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a living snake coiled all about it, walked up to me and laid its bony
fingers on my face. No language can give the least idea of the horrid
sights and sufferings in the 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.

After recovering from the debauch just described, which I did in the course
of two or three days, I went East to the State of Maine, where I remained
about three months, lecturing in all the principal cities, and in some of
them a number of times. In Bangor, especially, I was warmly welcomed, and I
spoke there as often as ten times, each time to a crowded house. Dr.
Reynolds, the celebrated "Dare to do right" reformer, was at that time a
resident of Bangor, and I had the honor to make his acquaintance. While in
Bangor I made my headquarters at his office, and was much benefited and
strengthened by coming in contact with him. Days and weeks passed, and I
did not taste liquor, although at times, when depressed and tired from
over-work, I found it difficult in the extreme to resist the cravings of my

I returned to Indianapolis in the spring of 1875. I remained in Indiana,
lecturing almost daily, or nightly, until autumn, when I again started East
on a lecturing tour, which lasted eight months. During this time I averaged
one lecture per day. At times, for the space of an entire week, I did not
get as much sleep as I needed in one night, and the work I did in those
eight months was enough to break down the strongest and healthiest
constitution. I spoke in all the more notable cities and towns of
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. With regard to my success, I will
let the Eastern press speak for me. It is not from any motive of vanity
that I insert the following notices of the papers, but from a wish to
establish in the minds of my readers the fact that my labor was earnest,
and not without good results. These extracts are not given in the order in
which they appeared; I insert them, taken at random, from hundreds of a
similar character. The first is from the Boston Daily Advertiser:

"Mr. Luther Benson, of Indiana, delivered a temperance lecture last evening
in Faneuil Hall, before a large and enthusiastic audience. * * *

"The meeting was opened with prayer by the Rev. Mr. Cooke, of the Hanover
Street Bethel, after which, Mr. E.H. Sheafe introduced the lecturer. The
temperance theme is so old and long discussed that it seemed well-nigh
impossible to present its merits in a new and attractive way, but Mr.
Benson in a simple, straightforward manner, in language clothed with the
peculiar western freedom of speech, together with an accent of marked
broadness, held the undivided attention of his audience from the beginning
of his lecture to the close. The several stories told by the speaker seemed
to exactly suit the temper of his hearers, as the frequent applause
testified, and altogether it was probably one of the most satisfactory
temperance lectures ever delivered in this city. Mr. Benson, who is a
reformed drunkard, describes his trials and struggles in overcoming the
evils of intemperance in a very impressive manner, awakening a strong
interest for the cause which he pleads.

"During his lecture Mr. Benson paid a marked compliment to the old hall in
which he was speaking, and the liberty of speech allowed within its
portals. Total Abstinence was the one thing needed throughout the land.
There could be no such thing as moderate drinking. Prohibition should be
enforced, and great results would necessarily follow."

From the Boston Daily Evening Traveler I clip this concerning my lecture at

"Hawthorn Hall was crowded to the very gallery last evening with an
audience assembled to listen to a lecture on temperance by Luther Benson,
Esq., of Indiana. Mr. Benson is one of the most powerful and eloquent
orators that have ever stood before an audience. For one hour and a half he
held his audience by a spell. He painted one beautiful picture after
another, and each in the very gems of the English language. He was many
times interrupted by loud bursts of applause. Words drop from his lips in
strains of such impassioned eloquence that they go directly to the hearts
of the audience, and his actions are so well suited to his words that you
can not remember a gesture. You try in vain to recall the inflection of the
voice that moved you to smiles or tears, at the speaker's will. Mr. Benson
is a young man and has only been in the lecture field a little over one
year; yet at one leap he has taken the very front rank, and is already
measuring strength with the oldest and ablest lecturers in the country."

