POSSESSED of that thirsty devil whose name is Quaff”: so said Luther of his potationary German generation ; and Luther knew whereof he spoke, being familiar with the Satanic administration, and commissioned to hold the light of truth to the Prince of Darkness in person. I esteem myself happy in the chance to “ sling ink ” at this deputy diabolos over the shoulder of the spiritual pluck that once hurled the full horn at the head of the Arch Fiend himself.
There are just two orders of mind to which the idea of an actual, personal Devil is acceptable, in any debate, without qualification or demur. And these are the truly great and the truly simple, the intellectual planet and the intellectual spark, — Bacon and a booby, Luther and a lout; and, standing between these two extremes, I gratefully accept the ray of truth that reaches me from either end.
Would I be understood as asserting — say confessing, if you feel scornful — that I believe in a downright Devil, with an entity as vulgar as John Smith’s, and a mission as meddling as Paul Pry’s ? — a Devil with a will and a plan, with attributes, prerogatives, and a jurisdiction? — a Devil with knowledge, penetration, and device ? — a Devil who can expand himself like cant and contract himself like avarice, “limber” himself like servility and stiffen himself like pride, consent like superstition and resist like bigotry, flow like folly and stand fast like fate, grovel like a pariah and grow like a demi-god, solicit like a parasite and patronize like a priest ?
Even so ; for I was born with a note of interrogation for a birthmark, and — granted a Devil for a key—I have guessed to the heart of many a mystery that else might have puzzled me mad. He has accounted to me for so many phenomena, physiological, phrenological, psychological, sociological, — everything but logical,—which might have fretted my spirit and muddled my wits by insisting on being accounted for, that, if one may orthodoxly thank the Enemy, I owe him grateful assurances of my distinguished consideration. Recognizing the Father of Lies, I have enjoyed a philosophical and moral dispensation from entertaining the distracting bedlam of his offspring. Therefore I invoke the nimble presence of Luther’s thirsty Quaff, that, plunging plump into the flowing bowl, he may bring me to light the mystery of iniquity that lurks beneath the “ ruby main ” of every lusty brimmer, — a tipsy little truth at the bottom of a wicked little well; and, science having dived for it, and the law dragged for it, and philanthropy drained for it, all in vain, here comes religion, or common sense, — by this light it may be either, or both at once, — and says, let’s try the Devil!
Every Quaff-possessed wretch, who topes up to the raging climax, and then rolls over trembling into the abyss of “ horrors,” is familiar with the apparition of certain psychological phenomena, diverse but akin, which at one time or another — in the exaltation of carouse, or the prostration of “jimjams ” — are sure to confront him ; and which, be he Luther or lout, he knows — with a knowledge instinctive and unerring— are not to be peddled from the carpet-bag of any professional mountebank, nor to be demonstrated on the blackboard of any scientific penny showman.
I believe there are few of us — we of the world and the flesh — who do not keep a private demon (once frankly termed a “familiar”). Disguised as a “ devilish cute,” or a devilish clever, or a devilish brilliant fellow, and shrewdly sinking the professional in the elegant amateur, this protean guide, philosopher, and friend is ready to attend us with his experience and his arts whenever we feel like rushing in where angels fear to tread. He is the Mephistopheles to the Faust of our dreams, the Mulberry Hawk to the Verisopht of our debauches.
When you would wend to that land of the forbidden, by the route “ obscure and lonely, haunted by ill angels only,” which Poe had so often traversed, be honest like him, and engage one of the regular guides. Don’t pretend that you have strayed unwillingly, unwittingly, from the plain road of revelation, mislighted by any will-o’-the-wisps of sham science, or luminous spectre of dyspepsia, or corpse-candle of superstition. In this injunction (if in no other notion), I find Swedenborg and the spiritualists with me, since they alike acknowledge the presence and influence of vulgar, lying, and spiteful spooks, whose accomplishments, arts, and functions are essentially human; and Swedenborg describes their favorite pastime as the dementing of mortal fools and gulls.
The state of the man rabidly addicted to drink is unquestionably a state of disease, whether contracted in the natural course of a vicious selfindulgence or fatally inherited,— a disease, primarily or ultimately, of the nervous organism and function. But the nervous system, being the medium of all imparted or transmitted impressions, intellectual or moral, of all emotions, psychological and spiritual, is naturally the instrument for the expression of character. Then, granted a Devil, crafty, expert, and malign, —and in each of us he finds a sort of magnetic telegraph, ingeniously devised for his peculiar manipulations. Hence the “ pure cussednesses” of drink, the fascinating diableries of animal magnetism, clairvoyance, necromancy, — even vampyrism, which is but the monstrous embodiment of a horrid bent of the nightmared soul. “Need, therefore, have ministers, when they meddle with afflicted men, to call to Heaven aforehand to assist them, being sure they shall have Hell itself to oppose them.”1 Even they who reject the actuality and personality of Satan may be willing to accept him as the spiritual symbol of the power and ubiquity of co-operative presumptions and deceits ; and for this purpose, whether the power be omnipresent or simply divisible and multiform, may rest an open question.
