Inebriate Asylums, and a Visit to One
“This institution is in fact, as in appearance, a rationally conducted hotel or Temporary Home and resting-place for men diseased by the excessive use of alcoholic drinks.”
There are two kinds of drunkards, — the Regular and the Occasional. Of each of these two classes there are several varieties, and, indeed, there are no two cases precisely alike; but every drunkard in the world is either a person who has lost the power to refrain from drinking a certain large quantity of alcoholic liquor every day, or he is one who has lost the power to refrain from drinking an uncertain enormous quantity now and then.
Few get drunk habitually who can refrain. If they could refrain, they would for to no creatures is drunkenness so loathsome and temperance so engaging, as to seven tenths of the drunkards. There are a few very coarse men, of heavy, stolid, animal organization, who almost seem formed by nature to absorb alcohol, and in whom there is not enough of manhood to be ashamed of its degradation. These Dr. Albert Day, the superintendent of the New York State Inebriate Asylum, sometimes calls Natural Drunkards. They like strong drink for its own sake; they have a kind of sulky enjoyment of its muddling effect upon such brains as they happen to have; and when once the habit is fixed, nothing can deliver them except stone walls and iron bars. There are also a few drunkards of very light calibre, trifling persons, incapable of serious reflection or of a serious purpose, their very terrors being trivial and transitory, who do not care for the ruin in which they are involved. Generally speaking, however, drunkards hate the servitude into which they have had the misfortune to fall; they long to escape from it, have often tried to escape, and if they have given up, it is only after having so many times slidden back into the abyss, that they feel it would be of no use to climb again. As Mrs. H. B. Stowe remarks, with that excellent charity of hers, which is but another name for refined justice,” Many a drunkard has expended more virtue in vain endeavors to break his chain than suffices to carry an ordinary Christian to heaven.”
The daily life of one of the steady drunkards is like this: upon getting up in the morning, after a heavy, restless, drunkard’s sleep, he is miserable beyond expression, and almost helpless. In very bad cases, he will see double, and his hands will tremble so that he cannot lift to his lips the glass for which he has a desire amounting to mania. Two or three stiff glasses of spirituous liquor will restore him so far that he can control his muscles, and get about without betraying his condition. After being up an hour, and drinking every ten or fifteen minutes, he will usually be able to eat a pretty good breakfast, which, with the aid of coffee, tobacco, and a comparatively small quantity of liquor, he will be able to digest. After breakfast, for some hours he will generally be able to transact routine business, and associate with his fellows without exciting their pity or contempt. As dinner-time draws near, he feels the necessity of creating an appetite; which he often accomplishes by drinking some of those infernal compounds which are advertised on the eternal rocks and mountainsides as Bitters, — a mixture of bad drugs with worse spirits. These bitters do lash the torpid powers into a momentary, morbid, fierce activity, which enables the victim to eat even a superabundant dinner. The false excitement subsides, but the dinner remains, and it has to be digested. This calls for an occasional drink for three or four hours, after which the system is exhausted, and the man feels dull and languid. He is exhausted, but he is not tranquil; he craves a continuation of the stimulant with a craving which human nature, so abused and perverted, never resists. By this time it is evening, when all the apparatus of temptation is in the fullest activity, and all the loose population of the town is abroad. He now begins his evening debauch, and keeps up a steady drinking until he can drink no more, when he stumbles home to sleep off the stupefying fumes, and awake to the horror and decrepitude of a drunkard’s morning.
The quantity of spirituous liquor required to keep one of these unhappy men in this degrading slavery varies from a pint a day to two quarts. Many drunkards consume a quart of whiskey every day for years. The regular allowance of one gentleman of the highest position, both social and official, who made his way to the Inebriate Asylum, had been two quarts of brandy a day for about five years. The most remarkable known case is that of a hoary-headed man of education and fortune, residing in the city of New York, who confesses to taking “fifty drinks a day” of whiskey, — ten drinks to a bottle, and five bottles to a gallon. One gallon of liquor, he says, goes down his old throat every day of the year. Before he is fit to eat his breakfast in the morning he has to drink twelve glasses of whiskey, or one bottle and one fifth. Nevertheless, even this poor man is able, for some hours of the morning, to transact what people of property and leisure call business, and, during part of the evening, to converse in such a way as to amuse persons who can look on and see a human being in such bondage without stopping to think what a tragedy it is. This Old Boy never has to be carried home, I believe. He is one of those most hopeless drunkards who never get drunk, never wallow in the butter, never do anything to scare or startle them into an attempt to reform. He is like a certain German “puddler” who was pointed out to me in a Pittsburg iron-works, who consumes exactly seven dollars’ worth of lager-beer every seven days, — twenty glasses a day, at five cents each. He is also like the men employed in the dismal work of the brewery, who are allowed as much beer as they can drink, and who generally do drink as much as they can. Such persons are always fuddled and stupid, but seldom drunk enough to alarm their neighbors or themselves. Perhaps they are the only persons in all the world who are in any degree justified in passing their lives in a state of suspended intelligence; those of them at least whose duty it is to get inside of enormous beer-barrels, and there, in darkness and solitude, in an atmosphere reeking and heavy with stale ale, scrape and mop them out, before they are refilled. When you see their dirty, pale faces at the “man-hole” of the barrel, down in the rumbling bowels of the earth, in one of those vast caves of beer in Cincinnati, you catch yourself saying, “Drink, poor devils, drink! Soak what brains you have in beer!” What can a man want with brains in a beer-barrel? But, then, you think again, even these poor men need their brains when they get home; and we need that they should have brains on the first Tuesday in November.
It is that going home which makes drunkenness so dire a tragedy. If the drunkard could only shut himself up with a whiskey-barrel, or a pipe of Madeira, and quietly guzzle himself to death, it would be a pity, but it could be borne. He never does this; he goes home to make that home perdition to some good souls that love him, or depend upon him, and cannot give him up. There are men at the Asylum near Binghamton, who have admirable wives, beautiful and accomplished daughters, venerable parents, whose portraits are there in the patients trunks, and who write daily letters to cheer the absent one, whose absence now, for the first time in years, does not terrify them. They are the victims of drunkenness, they who never taste strong drink. For their deliverance, this Asylum stands upon its hill justified in existing. The men themselves are interesting, valuable, precious, worth every rational effort that can be made to save them; but it is those whom they have left at home anxious and desolate that have the first claim upon our consideration.
