Our Inebriates, Classified and Clarified


I HAVE the honor to be a part of the object of a grand experiment in Social Science,—an experiment to restore to the status of prudent and faithful householders and worthy citizens, productive and honorable, a most interesting class of men, in whose fate is presented the impressive spectacle of powers, often noble, paralyzed, and affections and impulses, often pure and generous, perverted, by a prostrate weakness within and a potent and subtle enemy without.

In thus coming to the rescue of a Soul, fallen unarmed and wounded in the thick of its basest foes, at once real and intangible, let us hope that the State brings to the charge not merely the resources of Science, and the results of experience, but the patience of a genuine philanthropy, the magnetism of an active and concentred sympathy, the kind devices of a practised tact, apt to seize the salient points and master the peculiar puzzle of each individual case ; and most, and first, and last of all, the special blessing of God.

For myself, I have the good fortune to be free from the necessity of reproducing materials already well mixed and kneaded, — of displaying old theories in lights neither new nor strong, — of demonstrating self-evident propositions by the aid of familiar illustrations, — of dressing a weary, despairing enthusiasm, fagged out with vain appeals on the one hand, and vainer protests on the other, in the faded artificial flowers of a sentimental rhetoric. Therefore I shall venture to get away from theories and analyses, and well-meant social conundrums, and come home to the “business and the bosoms” of the State’s anxious, patient clients, — parents and wives and children and friends, — between whom and these inebriates she stands in trust, with a plain and unreserved, and I hope a cheering, view of the interior aspects of this House : the Inebriate at Home, from the moment when we welcome the coming guest, prostrated in body and soul, to that in which we bid God-speed to his parting, — set up again in his own selfrespect, and fortified with a recovered will; and I shall endeavor to show how all this can be done — is done here — by the aid of no machinery more complicated than that with which the Creator has provided us from the beginning, in the kindly impulses and grateful aspirations of our own hearts, all ticking in tune together.

To appreciate justly the clarifying processes through which this muddled and disordered trouble must pass, on his way to physical and moral reconstruction, it will be necessary to classify the demoralized community of which he is a member : first, by those wellrecognized phenomena which are, in some cases, the painful fate of inheritance, in others the pernicious fruit of circumstance, — in the one instance, a question of temperament, congenital taint, inoculation, propensity; in the other, of accident, adverse fortune, the conspiracy of temptation with opportunity, resulting in a dominant vicious self-indulgence, and that prolonged abuse which revenges itself in the establishment of organic disease,—the former appealing to the sympathy and the concern of the moralist and social reformer, the latter demanding the relief of Medicine or the restraints of Law. And of these two classes it is hard to decide which is the more numerous, since experience and philosophic observation are forced to conclude that the drunkard is quite as often “born” as “made” ; “the child is father of the man” as commonly as the man is of the child ; and on this point it may be affirmed, with more of dreadful certainty than figurative extravagance, that many a baby is born drunk.

Again, we have that simplest and most positive, as it is also the most familiar, of such classifications, — the Periodical and the Constant Inebriate: a natural division, as it were, and most easy to define, because that by which the man himself falls into line and “dresses” for inspection. Whatever of complexity or confusion we may encounter in our efforts to fix his place in the ranks of any other division, we are sure of his position here ; he is either (to borrow Mr. barton’s definition) one who drinks a certain enormous quantity with daily regularity, or one who consumes an uncertain enormous quantity at irregular intervals.

Between these two classes and those other two, which we have already distinguished by their characteristics of Congenital Taint or Acquired Habit, there seems to be an appreciable, though not an invariable, connection and dependence : we are apt to find the periodical debauch inherited and the steady “soak” acquired. And just as a constitutional diathesis is more difficult of scientific control than an accidental disorder, so the inherited propensity is more treacherous, rebellious, and obstinate than the acquired appetite. In the latter the depths of ruin and wretchedness, out of which the cry for help comes up, have often been reached by gradual steps of descent, which may be, and not rarely are, retraced, by an ascent as gradual, into heights of security and happiness ; but in the former there is the mad, defiant plunge, again and again, into the abyss, even from the top and crowning height of rescue ; it is the very convulsion of fate and of despair, the moral epilepsy of generations.

