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STORIES OF ACHIEVEMENT, VOLUME III
Orators and Reformers
ASA DON DICKINSON
Orators and Reformers
DESMOSTHENES ELIHU BURRITT JOHN B. GOUGH FREDERICK DOUGLASS HENRY WARD BEECHER BOOKER T. WASHINGTON BEN. B. LINDSEY
[Frontispiece: Henry Ward Beecher]
Garden City —— New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1925 Copyright, 1916, by Doubleday, Page & Company All Rights Reserved
In the preparation of this volume the publishers have received from several houses and authors generous permissions to reprint copyright material. For this they wish to express their cordial gratitude. In particular, acknowledgments are due to the Houghton Mifflin Company for the extract concerning Elihu Burritt; to George W. Jacobs & Co. for the extract from Booker T. Washington's "Frederick Douglass"; to P. B. Bromfield for permission to use passages from "The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher"; to the late Booker T. Washington for permission to reprint extracts from "Up From Slavery"; to Judge Ben. B. Lindsey for permission to reprint from "The Beast."
ORATORS AND REFORMERS
DEMOSTHENES The Orator Who Stammered
ELIHU BURRITT "The Learned Blacksmith"
JOHN B. GOUGH The Conquest of a Bad Habit
FREDERICK DOUGLASS The Slave Who Stole Freedom
HENRY WARD BEECHER The Boy Who Half-heartedly Joined the Church
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON The Boy Who Slept Under the Sidewalk
BEN. B. LINDSEY The Man Who Fights the Beast
(384-322 B. C.)
THE ORATOR WHO STAMMERED
Modern critics are fond of discriminating between talent and genius. The fire of genius, it seems, will flame resplendent even in spite of an unworthy possessor's neglect. But the man with talent which must be carefully cherished and increased if he would attain distinction by its help—that man is the true self-helper to whom our hearts go out in sympathy. Every schoolboy knows that Demosthenes practised declamation on the seashore, with his mouth full of pebbles. This description of the unlovely old Athenian with the compelling tongue is Plutarch's contribution to the literature of self-help.
From Plutarch's "Lives of Illustrious Men."
The orator Callistratus was to plead in the cause which the city of Oropus had depending; and the expectation of the public was greatly raised, both by the powers of the orator, which were then in the highest repute, and by the importance of the trial. Demosthenes, hearing the governors and tutors agree among themselves to attend the trial, with much importunity prevailed on his master to take him to hear the pleadings. The master, having some acquaintance with the officers who opened the court, got his young pupil a seat where he could hear the orators without being seen. Callistratus had great success, and his abilities were extremely admired. Demosthenes was fired with a spirit of emulation. When he saw with what distinction the orator was conducted home, and complimented by the people, he was struck still more with the power of that commanding eloquence which could carry all before it. From this time, therefore, he bade adieu to the other studies and exercises in which boys are engaged, and applied himself with great assiduity to declaiming, in hopes of being one day numbered among the orators. Isaeus was the man he made use of as his preceptor in eloquence, though Isocrates then taught it; whether it was that the loss of his father incapacitated him to pay the sum of ten minae, which was that rhetorician's usual price, or whether he preferred the keen and subtle manner of Isaeus as more fit for public use.
Hermippus says he met with an account in certain anonymous memoirs that Demosthenes likewise studied under Plato, and received great assistance from him in preparing to speak in public. He adds, that Ctesibius used to say that Demosthenes was privately supplied by Callias the Syracusan and some others, with the systems of rhetoric taught by Isocrates and Alcidamus, and made his advantage of them.
When his minority was expired, he called his guardians to account at law, and wrote orations against them. As they found many methods of chicane and delay, he had great opportunity, as Thucydides says, to exercise his talent for the bar. It was not without much pain and some risk that he gained his cause; and, at last, it was but a very small part of his patrimony that he could recover. By this means, however, he acquired a proper assurance and some experience; and having tasted the honour and power that go in the train of eloquence, he attempted to speak in the public debates, and take a share in the administration. As it is said of Laomedon the Orchomenian, that, by the advice of his physicians, in some disorder of the spleen, he applied himself to running, and continued it constantly a great length of way, till he had gained such excellent health and breath that he tried for the crown at the public games, and distinguished himself in the long course; so it happened to Demosthenes, that he first appeared at the bar for the recovery of his own fortune, which had been so much embezzled; and having acquired in that cause a persuasive and powerful manner of speaking, he contested the crown, as I may call it, with the other orators before the general assembly.
In his first address to the people he was laughed at and interrupted by their clamours, for the violence of his manner threw him into a confusion of periods and a distortion of his argument; besides he had a weakness and a stammering in his voice, and a want of breath, which caused such a distraction in his discourse that it was difficult for the audience to understand him. At last, upon his quitting the assembly, Eunomous the Thriasian, a man now extremely old, found him wandering in a dejected condition in the Piraeus, and took upon him to set him right. "You," said he, "have a manner of speaking very like that of Pericles, and yet you lose yourself out of mere timidity and cowardice. You neither bear up against the tumults of a popular assembly nor prepare your body by exercise for the labour of the rostrum, but suffer your parts to wither away in negligence and indolence."
Another time, we are told, when his speeches had been ill-received, and he was going home with his head covered, and in the greatest distress, Satyrus, the player, who was an acquaintance of his, followed and went in with him. Demosthenes lamented to him, "That though he was the most laborious of all the orators, and had almost sacrificed his health to that application, yet he could gain no favour with the people; but drunken seamen and other unlettered persons were heard, and kept the rostrum, while he was entirely disregarded." "You say true," answered Satyrus, "but I will soon provide a remedy, if you will repeat to me some speech in Euripides or Sophocles." When Demosthenes had done, Satyrus pronounced the same speech; and he did it with such propriety of action, and so much in character, that it appeared to the orator quite a different passage. He now understood so well how much grace and dignity action adds to the best oration that he thought it a small matter to premeditate and compose, though with the utmost care, if the pronunciation and propriety of gesture were not attended to. Upon this he built himself a subterraneous study which remained to our times. Thither he repaired every day to form his action and exercise his voice; and he would often stay there for two or three months together, shaving one side of his head, that, if he should happen to be ever so desirous of going abroad, the shame of appearing in that condition might keep him in.
When he did go out on a visit, or received one, he would take something that passed in conversation, some business or fact that was reported to him, for a subject to exercise himself upon. As soon as he had parted from his friends, he went to his study, where he repeated the matter in order as it passed, together with the arguments for and against it. The substance of the speeches which he heard he committed to memory, and afterward reduced them to regular sentences and periods, meditating a variety of corrections and new forms of expression, both of what others had said to him, and he had addressed to them. Hence, it was concluded that he was not a man of much genius, and that all his eloquence was the effect of labour. A strong proof of this seemed to be that he was seldom heard to speak anything extempore, and though the people often called upon him by name, as he sat in the assembly, to speak to the point debated, he would not do it unless he came prepared. For this many of the orators ridiculed him; and Pytheas, in particular, told him, "That all his arguments smelled of the lamp." Demosthenes retorted sharply upon him, "Yes, indeed, but your lamp and mine, my friend, are not conscious to the same labours." To others he did not pretend to deny his previous application, but told them, "He either wrote the whole of his orations, or spoke not without first committing part to writing." He further affirmed, "That this shewed him a good member of a democratic state; for the coming prepared to the rostrum was a mark of respect for the people. Whereas, to be regardless of what the people might think of a man's address shewed his inclination for oligarchy, and that he had rather gain his point by force than by persuasion." Another proof they gave us of his want of confidence on any sudden occasion is, that when he happened to be put into disorder by the tumultuary behaviour of the people, Demades often rose up to support him in an extempore address, but he never did the same for Demades. . . .
Upon the whole it appears that Demosthenes did not take Pericles entirely for his model. He only adopted his action and delivery, and his prudent resolutions not to make a practice of speaking from a sudden impulse, or on any occasion that might present itself; being persuaded that it was to that conduct he owed his greatness. Yet, while he chose not often to trust the success of his powers to fortune, he did not absolutely neglect the reputation which may be acquired by speaking on a sudden occasion; and if we believe Eratosthenes, Demetrius the Phalerean, and the comic poets, there was a greater spirit and boldness in his unpremeditated orations than in those he had committed to writing. Eratosthenes says that in his extemporaneous harangues he often spoke as from a supernatural impulse; and Demetrius tells us that in an address to the people, like a man inspired, he once uttered this oath in verse:
By earth, by all her fountains, streams, and floods! . . .
