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whispered - "Go away!"

I returned home from this second tour in the Eastern States in April, 1876,
with shattered nerves and weary brain, but instead of resting, I went on
lecturing until my overworked mind and body could no longer hold out, and
then it was, after nearly two years of sobriety, that I once more fell. For
weeks before this disaster overtook me, I was actually an irresponsible
maniac. My pulse was never lower than one hundred to the minute, and much
of the time it ran up to one hundred and twenty. I was so weak that with
all my energy aroused I could only move about with feeble steps, and a
constant anxiety and longing for something to drink preyed upon me. I was
not content to remain in one place, but wanted to be going somewhere all
the time, I cared not where. In this condition I dragged along my existence
for weeks, until at last, driven to a frenzy, reason fled, and I plunged
headlong into the horrors of another debauch. My downward course appeared
to be accelerated by the very struggles which I had made to rise during the
past two years. The moment I recovered from one horrible spell another more
fierce seized me and plunged me into the very depths of hell. I now
conceived the idea of getting some one to travel with me, thinking that by
this means I could perhaps throw off the morbid gloom and melancholy which
hung over me. But again I did the very thing I should not have done - I

On the 30th of September, 1876, I started from Indianapolis, in company
with Gen. Dan. Macauley, on a third lecturing tour East. I was drunk when
we started, and remained in that accursed state during the journey. At
Buffalo, New York, we got separated, thence I went to New York city alone,
where I continued drinking until I had no money. I then commenced to pawn
my clothes - first, my vest; second, a pair of new boots, worth fourteen
dollars; I got a quart of whisky, an old and worn-out pair of shoes, and
ten cents in money, for my boots. I drank up the whisky, and traded off my
overcoat. It was worth sixty dollars. I realized about five cents on the
dollar, and all the horrors of all hells ever heard of, for I was attacked
with the delirium tremens. By some means, of which I am entirely ignorant,
I got across the river, into Jersey City, and was there arrested and lodged
in the calaboose, in which I remained from Saturday until the following
Monday. I suffered more in the forty-eight hours embraced in that time
than I ever before or since suffered in the same length of time. I do not
know the hour, but it was getting dark on that Saturday evening, when I got
deathly sick, and commenced vomiting. I continued vomiting until Monday.
Nothing that I swallowed would remain on my stomach. About eight o'clock
Saturday evening the authorities, the police officers, put a large number
of men and boys, who were arrested for being drunk, in the room in which
I was confined. By midnight there were fourteen of us in a small,
poorly-ventilated, dirty room. Planks extended around the room on three
sides, and on these those who could get a place lay down. Among the number
of "drunks" imprisoned with me were some of the worst and largest roughs of
Jersey City, and these inhuman wretches, in the absence of the police,
threatened; to take my life if I vomited again. In the room adjoining ours
a madman was confined, and I don't think he ceased kicking and screaming a
moment from Saturday night until Monday. In the room just across the narrow
hall, fronting ours, was an insane woman, who swore she had two souls, one
of which was in hell! She, too, kept up an incessant, piteous wailing,
begging some one, ever and anon, with piercing screams, to bring back her
lost soul! Indianapolis is more civilized than Jersey City in respect to
her prisons, but not with respect to her police. And I am pretty sure that,
as managed by its present superintendent, the unfortunate insane are in no
other State cared for as they are in the Indiana asylum, and in no other
State is the appropriation for running such a noble institution so beggarly
as in ours. I have visited other asylums, and am now an inmate of this, and
I know whereof I speak.

