Édouard Manet, The Suicide, 1877–1881

Over the past few months, there have been several heartbreaking reminders of the rise of suicide across this nation, a topic I wrote about in my first “Manners & morals” column in October (“Life on the island”). The most high profile of these suicides was L’Wren Scott’s. The forty-nine-year-old fashion designer was found dead in her New York City apartment, reportedly bought for her by then-boyfriend Mick Jagger.

A week later, the New York City schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, convened a private meeting of principals to discuss the suicide...