23 MAY 1840, Page 16


THIS volume originated in a paper its author, Mr. FORBES WINS- LOW, read to the " Westminster Medical Society," the object of which was to show that the disposition to commit suicide is, " to a great extent, amenable to those principles which regulate our treatment of ordinary disease ; and that, to a degree more than is generally supposed, it originates in deramseenient of the brain and abdominal viscera." The attention this view of' the subject excited, and the discussions to which it gave rise, induced the author to ex- tend his inquiries, and produced time present work. The arrangement of the Anatomy (f Suicide, however, does not correspond with the unity of the original purpose, nor is the treatment proportioned to its curious importance. Instead of considering the subject, and allowing its nature and necessity to dictate the plan of the work, Mr. WINSLOW Seems to have east about for models to follow ; and he has chosen Macsasn's Anato- mies in point of form, and imitated his own very indifferent Physic and Physicians as regards filling-up. Thus he begins with

suicides amongst the aueients, as well Jew as Gentile; not de-

ducing, as lie might have done, any rationale from the examples, but forming an olla podrida of ihet and idle remark. Then we have a chapter on the Writers in Defence of Suicide, and another headed "Suicide a Crime against God and Man—it is not an Act of Courage." After this Mr. WINSLOW approaches his purpose more closely, handling the influence of " certain mental states" in in- ducing suicide, and the enthusiasm or mental irritability which may lead to it, as well as suicide from fascination and froin phy- sical causes. Ile also notices epidemic or imitative suicide; and devotes several chapters to the proper treatment of the mania when it can be detected, as well as to the statistics of self-murder, and to the morbid appearances elich a post mortem examination of suicides on rare occasions detects. Besides these divisions, he collects a number of singular cases of' suicide; considers the sub- ject in connexion with medical jurisprudence ; inquires whether the result can be the act of sanity ; and pours forth a variety of miscellaneous and not very relevant twaddle.

Had the main question been handled philosophically, or even with

logical acuteness, this introduction of extraneous siNects would have been of little consequence; but Mr. Wm Nzi soh 's t rent ment is of a gossiping, twaddling character, without homogeneity or even distinctness of' purpose, as it' he had laid hands upon authors who treated of mania or self-murder, and took from them large slices of curious or striking matter, without a thought of its bearing upon his immediate purpose. For example, much of his book consists of quotations from Esniantor, and other writers upon Insanity, who often mention suicide, not as a principal but ouly as a part of their subject : every one knowing that when madness is so apparent as to justify restraint, the tendency to suicide is in many eases strong, and always to be apprehended ; but this tendency is it symptom or concomitant, ceasing with the insanity, though apt to return. The rationale of' this branch of the subject is no doubt worthy of' investigation, but it should be taken distinctly as a branch. The main point for consideration is not, we conceive, about people ob- viously mad and guarded by keepers, but whether the suicide of per- sons capable of so controlling their conduct as to draw no attention from common observers, is traceable to the action of temporary dis- ease upon some peculiar mental or physical constitution. It may at once be conceded that the verdict of " temporary derangement" ap- propriately expresses the unhappy condition of persons who are goaded by real or fancied evil to commit self-destruction, in conse- quence of some peculiar idionsyncracy, (seeing that many others live under the same afflictions.) The question is, whether this "derange- ment" arises from some ill condition of the body, the mind, or the morals; and if the body, whether medicine can " minister to a mind diseased" without alleviating or removing the cause of the mental disorder. Upon this point we have no satisfactory answer ; for Mr. WINSLOW does not seem to have apprehended his own purpose with distinctness; nor have we any very available information on the cure of persons suicidially disposed, even when insane. A good many eases, principally of foreigners, are presented,—first, of persons whom their friends refused to pay proper attention to, and who did make away with themselves ; second, of persons who avowed their fears or intentions, were physicked and cured, some relapsing, some permanently recovering ; third, of people in confinement who some- times evaded their keepers by the cunning of lunatics and some- tunes, '

ines on being dismissed front the asylum, either livedon, or event-

ually destroyed themselves in it recurrence of the paroxysm. But even here no other conclusion can be drawn than that medicine is uncertain in its el-finds ; and had it been otherwise, the case would have been rather the cure of madness than the prevention of suicide.

