Fifteen Years in Hell
by Luther Benson
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Early shadows—An unmerciful enemy—The miseries of the curse—Sorrow and gloom—What alcohol robs man of—What it does—What it does not do—Surrounding evils—Blighted homes—A Titan devil—The utterness of the destroyer—A truthful narrative—"It stingeth like an adder."


Birth, parentage and early education—Early childhood—Early events—Memory of them vivid—Bitter desolation—An active but uneasy life—Breaking colts for amusement—Amount of sleep—Temperament has much to do in the matter of drink—The author to blame for his misspent life—Inheritances—The excellences of my father and mother—The road to ruin not wilfully trodden—The people's indifference to a great danger—My associates—What became of them—The customs of twenty years ago—What might have been.


The old log school house—My studies and discontent—My first drink of liquor—The companion of my first debauch—One drink always fatal—A horrible slavery—A horseback ride on Sunday—Raleigh—Return home—"Dead drunk"—My parents' shame and sorrow—My own remorse—An unhappy and silent breakfast—The anguish of my mother—Gradual recovery—Resolves and promises—No pleasure in drinking—The system's final craving for liquor—The hopelessness of the drunkard's condition—The resistless power of appetite—Possible escape—The courage required—The three laws—Their violation and man's atonement.


School days at Fairview—My first public outbreak—A schoolmate—Drive to Falmouth—First drink at Falmouth—Disappointment—Drive to Smelser's Mills—Hostetter's Bitters—The author's opinion of patent medicines, bitters especially—Boasting—More liquor—Difficulty in lighting a cigar—A hound that got in bad company—Oysters at Falmouth, and what befell us while waiting for them—Drunken slumber—A hound in a crib—Getting awake—The owner of the hound—Sobriety—The Vienna jug—Another debauch—The exhibition—The end of the school term—Starting to college at Cincinnati—My companions—The destruction wrought by alcohol—Dr. Johnson's declaration concerning the indulgence of this vice—A warning—A dangerous fallacy—Byron's inspiration—Lord Brougham—Sheridan—Sue—Swinburne—Dr. Carpenter's opinion—An erroneous idea—Temperance the best aid to thought.


Quit college—Shattered nerves—Summer and autumn days—Improvement—Picnic parties—A fall—An untimely storm—Crawford's beer and ale—Beer brawls—County fairs and their influence on my life—My yoke of white oxen—The "red ribbon"—"One McPhillipps"—How I got home and how I found myself in the morning—My mother's agony—A day of teaching under difficulties—Quiet again—Law studies at Connersville—"Out on a spree"—What a spree means.


Law practice at Rushville—Bright prospects—The blight—From bad to worse—My mother's death—My solemn promise to her—"Broken, oh, God!"—Reflection—My remorse—The memory of my mother—A young man's duty—Blessed are the pure in heart—The grave—Young man, murder not your mother—Rum—A knife which is never red with blood, but which has severed souls and stabbed thousands to death—The desolation and death which are in alcohol.


Blank, black night—Afloat—From place to place—No rest—Struggles—Giving way—One gallon of whisky in twenty-four hours—Plowing corn—Husking corn—My object—All in vain—Old before my time—A wild, oblivious journey—Delirium tremens—The horrors of hell—The pains of the damned—Heavenly hosts—My release—New tortures—Insane wanderings—In the woods—At Mr. Hinchman's—Frozen feet—Drive to town in a buggy surrounded by devils—Fears and sorrows—No rest.


Wretchedness and degradation—Clothes, credit, and reputation all lost—The prodigal's return to his father's house—Familiar scenes—The beauty of nature—My lack of feeling—A wild horse—I ride him to Raleigh and get drunk—A mixture of vile poison—My ride and fall—The broken stirrups—My father's search—I get home once more—Depart the same day on the wild horse—A week at Lewisville—Sick—Yearnings for sympathy.


The ever-recurring spell—Writing in the sand—Hartford City—In the Ditch—Extricated—Fairly started—A telegram—My brother's death—Sober—A long night—Ride home—Palpitation of the heart—Bluffton—The inevitable—Delirium again—No friends, money, nor clothes—One hundred miles from home—I take a walk—Clinton county—Engage to teach a school—The lobbies of hell—Arrested—Flight to the country—Open school—A failure—Return home—The beginning of a terrible experience—Two months of uninterrupted drinking—Coatless, hatless, and, bootless—The "Blue Goose"—The tremens—Inflammatory rheumatism—The torments of the damned—Walking on crutches—Drive to Rushville—Another drunk—Pawn my clothes—At Indianapolis—A cold bath—The consequence—Teaching school—Satisfaction given—The kindness of Daniel Baker and his wife—A paying practice at law.


The "Baxter Law"—Its injustice—Appetite is not controlled by legislation—Indictments—What they amount to—"Not guilty"—The Indianapolis police—The Rushville grand jury—Start home afoot—Fear—The coming head-light—A desire to end my miserable existence—"Now is the time"—A struggle in which life wins—Flight across the fields—Bathing in dew—Hiding from the officers—My condition—Prayer—My unimaginable sufferings—Advised to lecture—The time I began to lecture.


My first lecture—A cold and disagreeable evening—A fair audience—My success—Lecture at Fairview—The people turn out en masse—At Rushville—Dread of appearing before the audience—Hesitation—I go on the stage and am greeted with applause—My fright—I throw off my father's old coat and stand forth—Begin to speak, and soon warm to my subject—I make a lecture tour—Four hundred and seventy lectures in Indiana—Attitude of the press—The aid of the good—Opposition and falsehood—Unkind criticism—Tattle mongers—Ten months of sobriety—My fall—Attempt to commit suicide—Inflict an ugly but not dangerous wound on myself—Ask the sheriff to lock me in the jail—Renewed effort—The campaign of '74—"Local option."


Struggle for life—A cry of warning—"Why don't you quit?"—Solitude, separation, banishment—No quarter asked—The rumseller—A risk no man should incur—The woman's temperance convention at Indianapolis—At Richmond—The bloated druggist—"Death and damnation"—At the Galt House—The three distinct properties of alcohol—Ten days in Cincinnati—The delirium tremens—My horrible sufferings—The stick that turned to a serpent—A world of devils—Flying in dread—I go to Connersville, Indiana—My condition grows worse—Hell, horrors, and torments—The horrid sights of a drunkard's madness.


Recovery—Trip to Maine—Lecturing in that State—Dr. Reynolds, the "Dare to do right" reformer—Return to Indianapolis—Lecturing—Newspaper extracts—The criticisms of the press—Private letters of encouragement— Friends dear to memory—Sacred names.


At home again—Overwork—Shattered nerves—Downward to hell—Conceive the idea of traveling with some one—Leave Indianapolis on a third tour east in company with Gen. Macauley—Separate from him at Buffalo—I go on to New York alone—Trading clothes for whisky—Delirious wanderings—Jersey City—In the calaboose—Deathly sick—An insane neighbor—Another—In court—"John Dalton"—"Here! your honor"—Discharged—Boston—Drunk—At the residence of Junius Brutus Booth—Lecturing again—Home—Converted—Go to Boston—Attend the Moody and Sankey meetings—Get drunk—Home once more—Committed to the asylum—Reflections—The shadow which whispered "Go away!"


A sleepless night—Try to write on the following day but fail—My friends consult with the officers of the institution—I am discharged—Go to Indianapolis and get drunk—My wanderings and horrible sufferings— Alcohol—The tyrant whom all should slay—What is lost by the drunkard—Is anything gained by the use of liquor?—Never touch it in any form—It leads to ruin and death—Better blow your brains out—My condition at present—The end.