The reader may have a faint idea of my sufferings while in the Jersey City
calaboose when I tell him that the least noise pierced my brain like a
knife. I can in fancy and in my dreams hear the wild screams of that woman
yet. On Monday morning we were marched together to a room, and I saw that
there were about fifty persons all told under arrest. Among the number were
many women, and I write with sorrow that their language was more profane
and indecent than that of the men. I stood as in a nightmare and heard
the judge say from time to time - "Five dollars" - "Ten dollars" - "Ten
days" - "Fifteen days" - and so on. I was so weak that I found it almost out
of my power to stand up, and as the various sentences were pronounced my
heart gave a quick throb of agony. I felt that a sentence of ten days would
kill me. At this moment "John Dalton" was called. I answered "Here, your
Honor!" for Dalton was the name I had assumed. My offense was read - and the
officer who arrested me volunteered the statement that I was not
disorderly, and that I had not been creating any disturbance. I felt called
upon to plead my own case before the judge, and without waiting for his
permission I began to speak. It was life or death with me, and for ten
minutes I spoke as I never spoke before and have never spoken since. I
pierced through his judicial armor and touched his pity, else the fear of
being talked to death influenced him, to discharge me with the generous
advice to leave the city. Either way I was free, and was not long in
getting across the river into New York, where I succeeded in finding
General Macauley who saw that my toilet was once more arranged in a
respectable manner. That night we started for Boston, and arrived there on
Tuesday morning. I got drunk immediately and remained drunk until Saturday,
on which memorable day I went in company with the General to Junius Brutus
Booth's residence, at Manchester, Mass., where I staid, well provided for,
until I got sober. I then began to fill my engagements, and for six weeks
lectured almost every day and night. I again broke down and came home. I
finally got sober once more and did not drink anything until in January
last, when I again fell. I went to Jeffersonville to lecture, and while
there became converted. Had I then ceased to work and given my worn-out
body and mind a much needed rest, I would have to-day been standing up
before the world a free and happy man. But my desire to see and tell every
one of the new joy which I had found controlled me, and for six weeks I
spoke every day, and often twice a day. I started east again and went to
Boston. I attended the Moody and Sankey meetings, but was troubled with I
know not what. All the time an unnatural feeling seemed to have possession
of me.

One afternoon, just after getting off my knees from prayer, a strange spell
came over me and before I could realize what I was doing, the devil hurried
me into a saloon, where I began to drink recklessly, and knew nothing more
for two or three days. Then I awoke, I knew not where. Some of my friends
found me and sent me home. I now suffered more mental torture than I
experienced on sobering up from any other spree I was ever on. I believed
firmly that I was saved; that my appetite for liquor was forever gone. I
felt now that there was no hope for me. Oh, the despairing days and long
black nights of agony unspeakable that followed this debauch! In time I
recovered physical health, and began to lecture, though under greater
difficulties than ever before. I was so harrassed by my own shame and the
world's doubts that within a month I again got drunk. While on this spree
my friends made out the necessary papers, and I was committed to the
Indiana Hospital for the Insane. Here, then, I am to-day, very near the end
of my most wretched and misspent life. How can I tell the emotions which
swell in my heart? It is on the record of this asylum that I was brought
here June 4th, a victim of intemperance. Everything is being done for me
that can be done, but I feel that my case is hopeless unless help comes
from above. Ordinarily restraint and proper attention to diet and rest
would in time cure aggravated cases of that peculiar insanity which
manifests itself in an abnormal and excessive demand for liquor. But with
me the spell returns after months of sobriety with a force which I am
powerless to resist, as the reader has seen in the several instances given
in this autobiography. The rule of treatment for patients here varies with
the different characters of the patients. The impressions which I had
formed of insane asylums was very different from those which have come from
my sojourn among the insane. There is less screaming and violence than I
thought there would be, and for most of the time the wards in which the
better class of patients are confined are as still and apparently as
peaceful as a home circle. The horror experienced during the first week's,
or first two weeks' confinement wears off, and one gradually forgets that
he is in a house for the mad. Many amusing cases come under my observation,
but there are others which excite various feelings of pity, disgust, fear,
and horror. There is, for instance, a man in "my ward" who imagines that he
has murdered all his relations. Another believes that he swallowed and
carries within him a living mule which compels him to walk on his hands as
well as his feet. One poor fellow can not be convinced but assassins are
hourly trying to stab or shoot him. One is afraid to eat for fear of being
poisoned, and another wants to disembowel himself. Twice a day the wards,
which number from thirty to forty patients under the charge of two
attendants, one or the other of whom is constantly on duty, are taken out
for a walk in the beautiful grounds around the asylum. Sometimes, when it
is thought that the patient will be benefited, and when he is really well
but still not in a condition to be discharged, he is allowed the freedom of
the grounds. After I had been here two weeks I was permitted to go out on
the grounds alone. But my feelings are about the same outside the building
as inside. Even as I write I feel that there is a devil within me which is
demanding me to go away from this place. I want whisky, and would at this
moment barter my soul for a pint of the hellish poison. I have now been
here a little over a month. Like all the other patients, I am kindly
treated. Our beds are clean, and our food is well prepared, such as it is,
and it is really much better than could be expected on the appropriation
made by the last Legislature. I doubt if there is another institution of
the kind in the United States that can be compared with this in the
ability, justice, kindness, and noble and unswerving honesty of its
management. Dr. Everts, the superintendent, is a gentleman whom I have not
the honor to know personally, but whose commanding intelligence, and
equally great heart, are venerated by all who do know him.