With regard to these steady, regular drunkards, the point to be noted is this: very few of them can stop drinking while they continue to perform their daily labor; they absolutely depend upon the alcohol to rouse their torpid energies to activity. Their jaded constitutions will not budge without the spur. Everything within them gapes and hungers for the accustomed stimulant. This is the case, even in a literal sense; for it seems, from Dr. Day’s dissections, that the general effect of excessive drinking is to enlarge the globules of which the brain, the blood, the liver, and other organs are composed, so that those globules, as it were, stand open-mouthed, empty, athirst, inflamed, and most eager to be filled. A man whose every organ is thus diseased cannot usually take the first step toward cure without ceasing for a while to make any other demands upon himself. This is the great fact of his condition. If he is a true drunkard, i. e. if he has lost the power to do his work without excessive alcoholic stimulation, then there is no cure possible for him without rest. Here we have the simple explanation of Mrs. Stowe’s fine remark just quoted. This is why so many thousand wives spend their days in torment between hope and despair, — hope kindled by the husband’s efforts to regain possession of himself; and despair caused by his repeated, his inevitable relapses. The unfortunate man tries to do two things at once, the easiest of which is as much as he can accomplish; while the hardest is a task which, even with the advantage of perfect rest, few can perform without assistance.
The Occasional Drunkard is a man who is a teetotaler for a week, two weeks, a month, three months, six months, and who, at the end of his period, is tempted to drink one glass of alcoholic liquor. That one glass has upon him two effects; it rouses the slumbering demon of Desire, and it perverts his moral judgment. All at once his honor and good name, the happiness and dignity of his family, his success in business, all that he held dearest a moment before, seem small to him, and he thinks he has been a fool of late to concern himself so much about them. Or else he thinks he can drink without being found out, and without its doing him the harm it did the last time. Whatever may be the particular delusion that seizes him, the effect is the same; he drinks, and drinks, and drinks, keeping it up sometimes for ten days, or even for several weeks, until the long debauch ends in utter exhaustion or in delirium tremens. He is then compelled to submit to treatment; he must needs go to the Inebriate Asylum of his own bedroom. There, whether he raves or droops, he is the most miserable wretch on earth; for, besides the bodily tortures which he suffers, he has to endure the most desolating pang that a decent human being ever knows, the loss of his self-respect. He abhors himself and is ashamed; he remembers past relapses and despairs; he cannot look his own children in the face; he wishes he had never been born, or had died in the cursed hour, vividly remembered, when this appetite mastered him first. As his health is restored, his hopes revive; he renews his resolution and he resumes his ordinary routine, subdued, distrustful of himself, and on the watch against temptation. Why he again relapses he can hardly tell, but he always does. Sometimes a snarl in business perplexes him, and he drinks for elucidation. Sometimes melancholy oppresses him, and he drinks to drive dull care away. Sometimes fortune overtakes him, or an enchanting day in June or October attunes his heart to joy, and he is taken captive by the strong delusion that now is the time to drink and be glad. Often it is lovely woman who offers the wine, and offers it in such a way that he thinks he cannot refuse without incivility or confession. From conversation with the inmates of the Inebriate Asylum, I am confident that Mr. Greeley’s assertion with regard to the wine given at the Communion is correct. That sip might be enough to awaken the desire. The mere odor of the wine filling the church might be too much for some men.
There appears to be a physical cause for this extreme susceptibility. Dr. Day has once had the opportunity to examine the brain of a man who, after having been a drunkard, reformed, and lived for some years a teetotaler. He found, to his surprise, that the globules of the brain had not shrunk to their natural size. They did not exhibit the inflammation of the drunkard’s brain, but they were still enlarged, and seemed ready on the instant to absorb the fumes of alcohol, and resume their former condition. He thought he saw in this morbid state of the brain the physical part of the reason why a man who has once been a drunkard can never again, as long as he lives, safely take one drop of any alcoholic liquor. He thought he saw why a glass of wine puts the man back instantly to where he was when he drank all the time. He saw the citadel free from the enemy, swept and clean, but undefended, incapable of defence, and its doors opened wide to the enemy’s return; so that there was no safety, except in keeping the foe at a distance, away beyond the outermost wall. There are many varieties of these occasional drunkards, and, as a class, they are perhaps the hardest to cure. Edgar Poe was one of them; half a glass of wine would set him off upon a wild, reckless debauch, that would last for days. All such persons as artists, writers, and actors used to be particularly subject to this malady, before they had any recognized place in the world, or any acknowledged right to exist at all. Men whose labors are intense, but irregular, whose gains are small and uncertain, who would gladly be gentlemen, but are compelled to content themselves with being loafers, are in special danger; and so are men whose toil is extremely monotonous. Printers, especially those who work at night upon newspapers, are, perhaps, of all men the most liable to fall under the dominion of drink. Some of them have persuaded themselves that they rest under a kind of necessity to “go on a tear” now and then, as a relief from such grinding work as theirs. On the contrary, one “tear” creates the temptation to another; for the man goes back to his work weak, depressed, and irritable; the monotony of his labor is aggravated by the incorrectness with which he does it, and the longing to break loose and renew the oblivion of drink strengthens rapidly, until it masters him once more.
Of these periodical drunkards it is as true as it is of their regular brethren, that they cannot conquer the habit without being relieved for awhile of their daily labor. This malady is so frequent among us, that hardly an individual will cast his eyes over these pages who cannot call to mind at least one person who has struggled with it for many years, and struggled in vain. They attempt too much. Their periodical “sprees,” “benders,” or “tears” are a connected series, each a cause and an effect, an heir and a progenitor. After each debauch, the man returns to his routine in just the state of health, in just the state of mind, to be irritated, disgusted, and exhausted by that routine; and, at every moment of weakness, there is always present the temptation to seek the deadly respite of alcohol. The moment arrives when the desire becomes too strong for him, and the victim yields to it by a law as sure, as irresistible, as that which makes the apple seek the earth’s centre when it is disengaged from the tree.
It is amazing to see how helpless men can be against such a habit, while they are compelled to continue their daily round of duties. Not ignorant men only, nor bad men, nor weak men, but men of good understanding, of rare gifts, of the loftiest aspirations, of characters the most amiable, engaging, and estimable, and of will sufficient for every purpose but this. They know the ruin that awaits them, or in which they are already involved, better than we other sinners know it; they hate their bondage worse than the most uncharitable of their friends can despise it; they look with unutterable envy upon those who still have dominion over themselves; many, very many of them would give all they have for deliverance; and yet self-deliverance is impossible. There are men among them who have been trying for thirty years to abstain, and still they drink. Some of them have succeeded in lengthening the sober interval, and they will live with strictest correctness for six months or more, and then, taking that first fatal glass, will immediately lose their self-control, and drink furiously for days and nights drink until they are obliged to use drunken artifice to get the liquid into their mouths, — their hands refusing their office. Whether they take a large quantity of liquor every day, or an immense quantity periodically, makes no great difference, the disease is essentially the same; the difficulties in the way of cure are the same; the remedial measures must be the same. A drunkard, in short, is a person so diseased by alcohol, that he cannot get through his work without keeping his system saturated with it, or without such weariness and irritation as furnish irresistible temptation to a debauch. He is, in other words, a fallen brother, who cannot get upon his feet without help, and who can generally get upon his feet with help.