The next is from the Boston Daily Herald:


"The old cradle of liberty was filled last evening by a large and
appreciative audience, assembled to hear Luther Benson, a well-known
temperance advocate from Indiana. Mr. E.H. Sheafe, under whose auspices the
lecture was held, presided, and the platform was occupied by the Rev. Mr.
Cook, who offered prayer, and by Messrs. Timothy Bigelow, Esq., F.S.
Harding, Charles West, John Tobias, S.C. Knight, and other well-known
temperance workers in this city. Mr. Benson is a reformed man, and,
speaking as he did from a terrible experience, he made an excellent
impression, and proved himself an orator of tact, talent and ability. A
number of his passages were marked with true eloquence and pathos, and for
an hour and a quarter he held the closest attention of his large audience
in a manner that could only be done by those who are earnest in the cause,
and appeal directly to their hearers."

From the Dover (N.H.) Democrat, this:

"Luther Benson, Esq., spoke to the largest audience ever gathered in the
City Hall, last night. Notwithstanding the snow, more than fourteen hundred
people crowded themselves in the hall, while hundreds went away for want of
even standing-room. He has created a perfect storm of enthusiasm for
himself in the cause he so earnestly and eloquently advocates. Last night
was Mr. Benson's fourth speech in this city, each one delivered without
notes or manuscript, and with no repetition. He goes from here to Great
Falls and Berwick. Next Sunday he returns to this city, and speaks here for
the last time in City Hall at half past seven o'clock. There never has been
a lecturer among us that could repeatedly draw increased audiences, and
certainly no man - not even Gough - ever so stirred all classes of our people
on the subject of temperance as has Benson. The receipts at the door last
evening were about one hundred and forty dollars. A number who had
purchased tickets previous to the lecture were unable to get in the hall."

And this from the Pittsburg (Pa.) Gazette:

"Luther Benson, Esq., of Indiana, has just closed one of the most powerful
temperance lectures ever delivered here. The house was one solid mass of
people, with not one spare inch of standing-room. For nearly two hours he
held the audience as by magic. At the close a large number signed the
pledge, some of them the hardest drinkers here. The people are so delighted
with his good work that they have secured him for another lecture Wednesday

The next extract is from the Manchester (N.H.) Press:

"Smyth's Hall was completely filled, seats and standing room, at two
o'clock Sunday afternoon, with an audience which came to hear Luther
Benson. The officers of the Reform Club, clergymen and reformed drunkards
occupied seats upon the platform. Mr. Benson is a native of Indiana, and
says he has been a drunkard from six years of age. He was within three
months of graduation from college when he was expelled for drunkenness.
Then he studied for a lawyer, and was admitted to practice, being drunk
while studying, and drunk while engaged in a case. At length he reduced
himself to poverty, pawning all he had for drink. At length he started to
reform, and though he had once fallen, he was determined to persevere.
Since his reformation two years ago he had been giving temperance lectures.
He is a young man, a powerful, swinging sort of speaker, with a good
command of language, original, with peculiar intonation, pronunciation and
idioms, sometimes rough, but eminently popular with his audiences. He spoke
for an hour and a half steadily, wiping the perspiration from his face at
intervals, taking up the greater part of his address with his personal
experience. He said he had had delirium tremens several times, once for
fifteen days, and gave an exceedingly minute and graphic description of his
torments. A number of men signed the pledge at the close of the meeting,
Among them was one man, who sat in front of the audience and kept drinking
from a bottle he had, evidently in a spirit of bravado, but at the
conclusion of the address he signed the pledge, crying like a child."

