JOHN B. GOUGH
THE CONQUEST OF A BAD HABIT
Happily few human beings sink to the depths in which John B. Gough
found himself at the age of twenty-five years. By sheer force of will
he raised himself from the slough in which he wallowed, till he
attained a position honored among men, and performed a service of
exceptional usefulness to society.
His story, as told in his own vivid words, is one of the most absorbing
in the annals of self-help. His example must have helped thousands
among the myriads whom he thrilled by the dramatic recital of his
From his "Autobiography."
I boarded in Grand Street at this time, and soon after laid the
foundation of many of my future sorrows. I possessed a tolerably good
voice, and sang pretty well, having also the faculty of imitation
rather strongly developed; and being well stocked with amusing stories,
I was introduced into the society of thoughtless and dissipated young
men, to whom my talents made me welcome. These companions were what is
termed respectable, but they drank. I now began to attend the theatres
frequently, and felt ambitious of strutting my part upon the stage. By
slow but sure degrees I forgot the lessons of wisdom which my mother
had taught me, lost all relish for the great truths of religion,
neglected my devotions, and considered an actor's situation to be the
ne plus ultra of greatness.
During my residence at Newburyport my early serious impressions on one
occasion in a measure revived, and I felt some stinging of conscience
for my neglect of the Sabbath and religious observances. I recommenced
attending a place of worship, and for a short time I attended the Rev.
Mr. Campbell's church, by whom, as well as by several of his members, I
was treated with much Christian kindness. I was often invited to Mr.
Campbell's house, as well as to the house of some of his hearers, and
it seemed as if a favorable turning-point or crisis in my fortunes had
arrived. Mr. Campbell was good enough to manifest a very great
interest in my welfare, and frequently expressed a hope that I should
be enabled, although late in life, to obtain an education. And this I
might have acquired had not my evil genius prevented my making any
efforts to obtain so desirable an end. My desire for strong liquors
and company seemed to present an insuperable barrier to all
improvement; and after a few weeks every aspiration after better things
had ceased; every bud of promised comfort was crushed. Again I grieved
the spirit that had been striving with my spirit, and ere long became
even more addicted to the use of the infernal draughts, which had
already wrought me so much woe, than at any previous period of my
And now my circumstances began to be desperate indeed. In vain were
all my efforts to obtain work, and at last I became so reduced that at
times I did not know when one meal was ended, where on the face of the
broad earth I should find another. Further mortification awaited me,
and by slow degrees I became aware of it. The young men with whom I
had associated, in barrooms and parlors, and who wore a little better
clothing than I could afford, one after another began to drop my
acquaintance. If I walked in the public streets, I too quickly
perceived the cold look, the averted eye, the half recognition, and to
a sensitive spirit such as I possessed such treatment was almost past
endurance. To add to the mortification caused by such a state of
things, it happened that those who had laughed the loudest at my songs
and stories, and who had been social enough with me in the barroom,
were the very individuals who seemed most ashamed of my acquaintance.
I felt that I was shunned by the respectable portion of the community
also; and once, on asking a lad to accompany me in a walk, he informed
me that his father had cautioned him against associating with me. This
was a cutting reproof, and I felt it more deeply than words can
express. And could I wonder at it? No. Although I may have used
bitter words against that parent, my conscience told me that he had
done no more than his duty in preventing his son being influenced by my
dissipated habits. Oh! how often have I lain down and bitterly
remembered many who had hailed my arrival in their company as a joyous
event. Their plaudits would resound in my ears, and peals of laughter
ring again in my deserted chamber; then would succeed stillness, broken
only by the beatings of my agonized heart, which felt that the gloss of
respectability had worn off and exposed my threadbare condition. To
drown these reflections, I would drink, not from love of the taste of
the liquor, but to become so stupefied by its fumes as to steep my
sorrows in a half oblivion; and from this miserable stupor I would wake
to a fuller consciousness of my situation, and again would I banish my
reflections by liquor.
There lived in Newburyport at that time a Mr. Law, who was a rum
seller, and I had spent many a shilling at his bar; he proposed to me
that he would purchase some tools, and I could start a bindery on my
own account, paying him by installments. He did so; and I thought it
an act of great kindness then, and for some time afterward, till I
found he had received pay from me for tools he had never paid for
himself, and I was dunned for the account he had failed to settle. He
even borrowed seventy-five dollars from me after I signed the pledge,
which has never been repaid. "Such is life."
