Hume's "Essays on Suicide and Immortality" (Hume Archives)

THESE two Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul, though not published in any edition of his works, are generally attributed to the late ingenious Mr. Hume. The well-known contempt of this eminent philosopher for the common convictions of mankind, raised an apprehension of the contents from the very title of these pieces. But the celebrity of the author’s name, renders them, notwithstanding, in some degree objects of great curiosity. Owing to this circumstance, a few copies have been clandestinely circulated, at a large price, for some time, but without any comment. The very mystery attending this mode of selling them, made them more an object of request than they would otherwise have been. The present publication comes abroad under no such restraint, and possesses very superior advantages. The annexed are intended to expose the sophistry contained in the original Essays, and may shew how little we have to fear from the adversaries of these great truths, from the pitiful figure which even Mr. Hume makes in thus violently exhausting his last strength in an abortive attempt to traduce or discredit them. The two very matterly Letters from the Eloisa of Rosseau on the subject of , have been much celebrated, and we hope will be considered as materially increasing the value of this curious collection. The admirers of will be pleased with seeing the remains of a favourite author rescued in this manner from that oblivion to which the prejudices of his countrymen had, in all appearance, consigned them; and even the religious part of mankind have some reason of triumph from the striking instance here given of truth’s superiority to error, even when error has all the advantage of an elegant genius, and a great literary reputation to recommend it.

Essay on Suicide - Publish Your Articles

One of the most comprehensive of these essays on suicide appeared in in June of 1880 (Marshall, 719-735). Called simply "Suicide," it aimed to explain the increase in self-destruction by correlating the suicide rate with changes in the quality of life. In it, the interests of the statisticians were reviewed — incidence of suicide, method of self-destruction, and the influence of climate and culture — but the author was far more interested in just what it was about his era that caused the frequency shown in the statistics. He found that the intensity of agitation and disillusionment over life had made suicide appear like an antidote, "an outburst of the universal appetite for calm; because every man who wilfully terminates his life does so, necessarily, with the idea of improving his condition" (720). He also speculated that the growth of cities had led to more suicide, for there was, said the author, a greater sense of solitude in cities than in smaller towns and also "more misery and more despondency, with less encouragement of restraint" (725) Like many another [152/153] writer who would enter what became a Victorian debate about suicide, this anonymous author also doubted that morals without religion would ever be sufficient deterrents to suicide.


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ccording to William Knighton, whose essay on suicide appeared in the 1881 , "Men everywhere are becoming more weary of the burden of life" (82). By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, simply being alive had become a severe trial to many. Hopelessness beset the dispossessed and sensitive alike, and vitality seemed to be eroding away with the century. Men, especially, seemed to find it harder to displace anxiety and death. They felt out of control, powerless against the force of their own inventions, runaway science, runaway technology, runaway urbanism. Lost and homeless in an alien universe, the articulate among them spun eloquent metaphors to define their plight. Looking back to the 1870s and 1880s, Havelock Ellis recalled that he "had the feeling that the universe was represented as a sort of factory filled by an inextricable web of wheels and looms and flying shuttles, in a deafening din. That, it seemed, was the world as the most competent scientific authorities declared it to be made. It was a world I was prepared to accept and yet a world in which, I felt, I could only wander restlessly, an ignorant and homeless child" (199). in 1884 found that "harmony is now broken, and broken the world round: fragments, indeed, of what existed still exist, and hours of what is past still return; but month by month the darkness gains upon the day, and the ashes of the antipodes glare through the night" (78-79). A disillusioned Arthur Balfour referred to human life as "an accident, [man's] story a brief and transitory episode in the life of one of the meanest of the planets (30). And Francis Adams's hero in (1884; 1894) seems to have spoken both for his creator and for his age when he exclaimed: