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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/682

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Despine, who has bestowed profound study on this subject, shows, from a very large number of instances, that when a crime surrounded with dramatic circumstances is published abroad, and made matter of general comment, a certain number of similar crimes will be committed soon afterward. Minds that are not fortified, by a strict morality and a good education, against the allurements of such examples, and whose slumbering passions only await the occasion that will stir them up, are spurred on and decided to act by the bustle and the parade made about the hero of a criminal trial. M. Despine's statistics on this painful subject are exceedingly curious and conclusive. Now it is some peculiar form of murder, again a new process of poisoning, anon, some original way of disposing of a corpse, that gives occasion to grim plagiarisms with all the circumstances identical. In a word, all criminal acts proceeding from hate, revenge, and cupidity, always summon forth in certain individuals a spirit of emulation. Hence it were advisable absolutely to forbid the publication, in popular prints, of criminal trials whether real or imaginary, and to interdict the performance of plays wherein wickedness and crime are portrayed for the gratification of the spectator's morbid curiosity. M. Despine's suggestion with regard to this matter will be approved by physicians and hygienists, who are all agreed that writings and plays of a certain class are to be reckoned among the causes which conduct so many wretches to the galleys, the morgue, and the mad-house. When we disseminate examples of outrage and disorder, we must not be surprised if we find a harvest of crime and insanity. Let us then heartily second the suggestion we speak of, and which M. Bouchut authoritatively formulates when he says that, instead of feasting the public with recitals and plays so dangerous to the common weal, we should rather found a moral pest-house to which should be committed, so soon as they make their appearance, those rascalities whose contagiousness is now beyond question.

Besides the contagion of those passions which end in crime, there is also the contagion of those passionate states which terminate in suicide. Epidemics of suicide are frequent in history. The instance of the young women of Miletus, as told by Plutarch, is familiar. One of them hung herself, and immediately several of her companions made away with themselves in the same manner. To stay the progress of this redoubtable frenzy, the order was given to expose the naked bodies of the suicides in the market-place of the city. An ancient historian of Marseilles records an epidemic of suicide which raged among the young women of that place. In 1793 the city of Versailles alone offered the spectacle of 1,300 voluntary deaths. In the beginning of the present century a suicidal epidemic destroyed large numbers of people in England, France, and Germany, the victims being young persons who had conceived a disgust for life, from the reading of melancholy romances, coupled with precocious over-in-