As for his personal defects, Demetrius the Phalerean gives us an account of the remedies he applied to them; and he says he had it from Demosthenes in his old age. The hesitation and stammering of his tongue he corrected by practising to speak with pebbles in his mouth; and he strengthened his voice by running or walking uphill, and pronouncing some passage in an oration or a poem during the difficulty of breath which that caused. He had, moreover, a looking-glass in his house before which he used to declaim and adjust all his motions.
It was said that a man came to him one day, and desired him to be his advocate against a person from whom he had suffered by assault. "Not you, indeed," said Demosthenes, "you have suffered no such thing." "What," said the man, raising his voice, "have I not received those blows?" "Ay, now," replied Demosthenes, "you do speak like a person that has been injured." So much in his opinion do the tone of voice and the action contribute to gain the speaker credit in what he affirms.
His action pleased the commonalty much; but people of taste (among whom was Demetrius the Phalerean) thought there was something in it low, inelegant, and unmanly. Hermippus acquaints us, Aesion being asked his opinion of the ancient orators and those of that time, said, "Whoever has heard the orators of former times must admire the decorum and dignity with which they spoke. Yet when we read the orations of Demosthenes, we must allow they have more art in the composition and greater force." It is needless to mention that in his written orations there was something extremely cutting and severe; but in his sudden repartees there was also something of humour. . . .
When a rascal surnamed Chalcus attempted to jest upon his late studies and long watchings, he said, "I know my lamp offends thee. But you need not wonder, my countryman, that we have so many robberies, when we have thieves of brass [chalcus] and walls only of clay." Though more of his sayings might be produced, we shall pass them over, and go on to seek the rest of his manners and character in his actions and political conduct.
He tells us himself that he entered upon public business in the time of the Phocian war, and the same may be collected from his Philippics. For some of the last of them were delivered after that war was finished; and the former relate to the immediate transactions of it. It appears, also, that he was thirty-two years old when he was preparing his oration against Midias; and yet at that time he had attained no name or power in the administration. . . .
He had a glorious subject for his political ambition to defend the cause of Greece against Philip. He defended it like a champion worthy of such a charge, and soon gained great reputation both for eloquence and for the bold truths which he spoke. He was admired in Greece, and courted by the king of Persia. Nay, Philip himself had a much higher opinion of him than the other orators; and his enemies acknowledged that they had to contend with a great man. For Aeschines and Hyperides, in their very accusations, give him such a character.
I wonder, therefore, how Theopompus could say that he was a man of no steadiness, who was never long pleased either with the same persons or things. For, on the contrary, it appears that he abode by the party and the measures which he first adopted; and was so far from quitting them during his life that he forfeited his life rather than he would forsake them. . . .
It must be acknowledged, however, that he excelled all the orators of his time, except Phocion, in his life and conversation. And we find in his orations that he told the people the boldest truths, that he opposed their inclinations and corrected their errors with the greatest spirit and freedom. Theopompus also acquaints us that when the Athenians were for having him manager of a certain impeachment, and insisted upon it in a tumultuary manner, he would not comply, but rose up and said, "My friends, I will be your counsellor whether you will or no; but a false accuser I will not be how much soever you may wish it. . . ."
Demosthenes, through the whole course of his political conduct, left none of the actions of the kin of Macedon undisparaged. Even in time of peace he laid hold on every opportunity to raise suspicions against him among the Athenians, and to excite their resentment. Hence Philip looked upon him as a person of the greatest importance in Athens; and when he went with nine other deputies to the court of that prince, after having given them all audience, he answered the speech of Demosthenes with greater care than the rest. As to other marks of honour and respect, Demosthenes had not an equal share in them; they were bestowed principally upon Aeschines and Philocrates. They, therefore, were large in the praise of Philip on all occasions, and they insisted, in particular, on his eloquence, his beauty, and even his being able to drink a great quantity of liquor. Demosthenes, who could not bear to hear him praised, turned these things off as trifles. "The first," he said, "was the property of a sophist, the second of a woman, and the third of a sponge; and not one of them could do any credit to a king."
Afterward, it appeared that nothing was to be expected but war; for, on the one hand, Philip knew not how to sit down in tranquillity; and, on the other, Demosthenes inflamed the Athenians. In this case, the first step the orator took was to put the people upon sending an armament to Euboea, which was brought under the yoke of Philip by its petty tyrants. Accordingly he drew up an edict, in pursuance of which they passed over to that peninsula, and drove out the Macedonians. His second operation was the sending succor to the Byzantians and Perinthians, with whom Philip was at war. He persuaded the people to drop their resentment, to forget the faults which both those nations had committed in the confederate war, and to send a body of troops to their assistance. They did so, and it saved them from ruin. After this, he went ambassador to the states of Greece; and, by his animating address, brought them almost all to join in the league against Philip. . . .
Meantime Philip, elated with his success at Amphissa, surprised Elatea, and possessed himself of Phocis. The Athenians were struck with astonishment, and none of them durst mount the rostrum; no one knew what advice to give; but a melancholy silence reigned the city. In this distress Demosthenes alone stood forth, and proposed that application should be made to the Thebans. He likewise animated the people in his usual manner, and inspired them with fresh hopes; in consequence of which he was sent ambassador to Thebes, some others being joined in commission with him. Philip, too, on his part, as Maryas informs us, sent Anyntus and Clearchus, two Macedonians, Doachus the Thessalian, Thrasidaeus the Elean, to answer the Athenian deputies. The Thebans were not ignorant what way their true interest pointed, but each of them had the evils of war before his eyes; for their Phocian wounds were still fresh upon them. However, the powers of the orator, as Theopompus tells us, rekindled their courage and ambition so effectually that all other objects were disregarded. They lost sight of fear, of caution, of every prior attachment, and, through the force of his eloquence, fell with enthusiastic transports into the path of honour.
So powerful, indeed, were the efforts of the orator that Philip immediately sent ambassadors to Athens to apply for peace. Greece recovered her spirits, whilst she stood waiting for the event; and not only the Athenian generals, but the governors of Boeotia, were ready to execute the commands of Demosthenes. All the assemblies, as well those of Thebes as those of Athens, were under his direction: he was equally beloved, equally powerful, in both places; and, as Theopompus shows, it was no more than his merit claimed. But the superior power of fortune, which seems to have been working at revolution, and drawing the liberties of Greece to a period at that time, opposed and baffled all the measures that could be taken. The deity discovered many tokens of the approaching event.
"THE LEARNED BLACKSMITH"
This man's career is the star example of the pursuit of knowledge under difficulties. For years, while earning his living at the forge, he denied himself all natural pleasures that he might devote every possible minute to cramming his head with seemingly useless scraps of knowledge.
The acquisition of knowledge merely for its own sake is of course foolishness, but it is a very rare kind of foolishness. Nearly always the learned man pays his debt to society in full measure, if we but give him time enough. So it was with "The Learned Blacksmith." From his deep learning, Elihu Burritt at last drew the inspiration which made him a powerful advocate in the cause of the world's peace.
From "Captains of Industry," by James Parton. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1884.
Elihu Burritt, with whom we have all been familiar for many years as the Learned Blacksmith, was born in 1810 at the beautiful town of New Britain, in Connecticut, about ten miles from Hartford. He was the youngest son in an old-fashioned family of ten children. His father owned and cultivated a small farm, but spent the winters at the shoemaker's bench, according to the rational custom of Connecticut in that day. When Elihu was sixteen years of age his father died, and the lad soon after apprenticed himself to a blacksmith in his native village.
He was an ardent reader of books from childhood up, and he was enabled to gratify this taste by means of a very small village library, which contained several books of history, of which he was naturally fond. This boy, however, was a shy, devoted student, brave to maintain what he thought right, but so bashful that he was known to hide in the cellar when his parents were going to have company.
As his father's long sickness had kept him out of school for some time, he was the more earnest to learn during his apprenticeship—particularly mathematics, since he desired to become, among other things, a good surveyor. He was obliged to work from ten to twelve hours a day at the forge, but while he was blowing the bellows he employed his mind in doing sums in his head. His biographer gives a specimen of these calculations which he wrought out without making a single figure:
"How many yards of cloth, three feet in width, cut into strips an inch wide, and allowing half an inch at each end for the lap, would it require to reach from the centre of the earth to the surface, and how much would it all cost at a shilling a yard?"
He would go home at night with several of these sums done in his head, and report the results to an elder brother, who had worked his way through Williams College. His brother would perform the calculations upon a slate, and usually found his answers correct.
When he was about half through his apprenticeship he suddenly took it into his head to learn Latin, and began at once through the assistance of the same elder brother. In the evenings of one winter he read the Aeneid of Virgil; and, after going on for a while with Cicero and a few other Latin authors, he began Greek. During the winter months he was obliged to spend every hour of daylight at the forge, and even in the summer his leisure minutes were few and far between. But he carried his Greek grammar in his hat, and often found a chance, while he was waiting for a large piece of iron to get hot, to open his book with his black fingers, and go through a pronoun, an adjective, or part of a verb, without being noticed by his fellow-apprentices.
