and unfortunate man to support the misery of life, to
avoid the greater evil of doing injustice; is it, therefore,
under circumstances totally different, incumbent on us to
preserve a life oppressed with a swarm of miseries, when it can
be of no service but to him who has not courage to die? "Kill me,
my child," says the decrepid savage to his son, who carries him
on his shoulders, and bends under his weight; the "enemy is at
hand; go to battle with thy brethren; go and preserve thy
children, and do not suffer thy helpless father to fall {81}
alive into the hands of those whose relations he has mangled."
Though hunger, sickness, and poverty, those domestic plagues,
more dreadful than savage enemies, may allow a wretched cripple
to consume, in a sick bed, the provisions of a family which can
scarce subsist itself, yet he who has no connections, whom heaven
has reduced to the necessity of living alone, whose wretched
existence can produce no good, why should not he, at least, have
the right of quitting a station, where his complaints are
troublesome, and his sufferings of no benefit?
Weigh these considerations, my lord; collect these
arguments, and you will find that they may be reduced to the most
simple of nature's rights, of which no man of sense ever yet
entertained a doubt. In fact, why should we be allowed to cure
ourselves of the gout, and not to get rid of the misery of life?
do not both evils proceed from the same hand? to what purpose is
it to say, that death is painful? are drugs agreeable to be
taken? no, nature revolts against both. Let them prove therefore
{82} that it is more justifiable to cure a transient disorder by
the application of remedies, than to free ourselves from an
incurable evil by putting an end to our life; and let them shew
how it can be less criminal to use the bark for a fever, than to
take opium for the stone. If we consider the object in view, it
is in both cases to free ourselves from painful sensations; if we
regard the means, both one and the other are equally natural; if
we consider the repugnance of our nature, it operates equally on
both sides; if we attend to the will of providence, can we
struggle against any evil of which it is not the author can we
deliver ourselves from any torment which the hand of God has not
inflicted? what are the bounds which limit his power, and when
resistance lawful? are we then to make no alteration in the
condition of things, because every thing is in the state he
appointed? must we do nothing in this life, for fear of
infringing his laws, or is it in our power to break them if we
would? no, my lord, the occupation of man is more great and
noble. God did not give him life that he should supinely {83}
remain in a state of constant inactivity. But he gave him freedom
to act, conscience to will, and reason to choose what is good. He
has constituted him sole judge of all his actions. He has
engraved this precept in his heart, Do whatever you conceive to
be for your own good, provided you thereby do no injury to
others. If my sensations tell me that death is eligible, I resist
his orders by an obstinate resolution to live; for, by making
death desirable, he directs me to put an end to my being.
My lord, I appeal to your wisdom and candour; what more
infallible maxims can reason deduce from religion, with respect
to suicide? If Christians have adopted contrary tenets, they are
neither drawn from the principles of religion, nor from the only
sure guide, the Scriptures, but borrowed from the Pagan
philosophers. Lactantius and Augustine, the first who propagated
this new doctrine, of which Jesus Christ and his apostles take no
notice, ground their arguments entirely on the reasoning of
Phaedo, which I have already {84} controverted; so that the
believers, who, in this respect, think they are supported by the
authority of the Gospel, are in fact only countenanced by the
authority of Plato. In truth, where do we find, throughout the
whole bible any law against suicide, or so much as a bare
disapprobation of it; and is it not very unaccountable, that
among the instances produced of persons who devoted themselves to
death, we do not find the least word of improbation against
examples of this kind? nay, what is more, the instance of
Samson's voluntary death is authorized by a miracle, by which he
revenges himself of his enemies. Would this miracle have been
displayed to justify a crime; and would this man, who lost his
strength by suffering himself to be seduced by the allurements of
a woman, have recovered it to commit an authorised crime, as if
God himself would practice deceit on men?
Thou shalt do no murder, says the decalogue; what are we to
infer from this? if this commandment is to be taken literally, we
{85} must not destroy malefactors, nor our enemies: and Moses,
who put so many people to death, was a bad interpreter of his own
precept. If there are any exceptions, certainly the first must be
in favour of suicide, because it is exempt from any degree of
violence and injustice, the two only circumstances which can make
homicide criminal; and because nature, moreover, has, in this
respect, thrown sufficient obstacles in the way.
