Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/254

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240

POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

custom of the Dharma, or fast, men starve themselves to death for the sake of annoying their enemies. So persons of disordered nerves among us, or victims of various passions, commit suicide in order to excite remorse in persons to whom they become antagonistic. Others die to gratify their vanity, and surround their death with conditions that will attract attention or that bear a character of sensational display. A great many suicides would probably never commit the fatal act, no matter how hard the miseries of life might oppress them, if they thought nothing would be said of the matter in the press or in society; while, in fact, a supreme satisfaction attends their departure from life in the anticipation of the talk there will be about it.

Persons in certain classes or occupations are attracted by particular modes of death. Thus death on the battlefield possesses a dazzling glamour for soldiers, in whose conception of it there is no thought of terror.

Death may further be made to appear pleasant through the operation of religious or political fanaticism. Multitudes of men have exposed themselves to the most terrible dangers of death, and multitudes of others have actually suffered it, full of enthusiasm and joy, for an idea, and have given themselves up to destruction for it. Such feelings acquire frightful intensity when they become epidemic and are propagated through a mass of people.

Such cases present a strange perversion of the instincts of self-preservation, which are ordinarily the firmest and strongest of our feelings—a contradiction to the most general laws of life so complete and distinct as to make a search for an explanation for it very desirable.

The explanation, we believe, may be found in the laws of association. Association is capable of changing the psychological value of any object, of rendering agreeable a thing that is offensive to another or under other circumstances, or an action by which others are annoyed or to which they are indifferent; and can give precious value to a recollection, a thought, or an image which would be repulsive to others. Such associations operate with striking force in cases where the passion of love is concerned. Associations connected with a place where one has lived are agreeable or disagreeable according as one has been happy or not there; and the law may extend to objects and images of all kinds, and even to the merest trifles.

By the same law we may account for these exceptional eliminations of the repulsive character from the thought of death. When it is associated with intense passion, with the anticipation of glory and fame, or when the gratification of animosities is the dominant