Despite all that had occurred, my good name was not so far gone but
that I might have succeeded, by the aid of common industry and
attention, in my business. I was a good workman, and found no
difficulty in procuring employment, and, I have not the slightest
doubt, should have succeeded in my endeavor to get on in the world but
for the unhappy love of stimulating drinks, and my craving for society.
I was now my own master; all restraint was removed, and, as might be
expected, I did as I pleased in my own shop. I became careless, was
often in the barroom when I should have been at my bindery, and instead
of spending my evenings at home in reading or conversation, they were
almost invariably passed in the company of the rum bottle, which became
almost my sole household deity. Five months only did I remain in
business, and during that short period I gradually sunk deeper and
deeper in the scale of degradation. I was now the slave of a habit
which had become completely my master, and which fastened its
remorseless fangs in my very vitals. Thought was a torturing thing.
When I looked back, memory drew fearful pictures, the lines of lurid
flame, and, whenever I dared anticipate the future, hope refused to
illumine my onward path. I dwelt in one awful present; nothing to
solace me—nothing to beckon me onward to a better state.
I knew full well that I was proceeding on a downward course, and
crossing the sea of time, as it were, on a bridge perilous as that over
which Mahomet's followers are said to enter paradise. A terrible
feeling was ever present that some evil was impending which would soon
fall on my devoted head, and I would shudder as if the sword of
Damocles, suspended by its single hair, was about to fall and utterly
Warnings were not wanting, but they had no voice of terror for me. I
was intimately acquainted with a young man in the town, and well
remember his coming to my shop one morning and asking the loan of
ninepence with which to buy rum. I let him have the money, and the
spirit was soon consumed. He begged me to lend him a second ninepence,
but I refused; yet, during my temporary absence, he drank some spirit
of wine which was in a bottle in the shop, and used by me in my
business. He went away, and the next I heard of him was that he had
died shortly afterward. Such an awful circumstance as this might well
have impressed me, but habitual indulgence had almost rendered me
impervious to salutary impressions. I was, at this time, deeper in
degradation than at any period before which I can remember.
My custom now was to purchase my brandy—which, in consequence of my
limited means, was of the very worst description—and keep it at the
shop, where, by little and little, I drank it, and continually kept
myself in a state of excitement.
This course of procedure entirely unfitted me for business, and it not
unfrequently happened, when I had books to bind, that I would instead
of attending to business keep my customers waiting, whilst in the
company of desolute companions I drank during the whole day, to the
complete ruin of my prospects in life. So entirely did I give myself
up to the bottle that those of my companions who fancied they still
possessed some claims to respectability gradually withdrew from my
company. At my house, too, I used to keep a bottle of gin, which was
in constant requisition. Indeed, go where I would, stimulant I must
and did have. Such a slave was I to the bottle that I resorted to it
continually, and in vain was every effort which I occasionally made to
conquer the debasing habit. I had become a father; but God in his
mercy removed my little one at so early an age that I did not feel the
loss as much as if it had lived longer, to engage my affections.
A circumstance now transpired which attracted my attention, and led me
to consider my situation, and whither I was hurrying. A lecture was
advertised to be delivered by the first reformed drunkard, Mr. I. J.
Johnson, who visited Newburyport, and I was invited by some friends,
who seemed to feel an interest, to attend and hear what he had to say.
I determined after some consideration to go and hear what was to be
said on the subject. The meeting was held in the Rev. Mr. Campbell's
church, which was pretty well crowded. I went to the door, but would
go no farther; but in the ten minutes I stood there, I heard him in
graphic and forcible terms depict the misery of the drunkard and the
awful consequences of his conduct, both as they affected himself and
those connected with him. My conscience told that he spoke the
truth—for what had I not suffered! I knew he was right, and I turned
to leave the church when a young man offered me the pledge to sign. I
actually turned to sign it; but at that critical moment the appetite
for strong drink, as if determined to have the mastery over me, came in
all its force. Oh, how I wanted it! and remembering that I had a pint
of brandy at home I deferred signing, and put off to "a more convenient
season," a proceeding that might have saved me so much after sorrow.