But still they tell us, we must patiently endure the evils
which God inflicts, and make a merit of our sufferings. This
application however of the maxims of Christianity, is very ill
calculated to satisfy our judgment. Man is subject to a thousand
troubles, his life is a complication of evils, and he seems to
have been born only to suffer. Reason directs him to shun as many
of these evils as he can avoid; and religion, which is never in
contradiction to reason, approves of his endeavours. But how
inconsiderable is the account of these evils, in comparison with
those he is obliged to endure against his will? It is with {86}
respect to these, that a merciful God allows man to claim the
merit of resistance; he receives the tribute he has been pleased
to impose, as a voluntary homage, and he places our resignation
in this life to our profit in the next. True repentance is
derived from nature; if man endures whatever he is obliged to
suffer, he does, in this respect, all that God requires of him;
and if any one is so inflated with pride, as to attempt more, he
is a madman, who ought to be confined, or an impostor, who ought
to be punished. Let us, therefore, without scruple, fly from all
the evils we can avoid; there will still be too many left for us
to endure. Let us, without remorse, quit life itself when it
becomes a torment to us, since it is in our own power to do it,
and that in so doing we neither offend God nor man. If we would
offer a sacrifice to the supreme Being, is it nothing to undergo
death? let us devote to God that which he demands by the voice of
reason, and into his hands let us peaceably surrender our souls.
Such are the liberal precepts which good {87} sense dictates
to every man, and which religion authorises.[8] Let us apply
these precepts to ourselves. You have condescended to disclose
your mind to me; I am acquainted with your uneasiness; you do not
endure less than myself; and your troubles, like mine, are
incurable; and they are the more remediless, {88} as the laws of
honour are more immutable than those of fortune. You bear them, I
must confess, with fortitude. Virtue supports you; advance but
one step farther, and she disengages you. You intreat me to
suffer; my lord, I dare importune you to put an end to your
sufferings; and I leave you to judge which of us is most dear to
the other.
Why should we delay doing that which we must do at last?
shall we wait till old age and decrepid baseness attach us to
life, after they have robbed it of its charms, and till we are
doomed to drag an infirm and decrepid body with labour, and
ignominy, and pain? We are at an age when the soul has vigour to
disengage itself with ease from its shackles, and when a man
knows how to die as he ought; when farther advanced in years, he
suffers himself to be torn from life, which he quits with
reluctance. Let us take advantage of this time, when the tedium
of life makes death desirable; and let us tremble for fear it
should come in all its horrors, at the moment when we could wish
to avoid it. I remember {89} the time, when I prayed to heaven
only for a single hour of life, and when I should have died in
despair if it had not been granted. Ah! what a pain it is to
burst asunder the ties which attach our hearts to this world, and
how advisable it is to quit life the moment the connection is
broken! I am sensible, my lord, that we are both worthy of a
purer mansion; virtue points it out, and destiny invites us to
seek it. May the friendship which invites us preserve our union
to the latest hour! O what a pleasure for two sincere friends
voluntary to end their days in each others arms, to intermingle
their latest breath, and at the same instant to give up the soul
which they shared in common! What pain, what regret can infect
their last moments? What do they quit by taking leave of the
world? They go together; they quit nothing. {90}



THOUart distracted, my friend, by a fatal passion; be
more discreet; do not give counsel, whilst thou standest so much
in need of advice. I have known greater evils than yours. I am
armed with fortitude of mind; I am an Englishman, and not afraid
to die; but I know how to live and suffer as becomes a man. I
have seen death near at hand, and have viewed it with too much
indifference to go in search of it.
It is true, I thought you might be of use to me; my
affection stood in need of yours: your endeavours might have been
serviceable to me; your understanding might have enlightened me
in the most important concern of my life; if I do not avail
myself of it, who are you to impute it to? Where is it? What {91}
is become of it? What are you capable of? Of what use can you be
in your present condition? What service can I expect from you? A
senseless grief renders you stupid and unconcerned. Thou art no
man; thou art nothing; and if I did not consider what thou
mightest be, I cannot conceive any thing more abject.