The days of long prefaces are past. It is also too near the end of the century to indulge in fulsome dedications. I shall, therefore, trouble the reader with only a brief introduction to this imperfect history of an imperfect life. The conditions under which I write necessarily make it lacking in much that would ordinarily have added to its interest. I write within the Indiana Asylum for the Insane; I have not the means of information at hand which I should have to make the work what it should be, and notes which I had taken from time to time, with a view of using them, have unfortunately been lost. Much of my life is a complete blank to me, as I have often, very often, alas! gone for days oblivious to every act and thing, as dead to all about me as the stones of the pavement are dumb. Nor can I connect a succession of incidents one after the other as they occurred in the regular course of my life. The reader is asked to be merciful in his judgment and pardon the imperfections which I fear abound in the book. The title, "FIFTEEN YEARS IN HELL," may, to some, seem irreverent or profane, but let me assure any such that it is the mildest I can find which conveys an idea of the facts. Expect nothing ornate or romantic. The path along which you who walk with me will go is not a flowery one. Its shadows are those of the cypress and yew; its skies are curtained with funereal clouds; its beginning is a gloom and its end is a mad house. But go with me, for you can suffer no harm, and a knowledge of what you will see may lead you to warn others who are in danger of doing as I have done. Unless help comes to me from on high, I feel that I am near the end of my weary and sorrow-laden pilgrimage on earth. You who are in the light, I speak to you from the shadow; you who suffer, I speak to you from the depths; you who are dying, perhaps I may speak to you from the world of the dead; in any case the words herein written are the truth.


Early shadows—An unmerciful enemy—The miseries of the curse—Sorrow and gloom—What alcohol robs man of—What it does—What it does not do—Surrounding evils—Blighted homes—A Titan devil—The utterness of the destroyer—A truthful narrative—"It stingeth like an adder."

Truth, said Lord Byron, is stranger than fiction. He was right, for so it is. Another has declared that if any man should write a faithful history of his own career, the work would be an interesting one. The question now arises, does any man dare to be sufficiently candid to write such a work? Is there no secret baseness he would hide?—no act which, proper to be told, he would swerve from the truth to tell in his own favor? Undoubtedly, many. Doubtless it is well that few have the resolution or inclination to chronicle their faults and failings. How many, too, would shrink from making a public display of their miserable experiences for fear of being accused of glorying in their past shame, or of parading a pride that apes humility. I pretend to no talent, but if a too true story of suffering may interest, and at the same time alarm, I can promise matter enough, and unembellished, too, for no embellishment is needed, as all my sketches are from the life. The incidents will not be found to be consecutive, but set down as certain scenes occur to my recollection—heedless of order, style, or system. Each is a record of shame, suffering, destitution and disgrace. I have all my life stood without and gazed longingly through gateways which relentlessly barred me from the light and warmth and glory, which, though never for me, was shining beyond. From the day that consciousness came to me in this world I have been miserable. In early childhood I swam, as it were, in a dark sea of sorrow whose sad waves forever beat over me with a prophetic wail of desolations and storms to come. During the years of boyhood, when others were thoughtless and full of joy, the sun's rays were hidden from my sight and I groped hopelessly forward, praying in vain for an end of misery. Out of such a boyhood there came—as what else could come?—a manhood all imperfect, clothed with gloom, haunted by horror, and familiar with undefinable terrors which have weighed upon my heart until I have cried to myself that it would break—until I have almost prayed that it would break and thereby free me from the bondage of my pitiless master, Woe! To-day walled within a prison for madmen, looking from a window whose grating is iron, the sole occupant of a room as blank as the leaf of happiness is to me, I abandon every hope. On this side the silence which we call death—that silence which inhabits the dismal grave, there is for me only sorrow and agony keener than has ever before made gray and old before its time the heart of man. Thirty years! and what are they?—what have they been? Patience, and as best I can, I will unfold their record. Thirty years! and I feel that the weight of a world's wretchedness has lain upon me for thrice their number of terrible days! Every effort of my life has been a failure. Surely and steadily the hand of misfortune has crushed me until I have looked forward to my bier as a blessed bed of repose—rest from weariness—forgetfulness of remorse—escape from misery. At the dawn of life, ay, in its very beginning, there came to me a bitter, deadly, unmerciful enemy, accompanied in those days by song and laughter—an enemy that was swift in getting me in his power, and who, when I was once securely his victim, turned all laughter into wailing, and all songs into sobbing, and pressed to my bloated lips his poisonous chalice which I have ever found full of the stinging adders of hell and death. Too well do I know what it is to feel the burning and jagged links of the devil's chain cutting through my quivering flesh to the shrinking bone—to feel my nerves tremble with agony, and my brain burn as if bathed in liquids of fire—too well, I say, do I know what these things are, for I have felt them intensified again and again, ten thousand times. The infinite God alone knows the deep abyss of my sorrow, and help, if help be possible, can come from him alone.

I shall not attempt in these pages any learned disquisition upon the nature of alcohol—its hideous effects on the system—how it disarranges all the functions of the body—how it impairs health—blots out memory, dethrones reason, and destroys the very soul itself—how it gives to the whole body an unnatural and unhealthy action, crucifying the flesh, blood, bones and marrow—how it paints hell in the mind and torture on the heart, and strangles hope with despair.

Nor shall I discuss the terrible and overshadowing evils, financial and social, inflicted by it on every class of society. Like the trail of the serpent it is over all. Look where you will, turn where you may, you can not be blind to its evils. It despoils manhood of all that makes manhood desirable; it plucks hope from the breast of the weeping wife with a hand of ice; it robs the orphan of his bread crumb, and says to the gates of penitentiaries, "Open wide and often to the criminals who became my slaves before they committed crime." The evils of which I speak are not unknown to you, but have you considered them as things real? Have you fought them as present and near dangers? You have heard the wild sounds of drunken revelry mingling with the night winds; you have heard the shrieks and sobs, and seen the streaming, sunken eyes of dying women; you have heard the unprotected and unfriended orphans' cry echoed from a thousand blighted homes and squalid tenements; you have seen the outcast family of the inebriate wandering houseless upon the highways, or shivering on the streets; you have shuddered at the sound of the maniac's scream upon the burdened air; you have beheld the human form divine despoiled of every humanizing attribute, transformed from an angel into a devil; you have seen virtue crushed by vice; the bright eye lose its lustre, the lips their power of articulation; you have seen what was clean become foul, what was upright become crooked, what was high become low—man, first in the order of created things, sunken to a level with brute beasts; and after all these you have or may have said to yourself, "All this is the work of the terrible demon, alcohol."

I shall not attempt to paint any of the countless scenes of degradation, and horror, and misery, which this demon has caused to be enacted. I shall leave without comment the endless train of crimes and vices, the beggary and devastation following the course of this foul Titan devil of ruin and damnation. I shall only endeavor to give a plain, truthful history of one who has felt every pang, every sorrow, every agony, every shame, every remorse, that the demon of drunkenness can inflict. I have nothing to thank this demon for, beyond a few fleeting—oh, how fleeting—hours of false delight. He has wrought only woe and loss to me. Even now, as I sit here in the stillness of desperation, afraid of I know not what, trembling with a strange dread of some impending doom, gazing in fright backward along the shores of the years whereon I see the wrecks of a thousand hopes, the destruction of every noble aspiration, the ruin of every noble resolve, I cry aloud against the utterness of the destroyer. My life has indeed been a sad one; so sad, so lonely, that no language in my power of utterance can give to the reader a full conception of its moonless darkness. Would that the magic pen of a De Quincey were mine that my miseries might stand out until strong-hearted men and true-hearted women would weep, and every young man and maiden also would tremble and turn from everything intoxicating as from the oblivion of eternal death.

To many, certain events which I shall relate in this history may seem incredible; some of the escapes may seem improbable; but again let me assure you that there shall not be one word of exaggeration. The incidents took place just as I shall state them. I have passed through not only all that you will find recorded in these pages, but ten thousand times more. As I lift the dark veil and look back through the black, unlighted past, I shudder and hold my breath as scene after scene, each more appalling than the one just before it, rises like the phantom line of Banquo's issue, defining itself with pitiless distinctness upon my seared eyeballs, until the last and most awful of all stands tall and black by my side, and whispers, hisses, shrieks Madness in my ears. I bow my head and find a moment's relief from the anguish of soul in the hot scalding tears which stream down my fevered cheeks. O God of sure mercy, save other young men from the dark and desolate tortures which gnaw at my heart, and press down upon my weary soul! They are all, all, all the work of alcohol. Oh, how true it is—how true few can understand until their lives are a burden of distress and agony to them—that the cup which inebriates stingeth like an adder. When you see it, turn from it as from a viper. Say to yourself as you turn to fly, "It stingeth like an adder!"


Birth, parentage, and early education—Early childhood—Early events—Memory of them vivid—Bitter desolation—An active but uneasy life—Breaking colts for amusement—Amount of sleep—Temperament has much to do in the matter of drink—The author to blame for his misspent life—Inheritances—The excellences of my father and mother—The road to ruin not wilfully trodden—The people's indifference to a great danger—My associates—What became of them—The customs of twenty years ago—What might have been.