This is the fourth day of July, and I have written to my friends to come
and take me away - for what purpose I dare not think. I am utterly desolate
and miserable, and dare not look forward to the future, for I dread to face
the uncertain and unknown TO-COME. To stay here is worse than madness, in
my present condition, and to go away may be death. O, that some power
higher than earth would reach forth a hand and save me from myself! I can
not remain here without abusing the kindness and trust of a great
institution, nor can I go away, I fear, without bringing disgrace on my
friends, and shame and death on myself. God of mercy, help me! I know how
useless it would be to lock me up in solitary confinement, and I think my
attendant physician also feels that I can not be saved by any means within
the reach of the asylum. With others not insane, but cursed with that
insanity for drink which, if not checked, will soon or late lead to the
destruction of reason and life itself, there is a chance to restore them
from the curse to a life of honor and usefulness, and no means should be
left untried which may ultimately save them, especially the young who, but
for this curse infernal, might rise to a useful and even august manhood.

The shadows of the evening are settling upon the face of the earth. Now and
then the report of a cannon in the direction of the city recalls what day
it is, and I am reminded that crowds are thronging the streets for the
purpose of witnessing the display of holiday fireworks; but vain to me such
mimicry. A tall and mysterious shadow, more dark and awful than any which
will steal among the graves of the old churchyard to-night, has risen and
now stands beside whispering in the stillness - "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.

After writing the words "go away," which close the preceding chapter, I lay
down and tried to compose my thoughts, but the effort was futile. I passed
a sleepless night, and when morning came I had fully resolved to leave the
hospital if in my power to do so. During the forenoon I took up my pencil a
number of times for the purpose of writing, but I was so disturbed in mind
that I could not write a line intelligibly, and I will here say that from
that day, July fifth, to this, September fifteenth, the manuscript remained
untouched in the hands of a very dear friend, to whom I am under many
obligations for his clear advice and judgment on matters of this sort as
well as on others. I will now write this, the fifteenth and last chapter of
this book; and in order to make the story of my life complete up to this
date, I will go back and resume the thread of the narrative where it was
left off on the evening of the fourth of July. It will be remembered that
in my last chapter I spoke of having written letters to some of my friends
desiring them to come and ask for my discharge. I awaited impatiently their
coming, but when they came, which was on the sixth of July, I think, they
were undecided whether it would be better for me to "go away," or remain
longer at the asylum, but I plead to go, as if my life depended upon it.
After consultation with the authorities at the hospital, who were clearly
of the opinion that they had no right to detain me under the circumstances,
and who, therefore, felt it incumbent upon them to discharge me,
particularly if my friends were willing, it was by all parties decided that
I should go. I felt glad in my heart that the institution was relieved of
all responsibility in my case, for I did not wish to bring reproach upon
anyone, and I feared if I remained longer I might take some rash step
(abusing the generous kindness of my officers) that would do so. They had
done their whole duty by me, and it remained for me now to do my duty to
myself and friends. But as soon as I got to Indianapolis the pent-up fires
of appetite blazed forth, and while on the way to the Union Depot to take
the train to Rushville, I gave my friends the slip, and, sneaking like a
thief through the alleys, I sought and found an obscure saloon in which I
secreted myself and began to drink. I was once more on the road which leads
to perdition. The old enemy, who had crawled up the walls of the asylum and
slimed himself through my grated windows, and coiled around my heart in
frightful dreams, again had me in his possession. Thus began one of the
most maniacal and terrible drunks of my life. I became possessed of the
wildest and most unreal thoughts that ever entered a crazed brain. I abused
and misrepresented my best friends, and cursed everything but the thrice
cursed liquor which was burning up my body and soul. I told absurd and
terrible stories about the places where I had been, and about the friends
who had done most for me. I was insane - as utterly so for the time as the
worst case in the asylum. I knew not what I did or said, and yet my actions
and words were cunningly contrived to deceive.