I, however, compromised the matter with my conscience by inwardly
resolving that I would drink up what spirit I had by me, and then think
of leaving off altogether.
I forgot the impressions made upon me by the speaker at the meeting.
Still, I madly drained the inebriating cup, and speedily my state was
worse than ever. Oh, no, I soon ceased to think about it, for my
master passion, like Aaron's rod, swallowed up every thought and
feeling opposed to it which I possessed.
My business grew gradually worse, and at length my constitution became
so impaired that even when I had the will I did not possess the power
to provide for my daily wants. My hands would at times tremble so that
I could not perform the finer operations of my business, the finishing
and gilding. How could I letter straight, with a hand burning and
shaking from the effects of a debauch. Sometimes, when it was
absolutely necessary to finish off some work, I have entered the shop
with a stern determination not to drink a single drop until I completed
it. I have bitterly felt that my failing was a matter of common
conversation in the town, and a burning sense of shame would flush my
fevered brow at the conviction that I was scorned by the respectable
portion of the community. But these feelings passed away like the
morning cloud or early dew, and I pursued my old course.
One day I thought I would not go to work, and a great inducement to
remain at home existed in the shape of my enemy, West India rum, of
which I had a quantity in the house. Although the morning was by no
means far advanced, I sat down, intending to do nothing until
dinner-time. I could not sit alone without rum, and I drank glass
after glass until I became so stupefied that I was compelled to lie
down on the bed, where I soon fell asleep. When I awoke it was late in
the afternoon, and then, as I persuaded myself, too late to make a bad
day's work good. I invited a neighbor, who, like myself, was a man of
intemperate habits, to spend the evening with me. He came, and we sat
down to our rum, and drank foully together until late that night, when
he staggered home; and so intoxicated was I that, in moving to go to
bed, I fell over the table, broke a lamp, and lay on the floor for some
time, unable to rise. At last I managed to get to bed, but, oh, I did
not sleep, only dozed at intervals, for the drunkard never knows the
blessings of undisturbed repose. I awoke in the night with a raging
thirst. No sooner was one draught taken than the horrible dry feeling
returned; and so I went on, swallowing repeated glassfuls of the spirit
until at last I had drained the very last drop which the jug contained.
My appetite grew by what it fed on; and, having a little money by me, I
with difficulty got up, made myself look as tidy as possible, and then
went out to buy more rum, with which I returned to the house.
The fact will, perhaps, seem incredible, but so it was that I drank
spirits continually without tasting a morsel of food for the next three
days. This could not last long; a constitution of iron strength could
not endure such treatment, and mine was partially broken down by
I began to experience a feeling hitherto unknown to me. After the
three days' drinking to which I have just referred, I felt, one night,
as I lay on my bed, an awful sense of something dreadful coming over
me. It was as if I had been partially stunned, and now in an interval
of consciousness was about to have the fearful blow, which had
prostrated me, repeated. There was a craving for sleep, sleep, blessed
sleep, but my eyelids were as if they could not close. Every object
around me I beheld with startling distinctness, and my hearing became
unnaturally acute. Then, to the ringing and roaring in my ears would
suddenly succeed a silence so awful that only the stillness of the
grave might be compared with it.
At other times, strange voices would whisper unintelligible words, and
the slightest noise would make me start like a guilty thing. But the
horrible, burning thirst was insupportable, and to quench it and induce
sleep I clutched again and again the rum bottle, hugged my enemy, and
poured the infernal fluid down my parched throat. But it was no use,
none; I could not sleep. Then I bethought me of tobacco; and
staggering from my bed to a shelf near by, with great difficulty I
managed to procure a pipe and some matches. I could not stand to light
the latter, so I lay again on the bed, and scraped one on the wall. I
began to smoke, and the narcotic leaf produced a stupefaction. I dozed
a little, but, feeling a warmth on my face, I awoke and discovered my
pillow to be on fire! I had dropped a lighted match on the bed. By a
desperate effort I threw the pillow on the floor, and, too exhausted to
feel annoyed by the burning feathers, I sank into a state of somnolency.
