Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels
Source: MECW Volume 4, p. 597;
Written: in the second half of 1845
Published: in 1846 in Gesellschaftsspiegel Rd. II, Heft VII;
Signed: K. Marx.
French criticism of society has, at least, in part the great merit of having shown up the contradictions and unnaturalness of modern life not only in the relationships of particular classes, but in all circles and forms of modern intercourse. And it has done that in accounts evincing the warmth of life itself, broadness of view, refined subtlety, and bold originality of spirit, which one will seek in vain in any other nation. Compare the critical writings of Owen and Fourier, for example, so far as they concern the relationships of life, to gain an idea of this superiority of the French. It is by no means only to the French “socialist” writers proper that one must look for the critical presentation of social conditions; but to writers in every sphere of literature, and in particular of novels and memoirs. In a few excerpts on suicide from the “Mémoires tires des Archives de la Police etc.” par Jacques Peuchet I shall give an example of this French criticism. It may at the same time show what grounds there are for the idea of the philanthropic bourgeois that it is only a question of providing a little bread and a little education for the proletarians, and that only the worker is stunted by the present state of society, but otherwise the existing world is the best of all possible worlds.
With Jacques Peuchet, as with many of the older, now almost extinct, French professional men, who have lived through the numerous upheavals since 1789, the numerous disappointments, enthusiasms, constitutions, rulers, defeats and victories, criticism of the existing property, family, and other private relations, in a word of private life, appears as the necessary outcome of their political experiences.
Jacques Peuchet (born 1760) proceeded from belles lettres to medicine, from medicine to law, from law to administration and the police. Before the outbreak of the French Revolution he was working with Abbé Morellet on a Dictionnaire du commerce, of which, however, only the prospectus was published, and at that time he was occupied mainly with political economy and administration. Peuchet was an adherent of the French Revolution for only a very short time; he very soon turned to the royalist party, for a time held the editorship of the Gazette de France and later even took over the notorious royalist Mercure from Mallet du Pan. Nevertheless, he wound his way very cleverly through the revolution, sometimes persecuted, sometimes occupied in the Department of Administration and the Police. The Géographie commerçante, 5 vol. in folio, which he published in 1800, attracted the attention of Bonaparte, the First Consul, and he was appointed a member of the Conseil de commerce et des arts. Later he occupied a higher position in the administration under the ministry of François de Neufchâteau. In 1814 the Restoration appointed him censor. During the 100 days  he retired. At the restoration of the Bourbons he was given the post of keeper of archives in the Paris police prefecture, which he held until 1827. Peuchet was not without influence, both directly and as a writer, on the speakers in the Constituent Assembly, the Convention, the Tribunate,  and the Chambers of Deputies under the Restoration. The best known of his many, mostly economic, works apart from the Geography of Commerce already referred to, is his statistics of France [J. Peuchet, Statistique élémentaire de la France] (1807).
Peuchet wrote his memoirs, the materials for which he gathered partly from the Paris police archives, partly from his long practical experience in police and administration, as an old man and had them published only after his death, so that in no circumstances can he be counted among the “hasty” Socialists and Communists, who are known to lack so completely the marvellous thoroughness and comprehensive knowledge of the general run of our writers, officials and professional citizens.
Let us listen to our archive-keeper of the Paris police prefecture on suicide!
“The annual number of suicides, which is, as it were, normal and recurrent among us, must be regarded as a symptom of the faulty organisation of our society; for at times when industry is at a standstill and in crisis, in periods of dear food and hard winters, this symptom is always more conspicuous and assumes an epidemic character. Prostitution and theft then increase in the same proportion. Although poverty is the greatest source of suicide, we find it in all classes, among the idle rich as well as among artists and politicians. The variety of the causes which give rise to it seems to mock the monotonous and callous condemnation of the moralists.
“Consumptive diseases, towards which science is at present indifferent and ineffectual, abused friendship, deceived love, frustrated ambition, family suffering, repressed rivalry, dissatisfaction with a monotonous life, suppressed enthusiasm, are indubitably the causes of suicide in more generously endowed natures, and the love of life itself, this energetic driving force of personality, very often leads to putting an end to a detestable existence.
