from Colin Heydt, University of South Florida, September 26, 2015
Charles Gildon’s 1695 apology for the suicide of Charles Blount (a famous 17th century deist) was a very well known (and infamous) piece in this period. An ethics textbook from 1735 lists pro and con positions on suicide: ‘See Thomas Johnson’s (from Cambridge) 1735 Questiones Philosophicae, p.189, question 24: “Suicidium sit licitum?” Under affirmative answers are listed: “Persian Letters. Philosophical Letters concerning Death Alberto Radicati’s A Philosophical Dissertation Upon Death, published in London in 1732. Life of C. Blount.” Under Negative answers: “Adams on Self-Murder. Fleetwood’s Sermons on the Subject. Sherlock on Death, Provid. C. 7 p. 249, 252. Law’s Notes on King, p.456. n. z.”’ There may be a few texts cited here that are of interest, but the “Life of C. Blount” is Gildon’s text. Gildon, by the way, later renounced his defense of suicide and his alliance with Blount and became a re-committed Anglican.
Full work available online through HathiTrust The Miscellaneous Works of Charles Blount, Esq (London?, 1695)
from The Miscellaneous Works of Charles Blount, Esq
To the Honourable and Divine HERMOINE. Giving an account of the Life and Death of the Author.
You being Soveraign of my Heart (HERMOINE) have a Natural Right to all its Treasures, and next to your divine Image nothing is there of greater value, than the memory of my Dead Friend, the only share of whole immortal part, that we can now enjoy, is contain’d in these Papers, the other which is now in Heaven, we can only pursue with Contemplative Wishes, till we come to a nearer enjoyment there. But I send you this Volume on a further score, as the Product of a Generous Soul, and a faithful Lover; the example I fear that the unhappy LINDAMOUR must follow, having less hopes, and as strong motives to Passion.
‘Tis the opinion of some that the first sickness of any violence, carries off those, who have before, for any long time, enjoy’d a perfect health; and I fear those, who for so many years have past through the Conversation of Ladies, with a Heart scarce touch’d with Love, receive it the more fatally at last when once the avenging Darts transfix their Breasts: None but one just so qualified as Hemione, cou’d ever have wounded me; not Beauty, good Humour, Wit, etc. separately cou’d have don’t, and sure they never met but in Hermoine, and Astrea: you have seen the force of their Union in her, and you may justly apprehend it as great in your self.
But, divine Hermoine, this Letter is not design’d, as the conveyance of my Sentiments of you to the World, but to do my friend Justice, and scatter some pious Flowers on his Sacred Monument. You knew the incomparable Mr. Blount, and knew him intimately, and can therefore the better bear witness to those Truths I shall speak of him.
I leave to other Books and other Authors those prefaces that do the Office of the Verger at Westminster, that shews the Tombs, in giving a short Account of the sum and substance of each of their Performances; that method perhaps might be agreeable enough in most of the Trifles of the Age, where a superficial View is more pardonable, than a severer perusal; or where the Author makes amends for the tedious Impertinence of his Book, by giving us the substance of it in the Preface, either by way of Apology, or Abstracts. But the subjects and Compositions of these following Sheets left no room for either of these; their merit took away all occasion of Apology, and the Majesty and Consequence of their Design all pretence to Abstracts. Those that desire to see these Sacred MONUMENTS, must be more nice considerers, than to be satisfy’d without attentive OBSERVATION; they are TRUTHS of too great Importance, to be slightly run over, of too great Beauty, not to hold our Eyes some time on them to take a through Survey of their various Perfections.
I shall therefore say nothing of the several pieces contain’d in this Volume, they are the best Advocates for themselves, and will some force to what I shall venture to say of their Author. I mean not here to write a Panegyric on him, having now neither leisure nor room, only I cannot lose this opportunity of presenting you the Minature of that large Image of him that his Friendship has drawn in my heart.
His Father was Sir HENRY BLOUNT, the Socrates of the Age for his aversion to the reigning Sophisms, and Hypocrisies, Eminent in all Capacities, the best Husband, Father, and Master, extremely agreeable in Conversation, and just in all his dealings.