Upon this truth Inebriate Asylums are founded; their object being to afford the help needed. There are now four such institutions in the United States: one in Boston, opened in 1857, called the Washingtonian Home; one in Media, near Philadelphia, opened in 1867, called the Sanitarium; one at Chicago, opened in 1868; and one at Binghamton, New York, called the New York Inebriate Asylum. The one last named was founded in 1858, if the laying of the corner-stone with grand ceremonial can be called founding it; and it has been opened some years for the reception of patients; but it had no real existence as an asylum for the cure of inebriates until the year 1867, when the present superintendent, Dr. Albert Day, assumed control.
The history of the institution previous to that time ought to be related fully for the warning of a preoccupied and subscribing public, but space cannot be afforded for it here. The substance of it, as developed in sundry reports of trials and pamphlets of testimony, is this: Fifteen or twenty years ago, an English adventurer living in the city of New York, calling himself a doctor, and professing to treat unnamable diseases, thought he saw in this notion of an Inebriate Asylum (then much spoken of) a chance for feathering his nest. He entered upon the enterprise without delay, and he displayed a good deal of nervous energy in getting the charter, collecting money, and erecting the building. The people of Binghamton, misled by his representations, gave a farm of two hundred and fifty-two acres for the future inmates to cultivate, which was two hundred acres too much and to this tract farms still more superfluous have been added, until the Asylum estate contains more than five hundred acres. An edifice was begun on the scale of an imperial palace, which will have cost, by the time it is finished and furnished, a million dollars. The restless man pervaded the State raising money, and creating public opinion in favor of the institution. For several years he was regarded as one of the great originating philanthropists of the age; and this the more because he always gave out that he was laboring in the cause from pure love of the inebriate, and received no compensation.
But the time came when his real object and true character were revealed. In 1864 he carried his disinterestedness so far as to offer to give to the institution, as part of its permanent fund, the entire amount to which he said he was entitled for services rendered and expenses incurred. This amount was two hundred and thirty-two thousand dollars, which would certainly have been a handsome gift. When he was asked for the items of his account, he said he had charged for eighteen years’ services in founding the institution, at thirty-five hundred dollars a year, and the rest was travelling-expenses, clerk hire, and salaries paid to agents. The trustees were puzzled to know how a man who, at the beginning of the enterprise, had no visible property, could have expended so much out of his private resources, while exercising an unremunerated employment. Leaving that conundrum unsolved, they were able at length to conjecture the object of the donation. One of the articles of the charter provided that any person giving ten dollars to the institution should be a stock-holder, and entitled to a vote at the election of trustees. Every gift of ten dollars was a vote! If therefore, this astounding claim had been allowed, and the gift accepted, the audacious villain would have been constituted owner of four fifths of the governing stock, and the absolute controller of the entire property of the institution! It was a bold game, and the strangest part of the story is, that it came near succeeding. It required the most arduous exertions of a public-spirited board of trustees, headed by Dr. Willard Parker, to oust the man who, even after the discovery of his scheme, played his few last cards so well that he had to be bought off by a considerable sum cash down. An incident of the disastrous reign of this individual was the burning of one of the wings of the building, after he had had it well insured. The insurance was paid him ($81,000); and there was a trial for arson, — a crime which is easy to commit, and hard to prove. Binghamton convicted the prisoner, but the jury was obliged to acquit him. The man and his confederates must have carried off an enormous booty. The local trustees say, in their Report for 1867: —
“Less than, two years ago the Asylum received about $81,000 from insurance companies for damage done by fire to the north wing. About $20,000 have since been received from the counties; making from these two sources about $100,000; and, although the buildings and grounds remain in the same unfinished state as when the fire occurred, except a small amount of work done in one or two wards in the south wing, the $100,000 have nearly disappeared. … Aside from the payment of interest and insurance, this money has been expended by Dr. ——, and in just such ways as he thought proper to use it.
“It may well be asked why this is so? The answer is, that Dr. —— assumes and exercises supreme control, and allows no interference, at least on the part of the resident trustees. …
“His control and management of everything connected with the institution has been as absolute in fact, if not in form, as if he were its sole proprietor. He goes to Albany to obtain legislation giving him extraordinary police powers, without as much as even informing the trustees of his intentions. When the iron grates for the windows of the lower ward were obtained, the resident trustees knew nothing of the matter, until they were informed that the patients were looking through barred windows. Everything has been done in the same way. He is not known to have had any other official relation to the institution by regular appointment than that of corresponding secretary, and yet he has exercised a power over its affairs which has defied all restraint. He lives there with his family, without a salary, and without individual resources, and dispenses hospitality or charity to his kindred with as much freedom and unreserve as if he owned everything, and had unlimited means at his command. In fact, incredible as it may seem, he claims that he is virtually the owner of the institution. And his claim might have challenged contradiction, had his plans succeeded.”
Such things may be done in a community where almost every one is benevolent enough to give money towards an object that promises to mitigate human woe, but where scarcely any one has leisure to watch the expenditure of that sacred treasure!
The institution, after it was open, remained for two years under the blight of this person’s control. Everything he did was wrong. Ignorant, obstinate, passionate, fussy, and false, — plausible and obsequious at Albany, a violent despot at the Asylum, — he was, of all the people in the world, the precisely worst man to conduct an experiment so novel, and so abounding in difficulties. If he had a theory, it was that an inebriate is something between a criminal and a lunatic, who is to be punished like the one and restrained like the other. His real object seemed to be, after having received payment for a patient six months in advance, to starve and madden him into a sudden departure. The very name chosen by him for the institution proves his hopeless incompetency. “Inebriate Asylum!” That name to-day is, perhaps, the greatest single obstacle to its growth. He began by affixing a stigma to the unfortunate men who had honored themselves by making so gallant an effort at self-recovery. But let the man and his doings pass into oblivion. There never yet was a bad man who was not, upon the whole, a very stupid ass. All the genuine intelligence in the world resides in virtuous minds. When, therefore, I have said that this individual was an unprincipled adventurer, I have also said that he was signally incapable of conducting an institution like this.
While we, in the State of New York, were blundering on in this way, permitting a million dollars of public and private money to be lavished in the attempt to found an asylum, a few quiet people in Boston, aided by a small annual grant from the Legislature, had actually established one, and kept it going for nine years, during which three thousand inebriates had been received, and two thousand of them cured! The thing was accomplished in the simplest way. They hired the best house for the purpose that chanced to be vacant, fitted it up at the least possible expense, installed in it as superintendent an honest man whose heart was in the business, and opened its doors for the reception of patients. By and by, when they had results to show, they asked the Legislature for a little help, which was granted, and has been renewed from year to year ever since. The sum voted has never exceeded five thousand dollars in any year, and there are three men in Boston at this moment reclaimed from drunkenness by the Washingtonian Home who pay taxes enough to support it.
