The English Malady

In a fascinating review of two recent books on the history of suicide in 18th and 19th century England, Freya Johnston muses on the sources of the nation’s sadness:

Many eighteenth-century writers argue that trade supports human virtue. Yet trade, reliant on slavery, also generates luxury and the kind of enervation associated with melancholy. Poor people conveniently lacked the time and imagination to kindle suicidal thoughts into action; they were too busy working. A truly aristocratic temperament, on the other hand, was inherently proud and self-destructive, doomed to squander its tremendous gifts and resources. One “well born” correspondent summed the position up with exquisite absurdity in The World … in 1756: “I grew to think that there was no living without killing oneself”.