As to my birth, parentage and education, I am the last but one of a family of nine children, seven of whom were boys, and all of whom, excepting one brother, are now living. Both brothers and sisters are, without an exception, sober, industrious and honest. I was born in Rush county, Indiana, on the 9th day of September, 1847.

If there is one spot in all the black waste of desolation about which I cling with fond memory it is in my early childhood, and there is no part of my life that is so fresh and vivid as that embraced in those first early years. I can remember distinctly events which transpired when I was but two years old, while I have forgotten thousands of incidents which have occurred within the past two years. While it is true that in early childhood a dark shadow fell athwart my pathway, making everything sombre and painful with an impression of desolation, yet was my condition happy in comparison with the rayless and pitchy blackness which subsequently folded its curtains close about my very being, seeming to make respiration impossible at times and life a nightmare of mockery. Seeming, do I say? Nay, it did, for nothing can be more real than our feelings, no matter how falsely they may be created. The agony of a dream is as keen while it lasts as any other—more so, because there is a helplessness about it which makes it harder to resist.

Many times, lying in my bed after a disgraceful debauch of days' or weeks' duration, has my memory winged its way through the realms of darkness in the mournful and lonesome past, back through years of horror and suffering to the green and holy morning of life, as it at this moment seems to me, and rested for an instant on some quiet hour in that dawn which broke tempestuously, heralding the storms which would later gather and break about me. At such times I could distinctly remember the names and features of all the persons who dwelt in the vicinity of my father's house, although many of them died long ago or passed away from the neighborhood. I could at this time repeat word for word conversations which took place twenty-five years ago. I do not so much attribute this to a retentive memory as to the habit I have had of thinking, when my mind was in a condition to think, of all that was a part of my early life. Again and again, as the years gather up around me, and the valley of life deepens its shadows toward the tomb, do I go back in memory to the days that were. Again and again do I awaken to the beauty, the love, the faces and friends of those days. They are all dear and sacred to me now, though I know they can come no more, and that the hollow spaces of time between the Here and There—the Now and Then—will reverberate forever with the echoes of many-voiced sorrows. Could those who meet me look down into the depths of my ghastly and bitter desolation, they would behold more appalling pictures of human agony than ever mortal eye gazed upon since the opening of the day of time—since the roses of Eden first bloomed and knew not the blight so soon to darken the earthly paradise by the rivers of the east. But I wander from my subject.

I lived and worked on my father's farm until I was eighteen years of age. As I have already said, even when a child I found myself sad and much depressed at times. I could not bear the society of my companions, and at such times would wander away alone to meditate and brood over my misery. At the very threshold of life I was dissatisfied and discontented with my surroundings. I was ever anxious and uneasy, ever longing for some undefinable, unnamable something—I knew not what, but, O God, I knew the desolation of feeling which was then mine. The sorrow of the grave is lighter than that. My life has always been an active one—restless, uneasy, and full of action, I naturally wanted to be doing something or going somewhere. From the time I was seven years old up to the time I was fifteen there was not a calf or colt on the farm that was not thoroughly broken to work or to be ridden. In this work or pastime of breaking in calves and colts I received sundry kicks, wounds, and bruises quite often, and still upon my person are some of the marks imprinted by untamed animals. I only speak of these things that the reader may know the character of my temperament, and thus be enabled to judge more correctly of it when influenced and excited by stimulants which will arouse to rash actions the dullest organizations. I was invariably the last one to go to bed when night came, but not the last to rise, for I always bounded out of bed ahead of the others; and in this connection I can assert with truth that for over twenty years I have not averaged over five hours of sleep out of every twenty-four during that time. I have never found in all nature one object or occupation that gave me more than a swiftly passing gleam of contentment or pleasure. That the reader may clearly comprehend my present condition and impartially judge as to my culpability in certain of my acts, I desire that he may know the circumstances and surroundings of my childhood, for I do solemnly aver that my sorrows and miseries were not of my own planting in those days. While I believe that some men will be drunkards in spite of almost everything that can be done for their relief, others there are, no matter how surrounded, who never will be drunkards, but solely because they abstain from ever tasting the insidious poison. Temperament has much to do with the matter of drink, and could it be known and properly guarded against, I believe that a majority of those having the strongest predisposition to drink, if steps were taken in time, could be saved from its inevitable end, which is madness and death. I would here say to parents that it is their solemn duty to study well the disposition and temperament of their children from the hour of their birth. By proper training and restraint, all wrong impulses might be corrected and the child saved from a life of shameful misery, while they would themselves escape the sorrow which would come to them because of the wrong-doing of the child. While no person is particularly to blame for my misspent life, yet I can clearly see to-day how its worse than wasted years might have been years of use and honor. Its every step might have been planted with actions the memory of which would have been a blessing instead of a remorse.

I have no recollection of a time when I had not an appetite for liquor. My parents and friends of course knew that if it was taken in excess it would lead to destruction, but in our quiet neighborhood, where little was known of its excesses, no one dreamed of the fearful curse which slumbered in it for me to awake. Had they had the least dread, fear, or anticipation of it they would have left nothing undone that being done might have saved me. My appetite for it was born with me, and was as much a part of myself as the air I breathed. There are three kinds of inheritances, some of money and lands, some of superior or great talents, and others of misfortunes. For myself this misfortune was my inheritance. It came not to me directly from my father or mother, but from my mother's father, and seemed to lie waiting for me for three or four generations, and the mistakes and passion of long dead great grandparents reappeared in me, thus fulfilling, with terrible truth, the words of the divine book. It has been gathering strength until when it broke forth its force has become wide-sweeping, irresistible and rushing—a consuming power, devouring and sweeping away whatever dares to arrest its onward progress. Never, never, in those long gone and innocent years of my childhood did my father or mother dream that I, their much-loved child, would ever become a drunkard. If there is anything good, manly, noble or true, that is a part of me, I am indebted to them for it. They loved me, and I worshiped them. The consciousness that I have caused them to suffer so much has been the keenest sorrow of my life. My mother (blessed be the name!) is now in heaven. When she died the light went out from my soul. A pang more poignant than any known before pierced me through and through. My father is living still, and I verily believe there is not a son on earth who more truly and devotedly honors and loves his father than I mine. But I desire to show that I am not wholly responsible for my present unhappy condition. It is natural for every man to wish to excuse, or at least try to soften the lines of his mistakes with palliating reasons, and this I think right so long as the truth is adhered to, and injustice is not done any one. I hope no one will think that I have willfully trod the road to ruin, or sunk myself so low when I have desired the opposite with my whole heart. I was a victim of the fell spirit of alcohol before I realized it. I was raised in a place where opportunities to drink were numerous, as everybody in those days kept liquor, and to drink was not the dangerous and disgraceful thing it's now considered to be. For a radius often miles from our house more people kept whisky in their cupboards or cellars than were without it. I never heard a temperance lecturer until I was twenty years of age, and but seldom heard of one. The people were asleep while a great danger was gathering in the land—a danger which is now known and seen, and which is so vast in its magnitude that the combined strength of all who love peace, order, sobriety and happiness, is scarcely sufficient to meet it in victorious combat.

What associates I had in those days were among men rather than boys, and the men I went with drank. They gave whisky to me and I drank it, and whether they gave it or not, I wanted it. Some of those who gave me drinks are no longer among the living, but neither of them nor of the living would I speak unkindly, nor call up in the memory of one who may read this book a thought that might excite a pang; but I would ask any such just to go back ten, fifteen, and twenty years, and tell me where, are some of the wealthy, influential men of that time? In the silence of the winding-sheet! How many of them have hastened to death through the agency of whisky? And how few suspected that slowly but surely they were poisoning the wellsprings of life? How many are bankrupts now that might yet be in possession of unincumbered farms, the possessors of peaceful homes, but for that thief accursed—Liquor! Look, too, at some of the sons of these men, and say what you see, for you behold lives wrecked and wretched. Need I tell you what has wrought all this ruin? Need I say that intemperance is at the bottom of it?

