Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/383

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George Sand declared that, whether it was that bile made her melancholy or that melancholy made her bilious, she had been frequently seized by a desire for eternal repose.

Goethe, who thought the suicide of the Emperor Otho worthy of praise, slept for several nights with a dagger under his pillow, trying to get up sufficient courage to imitate the act.

Comte, in a fit of depression, threw himself into the Seine; and there is abundant evidence that Shelley, whose unhappy life was clouded by the suicide of two women, himself contemplated the deed. Fanny Imlay's death by laudanum in the Swansea inn was followed in a few weeks by the recovery of Harriet Westerbrook's lifeless body from the Serpentine. The tragic death of Harriet was a frightful blow to Shelley, and there is no doubt that his character was altered by it. Thornton Hunt says, "I am well aware he had suffered sorely, and that he continued to be haunted by certain recollections which pursued him like an Orestes"; and Woodbury adds, "From that time a shadow fell upon him which never was removed." Whether it was the recollection of the watery grave of the woman he had wronged, or whether it was only the desire to rend the veil which hides the mysteries of the Great Beyond, it is certain that Shelley on more than one occasion contemplated self-destruction.

In Trelawney's interesting records of Shelley and Byron two striking instances are given. The first is a letter from Lerice, dated June 18, 1825, in which the poet writes: "You, of course, enter into society at Leghorn. Should you meet with, any scientific person capable of preparing prussic acid, or essential oil of bitter almonds, I should regard it as a great kindness if you could procure me a small quantity. It requires the greatest caution in preparation and ought to be highly concentrated; I would give any price for this medicine. You remember we talked of it the other night, and we both expressed a wish to possess it. My wish was serious, and sprang from the desire of avoiding needless suffering. . . . I need not tell you," he adds, "that I have no intention of suicide at present, but I confess it would be a comfort to me to hold in my possession that golden key to the chamber of perpetual rest." Notwithstanding the denial that he contemplated suicide, an incident which happened soon afterward, and which is related by Trelawney in the same interesting chapter, leaves no doubt that Shelley more than once felt the suicidal impulse to an almost irresistible degree. To make free use of Trelawney's graphic words: "On a calm, sultry evening, while Jane (the wife of Shelley's friend Williams) was sitting on the sands before the villa on the margin of the sea with her two infants watching for her husband, Shelley came from the house dragging his skiff. After launching her, he said to Jane: 'The sand and