From such a Father our Hero deriv’d himself, to such a Master ow’d his generous Education, unmixt with the nauseous Methods, and prophane Opinions of the Schools. Nature gave him parts capable of Noble Sciences, and his industrious Studies bore a proportion to his Capacity. He was a generous and content Friend, an Indulgent Father, and a kind Master. His Temper was open and free; his Conversation pleasant; his Reflections just and modest; his Repartees close, not scurrilous; he had a great deal of Wit, and no malice. His Soul was large and noble, above the little designs of most men; an enemy to dissimilation, and never fear’d to own his thoughts. He was a true Englishman, and Lover of the Liberty of his Country, and declar’d it in the worst of times. He was enemy to nothing by Errour, and none were his Enemies, that knew him, but those who sacrific’d more to Mammon, than Reason. He met indeed with false Friends, that fawn’d on him alive, and villify’d him dead, such who think their Wit sufficient to attone for all their Villanies, and make amends for their want of Honesty, for to lessen the Reputations after death of one they profess a friendship for alive, only to keep up a custom of condemning every one, that are incapable of obliging their pockets, is out of the compass of all the Ethics I ever read.
This is an imperfect Summary of his Virtues, which I shall hereafter consider more at large; these made him the darling of his Acquaintance, and the delight of his Friends. But there is no Excellence but has its Emulators and Detractors; and therefore it is no great wonder he has met with his.
He had been bred in a just and adequate notion of the Deity; he had learn’d that God was the first Cause of All Things, was One, and Indivisible, was Goodness itself, Infinite and Uniform in All his Attributes; and held that we have a true and perfect knowledge of what is meant by Goodness, Justice, Mercy, Unity, &c. since else we cou’d never know that God was Good, Just, Merciful, One, &c. This was his Test of all Doctrines, and when he met with such as oppos’d any of these Divine Attributes, or made them oppose one another, he rejected ‘em as false and impious. He not only embrac’d evident Truths in his own mind, but like a sincere Lover of Truth endeavour’d to promote it, to disabuse the deceived, and establish a pious and just Notion of the Eternal Source of the Goodness, Wisdom, Power, Justice, and Mercy. A Noble Task, and worthy his Heroic Spirit. But the Age was too corrupt to suffer his pious Endeavours; Avarice, Pride, Envy, Prejudice and Obstinancy, had the possession of the World, and therefore naturally hated their Opposer. This made them fix (by a contradiction agreeable to their other opinions) the infamy of Atheism, on the most zealous asserter of the Glory, Honour, and Adoration of ONE GOD, and though scarce one of them pretended to Infallibility in their own way, yet were all positively certain he was in the wrong, or at least asserted it with as much Assurance as Ignorance. But all this cou’d not pervert his Thoughts of the Deity, he kept all profane Notions of God at a distance, and prefer’d those writ by the finger of the Almighty Creator in the minds of all mankind, to the Obscure, unintelligible, and impious Doctrines, devis’d by men to serve some turn or particular Faction or Nation.
This Opinion he liv’d in, this he dy’d in; you know, Madam, with what Calmness, with what Resignation he dy’d; not the least pang of guilt; not the least apprehensive fear to bitter his departure, his frequent Meditations on God during his Sickness, and the continu’d Contemplation of him his whole life, had fixt so lovely an Idea of God in his Soul, that he had no terror to launch out into the Ocean of Eternity. He left life like a tempest-beaten Traveller a stormy Voyage, and welcom’d Death, as the kind Pilot, that wou’d certainly conduct him to his wanted peace and quiet, to his Eternal Repose and Tranquility. He had the satisfaction to see her embalm him with her Tears, who was debarr’d by unaccountable custom from making him happy in her embraces.
This leads me to the Vindication of the most questionable Action of his Life, I mean the Cause of his Death. Some condemn the Motive, and others the Action, and I think him justifiable in both: The Reasons of this my opinion, divine Hermione, are these.