In an enterprise for the management of which no precedents exist, everything of course depends upon the chief. When you have got the right man at the head you have got everything, and until you have got the right man there you have got nothing. Albert Day, the superintendent for nine years of the Washingtonian Home at Boston, and, during the last year and a half the superintendent of the Asylum at Binghamton, has originated nearly all that is known of the art of curing the mania for alcohol. He struck into the right path at once, guided by instinct and sympathy, rather than by science or reflection. He was not a professional person; he was simply a business man of good New England education, who had two special qualifications for his new position, — first, a singular pity for drunkards; and, secondly, a firm belief that with timely and right assistance, a majority of them could be restored to self-control. This pity and this faith he had possessed for many years, and they had both grown strong by exercise. When he was a child upon his father’s farm in Maine, he saw in his own home, and all around him, the evils resulting from the general use of alcoholic liquors, so that when the orators of teetotalism came along, he was ready to receive their message. He is one of the very few persons now living in the world who never partook of an alcoholic beverage, — so early was he convinced of their preposterous inutility. Losing his father at thirteen, he at once took hold of life in the true Yankee way. He tied up his few worldly effects into a bundle, and, slinging it over his shoulder, walked to a farmer’s house not many miles away, and addressed to him a plain question, “Do you want to hire a boy?” to which the farmer with equal directness replied, “Yes.” From hoeing corn and chopping wood the lad advanced to an apprenticeship, and learned a mechanical trade; and so made his way to early marriage, decent prosperity, and a seat in the Legislature of Massachusetts. From the age of sixteen he was known, wherever he lived, as a stanch teetotaler, and also as one who would befriend a drunkard after others had abandoned him to his fate.
I once heard Dr. Day relate the occurrence which produced in his mind the conviction that drunkards could be rescued from the domination of their morbid appetite. One evening, when he came home from his work, he heard that a certain Jack Watts, the sot of the neighborhood, was starving with his wife and three young children. After tea he went to see him. In treating this first patient, Albert Day hit upon the very method he has ever since pursued, and so I beg the reader will note the manner in which he proceeded. On entering his cottage he was as polite to him, as considerate of his dignity as head of a household, as he could have been to the first man of the village. “Mr. Watts,” said he, after the usual salutations, “I hear you are in straitened circumstances.” The man, who was then quite sober, replied: “I am; my two youngest children went to bed crying for food, and I had none to give them. I spent my last three cents over there,” pointing to a grog-shop opposite, “and the bar-keeper said to me, as he took the money, says he, ‘Jack Watts, you’re a fool,’ and so I am.” Here was a chance for a fine moral lecture. Albert Day indulged in nothing of the kind. He said, “Mr. Watts, excuse me for a few minutes”; and he went out, returning soon with a basket containing some flour, pork, and other materials for a supper. “Now, Mrs. Watts, cook something and wake your children up, and give them something to eat. I’ll call again early in the morning. Good night.”
Perfect civility, —no reproaches, — no lecture, — practical help of the kind needed and at the time needed. Observe, too, that the man was in the condition of mind in which patients usually are when they make the confession implied in entering an asylum. He was at the end of his tether. He was—to use the language of the bar-room—“dead beat.”
When Mr. Day called the next morning, the family had had their breakfast, and Jack Watts smiled benedictions on the man whom he had been wont to regard as his enemy, because he was the declared enemy of Jack Watts’s enemy. Now the time had come for a little talk. Jack Watts explained his circumstances; he had been out of work for a long time, and he had consumed all his substance in drink. Mr. Day listened with respectful attention, spoke to him of various plans for the future, and said that for that day he could give him a dollar’s worth of wood-chopping to do. Then they got upon the liquor question. In the softened, receptive mind of Jack Watts Albert Day deposited the substance of a rational temperance lecture. He spoke to him kindly, respectfully, hopefully, strongly; Jack Watts’s mind was convinced; he said he had done with drink forever. He meant it, too; and thus he was brought to the second stage on the road to deliverance. In this particular case, resting from labor was out of the question and unnecessary, for the man had been resting too long already, and must needs to go to work. The wood was chopped. The dollar to be paid for the work at the close of the day was a fearful ordeal for poor Jack, living fifteen yards from a bar-room. Mr. Day called round in the evening, paid him the dollar without remark, fell into ordinary conversation with the family, and took leave. John stood the test; not a cent of the money found its way into the till of the bar-keeper. Next morning Mr. Day was there again, and, seeing that the patient was going on well, spoke to him further about the future, and glided again into the main topic, dwelling much upon the absolute necessity of total and eternal abstinence. He got the man a place, visited him, held him up, fortified his mind, and so helped him to complete and lasting recovery. Jack Watts never drank again. He died a year or two ago in Maine at a good age, having brought up his family respectably.
This was an extreme case, for the man had been a drunkard many years; it was a difficult case, for he was poor and ignorant; and it made upon the mind of Albert Day an impression that nothing could efface. He was living in Boston in 1857, exercising his trade, when the Washingtonian Home was opened. He was indeed one of the originators of the movement, and took the post of superintendent, because no one else seemed capable of conducting the experiment. Having now to deal with the diseased bodies of men, he joined the medical department of Harvard University, and went through the usual course, making a particular study of the malady he was attempting to cure. After nine years’ service he was transferred to the Asylum at Binghamton, where he pursues the system practised with success at Boston.
I visited the Binghamton Asylum in June of the present year. The situation combines many advantages. Of the younger cities that have sprung into importance along the line of leading railroads there is not one of more vigorous growth or more inviting appearance than Binghamton. Indications of spirit and civilization meet the eye at every turn. There are long streets of elegant cottages and villas, surrounded by nicely kept gardens and lawns, and containing churches in the construction of which the established barbarisms have been avoided. There is a general tidiness and attention to appearances that we notice in the beautiful towns and villages of New England; such as picturesque Northampton, romantic Brattleboro’, and enchanting Stockbridge, peerless among villages. The Chenango River unites here with the Susquehanna; so that the people who have not a river within sight of their front doors are likely to have one flowing peacefully along at the back of their gardens. It is a town, the existence of which in a State governed as New York is governed shows how powerless a government is to corrupt a virtuous and intelligent people, and speaks of the time when governments will be reduced to their natural and proper insignificance. Such communities require little of the central power; and it is a great pity that that little is indispensable, and that Albany cannot be simply wiped out.