How long I lay, I do not exactly know; but I was roused from my
lethargy by the neighbors, who, alarmed by the smell of fire, came to
my room to ascertain the cause. When they took me from my bed, the
under part of the straw with which it was stuffed was smouldering, and
in a quarter of an hour more must have burst into a flame. Had such
been the case, how horrible would have been my fate! for it is more
than probable that, in my half-senseless condition, I should have been
suffocated, or burned to death. The fright produced by this incident,
and a very narrow escape, in some degree sobered me, but what I felt
more than anything else was the exposure now; all would be known, and I
feared my name would become, more than ever, a byword and a reproach.
Will it be believed that I again sought refuge in rum? Yes, so it was.
Scarcely had I recovered from the fright than I sent out, procured a
pint of rum, and drank it all in less than an hour. And now came upon
me many terrible sensations. Cramps attacked me in my limbs, which
raked me with agony, and my temples throbbed as if they would burst.
So ill was I that I became seriously alarmed, and begged the people of
the house to send for a physician. They did so, but I immediately
repented having summoned him, and endeavored, but ineffectually, to get
out of his way when he arrived. He saw at a glance what was the matter
with me, ordered the persons about me to watch me carefully, and on no
account to let me have any spirituous liquors. Everything stimulating
was vigorously denied me; and there came on the drunkard's remorseless
torture: delirium tremens, in all its terrors, attacked me. For three
days I endured more agony than pen could describe, even were it guided
by the mind of Dante. Who can feel the horrors of the horrible malady,
aggravated as it is by the almost ever-abiding consciousness that it is
self-sought. Hideous faces appeared on the wall and on the ceiling and
on the floors; foul things crept along the bedclothes, and glaring eyes
peered into mine. I was at one time surrounded by millions of
monstrous spiders that crawled slowly over every limb, whilst the
beaded drops of perspiration would start to my brow, and my limbs would
shiver until the bed rattled again. Strange lights would dance before
my eyes, and then suddenly the very blackness of darkness would appall
me by its dense gloom. All at once, while gazing at a frightful
creation of my distempered mind, I seemed struck with sudden blindness.
I knew a candle was burning in the room but I could not see it, all was
so pitchy dark. I lost the sense of feeling, too, for I endeavored to
grasp my arm in one hand, but consciousness was gone. I put my hand to
my side, my head, but felt nothing, and still I knew my limbs and frame
were there. And then the scene would change! I was falling—falling
swiftly as an arrow—far down into some terrible abyss; and so like
reality was it that as I fell I could see the rocky sides of the
horrible shaft, where mocking, jibing, fiend-like forms were perched;
and I could feel the air rushing past me, making my hair stream out by
the force of the unwholesome blast. Then the paroxysm sometimes ceased
for a few moments, and I would sink back on my pallet, drenched with
perspiration, utterly exhausted, and feeling a dreadful certainty of
the renewal of my torments.
By the mercy of God I survived this awful seizure; and when I rose, a
weak, broken-down man, and surveyed my ghastly features in a glass, I
thought of my mother, and asked myself how I had obeyed the
instructions I had received from her lips, and to what advantage I had
turned the lessons she had taught me. I remembered her prayers and
tears, thought of what I had been but a few short months before, and
contrasted my situation with what it then was. Oh! how keen were my
own rebukes; and in the excitement of the moment I resolved to lead a
better life, and abstain from the accursed cup.
For about a month, terrified by what I had suffered, I adhered to my
resolution, then my wife came home, and in my joy at her return I flung
my good resolutions to the wind, and foolishly fancying that I could
now restrain my appetite, which had for a whole month remained in
subjection, I took a glass of brandy. That glass aroused the
slumbering demon, who would not be satisfied by so tiny a libation.
Another and another succeeded, until I was again far advanced in the
career of intemperance. The night of my wife's return I went to bed
I will not detain the reader by the particulars of my everyday life at
this time; they may easily be imagined from what has already been
stated. My previous bitter experience, one would think, might have
operated as a warning; but none save the inebriate can tell the almost
resistless strength of the temptations which assail him. I did not,
however, make quite so deep a plunge as before. My tools I had given
into the hands of Mr. Gray, for whom I worked, receiving about five
dollars a week. My wages were paid me every night, for I was not to be
trusted with much money at a time, so certain was I to spend a great
portion of it in drink. As it was, I regularly got rid of one third of
what I daily received, for rum.
