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have finally ended I can not say had I not been taken down sick. The
physician who was sent for prescribed some brandy, and on his second visit
he brought half of a pint of it, to be taken with other medicine in doses
of one tablespoonful at intervals of two hours. I followed his directions
with care, so far as the first dose was concerned, but if the reader
supposes that I waited two hours for another tablespoonful of that brandy
he does my appetite gross injustice. Neither would I have him suppose that
I confined the second dose to a tablespoon. I waited until my friends
withdrew, making some excuse about wanting to be alone in order to get them
to go out at once, and then I got out of bed and swallowed the remainder of
that brandy at a gulp. A desperate and uncontrollable desire for the poison
had possession of me, and beneath it my resolutions were crushed and my
will helplessly manacled. I slipped out of the room at the first
opportunity, and managed to get a buggy in which I drove off to Falmouth
where I immediately bought a quart of whisky. This I drank in an incredibly
short space of time, and after that - after that - well, you can imagine what
took place after that. Would to God that I could erase the recollection of
it from my mind! Days and weeks of drunkenness; days and weeks of
degradation; money spent; clothes pawned and lost; business neglected;
friends alienated; and peace and happiness annihilated by the fell,
merciless, hell-born fiend - Alcohol! So much for a half pint of brandy
prescribed by an able physician. The vilest and most deadly poison could
scarcely have been worse. Perhaps I was to blame - at least I have blamed
myself - for not imploring the doctor in the name of everything holy not to
prescribe any medicine containing a drop of intoxicating liquor. But I was
sick and weak, and my appetite rose in its strength at mention of the word
brandy, and when I would have spoken it palsied my tongue. I could not
resist. The inevitable was upon me.

Down, down, down I went, lower and ever lower. Down, into the darkness of
desperation! - down, into the gulf of ruin! - down, where Shame, and Sin, and
Misery cry to fallen souls - "Stay! abide with us!" I felt now that all I
had gained was lost, and that there was nothing more for me to hope for.
The destroying devil had swept away everything. I was no longer a man.
Behold me cowering before my race and begging the pitiful sum of ten cents
with which to buy one more drink - begging for it, moreover, as something
far more precious than life. I resorted then, as many times since, to every
means in order to get that which would, and yet would not, satisfy my
insatiate thirst. No one is likely to contradict me when I say that I know
of more ways to get whisky, when out of money and friends, (although no
true friend would ever give me whisky, especially to start on) than any
other living man, and I sincerely doubt if there is one among the dead who
could give me any information on the subject. Had I as persistently applied
myself to my profession, and resorted to half as many tricks and ways to
gain my clients' cases, it would have been out of the range of probability
for my opponents to ever defeat me. I might have had a practice which would
have required the aid of a score or more partners. I understand very well
that such statements as this are not likely to exalt me in the reader's
estimation, but I started out to tell the truth, and I shall not shrink
from the recital of anything that will prejudice my readers against the
enemy that I hate. I could sacrifice my life itself, if thereby I might
slay the monster.


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.

It has been but a few years since the Legislature of Indiana passed what is
known as the "Baxter Liquor Law." Among the provisions of that law was one
which declared that "any person found drunk in a public place should be
fined five dollars for every such offense, and be compelled to tell where
he got his liquor." It was further declared that if the drunkard failed to
pay his fine, etc., he should be imprisoned for a certain number of days or
weeks. This had no effect on the drunkard, unless it was to make his
condition worse. Appetite is a thing which can not be controlled by a law.
It may be restrained through fear, so long as it is not stronger than a
man's will, but where it controls and subordinates every other faculty it
would be useless to try to eradicate or restrain it by legislation. When a
man's appetite is stronger than he is, it will lead him, and if it demands
liquor it will get it, no matter if five hundred Baxter laws threatened the
drunkard. Man, powerless to resist, gives way to appetite; he gets drunk;
he is poor and has no money to pay his fine; the court tells him to go to
jail until an outraged law is vindicated. In the meantime the man has a
wife and (it may be) children; they suffer for bread. The poor wife still
clings to her husband and works like a slave to get money to pay his fine.
She starves herself and children in order to buy his freedom. You will say:
"The man had no business to get drunk." But that is not the point. He needs
something very different from a Baxter law to save him from the power of
his appetite. Besides, the law is unjust. The rich man may get just as
drunk as the poor man, and may be fined the same, but what of that? Five
dollars is a trifle to him, so he pays it and goes on his way, while his
less fortunate brother is kicked into a loathsome cell. There never has
been, never can, and never will be a law enacted that prevent men from
drinking liquor, especially those in whom there is a dominant appetite for
it. The idea of licensing men to sell liquor and punishing men for drinking
it is monstrous. To be sure, they are not punished for drinking it in
moderation, but no man can be moderate who has such an appetite as I have.
Why license men to sell liquor, and then punish others for drinking it?
What sort of sense or justice is there in it, anyhow? There is a double
punishment for the drunkard, and none for the liquor-seller. The sufferings
consequent on drinking are extreme, and no punishment that the law can
inflict will prevent the drunkard from indulging in strong drink if his own
far greater and self-inflicted punishment is of no avail.