So he worked his way until he was out of his time, when he treated himself to a whole quarter's schooling at his brother's school, where he studied mathematics, Latin, and other languages. Then he went back to the forge, studying hard in the evenings at the same branches, until he had saved a little money, when he resolved to go to New Haven and spend a winter in study. It was far from his thoughts, as it was from his means, to enter Yale College, but he seems to have had an idea that the very atmosphere of the college would assist him. He was still so timid that he determined to work his way without asking the least assistance from a professor or tutor.
He took lodgings at a cheap tavern in New Haven, and began the very next morning a course of heroic study. As soon as the fire was made in the sitting-room of the inn, which was at half-past four in the morning, he took possession, and studied German until breakfast-time, which was half-past seven. When the other boarders had gone to business, he sat down to Homer's Iliad, of which he knew nothing, and with only a dictionary to help him.
"The proudest moment of my life," he once wrote, "was when I had first gained the full meaning of the first fifteen lines of that noble work. I took a short triumphal walk, in favor of that exploit."
Just before the boarders came back for their dinner he put away all his Greek and Latin books and took up a work in Italian, because it was less likely to attract the notice of the noisy crowd. After dinner he fell again upon his Greek, and in the evening read Spanish until bedtime. In this way he lived and labored for three months, a solitary student in the midst of a community of students; his mind imbued with the grandeurs and dignity of the past while eating flapjacks and molasses at a poor tavern.
Returning to his home in New Britain, he obtained the mastership of an academy in a town near by, but he could not bear a life wholly sedentary; and at the end of a year abandoned his school and became what is called a "runner" for one of the manufacturers of New Britain. This business he pursued until he was about twenty-five years of age, when, tired of wandering, he came home again, and set up a grocery and provision store, in which he invested all the money he had saved. Soon came the commercial crash of 1837, and he was involved in the widespread ruin. He lost the whole of his capital, and had to begin the world anew.
He resolved to return to his studies in the languages of the East. Unable to buy or find the necessary books, he tied up his effects in a small handkerchief and walked to Boston, one hundred miles distant, hoping there to find a ship in which he could work his passage across the ocean, and collect oriental works from port to port. He could not find a berth. He turned back, and walked as far as Worcester, where he found work, and found something else which he liked better. There is an antiquarian society at Worcester, with a large and peculiar library, containing a great number of books in languages not usually studied, such as the Icelandic, the Russian, the Celtic dialects, and others. The directors of the society placed all their treasures at his command, and he now divided his time between hard study of languages and hard labor at the forge. To show how he passed his days, I will copy an entry or two from his private diary he then kept:
"Monday, June 18. Headache; 40 pages Cuvier's Theory of the Earth; 64 pages French; 11 hours forging.
"Tuesday, June 19. 60 lines Hebrew; 30 pages French; 10 pages Cuvier; 8 lines Syriac; 10 lines Danish; 10 lines Bohemian; 9 lines Polish; 15 names of stars; 10 hours forging.
"Wednesday, June 20. 25 lines Hebrew; 8 lines Syriac; 11 hours forging."
He spent five years at Worcester in such labors as these. When work at his trade became slack, or when he had earned a little more money than usual, he would spend more time in the library; but, on the other hand, when work in the shop was pressing, he could give less time to study. After a while he began to think that he might perhaps earn his subsistence in part by his knowledge of languages, and thus save much waste of time and vitality at the forge. He wrote a letter to William Lincoln, of Worcester, who had aided and encouraged him; and in this letter he gave a short history of his life, and asked whether he could not find employment in translating some foreign work into English. Mr. Lincoln was so much struck with his letter that he sent it to Edward Everett, and he, having occasion soon after to address a convention of teachers, read it to his audience as a wonderful instance of the pursuit of knowledge under difficulties. Mr. Everett prefaced it by saying that such a resolute purpose of improvement against such obstacles excited his admiration, and even his veneration.
"It is enough," he added, "to make one who has good opportunities for education hang his head in shame."
All this, including the whole of the letter, was published in the newspapers, with eulogistic comments, in which the student was spoken of as the "Learned Blacksmith." The bashful scholar was overwhelmed with shame at finding himself suddenly famous. However, it led to his entering upon public life. Lecturing was then coming into vogue, and he was frequently invited to the platform. Accordingly, he wrote a lecture, entitled "Application and Genius," in which he endeavored to show that there is no such thing as genius, but that all extraordinary attainments are the results of application. After delivering this lecture sixty times in one season, he went back to his forge at Worcester, mingling study with labor in the old way.
On sitting down to write a new lecture for the following season, on the "Anatomy of the Earth," a certain impression was made upon his mind which changed the current of his life. Studying the globe, he was impressed with the need that one nation has of other nations, and one zone of another zone; the tropics producing what assuages life in the northern latitudes and northern lands furnishing the means of mitigating tropical discomforts. He felt that the earth was made for friendliness and cooeperation, not for fierce competition and bloody wars.
Under the influence of these feelings, his lecture became an eloquent plea for peace, and to this object his after life was chiefly devoted. The dispute with England upon the Oregon boundary induced him to go to England with the design of travelling on foot from village to village, preaching peace, and exposing the horrors and folly of war. His addresses attracting attention, he was invited to speak to larger bodies, and, in short, he spent twenty years of his life as a lecturer upon peace, organizing Peace Congresses, advocating low uniform rates of ocean postage, and spreading abroad among the people of Europe the feeling which issued, at length, in the arbitration of the dispute between the United States and Great Britain, an event which posterity will, perhaps, consider the most important of this century. He heard Victor Hugo say at the Paris Congress of 1850:
"A day will come when a cannon will be exhibited in public museums, just as an instrument of torture is now, and people will be amazed that such a thing could ever have been. . . ."
Elihu Burritt spent the last years of his life upon a little farm which he had contrived to buy in his native town. He was never married, but lived with his sister and her daughters. He was not so very much richer in worldly goods than when he started out for Boston, with his property wrapped in a small handkerchief. He died in March, 1879, aged sixty-nine years.
JOHN B. GOUGH
THE CONQUEST OF A BAD HABIT
Happily few human beings sink to the depths in which John B. Gough found himself at the age of twenty-five years. By sheer force of will he raised himself from the slough in which he wallowed, till he attained a position honored among men, and performed a service of exceptional usefulness to society.
His story, as told in his own vivid words, is one of the most absorbing in the annals of self-help. His example must have helped thousands among the myriads whom he thrilled by the dramatic recital of his experience.
From his "Autobiography."
I boarded in Grand Street at this time, and soon after laid the foundation of many of my future sorrows. I possessed a tolerably good voice, and sang pretty well, having also the faculty of imitation rather strongly developed; and being well stocked with amusing stories, I was introduced into the society of thoughtless and dissipated young men, to whom my talents made me welcome. These companions were what is termed respectable, but they drank. I now began to attend the theatres frequently, and felt ambitious of strutting my part upon the stage. By slow but sure degrees I forgot the lessons of wisdom which my mother had taught me, lost all relish for the great truths of religion, neglected my devotions, and considered an actor's situation to be the ne plus ultra of greatness.
During my residence at Newburyport my early serious impressions on one occasion in a measure revived, and I felt some stinging of conscience for my neglect of the Sabbath and religious observances. I recommenced attending a place of worship, and for a short time I attended the Rev. Mr. Campbell's church, by whom, as well as by several of his members, I was treated with much Christian kindness. I was often invited to Mr. Campbell's house, as well as to the house of some of his hearers, and it seemed as if a favorable turning-point or crisis in my fortunes had arrived. Mr. Campbell was good enough to manifest a very great interest in my welfare, and frequently expressed a hope that I should be enabled, although late in life, to obtain an education. And this I might have acquired had not my evil genius prevented my making any efforts to obtain so desirable an end. My desire for strong liquors and company seemed to present an insuperable barrier to all improvement; and after a few weeks every aspiration after better things had ceased; every bud of promised comfort was crushed. Again I grieved the spirit that had been striving with my spirit, and ere long became even more addicted to the use of the infernal draughts, which had already wrought me so much woe, than at any previous period of my existence.