There is need of no other proof than your letter itself.
Formerly I could discover in you good sense and truth. Your
sentiments were just, your reflections proper, and I liked you
not only from judgment but choice; for I considered your
influence as an additional motive to excite me to the study of
wisdom. But what do I perceive now in the arguments of your
letter, with which you appear to be so highly satisfied? A
wretched and perpetual sophistry, which in the erroneous
deviations of your reason shews the disorder of your mind, and
which I would not stoop to refute, if I did not commiserate your
delirium. {92}
To subvert all your reasoning with one word, I would only
ask you a single question. You who believe in the existence of a
God, in the immortality of the soul, and in the freewill of man,
you surely cannot suppose that an intelligent being is embodied,
and stationed on the earth by accident only, to exist, to suffer,
and to die. It is certainly most probable that the life of man is
not without some design, some end, some moral object. I intreat
you to give me a direct answer to this point; after which we will
deliberately examine your letter, and you will blush to have
written it.
But let us wave all general maxims, about which we often
hold violent disputes, without adopting any of them in practice;
for in their applications we always find some particular
circumstances which makes such an alteration in the state of
things, that every one thinks himself dispensed from submitting
to the rules which he prescribes to others; and it is well known,
that every man who establishes {93} general principles deems them
obligatory on all the world, himself excepted. Once more let us
speak to you in particular.
You believe that you have a right to put an end to your
being. Your proof is of a very singular nature; "because I am
disposed to die, say you, I have a right to destroy myself." This
is certainly a very convenient argument for villains of all
kinds: they ought to be very thankful to you for the arms with
which you have furnished them; there can be no crimes, which,
according to your arguments, may not be justified by the
temptation to perpetrate them; and as soon as the impetuosity of
passion shall prevail over the horror of guilt, their disposition
to do evil will be considered as a right to commit it.
Is it lawful for you therefore to quit life? I should be
glad to know whether you have yet begun to live? what! was you
placed here on earth to do nothing in this world? did not heaven
when it gave you existence give you some task or employment? If
you have {94} accomplished your day's work before evening, rest
yourself for the remainder of the day; you have a right to do it;
but let us see your work. What answer are you prepared to make
the supreme Judge, when he demands an account of your time? Tell
me, what can you say to him? -- I have seduced a virtuous girl: I
have forsaken a friend in distress. Thou unhappy wretch! point
out to me that just man who can boast that he has lived long
enough; let me learn from him in what manner I ought to have
spent my days to be at liberty to quit life.
You enumerate the evils of human nature. You are not ashamed
to exhaust common-place topics, which have been hackneyed over a
hundred times; and you conclude that life is an evil. But search,
examine into the order of things, and see whether you can find
any good which is not intermingled with evil. Does it therefore
follow that there is no good in the universe, and can you
confound what is in its own nature evil, with that which is only
an evil accidentally? You have {95} confessed yourself, that the
transitory and passive life of man is of no consequence, and only
bears respect to matter from which he will soon be disencumbered;
but his active and moral life, which ought to have most influence
over his nature, consists in the exercise of free-will. Life is
an evil to a wicked man in prosperity, and a blessing to an
honest man in distress: for it is not its casual modification,
but its relation to some final object which makes it either good
or bad. After all, what are these cruel torments which force you
to abandon life? do you imagine, that under your affected
impartiality in the enumeration of the evils of this life, I did
not discover that you was ashamed to speak of your own? Trust me,
and do not at once abandon every virtue. Preserve at least your
wonted sincerity, and speak thus openly to your friend; "I have
lost all hope of seducing a modest woman, I am oliged therefore
to be a man of virtue; I had much rather die."
You are weary of living; and you tell me, that life is an
evil. Sooner or later you will {96} receive consolation, and then
you will say life is a blessing. You will speak with more truth,
though not with better reason; for nothing will have altered but
yourself. Begin the alteration then from this day; and, since all
the evil you lament is in the disposition of your mind, correct
your irregular appetites, and do not set your house on fire to
avoid the trouble of putting it in order.