“Madame de Staël, whose greatest merit is to have expressed commonplaces in brilliant style, has attempted to show that suicide is an act contrary to nature, and that it cannot be regarded as a deed of courage; she claims in particular that to fight despair is more worthy than to succumb to it. Such arguments little affect souls which are overwhelmed by misfortune. If they are religious, they look forward to a better world; if, on the contrary, they do not believe in anything, they seek the calm of Nothing. Philosophical tirades have no value in their eyes and are a poor refuge from suffering. It is above all in bad taste to maintain that an act so frequently committed is contrary to nature; suicide is in no way contrary to nature, since we witness it daily. What is against nature does not happen. On the contrary, it is in the nature of our society to produce many suicides, while Tartars do not kill themselves. Hence all societies do not have the same products. That is what we must tell ourselves, so as to work for the reform of our society and make it rise to a higher stage. As for courage, if it is considered courageous to defy death in broad daylight on the battlefield, under the domination of every form of excitement, there is nothing to prove lack of courage in one who administers death to himself in dark solitude. Such a. debatable question is not disposed of by insulting the dead.
“Everything that has been said against suicide goes round and round in the same circle of ideas. People cite against it the decrees of Providence, but the existence of suicide is itself an open protest against her indecipherable decrees. They talk to us of our duties to this society without explaining or implementing our own claims on society, and finally they exalt the thousand times greater merit of overcoming pain rather than succumbing to it, a merit as sad as the prospects it opens up. In short, they make of suicide an act of cowardice, a crime against the law, [society] and honour.
“Why is it that in spite of so many anathemas people kill themselves? Because the blood of men in despair does not run through their veins in the same way as that of the cold beings who take the time to coin all those fruitless phrases. Man seems to be a mystery to man; he can only be blamed, he is not known. When we see how light-mindedly the institutions under whose domination Europe lives dispose of the blood and life of the nations, how civilised justice surrounds itself lavishly with prisons, chastisements and instruments of death so as to sanction its insecure decisions; when we see the numerical immensity of the classes which on all sides are left in misery, and the social pariahs who are battered by brutal contempt, meant to be preventive, perhaps to save the trouble of lifting them out of their squalor; when we see all this, we fail to understand what entitles us to command the individual to respect in himself an existence which our customs, our prejudices, our laws and our morals generally trample underfoot.
“It was thought that it would be possible to prevent suicide by degrading punishments and by branding the memory of the culprit with infamy. What can one say of the unworthiness of such branding of people who are no longer there to plead their case? The unfortunates, by the way, are little worried by that; and if suicide accuses anybody, it accuses above all the people who are left behind, because there is not one in this multitude who deserves that anyone should stay alive for him. Have the childish and cruel means devised been victorious against the whisperings of despair? What does he who wants to flee the world care about the insults which the world promises to his corpse? He only sees in them yet another act of cowardice on the part of the living. What kind of society is it, indeed, where one finds the profoundest solitude in the midst of millions; where one can be overwhelmed by an irrepressible desire to kill oneself wthout anybody being aware of it? This society is no society, it is as Rousseau says, a desert inhabited by wild animals. In the positions which I held in the police administration suicides were part of my responsibility; I wished to learn whether among the causes motivating them there were any whose effect could be obviated. I undertook extensive work on the subject.” I found that any attempts short of a total reform of the present order of society would be in vain. [This conclusion from the arguments of the author of the Mémoires is formulated by Marx himself — Instead of this sentence Peuchet savs: “Without engaging in any theoretical investigation, I shall try to adduce facts."]
“Among the causes of despair which induce nervous, very excitable persons, passionate beings with deep feelings, to seek death, I discovered as the predominant factor the maltreatment, the injustices, the secret punishments, which hard parents and superiors inflict on persons dependent on them. The revolution has not overthrown all tyrannies; the evils of which the arbitrary authorities were accused persist in doe family, where they cause crises analogous to those of revolutions.
