Perhaps, long as this article already is, I may venture to give, with the utmost possible brevity, one more of the many remarkable cases with which I became acquainted at the Asylum.
One Sunday morning, a loud ringing. of the front-door bell of the Home in Boston induced Dr. Day himself to answer the summons. He found a man at the door who was in the most complete state of dilapidation that can be imagined, — ragged, dirty, his hat awry, torn and bent, spectacles with one eye gone and the other cocked out of place, the perfect picture of a drunken sot who had slept among the barrels and cotton-bales for six months. He was such a person as we thoughtless fools roar at in the theatre sometimes, about 10:30 P.M., and who makes the lives of sundry children and one woman a long and hopeless tragedy up in some dismal garret, or down in some pestilential cellar.
“What can I do for you?” inquired the superintendent.
“My name is A. B——; will you take me in?”
“Have you a letter of introduction from any one?”
“We must have something of the kind; do you know any one in Boston?”
“Yes; there is Dr. Kirk; I’ve preached be his church; he ought to know me; I’ll see if he does.”
In a few minutes he returned, hearing a note from that distinguished clergyman, saying that he thought he knew the man; and upon this he was admitted.
He was as complete, though not as hopeless a wreck as he appeared. He had been a clergyman in good standing and of ability respectable; but had insensibly fallen under the dominion of a mania for drink. For ten years he had been a downright sot. He had not seen his family in that time. A benevolent man who chanced to meet bin in New York described to him the Washingtonian Home, made him promise to go to it, and gave him money for the purpose. He immediately spent the money for drink; but yet, in some forgotten way, he smuggled himself to Boston, and made his appearance at the Home on that Sunday morning. Such cases as this, hopeless as they seem, are among the easiest to cure, because there are knowledge, conscience, and pride latent in the man, which begin to assert themselves as soon as the system is freed from the presence of alcohol. This man was easily made to see the truth respecting his case. He soon came to understand alcohol; and this alone is a surprising assistance to a man at the instant of temptation. He remained at the Home six months, always improving in health, and regaining his former character. He left Boston twenty-two months ago, and has since lived with perfect sobriety, and has been restored to his family and to his profession.
Inebriate asylums, rationally conducted, cannot fail to be worth their cost. They are probably destined to become as generally recognized a necessity of our diseased modern life as asylums for lunatics and hospitals for the sick. It is not necessary to begin with a million-dollar palace, though it is desirable that the building should be attractive, airy, and large enough to accommodate a considerable number of patients. When the building has been paid for, the institution may be self-sustaining, or even yield a profit. It is possible that the cure of inebriates may become a specialty of medical practice, to which men, gifted with the requisite talent, will devote their lives. The science of the thing is still most incomplete, and only one individual has had much success in the practice. Albert Day is a good superintendent chiefly because he is a good Yankee, not because he is a great scientific healer. It seems instinctive in good Yankees to respect the rights and feelings of others; and they are accustomed to persuade and convince, not drive, not compel. Albert Day has treated these unfortunate and amiable men as he would have treated younger brothers taken captive by a power stronger than themselves. His polite and respectful manner to his patients on all occasions must be balm to men accustomed to the averted look and taunting epithet, and accustomed, too, to something far harder to bear, — distrust and abhorrence of themselves. Others, of course, will originate improved methods, and we shall have, at length, a Fine Art of assisting men to overcome bad habits; but this characteristic of Dr. Day will never be wanting to an asylum that answers the end of its establishment.
The disease which such institutions are designed to cure must be very common; for where is the family that has not a drunkard in its circle of connections? It is true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; but not on that account must the pound of cure be withheld.
The railroad which connects New York and Binghamton is the Erie, which is another way of saying that I was detained some hours on the journey home; and this afforded me the novel experience of working my way up town in a New York street-car an hour or two before daylight. The car started from the City Hall at half past two A. M., and received, during the first three miles of its course, twenty-seven persons. It so happened that nearly every individual of them, including the person coming home from the Asylum, was out of bed at that hour through alcohol. There were three drunken vagabonds asleep, who were probably taking a cheap lodging in the car by riding to Harlem and back, — two hours and forty minutes’ ride for fourteen cents. In one corner was coiled away a pale, dirty, German Jew of the Fagin type, very drunk, singing snatches of drinking choruses in broken English. Next to him was his pal, a thick-set old Charley Bates, also drunk, and occasionally joining in the festive songs. A mile of the ride was enlivened by an argument between C. Bates and the conductor on the subject of a cigar, which Mr. Bates insisted on smoking, in violation of the rule. The controversy was carried on in “the English language.” Then there were five German musicians, perfectly sober and vary sleepy, with their instruments in their hands, returning, I suppose, from some late saloon or dance-house. One woman was in the car, a girl of twenty, who appeared to be a performer in a saloon, and was now, after having shed her spangles and her ribbons, going home in dirty calico drawn tight over a large and obvious hoop, under the protecting care of a nice young man. There were several young and youngish men, well-dressed, in various stages of intoxication, who had probably been at the lawless “late houses,” singing and drinking all night, and were now going home to scare and horrify mothers, sisters, or wives, who may have been waiting five hours to hear the scratch of their latch-key against the front door.
What a picture did the inside of that car present, when it was filled upon both sides with sleepy, bobbing drunkards and servants of drunkards, the girl leaning sleepily upon her neighbor’s shoulder, the German musicians crouching over their instruments half dead with sleep, old Fagin bawling a line of a beery song, and the conductor, struggling down through the midst, vainly endeavoring to extract from boozy passengers, whether they were going “through,” or desired to be dropped on the way. It was a fit ending to a week at the Inebriate Asylum.