From the Saltsburg Press, of Pennsylvania, I copy the following:

"On Monday evening, 29th inst., the people of our staid and quiet little
town had their dormant spirits stirred to their inmost depths, by an
eloquent and thrilling lecture delivered in the Presbyterian church by
Luther Benson, Esq., a native of Indianapolis, Indiana, who chose for his
topic "Total Abstinence." He opened his lecture by delineating in the most
touching and beautiful language the almost heavenly happiness resulting in
a total abstinence from all intoxicating beverages, and by his well-aimed
contrasts demonstrated that, in the use of those beverages, even in a
temperate degree, there was but one result - drunkenness and eternal death.
He was no advocate of temperance; that is, the temperate use of anything
hurtful. Did not believe that anything vicious could be tampered with,
without harm coming from it. He argued to a final and satisfactory
conclusion, that in the use of alcoholic beverages there could be no such
thing as temperance; that the man who took a drink now and then would make
it convenient to take more drinks now than he would then, and in the end
would as surely fill a drunkard's grave as the man who persistently abused
the beverage in its use. His description of the two paths through life was
a most beautiful word picture. That of sobriety leading through bright
green fields, over flowery plains, by pleasant rivulets, where all was
peace and harmony, and over which the spirit of heaven itself seemed to
brood and watch; and that of drunkenness, in which all the miseries and
tortures of the imaginary hell were concentrated in a living death; of
blighted hopes, of wasted life, of ruined homes, of broken hearts, of a
conscience goaded to an insanity - to a madness - to fairly wallow in the
Lethean draft, that memory might be robbed of its poignant goadings; that
the poor, helpless, and degraded victim might escape its horrors in

"He had been a victim in the toils of the monster for fifteen years; had
endured all the horrors it inflicted upon its votaries during that time,
and made an eloquent appeal to the young men present to choose the right
way and walk therein. He pictured the inevitable result in new and
convincing arguments holding up his own almost hopeless case as a warning.
His description of delirium tremens, while it was frightful, was not
overdrawn. He told the simple truth, as any one who has passed through the
horrible ordeal can testify.

"We have not space to follow Mr. Benson through his lecture, which was
truly original in language, style and delivery. He is a lawyer by
profession, about twenty-eight years, and is wonderfully gifted with a
pleasing way, rapidly flowing and eloquent language, that carries to the
audience the conviction that he is in earnest in the work of total
abstinence; that in the effort to reclaim himself he will leave nothing
undone to save those who may have started out in life impressed with the
belief that there is pleasure and enjoyment under the influence of
intoxication. That he will accomplish good there is no doubt. He goes into
the work under the influence of the Holy Spirit; maintaining that the grace
of God alone can work a thorough reformation. We have heard Gough lecture,
but maintain that the eloquent, forcible, humorous, pathetic, and
convincing language of Mr. Benson is of a better and higher order, and will
prove more effectual in touching the hearts of those who stand upon the
verge of ruin.

"Mr. Benson will lecture this (Tuesday) evening, in the Presbyterian
church. Doors open at 6:30; lecture commencing at 7:30. The lecture this
evening will be on a different subject, and no part of the lecture of last
evening will be repeated.

"As a result of the lecture Monday evening, one hundred and sixty-two
persons signed the pledge."

With reference to the lecture delivered at Faneuil Hall, the Boston
Temperance Album gives the succeeding synopsis:

"Mr. Benson, on being introduced, paid the following eloquent tribute to
the Hall:

"Ladies and gentlemen: It is with emotions such as I have never experienced
upon any former occasion, that I stand before you to-night in this, the
birthplace of American liberty. It was in this hall that was first
inaugurated the grand march of revolution and liberty that has gilded the
page of the history of our time with the most glorious achievements of the
patriot that the world has ever had to admire. It was here that was
inaugurated those immortal principles that caused revolution to rise in
fire, and go down in freedom, amid the ruins and relics of oppression. It
was here that the beacon of liberty first blazed, and the rainbow of
freedom rose on the cloud of war; and as a result, of the patriotism and
heroism of our forefathers, liberty has erected her altars here in the very
garden of the globe, and the genius of the earth worship at her feet. And
here in this garden of the West, here in this land of aspiring hope, where
innocence is equity, and talent is triumph, the exile from every land finds
a home where his youth may be crowned with happiness, and the sun of life's
evening go down with the unmolested hope of a glorious immortality. Who is
not proud of being an American citizen, and walking erect and secure under
the Stars and Stripes?

