Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/330

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

himself up, for the air found its way through. the slit in the cartilage into the tissues about the wound, and in a few seconds the emphysema extended as low as the clavicles and so high that his features lost all expression. He refused food and resisted nutritive enemas and shortly died of exhaustion.

The question, "Is suicide an evidence of insanity?" is one which has given rise to much discussion. In olden times it seems always to have been considered a crime, and very severe laws were enacted against it. The Hebrews did not bury the bodies of suicides until after sunset, thus treating them as they did executed criminals. The Armenians cursed and burned the house in which the suicide had lived. At Thebes their bodies were burned and no funeral rites allowed; while the Greeks, on the contrary, among whom it was the custom to burn the bodies of those who died a natural death, buried suicides immediately, as they thought it a wrong to contaminate fire, which they deemed a holy element, by burning in it the bodies of those who had been guilty of self-slaughter. In England it was formerly attended by some of the consequences of felony,[1] hence the term felo de se. All of the personal property which the party had at the time of committing the deed, even including debts to him, was forfeited to the crown, and his remains were interred, without the rites of Christian burial, in the public highway, with a stake driven through the body. In fact, everywhere was the act proscribed and considered a crime, until the present century, when it began to be regarded by many writers as a positive proof of insanity. Esquirol says, "I believe that I have proved that all suicides are mentally diseased"; and Dr. Winslow, one of the greatest authorities on this subject, supports Dr. Rowley's assertion that "suicide should ever be considered an act of insanity." On the other hand, Blandford, Griesinger, Bucknill, Tuke, Gray, and nearly all modern authorities think that suicide is often committed by people in whom no disease of the brain exists. Indeed, Dr. Gray went much further, and in one of his lectures said, "Suicide, though always an unnatural act, is, in the large proportion if not in the majority of cases, committed by persons who are entirely sane." Whether it is or is not the act of insanity can only be determined by a careful inquiry, as there are many cases to support either side of the argument, and each one must be a "law unto itself." For instance to be insane enough to commit suicide does not imply that a man must be a raving lunatic, "cutting strange antics before high Heaven," which make his madness apparent to the most unpracticed observer. Indeed, in many instances the attempt at suicide is the

  1. The new penal code makes it in this State a felony to attempt to commit suicide. Lawrence Ballard was sentenced to one year's imprisonment under this section, on February 8, 1883. This was the first conviction for the crime in New York under the new code.