“The relations between interests and temperaments, the true relations among individuals, have first to be created among ourselves from the very foundations and suicide is only one of the thousand and one symptoms of the universal social struggle which is for ever spurring on to fresh deeds and from which so many fighters withdraw because they are tired of being counted among the victims, or because they rebel against the thought of occupying a place of honour among the hangmen. If you want a few examples, I will cull them from authentic protocols.
“In the month of July 1816 the daughter of a tailor became engaged to a butcher, a young man of good morals, thrifty and hardworking, very devoted to his beautiful bride, who in rum was very fond of him. The young girl was a seamstress; she enjoyed the respect of all who knew her, and the bridegroom’s parents loved her dearly. These good people missed no, opportunity to hasten the day when they would have her as their daughter-in-law; they gave parties at which she was the queen and idol.
“The time of the marriage approached; all arrangements between the two families had been made and the contracts concluded. On the eve of the day fixed for the visit to the registrar, the young daughter and her parents were to have supper with the family of the bridegroom., an insignificant incident unexpectedly prevented this. Orders which had to he met for rich customers kept the tailor and his wife at home. They sent their apologies; but the butcher’s mother came herself to fetch her daughter-in-law, who was given permission to go with her.
“Despite the absence of two of the principal guests the meal was one of the gayest. Many family jokes were told, which tie prospect of a marriage makes permissible. ‘They drank, they sang; they spoke about the future. The joys of a good marriage were eagerly discussed. They were still at table very late at night. By an easily explained indulgence the parents of the young man closed their eyes to the silent understanding of the engaged couple. Their hands sought each other, love and intimacy went to their heads. Besides, the marriage was considered as accomplished and these young people had been visiting each other for quite a long time without giving cause for the slightest reproach. ‘ne emotion of the bridegroom’s parents, the advanced hour, the mutual longing desire, loosen by the indulgence of their mentors, the unrestrained gaiety which always prevails at such meals, all this combined with the opportunity which offered itself smilingly, and the wine which was effervescing in the head, everything favoured an outcome which may be imagined. The lovers met again in the dark, when the lights had gone out. Everyone pretended not to notice, to suspect nothing. Their happiness had only friends here, no enviers.
“The young daughter only returned to her parents the next morning. A proof of how little. guilty she believed herself to be lies in the fact that she returned alone. She slipped into her room and prepared her toilette; but no sooner did her parents notice her, than with fury they heaped the most shameful names and abuses on their daughter. The neighbourhood witnessed it, the scandal had no bounds. Imagine the shock which this child suffered from her modesty and the outrageous violation of her secret. In vain did the bewildered girl put it to her parents that they themselves were bringing her into disrepute, that she admitted her wrong, her folly, her disobedience, but that everything could he put right again. Her arguments and her grief failed to disarm the tailor couple.”
The most cowardly, unresisting people become implacable as soon as they can exercise their absolute parental authority. The abuse of this authority is, as it were, a crude compensation for all the submissiveness and dependence to which they abase themselves willy-nilly in bourgeois society.
“Busybodies of both sexes came running to the scene and joined in the clamour. The feeling of shame caused by this abominable scene brought the child to the decision to take her own life. She hurried downstairs, through the crowd of the abusive and swearing neighbours; her eyes clouded with madness,” she rushed to the Seine “and threw herself into the river. Boatmen brought her out of the water, dead, still in her wedding finery. Needless to say, those who at first had shouted against the daughter at once turned against her parents; this catastrophe frightened their empty souls. A few days later the parents came to the police to claim a golden chain which the child had worn round her neck, a present from the future father-in-law, a silver watch and various other small pieces of jewellery, all of which had been deposited with the police. I did not fail to reproach these people energetically for their stupidity and barbarity. To say to these mad people that they would have to render account to God would have made very little impression on them in view of their egoistic prejudices and the peculiar kind of religiosity which prevails in the lower mercantile classes.