The country where I lived in youth and boyhood was equal, if not superior, to any surrounding it. My father's neighbors were all kind-hearted, generous people, and some of them—many of them, indeed—were good Christians, and yet I repeat that twenty years ago there was not a place of a mile in extent but presented the opportunity for drinking. In every little town and village whisky was kept in public and private houses. There was, and yet is, near my father's farm two very small but ancient towns, containing each some twenty or thirty houses, and both of these places have been cursed with saloons in which liquor has been sold for the last thirty years. Both of these towns were favorite resorts with me, especially the one called Raleigh. I have been drunk oftener and longer at a time in Raleigh than in any one place in Indiana. I have written thus of my birthplace and surroundings, that the reader may know the temptations that encompassed me about, and not to speak against any place or people. The country in my father's neighborhood is peopled at this time with noble men and women—prosperous, noted for kindness, generosity, and unpretending virtue. I think if I had been raised where liquor was unknown, and had been taught in early childhood the ruin which follows drinking—if I had had this impressed on my mind, I would have grown up a sober and happy man, notwithstanding my inherited appetite. I would have been a sober man, instead of traversing step by step the downward road of dissipation. I am easily impressed, and in early life might have been taught such lessons as would forever have turned my feet from the wrong and desolation in which they have stumbled so often—in which they have walked so swiftly. Instead of dwelling with shadows of realities the most terrible, and brooding in the cell of a maniac, I might have now communed with the pure and noble of earth.


The old log school house—My studies and discontent—My first drink of liquor—The companion of my first debauch—One drink always fatal—A horrible slavery—A horseback ride on Sunday—Raleigh—Return home—"Dead drunk"—My parents' shame and sorrow—My own remorse—An unhappy and silent breakfast—The anguish of my mother—Gradual recovery—Resolves and promises—No pleasure in drinking—The system's final craving for liquor—The hopelessness of the drunkard's condition—The resistless power of appetite—Possible escape—The courage required—The three laws—Their violation and man's atonement.

When I first started to school, log school houses were not yet things of the past, and well do I remember the one which stood near the little stream known as Hood's creek, and Sam Munger, from whom I first received instruction. The next school I attended was in a log house near where Ammon's mill now stands. I attended one or two summer terms at each of these places. There is nothing remarkable connected with my early school-days. They glided onward rapidly enough, but I saw and felt differently, it seemed to me, from those around me; but this may be the experience of others, only I think the melancholy, the fear, the unhappiness which hung over me were not as marked in any one else. I studied but little, because of my discontented and uneasy feeling, but I kept up with my lessons, and have yet one or two prizes bestowed on me twenty years ago for being at the head of my class the greater number of times.

I recollect with painful clearness the first drink of liquor that ever passed my lips. It has been more than twenty-four years since then, but my memory calls it up as if it were only yesterday, with all the circumstances under which I took it. It was in the time of threshing wheat, and then, as in harvesting, log-rolling, and everything that required the cooperation of neighbors, whisky was always more or less used. I was little more than six years of age. A bottle containing liquor was set in the shadow of some sheaves of wheat which stood near a wagon, and taking it I crawled under the wagon with a neighbor now living in Raleigh. We began drinking from this bottle and did not stop until we were both pitiably drunk. The boy who took that first drink with me has since had some experience with the effects of alcohol, but at this time he is bravely fighting the good battle of sobriety and may God always give him the victory. I never could taste liquor without getting drunk. When one drop passed my lips I became wild for another, and another, until my sole thought was how to get enough to satisfy the unquenchable thirst. To-day if I were to dip the point of a needle into whisky and then touch my tongue with that needle, I would be unable to resist the burning desire to drink which that infinitesimal atom would awaken. I would get drunk if hell burst up out of the earth around me—yes, if I could look down into the flames and see men whose eye-brows were burnt off, and whose every hair was a burning, blazing, coiling, hissing snake from their having used the deadly liquid. And if each of these countless fiery snakes had a tongue of forked fire and could be heard to scream for miles, and I knew that another drop would cause them to lick my quivering flesh, yet would I take it. O horror of horrors! I would plunge into the flames forever and ever. After I once taste I am powerless to resist. When I was ten years of age I went one Sunday with a neighbor boy several years older than I, riding on horseback. The course we took was a favorite one with me for it led toward Raleigh, just north of which place I contrived to get a pint or more of the poison called whisky. The doctor from whom I got it had, of course, no idea that I was going to drink it, especially all of it, but drink it I did, getting so completely under its horrible influence that when I arrived at home I fell senseless against the door. My father and mother heard me fall and came out and took me into the house, and just as soon as the heat of the fire began to affect me, I sank into a dead stupor; all consciousness was gone; all feeling was destroyed; all intelligence was obliterated. I lay upon my bed that night wholly oblivious to everything, knowing not, indeed, that such a creature as myself ever existed. The morning came at last, and with it I opened my eyes. Describe who can the thoughts which rushed through my distracted brain. For a little while I knew not where I was or what I had done. My head was throbbing, aching, bursting. I glanced about me and on either side of my bed my father and mother knelt in prayer! Then did I remember what had befallen me, and so keen was my remorse that I thought I would surely die, and, in fact, I wanted to die. O, much loved parents—father on earth and mother in heaven—how often since then have I felt anew the shame of that terrible hour—how often have I seen your sacred faces, wet with the tears of that trial, come before me, looking imploringly heavenward as if beseeching for me the mercy of the infinite God!

That morning the family gathered about the breakfast table, but what a shadow rested over all. A solemnity of silent sorrow was upon us. The peace of yesterday had flown with my return home, and the dark misery of my soul tinged with the shade of the grave's desolation the clouds which were gathering in our sky. O, how often have I prayed that the time might be given back, and that it might be in my power to resist the curse; but the past is implacable as death, and I must bear the tortures that belong to the memory of that most unhappy day. That day, and for many succeeding ones, I read an anguish in the saintly face of my mother that I had never seen there before. My father also bore about with him a look of deep suffering which haunted me for years. For one day I suffered intensely both mentally and physically, but being of a strong, vigorous, and healthy constitution, I was almost completely restored by the following morning. Of course I resolved and promised my father and mother that I would never again taste liquor. For some time I faithfully kept my promise, and for weeks the very thought of liquor was revolting to me. No one becomes a drunkard in a day or week. Alcohol is a subtle poison, and it takes a long time for it to so undermine man's system that he finds life almost intolerable unless stimulated by the hell-broth which must surely destroy him in the end, unless he closes his lips like a vise against it. But for me, I never could drink, from my childhood, without coming under the influence of the accursed poison. I never drank because I liked the taste of liquor, but because I liked the first effects of it. I was never able to tell good liquor or rather pure alcohol—for such a thing as good liquor has never been made—from the worst, the meanest, manufactured from drugs. The latter may be more speedy than pure alcohol, but either will destroy with fatal certainty and rapidity. I drank, as I have said, for the effects, and in the first years of my drinking my first emotions were pleasurable. It sent the blood rushing to the brain, and induced a succession of vivid and pleasing thoughts. But invariably the depression that followed was in the same ratio down as the former was up, and after a time I lost that first pleasant, unnatural feeling, and drank only to satisfy an indescribable passion or craving. At first the wine glass may sparkle and foam, but let it never be forgotten that within that sparkle and foam is concealed the glittering eye of the uncoiled adder. It is the sparkle of a serpent's skin, the foam of the froth of death. Here I must confess that for the past five or six years I have not been able to attain one moment's pleasure from drinking. Every glass that I have touched has proven to be the Dead Sea's fruit of ashes to my lips. I drank wildly, insanely, and became oblivious for days and weeks together to all which was about me, and finally awoke to the horrors which I had sought to drown, but now intensified a thousand fold. No man ever buried sorrow in drunkenness. He can not bury it that way any more than Eugene Aram could bury the body of his victim with the weeds of the morass. Whoever seeks solace in whisky will curse the hour which saw him commit a mistake so fatal. Woe to him who looks for comfort in the intoxicating glass. He will see instead the ghastly face of murdered hope, the distorted vision of a wasted life, his own bloated corpse. The habit of drink after a time becomes more than a mere habit; the system comes to demand and crave liquor, it permeates and affects every part of the body until every function refuses to perform its part until it has been aroused to action by its accustomed stimulant.

