Lucien contemplates Suicide:
Little, considering the gravity of the question, has
been written on the subject of suicide; it has not been studied.
Perhaps it is a disease that cannot be observed. Suicide is one
effect of a sentiment which we will call self-esteem, if you will,
to prevent confusion by using the word ‘honour.’ When a man despises
himself, and sees that others despise him, when real life fails to
fulfill his hopes, then comes the moment when he takes his life, and
thereby does homage to society — shorn of his virtues or his
splendour, he does not care to face his fellows. Among atheists —
Christians being without the question of suicide among atheists,
whatever may be said to the contrary, none but a base coward can
take up a dishonoured life.
There are three kinds of suicide — the first is only
the last and acute stage of a long illness, and this kind belongs
distinctly to pathology; the second is the suicide of despair; and
the third the suicide based on logical argument. Despair and
deductive reasoning had brought Lucien to this pass, but both
varieties are curable; it is only the pathological suicide that is
inevitable. Not unfrequently you find all three causes combined, as
in the case of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Lucien having made up his mind, fell into
considering methods. The poet would fain die as became a poet. At
first he thought of throwing himself into the Charente and making an
end then and there; but as he came down the steps from Beaulieu for
the last time, he heard the whole town talking of his suicide; he
saw the horrid sight of a drowned dead body, and thought of the
recognition and the inquest; and, like some other suicides, felt the
vanity reached beyond death.
He remembered the day spent at Courtois’s mill, and
his thoughts returned to the round pool among the willows that he
saw as he came along by the little river, such a pool as you often
find on small streams, with a still, smooth surface that conceals
great depths beneath. The water is neither green or blue nor white
nor tawny; it is like a polished steel mirror. No sword-grass grows
about the margin; there are no blue water forget-me-nots, nor broad
lily leaves; the grass at the brim is short and thick, and the
weeping willows that droop over the edge grow picturesquely enough.
It is easy to imagine a sheer precipice fill with water to the brim.
Any man who should have the courage to fill his pockets with pebbles
would not fail to find death, and never be seen thereafter.
He thought of it now as he went down into L’Houmeau; and when he
took his way towards Marsac, with the last somber thoughts gnawing
at his heart, it was with the firm resolve to hide his death. There
should be no inquest held over him; he would not be laid in earth;
no one should see him in the hideous condition of the corpse that
floats on the surface of the water. Before long he reached one of
the slopes, common enough on all French high roads, and commonest of
all between Angouleme and Poitiers. He saw the coach from Bordeaux
to Paris coming up at full speed behind him, and knew that the
passengers would probably alight to walk up the hill. He did not
care to be seen just then. Turning off sharply into a beaten track,
he began to pick the flowers in a vineyard hard by.