And these two kindred classifications, which are essentially physiological, naturally lead us to yet another, which is as positively moral, — that which, in dealing with those who fly in their extremity to the haven and the help of such an asylum as this, thoughtfully separates them by their diverse moods and spiritual conditions into the audaciously Confident, the timidly Hopeful, and the profoundly Despondent. And this is, after all, the difference most essential to be perused and watched by all who would direct the groping steps of these benighted and bewildered wanderers from the right way, along the path that leads to refuge and rest. For whether for the Inherited Propensity or the Acquired Habit, the occasional debauch or the continual saturation, the counsel is clear, and the remedy single and simple, — Total Abstinence, first, last, and all the time. But how the advice will be received, or the remedy applied, must depend absolutely on the place which the probationary occupies in this classification : the whole study becomes narrowed down to a question of mood and temper ; and to know how much to promise for your patient you will have first to ascertain how much or how little he promises for himself. The conductors of this experiment would, indeed, have reason to congratulate themselves if, in their pursuit of this subtile and perplexing theory, their researches had been rewarded, in every branch of it, with results as positive and as valuable as those which they discover at this point, which may be termed the Psychology of Drunkenness, — conclusions which help them at once to a rational and methodical course of treatment ; for here they find a clear and invariable truth, guiding and cheering them by its own light, — that a humble, timid, self-mistrustful hopefulness is a condition eminently favorable, an audacious confidence to be promptly and firmly rebuked, and a morbid despondency to be secretly feared and cunningly combated. And here, too, we discern, with lively satisfaction and encouragement, the salutary working of that co-operative social plan which constitutes the all of system that we claim, and whereby each patient is made the skilful though unconscious physician (unconsciously to himself as to his fellow) of another’s cure ; for the dangerous confidence is rebuked and subdued by contact with the more dangerous despondency ; the despondency is cheered by the contemplation of a hope so strong; and both are tempered to a rational and healthy sense of their true situation by the safe humility and cheerful vigilance of that inspiring earnestness of purpose which is the condition most to be desired. And so it happens that to all of these alike comes that common consent of wish and hope in which the seeds of an abiding reformation can alone strike root, to bear precious fruit at last. All are thrown together into a sort of moral hopper, as it were, and submitted to a process ot mutual attrition, as marble polishes marble, and diamond grinds diamond, until all have received a surface which reflects the light of heaven.

If, in his capacity of director of this experiment in philanthropy, Dr. Day were asked, What is your " system ” ? he would have to answer only this : " To coax patiently into life again the moribund conscience and will of each individual protege and ward of ours, and then endow him with power to complete his own cure, by making him an eager, potent agent, with experience and opportunity, in the cure of others. It is the system of a common motive, applied with means in common, to the attainment of a common end.”

Thus far, a sufficiently cheering prospect has invited us and led us on. But just here it terminates in a class, happily by far the least in numbers, that we can but contemplate with wonder and chagrin, presenting, as it does, a spectacle of dreary discomfiture and hopelessness,— the hopelessness of stupidity, conjoined with moral insensibility, and the very conceit of selfishness. These are they whom no pride on the one hand, nor shame or alarm on the other, can inspire with a manly self-assertion,—with that longing and reaching after better things which is the last hold of a prostrate character upon its nobler recollections. Incapable of intelligent fear or an honorable blush, deadly cruel to themselves and others in their egotism, and exulting in ingratitude and deceit, they submit to no argument but coercion, break through all safeguards save bolts and bars, and betray the most honorable trust for a sip of their darling sin. Too base to receive an ennobling aspiration, too lazy to conceive an obligation of duty, too vain for the lessons of experience, too cowardly for the tasks of fortitude, too stupid for any use on earth, they are the glory of the rum-hole and the shame of the asylum — whither they suffer themselves to be dragged to escape the just alternative of a jail. They are its nuisances so long as they remain, and its failures when they leave, — the argument of its enemies, the confession of its friends. But their case presents this consoling anomaly, that the very condition which renders them presently incorrigible is precisely that which affords the only ground of hope, — I mean their youth. And if yet more conclusive proof and clearer illustration of the harmonious machinery of our household were demanded of us, we should have but to point to the sympathy, the patience, the invariable good-humor extended to this incorrigible and disturbing little squad by their more earnest and honorable fellows, to whom they are usually a provocation and a grievance, and who often suffer by their fault, in the curtailment of privileges which they have abused, and the imposition of measures of discipline which their rebellious folly has demanded.