Although the book is defective as a scientific treatise, or even as a sensible and well-reasoned exposition of its subject, it has the attraction which arises front the interesting nature of its theme— of a great many anecdotes of suicides or contemplated suicides; and occasionally there is an approach to better things, either in statistics or single remarks. Many very cm huts cases however, are omitted; some selected are indifferently told ; ad some are very apocryphal. Take an example of one, resting evidently upon

and ; Indication of l'aa5,,, Men. Women.


905 511

Domestic grief 728 52I Reverse of fortune

32s2 283 Drunkenness and misconduct


208 Gambling 155 141 Dishonour and calumny 123 95 Disappointed ambition 122 410

thief from love

07 157 Envy and jealea ..v- 91

53 'Womnied self-love 53 ir; Remorse


Fanaticism 16 1 Misanthropy


3 Causes unknown 1:3,..+1




Here are SOBIC more curious results on the Mlle subject: It has been clearly establi,ked that in all the Europe:tit Capitals, when any thing approaching to correct statistical evidence can he prin. mist, the maximultl of suicide is in the months of June and July ; the mininnt.,1 in October and November. Temperature appears to exercise a much more deeided influence than the circumstances of moisture and dryness, storms and serenity. M. Vindictive has observed a warm, humid, and cloudy atmosphero to produce a marked bad effect at Paris ; and tint so long as the barometer indicated stormy

weather, this effect continued. * * * *

" It appears that suicides in 11-„stminster are most prevalent in the three months of June, July, and March ; hut that the excess is on the part of the males, as the greatest number of female suicides was in .Tannary. September, and November. September, August, and October exhibit the smallest number of male and of total suicides; but February, March, and April, the smallest

number among females. * * * 66 It has been clearly established that suicide is lens frequent among women than men. In early life, death by hanging is preferred ; iii middle life, fire- arms are had recourse to ; and in more advanced years, strangulation again be- comes the fashionable mode of terminating life. *

no better authority than the pious picture of some painter of " Deathbeds of Infidels," with a canting commentary of Mr. WINSLOW on a story he himself scarcely seems to credit. " It has been asserted, and remains unconteadieted, that Mr. 1111111e lent his Essay on Suicide to a friend, who on returning it told him it was a most ex- cellent performance, and plea .5d him n better than any thing he but read for a long time. In order to give lime a .practical exhibition of the elfects of his defence of suicide, his friend. shot himself time day after returning him his Essay. 46 It; in any one instance, suicide might admit of something like an apology, it would have been in this—if the detestahle author of this alionlinable treatise had, on receiving the melancholy it committed it to the dames, and terminated his own pernicion, existence by a cord. But the cold Idooded in- fidel was too cowardly to execute summary justice on himself. With a truly diabolical spirit, his delight was to scatter firebrands among the people, and say, 6 Am I not in sport? '


To the medical philoaophee nothing be more deeply interesting than to trace the reciprocity of action existing bet..Yel.11 different mental conditions and affec- tions of particular organs. 'PIUS the rilssion of fear, when excited, has a sen- sible influence on the action of the lie; rt; and when the disease of this organ takes place independently of any mental agitation, the passion of fear is powerfully roused. Anger the liver and confines the bowels, and fix!. quently gives rise to an attack of jaundice ; and in hepatic and intestinal dis- ease bow irritable t he temper is! hope, or the anticipation of' pleasure, affects the respiration ; and haw often do we sec patients, in the last stage or pulmonary disease, entertaimming $auguine expectations of recovery to the very last.

