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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/331

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A STUDY OF SUICIDE.

first prominent symptom of insanity, and frequently the intensity of the suicidal tendency subsides with the progress of the disease. All who know anything about the insane will admit that lunatics very frequently possess extraordinary cunning in concealing their lunacy, and that the malady, in many cases, is successfully hidden from friends and acquaintances until some remarkable departure from the ordinary ways of life brings it to light. A case in point is that of Hood Alston, who committed suicide in New Orleans in the early part of 1879, after writing a full explanation of why he wished to die. He had been an able writer for the newspapers in many of the large cities, his habits had been those of a gentleman, and his death, in the absence of the letter which he left, would have been inexplicable. He was in the Interior Department at Washington, and was afterward appointed the secretary of a mining company in California. He was married and had every requisite for domestic happiness. "Last November," he wrote, "I became possessed of an impulse to kill mv friends. I could hardly resist an opportunity. The desire would be but for a moment and then pass away. An infant was born to us two months ago. I loved it, was proud of it. When it first looked upon me the desire seized me to prey upon its young life. My friends were ignorant of my mental condition. I imparted it to no one, not even to my darling wife. I die that others may live." Dr. Winslow relates a singular case of a man who was heard to exclaim: Do, for God's sake, get me confined, for if I am at liberty I shall destroy myself and wife; I shall do it unless all means of destruction are removed, and therefore do have me put under restraint. Something above tells me I shall do it, and I shall." Mr. Chevalier also tells us of a young lady of delicate constitution, although she had never given any symptoms of mental derangement, who suddenly started up from the tea-table and rushed to the window, out of which she endeavored to throw herself. It was with great difficulty that she was prevented from accomplishing her design. She remained insane during the rest of her life, which he adds, "was fortunately not long protracted." Such cases illustrating the frequency and intensity of the suicidal and homicidal propensity abound in every work on mental disease and are found in every asylum. But, on the other hand, there are undoubtedly many cases of suicide in which the hypothesis of insanity is untenable. Cato stabbed himself rather than live under the despotic reign of Caesar; Themistocles poisoned himself rather than lead the Persians against his countrymen; Zeno, when ninety-eight, hung himself because he had put his finger out of joint; and Hannibal and Mithridates poisoned themselves to escape being taken prisoners. When we search Scripture we find that Saul, rather than fall into the hands of the Philistines, commanded his