To support the philosophy, and point the moral, of these remarks, I will venture to introduce two or three individual inebriates, who shall serve as types and representatives of their respective classes ; and, having received them at the door, we will follow them as they pass, in their sojourn with us, through the moral tonics of those social processes I have endeavored to portray, and take leave of them as they pass out, reconstructed and reanimated, to resume in society the places of honor and usefulness to which they were by nature appointed, and in their families those sacred duties of love which are the glory and the grace of every true life. All save the barren class last described, which must be grafted and absorbed among the worthier kinds, before it can produce any fruit save that which is bitter and noxious,

As the Regular and the Periodical Inebriate leave behind them their distinctive characteristics when they enter our doors, it will be no part of our purpose to typify in this connection the respective classes to which they belong. Whatever of diversity may appear in their interchange of experiences and hopes, they become identical under the rule of Total Abstinence which is applied to their cure.

In a quaint little poem by that scientific wit, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, we are told that one of the things “We all think ” is, —

“ Whene’er we groan with ache or pain,
Some common ailment of the race,
Though doctors think the matter plain, —
That ours is a ' peculiar case.’
“ That when, like babes with fingers burned,
We count one bitter maxim more,
Our lesson all the world has learned,
And men are wiser than before.”

This is a form of morbid egotism to which the Inebriate, fresh — or, for an apter adjective, foul — from a debauch, with nerves unstrung, remorses keen and cruel, and sensibilities excruciated, is peculiarly prone ; and parents, wives, and friends notably partake of his delusion. “ Ah, sir, this is an exceptional case! It is impossible that you can ever have known its parallel. No ordinary measures of tact and kindness can reach it. We have studied it with all the patience and anxiety that pain and trouble can prompt; and all we can make of it at last is, a subtile, almost supernatural, mystery of contradictions and contusions, defying diagnosis, and resenting treatment.”

And all that is true of many of the most hopeful subjects, and will continue to be true just so long as the man is allowed, or allows himself, to go at large, from bar to bar, from bottle to bottle, — and no longer; for all the “peculiarity” of the “case,” all its subtilty and supernatural mystery, all its contradictions and confusions, are simply Rum. Drive that out, and Reason, rejoicing, returns and claims her place. The house of the Man’s Soul has been swept and garnished, and it has become a simple question of responsibility on his part, and common sense on the part of his family and friends, whether she shall permanently fix her abode there, or be ejected to make room again for his old devil, bringing seven others with him. Meantime it has been our province to apply to his temper the touchstone of sympathy and tact. We have waited patiently to know him, and we have not had to wait long. In the freedom of a new phase of social intercourse, which presents confession as its central interest and attraction, he has no appearances to keep up, no disguises to cling to, no covert motive to conceal. Emancipated from the hypocrisies of a fictitious respectability, the expediences of business, and the polite lies of caste, his weakness and his strength come out frankly, hand in hand, to meet us, and the Man confesses or asserts himself.

But all this while the first of our representative inebriates— the type of one of the three great classes—has been waiting to be introduced. He is of the order of merchants, and his caste-marks are as plain upon him as if he were a Hindoo ; what the French term a “man of affairs,” — dealer on an imposing scale, banker or broker, speculator, contractor, director of a joint-stock company ; in other words, that sum of all shrewdness, foresight, sang-froid, and self-possession, oddly, even contradictorily, combined with the enthusiasm and eagerness which are his esprit de corps, — the American business-man, of the most generous type. Among his wares or his books cool and unsympathetic even to hard selfishness, wary and keen, sometimes to unscrupulousness,—among the decanters and the cigars he is the freest and heartiest ot good-fellows, large-hearted, openhanded, robust in his convivialities, and yet never quite losing sight of the main chance,— the inspiring vanity of his conscious smartness steadily holding his imprudence in check. In fact, it is the ardor of his calling, more than all other causes, which has brought him here. He was born to be sober and self-possessed ; but in an unguarded hour he invoked the services of those most seductive of salesmen and commissionnaires, Champagne and Cognac, and they have become the head of the house ; and every night, when the safe is locked, he hands over to them his prudence and his self-respect.