And now my circumstances began to be desperate indeed. In vain were all my efforts to obtain work, and at last I became so reduced that at times I did not know when one meal was ended, where on the face of the broad earth I should find another. Further mortification awaited me, and by slow degrees I became aware of it. The young men with whom I had associated, in barrooms and parlors, and who wore a little better clothing than I could afford, one after another began to drop my acquaintance. If I walked in the public streets, I too quickly perceived the cold look, the averted eye, the half recognition, and to a sensitive spirit such as I possessed such treatment was almost past endurance. To add to the mortification caused by such a state of things, it happened that those who had laughed the loudest at my songs and stories, and who had been social enough with me in the barroom, were the very individuals who seemed most ashamed of my acquaintance. I felt that I was shunned by the respectable portion of the community also; and once, on asking a lad to accompany me in a walk, he informed me that his father had cautioned him against associating with me. This was a cutting reproof, and I felt it more deeply than words can express. And could I wonder at it? No. Although I may have used bitter words against that parent, my conscience told me that he had done no more than his duty in preventing his son being influenced by my dissipated habits. Oh! how often have I lain down and bitterly remembered many who had hailed my arrival in their company as a joyous event. Their plaudits would resound in my ears, and peals of laughter ring again in my deserted chamber; then would succeed stillness, broken only by the beatings of my agonized heart, which felt that the gloss of respectability had worn off and exposed my threadbare condition. To drown these reflections, I would drink, not from love of the taste of the liquor, but to become so stupefied by its fumes as to steep my sorrows in a half oblivion; and from this miserable stupor I would wake to a fuller consciousness of my situation, and again would I banish my reflections by liquor.
There lived in Newburyport at that time a Mr. Law, who was a rum seller, and I had spent many a shilling at his bar; he proposed to me that he would purchase some tools, and I could start a bindery on my own account, paying him by installments. He did so; and I thought it an act of great kindness then, and for some time afterward, till I found he had received pay from me for tools he had never paid for himself, and I was dunned for the account he had failed to settle. He even borrowed seventy-five dollars from me after I signed the pledge, which has never been repaid. "Such is life."
Despite all that had occurred, my good name was not so far gone but that I might have succeeded, by the aid of common industry and attention, in my business. I was a good workman, and found no difficulty in procuring employment, and, I have not the slightest doubt, should have succeeded in my endeavor to get on in the world but for the unhappy love of stimulating drinks, and my craving for society. I was now my own master; all restraint was removed, and, as might be expected, I did as I pleased in my own shop. I became careless, was often in the barroom when I should have been at my bindery, and instead of spending my evenings at home in reading or conversation, they were almost invariably passed in the company of the rum bottle, which became almost my sole household deity. Five months only did I remain in business, and during that short period I gradually sunk deeper and deeper in the scale of degradation. I was now the slave of a habit which had become completely my master, and which fastened its remorseless fangs in my very vitals. Thought was a torturing thing. When I looked back, memory drew fearful pictures, the lines of lurid flame, and, whenever I dared anticipate the future, hope refused to illumine my onward path. I dwelt in one awful present; nothing to solace me—nothing to beckon me onward to a better state.
I knew full well that I was proceeding on a downward course, and crossing the sea of time, as it were, on a bridge perilous as that over which Mahomet's followers are said to enter paradise. A terrible feeling was ever present that some evil was impending which would soon fall on my devoted head, and I would shudder as if the sword of Damocles, suspended by its single hair, was about to fall and utterly destroy me.
Warnings were not wanting, but they had no voice of terror for me. I was intimately acquainted with a young man in the town, and well remember his coming to my shop one morning and asking the loan of ninepence with which to buy rum. I let him have the money, and the spirit was soon consumed. He begged me to lend him a second ninepence, but I refused; yet, during my temporary absence, he drank some spirit of wine which was in a bottle in the shop, and used by me in my business. He went away, and the next I heard of him was that he had died shortly afterward. Such an awful circumstance as this might well have impressed me, but habitual indulgence had almost rendered me impervious to salutary impressions. I was, at this time, deeper in degradation than at any period before which I can remember.
My custom now was to purchase my brandy—which, in consequence of my limited means, was of the very worst description—and keep it at the shop, where, by little and little, I drank it, and continually kept myself in a state of excitement.
This course of procedure entirely unfitted me for business, and it not unfrequently happened, when I had books to bind, that I would instead of attending to business keep my customers waiting, whilst in the company of desolute companions I drank during the whole day, to the complete ruin of my prospects in life. So entirely did I give myself up to the bottle that those of my companions who fancied they still possessed some claims to respectability gradually withdrew from my company. At my house, too, I used to keep a bottle of gin, which was in constant requisition. Indeed, go where I would, stimulant I must and did have. Such a slave was I to the bottle that I resorted to it continually, and in vain was every effort which I occasionally made to conquer the debasing habit. I had become a father; but God in his mercy removed my little one at so early an age that I did not feel the loss as much as if it had lived longer, to engage my affections.
A circumstance now transpired which attracted my attention, and led me to consider my situation, and whither I was hurrying. A lecture was advertised to be delivered by the first reformed drunkard, Mr. I. J. Johnson, who visited Newburyport, and I was invited by some friends, who seemed to feel an interest, to attend and hear what he had to say. I determined after some consideration to go and hear what was to be said on the subject. The meeting was held in the Rev. Mr. Campbell's church, which was pretty well crowded. I went to the door, but would go no farther; but in the ten minutes I stood there, I heard him in graphic and forcible terms depict the misery of the drunkard and the awful consequences of his conduct, both as they affected himself and those connected with him. My conscience told that he spoke the truth—for what had I not suffered! I knew he was right, and I turned to leave the church when a young man offered me the pledge to sign. I actually turned to sign it; but at that critical moment the appetite for strong drink, as if determined to have the mastery over me, came in all its force. Oh, how I wanted it! and remembering that I had a pint of brandy at home I deferred signing, and put off to "a more convenient season," a proceeding that might have saved me so much after sorrow. I, however, compromised the matter with my conscience by inwardly resolving that I would drink up what spirit I had by me, and then think of leaving off altogether.
I forgot the impressions made upon me by the speaker at the meeting. Still, I madly drained the inebriating cup, and speedily my state was worse than ever. Oh, no, I soon ceased to think about it, for my master passion, like Aaron's rod, swallowed up every thought and feeling opposed to it which I possessed.
My business grew gradually worse, and at length my constitution became so impaired that even when I had the will I did not possess the power to provide for my daily wants. My hands would at times tremble so that I could not perform the finer operations of my business, the finishing and gilding. How could I letter straight, with a hand burning and shaking from the effects of a debauch. Sometimes, when it was absolutely necessary to finish off some work, I have entered the shop with a stern determination not to drink a single drop until I completed it. I have bitterly felt that my failing was a matter of common conversation in the town, and a burning sense of shame would flush my fevered brow at the conviction that I was scorned by the respectable portion of the community. But these feelings passed away like the morning cloud or early dew, and I pursued my old course.
One day I thought I would not go to work, and a great inducement to remain at home existed in the shape of my enemy, West India rum, of which I had a quantity in the house. Although the morning was by no means far advanced, I sat down, intending to do nothing until dinner-time. I could not sit alone without rum, and I drank glass after glass until I became so stupefied that I was compelled to lie down on the bed, where I soon fell asleep. When I awoke it was late in the afternoon, and then, as I persuaded myself, too late to make a bad day's work good. I invited a neighbor, who, like myself, was a man of intemperate habits, to spend the evening with me. He came, and we sat down to our rum, and drank foully together until late that night, when he staggered home; and so intoxicated was I that, in moving to go to bed, I fell over the table, broke a lamp, and lay on the floor for some time, unable to rise. At last I managed to get to bed, but, oh, I did not sleep, only dozed at intervals, for the drunkard never knows the blessings of undisturbed repose. I awoke in the night with a raging thirst. No sooner was one draught taken than the horrible dry feeling returned; and so I went on, swallowing repeated glassfuls of the spirit until at last I had drained the very last drop which the jug contained. My appetite grew by what it fed on; and, having a little money by me, I with difficulty got up, made myself look as tidy as possible, and then went out to buy more rum, with which I returned to the house.
The fact will, perhaps, seem incredible, but so it was that I drank spirits continually without tasting a morsel of food for the next three days. This could not last long; a constitution of iron strength could not endure such treatment, and mine was partially broken down by previous dissipation.
I began to experience a feeling hitherto unknown to me. After the three days' drinking to which I have just referred, I felt, one night, as I lay on my bed, an awful sense of something dreadful coming over me. It was as if I had been partially stunned, and now in an interval of consciousness was about to have the fearful blow, which had prostrated me, repeated. There was a craving for sleep, sleep, blessed sleep, but my eyelids were as if they could not close. Every object around me I beheld with startling distinctness, and my hearing became unnaturally acute. Then, to the ringing and roaring in my ears would suddenly succeed a silence so awful that only the stillness of the grave might be compared with it.