Two miles from Binghamton, on a high hill rising from the bank of the Susquehanna, and commanding an extensive view of the beautiful valleys of both rivers, stands the castellated palace which an adventurer had the impudence to build with money intrusted to him for a better purpose. The Erie Railroad coils itself about the base of this eminence, from the summit of which the white puffs of the, locomotive can be descried in one direction nine miles, and in the other fifteen miles. On reaching this summit about nine o’clock on a fine morning in June, I found myself in front of a building of light-colored stone, presenting a front of three hundred and sixty-five feet, in a style of architecture that unites well the useful and the pleasing. Those numerous towers which relieve the monotony of so extensive a front serve an excellent purpose in providing small apartments for various purposes, which, but for them, could not be contrived without wasting space. At present the first view of the building is not inviting, for the burnt wing remains roofless and void, — the insurance money not having been applied to refitting it, — and the main edifice is still unfinished. Not a tree has yet been planted, and the grounds about the building are little more pleasing to the eye than fifty acres of desert. On a level space in front of the edifice a number of young men were playing a game of base-ball, and playing it badly. Their intentions were excellent, but their skill was small. Sitting on the steps and upon the blocks of stone scattered about were fifty or sixty well-dressed, well-looking gentlemen of various ages, watching the game. In general appearance and bearing these persons were so decidedly superior to the average of mortals, that few visitors fail to remark the fact. Living up there in that keen, pure air, and living in a rational manner, amusing themselves with games of ball, rowing, sailing, gardening, bowling, billiards, and gymnastic exercises, they are as brown and robust as David Copperfield was when he came home from the Continent and visited his friend Traddles. Take any hundred men from the educated classes, and give them a few months of such a life as this, and the improvement in their appearance will be striking. Among these on-lookers of the game were a few men with gray hairs, but the majority were under thirty, perhaps thirty-two or thirty-five was about the average age.
When I looked upon this most unexpected scene, it did not for a moment occur to me that these serene and healthy-looking men could be the inmates of the Asylum. The insensate name of the institution prepares the visitor to see the patients lying about in various stages of intoxication. The question has sometimes been asked of the superintendent by visitors looking abo t them and peering into remote corners, “But, Doctor, where do you keep your drunkards?” The astonishment of such inquirers is great indeed when they are informed that the polite and well-dressed gentlemen standing about, and in whose hearing the question was uttered, are the inmates of the institution; every individual of whom was till very recently, not merely a drunkard, but a drunkard of the most advanced character, for whose deliverance from that miserable bondage almost every one had ceased to hope. A large majority of the present inmates are persons of education and respectable position, who pay for their residence here at rates varying from ten to twenty dollars a week, and who are co-operating ardently with the superintendent for their recovery. More than half of them were officers of the army or navy during the late war, and lost control of themselves then. One in ten must be by law a free patient; and whenever an inebriate really desires to break his chain, he is met halfway by the trustees, and his board is fixed at a rate that accords with his circumstances. A few patients have been taken as low as five dollars a week. When once the building has been completed, the grounds laid out, and the farms disposed of, the trustees hope never to turn from the door of the institution any proper applicant who desires to avail himself of its assistance. The present number of patients is something less than one hundred, which is about fifty less than can be accommodated. When the burnt wing is restored, there will be room for four hundred.
Upon entering the building, we find ourselves in a spacious, handsome, well-arranged, and well-furnished hotel. The musical click of billiard-balls, and the distant thunder of the bowling-alley, salute the ear; one of the inmates may be performing brilliantly on the piano, or trying over a new piece for next Sunday on the cabinet organ in the temporary chapel. The billiard-room, we soon discover, contains three tables. There is a reading-room always open, in which the principal periodicals of both continents, and plenty of newspapers, are accessible to all the patients. A small library, which ought to be a larger one, is open at a certain hour every day. A conservatory is near completion, and there is a garden of ten acres near by in which a number of the inmates may usually be seen at work. A croquet-ground is not wanting, and the apparatus of cricket is visible in one of the halls. The chapel is still far from being finished, but enough is done to show that it will be elegant and inviting soon after the next instalment of excise-money comes in. The dining-room is lofty and large, as indeed are all the public rooms. The private rooms are equal, both in size and furniture, to those of good city hotels. The arrangements for warming, lighting, washing, bathing, cooking, are such as we should expect to find in so stately an edifice. We have not yet reached the point when housework will do itself; but in great establishments like this, where one man, working ten minutes an hour, warms two or three hundred rooms, menial labor is hopefully reduced. In walking about the wide halls and airy public apartments, the visitor sees nothing to destroy the impression that the building is a very liberally arranged summer hotel. To complete the illusion, he will perhaps see toddling about a lovely child with its beautiful mother, and in the large parlor some ladies visiting inmates or officers of the institution. The table also is good and well served, A stranger, not knowing the nature of the institution, might, however, he puzzled to decide whether it is a hotel or a college. No one, it is true, ever saw a college so handsomely arranged and provided; but the tone of the thing is college-like, especially when you get about among the rooms of the inmates, and see them cramming for next Monday’s debate, or writing a lecture for the Asylum course.
This institution is in fact, as in appearance, a rationally conducted hotel or Temporary Home and resting-place for men diseased by the excessive use of alcoholic drinks. It is a place where they can pause and reflect, and gather strength and knowledge for the final victorious struggle with themselves. Temptation is not so remote that their resolution is not in continual exercise, nor so near that it is tasked beyond its strength. There lies Binghamton in its valley below them. in plain sight, among its rivers and its trees, with its thousand pretty homes and its dozen nasty bar-rooms. They can go down there and drink, if they can get any one to risk the fifty dollars’ fine imposed by the law of the State upon any one who sells liquor to an inmate of the Asylum. Generally, there is some poor mercenary wretch who will do it. Until it has been proved that the sight of Binghamton is too much for a patient, the only restraint upon his liberty is, that he must not enter the town without the consent of the superintendent. This consent is not regarded in the light of a permission, but in that of a physician’s opinion. The patient is supposed to mean: “Dr. Day, would you, as my medical adviser, recommend me to go to Binghamton this morning to be measured for a pair of shoes? Do you think it would be salutary? Am I far enough advanced in convalescence to trust myself to breathe the air of the valley for an hour?” The doctor gives his opinion on the point, and it is etiquette to accept that opinion without remark. Not one patient has yet visited the town, with the consent of the superintendent, who has proved unequal to the temptation. If an inmate steals away and yields to his craving, he is placed in confinement for a day or two, or longer if necessary. It occasionally happens that a patient, conscious of the coming on of a paroxysm of desire, asks to have the key of his room turned upon him till it is over. It is desired that this turning of the key, and those few barred rooms in one of the wards, shall be regarded as mere remedial appliances, as much so as the bottles of medicine in the medicine-chest. It is, however, understood that no one is to be released from confinement who does not manifest a renewed purpose to refrain. Such a purpose is sometimes indicated by a note addressed to the superintendent like the following, which I happened to see placed in his hands: —
Dr. Day: —
Dear Sir: I cannot let the circumstance which happened yesterday pass by without assuring you that I am truly sorry for the disgrace I have brought on the institution, as well as myself. I certainly appreciate your efforts to guide us all in the right direction, and more especially the interest that you have taken in my own welfare. Let me assure you now, that hereafter, as long as I remain with you, I shall use every endeavor to conduct myself as I should, and cause you no further trouble.