“A disease” surely; but diseases, like desires, may be unholy ; and the nervous system has a diabolic nosology all its own, — a dictionary of disorders familiarly demonic. Of these is, first of all, that Scriptural “ possession ” which is the intimate office of Quaff and his crew, and of which the phenomena, in all their ancient horrors of bruising and rending and foaming and defiling, may even in these days be observed in Pagan lands. These may be regarded as at once the revelation and the type of this class of visitations.
Next (an exaggerated development of the preceding, merely), come certain forms of insanity, especially shocking in their shapes of despair or blasphemy. In a madhouse in Maryland, I saw a spell-bound young woman, whose countenance and habitual attitude might have moved a professional philanthropist to pity. She was a Cuban, fair and dainty, forced by her family to marry a man she hated, to the sudden ruin of a man she loved. From the first, she refused to hide her disgust of her husband, who very soon began to resent her repulsions with an implacable revenge. He removed her to Spain, where, by a deliberate system of patient and ruthless provocations, he finally drove her mad, with a distraction sufficiently hideous to satisfy the most exacting of the spasmodic school of tragedy; then, with savage mockery, he sent her back to her parents, who forthwith consigned her to the safe keeping of nurses in a barred and bolted chamber.
She told me she was “possessed of a devil,” — only she did not style him husband, — who, night and day, tormented her to destroy all whom she loved or pitied. One object in life was yet left to her, — death. With supernatural secrecy and patience, she waited and watched for the chance of selfdestruction. Her cell was in a tower, five stories from the ground ; and I saw, on the window-sash, how, with resolute and busy little teeth, she had gnawed the frame away around two panes, that she might fling the darkness of her life out into the darkness of the night ; for so they caught her at midnight, with tender budding lips all bloody.
In another asylum in the same State I have seen impious “ services ”of frightful mockery, conducted by a mad preacher, in a style to make the pit of perdition roar with fun. The man had been a champion “ exhorter,” eminent for his muscular fervor, and very aggressive in prayer. His is hymnophony was stentorian, and he led the psalmody with a robust air of business that “improved an occasion ” like a steam-engine. He had been the “first trump” of campmeetings and the last trump of revivals.
I saw this poor mountebank of the conventicle uncowled, but terribly in earnest at last. To his distraught imagination his narrow cell expanded to a tabernacle, and he thronged it with such a congregation as may be looked for only in a vision of Dante, or a masque of Milton, or a grotesque of Rabelais, or a dream of Poe, or a picture of Doré. Then he arose in the midst of his invisible flock, and in the conventional phrases, tones, and gestures of his school proceeded to direct a most monstrous worship. “Let us sing to the glory of Satan ! ” he said, and forthwith began most horribly to parody himself, — deliberately “ deaconing,” in the familiar nasal twang and drawl, two lines at a time, a hymn of his own improvising, an astounding farrago of blasphemous and obscene incoherences ; and this with Watts and Wesley open in his hand. That done, he read (as if from the sacred volume before him) something that he termed “a portion of the gospel according to Old Scratch ” : shocking as the devilish drollery may sound, such were his very words. (There are those who will read these pages who knew the smitten wretch, and have heard his mad ministry; it is but seven years since.) Then a prayer!—the prayer of Legion to Lucifer : shall I dare to describe it,—I, who listened to it bewitched, and turned away appalled ? And then a closing hymn, “ deaconed ” as before ; and last of all, a literal malediction.
Now, holding this case before your eyes, have the manliness to look straight through it at two other cases, as you find them described in the evidence of St. Luke, ch. iv. 33-35, and ch. viii. 27 - 36 ; and tell me what distinction you make in the diagnosis. Were they, or were they not, true devils, that were cast out in Capernaum and the land of the Gadarenes ? and do they cease to be spirits, and become mere symptoms, by a simple accident of time and geography ? Are the four Gospels to be superseded by the forty ologies, and Revelation by the New American Cyclopædia ? Do we, or do we not, “ believe ” ? Shall we entertain no devouter thought for the record of His divine exorcisms in Judæa than the good-humored tolerance we grant to the legend of St. Patrick’s vermifugal exterminations in Ireland ? Let us take heed to our whimseys and our crotchets, for a fierce little apostolic conservative is after us sharply, with his I Timothy iv. I.
Well, close upon the heels of the outright mad, in my diabolic nosology, follows the more methodical, though scarcely milder, procession of the hysterical-possessed : of whom are the Hindoo devotees of the churruck-post; the Malay slashers of the amok ; dervishes, whirling and howling; the Convulsionnaires of St. Medard ; the Flagellants ; the later spawn of Russian “Mutilators”; Salem witchcraft, — smuggled, by way of revival trances, into the respectable communion of Rochester Spiritualism, with its prize tricks of table-tipping and crockeryslam-banging, And who has not known very small children in whose total depravity of wilfulness, rebellion, deceit, cruelty, profanity, impurity, the Devil asserts his presence with absolute insolence ?