At other times, strange voices would whisper unintelligible words, and the slightest noise would make me start like a guilty thing. But the horrible, burning thirst was insupportable, and to quench it and induce sleep I clutched again and again the rum bottle, hugged my enemy, and poured the infernal fluid down my parched throat. But it was no use, none; I could not sleep. Then I bethought me of tobacco; and staggering from my bed to a shelf near by, with great difficulty I managed to procure a pipe and some matches. I could not stand to light the latter, so I lay again on the bed, and scraped one on the wall. I began to smoke, and the narcotic leaf produced a stupefaction. I dozed a little, but, feeling a warmth on my face, I awoke and discovered my pillow to be on fire! I had dropped a lighted match on the bed. By a desperate effort I threw the pillow on the floor, and, too exhausted to feel annoyed by the burning feathers, I sank into a state of somnolency.
How long I lay, I do not exactly know; but I was roused from my lethargy by the neighbors, who, alarmed by the smell of fire, came to my room to ascertain the cause. When they took me from my bed, the under part of the straw with which it was stuffed was smouldering, and in a quarter of an hour more must have burst into a flame. Had such been the case, how horrible would have been my fate! for it is more than probable that, in my half-senseless condition, I should have been suffocated, or burned to death. The fright produced by this incident, and a very narrow escape, in some degree sobered me, but what I felt more than anything else was the exposure now; all would be known, and I feared my name would become, more than ever, a byword and a reproach.
Will it be believed that I again sought refuge in rum? Yes, so it was. Scarcely had I recovered from the fright than I sent out, procured a pint of rum, and drank it all in less than an hour. And now came upon me many terrible sensations. Cramps attacked me in my limbs, which raked me with agony, and my temples throbbed as if they would burst. So ill was I that I became seriously alarmed, and begged the people of the house to send for a physician. They did so, but I immediately repented having summoned him, and endeavored, but ineffectually, to get out of his way when he arrived. He saw at a glance what was the matter with me, ordered the persons about me to watch me carefully, and on no account to let me have any spirituous liquors. Everything stimulating was vigorously denied me; and there came on the drunkard's remorseless torture: delirium tremens, in all its terrors, attacked me. For three days I endured more agony than pen could describe, even were it guided by the mind of Dante. Who can feel the horrors of the horrible malady, aggravated as it is by the almost ever-abiding consciousness that it is self-sought. Hideous faces appeared on the wall and on the ceiling and on the floors; foul things crept along the bedclothes, and glaring eyes peered into mine. I was at one time surrounded by millions of monstrous spiders that crawled slowly over every limb, whilst the beaded drops of perspiration would start to my brow, and my limbs would shiver until the bed rattled again. Strange lights would dance before my eyes, and then suddenly the very blackness of darkness would appall me by its dense gloom. All at once, while gazing at a frightful creation of my distempered mind, I seemed struck with sudden blindness. I knew a candle was burning in the room but I could not see it, all was so pitchy dark. I lost the sense of feeling, too, for I endeavored to grasp my arm in one hand, but consciousness was gone. I put my hand to my side, my head, but felt nothing, and still I knew my limbs and frame were there. And then the scene would change! I was falling—falling swiftly as an arrow—far down into some terrible abyss; and so like reality was it that as I fell I could see the rocky sides of the horrible shaft, where mocking, jibing, fiend-like forms were perched; and I could feel the air rushing past me, making my hair stream out by the force of the unwholesome blast. Then the paroxysm sometimes ceased for a few moments, and I would sink back on my pallet, drenched with perspiration, utterly exhausted, and feeling a dreadful certainty of the renewal of my torments.
By the mercy of God I survived this awful seizure; and when I rose, a weak, broken-down man, and surveyed my ghastly features in a glass, I thought of my mother, and asked myself how I had obeyed the instructions I had received from her lips, and to what advantage I had turned the lessons she had taught me. I remembered her prayers and tears, thought of what I had been but a few short months before, and contrasted my situation with what it then was. Oh! how keen were my own rebukes; and in the excitement of the moment I resolved to lead a better life, and abstain from the accursed cup.
For about a month, terrified by what I had suffered, I adhered to my resolution, then my wife came home, and in my joy at her return I flung my good resolutions to the wind, and foolishly fancying that I could now restrain my appetite, which had for a whole month remained in subjection, I took a glass of brandy. That glass aroused the slumbering demon, who would not be satisfied by so tiny a libation. Another and another succeeded, until I was again far advanced in the career of intemperance. The night of my wife's return I went to bed intoxicated.
I will not detain the reader by the particulars of my everyday life at this time; they may easily be imagined from what has already been stated. My previous bitter experience, one would think, might have operated as a warning; but none save the inebriate can tell the almost resistless strength of the temptations which assail him. I did not, however, make quite so deep a plunge as before. My tools I had given into the hands of Mr. Gray, for whom I worked, receiving about five dollars a week. My wages were paid me every night, for I was not to be trusted with much money at a time, so certain was I to spend a great portion of it in drink. As it was, I regularly got rid of one third of what I daily received, for rum.
My wardrobe, as it had, indeed, nearly always been whilst I drank to excess, was now exceedingly shabby, and it was with the greatest difficulty that I could manage to procure the necessaries of life. My wife became very ill. Oh! how miserable I was! Some of the women who were in attendance on my wife told me to get two quarts of rum. I procured it, and as it was in the house, and I did not anticipate serious consequences, I could not withstand the strong temptation to drink. I did drink, and so freely that the usual effect was produced. How much I swallowed I cannot tell, but the quantity, judging from the effects, must have been considerable.
Ten long weary days of suspense passed, at the end of which my wife and her infant both died. Then came the terribly oppressive feeling that I was forgotten of God, as well as abandoned by man. All the consciousness of my dreadful situation pressed heavily, indeed, upon me, and keenly as a sensitive mind could, did I feel the loss I had experienced. I drank now to dispel my gloom, or to drown it in the maddening cup. And soon was it whispered, from one to another, until the whole town became aware of it, that my wife and child were lying dead, and that I was drunk! But if ever I was cursed with the faculty of thought, in all its intensity, it was then. And this was the degraded condition of one who had been nursed in the lap of piety, and whose infant tongue had been taught to utter a prayer against being led into temptation. There in the room where all who had loved me were; lying in the unconscious slumber of death was I, gazing, with a maudlin melancholy imprinted on my features, on the dead forms of those who were flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. During the miserable hours of darkness I would steal from my lonely bed to the place where my dead wife and child lay, and, in agony of soul, pass my shaking hand over their cold faces, and then return to my bed after a draught of rum, which I had obtained and hidden under the pillow of my wretched couch.
How apt the world is to judge of a man pursuing the course I did as one destitute of all feeling, with no ambition, no desire for better things! To speak of such a man's pride seems absurd, and yet drink does not destroy pride, ambition, or high aspirations. The sting of his misery is that he has ambition but no expectation; desire for better things but no hope; pride but no energy; therefore the possession of these very qualities is an additional burden to his load of agony. Could he utterly forget his manhood, and wallow with the beasts that perish, he would be comparatively happy. But his curse is that he thinks. He is a man, and must think. He cannot always drown thought or memory. He may, and does, fly for false solace to the drink, and may stun his enemy in the evening, but it will rend him like a giant in the morning. A flower, or half-remembered tune, a child's laughter, will sometimes suffice to flood the victim with recollections that either madden him to excess or send him crouching to his miserable room, to sit with face buried in his hands, while the hot, thin tears trickle over his swollen fingers.
I believe this to be one reason why I shrink from society; why I have so often refused kind invitations; why, though I love my personal friends as strongly and as truly as any man's friends are ever loved, I have so steadily withdrawn from social parties, dinners, or introductions. This is the penalty I must ever pay.
A man can never recover from the effects of such a seven years' experience, morally or physically.
The month of October had nearly drawn to a close, and on its last Sunday evening I wandered out into the streets, pondering as well as I was able to do—for I was somewhat intoxicated—on my lone and friendless condition. My frame was much weakened and little fitted to bear the cold of winter, which had already begun to come on. But I had no means of protecting myself against the bitter blast, and, as I anticipated my coming misery, I staggered along, houseless, aimless, and all but hopeless.
Some one tapped me on the shoulder. An unusual thing that, to occur to me, for no one now cared to come in contact with the wretched, shabby-looking drunkard. I was a disgrace, "a living, walking disgrace." I could scarcely believe my own senses when I turned and met a kind look; the thing was so unusual, and so entirely unexpected that I questioned the reality of it, but so it was. It was the first touch of kindness which I had known for months; and simple and trifling as the circumstance may appear to many, it went right to my heart, and like the wing of an angel, troubled the waters in that stagnant pool of affection, and made them once more reflect a little of the light of human love. The person who touched my shoulder was an entire stranger. I looked at him, wondering what his business was with me. Regarding me very earnestly, and apparently with much interest, he said:
"Mr. Gough, I believe?"
