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insensible of all that passed around him; we might, then, with some color, suppose that energy, if it may be ib called, perishable. Were he, like animals » possessed of mere vitality, and qualified only to move and feel, still we might have some reason .to fear that, in some future period of duration, our Creator might resume his gift of existence. But can any one, who pretends to the least reflection, imagine that such a being as the human soul, adorned with such extensive intellectual powers, will ever cease to be the object of that love and care which eternally holds the universe in its embrace? Did she obtain such a boundless understanding merely to taste the pleasure of exercising it? to catch a transient glance of its objects, and perish? Formed, as she is, to operate on herself, and all things round her, must she cease from action, while yet the mighty task is scarce begun ? must she lose those faculties, by which she retains the past, comprehends the present, and presages the future? must she contemplate no more those bright impressions of divinity, which are discovered in the material world; nor: those stronger, and more animated features of the same eternal beauty which shine in her own god-like form? And must she be absorbed for ever in the womb of unessential nothing? Strange, that in the view, and even in the arms of infinite power and goodness, a dawn so fair and promising , should at once be clouded with all the horrors of eternal night? Such a supposition would be contrary to the whole conduct and laws of nature.
The following Letters on SUICIDE are extracted from ROUSSEAU's
E L O I S A.
To Lord B .
YE S, my lord, I confess it; the weight of life is too heavy for my foul. I have long endured it as a burden; I have lost every thing which could make it dear to me, and nothing remains but irksomeness and vexation. lam told, however, that I am not at liberty to dispose of my life, without the permission of that Being from whom I received it. I am sensible likewise that you have a right over it by more titles than one. Your care has twice preserved it, and your goodness is its constant security. I will never dispose of it, till I am certain that I may do it without a crime, and till I have not the least hope of employing it for your service.
You told me that I should be of use to you; why did you deceive me? Since we have been in London, so far from thinking of employing me in your concerns, you have been kind enough to make me your only concern. How superfluous is your obliging solicitude? My lord, you know I abhor a crime, even worse than I detest life; I adore the supreme Being—I owe every thing to you; I have an affection for you; you are the only person on earth to whom I am attached. Friendship and duty may chain a wretch to this earth: sophistry and vain pretences will never detain him. Enlighten my understanding, speak to my heart; I am ready to hear you, but remember, that despair is not to be imposed upon.
You would have me apply to the test of reason; I will; let us reason. You desire me to deliberate in proportion to the importance of the question in debate; I agree to it. Let Us investigate truth with temper and moderation; let us discuss this general proposition with the same indifference we should treat any other. Robeck wrote an apology for suicide before he put an end to his life. I will not, after hist example, write a book on the subject, neither am I well satisfied with that which he has penned, but I hope in this discussion at least to imitate his moderation.
I have for a long time meditated on this awful subject. You must be sensible that I have, for you know my destiny, and yet I am alive. The more I reflect , the more I am convinced that the question may be reduced to this fundamental proposition: Every man has a right by nature to pursue what he thinks good, and avoid what he thinks evil , in all, respects which are not injurious to others. When our life therefore becomes a misery to ourselves, and is of advantage to no one, we are at liberty to put an end to our being. If there is any such thing as a clear and selfevident principle, certainly this is one; and if this be subverted, there is scarce an action in life which may not be made criminal.
Let us hear what the philosophers say on this subject. First, they consider life as something which is not our own, because we hold it as a gift; but because it has been given to us, is it for that reason, not our own? Has not God given these sophists two arms? nevertheless, when they are under apprehensions of a mortification, they do not scruple to amputate one, or both, if there be occasion. By a parity of reasoning, we may convince those who believe in the immortality of the soul; for if I sacrifice my arm to the preservation of something more precious, which is my body, I have the fame right to sacrifice my body to the preservation of something more valuable, which is, the happiness of my existence. If all the gifts which heaven has bestowed are naturally designed for our good, they are certainly too apt to change their nature; and Providence has endowed us with reason, that we may discern the difference. If this rule did not authorize us to chuse the one, and reject the other, to what use would it serve among mankind?
But they turn this weak objection into a thousand shapes. They consider a man living upon earth as a soldier placed on duty. God, say they, has fixed you in this world, why do you quit your station without his leave? But you, who argue thus, has he not stationed you in the town where you was born, why therefore do you quit it without his leave? Is not misery, of itself, a sufficient permission? Whatever station Providence has assigned me, whether it be in a regiment, or on the earth at large, he intended me to stay there while I found my situation agreeable, and to leave it when it became intolerable. This is the voice of nature, and the voice of God. I agree that we must wait for an order; but when I die a natural death, God does not order me to quit life, he takes it from me, it is by rendering life insupportable, that he orders me to quit it. In the first cafe, I resist with all my force; in the second, I have the merit of obedience.
Can you conceive that there are some people so absurd as to arraign suicide as a kind of rebellion against Providence, by an attempt to fly from his laws? But we do not put an end to our being in order to withdraw ourselves from his commands, but to execute them. What! does the power of God extend no farther than to my body? Is there a spot in the universe, is there any being in the universe, which is not subject to his power, and will that power have less immediate influence over me when my being is refined, and thereby becomes less compound , and of nearer resemblance to the divine essence? No, his justice and goodness are the foundation of my hopes : and, if I thought that death would withdraw me from his power, I would give up my resolution to die.
This is one of the quibbles of the Phædo, which