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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


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

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Online LibraryLuther BensonFifteen Years in Hell → online text (page 1 of 12)