"That is my name," I replied, and was passing on.
"You have been drinking to-day," said the stranger, in a kind voice, which arrested my attention, and quite dispelled any anger at what I might otherwise have considered an officious interference in my affairs.
"Yes, sir," I replied. "I have——"
"Why do you not sign the pledge?" was the next query.
I considered for a moment or two, and then informed the strange friend who had so unexpectedly interested himself in my behalf that I had no hope of ever again becoming a sober man, and that I was without a single friend in the world who cared for me; that I fully expected to die very soon, cared not how soon, or whether I died drunk or sober, and, in fact, that I was in a condition of utter recklessness.
The stranger regarded me with a benevolent look, took me by the arm, and asked me how I should like to be as I once was, respectable and esteemed, well clad, and sitting as I used to, in a place of worship; enabled to meet my friends as in old times, and receive from them the pleasant nod of recognition as formerly; in fact, become a useful member of society?
"Oh," I replied, "I should like all these things first-rate; but I have no expectation that such a thing will ever happen. Such a change cannot be possible."
"Only sign our pledge," remarked my friend, "and I will warrant that it will be so. Sign it, and I will introduce you myself to good friends, who will feel an interest in your welfare and take a pleasure in helping you to keep your good resolution. Only, Mr. Gough, sign the pledge, and all will be as I have said; ay, and more, too!"
Oh! how pleasantly fell these words of kindness and promise on my crushed and bruised heart. I had long been a stranger to feelings such as now awoke in my bosom; a chord had been touched which vibrated to the tone of woe. Hope once more dawned; and I began to think, strange as it appeared, that such things as my friend promised me might come to pass. On the instant I resolved to try, at least, and said to the stranger:
"Well, I will sign it."
"When?" he asked.
"I cannot do so to-night," I replied, "for I must have some more drink presently, but I certainly will to-morrow."
"We have a temperance meeting to-morrow evening," he said; "will you sign it then?"
"That is right," said he, grasping my hand; "I will be there to see you."
"You shall," I remarked, and we parted.
I went on my way much touched by the kind interest which at last some one had taken in my welfare. I said to myself: "If it should be the last act of my life, I will perform my promise and sign it, even though I die in the attempt, for that man has placed confidence in me, and on that account I love him."
I then proceeded to a low groggery in Lincoln Square, and in the space of half an hour drank several glasses of brandy; this in addition to what I had taken before made me very drunk, and I staggered home as well as I could.
Arrived there, I threw myself on the bed and lay in a state of insensibility until morning. The first thing which occurred to my mind on awaking was the promise I had made on the evening before, to sign the pledge; and feeling, as I usually did on the morning succeeding a drunken bout, wretched and desolate, I was almost sorry that I had agreed to do so. My tongue was dry, my throat parched, my temples throbbed as if they would burst, and I had a horrible burning feeling in my stomach which almost maddened me, and I felt that I must have some bitters or I should die. So I yielded to my appetite, which would not be appeased, and repaired to the same hotel where I had squandered away so many shillings before; there I drank three or four times, until my nerves were a little strung, and then I went to work.
All that day the coming event of the evening was continually before my mind's eye, and it seemed to me as if the appetite which had so long controlled me exerted more power over me than ever. It grew stronger than I had any time known it, now that I was about to rid myself of it. Until noon I struggled against its cravings, and then, unable to endure my misery any longer, I made some excuse for leaving the shop, and went nearly a mile from it in order to procure one more glass wherewith to appease the demon who had so tortured me. The day wore wearily away, and when evening came I determined, in spite of many a hesitation, to perform the promise I had made to the stranger the night before. The meeting was to be held at the lower town hall, Worcester; and thither, clad in an old brown surtout, closely buttoned up to my chin that my ragged habiliments beneath might not be visible, I went. I took a place among the rest, and when an opportunity of speaking offered itself, I requested permission to be heard, which was readily granted.
When I stood up to relate my story, I was invited to the stand, to which I repaired, and on turning to face the audience, I recognized my acquaintance who had asked me to sign. It was Mr. Joel Stratton. He greeted me with a smile of approbation, which nerved and strengthened me for my task, as I tremblingly observed every eye fixed upon me. I lifted my quivering hand and then and there told what rum had done for me. I related how I was once respectable and happy, and had a home, but that now I was a houseless, miserable, scathed, diseased, and blighted outcast from society. I had scarce a hope remaining to me of ever becoming that which I once was, but, having promised to sign the pledge, I had determined not to break my word, and would now affix my name to it. In my palsied hand I with difficulty grasped the pen, and, in characters almost as crooked as those of old Stephen Hopkins on the Declaration of Independence, I signed the total abstinence pledge, and resolved to free myself from the inexorable tyrant.
Although still desponding and hopeless, I felt that I was relieved from a part of my heavy load. It was not because I deemed there was any supernatural power in the pledge which would prevent my ever again falling into such depths of woe as I had already become acquainted with, but the feeling of relief arose from the honest desire I entertained to keep a good resolution. I had exerted a moral power which had long remained lying by perfectly useless. The very idea of what I had done strengthened and encouraged me. Nor was this the only impulse given me to proceed in my new pathway, for many who witnessed my signing and heard my simple statement came forward, kindly grasped my hand, and expressed their satisfaction at the step I had taken. A new and better day seemed already to have dawned upon me.
As I left the hall, agitated and enervated, I remember chuckling to myself, with great gratification, "I have done it—I have done it!" There was a degree of pleasure in having put my foot on the head of the tyrant who had so long led me captive at his will, but although I had "scotched the snake," I had not killed him, for every inch of his frame was full of venomous vitality, and I felt that all my caution was necessary to prevent his stinging me afresh. I went home, retired to bed, but in vain did I try to sleep. I pondered upon the step I had taken, and passed a restless night. Knowing that I had voluntarily renounced drink, I endeavored to support my sufferings, and resist the incessant craving of my remorseless appetite as well as I could, but the struggle to overcome it was insupportably painful. When I got up in the morning my brain seemed as though it would burst with the intensity of its agony; my throat appeared as if it were on fire; and in my stomach I experienced a dreadful burning sensation, as if the fire of the pit had been kindled there. My hands trembled so that to raise water to my feverish lips was almost impossible. I craved, literally gasped, for my accustomed stimulant, and felt that I should die if I did not have it; but I persevered in my resolve, and withstood the temptations which assailed me on every hand.
Still, during all this frightful time I experienced a feeling somewhat akin to satisfaction at the position I had taken. I made at least one step toward reformation. I began to think that it was barely possible I might see better days, and once more hold up my head in society. Such feelings as these would alternate with gloomy forebodings and thick coming fancies of approaching ill. At one time hope, and at another fear, would predominate, but the raging, dreadful, continued thirst was always present, to torture and tempt me.
After breakfast I proceeded to the shop where I was employed, feeling dreadfully ill. I determined, however, to put a bold face on the matter, and, in spite of the cloud which seemed to hang over me, attempt work. I was exceedingly weak, and fancied, as I almost reeled about the shop, that every eye was fixed upon me suspiciously, although I exerted myself to the utmost to conceal my agitation. I was suffering; and those who have never thus suffered cannot comprehend it. The shivering of the spine, then flushes of heat, causing every pore of the body to sting, as if punctured with some sharp instrument; the horrible whisperings in the ear, combined with a longing cry of the whole system for stimulants. One glass of brandy would steady my shaking nerves; I cannot hold my hand still; I cannot stand still. A young man but twenty-five years of age, and I have no control of my nerves; one glass of brandy would relieve this gnawing, aching, throbbing stomach, but I have signed the pledge. "I do agree that I will not use it; and I must fight it out." How I got through the day I cannot tell. I went to my employer and said:
"I signed the pledge last night."
"I know you did."
"I mean to keep it."
"So they all say, and I hope you will."
"You do not believe that I will; you have no confidence in me."
I turned to my work, broken-hearted, crushed in spirit, paralyzed in energy, feeling how low I had sunk in the esteem of prudent and sober-minded men. Suddenly the small iron bar I had in my hand began to move; I felt it move, I gripped it; still it moved and twisted; I gripped still harder; yet the thing would move till I could feel it, yes, feel it, tearing the palm out of my hand, then I dropped it, and there it lay, a curling, shiny snake! I could hear the paper shavings rustle as the horrible thing writhed before me! If it had been a snake I should not have minded it. I was never afraid of a snake. I should have called some one to look at it, I could have killed it, I should not have been terrified at a thing; but I knew it was a cold dead bar of iron, and there it was, with its green eyes, its forked, darting tongue, curling in all its shiny loathsomeness, and the horror filled me so that my hair seemed to stand up and shiver, and my skin lift from the scalp to the ankles, and I groaned out, "I cannot fight this through! Oh! my God, I shall die!" when a gentleman came into the shop with a cheerful "Good-morning, Mr. Gough."