When a man has become a drunkard his punishment is complete. Think of law
makers enacting and making it lawful, in consideration of a certain amount
of money paid to the State, for dealers in liquors to sell that which
carries darkness, crime, and desolation with it wherever it goes! The
silver pieces received by Judas for betraying his master were honestly
gotten gain compared with the blood money which the license law drops
into the State's treasury - license money. What money can weigh in the
balance and not be found wanting where starved and innocent children,
broken-hearted mothers and sisters, and deserted, weeping wives are in the
scale against it? Mothers, look on this law licensing this traffic, and
then if you do not like it cease to bring forth children with human
passions and appetites, and let only angels be born.

After the passage of this law making drunkenness an offense to be fined, I
had all the law practice I could attend to in keeping myself out of its
meshes and penalties. It kept me busy to avoid imprisonment - for I was
drunk nearly all the time. I was indicted twenty-two times. But it is fair
to say that in a majority of cases these indictments were found by men in
sympathy with me, and whose chief object in having me arrested was to
punish the men who sold me liquor. Another mistake! It is next to
impossible to get a drunkard to tell where he got his liquor. Half the time
he himself does not know where he got it. I never indicted a saloon keeper
in my life. The sale of liquor has been legalized, and so long as that is
the case I would blame no man for refusing to tell where he got his liquor.
A law that permits an appetite for whisky to be formed, and then punishes
its victim after money, health, and reputation are all gone, is a barbarous
injustice. Instead of making a law that liquor shall not be sold to
drunkards, better enact a law that it shall be sold only to drunkards. Then
when the present generation of drunkards has passed away, there will be no
more. I succeeded in escaping from the penalty of the indictments found
against me. I plead, in most instances, my own case, and once or twice,
when so drunk that I could not stand up without a chair to support me, I
succeeded by resorting to some of the many tricks known to the legal
fraternity, in wringing from the jury a verdict of "not guilty."

But all this was anything but amusing. I have never made my sides sore
laughing about it. The memory of it does not wreath my face in smiles. It
is madness to think of it. I lived in a state of perpetual dread. When in
Indianapolis the sight of the police filled me with fear. And here a word
concerning the Indianapolis police. There are, doubtless, in the force some
strictly honorable, true, and kind-hearted men - and these deserve all
praise. But, if accounts speak true, there are others who are more
deserving the lash of correction than many whom they so brutally arrest.
Need they be told that they have no right to kick, or jerk, or otherwise
abuse an unresisting victim? Are they aware of the fact that the fallen are
still human, and that, as guardians of the peace, they are bound to yet be
merciful while discharging their duties? I have heard of more than one
instance where men, and even women, were treated on and before arriving at
the station house as no decent man would treat a dog. Such policemen are
decidedly more interested in the extra pay they get on each arrest than in
serving the best interests of the community. Many a poor man has been
arrested when slightly intoxicated, and driven to desperation by the
brutality of the police, that, under charitable and kind treatment, would
have been saved. And I wish to ask a civilized and Christian people, if it
is just the thing to take a man afflicted with the terrible disease of
drunkenness, and thrust him into a loathsome, dirty cell? Would it not be
not only more human, but also more in accord with the spirit of our
intelligent and liberal age, to convey him to a hospital? I leave the
discussion of this subject to other and abler hands.

At one time the grand jury at Rushville met and found a number of
indictments against me. I was drunk at the time, but by some means learned
that an officer had a writ to arrest me. I started at once to go to my
father's. I was without means to get a conveyance, and so I started afoot
out the Jeffersonville railroad. I had then been drunk about one month, and
was bordering on delirium tremens. After walking a mile or more, my boot
rubbed my foot so that I drew it off and walked on barefooted. My feelings
can not be imagined. Fear and terror froze my blood. The night came on dark
and dismal, and a flood of bitter, wretched thoughts swept over me,
crushing me to the earth. Before me in the distance appeared the head-light
of an engine. It seemed to look at me like a demon's eye, and beckon me on
to destruction. I heard voices which whispered in my ears - "now is the
time." A shudder crept over me. Should I end my miserable existence? I knew
that a train of cars was coming. I could lie down on the track, and no one
would ever know but I had been accidentally killed. Then I thought of my
father, and brothers, and sisters, and as a glimpse of their suffering
entered my mind, I felt myself held back. A great struggle went on between
life and death. It ended in favor of life, and I fled from the railroad. I
soon lost my way and wandered blindly over the fields and through the woods
all that night. I was perishing for liquor when daylight came. In order to
assuage my burning appetite I climbed over a fence, and, picking up a
dirty, rusty wash-pan which had been thrown away, I drank a quart of water
which I dipped from a horse-trough. My skin was dry and parched, and my
blood was in a blaze. When I came to grassy plots I lay down and bathed my
face in the cold dew, and also bared my arms and moistened them in the
cool, damp grass.