This brings us to Pure Cussedness, — the peculiar domain of Quaff and his confederates, chief of whom is the Imp of the Perverse. That is a true Satanic discord which thrusts itself between the man and his affections, between the judgment and the word or act, between the will and the power, dividing, estranging, conflicting them. And in this impairment or paralysis of will or power, or both, this depraved antagonism of two that should be co-operative, lies all the mystery of the drunkard’s iniquity,— a mystery no longer physiological or pathological, but simply demonological. Once acknowledge (as I have done these twenty years) that a peculiar doom of sudden stunning is provided for the will of him who wantonly tampers with the forbidden, and sports with death and Devil, and at once you have the key to the mystery of many a tragedy infinitely more dark and haunting than the contradictions of Quaff, or the perversities of Pure Cussedness. The will abused, or set to wicked work for pastime, or deceit, or avarice, or passion, will, without warning, die, or hide itself, or withhold its help, in the crisis of terrible predicament and peril. By the illustration of authentic cases I may make my meaning clear.
Mildest of these may be reckoned that weird fascination of impulse to fling one’s self headlong from towers and precipices, or from the “ tops ” into the sea, which in the tempting circumstances almost overcomes the shuddering resistance of certain persons sensitively organized, if for a moment they permit themselves to toy with the thought. There is a kindred fascination in simulated insanity, which often deceives the shrewdest and most suspicious observer, by force of that partial or transient reality which is its appropriate punishment. When children cruelly mimic the afflictions of the blind or lame, the grave warning of an old-fashioned nurse, “Stop, child, or you ’ll grow so ! ” is something more than a crone’s bugbear.
The following cases may be accepted as examples of retributive paralysis of will: —
A lad in New Jersey, infuriated by a flogging his father had administered to him, in a delirium of rage and hate, thrust his head under water in a common tub, and drowned himself. His arms and legs were free ; no earthly circumstance disabled him at any moment from rising and living ; his power was at his service ; but his will had left him to his fate.
A man in Pennsylvania hung himself. When found, his arms were quite at liberty ; and, not only were his toes on the floor, but almost his knees also. The appearances plainly indicated that, to effect his purpose, he had drawn up his legs. He had the power to stand erect, and slacken his rope loosely; yet he could not. There was no sign or suspicion of insanity in this case.
A woman in Connecticut tied a silk scarf, in such a manner as to form a wide, loose loop, round her bed-post, within a foot and a half of the floor. Then lying prone on the carpet, she passed the loop over her head, adjusting it to her throat, and very slowly strangled herself, by allowing the weight of her body to bear upon the sling. It must have been a tedious process of self-murder; and if her patience had become exhausted, she had but to raise her head, or interpose her hand ; yet she could not. In this case there had been some natural melancholy, following the death of her child ; but not a trace of insanity.
A gentleman residing near Troy, New York, who had been a curious observer of such phenomena, and had sought in vain for an explanation (that might satisfy both his reason and his faith) of the failure of the natural muscular impulse to respond to the instinct of self-preservation, having heard a shrewd old farmer say, “ If the Devil once fairly puts it into a fellow’s head to kill himself, he can do it by just holding his breath,” determined to solve the problem by experiment. He went alone into his barn, confiding his purpose to no one, and with a rope suspended himself per coll. to a beam ; but his toes touched the floor fairly, so that he could support his body upon them ; and he had taken the precaution to place a block or stool within reach of his foot; and his hands and arms were free: yet he could not! If a farmhand, opportunely entering, had not cut him down, he could not have lived to explain, that “ from the moment he allowed his body to hang heavily by the rope, feeling for the floor with his heels, all muscular impulse to save himself was gone : he was horrified, fascinated, paralyzed.”
In Vermont, two boys, schoolmates and intimate playfellows, but not related, hung themselves at the same time, as if by concert of plan, in the barns of their separate homes. They were healthy cheerful lads, apparently without a grievance, at home or at school, to afford a motive for the strangely dreadful deed. How came it to pass, then ? I believe it to have been but another example of impious inquisitiveness, without a purpose more serious than the exploit of a boy’s hardihood, — a young Bohemian’s prying into the Unholy, a truant’s trespass on the domain of the forbidden. Any pictorial sheet of “ Police Gazette ’’ enterprise may have furnished the takinghint, which, without the aid of any subtler instrument of hell, was safe to conduct itself to the tragic conclusion ; for the hint itself was Satan.
Now, why is it that a criminal on the gallows, if he succeed in his preternatural struggles to free his thonged wrists, may, for the time, defeat the careful plans of the executioner, and delay his own doom, by seizing the rope above his head, or thrusting his hands between his throat and the slip-knot ? What constitutes the difference (physical or spiritual) between his case and either of those I have described ? Why is it that the bound murderer of another, fighting desperately against the law and the penalty, is so often permitted to rescue or reprieve himself; the unbound self-murderer, however pitifully his heart may fail him, so very seldom ? Is it simply that in the former case the man’s will stands his friend, in the latter is his executioner ?
