Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Hundred Different Stories Here

Jack Marx, the author of Australian Tragic, has written a blog post about suicides. Being historical suicides, we can read through them without feeling too ghoulish or intrusive. Suicide then or suicide now, the question is the same: why? It might be hypocritical, but the passage of time allows us the opportunity to speculate as much as we want. It is an exercise in imagination, filling the blanks – and there are a lot – with the little what-ifs that we use to flesh out our own characters.

There are a lot of entries that speak of alcoholism, unemployment, broken relationships and hopelessness, but many more that don’t have any easy answers. I was intrigued by the twenty-one year old philosophy student Percival Andrew Taylor, who in 1938 drank cyanide. His suicide note, which ran to two and a half pages, finished with: “I believe there is one thing we shall never know: We shall never know that we are dead.”

I remember philosophy, and being by no means certain that the sun would rise tomorrow. I remember the mind-bending unreality of existentialism. I remember the strange sensations it produced: nausea, of course. I wonder if Percival felt it too. I would like to know what sort of philosophy he studied. Maybe, feeling himself chained in his cave, he got sick of watching the shadow play and turned around to look for the sun.

The one that fascinated me the most was the following. From Jack Marx’s blog:

On the morning of Tuesday the 16th of August, 1831, the wife of respectable businessman Richard Crampton sent a servant to the store in York Street, Sydney to fetch some arsenic, allegedly for the purpose of killing rats. Upon taking receipt of the purchase, she immediately mixed the poison in with flour and milk, swallowed it, and was dead by three o’clock in the afternoon. Mrs. Crampton’s demise was a cause of immediate shock and distress to the surrounding community, for, as the Sydney Gazette reported the next day, she was “an exemplary wife and mother”. However, as the journalist was writing these very words, news arrived of a young policeman, Constable Collins, whose attendance at the scene of Mrs. Crampton’s death had evidently proved too much for him. Upon leaving the scene he had immediately purchased an amount of arsenic from a nearby chemist, mixed it into gin at the local pub and drank it. When the publican, observing something white on his lips, had remarked in jest that she hoped he had not done as Mrs. Clampton had, the constable had replied: “Yes, indeed I have, and shall be a dead man shortly.” Within hours he was.

There’s a story in there that I’d love to discover.   

Read Jack Marx’s blog here.
Buy Australian Tragic here at Fishpond.

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