My wardrobe, as it had, indeed, nearly always been whilst I drank to
excess, was now exceedingly shabby, and it was with the greatest
difficulty that I could manage to procure the necessaries of life. My
wife became very ill. Oh! how miserable I was! Some of the women who
were in attendance on my wife told me to get two quarts of rum. I
procured it, and as it was in the house, and I did not anticipate
serious consequences, I could not withstand the strong temptation to
drink. I did drink, and so freely that the usual effect was produced.
How much I swallowed I cannot tell, but the quantity, judging from the
effects, must have been considerable.
Ten long weary days of suspense passed, at the end of which my wife and
her infant both died. Then came the terribly oppressive feeling that I
was forgotten of God, as well as abandoned by man. All the
consciousness of my dreadful situation pressed heavily, indeed, upon
me, and keenly as a sensitive mind could, did I feel the loss I had
experienced. I drank now to dispel my gloom, or to drown it in the
maddening cup. And soon was it whispered, from one to another, until
the whole town became aware of it, that my wife and child were lying
dead, and that I was drunk! But if ever I was cursed with the faculty
of thought, in all its intensity, it was then. And this was the
degraded condition of one who had been nursed in the lap of piety, and
whose infant tongue had been taught to utter a prayer against being led
into temptation. There in the room where all who had loved me were;
lying in the unconscious slumber of death was I, gazing, with a maudlin
melancholy imprinted on my features, on the dead forms of those who
were flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. During the miserable hours
of darkness I would steal from my lonely bed to the place where my dead
wife and child lay, and, in agony of soul, pass my shaking hand over
their cold faces, and then return to my bed after a draught of rum,
which I had obtained and hidden under the pillow of my wretched couch.
How apt the world is to judge of a man pursuing the course I did as one
destitute of all feeling, with no ambition, no desire for better
things! To speak of such a man's pride seems absurd, and yet drink
does not destroy pride, ambition, or high aspirations. The sting of
his misery is that he has ambition but no expectation; desire for
better things but no hope; pride but no energy; therefore the
possession of these very qualities is an additional burden to his load
of agony. Could he utterly forget his manhood, and wallow with the
beasts that perish, he would be comparatively happy. But his curse is
that he thinks. He is a man, and must think. He cannot always drown
thought or memory. He may, and does, fly for false solace to the
drink, and may stun his enemy in the evening, but it will rend him like
a giant in the morning. A flower, or half-remembered tune, a child's
laughter, will sometimes suffice to flood the victim with recollections
that either madden him to excess or send him crouching to his miserable
room, to sit with face buried in his hands, while the hot, thin tears
trickle over his swollen fingers.
I believe this to be one reason why I shrink from society; why I have
so often refused kind invitations; why, though I love my personal
friends as strongly and as truly as any man's friends are ever loved, I
have so steadily withdrawn from social parties, dinners, or
introductions. This is the penalty I must ever pay.
A man can never recover from the effects of such a seven years'
experience, morally or physically.
The month of October had nearly drawn to a close, and on its last
Sunday evening I wandered out into the streets, pondering as well as I
was able to do—for I was somewhat intoxicated—on my lone and
friendless condition. My frame was much weakened and little fitted to
bear the cold of winter, which had already begun to come on. But I had
no means of protecting myself against the bitter blast, and, as I
anticipated my coming misery, I staggered along, houseless, aimless,
and all but hopeless.
Some one tapped me on the shoulder. An unusual thing that, to occur to
me, for no one now cared to come in contact with the wretched,
shabby-looking drunkard. I was a disgrace, "a living, walking
disgrace." I could scarcely believe my own senses when I turned and
met a kind look; the thing was so unusual, and so entirely unexpected
that I questioned the reality of it, but so it was. It was the first
touch of kindness which I had known for months; and simple and trifling
as the circumstance may appear to many, it went right to my heart, and
like the wing of an angel, troubled the waters in that stagnant pool of
affection, and made them once more reflect a little of the light of
human love. The person who touched my shoulder was an entire stranger.
I looked at him, wondering what his business was with me. Regarding me
very earnestly, and apparently with much interest, he said:
"Mr. Gough, I believe?"
"That is my name," I replied, and was passing on.