“Greed had brought them to me, not the desire to possess two or three keepsakes; I thought f could punish them through their greed. They were claiming their daughter’s jewels; I refused these to them; I kept the certificates which they needed to reclaim these effects from the office where they had been deposited according to custom. So long as I held this post, their claims were in vain, and I found pleasure in defying their insults.
“In the same year there appeared in my office a young creole of attractive appearance from one of the richest families of Martinique. He objected most emphatically to the handing over of the corpse of a young woman, his sister-in-law, to the claimant, his own brother and her husband. She had drowned herself. This kind of suicide is the commonest. Her body had been found not far from the Grève d'Argenteuil by the officials employed to recover corpses. From one of the well-known instincts of modesty which prevail in women even in the blindest despair, the drowned woman had wound the seam of her skirt carefully round her feet. This modest precaution proved her suicide beyond doubt. As soon as she had been found she was taken to the morgue. Her beauty, her youth, her rich apparel gave rise to a thousand speculations as to the cause of this catastrophe. The despair of her husband, who was the first to identify her, was boundless; he did not fathom this calamity, at least so I was told. I myself had not seen him before. I put it to the creole that the claims of the husband had precedence over all others; he was already having a magnificent marble tombstone erected for his unfortunate wife. ‘After he has killed her, the monster!’ shouted the creole, rushing to and fro in his rage.
“From the excitement and despair of this young man, from his urgent pleading to grant his request, from his tears, I believed I could conclude that he was in love with her, and I told him so. He admitted his love; but with the most ardent assurances that his sister-in-law had never known of it. He swore to that. He wanted to bring to light the barbarities of his brother, even if it meant putting himself in the dock, only to save the reputation of his sister-in-law, whose suicide public opinion would, as usual, attribute to an intrigue. He begged me for my support. What I could gather from his fragmentary, passionate declarations was this: Monsieur de M.... his brother, rich and a connoisseur of the arts, a friend of luxury and high society, had ‘married this young woman about a year earlier, apparently from mutual inclination; they were the most beautiful couple you could see. After the marriage a blood defect, perhaps hereditary, in the constitution of the young husband had broken out suddenly and violently. Formerly so proud of his handsome appearance and his elegant figure, an excellence, a matchless perfection of form, this man suddenly fell a prey to an unknown scourge against whose devastations science was powerless; from head to foot he was most horribly disfigured. He had lost all his hair, his spine had grown crooked. Day by day emaciation and wrinkles changed him most strikingly, at least for others; for his self-love tried to deny the obvious. Yet all this did not make him take to his bed; an iron strength seemed to triumph over the attacks of the scourge. He vigorously survived his own ruination. His body became a wreck, and his soul remained buoyant. He continued to give banquets, to preside over hunting parties and to lead the rich and magnificent way of life which seemed to be the law of his character and his nature. But the insults, the jibes, the taunts of schoolboys and street urchins when he exercised his horse in the promenades, the rude and mocking laughter, solicitous warnings of friends about the countless occasions on which he exposed himself to ridicule by insisting on gallant manners towards ladies, eventually dispelled his illusion and made him cautious about himself. As soon as he admitted to himself his ugliness and deformity, as soon as he was conscious of it, his character became embittered; he became dejected. He seemed less keen on taking his wife to parties, to balls, to concerts; he fled to his country residence; he put an end to all invitations, avoided people under a thousand pretexts, and the compliments his friends paid to his wife, which he had tolerated as long as his pride gave him the certainty of his superiority, made him jealous, suspicious and violent. He detected in all who insisted on visiting him the firm resolve to conquer the heart of his wife, who was his last pride and his last consolation. At this time the creole arrived from Martinique with business whose success seemed to be favoured by the restoration of the Bourbons to the French throne. His sister-in-law received him with cordiality, and in the shipwreck of innumerable connections which she had contracted the newcomer preserved the advantage which his title of brother quite naturally gave him with Monsieur de M.... The creole foresaw the loneliness which would surround the household both as a result of the direct quarrels which his brother had with several of his friends and through a thousand indirect incidents which drove away and discouraged visitors. Without being clearly aware of the motives of love which made him jealous too, the creole approved these measures of isolation and encouraged them by his own advice. Monsieur de M... finished up by withdrawing entirely into a beautiful house in Passy, which in a short time became a desert. jealousy feeds on the smallest things; when it does not know whereon to fasten, it turns against itself and becomes inventive; everything serves to sustain it. Perhaps the young woman longed for the pleasures of her age. Walls obstructed the view of neighbouring residences; the shutters were closed from morning to night.”