The most hopeless and wretched slave on earth is he who has bound himself with the fetters of alcohol, and it is a sad and lamentable truth that among thousands very few ever escape from the soul-destroying, health-ruining bondage of an appetite for intoxicating drink. There is only one here and there of all the hosts that are enchained and cursed who succeeds in breaking the bonds which bind body, soul and spirit. So far as the prospect of success is concerned in winning men from evil, I would say, let me go to the brazen-faced and foul-mouthed blasphemer of the holy Master's name; let me go to the forger, who for long years has been using satanic cunning to defraud his fellow-men; let me go to the murderer, who lies in the shadow of the gallows, with red hands dripping with the blood of innocence; but send me not to the lost human shape whose spirit is on fire, and whose flesh is steaming and burning with the flames of hell. And why? Because his will is enthralled in the direst bondage conceivable—his manhood is in the dust, and a demon sits in the chariot of his soul, lashing the fiery steeds of passion to maniacal madness. No possible motive or combination of motives can be urged upon him which will stand a moment before the infernal clamorings of his appetite. Wife, children, home, relatives, reputation, honor, and the hope and prospect of heaven itself, all flee before this fell destroyer. The sufferings and agonies untold of one human soul securely bound by the chains forged by rum are enough to make angels weep and devils laugh. I have no desire to discourage those who have this habit fastened on them. I would not say to them: You can not break away from it. I would do all in my power to aid and strengthen every such person in any attempt he might make to be free. There is escape, but courage is required to make it, and greater courage than has ever been exhibited on the field of battle, amid the thunders of cannon, the roar of deadly conflict, the gleam of sabre and glitter of bayonet. But rather than die the drunkard's death, and go to the drunkard's eternal doom, every drunkard can afford to make this fight. It were better, ten thousand times, that every such one should do as I have done—voluntarily go to an asylum and be restrained until he so far recovers that he can of his own will resist temptation. And there is another aid—a strength stronger than our own—God! He will help every unfortunate one that goes to him in sincerity and humbly implores the divine aid.

I desire here to make a statement in justice to myself. There are three laws, the human, the natural and the divine. You may violate a human law, and the judge, if he sees fit, may pardon your offense. If you violate the divine law, God has prepared a way of escape, and promises pardon on conditions within the reach of all, but for a violation of that which I call natural law, there is no forgiveness. The penalty for every such violation must be, and is, fully paid every time, and while natural laws are as much a part of God's creation as the divine, he would no more set aside a penalty for a violation of one of nature's laws than he would blot out a part of his written word. Yet there are recuperative powers and forces in nature that are wonderful, and there is a spiritual strength that helps us to bear, and overcome, and endure every affliction. I was made a new creature in Christ Jesus at Jeffersonville, Indiana, on the 21st of last January, and had I then gone to work to recuperate and restore by all natural means, my broken body, I am most certain that I never again would have tasted liquor; but instead of using the means God had placed about me, in the supreme ecstacy which comes to a redeemed, a new-born soul, I went to work ten times more laboriously than ever, and soon completely exhausted my bodily strength. My system was drained of every particle of its power to resist the slightest attack of any kind whatsoever, much less to make a successful struggle against my great enemy, and so, physically and mentally exhausted when I was assailed by the black, foul fiend of alcohol, I fell, and fell a second time. I resolved, yea, took an oath the most solemn, that rather than again be overtaken by a disaster so dire, I would have myself entombed within an asylum for the insane. Here at last, I was placed, and here I intend to remain until nature shall restore to my body sufficient strength to resist, with God's help, the next and every attack of my enemy. As God is my witness, I had rather remain within these walls and listen to the cries of the worst maniac here, from day to day, until the last hour of my life—yes, and die and be buried here in the pauper's graveyard, than ever again go out and drink. And now as I close this chapter with a full heart, I go down on my knees in supplication to God for strength and grace to keep me from that which has wrecked all my life and made it a continued round of sorrow and shame. I ask every one who reads this chapter, to pray to God for me with all your heart and soul. Oh! men and women, pray for wretched, miserable, sorrowing, suffering, lonely me.


School days at Fairview—My first public outbreak—A schoolmate—Drive to Falmouth—First drink at Falmouth—Disappointment—Drive to Smelser's Mills—Hostetter's Bitters—The author's opinion of patent medicines, bitters especially—Boasting—More liquor—Difficulty in lighting a cigar—A hound that got in bad company—Oysters at Falmouth, and what befell us while waiting for them—Drunken slumber—A hound in a crib—Getting awake—The owner of the hound—Sobriety—The Vienna jug—Another debauch—The exhibition—The end of the school term—Starting to college at Cincinnati—My companions—The destruction wrought by alcohol—Dr. Johnson's declaration concerning the indulgence of this vice—A warning—A dangerous fallacy—Byron's inspiration—Lord Brougham—Sheridan—Sue—Swinburne—Dr. Carpenter's opinion—An erroneous idea—Temperance the best aid to thought.

At the age of sixteen I started to school at Fairview, then as now, an insignificant but pretty village, some four miles from where my father lived. William M. Thrasher, at this time Professor of Mathematics in the Butler University, at Irvington, near Indianapolis, was the teacher in charge of that school, and it is to him that I am under obligations for about all the "book learning" that I possess. True, I went to college after that, but I merely skimmed over the studies there assigned me. While at school at Fairview I improved every opportunity to drink. A fatal instinct guided me to the rum shop. It was during the first winter of my attendance at the Fairview school that I was guilty of my first debauch. A young man from Connersville came over to attend school, and I would remark in passing that his father was chiefly interested in sending him to Fairview because he thought that his boy would here be out of temptation. He arrived at noon one day, and we were immediately made acquainted with each other, an acquaintance which ripened into friendship on the spot. The roads were in good condition for sleighing, and the next morning I proposed a ride. He gladly accepted my invitation, and together we drove to Falmouth. At Falmouth we each took a drink, and this fired us with a desire for more. We drove to a house not far away where liquor was kept by the barrel, and tried to get some, but failed—for we waited and waited to be invited in vain—for no invitation was extended to us. Disappointed and half crazy for whisky, we left the house and started on further in pursuit of the curse. After driving about eight miles we halted at a place called Smelser's Mills, where we were supplied with a bottle of Hostetter's Bitters, which we drank without delay, and which was strong enough to make us reasonably drunk, but which, nevertheless, did not come up to our ideas of what liquor should be. My experience has been that about the worst and cheapest whisky ever sold is that sold under the name of "bitters," and it costs more than the best in the market. Excuse the word "best," but certain parts of Dante's hell are good by comparison. I say to all and every one, shun every drink that intoxicates, and shun nothing quicker than the patent medicines which contain liquor, and while you are about it, shun patent medicines which do not contain liquor. The chances are that they contain a deadlier poison called opium. At any rate they seldom cure and often kill.

After drinking our bottle of poisonous slop—that is, Hostetter's Bitters—my friend and I began to boast, and each labored hard to impress the other with his greatness. In order to make the proper impression, we agreed that it was highly important that we should demonstrate the large quantity we could drink and still be reasonably sober. I knew of a place a few miles further on—a place called Hittle's—where I felt sure I could get whisky without an immediate outlay of cash, a consideration of importance since neither I nor my friend had a penny. We went to Hittle's, and there I was successful in an attempt to get a quart of whisky, which we at once proceeded to mix with the Hostetter article already burning up the lining of our stomachs. The effect was not long in appearing, for in a little while we were both very drunk, and I in particular was in the condition best described as howling, crazy drunk. We stopped at a house to light our cigars—for of course we both smoked and chewed tobacco—and as my friend did not feel like getting out, I reeled into the kitchen and picked up a shovelful of coals, which I lifted so near my mouth that I scorched my hair and burnt my face, and, worse than all, singed the faint suggestion of a mustache that was visible by the aid of a microscope, on my upper lip. While I was engaged in lighting my cigar, a large dog—a tall, lean, much-ribbed, lank and hungry-looking hound—went out to the sleigh, and my friend induced him to accept passage with us; so when I got back to my seat it was proposed that the hound should accompany us. I have often wondered since if he was not heartily ashamed of being seen in our company that day; but we made a martyr of him all the same.