Thus, I think, men and women have starved themselves to death. When they could eat, they would not; when, for life’s sake, they would, they could not. Outraged Nature hushed her own cry of self-preservation, and stunned her saving craving, setting up a loathing in its place. “ I too,” she said, “can starve myself!”
“ If the Devil once fairly puts it into a fellow’s head to kill himself, he can do it lay just holding his breath.” The ’cute old countryman who enunciated that axiom had probably never seen Braid on Trance (“ Self-Hypnotism,” " Human Hybernation,” “ Voluntary Catalepsy ”), or he would have found there some authentic modern instances to back his wise saw with. He might have read of negro slaves in the West Indies who committed suicide, under the lash, by tightly closing the mouth, ‘ and at the same time stopping the interior opening of the nostrils with the tongue.” He might have read of Hindoo Fakeers who had “acquired the power of suffering themselves to be buried alive, enclosed in bags, shut up in sealed boxes, or even of being buried for days or for weeks in common graves, and assuming their wonted activity on being released from their temporary confinement or sepulture.” He might have read of Balik Natha, who lived to the age of one hundred, and could suppress his breath for a week at a time. He might have read the narrative recorded by the eminent Dr. Cheyne of Dublin, and attested by Dr. Baynard and Mr. Skrine, of the case of Colonel Townsend, who could die, or expire, when he pleased, and yet by some mysterious power come to life again. “ Dr. Baynard could not feel the least motion in the heart, nor Mr. Skrine perceive the least soil of breath on the bright mirror he held to the mouth.We were satisfied that he was actually dead, and were just ready to leave him.”
He might have read the narrative of Sir Claude Martin Wade, political agent at the Court of Runjeet Singh, “ Regarding the Fakeer who Buried himself Alive (for Six Weeks) at Lahore, in 1837.” This man deliberately composed himself for his long death-sleep by plugging his nostrils and ears with wax and cotton, and “ closing the internal air - passages by curving the tongue upward,” as in the practice of the West-Indian slaves. When he had been disinterred, and resuscitated by the bathings, anointings, and other manipulations of his servant, the Fakeer, at last opening his eyes and recognizing Runjeet Singh and Sir Claude, “ articulated in a low, sepulchral tone, scarcely audible, ‘ Do you believe now ? ’ ”
He might have read the report of Sir C. S. Trevelyan, of the treasury, formerly (in 1829-30) acting political agent at Kotah, of the burial and “ resurrection,” after ten days, of another fakeer, resulting in the complete convincing of the agent, the commandant of the escort, and the surgeon to the agency. He might have read the extracts from Lieutenant A. Boileau’s “Narrative of a Journey in Rajwarra, in 1835,” relating to the case of the fakeer at Jesulmer, who “ had been buried alive, of his own free will, at the back of the tank close to our tents, and was to remain under ground for a whole month.” The prescribed period having elapsed, the man was dug out alive, in the presence of Goshur Lal, one of the ministers of the court. “ The cell or grave in which he had been interred was lined with masonry.....Two heavy slabs of stone, five or six feet long, several inches thick, and broad enough to cover the mouth of the grave, were then laid over him, so that he could not escape. The door of the house was also built up, and people stationed outside to mount guard during the whole month, that no tricks might be played, nor any deception practised.” On recovering his senses, under the treatment described in Sir Claude Wade’s report, “he conversed with us,” says Lieutenant Boileau, “ in a low, gentle tone of voice, as if his animal functions were still in a very feeble state ; but so far from appearing distressed in mind by the long interment from which he had just been released, he said we might bury him again for a twelvemonth if we pleased !
Now, I think the key of my theory of “ Spell-bound Will ” may fit this mystery also. By an unnatural convulsion, not by a natural effort, of the will wrested from its appointed function and directed to a presumptuous and unholy exploit, the man holds his breath for a time, having first taken rude mechanical precautions (with plugs of wax and cotton, and that practised trick of retroverting his tongue) to disable the muscular impulse from obeying the instinct of self-preservation by involuntary respiration. A few spasms of such monstrous fortitude, and the will (the spiritual life?) retires from the struggle altogether, leaving the mere animal life to itself. From that instant, not only is an effort of the will not required to hold the breath, but the breath holds itself, and no will is present to reproduce respiration ; the man has wantonly estranged the will from the power and set up a devilish conflict between them. For the space of such a spell the will is inert and the power impotent.
And now for the application of these principles, fancies, fantastic crotchets, — what you will,—to the solution of that mystery of thirst, at the bottom of which lies Quaff the conjurer. Not physiology, nor social science, but psychology, even demonology, must be our Seer in this. For every confirmed inebriate is familiar, in all his restlessness and Tantalus pains, all his distractions, horrors, and remorses, with the diabolic perversities of his own infirmity. Though he be stupid and tongue-tied in every other matter, he suddenly bursts into brightness and fluency when he comes to the analyzing of his curse. Perhaps it is because he has the advantage of you, in being at times a mere uncomplicated unembarrassed animal, that he can understand with the natural impulse of his heart that which you can only question with the artificial habit of your brains, — the agonizing conflict between will and power, between the conviction and the act or word, the affection and the manifestation.
