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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/327

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A STUDY OF SUICIDE.

decreased within a single year by 1,300 self-sought deaths. In the Hôtel des Invalides an inmate hung himself upon a certain cross-bar, and within a fortnight five more did the same thing, although there had not been a single case of suicide in the establishment for two years before, and the threatened epidemic was only averted by the removal of the fatal bar.

Lord Bacon, in his "Essay on Death," says that, "after Otho, the emperor, had slain himself, pity (which is the tenderest of affections) provoked many to die out of mere compassion to their sovereign." Plutarch tells us that the women of the ancient city of Miletus, becoming melancholy over the absence of their husbands and lovers, resolved to hang themselves, and vied with each other in the alacrity with which they did the deed. Various other epidemics have occurred in more recent times—viz., at Rouen, in 1806; at Stuttgart, in 1811, etc.

What might almost be called an epidemic prevailed in the New York State Lunatic Asylum in July, 1850. According to the report for that year, there were at one time twenty-eight persons in the institution bent upon destroying themselves. There were admitted during that month forty-four patients, nineteen of whom were suicidal. The first successful attempt occurred on the 12th, and on the following day two more, who had been in the asylum for a long time and had never shown suicidal tendencies, attempted strangulation, and were so persistent that they were only prevented from carrying out their designs by mechanical restraint. On the 17th, 20th, and 22d other attempts were made by various patients, and before the end of the month, at which time it subsided, there had been fourteen distinct attempts by eight persons, while several others, in whom the propensity was strong, required constant watching to prevent them from accomplishing their object.

These epidemics are, to a great extent, the result of the principle of imitation, and it may be said that suicide is almost as much the subject of fashion as is dress or household decoration, and that each particular method reigns for a time and then gives way to some newer means. For instance, a man destroys himself by plunging from the heights of a tower. The newspapers graphically record the fact, and straightway a dozen more do the same thing, and the practice is only stopped when some one who is tired of life sends a bullet through his brain. This method is then adopted until another takes a dose of carbolic acid, when that in turn becomes the prevailing means.

Another proof that suicide is often due to the faculty of imitation is the fact that many cases are recorded of children committing the deed, without apparent cause, after having heard of a case in which their interest was aroused.