We drove off with a succession of whoops and yells, and carried the hound in front. Our first halt was at Falmouth, where we ordered oysters. The room in which we sat at table was quite small, and a large stove whose sides were red with heat made it uncomfortably hot—especially for us who were already in a sultry state. I had not sat at the table a minute when I fell from my chair against the stove. My leg struck a hinge of the door, and as my friend was too much overcome to realize my condition, I lay there until the hinge burnt a hole through the leg of my pantaloons and then into the flesh. I carry a scar to-day in memory of that time, and the scar is about three inches long. The burn was over half an inch in depth. God only knows what might have been the final result had not assistance soon come in the person of the owner of the house. He called for help, and as soon as it arrived we were placed in our sleigh, and by a kind of instinct drove to Fairview. It was dark by the time we got into Fairview, but we contrived to get our horse within the stable and that unfortunate hound into a corn-crib, in which durance he howled so vigorously that the wild winds which whistled and shrieked around the barn could not be heard for him. His complaining lasted all night, and I do not think any one within a mile of the crib slept that night, my friend and myself excepted. Ay, we slept—slept as I have so often slept since—a slumber as deep and oblivious as death—a drunken sleep, from which we awoke to suffer hell's tortures so justly merited by our conduct. I awoke with a throbbing, aching heart, but by slow degrees did I become conscious that I had been somewhere in a sleigh and done something either very desperate or very foolish, or both. At first my mind was so muddled, so beclouded with the fumes of the infernal "bitters" and whisky that I thought I had burned a city. While I was trying to solve the mystery of my course, I was aided by a revelation so sudden that it startled me, for the owner of the hound came galloping up and fiercely demanded to know where his dog was. He rated us severely—accused us of stealing the animal, and threatened to prosecute us then and there. I knew what we had done. In the meantime some one opened the door of the crib and turned out the hound. He must have recognized the voice of his master, for he joined the latter in his howling, and between them they gave us good reason to wish that our ambition to keep that dog's company had been in vain. The dog was more easily pacified than the man, but finally on our offering to give him three plugs of tobacco to hush up the affair, he became quiet and smoothed the ragged front of his anger. On adding a cigar or two to the plugs, he brightened up and said we might have the "darned houn'" any how, if we wanted him. But we had had enough of his society and were willing to part from him without further expense.

I don't think, seriously speaking, that I ever suffered more keenly from the stings of remorse and fear than I did for one week after this debauch. The remarkable part of it to me was our determination to take the dog. All my life I have disliked dogs—dogs in general and hounds in particular. I resolved never to drink again, and for some time kept the resolution.

A few weeks following this "spree" there was an exhibition at the school house, and several of the larger boys—myself among the number—assembled themselves together, and, after a consultation, decided that, in order to make the exhibition a success, there should be a limited amount of whisky secured for our special use. We took up a collection, each contributing a few cents, and two of the largest, tallest, and stoutest boys were dispatched to Vienna, a small village three miles distant, to get it. A vision of hounds passed before me, but the desire to get a drink drove them yelping out of memory. The boys, on reaching Vienna, bargained for three gallons of liquor, and brought it to our general headquarters. It was wretched stuff—the vilest, meanest, rottenest poison that ever went under the name of whisky. The boys who got it had carried it the three miles by passing a stick through the handle of the jug. They got drunk on the way back with it, and one of them fell into a branch, dragging the jug and the other boy after him. Unfortunately the jug was not broken, and fortunately the boys were not seriously hurt. It was a little after dark when they stumbled across the meeting house yard to where we awaited them. The following day we attacked the contents of the jug, and before midnight we were all drunk—some rather moderately drunk, some very drunk, and some dead drunk, as the phrase is. I myself was of the number that were dead drunk. Some of the boys kept sober enough to fight, but I never would fight, drunk or sober. I do not think I am a coward as regards personal courage, and I really think the fear of hurting others restrained me from ever mixing in brawls in those days.

As the night wore away two or three of the boys became sober enough to hide the jug, which they concealed in a corn-shock. These dragged the rest of us to bed, although one of the party woke up in the wood-box with his head downward and his feet dangling over the top of the box. Only those who have been so unfortunate as to be in a similar condition can realize our state of mental and physical feeling. Parched lips, scalded tongues, cracked throats, throbbing temples, and burning shame were indisputably ours. So we awoke on the morning of the day set apart for the exhibition, an exhibition in which we were to appear before our respected teacher, friends and relatives, besides all the people of the surrounding country. Early in the day we commenced to get ready for the afternoon's work by resorting to the same jug that so recently had bereft us temporarily of reason, and laid us in the mud and snow. I only got one big drink of the poison and so contrived to get through passably well with my part of the performance; some of the boys got too much, and failed to remember anything, so that they failed utterly and hid behind the curtains, and, taken all in all, we did little or nothing toward the success of the exhibition or to making those interested gratified with our parts. Some of the boys who figured on the stage that day are dead; but others are alive and of those I am not the only one writhing in the coils of the serpent of alcohol, though not one of them has fallen so low as I. If at that time I might have been permitted to lift the curtain and looked down future-ward through the unlighted years of shame, and weariness, and suffering, I think the dreadful vision would have stayed me forever in a career which has only grown darker and more unendurable with every step. I kept on much in the same way, increasing in length and frequency my ever recurring debauches, until the end of the school term.

I was well nigh twenty years of age, and from this place went to Cincinnati to attend college. Here the opportunities to gratify my hereditary appetite, made keen and sharp, and ever keener and sharper by indulgence, were all about me. My companions were older and further advanced on the road to ruin than I. My steps were more swift than ever before to tread the path which leads surely to the everlasting bonfire. I could not fail to notice while at college that the most brilliant and intellectual—those whose future prospects were the most pleasing and bright—were the very ones who most frequently drowned their hopes, and sapped their strength and energy in alcoholic stimulants. O, vividly do I recall to mind examples of heaven-bestowed genius, talent, health, and abilities, sacrificed on the worse than bloody teocalli of this hideous and slimy devil, Intemperance! How many master minds, instead of progressing sublimely through the broad, deep, and august channels of thought, became impeded by the meshes and clogs of intoxication, and were thus worse than prevented from exploring the regions of immortal truth! How many dallied with the sirens of the wine cup, until all power to grapple with great subjects was lost irrevocably! How many are the instances in the world's history of great minds debased and ruined by alcohol! Look back and around you at the lives of the brightest literary geniuses and see how many are under the spell of this Circe's baleful power! Think of the rich intelligences whose brightness has prematurely faded and died away in the darkness of alcoholic night! What hopes has alcohol destroyed! What resolves it has broken! What promises it has blighted! Think of any or of all these things, and hasten to say with Dr. Johnson that this vice of drink, if long indulged, will render knowledge useless, wit ridiculous, and genius contemptible. Oh! how many lost sons of earth, whose lamps of genius blazed only to light their pathway to the tomb, might have achieved an inheritance of immortal fame but for this vice, or disease as it may be.

I write this with a hope that it may be a heeded warning to the intellectual of earth, not less than the illiterate. The educated man is more liable to suffer from strong stimulants than the man who is not educated. Never was there a greater or more dangerous fallacy than that so often urged, that the thinking functions are assisted by the use of stimulating liquors or drugs. O, say some, Byron owed a great portion of his inspiration to gin and water, and that was his Hippocrene. Nonsense! His highest inspiration came from the beauty of the world and from God. Lord Brougham, it has been declared, made his most brilliant speeches of old port. Sheridan, it has been told, delivered some of his most sparkling speeches when "half seas over." Eugene Sue found his genius in a bottle of claret; Swinburne in absinthe, and so on. But who shall say what these great, men lost and will lose in the end by this forcing process? Dr. W.B. Carpenter, in referring to the supposed uses of alcohol in sustaining the vital powers, says emphatically that the use of alcoholic stimulants is dangerous and detrimental to the human mind, but admits that its use in most persons is attended with a temporary excitation of mental activity, lighting up the scintillations of genius into a brilliant flame, or assisting in the prolongation of mental effort when the powers of the nervous system would be otherwise exhausted. Concede this, and then answer if it is not on such evidence that the common idea is based that alcohol is a cause of inspiration, or that it supports the system to the endurance of unusual mental labor. The idea is as erroneous as the no less prevalent fallacy that alcoholic stimulants increase the power of physical exertion. Physiologically the fact is established that the depression of the mental energy consequent upon the undue excitement of alcoholic stimulants is no less than the depression of the physical energy following its use. In either case the added strength and exhilaration are of short duration, and the depression and loss exceed the increased energy and the gain. The influence of alcoholic stimulants seems to be chiefly exerted in exciting to activity the creating and combining powers, such as give rise to the high imaginations of the poet and the painter. It is not to be wondered at that men possessing such splendid powers should have recourse to alcoholic stimulants as a means of procuring often temporary exaltation of these powers and of escaping from the seasons of depression to which they and others of less high organizations are subject. Nor is it to be denied that many of these mental productions which are most strongly marked by the inspiration of genius, have been thrown off under the inspiration of the stimulating influences of liquor. But it can not, on the other hand, be doubted that the depression consequent upon the high degree of mental excitement is, as already observed, as great as the first in its way—a depression so great that it sometimes destroys temporarily the power of effort. Hence it does not follow that the authors of the productions in question have really been benefited by the use of these stimulants.