Against Suicide the most substantial Argument they bring, is from the first Law of Nature, Self-preservation, imprinted in all mankind, and indeed on every sensible Creature. I answer to this, that no man had a greater Veneration for the Divine Laws of Nature than Mr. BLOUNT, nor did ever any one think ‘em more Sacred, and inviolable; but then he consider’d the real extent of each particular Law; and found that Self-preservation was not so general a Precept, but it met with various limitations and exceptions; he found that to adhere inviolably to it, wou’d only be the destruction of all the other Moral Laws. For if Self-preservation were in all things, all times and Conjunctures, chiefly if not wholly to be regarded, there wou’d be no room left for Honour, Virtue, or indeed for Honesty, no regard to public Good, and that noted Maxim of the Natural Law, That the Public Good is to be preferr’d to any particular, had been wholly abolish’d; for it might, nay had, and daily does happen, that the preservation of Particulars opposes the Public Weal. Then Codrus, Decius, and the rest of the Hero’s of Antiquity must lose those Reverend Honours so many Ages have paid ‘em for preferring the Public Good before Self-preservation. Mutius Scavola, and Marcus Regulus, must both be damn’d for the breach of the Soveraign Law of Nature, one for the preservation and delivery of his Country, the other for the preservation and honour of his word. Nay were this so, all the bravest Actions of War in all Ages are criminal and ignominious, for none of them are to be done without a more than ordinary hazard of the Darers. ‘Tis evident therefore that the Rule of Self-preservation is not so general, and comprehensive, but that there are some Exceptions. But this being granted, as it can’t be deny’d, it follows that our Opposers limit the number of those Exceptions, and let us know how far they reach, and when we transgress them; but if they give themselves leave to consider, they will find it amount to this, that every man is sui Juris, that is Judge, or rather disposer of himself; ‘tis one of the Regalia of Free-will, and will always be thought good, and eligible, when any man comes in the circumference of exerting it. But to the reason of the thing. –All the Laws of Nature are founded in Reason, there is an evident Cause why ‘tis so and so, this we must examine into, and that will shew us how far we are oblig’d by Self-preservation. The force of this Law is in the Design of the Creator, and the good of the Creature. Now ‘tis evident, that the Creator made mankind with a design of his Preservation, that he shou’d live a certain time here, and leave a succeeding Race to future Ages, which cou’d not be done, if there were no Principle of Self-preservation ingrafted in us, for then the moment Man had been made, he had perish’d; but the design of the Almight being that men shou’d have a short Duration here, ‘twas necessary, such a Principle shou’d be fixt in ‘em. But to the effect this (according to the order of the Creation) in a free Agent, ‘twas necessary it shou’d afford and offer some certain or Apparent Good to the Judgment, which shou’d influence the Will to receive it. But Life being the Mother of all Goods that we are capable of judging of, (without which we cou’d indeed know none) the Judgment and Will, desire its Continuance, because without it, the Mind cannot possess those other Objects it esteems Goods. So that the first Principle of Self-preservation is founded on the Good that the Judgment observes in Life, for the Will is necessarily born to what the Judgment esteems Good, that is in the choice betwixt evident Good, and evident evil, but in the choice of two Goods, it often takes the Apparent Good for the Real, so that when Life ceases to be or appear to be a Good, the Principle of Self-preservation ceases to be of force, for ‘tis not consistent with our Nature to desire the continuance of what appears to us an Evil. But when my Friend, possess’d with the justest and most violent of Passions, found no hopes of obtaining, and in the midst of Despair found Life would be but a perpetual Evil, without Astrea, he did but according to the precepts of Nature and Reason, in doing what he did, and by consequence did nothing unworthy of a Philosopher, that is as to the Action.
I know Cicero brings a Simile for an Argument against this point: A Centinel, says he, that is plac’d in his Station, ought not to leave it till reliev’d by his Commander that plac’d him there. But first a Simile is no Proof, especially when there is no parallel in the cases, as there is not betwixt a Centinel at his Post, and a Man in this Life; for first the Soldier (at least in free Countries) is not forc’d to that Station without his consent, he know before he lists himself the Conditions of a Soldier’s Life, and then submits himself to those Conditions, a very substantial Reason, why he should stay till relieved at his Post. But what Man had his free choice, or indeed, could have, whether he would be or not be, before he was? Then 2dly, what will they agree is a relieving us from the Post of Life? Nothing but dying on a Bed? ‘Tis evident from every days experience, that there are infinite other Accidents that carry off Mankind of all Ages, Degrees, and Sexes, whether they will or no. Nay ‘tis evident from the Consent of all mankind that there are several ways lawful to seek death in. Who ever though a Foot-Soldier, that ventures his Life in Battles &c. ever abandon’d the Law of Self-preservation, tho’ he quit his Security, for a Groat a day, without any other Motive? Do not Superfluities make the Merchant and Seamen venture through a thousand hazards of Life? And I never yet heard them accus’d of a breach of this Law of Nature, so that there are some Motives lawful to hasten our deaths; and I think there is none so reasonable as the easing ourselves of an unavoidable pain, for since Life is only eligible for the Good it brings, ‘tis to be rejected when it offers nothing but Evil.