The unfortunate wife was sentenced to the most intolerable slavery, and this slavery was only enforced by Monsieur de M... on the basis of the Code civil and the right of property, on the basis of social conditions which render love independent of the free sentiments of the lovers and allow the jealous husband to surround his wife with locks as the miser does his coffers; for she is only a part of his inventory.
“At night Monsieur de M... prowled round the house armed, making his rounds with dogs. He imagined he saw tracks in the sand and was misled into strange suspicions on the occasion of a ladder having been moved by a gardener. The gardener himself, a drunkard of almost 60, was placed as guard at the gate. The spirit of exclusion knows no bounds to its extravagances, it goes on to the absurd. The brother, innocent accomplice in all this, at last understood that he was assisting in making the misfortune of the young woman who, day by day kept under guard, insulted, bereft of everything which can divert a rich and happy imagination, became as gloomy and melancholy as she had been free and gay. She cried and concealed her tears, but their traces were visible. The creole was plagued by his conscience. Determined to declare himself openly to his sister-in-law and to make amends for his mistake, which had surely originated in his furtive feeling of love, he crept one morning into a small wooded pleasure garden where the Prisoner went from time to time to get fresh air and look after her flowers. We must take it that availing herself of this very limited freedom she knew that she remained under the eyes of her jealous husband; for on seeing her brother-in-law, who for the first time had come face to face with her unexpectedly, the young woman displayed the greatest dismay. She wrung her hands. ‘Go away, in heaven’s name,’ she cried to him in fright, ‘go away!'
“And indeed, scarcely had he time to hide in a greenhouse, when Monsieur de M... suddenly appeared’. The creole heard cries, he tried to listen; the beating of his heart prevented him from understanding the least word of an explanation to which his concealment, should the husband discover it, could give a deplorable outcome. This event spurred on the brother-in-law; he saw the need henceforth to be the protector of a victim. He resolved to abandon all restraint of his love. Love can sacrifice everything but its right to protect, for this last sacrifice would he that of a coward. He continued to visit his brother, ready to speak to him openly, to reveal himself to him, to tell him everything. Monsieur de M... had as yet no suspicion of him, but his brother’s insistence aroused it. Without being entirely clear on the causes of this interest, Monsieur de M... mistrusted them, anticipating where it might lead. The creole soon saw .hat his brother was not always absent, as he afterwards maintained, when people rang in vain at the gate of the house in Passy. A locksmith’s apprentice made him keys after the models of those which his master had made for Monsieur de M.... After an interval of ten days, the creole, embittered by fear and tormented by the maddest imaginings, climbed the walls at night, smashed a railing in front of the main Yard, reached the roof by a ladder and slid down the drain-pipe to below the window of a store-room. Violent cries caused him to creep unnoticed as far as a glass door. What he saw rent his heart. The light of a lamp shone in an alcove. Behind the bed-curtains, hair dishevelled and face purple with fury, Monsieur de M.... crouching half-naked near his wife on the bed which she dared not leave though half and half wresting herself from him, was heaping on her the most biting reproaches and seemed like a tiger ready to tear her to pieces. ‘Yes,’ he said to her, ‘I am ugly, I am a monster and, I know it only too well, I inspire fear in you. You wish to be freed of me so that the sight of me may no longer he a burden to you. You are longing for the moment which will make you free. And don’t tell me the opposite, I guess your thoughts in your fright and your resistance. You blush at the unworthy laughter which I arouse, you inwardly rebel against met You no doubt count the minutes, one by one, which must elapse until I no longer beleaguer you with my weaknesses and my presence. Stop! I am seized with horrible desires, the frenzied wish to make you like myself, to disfigure you, so that you can no longer hope to console yourself with lovers for the misfortune of having known me. I shall break all the mirrors in this house so that they shall not reproach me with the contrast, so that they cease to nurture your pride. Perhaps I should take you out into the world, or let you go there, to see how everybody encourages you to hate me? No, no, you shall not leave this house until you have killed me. Kill me, anticipate what I am tempted to do every day!’ And the savage rolled on the bed with loud cries, gnashing his teeth, foaming at the mouth, with a thousand symptoms of madness, and striking himself in his fury, near this unfortunate woman who wasted on him the tenderest caresses and the most pathetic entreaties. At last she calmed him. No doubt, pity had replaced love, but that was not enough for this man who had become so terrible to look at, whose passion had retained so much energy. A long spell of depression was the sequel to this scene, which petrified the creole. He shuddered and did not know to whom to rum to save the unfortunate woman from this deadly martyrdom. This scene was apparently repeated every day, since for the convulsions which followed Madame de M. had recourse to bottles of medicine prepared for the purpose of restoring a little calm to her torturer.