I endure misery, say you: Is it in my power to avoid
suffering? But this is changing the state of the question: for
the subject of enquiry is, not whether you suffer, but whether
your life is an evil? Let us proceed. You are wretched, you
naturally endeavour to extricate yourself from misery. Let us see
whether, for that purpose, it is necessary to die.
Let us for a moment examine the natural tendency of the
afflictions of the mind, as in direct opposition to the evils of
the body, the two substances being of contrary nature. The latter
become worse and more inveterate the {97} longer they continue,
and at length utterly destroy this mortal machine. The former, on
the contrary, being only external and transitory modifications of
an immortal and uncompounded essence, are insensibly effaced, and
leave the mind in its original form, which is not susceptible of
alteration. Grief, disquietude, regret, and despair, are evils of
short duration, which never take root in the mind; and experience
always falsifies that bitter reflection, which makes us imagine
our misery will have no end. I will go farther; I cannot imagine
that the vices which contaminate us, are more inherent in our
nature than the troubles we endure; I not only believe that they
perish with the body which gives them birth, but I think, beyond
all doubt, that a longer life would be sufficient to reform
mankind, and that many ages of youth would teach us that nothing
is preferable to virtue.
However this may be, as the greatest part of our physical
evils are incessantly encreasing, the acute pains of the body,
when they are incurable, may justify a man's destroying himself;
{98} for all his faculties being distracted with pain, and the
evil being without remedy, he has no longer any use either of his
will or of his reason; he ceases to be a man before he is dead,
and does nothing more in taking away his life, than quit a body
which incumbers him, and in which his soul is no longer resident.
But it is otherwise with the afflictions of the mind, which,
let them be ever so acute, always carry their remedy with them.
In fact, what is it that makes any evil intolerable? Nothing but
its duration. The operations of surgery are generally much more
painful than the disorders they cure; but the pain occasioned by
the latter is lasting, that of the operation is momentary, and
therefore preferable. What occasion is there therefore for any
operation to remove troubles which die of course by their
duration, the only circumstance which could render them
insupportable? Is it reasonable to apply such desperate remedies
to evils which expire of themselves? To a man who values himself
on his fortitude, {99} and who estimates years at their real
value, of two ways by which he may extricate himself from the
same troubles, which will appear preferable, death or time? Have
patience, and you will be cured. What would you desire more?
Oh! you will say, it doubles my afflictions to reflect that
they will cease at last! This is the vain sophistry of grief! an
apophthegm void of reason, of propriety, and perhaps of
sincerity. What an absurd motive of despair is the hope of
terminating misery![9] Even allowing this fantastical reflection,
who would not chuse to encrease the present pain for a moment,
under the assurance of putting an end to it, as we scarify a
wound in order to heal it? and admitting any charm in grief, to
make us in love with suffering, {100} when we release ourselves
from it by putting an end to our being, do we not at that instant
incur all that we apprehend hereafter?
Reflect thoroughly, young man; what are ten, twenty, thirty
years, in competition with immortality? Pain and pleasure pass
like a shadow; life slides away in an instant; it is nothing of
itself; its value depends on the use we make of it. The good that
we have done is all that remains, and it is that alone which
marks its importance.
Therefore do not say any more that your existence is an
evil, since it depends upon yourself to make it a blessing; and
if it be an evil to have lived, this is an additional reason for
prolonging life. Do not pretend neither to say any more that you
are at liberty to die; for it is as much as to say that you have
power to alter your nature, that you have a right to revolt
against the author of your being, and to frustrate the end of
your existence. But when you add, that your death does injury to
{101} no one, do you recollect that you make this declaration to
your friend?
