Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/288

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and was largely drawn upon by Continental and English periodicals in the discussions that followed its publication. Dr. Morselli has revised and abridged the original, expressly for the English version now issued in London and New York; and the work in its present form supplies a long-recognized want in our literature.

There are, however, those who will ask: "What has suicide to do with science? or, What place has such a work in the 'International Scientific Series'? People commit suicide," they will say, "because they are tired of life; it is a matter of morals; an act of volition originating in the will, which is free, and therefore not amenable to the methods of science."

To this, the simple reply is, that it is the office of science to investigate the regularities and the conditions, or, in other words, the laws of phenomena. The voluntary destruction of life is a social phenomenon, the investigation of which falls just as much within the scope of science as an inquiry into the conditions of combustion, the classification of minerals, or the laws of plant growth. Dr. Morselli's book is a systematic and comprehensive inquiry into the phenomena, the conditions, and the laws of suicide. It is, therefore, a legitimate and important contribution to the science of sociology; and is, moreover, the most practical exemplification we have seen of the real significance of law in what are called the higher spheres of its application. In a notice like this we can only give a few illustrative results of his method.

In the first place, it has been found, by a long course of extensive and careful observation, as shown by statistics, which are simply numerical records of facts, that the phenomena of suicide occur with great regularity. The psychical laws, in fact, work with more uniformity than the physiological or organic laws. Suicides are more regular than births, deaths, and marriages; and it has also been established that it is on the increase in the most enlightened countries, so as to compel the conclusion that this result is due to advancing civilization. Dr. Morselli states this general result in the following form: "In the aggregate of the civilized states of Europe and America, the frequency of suicide shows a growing and uniform increase, so that generally voluntary death since the beginning of the century has increased and goes on increasing more rapidly than the geometrical augmentation of the population and of the general mortality." Extensive tables are given, confirming this statement in a large number of countries.

But, though there is great regularity in the phenomena of suicide, this regularity is only under uniform conditions. Suicide varies as the conditions vary. Moreover, a large number of conditions are acting together, so that the result is a highly complex one. It is the work of the investigator to disentangle these conditions, so as to show the proper value of each. The general problem presents itself in this way. Suicide is a phenomenon occurring in all states of society. But in some countries its rate falls as low as twenty or thirty to a million inhabitants in a year, while in others it rises to perhaps one hundred and seventy to the million, and others show rates that are intermediate. In some cases, the figures from year to year are comparatively stationary, but fluctuate at different times of the year. In other instances, the annual figures fluctuate; and in all cases a variety of causes are at work to determine the result. The task of the statistician is to find out and express by numbers and averages the relation of the rates of suicide to these numerous accompanying conditions that are found to influence voluntary death. The task is an especially difficult one, but it has been accomplished with such success as to afford new and striking proof of the validity of sociological science. Dr. Morselli first considers the influence of the physical environment or the agencies of nature, as they affect the practice of self-destruction.

Men do not kill themselves in all climates alike. The influence of different regions is not great, but it is real. It has long been supposed that suicide is much more frequent in the north of Europe than in the south; and it has been found that it is more common in the northern than in the southern parts of France and Italy. But the old notion that Northern Europe is the "classic ground" of suicide is modified by later researches, which indicate that the excess is rather in the central region. Dr. Morselli says: "If of all the countries, dis-