“The creole was the only representative of the family of Monsieur de M. in Paris at the time. It is in such cases above all that one wants to curse the slowness of judicial procedure and the callousness of the laws which nothing can divert from their nicely arranged routine, particularly when it is a question only of a woman, a being whom the legislator surrounds with the least guarantees. A warrant for an arrest, some drastic measure, would alone have prevented the disaster which the witness of this madness foresaw too well. He decided, however, to risk everything, to take all consequences upon himself, since his wealth enabled him to make enormous sacrifices and not to fear responsibility for any risk involved. Already several doctors among his friends, determined like himself, were preparing to obtain entrance into Monsieur de M.’s house so as to diagnose these fits of madness and to separate the two spouses by direct force, when the occurrence of the suicide justified the belated preparations and put an end to the problem.
“Certainly, for anybody who does not limit the entire spirit of words to their letter, this suicide was a treacherous murder committed by the husband; but it was also the outcome of an extraordinary fit of jealousy. The jealous man needs a slave, the jealous man can love, but the love he feels is only a luxurious counterpart for jealousy; the jealous man is above all a private property-owner. [This sentence was taken by Marx from the description of another case of suicide given by Peuchet below (cf. t. IV, p. 159).] I prevented the creole from making a useless and dangerous scandal, dangerous above all to the memory of his loved one, for the idle public would have accused the victim of an adulterous connection with her husband’s brother. I witnessed the funeral. Nobody but the brother and myself knew the truth. Around me I heard discreditable murmurings about this suicide and I despised them. One blushes for public opinion when one sees it close at hand with its cowardly embitterment and its dirty insinuations. Opinion is too much divided by people’s isolation, too ignorant, too corrupt, because each is a stranger to himself and all are strangers to one another. [The last sentence is taken by Marx from the description of another case of suicide given by Peuchet below (cf. t. IV, p. 167), Marx gave a free rendering and added the concluding words: “because each is a stranger to himself and all are strangers to one another."] “Incidentally, few weeks passed without bringing me more revelations of the same kind, In the same year I registered love liaisons caused by the parents’ refusal to give their consent, and which ended with a double pistol shot.
“I also recorded suicides of men of the world reduced to impotence in the flowering of their age, whom the abuse of enjoyment had thrown into insuperable melancholy.
“Many people, after long and useless torture by harmful prescriptions, end their days dominated by the belief that medicine is incapable of freeing them from their ills.
“One could make a remarkable collection of quotations from famous authors and of poems written by despairing people preparing for their death with a certain ostentation. During the marvellously cold-blooded moment which follows the decision to die, a kind of infectious enthusiasm is exhaled from these souls and flows on to paper, even among classes which are bereft of all education. While they compose themselves for the sacrifice, whose depth they are pondering, all their strength is concentrated so as to gush out in a warm and characteristic expression.
“Some of these poems, which are buried in the archives, are masterpieces. A ponderous bourgeois, who puts his soul into his business and his god into commerce, may find all this very romantic and by his scornful laughter deny suffering which he does not understand: his disdain does not surprise us.”