It is the testimony of general experience that where men of genius have habitually had recourse to alcoholic stimulants for the excitement of their powers they have died at an early age, as if in consequence of the premature exhaustion of their nervous energy. Mozart, Burns, Byron, Poe and Chatterton may be cited as remarkable examples of this result. Hence, although their light may have burned with a brighter glow, like a combustible substance in an atmosphere of oxygen, the consumption of material was more rapid, and though it may have shone with a more sober lustre without such aid, we can not but believe that it would have been steadier and less premature without it. We may also doubt that the finest poems and the finest pictures have been written and painted even by those in the habit of drinking while they were under the influence of liquor. We do not usually find that the men most distinguished for a combination of powers called talent or genius, are disposed to make such use of alcoholic stimulants for the purpose of augmenting their mental powers, for that spontaneous activity of mind itself which alcohol has a tendency to excite is not favorable to the exercise of the observing faculties, which are so important to the imagination, nor to those of reason, nor to steady concentration on any given subject, where profound investigation or clear sight is desirable.

Of this we have an illustration in the habit of practical gamblers who, when about to engage in contests requiring the keenest observation and the most sagacious calculation, and involving an important stake, always keep themselves cool either by total abstinence from fermented liquors, or by the use of those of the weakest kind, in very small quantities. We find that the greatest part of that intellectual labor which has most extended the domain of thought and human knowledge has been performed by men of sobriety, many of them having been drinkers of water only. Under this last category may be ranked Demosthenes, Johnson, Haller, Bacon, Milton, Dante, etc. Johnson, it is true, was a great tea drinker. Voltaire drank coffee at times to excess, and occasionally a small quantity of light wine. So, also, did Fontenelle. Newton solaced himself with the fumes of tobacco. Of Locke, whose long life was devoted to constant intellectual labor, who appears independently of his eminence in his special objects of pursuit one of the best informed men of his time, the following explicit testimony is found by one who knew him well: His diet was the same as that of other people, except he usually drank nothing but water, and he thought that his abstinence in this respect had preserved his life so long, although naturally his constitution was so weak. In addition to these examples, which I have quoted at length, I might also mention the case of Cornaro, the old Italian philosopher, who at the age of thirty-five found himself on a bed of misery and imminent death through intemperance. He amended his way of life, and for upwards of four score years after, by a temperate course of living, lived happily and did all the important work which has placed his name among the men of great intellectual powers.


Quit college—Shattered nerves—Summer and autumn days—Improvement—Picnic parties—A fall—An untimely storm—Crawford's beer and ale—Beer brawls—County fairs and their influence on my life—My yoke of white oxen—The "red ribbon"—"One McPhillipps"—How I got home and how I found myself in the morning—My mother's agony—A day of teaching under difficulties—Quiet again—Law studies at Connersville—"Out on a spree"—What a spree means.

I left college in the spring of 1866, and returned home to the farm where I spent the summer and autumn months in a very nervous and discontented manner. For over four months my mental condition bordered on that of a maniac, so completely had the use of liquor shattered my nervous system. I became alarmed at my state, and for a time was deterred from drinking, or, if I drank at all, the quantity was small. But fresh air and the little work which I did on the farm, soon restored me. As the summer wore away I attended pleasure parties, and found, not happiness, but a moment's forgetfulness among the merry picnic parties in the woods. I had also the distinguished honor of actually superintending and presiding over two of these festivities, both of which were held in Horace Elwell's woods, on the unsung, but classically rustic banks of Tom. Hall's mill-dam, near the village which bears the historic and great name of Raleigh. I succeeded in tiding myself through the first picnic without getting drunk. I mean more particularly that I remained sober during the day—that is, sober enough to keep it from being known that I had drank more than once or twice; but that night at the ball at Louisville, I bit the dust, or, to get at the truth more literally and unrhetorically, I fell down stairs and came within a point of breaking my neck. Had I been sober the fall would have put an end then and there to my miserable and worthless existence; but lest any one should argue from this that after all whisky sometimes saves life, I would have them bear in mind that if I had been sober the chances are I would not have fallen.

The next picnic was sadly interfered with by a violent storm of wind and rain, which came up the day before the one set apart for it. The water washed the sawdust which had been sprinkled on the ground for the dancers' benefit into Hall's fretful mill-race, and thence down into the turbulent and swollen Flat Rock. This, as well as other creeks, became so high that it was out of the question to ford them. The boys could get to the grounds very well, and many of them did get there, but the girls were not of a mind to risk their lives for a day's doubtful amusement, and so the picnic failed in the beginning. The young men—myself, of course, in the lot—determined to have what was called "fun" at any rate, and to this end they congregated during the day at Raleigh. Mr. Sam Crawford had an abundant supply of beer and ale, and I wish to say that if there are any persons so innocent as to doubt that beer and ale intoxicate they would change from doubt to faith in the power of these slops to make men drunk, could they experience or see what took place at Raleigh on that day. They would be willing to testify in any court that beer will not only intoxicate, but, taken in sufficient quantities, it will make men beastly drunk and fill them with a spirit of fiendish cruelty. There were on that day as many as four fights, with enough miscellaneous howling, cursing and billingsgate to fill out the natural make-up of a hundred more. I was drunk—so drunk that I did not know at the last whether my name was Benson or Bennington. I suppose I would have sworn to the latter, had the question been raised, but it was not. I did not fight, for, as I have said, I seemed to have an instinctive dread of doing something terrible in the event of my getting engaged in combat with another. Like Falstaff, it may be, I was a coward on instinct. I have always thought, moreover, that the Hudibrastic aphorism is worthy of practice, because nothing can be more evident than the fact that

"——He who runs away May live to fight another day."

From that time to the commencement of the season for county fairs, five or six weeks later, I kept in a condition of sobriety. County fairs, I wish to say, and especially the Rush county fairs, did more toward bringing on the disastrous career which has been mine—a career which has befouled the record of my life and marked almost every page of its history—witness this biography—with blots of shame, discord and unholy suffering than any other cause of an external character. I was very young when I first commenced to take stock to the fair to exhibit for premiums. I always went on the first day, and always remained until the fair came to a close, staying on the grounds night and day. There was a vagabond element in my nature which harmonized perfectly with this sort of life. The men with whom I associated were, in general, of that class who like liquor alone or in company, and each had his jug of favorite whisky, which was supposed to be a sure preventive against cold and colds in cold weather, and against heat and fever in hot weather. If invited to drink the rule was to accept immediately and return the courtesy as soon as convenient.

In those days I was the proud possessor of a yoke of white oxen, and I made it a point to exhibit them at every fair within my reach, for they invariably won the Red Ribbon, then a mark of the first prize. Alas, that it did not mean to me what it now does! It meant anything rather than total abstinence; it was an unfailing sign of drunkenness; it told of shameful revels, of days of debauchery and nights of misery when not passed in beastly slumber. That ribbon is now a symbol of holy temperance—it was then a souvenir of days of disorder and evil-doing.

During the winter I was engaged to teach a district school, and for three months managed to keep tolerably sober—that is, I did not get drunk more than three or four times, and then on Saturday nights and Sundays. One Sunday—it was the coldest day that winter—I went to Falmouth and visited a drinking place kept by one McPhillipps. While there I drank eleven glasses of whisky. At nine o'clock in the evening, I can indistinctly remember, I mounted my horse and started home, and from that moment until the next day I knew nothing whatever that took place. From the way I was bruised and battered I judge that I must have struck almost every fence corner between McPhillipps' place and home. My legs were in a woful plight, and having turned black and blue, they were frightful to see. On arriving at the gate which led into the front yard at home, I fell off my horse and tumbled to the ground, a wretched heap of helpless clay. I remained on the ground, lying in the snow, until I froze my hands, feet, and ears. It was about three o'clock in the morning when I got to the house. So they told me, for I have no knowledge of going, and, indeed, I remembered nothing that took place.