Does the inebriate, once sunk from the vicious dilettanteisms of the superfine debauchee to the pothouse saturations of the indiscriminate sot, love the taste of liquor ? Believe me, he resents and abhors and makes faces at it, with his very soul. ’T is Circe, the charm of the forbidden. If whiskey ran like water from the commonconduits, no thirsty lip would touch it The spell would be lifted, the normal instinct of the animal restored, and the man would be as sensible and safe as a horse or a dog. But forbid him,, with taxes and fines, and penalties and pains, and shames and outcastings, and weepings and wailings and gnashings, of teeth ; and forthwith he gasps, with the torments of Dives, for the fiery spirit of thirst itself.
But if it behooves him to be deaf to Quaff’s cry of thirst, how much more should he beware of Quaff when he whimsically declines the comfortable cup ! — here is a delusion that may disguise a death. I saw at an asylum for inebriates two men, intelligent, honest, in earnest, who were there for a brave purpose of reform. They had come to the place together, and had been comrades in fortitude for six months, anxiously interchanging their experiences, observations, hopes, and fears. Though free to go and come on their parole, and daily confronting temptation, neither had forgotten his self-imposed taboo, during all their half-year’s probation ; yet, while one assured me that, from the hour he entered the retreat, he had never once had to suppress an inclination or turn from the allurement of a pleasant memory, “nor did he fear he should ever again be overtaken,”the other confessed, with a certain fierce frankness, that every hour, with almost every thought, he had longed for a deep drink. Well, these two departed as they had come, together. They had a nine hours’ ride by rail to take ;
Rode spirits by their side.”
That confident man was very drunk be fore their journey was half made, for Quaff had claimed his own; but the tormented gladiator stands fast to this day.
The " periodical ” inebriate — the phrase so commonly employed to designate " one who drinks an uncertain enormous quantity at irregular intervals ” — is a misnomer; the term should be " spasmodic.” Among ten thousand drunkards whose ways I have noted, from New York around the world and back again, I have not certainly known ten who got drunk at regularly recurring intervals of so many days or weeks, apparently for no other provocation than that " the time had come,” — as if their sprees were but so many shakes of fever-and-ague. Your bosom-friend, a fire-eater on a point of veracity, being in a state of boozy imbecility, assures you be never drinks, “ unless it may be a glass of wine now and then at the club.” You are naturally astounded at the intrepid lie ; but Quaff laughs at you, for he knows all about it, and the lie is but a little surprise of his own. Riding boisterously on the top wave of a " bender,”he suddenly recollects that he is thirsty, it being " just three hours since he had a drink.” You assure yourself that he did not say three minutes, and immediately experience another shock in the most conscientious part of your innocence ; but again Quaff laughs at you, for he has set forward the clock of your bosom-friend’s torment. Having at last attained the dignified and supercilious degree of fuddle, he resents with scorn your kind offer to see him home, as if you imagined him “intros’ricrared.” You are dumbfounded and discomfited by his impudence ; and again Quaff laughs at your limpid respectability. Come round to his head again, by the route of megrims and remorse, a glimpse of his late condition reflected in the aspect and utterance of another man excites his wonder and compassion. You are profoundly disgusted by his hypocrisy ; and again Quaff laughs at that myopy of the mind which cannot discriminate between the cant of pride and the confession of humiliation. I fear it is precisely this element of comedy in drunkenness which procures for it all the vicious popularity, and most of the virtuous tolerance, it enjoys : the vice is a monster of so funny mien, as to be hated never should be seen.
It is not the least noticeable of the contradictions of Quaff that his possessed are often moved by a sentiment of delicacy and scruple, at once contrite and tender, as though an angel were watching their fiend. For example, many drunkards, otherwise thoughtless and prodigal enough, will never invite another drunkard to drink : their resentment of the pagan cruelty which would proffer the cup of ruin to a child is manly and severe ; and for a totalabstinence discourse, searching and solemn, without clap-trap, cant, or twaddle, commend me to the trembling, longing warning of a sot. There are drunkards, also, who, when the rage is upon them, scrupulously shun their friends, lest they should bring them to shame or trouble or pain, yet never shrink from owning with meekness their evil behavior. This is that Bohemian-like soul - assertion, which expresses itself in the inebriate’s tribal sentiment of high scorn for him who denies or disguises his fellowship; while it pities and applauds the moral vagabond who, having a frank horror of his reproach, cannot heal and would not hide it. Item : I claim for my client (who cannot spare one tittle of his poor plea), that his promises are usually undertaken in good faith, made in the gratitude and hopefulness of an illusive escape, and forsworn in the forlorn rage and desperation of his own broken strength and courage. Feebly distrusting them from the first, he learns to fear them at last as the Delilahs of his sleeping strength.