What else can one expect of three-percenters, who do not even suspect that daily, hourly, piece by piece, they are murdering themselves, their human nature!
“But what shall one say of the good people who pass for devout and educated, and who echo such filth? Without doubt it is of great importance that the poor devils should endure life, if only in the interests of the privileged classes of this world, which a general suicide of the trash would ruin; but is there no other means of making the existence of this class bearable than insults, sneers and fine words? Besides, there must exist a certain greatness of soul in these wretches who, determined as they are to die, destroy themselves and do not take the way of suicide by the detour of the scaffold. It is true that, the more our commercial epoch progresses, the rarer these noble suicides of misery become. Conscious hostility takes their place, and the miserable one inconsiderately runs the risk of theft and murder. It is easier to receive the death penalty than to get work.
“In rummaging through the police archives I have come across only one single case of cowardice in the list of suicides. That was a young American, Wilfrid Ramsay, who killed himself in order to escape a duel.
“The classification of the various causes of suicide would be the classification of the very defects of our society. One killed himself because he was robbed of an invention by intriguers, on which occasion the inventor, thrown into the direst poverty as a consequence of the lengthy scientific investigations to which he had to devote himself, was not even in a position to buy himself a patent. Another killed himself to avoid the enormous costs and the degrading legal prosecution consequent on monetary embarrassments which, by the way, are so common that men entrusted with the conduct of the general interest are not in the least concerned about them. Another again killed himself because he could not find work, after he had groaned for a long time under the insults and the stinginess of those in our midst who are the arbitrary distributors of work. [... ]
“One day a doctor consulted me about a death of which he accused himself of having been the cause.
“One evening, returning to Belleville, where he lived, he was stopped by a veiled woman in the dark, in a narrow street from which his house stood off aside. She begged him in a tremulous voice to listen to her. At some distance a person whose features he could not distinguish was walking up and down. She was being watched by a man. ‘Sir,’ she told the doctor, ‘I am pregnant, and when this is discovered I shall be disgraced. My family, public opinion, people of honour will not pardon me. The woman whose confidence I have betrayed would lose her reason, and without doubt would divorce her husband. I am not defending my case. I am the centre of a scandal which only my death could prevent from becoming public. I wanted to kill myself, people want me to live. I have been told that you have compassion, and this convinced me that you will not want to be an accomplice in the murder of a child, even if this child is not yet in the world. You see, it is a question of an abortion. I shall not debase myself by pleading extenuation for something I regard as the most reprehensible crime. In presenting myself to you I have merely yielded to the pleadings of others; for I shall know how to die. I shall summon death myself, and I need nobody for that. One can pretend to find pleasure in watering the garden; one can put on wooden clogs for it; one can choose a slippery place where one fetches water every day; one can arrange to disappear in the depth of the well; and people will say that it was an ‘accident’. I have foreseen everything, Sir. I wish it could be the morning after, I would like to go with all my heart. Everything has been prepared so that it will happen just like that. I have been told to say this to you, and I have done so. You have to decide whether one murder shall occur or two. Because of my cowardice I had to swear that I would without reservation abide by your decision. Decide!'
“’this choice,’ the doctor continued, ‘horrified me. The voice of this woman had a pure and harmonious sound; her hand, which I held in mine, was fine and delicate; her frank and determined despair bespoke an excellent spirit. But the point at issue was one that really made me shudder; although in a thousand cases, in difficult deliveries, for example, when the surgeon’s choice lies between saving the mother or the child, either politics or humaneness decides at will, without scruple.'
“'Flee abroad,’ I said. ‘Impossible,’ she replied, ‘it is not to he contemplated.'
"’take the proper precautions.'
"'I can’t, I sleep in the same alcove as the woman whose friendship I have betrayed.’ ‘She is your relative?’ ‘I must not tell you any more.'