Even as he enters here, you can perceive that he brings with him the keen wariness of his calling, — that habit of self-indorsement, that assurance of credit at sight, which are the confident credentials of the man who knows a thing or two. Even fresh as he is from a high-priced debauch, he recognizes the business part of “ this little arrangement,” and goes about settling the preliminaries with the same rigor of system that he would apply to a question of “ time ” or “discount.” With the aspects of philanthropy, moral responsibility, animal weakness, and spiritual strength, which present themselves on the surface of the transaction, he does not fash himself. Those may be all very well in their way, but, being sentimental, they are not in his line. Business is business ; and this is business. It don’t pay to get drunk, even to make “a big thing ” now and then ; so he has concluded to resign that department of “ our operations ” to heads that have trained for it, and are safe to keep themselves “level" under any pressure of convivial steam. The influence of this direction of thought and habit of life is apparent in the deliberation with which he has cooled himself off, and “shaped himself up,” before coming here. His appearance at present is that of a rather florid gentleman of eminent respectability, nice to a fault in his attire, and exact to formality in his propositions. He is especially particular as to terms, accommodations, and privileges ; and impresses upon us, with an air of polite superiority, that he has nothing to learn on those points. Regarded as a man, everything about him is prepossessing ; regarded as a patient, he is interesting and even amusing. The history of his case can be clearly read beforehand : as in certain weak novels, it is easy to guess, from the moment the hero is introduced, how the story will end. He will depart gallantly and gayly from the institution, again and again, only to return more and more chapfallen; until at last, dead beat by repeated defeats, and warned by the arguments of timidity addressed to him by others, — arguments more wisely grounded than his own,—his irrepressible common-sense gets the ascendency, and he acknowledges that Eternal Vigilance is the price of Liberty, and Total Abstinence the only stock that pays. In conclusion, it is hardly necessary to say that he stands for the class of Confident Inebriates, under favorable conditions.

In retiring to find his social level among the diversified elements which enter into tire composition of our complex household, the Confident man makes way for a sadder and more perplexing type, — the profoundly Despondent.

This calls for no elaborate preliminary description. The wreck of a thriving farmer perhaps, or a brokendown gentleman, — an amiable person, of strong home attachments and hereditary ways, who can experience real trouble from the mislaying of his slippers, and miss a familiar arm-chair, or pine for the loss of his spectacles, as sadly as you or I for the clasp of a friendly hand or the light of a loving eye, — a man whose life has run in grooves too smooth, whose pluck has been impaired by too much accustomedness, to whom the least change in his familiar places and faces has been a convulsion, a sort of moral First of May to his domestic conservatism. As in his prosperity he was social to excess, so in his adversity he is morbidly solitary, — a man without elasticity or spring, no india-rubber or spiral wire among his moral materials.

His countenance expresses something which is weaker than resignation and nobler than indifference. His seltrespect has retreated into self-commiseration, but not deserted in cowardly self-abandonment. His soul is true to its post, though ready to lie down there and die ; and all that is left of his courage is “ the forlorn hope.”

His attire is respectably threadbare and genteelly unfashionable; his form ten, even fifteen years older than himself ; his gait that of one who is led, and he has been led hither, by mother, sister, or wife; his glance feeble and inquiring, seeking a resting-place or a friend ; his voice timid and deprecatory ; his trembling hands feeling wearily for a leaning-place or a chair: he does not wait for an invitation to be seated. Take care how you look at him hard, or he will faint ; and take care how you try to cheer him, or he will swear. He is profoundly hypochondriac, and plainly resents a favorable prognosis. He dislikes to speak of his condition ; but if you can extract an opinion from him, you will find that he lays all his trouble to his liver, or his kidneys, or his lungs. As for his drinking, that’s simply his “necessity,” — to remove it you must strike at the root of the matter; and in this he’s more than half right. He does not believe in the doctors, — they have never understood his case. He does not believe he can ever stop drinking, and is sure he should die if he did : would rather not drink, of course, but always feels better when he does. Does not believe in the Asylum, — came here merely to please his friends ; as to reforming drunkards, that’s all humbug ; but thinks it must be a good place to rest in, and if you have no objection would like to lie down now.

For this case there is but one plan of treatment which promises happy results : Quarter him near to, or even in the same room with, the Confident Man. They will begin by regarding each other as crazy, and be mutually diverted and interested ; and whilst amiably engaged in the interchangeable exercise of patronizing and proselyting, will unconsciously receive, the one his checking, the other his encouraging impression, promoting in both a permanent cure. Relieve the Despondent Inebriate of his hypochondria, and he can be intrusted with the keeping of himself more safely than his self-reliant friend ; but the process is tedious and uncertain. Both cases are approaching a satisfactory conclusion when Despondency can beat Confidence in the bowling-alley, or “try his wind” on the parallel bars.