When I came to consciousness I found myself wrapped up in a blanket, lying in bed, with hot bricks at my feet. I was in the room occupied by father and mother, and the first object that met my wandering sight was the face of my mother. The look with which she regarded me will never fade from my memory. There was in it the sorrow and anguish of death. She rose from her bed at sight of me, and with streaming eyes and screaming voice called the family up to bid them good-by; she said she was dying—that I had killed her. I sprang from my bed in such a horror of terrible suffering, mental and physical, as never swept over the body and soul of mortal man. I felt my heart thumping and beating as though it would burst forth from my bosom; the hot, hissing blood rushed to my aching, fevered brain, and a torrent of sweat burst forth on my icy forehead. I could not have suffered more physical agony had a thousand swords been driven through my quivering body, nor would my miserable soul have been in more insufferable pain had it been confined in the regions of the damned. It was some time before anything like quiet was restored, but as soon as it was, some of the family went to the gate and found my hat and took charge of the horse which I had ridden. That morning I dragged myself to school with a sad, heavy heart. As my scholars came in, they seemed to understand that something was the matter with me, and often during the day their wondering looks were directed toward me as if they sought some explanation of my appearance. The day was a long and weary one to me—a day, like many another since then, of most intense wretchedness. About noon one of my feet became so swollen that it was necessary for me to take off my boot, and by the time I dismissed school it had got so bad that I could not draw on my boot, so that I had to walk home, a distance of one mile, over the frozen ground with nothing to protect my foot but a woolen sock. On entering the house, my mother burst into tears at sight of me. I must have been a pitiable object, and yet how little did I deserve the wealth of priceless sympathy lavished upon me. That night, and many nights succeeding it, the only way I could get into bed was to put an old-fashioned chair with rounds in the back, beside the bed and crawl up round by round until I got on a level with the bed, and then let go and fall over into the bed.

It is needless for me to say that I firmly resolved and honestly felt that I would never again taste the liquor which leads to madness, misery, and death. For some time I kept my resolution; and would to God that I could here conclude by saying that I never again allowed a drop of it to pass my lips. But I am writing an autobiography, and I have told you that I would not shrink from telling the truth. So it will happen that other and still more desperate and disgraceful episodes of drunkenness will have to be recorded.

In the spring of 1867 I went to Connersville, and began the study of law with the Hon. John S. Reid. Unfortunately, and I fear designedly, I made my acquaintances among, and selected my companions from, the most dissolute, idle, and intemperate class of young men in the town. Connersville then had and still has among its citizens some very wealthy men, who suffered their boys to grow up without much care, mostly in idleness. As might be expected the indifference of the fathers, joined to the natural inclinations of the sons, has proved the ruin of the latter. I now call to mind several of those young men who are hopeless and complete wrecks. Idleness and dissipation have done their terrible work in every case which I call to mind.

I read a little law, and drank a great deal of whisky, and as a natural consequence the time then passing was for the most part worse than lost. Up to this period the duration of my sprees was not longer than a day and night. They now were not confined to one day, for when I went out on what is called a "regular spree," it was liable to be two or three days, as it has since been two or three weeks, before I got back. Got back! Where from? The reader knows too well.

Out on a spree! These are melancholy and heart-breaking words. Out on a spree! Oh, how much of misery is implied! Out on a spree! Readers, every one, I hope you will never have it said that you are out on a spree. To go out on a spree is to throw away strength, without which the battle of life can not be fought; it is to squander money which you may need badly for the necessaries of life, which had better be thrown into the fire and burnt up than spent in such a way; it is to quench the light of ambition, to crush hope, entomb joy, lay waste the powers of the mind, neglect duty, desert the family, and commit in the end suicide. Arson may have walked by your side while out on a spree, red murder may have grinned, dagger in hand, upon you, and death stalked within your shadow, ready in a thousand ways to strike you down. Don't go out on sprees. Think of the pity of them, the wrong, the disgrace, the remorse, the misery. Going on an occasional spree only will not do. Some men will keep sober for weeks, and even months, but a birthday, or a wedding, or a national holiday, or a fit of the blues, or a streak of good luck, starts them off, and habit, like a smouldering flame, breaks out, and for a time all is over. Such men scotch, but they do not kill the cobra of intemperance, and soon or late the other result will follow, the snake will kill them. The reptile is tenacious of life, and so long as the life remains there is danger from the deadly venom of its tooth. Those who have never formed the habit of drinking had better die at once than live to form it. Those who have formed the habit should subdue it and never enter into a compromise with it. The good effects of months of abstinence may be swept away in an hour. Open the flood-gates of indulgence never so little and the torrent will force its way through and drown every worthy resolution. Its tide is next to resistless. Days of drunkenness succeed, months of self-denial are lost, and deplorable results follow everywhere. Wives are driven to desperation, mothers to despair, children to want. Demoralization, starvation, damnation follow. Friends are separated, homes are desolated, and souls are driven to hell itself, and yet people will talk lightly, and even jokingly of the very thing which leads to these terrible losses and sufferings—out on a spree.

Debauches not only destroy all capacity for usefulness while they last, but they demand the vital strength which has wisely been gathered in the system for days of possible need, when sickness and natural infirmities will lay hands on the mind or body. The debauch of to-day will borrow from to-morrow or from next week, or month, or year, that which can not be restored. The bloated face, the dull, glassy eye, the furtive glance of fear and shame, the trembling gait, all speak of ravages produced by other causes than those of time. Indeed, the flight of years can produce no such effects, for inexorable and wearing as fleeting days and months are, their natural results differ very widely from those which are caused by an abuse of the powers of nature. Besides this, many men who are shattered wrecks are still young in years, and the dew of youth but for dissipation might yet have glistened on their foreheads.

It was at this period that the appetite burst forth in a fearful flame which scorched life itself, and burnt every energy of my being. It was fast getting to be a consuming, craving, devouring passion, subjecting my very soul to its dreadful tyranny. My spells increased in frequency, and their duration was more and more prolonged. I would remain drunk from eight to ten days, until I got so nervous that I could not sleep, and night after night I would be counting the hours and longing for morning, which, when it came with its blessed light, gradually revealing the pattern of the paper on the walls, caused me to hide my face in the bedclothes and wish for black and never-ending night to come and hide me from the world and my misery. From such vigils, feverish and unrefreshed, it may easily be supposed that I sought the open window in anguish, and bathed my aching, throbbing forehead in the cool, pure air. At last my condition became so deplorable that my friends sent my father word to come and take me home, which he did. While at Connersville, in all my dark and desolate trials, William Beck was my friend and helper. He never then forsook me, and he never since has forsaken me, but still remains my faithful and sympathizing friend—a friend whose valuation is beyond gold, and for whom I entertain the deepest feelings of gratitude. I returned home with my father and remained several months, keeping sober all the while. During most of the time I applied myself vigorously to the study of the law, making rapid progress.

I believe I have as yet not stated that, in the intervals long or short between my sprees, I abstained totally from the use of ardent spirits. I never could and never did drink in moderation. One drink would always kindle such a fire in my blood that it was out of my power to prevent its spreading into a conflagration. I have very many times been accused of "drinking on the sly," as they say, but every such accusation is false. I have also been accused of using opium. I know the pitiable wretch that started that lie—for it is a lie—and the poor dupe that repeated it. For five years my appetite has been so fierce at times, that, I repeat, had I touched the point of the finest needle in alcohol and placed it to my tongue, I would have got drunk had I known that that drunk would have plunged my soul into hell and eternal torments. O appetite, cold, cruel, heartless, accursed, consuming, devouring appetite! No other malady like thee ever afflicted man. Would that I could paint thee, in all thy accursed hideousness, in letters of unfading fire, and write them in the vaulted firmament to flame forth to all generations to come their eternal warning.


Law Practice at Rushville—Bright prospects—The blight—From bad to worse—My mother's death—My solemn promise to her—"Broken, oh, God!"—Reflection—My remorse—The memory of my mother—A young man's duty—Blessed are the pure in heart—The grave—Young man, murder not your mother—Rum—A knife which is never red with blood, but which has severed souls and stabbed thousands to death—The desolation and death which are in alcohol.

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