When the sun came up over the eastern tree-tops I found that I was about
ten miles from Rushville. After stumbling on for some time longer I found
my way to Henry Lord's, a farmer with whom I was acquainted. He gave me a
room in which I lay hidden from the officers for two days and nights. From
this place I went to my father's, and although the officers came there two
or three times, I escaped arrest. It is impossible to give the reader the
faintest idea of my condition. Without money, clothes, or friends, an
outcast, hunted like a wild beast, I had only one thing left - my horrible
appetite, at all times fierce and now maddening in the extreme. My hands
trembled, my face was bloated, and my eyes were bloodshot. I had almost
ceased to look like a human. Hope had flown from me, and I was in complete
despair. I moved about over my father's farm like one walking in sleep, the
veriest wretch on the face of the earth. My real condition not unfrequently
pressed upon me until, in an agony of desperation, I would put my swollen
hands over my worse than bloated face and groan aloud, while tears scalding
hot streamed down over my fingers and arms. I staid at home a number of
days. At first I had no thought of quitting drink. I was too crazed in mind
to think clearly on any subject. After two or three days, I became very
nervous for lack of my accustomed stimulants; then I got so restless that I
could not sleep, and for nights together I scarcely closed my aching eyes.
Long as the days seemed, the nights were longer still. At the end of two
weeks I began to have a more clear or less muddied conception of my
condition, and a faint hope came to me that I might yet conquer the
appetite which was taking me through utter ruin of body, to the eternal
death of body and soul. The reader must not think that I thought I could by
my own strength save myself. I prayed often and fervently. However strange
it may sound it is nevertheless true, that, notwithstanding the degraded
life I have lived, I have covered it with prayer as with a garment, and
with as sincere prayer, too, as ever rose from the lips of pain and sin. My
unimaginable sufferings have impelled me to seek earnestly for an escape
from the torments which go out beyond the grave. None can ever be made to
realize how much pain and agony I experienced during these first weeks I
spent at home and abstained from liquor, nor can any know how much I
resisted. At that time I had not the least thought of lecturing. Many
times, when getting over a spree, I had, in the presence of people, given
expression to the agonies that were consuming me, and at such times I did
not fail to pay my respects to alcohol in a way (the only way) it deserves.
My friends advised me to lecture on temperance, and I now began to think of
their words. Was it my duty to go forth and tell the world of the horrors
of intemperance, and warn all people to rise against this great enemy? If
so, I would gladly do it. I began to prepare a lecture. It would help me to
pass away the time, if nothing more came of it. It has been nearly four
years since I delivered that lecture. I will give a history of my first
effort and succeeding ones, with what was said about me, in the next


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."

I delivered my first lecture at Raleigh, the scene of many of my most
disgraceful debauches and most lamentable misfortunes. The evening
announced for my lecture was unpropitious. Late in the afternoon a cold,
disagreeable rain set in, and lasted until after dark. The roads were
muddy, and in places nearly impassable. I did not expect on reaching the
hall, or school house, or church in which I was to speak, to find much of
an audience, but I was agreeably disappointed; for while the house was by
no means "packed," there was still a fair audience. Raleigh had turned out
en masse, men, women and children. I suppose they were curious to hear what
I had to say, and they heard it if I am not much in error. I was much
embarrassed when I first began to speak - more so than I have ever been
since, even when in the presence of thousands. I did the best I could, and
the audience expressed very general satisfaction. I think some of my
statements astounded them a trifle, but they soon recovered and listened
with profound and respectful attention. My next appointment was at
Fairview. Here, as at Raleigh, I had often been seen during some of my wild
sprees, and here, as at Raleigh, the people came out in force to hear me. I
improved on my first lecture, I think, and felt emboldened to make a more
ambitious effort. I settled on Rushville as the next most desirable place
to afflict, and made arrangements to deliver my lecture there. A number of
the best young men in the town of the class that never used liquor, but who
had always sympathized with me, went without my consent or knowledge to the
ministers of the different churches, and had them announce that on the next
Monday evening Luther Benson, "the reformed drunkard," would lecture in the
Court House. I was nervous from the want of my accustomed stimulants, and
the added dread of appearing before an audience before whose members I had
so many times covered myself with shame, and in whose Court House - the very
place in which I was to speak - I had been several times indicted for
violations of the law, almost caused me to break my engagement. While still
hesitating on what course to take, whether to go before the audience or go
home and hang myself, the dreaded Monday evening came, and with it came my
friends to escort me to the stage, which had been extemporized for me. I
waited until the last moment before entering the room.