There remains one Objection more against Suicide, and that is the Good of the Creature, I mean of the public, which consists of each particular, and if every man be sui juris, the disposer of his own person, it must endanger the whole, which is nothing but a composition of its parts? First ‘tis not to be suppos’d that this Café will reach the Many, for they judge of Goods in a grosser manner, and will scarce ever want enough to make them think Life such. But 2dly, ‘tis evident from the practice of all Nations, that every man is the disposer of his own person, for no body yet denied but a man that’s born in one Country might transplant himself to another; and become a Natural free Denizen of a strange and foreign Land. Next ‘tis the Right of every free-born man (and all men are by natural right free) to choose what place he pleases to live in. Consent is suppos’d to make all Governments, and when the Cause and Condition of that Consent alters or ceases, every man is free to do what he pleases. Nor can any man or people oblige their Posterity by their Consent, for all Men have the same freedom and power of giving or denying their Consent to any Governments, as the first Composers had, though by their Living under such and such a Government they imply their Consent to their forefathers Agreement, or by leaving it shew their dissent, and this is a right founded in Nature. Now if I can leave any one particular Body Politick, I have the same right to leave another, an so on through all those of the World, and then by consequence I offend not, if by my death I take my self away from all. For every man is in this, what Almanzor tell Boabdelin,
I my self am King of Me.
Thus, Divine Hermione, we see the Action of Killing ones self is far from Criminal. I shall now pass to the particular Motive, that is Love.
I know there are a sort of men in the World, who profess a singular aversion to, and a contempt of this generous Passion; Fools and Sots are the mildest terms they can afford to those, who submit to its Rule, and nothing can pacifie their indignation against ‘em. But these are a people you may observe who are either past the power of giving an ill example themselves, and therefore rail at all others that follow the wife Dictates of Nature, as perverters of the Dignity of Mankind, and Rebells to Reason; or else they are a kind of sowre fac’d Hypocrites, Devils with the Vizors of Gravity and Sanctity, secret Debauchees, and publick Stoics; Men and Women of no principle of Morality, Justice, and Honour, and only formal Devotees to the airy part of Religion, espousing the name against the thing; or else they are Cast Mistresses, Bubl’d Cullies, Notorious Cuckolds, debilitated Stallions, Catamites, and the rest of the nasty Refuse and Scum of mankind, whom Age, Folly and Vices have render’d incapable of relishing the serener and purer Delicacies Nature has prepar’d for more refined spirits. We have besides a sort of Gentlemen who urge that ‘tis not the part of a Philosopher to be subject to his Passions. But these are men who seldom consider so much as to know the nature of man, or remember that none but the Stoicks ever pretended to a blockish stupidity, and insensibility of things, which is the effect of nothing but a sullen pride; and those that have acted most according to that Doctrine, have only discover’d that they chose rather to be Slaves to the Tyranny of Pride, than Subjects to the just Government of Love, and the other Natural Passions. Aulus Gellius gives an account of Epictetus, which favours more of the slavish condition he was in, than of a mind full of Elevation, and the precepts of wisdom; for to bear an evil that may be avoided is the effect of a low and narrow soul, not of a Philosopher, or Lover of Wisdom. He considers Nature as she is a Wife Author of all her Works, that does nothing in vain; and finding that in man she ahs plac’d the Passions, as the Instruments or Vehicles of Pleasure, sees bu the effect they were not plac’d in the Soul to no purpose; for that wou’d be contrary to the Wisdom of Nature, who has given no superfluous piece of matter through the whole Mechanism of the Body, much less to the Mind. The Passions therefore were given to be us’d. But Reason say they, is set over them for their moderation and direction. Reason I grant is the first Director and Judge of the motives of the Passions, of which Love and Hate are Parents; Love is employ’d on Good, and Hate on Evil; and when Reason has examin’d the Object, to consider whether is be Good, or Evil, Pleasant, or