this too too solid flesh


“The Receptacle for Suicides”, as Tristman dubs his voguish idea, is a Swiftian institution: utterly outrageous and thoroughly plausible. In offering to make the business of self-destruction both private and classy, Tristman takes it indoors and smothers it with euphemisms, of which “sudden death” was among the most popular in the mid-eighteenth century. It befits a cutting-edge projector to refer, in conclusion, to his would-be clients as “suicides”, a fairly unusual term when The World’s satire was published. The Oxford English Dictionary dates “suicide”, in Tristman’s sense of “One who dies by his own hand”, back to 1732, again in a journalistic context. “Suicide” in the sense of “self-murder” is in use decades earlier, and appears to be Thomas Browne’s coinage. As Kelly McGuire points out in Dying To Be English: Suicide narratives and national identity, 1721–1814, the word has a vexed history. Deploying a pronoun as a prefix in order to describe both an action and a person (a person who is at once victim and perpetrator), it is something of a botched job.

more from Freya Johnston at the TLS here.