Lapses of this kind are not frequent, and they are regarded by the superintendent as part of the means of restoration which the institution affords since they aid him in destroying a fatal self-confidence, and in inculcating the idea that a patient who lapses must never think of giving up the struggle, but renew it the instant he can gain the least foothold of self-control.
The system of treatment pursued here is founded on the expectation that the patient and the institution will co-operate. If a man does not desire to be reclaimed, and such a desire cannot be awakened within him, the institution can do no more than keep him sober while he remains an inmate of it. There will, perhaps, one day be in every State an asylum for incurable drunkards, wherein they will be permanently detained, and compelled to live temperately, and earn their subsistence by suitable labor. But this is not such an institution. Here all voluntary. The co-operation of the patient is assumed; and when no desire to be restored can be roused, the experiment is not continued longer than a few months.
The two grand objects aimed at by the superintendent are, to raise the tone of the bodily health, and to fortify the weakened will. The means employed vary somewhat in each case. The superintendent designs to make a particular study of each individual; he endeavors to win his confidence, to adapt the treatment to his peculiar disposition, and to give him just the aid he needs. As the number of patients increases, this will become more difficult, if it does not become impossible. The more general features of the system are all that can be communicated to others, and these I will endeavor briefly to indicate.
It is interesting to observe the applicants for admission, when they enter the office of the Asylum, accompanied generally by a relative or friend. Some reach the building far gone in intoxication, having indulged in one last farewell debauch; or having drunk a bottle of whiskey for the purpose of screwing their courage to the sticking-point of entering the Asylum. A clergyman whom this institution restored told me that he reached Binghamton in the evening, and went to bed drunk; and before going to the Asylum the next morning he had to fortify his system and his resolve by twelve glasses of brandy. Sometimes the accompanying friend, out of an absurd kind of pity for a poor fellow about to be deprived of his solace, will rather encourage him to drink; and often the relatives of an inebriate can only get him into the institution by keeping him intoxicated until he is safe under its roof. Frequently men arrive emaciated and worn out from weeks or months of hard drinking; and occasionally a man will be brought in suffering from delirium tremens, who will require restraint and watching for several days. Some enter the office in terror, expecting to be immediately led away by a turnkey and locked up. All come with bodies diseased and minds demoralized; for the presence of alcohol in the system lowers the tone of the whole man, body and soul, strengthening every evil tendency, and weakening every good one. And this is the reason why men who are brought here against their will are not to be despaired of. Alcohol may only have suspended the activity of their better nature, which a few weeks of total abstinence may rouse to new life. As the health improves, ambition often revives, the native delicacy of the soul reappears, and the man becomes polite, docile, interested, agreeable, who on entering seemed coarse, stupid, obstinate, and malign.
The new-comer subscribes to the rules, pays his board three months in advance, and surrenders all the rest of his money. The paying in advance is a good thing; it is like paying your passage on doing on board ship; the voyager has no care, and nothing to think of, but the proposed object. It is also one more inducement to remain until other motives gain strength.
Many hard drinkers live under the conviction that if they should cease drinking alcoholic liquors suddenly, they would die in a few days. This is a complete error. No “tapering off” is allowed here. Dr. Day discovered years ago that a man who has been drinking a quart of whiskey a day for a long time suffers more if his allowance is reduced to a pint than if he is put at once upon the system of total abstinence. He not only suffers less, but for a shorter time. The clergyman before referred to informed me that, for two years and a half before entering the Asylum, he drank a quart of brandy daily, and he felt confident that he would die if he should suddenly cease. He reached Binghamton drunk; he went to bed that evening drunk; he drank twelve glasses of brandy the next morning before eleven o’clock; he went up to the Asylum saturated with brandy, expecting to make the preliminary arrangements for his admission, then return to the hotel, and finish the day drinking. But precisely at that point Albert Day laid his hand upon him, and marked him for his own. Dr. Day quietly objected to his return to the town, sent for his trunk, caused the tavern bill to be paid, and cut off his brandy at once and totally. For forty-eight hours the patient craved the accustomed stimulant intensely, and he was only enabled to sleep by the assistance of bromide of potassium. On the third day the craving ceased, and he assured me that he never felt it again. Other morbid experiences he had, but not that; and now, after two years of abstinence, he enjoys good health, has no desire for drink, and is capable of extraordinary exertions. Other patients, however, informed me that they suffered a morbid craving for two or three weeks. But all agreed that the sudden discontinuance of the stimulant gave them less inconvenience than they had anticipated, and was in no degree dangerous. It is, indeed, most surprising to see how soon the system begins to rally when once it is relieved of the inimical influence. Complete recovery, of course, is a slow and long effort of nature; but the improvement in the health, feelings, and appearance of patients, after only a month’s residence upon that breezy hill, is very remarkable.
There is an impression in the country that the inmates of such asylums as this undergo some mysterious process, and take unknown medicines, which have power to destroy the desire for strong drink. Among the quack medicines of the day is a bottled humbug, pretending to have such power. It is also supposed by some that the plan which Captain Marryat mentions is efficacious, — that of confining a drunken sailor for several days to a diet of beef and brandy. Accounts have gone the rounds of the papers, of another system that consists in saturating with brandy every article of food of which the inebriate partakes. Patients occasionally arrive at the Asylum who expect to be treated in some such way; and when a day or two passes without anything extraordinary or disagreeable happening, they inquire, with visible apprehension, “When the treatment is going to begin.” In this sense of the word, there is no treatment here. In all nature there is no substance that destroys or lessens a drunkard’s desire for intoxicating liquors; and there is no such thing as permanently disgusting him with brandy by giving him more brandy than he wants. A drunkard’s drinking is not a thing of mere appetite; his whole system craves stimulation; and he would drink himself into perdition while loathing the taste of the liquor. This Asylum simply gives its inmates rest, regimen, amusement, society, information. It tries to restore the health and renew the will, and both by rational means.
Merely entering an establishment like this is a long step toward deliverance. It is a confession! It is a confession to the patient’s family and friends, to the inmates of the Asylum, and, above all, to himself, that he has lost his self-control, and cannot get it back without assistance. He comes here for that assistance. Every one knows he comes for that. They are all in the same boat. The pot cannot call the kettle black. False pride, and all the thin disguises of self-love, are laid aside. The mere fact of a man’s being an inmate of an inebriate asylum is a declaration to all about him that he has been a drunkard, and even a very bad drunkard; for the people here know, from their own bitter experience, that a person cannot bring himself to make such a confession until, by many a lapse, he has been brought to despair of self-recovery. Many of these men were thinking of the asylum for years before they could summon courage to own that they had lost the power to resist a physical craving. But when once they have made the agonizing avowal by entering the asylum, it costs them no great effort to reveal the details of their case to hearers who cannot reproach them; and, besides relating their own experience without reserve, they are relieved, encouraged, and instructed by hearing the similar experience of others. All have the same object, the same peril, the same dread, the same hope, and each aids the rest as students aid one another in the same college.