Your death does injury to no one? I understand you! You
think the loss I shall sustain by your death of no importance;
you deem my affliction of no consequence. I will urge to you no
more the rights of friendship, which you despise; but are there
not obligations still more dear,[10] which ought to induce you to
preserve your life? If there be a person in the world who loved
you to that degree as to be unwilling to survive you, and whose
happiness depends on yours, do you think that you have no
obligations to her? Will not the execution of your wicked design
disturb the peace of a mind, which has been with such difficulty
restored to its former innocence? Are not you afraid to add fresh
torments to a heart of such sensibility? Are not you apprehensive
left your death should be attended {102} with a loss more fatal,
which would deprive the world and virtue itself of its brightest
ornament? And if she should survive you, are not you afraid to
rouse up remorse in her bosom, which is more grievous to support
than life itself? Thou ungrateful friend! thou indelicate lover!
wilt thou always be taken up wholly with thyself? Wilt thou
always think on thy own troubles alone? Hast thou no regard for
the happiness of one who was so dear to thee? and cannot thou
resolve to live for her who was willing to die with thee?
You talk of the duties of a magistrate, and of a father of a
family: and because you are not under those circumstances, you
think yourself absolutely free. And are you then under no
obligations to society, to whom you are indebted for your
preservation, your talents, your understanding? do you owe
nothing to your native country, and to those unhappy people who
may need your existence! O what an accurate calculation you make!
among the obligations you have enumerated, {103} you have only
omitted those of a man and of a citizen. Where is the virtuous
patriot, who refused to enlist under a foreign prince, because
his blood ought not to be split but in the service of his
country; and who now, in a fit of despair, is ready to shed it
against the express prohibition of the laws? The laws, the laws,
young man! did any wife man ever despise them? Socrates, though
innocent, out of regard to them refused to quit his prison. You
do not scruple to violate them by quitting life unjustly; and you
ask, what injury do I?
You endeavour to justify yourself by example. You presume to
mention the Romans: you talk of the Romans! it becomes you indeed
to cite those illustrious names. Tell me, did Brutus die a lover
in despair, and did Cato plunge the dagger in his breast for his
mistress? Thou weak and abject man! what resemblance is there
between Cato and thee? Shew me the common standard between that
sublime soul and thine. Ah vain wretch! hold thy peace: I am
afraid to profane {104} his name by a vindication of his conduct.
At that august and sacred name every friend to virtue should bow
to the ground, and honour the memory of the greatest hero in
How ill you have selected your examples, and how meanly you
judge of the Romans, if you imagine that they thought themselves
at liberty to quit life so soon as it became a burden to them.
Recur to the excellent days of that republic, and seen whether
you will find a single citizen of virtue, who thus freed himself
from the discharge of his duty even after the most cruel
misfortunes. When Regulus was on his return to Carthage, did he
prevent the torments which he knew were preparing for him by
destroying himself? What would not Posthumus have given, when
obliged to pass under the yoke at Caudium, had this resource been
justifiable? How much did even the senate admire that effort of
courage, which enabled the consul Varro to survive his defeat?
For what reason did so many generals voluntary surrender
themselves to their enemies, they to whom ignominy was so
dreadful, {105} and who were so little afraid of dying? It was
because they considered their blood, their life, and their latest
breath, as devoted to their country; and neither shame nor
misfortune could dissuade them from this sacred duty. But when
the laws were subverted, and the state became a prey to tyranny,
the citizens resumed their natural liberty, and the right they
had over their own lives. When Rome was no more, it was lawful
for the Romans to give up their lives; they had discharged their
duties on earth, they had no longer any country to defend, they
were therefore at liberty to dispose of their lives, and to
obtain that freedom for themselves which they could not recover
for their country. After having spent their days in the service
of expiring Rome, and in fighting for the defence of its laws,
they died great virtuous as they had lived, and their death was
an additional tribute to the glory of the Roman name, since none
of them beheld a fight above all others most dishonourable, that
of a true citizen stooping to an usurper. {106}
But thou, what art thou? what hast thou done? dost thou
think to excuse thyself on account of thy obscurity? does thy
weakness exempt thee from thy duty, and because thou hast neither
rank nor distinction in thy country, art thou less subject to the
laws? It becomes you vastly to presume to talk of dying while you
owe the service of your life to your equals. Know, that a death,
such as you meditate, is shameful and surreptitious. It is a
theft committed on mankind in general. Before you quit life,
return the benefits you have received from every individual. But,
say you, I have no attachments; I am useless in the world. O thou
young philosopher! art thou ignorant that thou canst not more a
single step without finding some duty to fulfil; and that every
man is useful to society, even by means of his existence alone?
