Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/253

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THE FEAR OF DEATH.

cient number of facts and observations, but will record what I Lave observed without assuming to give it the value of definite conclusions.

I have been much struck by the fact that patients afflicted with chronic and lingering diseases appear careless about death, and even have often an ardent confidence in life and hope to enjoy it long. The phenomenon is especially remarkable in consumptive patients, although they know well enough that science has no remedy for their disease, and only one of those miracles that sometimes are wrought in the organism can save them. Their belief in a near recovery is sometimes so strong that it takes the form of a real hallucination and a delirium. I can say nothing precise about those who suffer from acute diseases. There are those who remain sick, recover, or die without ever saying a word about death or showing any apprehension of it; others, on the contrary, are desperate, mourn their fate, and exhibit in their talk and acts poignant and profound anguish at the prospect of death. Still others manifest a resigned preoccupation and a regret modified by a Stoic recognition of the inevitableness of death. It is impossible now to say what the causes of these differences are; but the question is an interesting one. A most curious phenomenon is the fact that death sometimes loses its horrible character and is contemplated with real pleasure. Few psychological facts seem more strange and astonishing than this. The ancient Brahmanical custom of burning the bodies of widows with their husbands became almost a moral privilege for the women, and to many of them represented the magnificent ending of a beautiful existence. The attempt of the English to eradicate it was met by a strong opposition from the women themselves. A similar custom, though devoid of the religious surroundings, exists in China, where childless widows believe that they die well if they strangle themselves after the interment of their husbands.

Examples of pleasure in death are found, too, in countries of European civilization. It is true that the most remarkable cases of this kind occur among nervously diseased persons; but as their disorders are generally only exaggerations of normal tendencies, the psychological phenomenon is well worthy of attention. Death is sometimes sought as preferable to a threatened separation under the impulse of a strong emotion of love; and instances are cited in which couples have deliberately and elaborately prepared for it as if for a party of pleasure. Persons have been known to invite death, in the expectation of thereby promoting some scheme of vengeance. Savages of certain tribes who have been offended and have no other means of vengeance kill themselves, believing that their spirits will return to torment their enemy. Under the Hindu