The capricious suddenness with which his rabid thirst may leave the drunkard or return upon him, is perhaps the most disheartening, as it is also the most transparent, of the devices of Quaff: the eccentric freak of indifference, as when the toper in the high heat of a carouse leaves his darling draught untouched and unnoticed; the stranger fascination, as when he springs from his bed at midnight, and plunges through miles of darkness and storm, to rouse a drowsy and disgusted rum-seller; the very slight excitement which suffices to air the smoulderingcraving. I have known those who, on their discharge from an asylum, after many months of perfect abstinence and repose, have rushed forthwith into a fierce orgie, inflamed by the mere flurry and impatience of anticipation in approaching once more the old familiar places and faces, with contending emotions of triumph and humiliation. There are surely seasons and conditions in which it is not safe for the inebriate (wrestling with his bondage) to discuss, however wisely, even to meditate upon, his treacherous infirmity. At such times, let him prudently eschew the literature of temperance tracts and tales, and stop his cars to the voice of the cunning charmer who dispenses the dry sensation of cold-water harangues at two shillings a head. Especially let him acknowledge, with wholesome fear, the force of association, and keep warily aloof from localities endeared to him by many drunks. At this moment I have in my mind’s eye two ready writers, shrewd thinkers both, and of notable culture and skill in letters, who, safe everywhere else, are lost from the moment they turn into Broadway, and encounter the bewildering procession and wit’s-endy hubbub of that street of distractions.
What man who has noted and conscientiously considered this fatal fascination of drink in another ; — the reckless relinquishment of every consideration of advantage, honor, pride, personal safety, — shame accepted and death defied, — to procure it ; — who has observed that for the wretch once subject to the spell there is no earthly talisman; — will rest content with the shallow and fallacious guesses of a smattering philosophy? If you would know the reason why a sailor swims ashore through two miles of sharks and back again, to find a dozen with the cats awaiting him, and all for a swig of arrack, you should ask his chum or the chaplain, rather than the surgeon .
This ingenious Quaff has provided drunkenness with a peculiar magnetism whereby to multiply itself. This is a phenomenon especially troublesome in inebriate-asylums where freedom of excursion beyond bounds is allowed to the inmates. Let but one weak or dishonorable “ liberty man ” violate his parole, and immediately an endemic of thirst breaks out among his kind, and a dozen fellow-culprits share lus caging. At a railroad station in New York a drunken man fell frothing in an epileptic fit. A young physician who was just waiting for a train, and who had himself been drinking freely, went to the man’s assistance. Instantly the sight of the convulsions — to him a familiar spectacle, upon which at any other time he would have gazed unmoved—so furiously enraged him that he seized his possessed brother by the hair, and would have dashed out his brains against the granite steps, had not the bystanders dragged him off. Up to the moment of looking into the face of the fallen stranger he had not even been drunk : now he was wild with delirium, and for several days his condition was precarious.
A promising young lawyer of Washington had become a confirmed sot. The bar-keeper of the hotel to which he habitually resorted when in his cups was, if not strictly abstemious (as the better sort of bar-keepers often are), at least most prudent in his potations. By the charm of generous impulses and fine social qualities, he of the bar of injury had become attached to him of the bar of justice with an ardent, tenacious, and obsequious regard; so that he resolutely. but without ostentation, imposed upon himself the responsibility of rescuing and reforming his engaging but erratic customer. Three years of his faithful following, vigilant guarding, unflinching firmness, and almost feminine tenderness and tact resulted in the making of a man, who is now a power in his profession and a pleasure in society ; but the bar-keeper died of mania-a-potu, " contracted in the discharge of his extraordinary duty.” Quaff’s practice in this case seems to have been pure obeah.
Any anxiety, distraction, or trouble, sudden shock or wild sorrow, may incite the craving for the accustomed draught of cheap lethe. I have seen a stunned and miserable man drunk at the open grave of his wife, whom be tenderly loved. I doubt not the angels pitied him.
But of all the contradictions of Quaff, the ugliest, the meanest, the most thankless, the most offensive alike to instinct and reason, is that by which he inspires the inebriate with his monstrous perversion of natural affection, his depraved sensitiveness to every word and tone and look and gesture of those he loves. With equal outrage he “damns” their notice and their avoidance, their sympathy and their silence, their endearments and their repulsions. their patience and their vexation, their tenderness and their scorn, their fidelity and their desertion, their fast-clinging and their fleeing from him. He resents their reproaches, while he curses himself; he resents their compassion, while he profoundly pities both himself and them ; he resents their assistance, while he cries aloud for help ; he resents their companionship, while he trembles if they leave him alone. His horror of his “ flesh and blood ” is extreme, while from his soul he yearns for them. With them he cannot live ; without them he must die. It is perhaps his freak of conscience never to drink at home ; it is his freak of hell to curse his mother, or his wife and children, that they will not give him more drink. His friends are his most spiteful foes, his enemies his truest lovers. He is, in truth, least understood by those who are most concerned for him ; most shrewdly managed by an unconscious child.