"If there be a place on earth where the human mind, unfettered by
tyrannical institutions, may rise to the summit of intellectual grandeur,
it is here. If there be a country where the human heart, in public and in
private, may burst forth in unrestrained adulation to the God that made it,
it is here, where the immortal heroes and patriots of more than one hundred
years ago succeeded in establishing these United States, as the 'land of
the free and the home of the brave.' Here, then, human excellence must
attain to the summit of its glory. Mind constitutes the majesty of man,
virtue his true nobility. The tide of improvement which is now flowing like
another Niagara through the land, is destined to flow on down to the latest
posterity, and it will bear on its mighty bosom our virtues, or our vices,
our glory, or our shame, or whatever else we may transmit as an
inheritance. Thus it depends upon ourselves whether the moth of immortality
and the vampire of luxury shall prove the overthrow of this country, or
whether knowledge and virtue, like pillars, shall support her against the
whirlwinds of war, ambition, corruption, and the remorseless tooth of time.
And while assembled here to-night, in this, the very cradle of liberty, let
us not forget that there are evils to be shunned and avoided by us as
individuals and as a common people.

"It is about one of these evils that is threatening the stability,
prosperity, and happiness of this whole country that I would talk to you
to-night. Let us approach near to each other and talk, if possible, soul to
soul, and heart to heart, I would talk to you to-night of liberty, that
liberty that frees us, body, soul, and spirit, from the slavery of the
intoxicating bowl; a slavery more soul-wearing and life-destroying than any
Egyptian bondage. Why, it is but a few years ago that this whole continent
rocked to its very center on the question as to whether human slavery
should endure upon its soil! That was but the slavery of the body, a
slavery for this life; and that was bad enough, but the slavery about which
I talk to you is a slavery not only of the body, but of the soul, and of
the spirit; a slavery not only for this life, but a slavery that goes
beyond the gates of the tomb, and reaches out into an infinite eternity.
The slavery of intoxication, unlike human slavery, is confined to no
particular section, climate, or society; for it wars on all mankind. It has
for its home this whole world. It has the flesh for its mother and the
devil for its father. It stands out a headless, heartless, eyeless,
earless, soulless monster of gigantic and fabulous proportions."

As a _very few_ persons have said my labors in the cause of Temperance were
not, and are not, productive of good, I will give just very short extracts
from a number of letters which I have received from persons who ought to

FRANKFORT, IND., October 18, 1875.

LUTHER BENSON, ESQ. - _My Dear Sir_ - Yours of the 14th is before me
for answer, and, although very busily engaged in court, I can not
refrain from answering at some length. First, I will say, "I have
kept the faith." Though "the fight" is not yet over, my
emancipation from the terrible thralldom is measurably complete.
Occasional twinges of appetite yet admonish me to maintain my
vigilance. It was while struggling with one of these that your
letter came like a messenger from heaven to encourage and
strengthen me. Not a day passes but that I think of you, and to
your wise counsel and affectionate admonition, under Providence, I
owe my beginning and continuance in this well-doing. * * * May the
Lord spare you to "open the lips of truth" to those who, like
myself, will perish without a revelation of their danger. With high
esteem and sincere affection, I am, ever your friend, - -

SALEM, MASS., October 29, 1875.

BRO. BENSON - I write you these few lines to cheer your heart, and
assure you that your labor in Salem has not been in vain in the
Lord's cause (the Temperance Reform). Our friend and brother, - - ,
from Beverly, was over at our meeting on Wednesday evening last,
and it would do your heart good to see the change in him. He will
never forget Luther Benson, for it was your first speech in Salem
that saved him. - -

I desire now to come down to the very near present, as some claim that my
late _afflictions_ and sore misfortunes have extinguished my capacity for

MEMPHIS, MO., Feb. 14, 1878.

DEAR BENSON - I know of my personal knowledge that you did a grand
work here. Bro. B., you remember my pointing out to you a Dr. - - ,
and telling you what a persecutor of churches he was, and how hard
he drank. He in two nights after you were here signed the pledge,
and in telling his experience, said that you saved him - that no
other person had ever been able to impress him as you did.