In a community like this, Public Opinion is the controlling force. That subtle, resistless power is always aiding or frustrating the object for which the community exists. Public Opinion sides with a competent superintendent, and serves him as an assiduous, omni-present police. Under the coercive system once attempted here, the public opinion of the Asylum applauded a man who smuggled a bottle of whiskey into the building, and invited his friends into his room to drink it. An inmate who should now attempt such a crime would be shunned by the best two-thirds of the whole institution. One of their number, suddenly overcome by temptation, who should return to the Asylum drunk, they would all receive as cordially as before; but they would regard with horror or contempt a man who should bring temptation into the building, and place it within reach of those who had fled hither to avoid it.
The French have a verb, — se dé-payser, — to uncountry one’s self, to get out of the groove, to drop undesirable companions and forsake haunts that are too alluring, by going away for a while, and, in returning, not resuming the old friends and habits. How necessary this is to some of the slaves of alcohol every one knows. To many of them restoration is impossible without it, and not difficult with it. To all such, what a refuge is a well-conducted asylum like this! Merely being here, out of the coil of old habits, haunts, pleasures, comrades, temptations, which had proved too much for them a thousand times, — merely being away for a time, so that they can calmly survey the scenes they have left and the life they have led, — is itself half the victory.
Every Wednesday evening, after prayers, a kind of temperance meeting is held in the chapel. It is the intention of the superintendent, that every inmate of the Asylum shall become acquainted with the nature of alcohol, and with the precise effects of alcoholic drinks upon the human system. He means that they shall comprehend the absurdity of drinking as clearly as they know its ruinous consequences. He accordingly opens this meeting with a short lecture upon some one branch of the subject, and then invites the patients to illustrate the point from their own experience. At the meeting which I happened to attend the subject of Dr. Day’s remarks was suggested (as it often is) by an occurrence which had just taken place at the institution, and had been the leading topic of conversation all that day. At the last meeting, a young man from a distant State, who had been in the Asylum for some months and was about to return home, delivered an eloquent farewell address to his companions, urging them to adhere to their resolution, and protesting his unalterable resolve never, never, never again to yield to their alluring and treacherous foe. He spoke with unusual animation and in a very loud voice. He took his, departure in the morning by the Erie Road, and twelve hours after he was brought back to the Asylum drunk. Upon his recovery he related to the superintendent and to his friends the story of his lamentable fall. When the train had gone three hours on its way, there was a detention of three hours at a station that offered little entertainment to impatient travellers. The returning prodigal paced the platform; found it dull work; heard at a distance the sound of billiard balls; went and played two games, losing both; returned to the platform and resumed his walk; and there fell into the train of thought that led to the catastrophe. His reflections were like these: “How perfect is my cure! I have not once thought of taking a drink. Not even when I saw men drinking at the bar did it cross my mind to follow their example. I have not the least desire for whiskey, and I have no doubt I could take that ‘one glass’ which Dr. Day keeps talking about, without a wish for a second. In fact, no man is perfectly cured till he can do that. I have a great mind to put it to the test. It almost seems as if this opportunity of trying myself had been created on purpose. Here goes, then, for the last glass of whiskey I shall take as long as I live, and I take it purely as a scientific experiment.” One hour after, his friend, who was accompanying him home, found him lying in a corner of a bar-room, dead drunk. He had him picked up, and placed in the next train bound for Binghamton.
This was the text of Dr. Day’s discourse, and he employed it in enforcing anew his three cardinal points: 1. No hope for an inebriate until he thoroughly distrusts the strength of his own resolution; 2. No hope for an inebriate except in total abstinence as long as he lives, both in sickness and in health; 3. Little hope for an inebriate unless he avoids, on system and on principle, the occasions of temptation, the places where liquor is sold, and the persons who will urge it upon him. Physicians, he said, were the inebriate’s worst enemies; and he advised his hearers to avoid the tinctures prepared with alcohol, which had often awakened the long-dormant appetite. During my stay at Binghamton, a clergyman resident in the town, and recently an inmate of the Asylum, had a slight indisposition resulting from riding home from a meeting ten miles in the rain. One of the physicians of the place, who knew his history, knew that he had been an inebriate of the most pronounced type (quart of liquor a day), prescribed a powerful dose of brandy and laudanum. “I dare not take it, doctor,” he said, and put the damnable temptation behind him. “If I had taken it,” said he to me, “I should have been drunk to-day.” The case, too, required nothing but rest, rice, and an easy book. No medicine was necessary. Dr. Day has had under his care a man who, after being a confirmed drunkard, had been a teetotaler for eighteen years, and had then been advised to take wine for the purpose of hastening a slow convalescence. His appetite resumed its old ascendency, and, after drinking furiously for a year, he was brought to the Asylum in delirium tremens. Dr. Day expressed a strong hope and belief that the returned inmate mentioned above had now actually taken his last glass of whiskey; for he had discovered his weakness, and was in a much more hopeful condition than he had been before his lapse. The Doctor scouted the idea that a man who has the misfortune to break his resolution should give up the struggle. Some men, he said, must fall, at least once, before the last rag of self-confidence is torn from them; and he had had patients who, after coming back to him in Boston four times, had conquered, and had lived soberly for years, and were still living soberly.
When the superintendent had finished his remarks, he called upon his hearers to speak. Several of them did so. One young gentleman, an officer of the army during the war, made his farewell speech. He thanked his companions for the forbearance they had shown him during the first weeks of his residence among them, when he was peevish, discontented, rebellious, and had no hope of ever being able to conquer his propensity, so often had he tried and failed. He would have left the Asylum in those days, if he had had the money to pay his fare on the cars. He felt the importance of what Dr. Day had advanced respecting the occasions of temptation, and especially what he had said about physicians’ prescriptions, which he knew had led men to drink. “If,” he added, “I cannot live without alcohol, I would rather die. For my part, I expect to have a struggle all my life; I don’t think the time will ever come when it will be safe for me to daily with temptation, and I feel the necessity of following Dr. Day’s advice on this point.” He spoke in a simple, earnest, and manly manner. He was followed by another inmate, a robust, capable-looking man of thirty-five, who also spoke with directness and simplicity. He hoped that fear would help him to abstain. If he could only keep sober, he had the best possible prospects; but if he again gave way, he saw nothing before him but infamy and destruction. He spoke modestly and anxiously, evidently feeling that it was more than a matter of life and death to him. When he had concluded, a young gentleman rose, and delivered a fluent, flowery address upon temperance; just such a discourse as might precede a lapse into drinking.