For the greater part of the fifteen days which followed I was as
unconscious of what I did or said as if I had been dead and buried in the
bottom of the sea. What I know of the time I have learned since from the
lips of others. The hideous, fiendish serpent of drunkenness possessed my
whole being. I felt him in every nerve, bone, sinew, fiber, and drop of
blood in my body. There were moments when a glimmer of reason came to me,
and with it a pang that shriveled my soul. During the period that I was
drinking I was in Rushville, after leaving Indianapolis, Falmouth and
Cambridge City. Of course, for the most part of the time, I knew not where
I was. As I think of it now, I know that I was in hell. My thirst for
whisky was positively maddening. I tried every means to quit, when
conscious of my existence: I voluntarily entered the calaboose more than
once, and was locked up, but the instant I got out, the madness caused me
to fly where liquor was. I drank it in enormous quantities, and smothered
without quenching the scorching, blazing fires of hell which were making
cinders and ashes of every hope and energy of my being. I made my bed among
serpents; I fed on flames and poison; I walked with demons and ghouls; all
unutterable and slimy monsters crawled around and over me; every breath
that I drew reeked with the odor of death; every beat of my fast-throbbing
heart sent the hissing, boiling blood through my veins, which returned and
froze about it. I have neither words nor images sufficiently horrible to
typify my condition. I became, for the time an abhorred object; the sex of
my sainted mother made a wide sweep to pass me by, and dear, little,
innocent children fled from me as from a monster. My soul was no longer my
own. The fiend Appetite had given it over, bound and helpless, to the fiend
Alcohol. I turned by bleared vision towards the vaulted skies, and cursed
them because they did not rain fire and brimstone down upon me and destroy
me. And yet, oh! how I dreaded to die! The grave opened before me, and a
million horrors were in its hollow and black chasm. The scalding tears I
shed gave me no relief; the cries I uttered were unheard; and every ear was
deaf to my pleadings. At times I thought of the asylum, and I would have
given worlds could I have retraced my steps, and slept once more securely
within its merciful and protecting walls. O, God! I screamed, why did I
leave it? As day after day dragged its endless length along, and no relief
came, my despair was a delirium of wretchedness. The sun appeared to be
extinguished, and the universe was a void of black, impenetrable darkness,
out of which, before and after me, rose the hideous specters, Death and
Annihilation. The unimaginable horrors of the tremens were upon me.

Once more hear my voice, you who read! Lose no opportunity to strike a blow
at intemperance. It may smile in the rosy face of youth, but do not be
deceived; there are agonies unspeakable hidden beneath that smile. Look not
on the wine cup when it is red, no matter if the jeweled hand of a princess
hold it between you and the light. It is the beginning whose end is
degradation, remorse, misery and death! Turn from a glass of beer as from a
goblet of reeking and poisoned blood. It is a danger to be shunned. Beware
that you do not learn this too late.