"You have been drinking to-day," said the stranger, in a kind voice,
which arrested my attention, and quite dispelled any anger at what I
might otherwise have considered an officious interference in my affairs.
"Yes, sir," I replied. "I have——"
"Why do you not sign the pledge?" was the next query.
I considered for a moment or two, and then informed the strange friend
who had so unexpectedly interested himself in my behalf that I had no
hope of ever again becoming a sober man, and that I was without a
single friend in the world who cared for me; that I fully expected to
die very soon, cared not how soon, or whether I died drunk or sober,
and, in fact, that I was in a condition of utter recklessness.
The stranger regarded me with a benevolent look, took me by the arm,
and asked me how I should like to be as I once was, respectable and
esteemed, well clad, and sitting as I used to, in a place of worship;
enabled to meet my friends as in old times, and receive from them the
pleasant nod of recognition as formerly; in fact, become a useful
member of society?
"Oh," I replied, "I should like all these things first-rate; but I have
no expectation that such a thing will ever happen. Such a change
cannot be possible."
"Only sign our pledge," remarked my friend, "and I will warrant that it
will be so. Sign it, and I will introduce you myself to good friends,
who will feel an interest in your welfare and take a pleasure in
helping you to keep your good resolution. Only, Mr. Gough, sign the
pledge, and all will be as I have said; ay, and more, too!"
Oh! how pleasantly fell these words of kindness and promise on my
crushed and bruised heart. I had long been a stranger to feelings such
as now awoke in my bosom; a chord had been touched which vibrated to
the tone of woe. Hope once more dawned; and I began to think, strange
as it appeared, that such things as my friend promised me might come to
pass. On the instant I resolved to try, at least, and said to the
"Well, I will sign it."
"When?" he asked.
"I cannot do so to-night," I replied, "for I must have some more drink
presently, but I certainly will to-morrow."
"We have a temperance meeting to-morrow evening," he said; "will you
sign it then?"
"That is right," said he, grasping my hand; "I will be there to see
"You shall," I remarked, and we parted.
I went on my way much touched by the kind interest which at last some
one had taken in my welfare. I said to myself: "If it should be the
last act of my life, I will perform my promise and sign it, even though
I die in the attempt, for that man has placed confidence in me, and on
that account I love him."
I then proceeded to a low groggery in Lincoln Square, and in the space
of half an hour drank several glasses of brandy; this in addition to
what I had taken before made me very drunk, and I staggered home as
well as I could.
Arrived there, I threw myself on the bed and lay in a state of
insensibility until morning. The first thing which occurred to my mind
on awaking was the promise I had made on the evening before, to sign
the pledge; and feeling, as I usually did on the morning succeeding a
drunken bout, wretched and desolate, I was almost sorry that I had
agreed to do so. My tongue was dry, my throat parched, my temples
throbbed as if they would burst, and I had a horrible burning feeling
in my stomach which almost maddened me, and I felt that I must have
some bitters or I should die. So I yielded to my appetite, which would
not be appeased, and repaired to the same hotel where I had squandered
away so many shillings before; there I drank three or four times, until
my nerves were a little strung, and then I went to work.
All that day the coming event of the evening was continually before my
mind's eye, and it seemed to me as if the appetite which had so long
controlled me exerted more power over me than ever. It grew stronger
than I had any time known it, now that I was about to rid myself of it.
Until noon I struggled against its cravings, and then, unable to endure
my misery any longer, I made some excuse for leaving the shop, and went
nearly a mile from it in order to procure one more glass wherewith to
appease the demon who had so tortured me. The day wore wearily away,
and when evening came I determined, in spite of many a hesitation, to
perform the promise I had made to the stranger the night before. The
meeting was to be held at the lower town hall, Worcester; and thither,
clad in an old brown surtout, closely buttoned up to my chin that my
ragged habiliments beneath might not be visible, I went. I took a
place among the rest, and when an opportunity of speaking offered
itself, I requested permission to be heard, which was readily granted.