The following table is curious, than the comparison it offers be- tween the 'lumber of' self-murders in the two seizes, and the causes which respectively stimulated each ; the male and female being only equal in the cases of self-love and misanthropy. It is also useful as showing that in England by far the greater number of suicides—MOM than two-thirds of the whole whose causes arc mentioned—have arisen from the pressure areal and tangible evil.

e The isi:ewine suiciLs n.ere committed in London, bet wee!' the years 1770 " Marriage is to a certain extent a preventive of suicide ; it has been satis- factorily established that among the men two-thirds who destroy themselves are bachelors."

Marriage is also, it would appear, a preservative against insanity ; at least similar results ensue from its statistics : or is it that people with a tendency to mania or self-murder remain single? or is wed- lock like Aaron's rod ?


The great increase of the crime of suicide has been referred by many able physicians of the present day to the political excitement to which the minds of the people have been exposed of late years. In despotic countries, suicide and insanity are seldom heard of: the passions are checked by the nature of the government ; the imagination is not elevated to an unhealthy standard ; every man is compelled to follow the calling iii life to which he is born, and for which he has capacity ; and on this account the evil and corrupt dispositions of the mind are, to a certain extent, kept in abeyance. In republican governments, the greatest latitude is allowed to the turbulent passions ; all makind are theoretically placed on an equality ; the man whose "talk is of bullocks " considers himself as fit to carry on the complicated business of government as he whose education, associations, and experience tend to qualify him for the duties of a legislator.


The case of the lunatic who indicted Mr. Moore for confining him in his asylum has often been cited. Ile brought an action against the Doctor at Westminster; and although the man was subjected to a most severe ex- amination and cross-examination, his insanity could not be detected. The trial was on the eve of being concluded, when Dr. Sims entered the court, and knowing the man's peculiar delusion, he Was requested to ask him a question. lie did so, and his insanity instantly became apparent, lie brought another action against Dr. 31ouro in the city of London ; and, knowing that he had failed before by acknowledging his love for an imaginary princess, so remark- able a degree of cunning did he exhibit that one or the severest examimitions to which a man was ever subjected in it court of justice could not iii three the lunatic to disclose the delusion under a hid' he was known to labour. This curious feature of insanity must be taken into consideration in forming an es- timate of t1W presence of derangement in cases of suicide, and we must nut hastily conclude, because insanity is nut self-evident, that it does not exist.


We nsust bear in mind that insanity is often as much a disease of the moral as of the intellectual faculties, and that it is possible for the intellect to he perfectly sound, and yet for insanity to be present. Moral derangement has not met with that consideration item the profession which its importance de- mands. Im,anity often cot ists in a vitiated comlition of the moral principle, independently of any delusion of the iutellect ; and its many cases of suicide, if we investigate their history, we shall find that the alienation ims been of this character. A man, whose disposition naturally disposed bins to vice, fancied that he had been guilty of c‘munitting a nameless offence, and, whilst labouring under this idea, blew out his brains. In lids ease, the intellset was unaffected; the derangement consisted in the perv.:s.ion of the moral powers. Senile insanity, which has been recognized in our courts of law, is a derange- ment of the moral constitution. Iii eases of this desniption, it is possible for the person to be conscious of' his infirmity, alai to conii:ss, with great apparent regret, his inability to control his feelings. If we miluit the existence of an insanity which consists solely in a verv,rsion of tho moral powers, then we should hesitate in pronomodog Cr calla flea that ins:inity is not preseut because no derangement of the intellectual faculties can be perceived.

The perusal of the cases quoted at length lv Mr. WiNsLow leads to the inference that this moral insanity is the cause which geneFally produces suicide. Unless where disease was evidently present, the majority of the instances he narrates were owing to an ill-conditioned state of feeling, or originated in conduct or hopes which arose from a weak or ungoverned mind. That this is always the case we do not infer. On the contrary, we have seen from the tables, that many suicides appear to arise from poverty, domestic losses, or personal degradation. At the same time, if the particu- lars of each ease could be traced, we might tind many of these positive evils were brought on through something wrong in the moral condition of the person, or that inevitable evil was ex- aggerated beyond its real magnitude.