Alcohol, ruin, and death go hand in hand. The region over which Alcohol is
king is one of decay. It is full of graves. The ghosts of the million joys,
he has slain wail amid its ghastly desolations; there are sounds of sobbing
orphans there; echoes of widows' shrieks; and the lamentations of fond
mothers and wives, heart-broken, vex the realm; youth and age lie here
dishonored together; in vain the sweetheart begs her lover to return from
its fatal mists; in vain the pure sister calls with trembling tongue for
her erring brother. He will not come back. He is the slave of a tyrant who
has no compassion and knows no mercy. Oppose this tyrant, all ye who love
the home circle better than the bawdy house; fight him all ye who set honor
above dishonor; curse him all ye who prefer peace to discord, and law to
anarchy; war against him in all ways unceasingly all ye to whom the thought
of liberty and safety is dear, to whom happiness and truth are more
desirable than misery and falsehood.

What, let me ask, is to be gained by drinking? What blessing comes from
forming or indulging the habit? Pause here and think well before you
answer. You could not afford to drink if the wealth of a nation were yours,
because no man can afford to lose health and happiness if he hopes
enjoyment in life. If you are strong, alcohol will destroy your nerves and
sap your vigor. If you are weak, it will enfeeble you the more. If you are
unhappy, it will only add to your unhappiness. Look at the subject as you
will, you can not afford to drink intoxicating liquors. The moment you
begin to form the habit of drinking that moment you begin to endanger your
reputation, health and happiness, and that of your family and friends also.
And let me say right now that you begin to form the habit when you touch
your lips to any sort of intoxicating drink the first time. I have drank
the sparkle and foam, and the gall and wormwood of all liquors. Do you envy
me the horrors through which I have passed? You know how to avoid them.
Never touch liquor. If you are bent on going to hell and destruction,
choose a nearer and more honorable way by blowing your brains out at once.

A few words more, dear readers, and I will bid you good by. Many of you
have no doubt heard of my restored peace and lasting favor with God at
Fowler, Indiana. With regard to it and my condition at the present time, I
will incorporate in substance the letter which I recently published in
reply to inquiries addressed to me from all parts of the country, shortly
after that event. I will give the letter with but little change, even at
the risk of repeating what is elsewhere recorded. It is as follows:

On the evening of January twenty-first, 1877, at Jeffersonville, Indiana,
God pardoned my sins and made me a new creature. For weeks happiness and
joy were mine. The appetite - rather my passion - for liquor, which made the
present a misery and the future a darkness, was no longer present. Its
heavy burdens had fallen from me. Of this there could be no doubt; but I
had been educated to believe that "once in grace always in grace," and this
led to a fatal deception, a belief that I could not fall; that after God
had once pardoned my sins I was as surely saved as if already in Paradise.
That they were pardoned I had not a doubt, for the manifestations were as
clear as light. Falsely thinking that I was pardoned for all time, my soul
grew self-reliant: I became at the same time careless of my religious
duties. I neglected to pray, to beware of temptation, and, naturally
enough, soon found myself drifting into the society of those who neither
loved nor feared God. Had I trusted alone in God and permitted the Savior
to lead and keep me, I should not have fallen. Instead, I went back to the
world, gave no thanks to God for his mercy and love, and thus dishonoring
him, his face was hidden from me.

I went to Boston to speak in Moody and Sankey's meeting. I never once hoped
by so doing to be the means of others' salvation; my sole thought was self
and selfish ambition. Instead of talking at the Moody meeting, I took a
drink of liquor, soon got drunk, and so remained for days. When I came out
of the oblivion of that debauch, the agony experienced was terrible. All
the shames, all the burning regrets, all the stinging compunctions of
conscience I had known on coming out of such debauches before my conversion
were almost as joy compared with the misery which preyed upon my heart
then. I can not describe the hopeless feeling of remorse which came over
me. I lived and moved in a night of misery and no star was in its sky. In
the course of a few days I recovered physically so far as to be able to
lecture. I prayed in secret, long and often, for a return of that peace
which comes from God alone, but in vain. I was justly self-punished. At the

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Online LibraryLuther BensonFifteen Years in Hell → online text (page 11 of 12)