Truly, - -

- - , Jan. 1, 1878.

MY VERY DEAR FRIEND - I wish I could be with you and knee with you
as in the past, and hear your faith in God. Here is my hand
forever. You have done more for me than all the shepherds on the
bleak hillsides of this black world.

Lovingly, - -

TERRE HAUTE, IND., Feb. 22, 1878.

DEAR BENSON - You have done more for me than all the men and women
on earth. One year ago I heard you lecture on Temperance in
Lafayette. Then I was a poor outcast drunkard; you saved me. I am
now a sober man and a Christian. - -

I could furnish thousands of such testimonials as the above, but deem these
sufficient to convince any honest person that my toil is not in vain.

From one of the journals of my native State I clip the concluding extract:

"Luther Benson, the gifted inebriate orator, is still struggling against
the demon of strong drink. He spoke at Jeffersonville recently, and in the
middle of his discourse became so chagrined and disheartened at his
repeated failures at reform, that he took his seat and burst into a flood
of tears. He has since connected himself with the church, and has professed
religion. May his new resolves and associations strengthen him in the line
of duty. But, like the man among the tombs, the demons of appetite have
taken full possession of his soul, and riot in every vein and fiber of his
being. It is a fearful thraldom to be encompassed with the wild
hallucinations begotten through a life of dissipation and debauchery. The
strongest resolves at reform are broken as ropes of sand. All the moral
faculties are made tributary to the one ruling passion - drink, drink,
drink! But still his repeated resolves and heroic efforts betoken a
greatness of soul rarely witnessed. May he yet live to see the devils that
so sorely beset him running furiously down a steep place into the sea, and
sink forever from his annoyance. But when they do come out of the man,
instead of entering a herd of heedless swine for their coursers to the
deep, may they ride, booted and spurred, every saloon-keeper who has
contributed to make Luther Benson what he is, to the very verge of despair,
and to the brink of hell's yawning abyss."

I might give many more well written and flattering criticisms, but from the
foregoing the reader can determine in what estimation to hold my labor. For
myself I am not solicitous for anything beyond escape from my thraldom, and
that peace which is the sure accompaniment of a temperate Christian life.
If I thought that my readers were of the opinion held by some of my enemies
that my lectures have not been productive of good, I could quote from
numberless private letters received from all parts of the land, in which I
am assured of the good results which have crowned my humble efforts - in
which I am told of very many instances where my words of entreaty and
self-humiliation have been the means of bringing back from the darkness and
death of intemperance, fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers who were on
the road to destruction. I have letters from the wives, mothers, and
sisters of these men, invoking the blessings of heaven upon me for the
peace and happiness thus restored to them. I have letters from little
children thanking me also for giving them back their fathers, and I thank
God from the depths of my torn and desolate heart that I have been the
humble instrument of good in these cases. In my darkest hours, when I feel
that all is lost, when hope seems to soar away from me to the far-off
heavens from which she first descended to this world, these letters, which
I often read, and over which I have so often wept grateful tears, give me
strength and courage to face the struggle before me. My most earnest prayer
to God has been that I may do some good to compensate in some measure for
the talent which he gave me, and which I have so sadly wasted. I have
avoided mentioning the names of the many dear friends who have not forsaken
me in this last extremity. As I write, name after name, dear to memory,
crowds into my mind. I can hardly refrain from giving them a place on these
pages, but to mention a few would be manifestly unjust to the remainder,
and it is out of my power to print all of them in the space which could be
afforded in this small book. But I wish to assure every man and woman who
has ever given me a kind word of encouragement, or even a kind look, that
they are not and never will be forgotten. Whatever my future fate may be,
you did your duty, and God will bless you. Your names are all sacred to me.


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

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Online LibraryLuther BensonFifteen Years in Hell → online text (page 10 of 12)