"I saw you sign the pledge last night."
"Yes, sir, I did it."
"I was very glad to see you do it, and many young men followed your example. It is such men as you that we want, and I hope you will be the means of doing a great deal of good. My office is in the exchange; come in and see me. I shall be happy to make your acquaintance. I have only a minute or two to spare, but I thought I would just call in and tell you to keep up a brave heart. Good-bye, God bless you. Come in and see me."
That was Jesse Goodrich, then a practising attorney and counselor at law, in Worcester, now dead; but to the last of his life my true and faithful friend. It would be impossible to describe how this little act of kindness cheered me. With the exception of Mr. Stratton, who was a waiter at a temperance hotel, no one had accosted me for months in a manner which would lead me to think any one cared for me, or what might be my fate. Now I was not altogether alone in the world; there was a hope of my being rescued from the "slough of despond," where I had been so long floundering. I felt that the fountain of human kindness was not utterly sealed up, and again a green spot, an oasis, small, indeed, but cheering, appeared in the desert of my life. I had something to live for; a new desire for life seemed suddenly to spring up; the universal boundary of human sympathy included even my wretched self in its cheering circle. All these sensations were generated by a few kind words at the right time. Yes, now I can fight; and I did fight—six days and six nights—encouraged and helped by a few words of sympathy. He said, "Come in and see me." I will. He said he would be pleased to make my acquaintance. He shall. He said, "Keep up a brave heart!" By God's help I will. And so encouraged I fought on with not one hour of healthy sleep, not one particle of food passing my lips, for six days and six nights.
On the evening of the day following that on which I signed the pledge I went straight home from my workshop, with a dreadful feeling of some impending calamity haunting me. In spite of the encouragement I had received, the presentiment of coming evil was so strong that it bowed me almost to the dust with apprehension. The slakeless thirst still clung to me; and water, instead of allaying it, seemed only to increase its intensity.
I was fated to encounter one struggle more with my enemy before I became free. Fearful was that struggle. God in his mercy forbid that any young man should endure but a tenth part of the torture which racked my frame and agonized my heart.
As in the former attack, horrible faces glared upon me from the walls—faces ever changing, and displaying new and still more horrible features; black bloated insects crawled over my face, and myriads of burning, concentric rings were revolving incessantly. At one moment the chamber appeared as red as blood, and in a twinkling it was dark as the charnel house. I seemed to have a knife with hundreds of blades in my hand, every blade driven through the flesh, and all so inextricably bent and tangled together that I could not withdraw them for some time; and when I did, from my lacerated fingers the bloody fibres would stretch out all quivering with life. After a frightful paroxysm of this kind I would start like a maniac from my bed, and beg for life, life! What I of late thought so worthless seemed now to be of unappreciable value. I dreaded to die, and clung to existence with a feeling that my soul's salvation depended on a little more of life.
In about a week I gained, in a great degree, the mastery over my accursed appetite; but the strife had made me dreadfully weak. Gradually my health improved, my spirits recovered, and I ceased to despair. Once more was I enabled to crawl into the sunshine; but, oh, how changed! Wan cheeks and hollow eyes, feeble limbs and almost powerless hands plainly enough indicated that between me and death there had indeed been but a step; and those who saw me might say as was said of Dante, when he passed through the streets of France, "There's the man that has been in hell."
THE SLAVE WHO STOLE FREEDOM
To Booker T. Washington, the teller of the tale which follows, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation brought freedom when he was but three years old. But Mr. Washington's struggles, first for an education, later in behalf of his black brethren, have endowed him with understanding and warm sympathy for Douglass, the man who, in his own generation, preceded Washington as the foremost colored citizen of the United States.
In later days, when the Underground Railway was in full operation, the slave who ran away could be sure of aid and comfort at any one of its many stations that he might find it possible to reach. But Douglass—pioneer among these dark-skinned adventurers for freedom—must needs rely almost wholly upon his own wit and courage in making his escape.
From "Frederick Douglass," by Booker T. Washington. Copyright, 1906, by George W. Jacobs & Company.
Frederick Douglass was born in the little town of Tuckahoe, in Talbot County, on the eastern shore of Maryland, supposedly in the month of February, 1817. . . .
Until he was seven years of age, young Fred felt few of the privations of slavery. In these childhood days he probably was as happy and carefree as the white children in the "big house." At liberty to come and go and play in the open sunshine, his early life was typical of the happier side of the negro life in slavery. What he missed of a mother's affection and a father's care was partly made up to him by the indulgent kindness of his good grandmother.
When Fred was between seven and eight years of age his grandmother was directed by her master to take her grandson to the Lloyd plantation. After the boy arrived at his new home, he was put in charge of a slave-woman for whom the only name we know is "Aunt Katy." This change brought him the first real hardship of his life. As an early consequence of it, he lost the care and guidance of his grandmother, his freedom to play, good food, and that affection which means so much to a child. When he came under the care of Aunt Katy, he began to feel for the first time the sting of unkindness. He has given a very disagreeable picture of this foster-mother. She was a woman of a hateful disposition, and treated the little stranger from Tuckahoe with extreme harshness. Her special mode of punishment was to deprive him of food. Indeed he was forced to go hungry most of the time, and if he complained was beaten without mercy. He has described his misery on one particular night. After being sent supperless to bed, his suffering very soon became more than he could bear, and when everybody else in the cabin was asleep he quietly took some corn and began to parch it before the open fireplace. While thus trying to appease his hunger by stealth, and feeling dejected and homesick, "who but my own dear mother should come in?" The friendless, hungry, and sorrowing little boy found himself suddenly caught up in her strong and protecting arms.
"I shall never forget," he says, "the indescribable expression of her countenance when I told her that Aunt Katy had said that she would starve the life out of me. There was a deep and tender glance at me, and a fiery look of indignation for Aunt Katy at the same moment, and when she took the parched corn from me and gave me, instead, a large ginger-cake, she read Aunt Katy a lecture which was never forgotten. That night I learned, as never before, that I was not only a child, but somebody's child. I was grander on my mother's knee than a king upon his throne. But my triumph was short. I dropped off to sleep and waked in the morning to find my mother gone, and myself again at the mercy of the virago in my master's kitchen."
There is no record of another meeting between mother and son. She probably died shortly afterward, because if she had been within walking distance, he certainly would have seen her again. Her memory in his child's mind was always that of a real and near personality. When he became older, and conscious of his superiority to his fellows, he was wont to say: "I am proud to attribute my love of letters, such as I may have, not to my presumed Anglo-Saxon father, but to my sable, unprotected, and uncultivated mother." Thus, after his mother died, his vivid imagination kept before him her image, as she appeared to him that last time he saw her, through all his struggles for a fuller and freer life for himself and his race.
With the loss of his mother and grandmother, he came more and more to realize the peculiar relation in which he and those about him stood to Colonel Lloyd and Captain Anthony. His active mind soon grasped the meaning of "master" and "slave." While still a lad, longing for a mother's care, he began to feel himself within the grasp of the curious thing that he afterward learned to know as "slavery." As he grew older in years and understanding, he came also to see what manner of man his master was. He described Captain Anthony as a "sad man." At times he was very gentle, and almost benevolent. But young Douglass was never able to forget that this same kindly slave-holder had refused to protect his cousin from a cruel beating by her overseer. The spectacle he had witnessed, when this beautiful young slave was whipped, had made a lasting and painful impression upon him. Vaguely he began to recognize the outlines of the institution which at once permitted, and to a certain degree made necessary, these cruelties. It was at this point that he began to speculate on the origin and nature of slavery. Meanwhile he became, in the course of his life on the plantation, the witness of other scenes quite as harrowing, and the memory mingled with his reflections, and embittered them.
During this time an event occurred which gave a new direction and a new impetus to the thoughts and purposes slowly taking form within him. This event was the successful escape of his Aunt Jennie and another slave. It caused a great commotion on the plantation. Nothing could happen in a Southern community that excited so many and such varied emotions as the escape of a slave from bondage: terror and revenge, hope and fear, mingled with the images of the pursued and the pursuers, with speculation in regard to the capture of the fugitive, and with prayers for his success in the minds of the slaves. . . .