On Monday evening of every week, the Literary Society of the institution holds its meeting, when essays are read and lectures delivered. The course of lectures delivered last winter are highly spoken of by those who heard them, and they were all written by inmates of the Asylum. Among the subjects treated were: Columbus, a Study of Character; Goldsmith; The Telegraph, by an Operator; Resources of Missouri; Early English Novelists; The Age, and the Men for the Age; Geology; The Passions, with Poetical Illustrations; The Inebriate Asylum, under the Régime of Coercion. It occasionally happens, that distinguished visitors contribute something to the pleasure of the evening. Mrs. Stowe, the newspapers inform us, was kind enough some time since to give them a reading from Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and the copy of the book from which she read was a cheap double-columned pamphlet brought from the South by a freedman, now the porter of the Asylum. He bought it and read it while he was still a slave, little thinking when he scrawled his name across the dingy title-page that he should ever have the honor of lending it to the authoress.
Nearly twelve years have now elapsed since Dr. Day began to accumulate experience in the treatment of inebriates, during which time he has had nearly four thousand patients under his care. What proportion of these were permanently cured it is impossible to say, because nothing is heard of many patients after they leave; but it is reasonably conjectured that two thirds of the whole number were restored. It is a custom with many of them to write an annual letter to Dr. Day on the anniversary of their entering the Home under his management, and the reading of such letters is a highly interesting and beneficial feature of the Wednesday evening temperance meetings. The alcoholic man is no respecter of persons. Dr. Day has had under treatment twenty-one clergymen, one of whom was a Catholic priest (who had delirium tremens), and one a Jewish Rabbi. He has had one old man past seventy, and one boy of sixteen. He has had a Philadelphia “killer,” and a judge of a supreme court. He has had steady two-quarts-a-day men, and men who were subject only to semi-annual debauches. He has had men whose “tears” lasted but forty-eight hours, and one man who came in of his own accord after what he styled “a general spree” of three months’ continuance. He has had drunkards of two years’ standing, and those who have been slaves of strong drink for thirty years.
Some of his successes have been striking and memorable. There was Dr. X—— of Tennessee, at thirty-five a physician of large practice, professor in medical college, happy in an excellent wife and seven children. Falling into drink, he lost at length his practice, his professorship, his property, his home; his family abandoned him to his fate, and went to his wife’s father’s in another State; and he became at last a helpless gutter sot. His brother, who heard by chance of the Home in Boston, picked him up one day from the street, where he lay insensible, and got him upon the train for the East. Before he roused from his drunken stupor, he was halfway across Virginia. “Where am I?” he asked. “In Virginia, on your way to Boston.” “All right,” said he, in a drunkard’s drunkenest manner, — “all right! give me some whiskey.” He was carried into the Home in the arms of men, and lay for some weeks miserably sick. His health improved, and the man revived. He clutched at this unexpected chance of escape, and co-operated with all his heart with the system. Dr. Day wrote a hopeful letter to his wife. “Speak not to me of a husband,” she replied; “I have no husband; I buried my husband long ago.” After four months’ stay in the institution, the patient returned home, and resumed his practice. A year after, his family rejoined him. He recovered all his former standing, which to this day, after nine years of sobriety, he retains. His ninth annual letter to his deliverer I have read. “By the way,” he says, in a postscript, “did you receive my letters each year of the war?” Yes, they reached Dr. Day months after they were written; but they always reached him. The secret of this cure, as the patient has often asserted, was total abstinence. He had attempted to reduce his daily quantity a hundred times; but never, until he entered the Home, was he aware of the physical impossibility of a drunkard’s becoming a moderate drinker. From the moment when he had a clear, intellectual comprehension of that truth, the spell was broken: abstinence was easy; he was himself again.
Then there was Y——, a Philadelphia street savage, — one of those firemen who used to sleep in the engine-house, and lie in wait for rival companies, and make night and day hideous with slaughter. Fearful beings were those Philadelphia firemen of twenty years ago! Some of them made a nearer approach to total depravity than any creatures I have ever seen that wore the form of man, — revelling in blood, exulting in murder, and glorying in hellish blows with iron implements, given and received. It was difficult to say whether it gave them keener delight to wound or to be wounded. In all communities where external observances and decorums become tyrannical, and where the innocent pleasures of youth are placed under a ban, there is sure to be a class which revolts against the invisible despot, and goes to a horrid extreme of violence and vice. This Y—— was one of the revolters. Once in many weeks he would return to his decent home, ragged and penniless, to be reclothed. It is only alcohol that supports men in a life of wanton violence like this; and he, accordingly, was a deep and reckless drinker. His sister prevailed upon him, after many months of persuasion, to go to the Home in Boston, and he presented himself there one morning, black all over with coal-dust. He explained his appearance by saying that he had come from Philadelphia in a coal-vessel. Dr. Day, who had been notified of his coming, received him with that emphatic politeness which produces such magical effects upon men who have long been accustomed to see an enemy in every one who behaves decently and uses the English language in its simplicity. He was exceedingly astonished to be treated with consideration, and to discover that he was not to be subjected to any disagreeable process. He proved to be a good, simple soul, very ignorant, not naturally intelligent, and more capable, therefore, of faith than of knowledge. The Doctor won his confidence; then his good-will; then his affection. Something that was read in the Bible attracted his attention one day, and he asked to be shown the passage; and this was the beginning of his reading the Bible regularly. It was all new to him; he found it highly interesting; and, this daily reading being associated in his mind with his reform, the book became a kind of talisman to him, and he felt safe as long as he continued the practice. After a six-months’ residence, he went to work in Boston, but always returned to spend the evening at the Home. At the beginning of the war he enlisted. He was in Colonel Baker’s regiment on the bloody day of Ball’s Bluff, and was one of the gallant handful of men who rescued from the enemy the body of their slain commander. He was one of the multitude who swam the Potomac amid a pattering rain of bullets, and walked barefoot seven miles to camp. The first man that met him there offered him whiskey. Mistaken kindness! Senseless offer! A man who is sinking with fatigue wants rest, not stimulation; sleep, not excitement. “Don’t offer me that,” he gasped, shuddering. “I dread that more than bullets.” Instead of the whiskey, he took twelve hours’ sleep, and consequently awoke refreshed, and ready for another day’s hard service. At Antietam he had the glory and high privilege of giving his life for mankind. A bullet through the brain sent him to heaven, and stretched his body on the field in painless and eternal sleep. It lies now in a cemetery near his native city; a monument covers it; and all who were connected with him are proud to point to his grave and claim him for their own. What a contrast between dying so, and being killed in a motiveless street-fight by a savage blow on the head with a speaking-trumpet!
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.