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dullest organizations. I was invariably the last one to go to bed when
night came, but not the last to rise, for I always bounded out of bed ahead
of the others; and in this connection I can assert with truth that for over
twenty years I have not averaged over five hours of sleep out of every
twenty-four during that time. I have never found in all nature one object
or occupation that gave me more than a swiftly passing gleam of contentment
or pleasure. That the reader may clearly comprehend my present condition
and impartially judge as to my culpability in certain of my acts, I desire
that he may know the circumstances and surroundings of my childhood, for I
do solemnly aver that my sorrows and miseries were not of my own planting
in those days. While I believe that some men will be drunkards in spite of
almost everything that can be done for their relief, others there are, no
matter how surrounded, who never will be drunkards, but solely because they
abstain from ever tasting the insidious poison. Temperament has much to do
with the matter of drink, and could it be known and properly guarded
against, I believe that a majority of those having the strongest
predisposition to drink, if steps were taken in time, could be saved from
its inevitable end, which is madness and death. I would here say to parents
that it is their solemn duty to study well the disposition and temperament
of their children from the hour of their birth. By proper training and
restraint, all wrong impulses might be corrected and the child saved from a
life of shameful misery, while they would themselves escape the sorrow
which would come to them because of the wrong-doing of the child. While no
person is particularly to blame for my misspent life, yet I can clearly see
to-day how its worse than wasted years might have been years of use and
honor. Its every step might have been planted with actions the memory of
which would have been a blessing instead of a remorse.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

At the age of sixteen I started to school at Fairview, then as now, an
insignificant but pretty village, some four miles from where my father
lived. William M. Thrasher, at this time Professor of Mathematics in the
Butler University, at Irvington, near Indianapolis, was the teacher in
charge of that school, and it is to him that I am under obligations for
about all the "book learning" that I possess. True, I went to college after
that, but I merely skimmed over the studies there assigned me. While at
school at Fairview I improved every opportunity to drink. A fatal instinct
guided me to the rum shop. It was during the first winter of my attendance
at the Fairview school that I was guilty of my first debauch. A young man
from Connersville came over to attend school, and I would remark in passing
that his father was chiefly interested in sending him to Fairview because
he thought that his boy would here be out of temptation. He arrived at noon
one day, and we were immediately made acquainted with each other, an
acquaintance which ripened into friendship on the spot. The roads were in
good condition for sleighing, and the next morning I proposed a ride. He
gladly accepted my invitation, and together we drove to Falmouth. At
Falmouth we each took a drink, and this fired us with a desire for more. We
drove to a house not far away where liquor was kept by the barrel, and
tried to get some, but failed - for we waited and waited to be invited in
vain - for no invitation was extended to us. Disappointed and half crazy for
whisky, we left the house and started on further in pursuit of the curse.

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Online LibraryLuther BensonFifteen Years in Hell → online text (page 2 of 12)