From now on his quick and comprehending mind saw and suffered things that formerly never affected him. The hard and sometimes cruel discipline, toil from sunrise to sunset, scant food, the stifling of ambitions—all these began now to be perceived and felt, and the impression they left sank into the soul of this rebellious boy. He saw a slave killed by an overseer, on no other charge than that of being "impudent." "Crimes" of this nature were committed, as far as he could see, with impunity, and the memory of them haunted him by day and by night.
Thus far Douglass had not felt the overseer's whip. He was too small for anything except to run errands and to do light chores. Of course, he had been cuffed about by Aunt Katy; he says he seldom got enough to eat, and he suffered continually from cold, since his entire wardrobe consisted of a tow sack. . . .
When Fred became nine years old the most important event in his life occurred. His master determined to send him to Baltimore to live with Hugh Auld, a brother of Thomas Auld. Baltimore at this time was little more than a name to young Douglass. When he reached the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Auld and felt the difference between the plantation cabin and this city home, it was to him, for a time, like living in Paradise. Mrs. Auld is described as a lady of great kindness of heart, and of a gentle disposition. She at once took a tender interest in the little servant from the plantation. He was much petted and well fed, permitted to wear boy's clothes and shoes, and for the first time in his life had a good soft bed to sleep in. His only duty was to take care of and play with Tommy Auld, which he found both an easy and agreeable task.
Young Douglass yet knew nothing about reading. A book was as much of a mystery to him as the stars at night. When he heard his mistress read aloud from the Bible, his curiosity was aroused. He felt so secure in her kindness that he had the boldness to ask her to teach him. Following her natural impulse to do kindness to others, and without, for a moment, thinking of the danger, she at once consented. He quickly learned the alphabet and in a short time could spell words of three syllables. But alas, for his young ambition! When Mr. Auld discovered what his wife had done, he was both surprised and pained. He at once stopped the perilous practice, but it was too late. The precocious young slave had acquired a taste for book learning. He quickly understood that these mysterious characters called letters were the keys to a vast empire from which he was separated by an enforced ignorance. In discussing the matter with his wife, Mr. Auld said: "If you teach him to read, he will want to know how to write, and with this accomplished, he will be running away with himself." Mr. Douglass, referring to this conversation in later years, said: "This was decidedly the first anti-slavery speech to which I had ever listened. From that moment, I understood the direct pathway from slavery to freedom."
During the subsequent six years that he lived in Baltimore in the home of Mr. Auld he was more closely watched than he had been before this incident, and his liberty to go and come was considerably curtailed. He declares that he was not allowed to be alone, when this could be helped, lest he would attempt to teach himself. But these were unwise precautions, since they but whetted his appetite for learning and incited him to many secret schemes to elude the vigilance of his master and mistress. Everything now contributed to his enlightenment and prepared him for that freedom for which he thirsted. His occasional contact with free colored people, his visit to the wharves where he could watch the vessels going and coming, and his chance acquaintance with white boys on the street, all became a part of his education and were made to serve his plans. He got hold of a blue-back speller and carried it with him all the time. He would ask his little white friends in the street how to spell certain words and the meaning of them. In this way he soon learned to read. The first and most important book owned by him was called the "Columbian Orator." He bought it with money secretly earned by blacking boots on the street. It contained selected passages from such great orators as Lord Chatham, William Pitt Fox, and Sheridan. These speeches were steeped in the sentiments of liberty, and were full of references to the "rights of man." They gave to young Douglass a larger idea of liberty than was included in his mere dream of freedom for himself, and in addition they increased his vocabulary of words and phrases. The reading of this book unfitted him longer for restraint. He became all ears and all eyes. Everything he saw and read suggested to him a larger world lying just beyond his reach. The meaning of the term "Abolition" came to him by a chance look at a Baltimore newspaper.
Slavery and Abolition! The distance between these two points of existence seemed to have lessened greatly after he had comprehended their meaning. "When I heard the Word 'Abolition,' I felt the matter to be my personal concern. There was hope in this word." As he afterward went about the city on his ordinary errands, or when at the wharf, even performing tasks that were not set for him to do, he was like another being. That word "Abolition" seemed to sing itself into his very soul, and when he permitted his thoughts to dwell on the possibilities that it opened to him, he was buoyed up with joyous expectations. He tried to find out something from everybody. He learned to write by copying letters on fences and walls and challenging his white playmates to find his mistakes; and at night, when no one suspected him of being awake, he copied from an old copy-book of his young friend Tommy. Before he had formulated any plans for freedom for himself, he learned the important trick of writing "free passes" for runaway slaves.
Notwithstanding his progress in gaining knowledge, his considerate master and kind mistress, his loving companion in Tommy, his good home, food, and clothes, he was not happy or contented. None of these things could stifle his yearning to be free. He has aptly described his own feelings at this time in speaking of Mrs. Auld: "Poor lady, she did not understand my trouble, and I could not tell her. Nature made us friends, but slavery made us enemies. She aimed to keep me ignorant, but I resolved to know, although knowledge only increased my misery. My feelings were not the result of any marked cruelty in the treatment I received. It was slavery, not its mere incidents, I hated. Their feeding and clothing me well could not atone for taking my liberty from me. The smiles of my master could not remove the deep sorrow that dwelt in my young bosom. We were both victims of the same overshadowing evil—she as mistress, I as slave. I will not censure her too harshly. . . ."
After Douglass learned how to write with tolerable ease, he began to copy from the Bible and the Methodist hymn books at night when he was supposed to be asleep. He always regarded this religious experience as the most important part of his education; it had the effect, not only of enlarging his mind, but also of restraining his impatience, and softening a disposition that was growing hard and bitter with brooding over the disadvantages suffered by himself and his race. He greatly needed something that would help him to look beyond his bondage and encourage him to hope for ultimate freedom.
While he was undergoing this, to him, novel religious experience, and while he was gradually being adjusted to the situation in which he found himself, there came one of those dreaded changes in the fortunes of slavemasters that made the status of the slave painfully uncertain. His real master, Captain Anthony, died, and this event, complicated with some family quarrel, resulted in Douglass being recalled from Baltimore to the plantation. . . .
A man named Edward Covey, living at Bayside, at no great distance from the campground where Thomas Auld was converted, had a wide reputation for "breaking in unruly niggers." Covey was a "poor white" and a farm renter. To this man Douglass was hired out for a year. In the month of January, 1834, he started for his new master, with his little bundle of clothes. From what we have already seen of this sensitive, thoughtful young slave of seventeen years, it is not difficult to understand his state of mind. Up to this time he had had a comparatively easy life. He had seldom suffered hardships such as fell to the lot of many slaves whom he knew. To quote his own words: "I was now about to sound profounder depths in slave-life. Starvation made me glad to leave Thomas Auld's, and the cruel lash made me dread to go to Covey's." Escape, however, was impossible. The picture of the "slave-driver," painted in the lurid colors that Mr. Douglass's indignant memories furnished him, shows the dark side of slavery in the South. During the first six weeks he was with Covey he was whipped, either with sticks or cowhides, every week. With his body one continuous ache from his frequent floggings, he was kept at work in field or woods from the dawn of day until the darkness of night. He says: "Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me in body, soul, and spirit. The overwork and the cruel chastisements of which I was the victim, combined with the ever-growing and soul-devouring thought, 'I am a slave—a slave for life, a slave with no rational ground to hope for freedom,' had done their worst."
He confesses that at one time he was strongly tempted to take his own life and that of Covey. Finally, his sufferings of body and soul became so great that further endurance seemed impossible. While in this condition he determined upon the daring step of returning to his master, Thomas Auld, in order to lay before him the story of abuse. He felt sure that, if for no other reason than the protection of property from serious impairment, his master would interfere in his behalf. He even expected sympathy and assurances of future protection. In all this he was grievously disappointed. Auld not only refused sympathy and protection, but would not even listen to his complaints, and immediately sent him back to his dreaded master to face the added penalty of running away. The poor, lone boy was plunged into the depths of despair. A feeling that he had been deserted by both God and man took possession of him.
Covey was lying in wait for him, knowing full well that he must return as defenseless as he went away. As soon as Douglass came near the place where the white man was hiding, the latter made a leap at Fred for the purpose of tying him for a flogging. But Douglass escaped and took to the woods, where he concealed himself for a day and a night. His condition was desperate. He felt that he could not endure another whipping, and yet there seemed to him no alternative. His first impulse was to pray, but he remembered that Covey also prayed. Convinced, at length, that there was no appeal but to his own courage, he resolved to go back and face whatever must come to him. It so happened that it was a Sunday morning and, much to his surprise, he met Covey, who was on his way to church, and who, when he saw the runaway, greeted him with a pleasant smile. "His religion," says Douglass, "prevented him from breaking the Sabbath, but not from breaking my bones on any other day of the week."