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Reflect thoroughly, man; what are ten, twenty, thirty years in competition with immortality? Pain and pleasure pass like a shadow; life slides away in an instant; it is nothing of itself; its value depends on the use we make of it. The good that we have done is all that remains, and it is that alone which marks its importance.
Therefore do not say any more that your existence is an evil, since it depends upon yourself to make it's blessing; and if it be an evil to have lived, this is an additional reason for prolonging life. Do not pretend neither to say any more that you are at liberty to die; for it is as much as to fay that you have power to alter your nature, that you have a right to revolt against the Author of your being, and to frustrate the end of your existence. But when you add, that your death does injury to no one, do you recollect that you make this declaration to your friend?
Your death does injury to no one? I understand you! You think the loss I shall sustain by your death of no importance; you deem my affliction of no consequence. I will urge to you no more the rights of friendship, which you despise; but are there not obligations still more dear *, which ought to induce you to preserve your life? If there be a person in the world who loved you to that degree as to be unwilling to survive you , and whose happiness depends on yours, do you
. * Obligations more dear than those of friendship! Is it a philosopher who talks thus? But this affected sophist was of an amorous disposition.
think that you have no obligations to her? Will not the execution of your wicked design disturb the peace of a mind, which has been with much difficulty restored to its former innocence? Are not you afraid to add fresh torments to a heart of such sensibility? Are not you apprehensive lest your death should be attended with a loss more fatal, which would deprive the world and virtue itself of its brightest ornament? And if she should survive you, are not you afraid to rouse up remorse in her bosom, which is more grievous to support than life itself? Thou ungrateful friend! thou indelicate lover! Wilt thou always be taken up wholly with thyself? Wilt thou always think on thine own troubles alone? Hast thou no regard for the happiness of one who was so dear to thee? And cannot thou resolve to live for her who was willing to die with thee?
You talk of the duties of a magistrate, and of a father of a family; and because you are not under those circumstances, you think yourself absolutely free. And are you then under no obligations to society, to whom you are indebted for your preservation , your talents, your understanding? Do you owe nothing to your native country, and to those unhappy people who may need your existence! O what an accurate calculation you make! among the obligations you have enumerated, you have only omitted those of aman and of a citizen. Where is the virtuous patriot, who refused to insist under a foreign prince, because his blood ought not to be spilt but in the service of his country, and who now, in a fit of despair , is ready to shed it against the express prohibition of the laws? The laws, the laws, young man! did any wife man ever despise them? Socrates , though innocent, out of regard to them refused to quit his prison. You do not scruple to violate them by quitting life unjustly; and you ask , what injury do I?
You endeavour to justify yourself by example. You presume to mention the Romans : You talk of the Romans! it becomes you indeed to cite those illustrious names! Tell me , did Brutus die a lover in despair, and did Cato plunge the dagger in his breast for his mistress? Thou weak and abject man! what resemblance is there between Cato and thee? Show me the common standard between
that sublime soul and thine. Ah! vain wretch I hold thy peace: I am afraid to profane his name by a vindication of his conduct. At that august and sacred name every'friend of virtue should bow to the ground, and honor the memory of the greatest hero in silence.
How ill you have selected your examples, and how meanly you judge of the Romans, if you imagine that they thought themselves at liberty to quit life so soon as it became a burden to them. Recur to the excellent days of that republic , and fee whether you will find a single citizen of virtue, who thus freed himself from the discharge of his duty even after the most cruel misfortunes. When Regulus was on his return to Carthage, did he prevent the torments which he knew were preparing for him by destroying himself? What would not Posthumus have given, when obliged to pass under the yoke at Caudium, had this resource been justifiable? How much did' even the senate admire that effort of courage, which enabled the consul Varro to survive his defeat? For what reason did so many generals voluntary surrender themselves to their enemies, they to' whom ignominy was so dreadful, and who were so little afraid of dying ?. It was because they considered their blood, their life, and their latest breath, as devoted to their country; and neither shame nor misfortune could dissuade them from this sacred duty. But when the laws were subverted , and the state became a prey to tyranny , the citizens resumed their natural liberty, and the right they had over their own lives. When Rome was no more, it was lawful for the Romans to give up their lives; they had discharged their duties on earth , they had no longer any country to defend, they were therefore at liberty to dispose of their lives, and to obtain that freedom for themselves which they could not recover for their country. After having spent their days in the service of expiring Rome, and in fighting for the defence of its laws, they died great and virtuous as they had lived, and their death was an additional tribute to the glory of the Roman name, since none of them beheld a sight above all others most dishonorable, that of a true citizen stooping to an usurper . - . .
But thou, what art thou? What hast thou done? Dost thou think to excuse thyself on account of thy obscurity? Does thy weakness exempt thee from thy duty, and because thou hast neither rank nor distinction in thy country, art thou less subject to the laws? It becomes you vastly to presume to talk of dying, while you owe the service of your life to your equals. Know, that a death, such as you meditate, is shameful and surreptitious. It is a theft committed on mankind in general. Before you quit life, return the benefits you have received from every individual. But, fay you, I have no attachments; I am useless in the world. O thou young philosopher! art thou ignorant that thou canst not move a single step without finding some duty to fulfil; and that every man is useful to society, even by means of his existence alone?
Hear me, thou rash young man! thou art dear to me. I commiserate thy errors. If the least sense of virtue still remains in thy breast, attend, and let me teach thee to be reconciled to life. Whenever thou art tempted to quit it, say to thyself— — " Let me do at least one good action before I *' die." Then go in search for one in a state of indigence, whom thou mayest relieve; for one under misfortunes, whom thou mayest comfort; for one under oppression , whom thou mayest defend. Introduce to me those unhappy wretches whom my rank keeps at a distance. Do not be afraid of misusing my purse, or my credit: make