When I stood up to relate my story, I was invited to the stand, to
which I repaired, and on turning to face the audience, I recognized my
acquaintance who had asked me to sign. It was Mr. Joel Stratton. He
greeted me with a smile of approbation, which nerved and strengthened
me for my task, as I tremblingly observed every eye fixed upon me. I
lifted my quivering hand and then and there told what rum had done for
me. I related how I was once respectable and happy, and had a home,
but that now I was a houseless, miserable, scathed, diseased, and
blighted outcast from society. I had scarce a hope remaining to me of
ever becoming that which I once was, but, having promised to sign the
pledge, I had determined not to break my word, and would now affix my
name to it. In my palsied hand I with difficulty grasped the pen, and,
in characters almost as crooked as those of old Stephen Hopkins on the
Declaration of Independence, I signed the total abstinence pledge, and
resolved to free myself from the inexorable tyrant.
Although still desponding and hopeless, I felt that I was relieved from
a part of my heavy load. It was not because I deemed there was any
supernatural power in the pledge which would prevent my ever again
falling into such depths of woe as I had already become acquainted
with, but the feeling of relief arose from the honest desire I
entertained to keep a good resolution. I had exerted a moral power
which had long remained lying by perfectly useless. The very idea of
what I had done strengthened and encouraged me. Nor was this the only
impulse given me to proceed in my new pathway, for many who witnessed
my signing and heard my simple statement came forward, kindly grasped
my hand, and expressed their satisfaction at the step I had taken. A
new and better day seemed already to have dawned upon me.
As I left the hall, agitated and enervated, I remember chuckling to
myself, with great gratification, "I have done it—I have done it!"
There was a degree of pleasure in having put my foot on the head of the
tyrant who had so long led me captive at his will, but although I had
"scotched the snake," I had not killed him, for every inch of his frame
was full of venomous vitality, and I felt that all my caution was
necessary to prevent his stinging me afresh. I went home, retired to
bed, but in vain did I try to sleep. I pondered upon the step I had
taken, and passed a restless night. Knowing that I had voluntarily
renounced drink, I endeavored to support my sufferings, and resist the
incessant craving of my remorseless appetite as well as I could, but
the struggle to overcome it was insupportably painful. When I got up
in the morning my brain seemed as though it would burst with the
intensity of its agony; my throat appeared as if it were on fire; and
in my stomach I experienced a dreadful burning sensation, as if the
fire of the pit had been kindled there. My hands trembled so that to
raise water to my feverish lips was almost impossible. I craved,
literally gasped, for my accustomed stimulant, and felt that I should
die if I did not have it; but I persevered in my resolve, and withstood
the temptations which assailed me on every hand.
Still, during all this frightful time I experienced a feeling somewhat
akin to satisfaction at the position I had taken. I made at least one
step toward reformation. I began to think that it was barely possible
I might see better days, and once more hold up my head in society.
Such feelings as these would alternate with gloomy forebodings and
thick coming fancies of approaching ill. At one time hope, and at
another fear, would predominate, but the raging, dreadful, continued
thirst was always present, to torture and tempt me.
After breakfast I proceeded to the shop where I was employed, feeling
dreadfully ill. I determined, however, to put a bold face on the
matter, and, in spite of the cloud which seemed to hang over me,
attempt work. I was exceedingly weak, and fancied, as I almost reeled
about the shop, that every eye was fixed upon me suspiciously, although
I exerted myself to the utmost to conceal my agitation. I was
suffering; and those who have never thus suffered cannot comprehend it.
The shivering of the spine, then flushes of heat, causing every pore of
the body to sting, as if punctured with some sharp instrument; the
horrible whisperings in the ear, combined with a longing cry of the
whole system for stimulants. One glass of brandy would steady my
shaking nerves; I cannot hold my hand still; I cannot stand still. A
young man but twenty-five years of age, and I have no control of my
nerves; one glass of brandy would relieve this gnawing, aching,
throbbing stomach, but I have signed the pledge. "I do agree that I
will not use it; and I must fight it out." How I got through the day I
cannot tell. I went to my employer and said:
"I signed the pledge last night."
"I know you did."
"I mean to keep it."
"So they all say, and I hope you will."
"You do not believe that I will; you have no confidence in me."