Painful, it has done its office, and leave the Passions to exert their force, sets ‘em no bounds for a Good cannot be lov’d too much, nor an Evil hated more than it deserved. ‘Tis true, Reason does not always thoroughly consider the Object, and that makes the Passion more weak, and of shorter continuance. Thus the Loves of young men are generally grounded on the first apparent Good, BEAUTY; and therefore cease when they have either possess’d it, or find that Beauty lost in folly, Coquettry, prostitution, &c. But when a man of maturer years considers the Object of Love; though Beauty may give the first motion, yet Wit, Prudence, Honour, Vertue, Good Humour, and several other Qualifications must meet to give it a Rational, that is, a lasting Ground; and when such an Object is found, Reason can no longer doubt but ‘tis a Good to be Loved, and here instead of lessning the Passion she strengthens it, ‘till ‘tis fix’d beyond her power to control, especially when besides this there is no reasonable difficulty to oppose this happiness. So that we find that such a Lover may be a Philosopher, that is a Lover of Wisdom, and obedient to her Laws; and such a Lover was Mr. Blount, furnish’d with such an Object to move his desires, and such Reasons to confirm ‘em. You know Astrea, Divine Hermione, and have an exact Friendship with her, you can attest her Beauty, Wit, Honour, Virtue, Good humour, and Discretion to a fault, you have been acquainted with the Charms of her Conversation and Conduct, and condemn only her adhering to a Notional Custom, to the loss of so generous a Friend, and so faithful a Lover. But Custom and Obedience meeting the more easily betray’d her Virtue into a crime. I know my Friend lov’d her to his last breath, and I know therefore that all that love his Memory must for his fake value her, as being a Lady of that merit, that engag’d the Reason of Philander to so violent a Passion for her.
This is enough to shew that it was a real Good he desir’d, and that the loss of it render’d his Life a burden, and by consequence that he might rationally and justly put an end to what he experimentally found an Evil. Nor did he in this otherwise than Cato, or Brutus and Cassius, Men whose Lives and Deaths the unanimous consent of so many Years and Nations have consecrated. If we examin into the motives of their death we shall find it Pride, though I confess a generous Pride. Cato could not bear to receive his Life at the hands of Caesar, and chose rather to fall with the first shock of the falling Liberty of Rome, than by the favour of a generous Enemy, wait an opportunity of Restoring Rome to her Liberty again. The same may be said of Brutus and Cassius, though with some advantage, since they had seen the small effect of their Noble attempts for the freedom of their Country, and that in the place of one Tyrant destoy’d three rose up. But Cato’s death was his greatness of heart, that he could not endure to live by the bounty of his Enemy. But I think none will doubt but Love the Queen of Passions is a more noble motive than Disdain.
But supposing all I have alledg’d insufficient with the byass’d adversaries of this Great Man, yet they must not therefore rob him of his Virtue, or Wisdom, since they let not the base Murder and Adultery of David, his Numbring of the People, and other Transgressions, deprive him of the Character of being a Man according to God’s own heart, nor the Idolatry that Solomon fell into for the sake of his Egyptian Ladies, cancel his Title of the Wisest of Men.
This is all I shall say on this Point, at this time, I shall only add a Caution to some Gentlemen (who have a peculiar faculty of Coining God’s Judgments in their own Mint) that they are a little more wary in calling any particular manner of death a Judgment, since that consisting wholly in Custom and Opinion, they will bring their own Diana’s into a worse Predicament, since not only untimely (I speak after their Nonsensical Cant) but ignominious Deaths have attended them, they will allow the Supporters of their Doctrines. But more of this elsewhere.
Thus, Hermione, I have given you my hasty Sentiments of the man I lov’d best of any, and who I think the best deserved it, and presented you with an Example not to be too severely rigorous to him that loves as I do, without hope; and have given some substantial Reasons (at least I think so) for my imitating Philander, when Life appears to me an Evil, as it soon will, if you take away from me that Esteem (for I never presum’d to hope for Love) I flatter’d my self Hermione had for her.