Hear me, thou rash young man! thou art dear to me. I
commiserate thy errors. If the least sense of virtue still
remains in thy breast, attend, and let me teach thee to be
reconciled {107} to life. Whenever thou art tempted to quit, say
to thyself -- "Let me do at least one good action before I die."
Then go in search for one in a state of indigence, whom thou
mayest relieve; for one under misfortunes, whom thou mayest
comfort; for one under oppression, whom thou mayest defend.
Introduce to me those unhappy wretches whom my rank keeps at a
distance. Do not be afraid of misusing my purse, or my credit:
make free with them; distribute my fortune; make me rich. If this
consideration restrains you to-day, it will restrain you to-
morrow; if no to morrow, it will restrain you all your life. If
it has no power to restrain you, die! you are below my care.


* * * *


[1]De Divin. lib. ii.
[2]Agamus Die Gratias, quad nemo in vita teneri potest.
SEN. Epist. 12.
[3]TACIT. Ann. lib i.
[4]ITwould be easy to prove that suicide is as lawful
under the Christian dispensation as it was to the Heathens. There
is not a single text of scripture which prohibits it. That great
and infallible rule of faith and practice which must controul all
philosophy and human reasoning, has left us in this particular to
our natural liberty. Resignation to Providence is indeed
recommended in scripture; but that implies only submission to
ills that are unavoidable, not to such as may be remedied by
prudence or courage. <Thou shalt not kill>, is evidently meant to
exclude only the killing of others, over whose life we have no
authority. That this precept, like most of the scripture
precepts, must be modified by reason and common sense, is plain
from the practice of magistrates, who punish criminals capitally,
notwithstanding the letter of the law. But were this commandment
ever so express against suicide, it would now have no authority,
for all the law of <Moses> is abolished, except so far as it is
established by the law of nature. And we have already endeavoured
to prove that suicide is not prohibited by that law. In all cases
Christians and Heathens are precisely upon the same footing;
<Cato> and <Brutus>, <Arrea> and <Portia> acted heroically; those
who now imitate their example ought to receive the same praises
from posterity. The power of committing suicide is regarded by
<Pliny> as an advantage which men possess even above the Deity
himself. "Deus non sibi potest mortem consciscere si velit quod
homini dedit optimum in tantis vitae paenis." Lib. II. Cap. 7.
([editor's note] 5)
[5]Quint. Curtius lib. VI. cap. 5.
[6]Suet. Augus. cap. 3.
[7]Lib. 7. cap. 55.
[8]A strange letter this for the discussion of such a
subject! Do men argue so cooly on a question of this nature, when
they examine it on their own accounts? Is the letter a forgery,
or does the author reason only with an intent to be refuted? What
makes our opinion in this particular dubious, is the example of
Robeck, which he cites, and which seems to warrant his own.
Robeck deliberated so gravely that he had patience to write a
book, a large, voluminous, weighty, and dispassionate book; and
when he had concluded, according to his principles, that it was
lawful to put an end to our being, he destroyed himself with the
same composure that he wrote. Let us beware of the prejudices of
the times, and of particular countries. When suicide is out of
fashion we conclude that none but madmen destroy themselves; and
all the efforts of courage appear chimerical to dastardly minds;
every one judges of others by himself. Nevertheless, how many
instances are there, well attested, of men, in every other
respect perfectly discreet, who, without remorse, rage, or
despair, have quitted life for no other reason than because it
was a burden to them, and have died with more composure than they
[9]No, my lord, we do not put an end to misery by these
means, but rather fill the measure of affliction, by bursting
asunder the last ties which attach us to felicity. When we regret
what was dear to us, grief itself still attaches us to the object
we lament, which is a state less deplorable than to be attached
to nothing.
[10]Obligations more dear than those of friendship! Is it a
philosopher who talks thus? But this affected sophist was of an
amorous disposition.

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