His transitions of feeling are as sudden and inconsistent as his alternations of moral strength and weakness. In all earnestness and eagerness he will implore you to place him under restraint and discipline ; and at the very portal of some refuge of his own choosing, will, with a flash of almost insane cunning, mock you and give you the slip. Under certain circumstances of physical exhaustion and mental depression, his most heroic abstinence, no less than his debauches, has its “horrors.” With the same frightful phantasms with which he scourges his frailties, Quaff torments and tempts his fortitude. His self-denial may have its rats and snakes, its beasts and creeping things, as well as his self-indulgence. One who, after a twelvemonth of unchecked debauch, impetuously cast out his own devil, in the name of God and duty and affection, described his physical pangs as excruciating, and his mental terrors as appalling. For five long years he fled trembling, while seven spirits pursued, demanding readmittance to their swept and garnished quarters. " Horrors ” intercepted him, and despair mocked him, and pain implored him, and comfort enticed him. till, beset on all sides and wellnigh mad, he found himself at last at a hospitable bar, with the dear old decanters waiting for him, and that pertinacious but pleasant Quaff panting and smiling at his elbow. Then he dashed down the untasted death and fled, and Quaff sought other lodgings. But every waking hour of those five years he felt how a man may hate and fear the accursed thing,yet have no wish to shun it; how he may groan and rage for it, yet not have the courage to try it.
In all the disheartening disclosures of the dipsomaniac demonology I think no fact shall be found so curiously pernicious, in its impression and influence, as the drunkenness of the priesthood. " But that is so extremely rare ! ” you think. By no means so exceptional that the American clergy of any denomination might venture to contribute to the arithmetic of intemperance an honest enumeration of them who " drink and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of the afflicted.” In the Report (for 1868) of the superintendent of a noted institution for the reformation of inebriates, we find in the schedule of “ occupations ” three clergymen. What proportion of those who, turning self-accused from the water of life, tarry long at the wine, and weep, with redness of eyes, between the sideboard and the altar, do these three represent? — seeing that the pass must be desperate indeed which brings the world’s revered exemplars to the brave abdications of such a publicity. Let these three remember, to their comfort, that their aspiring part remains to them. “ When Job looked on himself as an outcast, the Infinite spirit and the Wicked spirit were holding a dialogue on his case.”2 A pastor, of mature experience and the purest life, once confessed to an inebriate, whom he would have comforted, that, although the sensual gratification that wines or spirits afford was to him an untried pleasure, he was at no time indifferent to the zest of their aroma, which never failed to provoke in him a sensible penchant, if not a positive craving, for their forbidden charm ; he had been more than once possessed with a momentary curiosity—"amusing, but nevertheless not safe” — to experience the sensations of a drunken man. But he thanked God that the inclination had never been provoked, or the fancy suggested, by the sight or savor of the sacramental cup.
There is a divination in the drunkard’s dreams which any hardy man may try who demands an argument more conclusive than any that I have marshalled here. Their supernatural vividness, coherence, and circumstantial particularity imparts to them all the impressiveness of an actual experience, while from their infernal terrors they derive an allegorical import most startling and weird. The accusatory and threatening character of the illusions of sight and hearing in the waking horrors are related to these dreams by a continuity of plan and purpose which is beyond the possibilities of stomach, and surpasses the unassisted performances of brain. Many inebriates of liberal education, unbiased by superstitious susceptibilities, recognize in these hallucinations, and in the delirium which is but an aggravation of them, true proofs and foretastes of hell,, and discover in their rats and snakes, and other hideous infestings of the mind, a symbolic significance and warning.
If this characteristic phenomenon be indeed a veritable portent, how horrid does its aspect become when it assumes the chronic form ! — happily so rare. In Maryland, in i860, I met a gentleman, very intelligent, cheerful, and entertaining, who, seven years before, had narrowly escaped death by mania-a-potu. From that time the severest abstinence had been the rule of his living. He was in robust health and high spirits ; a man, too, of shrewd sense, and various information. But his spectral snakes had never left him ; and as he conversed, however vivaciously, he flung them every moment from his arms or legs, or shook them from his clothing, or drew them from his bosom, still chatting gayly on, uninterrupted and unconcerned : so shockingly familiar to him, and tame, had the creatures become. Strangest of all,— though he perfectly appreciated the nature of his hallucination, could give you a most interesting account of his case, and knew well that his serpents were invisible to you, — to him they were always real, though no longer alarming. In the dark he felt them, as in the light he saw them ; and he lay down among them, and slept unterrified. He accepted them with resignation, as the tangible remembrancers of his transgression.