"'I would have given my heart’s blood,’ the doctor continued, ‘to save this woman from suicide or crime, or that she might escape this conflict without needing me. I charged myself with barbarism because I shrank from complicity in a murder. The struggle was terrible. Then a demon whispered to me that one does not kill oneself merely because one wishes to die; that compromised people ca . n be forced to renounce their vices if their power to do evil is taken from them. I guessed luxury from the embroideries with which her fingers played, and the resources of wealth from the elegant diction of her speech. We believe that we owe less compassion to the rich; my self-"teem revolted against the thought of being tempted with gold, although up till then this matter had not been touched on, which was one more sign of delicacy and proof that my character was respected. My reply was a refusal; the lady went quickly away; the, noise of a cabriolet convinced me that I would be unable to remedy what I had done.
"'A fortnight later the newspapers gave me the solution of the mystery. lie young niece of a Paris banker, 18 years old at the most, the beloved ward of her aunt, who since the death of her mother had not let the girl out of her sight, had slipped and fallen into a brook on the estate of her guardians at Villemomble and had drowned. Her guardian was inconsolate; in his capacity of uncle the cowardly seducer could give way to his grief before the world.'
“One perceives that for want of something better, suicide is the extreme resort against the evils of private life.
“Among the causes of suicide I have very often found dismissal from office, refusal of work, or a sudden reduction in salary, as a consequence of which families can no longer procure the means of subsistence, the more so since most of them live from hand to mouth.
“At the time when the guards in the royal palace were being reduced, a good man was dismissed like the rest without more ado. His age and his lack of influence made it impossible for him to have himself transferred back into the army; industry was closed to him by his lack of knowledge. He tried to enter the civil service; competitors, numerous here as everywhere, stood in his way. He fell into gloomy distress and killed himself. In his pocket were found a letter and information about his circumstances. His wife was a poor seamstress; their two daughters, 16 and 18 years old, worked with her. Tarnau, our suicide, said in the papers he left behind that, ‘since he could no longer be of use to his family and was compelled to be a burden on his wife and children, he considered it his duty to take his life so as to relieve them of this additional burden. He recommended his children to the Duchess of Angoulême; he hoped that in her goodness this princess would have compassion on so much misery.’ I made a report to police prefect Anglès, and when the necessary formalities were completed the duchess had 600 francs sent to the unfortunate Tarnau family.
“Sad aid indeed, after such a loss. But how could one family’ help all the unfortunate, since when everything is taken into account, the whole of France in its present state could not feed them. The charity of the rich would not suffice even if our whole nation were religious, which is far from the case. Suicide solves the worst of the difficulty, the scaffold the rest. Sources of income and real wealth can be expected only from a recasting of our general system of agriculture and industry. It is easy to proclaim constitutions on paper, the right of every citizen to education, to work, and above all to a minimum of the means of subsistence. But it is not enough to write these generous wishes on paper, the proper task is to fructify these liberal ideas with material and intelligent [social] institutions.
“The ardent world, paganism, has thrown up magnificent creations on the earth; will modern liberty lag behind her rival? Who will weld together these two splendid elements of might?”
Thus far Peuchet.
In conclusion we shall give one of his tables on the annual suicides in Paris [Peuchet writes “in the Seine Department"].
From another of the tables given by Peuchet we learn that from 1817 to 1824 (inclusive) 2,808 suicides occurred in Paris.’ Actually, of course, the figure was larger. In particular, as regards drowned persons whose bodies are exhibited in the morgue it is known in only very rare cases whether they were suicides or not.
|Number 1st half year||198|
|Number 2nd half year||173|
|Of whom the attempt at suicide was survived by||125|
|Of whom the attempt at suicide was not survived by||246|
|Of the male sex||239|
|Of the female sex||132|
|Manner of Death|
|Voluntary heavy fall||47|
|By cutting instruments||40|
|By coal fumes||61|
|Suffocation by voluntary plunge into water||115|
|Passionate love, domestic quarrels and grief||71|
|Illness, weariness of life, unsound mind||128|
|Misbehaviour, gaming, lotteries, fear of accusations and punishments||53|
|Misery, poverty, loss of position, loss of job||59|