I turned to my work, broken-hearted, crushed in spirit, paralyzed in
energy, feeling how low I had sunk in the esteem of prudent and
sober-minded men. Suddenly the small iron bar I had in my hand began
to move; I felt it move, I gripped it; still it moved and twisted; I
gripped still harder; yet the thing would move till I could feel it,
yes, feel it, tearing the palm out of my hand, then I dropped it, and
there it lay, a curling, shiny snake! I could hear the paper shavings
rustle as the horrible thing writhed before me! If it had been a snake
I should not have minded it. I was never afraid of a snake. I should
have called some one to look at it, I could have killed it, I should
not have been terrified at a thing; but I knew it was a cold dead bar
of iron, and there it was, with its green eyes, its forked, darting
tongue, curling in all its shiny loathsomeness, and the horror filled
me so that my hair seemed to stand up and shiver, and my skin lift from
the scalp to the ankles, and I groaned out, "I cannot fight this
through! Oh! my God, I shall die!" when a gentleman came into the shop
with a cheerful "Good-morning, Mr. Gough."
"I saw you sign the pledge last night."
"Yes, sir, I did it."
"I was very glad to see you do it, and many young men followed your
example. It is such men as you that we want, and I hope you will be
the means of doing a great deal of good. My office is in the exchange;
come in and see me. I shall be happy to make your acquaintance. I
have only a minute or two to spare, but I thought I would just call in
and tell you to keep up a brave heart. Good-bye, God bless you. Come
in and see me."
That was Jesse Goodrich, then a practising attorney and counselor at
law, in Worcester, now dead; but to the last of his life my true and
faithful friend. It would be impossible to describe how this little
act of kindness cheered me. With the exception of Mr. Stratton, who
was a waiter at a temperance hotel, no one had accosted me for months
in a manner which would lead me to think any one cared for me, or what
might be my fate. Now I was not altogether alone in the world; there
was a hope of my being rescued from the "slough of despond," where I
had been so long floundering. I felt that the fountain of human
kindness was not utterly sealed up, and again a green spot, an oasis,
small, indeed, but cheering, appeared in the desert of my life. I had
something to live for; a new desire for life seemed suddenly to spring
up; the universal boundary of human sympathy included even my wretched
self in its cheering circle. All these sensations were generated by a
few kind words at the right time. Yes, now I can fight; and I did
fight—six days and six nights—encouraged and helped by a few words of
sympathy. He said, "Come in and see me." I will. He said he would be
pleased to make my acquaintance. He shall. He said, "Keep up a brave
heart!" By God's help I will. And so encouraged I fought on with not
one hour of healthy sleep, not one particle of food passing my lips,
for six days and six nights.
On the evening of the day following that on which I signed the pledge I
went straight home from my workshop, with a dreadful feeling of some
impending calamity haunting me. In spite of the encouragement I had
received, the presentiment of coming evil was so strong that it bowed
me almost to the dust with apprehension. The slakeless thirst still
clung to me; and water, instead of allaying it, seemed only to increase
I was fated to encounter one struggle more with my enemy before I
became free. Fearful was that struggle. God in his mercy forbid that
any young man should endure but a tenth part of the torture which
racked my frame and agonized my heart.
As in the former attack, horrible faces glared upon me from the
walls—faces ever changing, and displaying new and still more horrible
features; black bloated insects crawled over my face, and myriads of
burning, concentric rings were revolving incessantly. At one moment
the chamber appeared as red as blood, and in a twinkling it was dark as
the charnel house. I seemed to have a knife with hundreds of blades in
my hand, every blade driven through the flesh, and all so inextricably
bent and tangled together that I could not withdraw them for some time;
and when I did, from my lacerated fingers the bloody fibres would
stretch out all quivering with life. After a frightful paroxysm of
this kind I would start like a maniac from my bed, and beg for life,
life! What I of late thought so worthless seemed now to be of
unappreciable value. I dreaded to die, and clung to existence with a
feeling that my soul's salvation depended on a little more of life.
In about a week I gained, in a great degree, the mastery over my
accursed appetite; but the strife had made me dreadfully weak.
Gradually my health improved, my spirits recovered, and I ceased to
despair. Once more was I enabled to crawl into the sunshine; but, oh,
how changed! Wan cheeks and hollow eyes, feeble limbs and almost
powerless hands plainly enough indicated that between me and death
there had indeed been but a step; and those who saw me might say as was
said of Dante, when he passed through the streets of France, "There's
the man that has been in hell."