We dismiss this weakest but most respectable of our representative inebriates to admit one who is plainly the strongest, and (as to his present condition) the least respectable,—the last of our tpyes, and pre-eminently a periodical madman.

Lawyer, journalist, author, physician, clergyman perhaps, his professional status is plain at a glance : a man of more or less sedentary habit, spasmodic labor, and resources usually irregular, fallacious, and inadequate, — excruciating concentration to-day, numb collapse to-morrow, — an eternal torture of oscillation between exaltation and prostration, leaden cares and golden dreams, the cravings of a prince and the gratifications of a beggar, triumphs of the brain and defeats of the heart.

Such men fall far and hard. This one has fallen from the rapture of a rainbow to the remorse of a sewer ; but, all battered and bedraggled as he is, he has brought down with him a glory-colored remnant of the bow of hope and promise that broke his fall. The light that led him astray was light from heaven, and the ray that glimmers still in the dreary fen of his self-abandonment, growing ever brighter and brighter, as it is fed by love and duty and courage, will lead him back again to the native daylight of his mind. Then nobler inspirations will incite him ; like Antæus, renovated by the touch ot his mother Earth, he will derive new forces even from his fall; and, though he has gone into the contest naked, he shall come out of it arrayed in the white armor of self-conquest. He came hither alone, and shorn of his strength ; he shall go forth clothed on, and in his right mind, amid the acclamations of his friends.

Of the thousands of spoiled and miserable lives, with all their broken promise and defeated purpose, their abused attributes and incorrigible offence, which these three most tolerable subjects fairly represent, our virtuous friends, who disapprove of the cakes and ale of this wicked world, are accustomed to say “ they are their own worst enemies " ; and, having said that, they are supposed to have left us nothing to desire, nothing to resent. Like Artemus Ward, when he took leave of his unconsciously erratic mother, they charge us to “Be virtuous, and you’ll be happy!” and, like her, we gaze after their retreating forms with mingled mute emotions of admiration and awe, — admiration for the impudence, and awe for the stupidity.

Of such is the affectionate inanity which first tosses a trembling inebriate from post to pillar of Insane Asylums, —a maddening medley of cages for the Maniacal, and Retreats for the Imbecile, and Domiciles for the Idiotic, — where he is expected to apply himself to the delectable and wholesome contemplation of strait-jackets and muffs, bran dolls and jumping-jacks, screaming delirium and gibbering vacuity; and of such is the affectionate impudence which then despairs of him and devotes him to perdition, because he has just brains enough left to fly from madness to rum. Of such is the tender and pious mercy which forgives the poor devil just seventy times seven by the multiplication-table, and then presents its little bill. Of such is the heroic “ Conscience ” which is forever cutting off this offending arm, and plucking out that offending eye, and casting them away. Of such is that sagacious Pharisaism of the family, which consigns the poor prodigal heart, that has nothing left but its remnant of imperishable love, to the isolation of a Refuge such as this ; and then, maintaining a savage silence, keeps it for weeks on the red-hot gridiron of a longing suspense, in one protracted nightmare and horror of devilish fancies and fears.

We all know that Drunkenness is a sore offence, a stench in the nostrils of Respectability; and the State has done wisely to bottle it here, and apply to it a clarifying process of moral Chloride of Lime. But what is to be done with the Virtue which is too dull, and the Hypocrisy which is too mean, to reflect credit upon Sobriety ?

For myself, who write this, an Inebriate at this Asylum, — Congenital, Periodical, anxiously Hopeful, — drinking for three days with the thirst of the throat-parched damned, abstaining for three months with the shuddering horror of a fanatical yogee, I believe that neither God nor the Devil is responsible for my being here ; but just that intangible torment known at the Cooper Institute as nervous fluid, quadruply distilled through generations of virtuous abuse and unconscious self-indulgence, and then injected into the quivering cords of a new-born man-child, fortythree years ago.

I believe that class of prompt and potent stimulants to which, with a kind of brutal nomenclature, we apply the common term Rum, to be among the dearest blessings the All-pitying Healer has conferred upon his sinning and suffering creatures.

I believe I should be the healthier, wealthier, wiser, and more useful, for a homely, hospitable, cheering “ toddy ” three times a day. And I protest, with a thousand pangs of mind and body, against the pre-natal fiat which has forbidden me, on pain of ruin and death, to taste one. “ By the same fate I have inherited the need and the prohibition.”