On making my appearance I was greeted with applause, but instead of
reassuring me, it frightened me almost out of my wits. However, it was too
late to retreat, and so making up my mind to die, if necessary, on the
spot, or succeed, I hastily threw off my father's old and threadbare
overcoat (I had none of my own) and stood forth in a full dress coat, which
showed much ill treatment, and immediately began my lecture. As I warmed to
my work, and got interested, I forgot my embarrassment and talked with ease
and volubility. I did not fail, in proof of which I have only to add that
on the following day I met Ben. L. Smith on the street, and on the strength
of my lecture, he went my security for a respectable coat and pair of

From Rushville I started on a lecture tour, taking in Dublin, Connersville,
Cambridge City, Shelbyville, Knightstown, Newcastle, and other places. By
degrees I widened the field of my lectures until it embraced the whole of
Indiana and parts of many other States. In a little more than three years I
have spoken publicly four hundred and seventy times in Indiana alone. From
the very first I have been warmly and generously supported by the press.
There have been exceptions in the case of a few papers, but they were only
the exceptions. Since my first effort to reform, all good people have aided
me. But from the very first I have had to fight opposition and falsehood. I
have been accused of being drunk when I was sober, and outrageous
falsehoods have been told about me when the truth would have been bad
enough. After I had got fairly started to lecture I had always one object
paramount, and that was to save myself from the drunkard's terrible fate
and doom. After a short time men who drank would come to me and
congratulate me, saying that I had opened their eyes, and that from that
day forward they would drink no more liquor. Mothers, wives, and sisters,
who had sons, husbands, and brothers that indulged in the fatal habit, came
to me and encouraged me by telling me how much good I had done them. I
began to feel a strong additional motive to lecture and save others. And
here I wish to say that my efforts to save all men whom I met that were in
danger (and all are in danger who touch liquor in any form) of the curse,
have been the cause of much unkind criticism. People have said: "O, well,
we don't believe Benson is in earnest. He don't seem to try very hard to
quit drinking himself. He doesn't keep the right sort of company," and so
on. This was the language of men who never drank. I have had drinking men
by the score come to me with tears in their eyes, and beg to know if there
was any escape from the curse. Since taking the lecture field I have paid
out in actual money over a thousand dollars to aid men and families in
trouble caused by the use of liquor. I have the first one yet to turn away
when I had anything to give. I have more than once robbed myself to aid
others. Oftentimes my labor and money have been thrown away, but I have the
satisfaction of knowing that I did my duty. In some cases, thank heaven! I
have cause to know that my efforts were not in rain.

For ten months from the time I quit drinking and began to lecture, I
averaged one lecture a day. I lived on the work and its excitement, making
it take, as far as possible, the place of alcohol. I learned too late that
this was the very worst thing I could have done. I was all the time
expending the very strength I so much needed for the restoration of my
shattered system. For ten months, lacking two days, I fought my appetite
for whisky day and night. I waged a continued, never-ceasing, never-ending
battle, with what earnestness and desire to conquer the God to whom I so
fervently prayed all that time alone knows, and he alone knows the agony of
my conflicts. I dreamed that I was wildly drunk night after night, and I
would rise from my bed in the morning more weary than when, tired and worn
out from overwork, I sought rest. The horror of such dreams can be known
only to those who have experienced them. The shock to my nervous system
from a sudden and complete cessation of the use of all stimulating drinks
was of itself a fearful thing to encounter. I was often so nervous that,
for nights at a time, I got little or no sleep. The least noise would cause
me to tremble with fear. I suffered all the while more than any can ever
know, save those who have gone through the same hell. The manners and
actions often induced by my sufferings and an abiding sense of my
afflictions not infrequently militated against me. It has often been said:
"He acts very strangely - must have been drinking." Again: "I believe he
uses opium." These assertions may have been honestly made, but they were
none the less utterly false. If people could only know just how much the
drunkard suffers; how sad, lonesome, gloomy and wretched he feels while
trying to resist the accursed appetite which is destroying him, they would
never taunt him with doubts, nor go to him, as I have had men, and even
women, come to me (I say "men and women," but they were neither men nor
women, but libels on men and women), and say that this or that person had
said that that or this person had heard some other person tell another
person that he, she, or it believed that I, Luther Benson, had been
drinking on such and such an occasion; or that some one told Mr. B., who
told Miss X.T. that J.B. had said to Madam Z. that such and such a one had
actually told T.Y. that O.M.U. had seen three men who had heard of four

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Online LibraryLuther BensonFifteen Years in Hell → online text (page 7 of 12)