“ Sorrow for sin and sorrow for suffering,” saith our just and sympathetic Thomas Fuller, “are ofttimes so twisted and interwoven in the same person, yea, in the same sigh and groan, that sometimes it is impossible for the party himself so to separate and divide them, in his own sense and feeling, as to know which proceeds from the one and which from the other. Only the all-seeing eye of an infinite God is able to discern and distinguish them.” I have sat by the bedside of a trembling, tossing, starting wretch, whose harp of a thousand strings was all unstrung and jangled, and heard him exhaust his prodigal’s-cry for help and rest and hope, in the Lord’s Prayer, iterated and reiterated — from “Our Father” to “Amen,” with imploring importunity lingering at “Deliver us from evil!” — over and over, the livelong night. If he should stop, he said, he must scream and rend himself in his anguish of soul and body, his sorrow for his sin and his sorrow for his suffering.
If once in a long while your solemn service is disturbed, your pensive company of worshippers agitated, and your good meeting broken with the “most admired disorder ” of a strange and sudden burst of pent-up pain from a back seat in a dark corner, consider if it be not the double sorrow of such another inquisition of torture and remorse, expressed in the same groan and cry. Hence the wrestling drunkard’s longing (by no means uncommon) for the help and rescue of religion. It is this which excites him to displays of undue eagerness and zeal ; it is this which ensnares him in a seeming hypocrisy ; it is by this that Quaff betrays him in the end to a new and crueler shape of shame and despair.
May a genuine and healthy “conversion ” (I use that term, not for any technicality of dogma, but simply because, in its radical sense, it most conveniently expresses my meaning), suffice to reform the inebriate’s habit, as well as save his soul ? Out of the candid catholicity of my godlessness I answer, Yes ! if only by superseding his selfish passion with a noble inspiration and a potent discipline. An astute clergyman once maintained in my hearing that religion could no more cure “nerves ” or sprees than it could cure corns: but corns are never moral. When you see a “professor” again and again describing zigzag diagrams of gait, on his way from the Bible House to the rooms of the Young Men’s Christian Association, I think you may conclude, without detriment to your charity, that he did not procure his “ grace ” from a certified agent. “ My grace is sufficient for thee”; but not the cheap and spurious article so vulgarly puffed and peddled, the Devil’s counterfeit, manufactured and sold to discredit the pure and priceless. The dealers in this cheat are often hawkers likewise of that most scandalous and spiteful of blasphemies, — handy for the use of vagabond lecturers, trading philanthropists, and mountebank doctors, — that a reformed inebriate, however true his piety and pure his life, may not safely approach the sacramental chalice. I protest that such a man, though he have been fished from the very sewers and sinks of sottishness, is at least as safe at the Lord’s table as in a Broadway lunch-room. Only first let him see to it that his Quaff is of a truth cast out; for he “cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils,” and any damnation that he eateth or drinketh there, he eateth or drinketh “to himself.”
So then, granted ! Drunkenness is a disease ; but a disease may be a retributive visitation or judgment. Drunkenness is transient insanity (furor brevis); but madness may be diabolic. Drunkenness may be despair; but despair is infidel. Drunkenness may be hereditary taint; but taint is corruption. Drunkenness comes to Medicine and says, “ I am infected, and I shall die.” Medicine replies, “ Go wash, and live cleanly! We cannot smuggle you through the lazaretto of society by labelling you Idiosyncrasy.” Drunkenness comes to Law, and says, “ I am mad, and I have shed innocent blood.” Law answers, “Go hang! we cannot cheat Justice of her right in you, by quibbling you Irresponsible.”Drunkenness comes to Religion, and says, “ I have a devil.” Religion answers, “Believe, and sin no more! This kind goeth not out save by prayer and fasting.”
I hope that by this time the reader has perceived that I have no sectarian end to serve in what I have written here, no arbitrary dogma to enforce. I shall be satisfied if I have shown that there is in drunkenness a true mystery, which one can more certainly divine by texts than determine by axioms. It is the Ghost against Horatio’s philosophy, revelation against speculation.
From a most curious and conscientious little work, printed in 1779, and entitled “ A Geographical, Historical, and Religious Account of the Parish of Aberystruth, in the County of Monmouth, Wales. By Edmund Jones,”I take a passage which shall serve for my apology. I find it in Chapter 14: “Of Apparitions and Agencies of Spirits, in the Parish of Aberystruth : —
“ Every truth may be of use, whether it comes from heaven or from hell. And this kind of truth hath been of great use in this country, to prevent a doubt of eternity and of the world to come. Why then should not the account of apparitions and the agencies of spirits have some place in Christian conversation and writings ?
“These are the good effects arising from it ; and I will ask no man’s pardon for this account of apparitions in the parish of Aberystruth, though it is the only thing in this writing which, in respect of some people, needs an apology; for why should the sons of infidelity be gratified, whose notions tend to weaken the important belief of eternity, to dissipate religion, and to banish it out of the world ? ”
So, flout my honest convictions if you like; but rescue the prostrate inebriate from the moral vivisections of the thimblerigging philanthropist and the gypsy apostle.