S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
The poet, after having mentioned the souls of those unhappy men who destroyed themselves, breaks out into a fine exclamation. Oh, how gladly, says he, would they now endure life with all its miseries! but the Destinies forbid their return to earth, and the waters of Styx surround them with nine streams that are unpassable. It is very remarkable that Virgil, notwithstanding self-murder was so frequent among the heathens, and had been practised by some of the greatest men in the very age before him, hath here represented it as so heinous a crime. But in this particular he was guided by the doctrines of his great master Plato; who says on this subject, that a man is placed in his station of life like a soldier in his proper post, which he is not to quit, whatever may happen, until he is called off by his commander who planted him in it.
Herein are they in extremes, that can allow a man to be his own assassin, and so highly extol the end and suicide of Cato; this is indeed not to fear death, but yet to be afraid of life. It is a brave act of valour to contemn death; but where life is more terrible than death, it is then the truest valour to dare to live; and herein religion hath taught us a noble example; for all the valiant acts of Curtius, Scævola, or Codrus do not parallel or match that one of Job; and sure there is no torture to the rack of a disease, nor any poinards in death itself, like those in the way or prologue unto it.
Anguish of mind has driven thousands to suicide; anguish of body, none. This proves that the health of the mind is of far more consequence to our happiness than the health of the body, although both are deserving of much more attention than either of them receive.
Many are of opinion that we cannot quit this garrison of the world without the express command of him who has placed us in it: and that it appertains to God, who has placed us here not for ourselves only, but for his glory, and the service of others, to dismiss us when it shall best please him, and not for us to depart without his license: that we are not born for ourselves only, but for our country also, the laws of which require an account from us, upon the score of their own interest, and have an action of manslaughter good against us. Or if these fail to take cognizance of the fact, we are punished in the other world, as deserters of our duty . There is more constancy in suffering the chain we are tied in, than in breaking it, and more pregnant evidence of fortitude in Regulus than in Cato. Tis indiscretion and impatience that pushes us on to these precipices. No accidents can make true virtue turn her back; she seeks and requires evils, pains, and grief, as the things by which she is nourished and supported. The menaces of tyrants, racks, and tortures serve only to animate and rouse her.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. lx.
It is a curious fact that some men are born with a tendency to self-destruction, which exhibits itself at intervals from an early period of life, even before it can be the result of feeling or reflection. It is generally accompanied by mental aberration, consequent on pressure on some portion of the brain, and is more purely physical than the amour-propre of man is willing to allow. What poetical suicides and sublime despairs might have been prevented by a timely dose of blue pill, or the offer of a Loge aux Italiens!