« PreviousContinue »
S. Yet your next newspapers will blazon him
T. Even half a million
THE CONFESSIONS OF A DRUNKARD.
DEHORTATIONS from the use of strong liquors have been the favourite topic of sober declaimers in all ages, and have been received with abundance of applause by water-drinking critics. But with the patient himself, (the man who is to be cured), unfortunately their sound has seldom prevailed. Yet the evil is acknowledged, the remedy simple. Abstain. No force can oblige a man to raise the glass to his head against his will. "Tis as easy as not to steal, nor to tell lies.
Oh pause, thou sturdy moralist! thou person of stout nerves and a strong head, whose liver is happily untouched! and first learn how much of compassion, how much of human allowance thou mayest virtuously mingle with thy disapprobation !
Begin a reformation, and custom will make it easy.But what if the beginning be dreadful, the first steps not like climbing a mountain, but going through fire ? What if the whole system must undergo a change, violent as that which we conceive of the mutation of form in some insects? What if a process comparable to flaying alive be to be gone through ? Is the weakness which sinks under such struggles to be confounded with the pertinacity which clings to other vices, which have induced no constitutional necessity, no engagement of the whole victim, body and soul ? I have known one in such a state, that when he has tried to abstain but for one evening,—though the poisonous potion had long ceased to bring back its first enchantments, though he was sure it would rather deepen his gloom than brighten it,--in the violence of the struggle, and the necessity he has felt of getting rid of the present sensation at any rate, I have known him to scream out, to cry aloud for the anguish and pain of the strife within him.
Why should I hesitate to declare, that the man of whom I speak is myself ?
I believe that there are constitutions, robust heads, and iron insides, whom scarce any excesses can hurt; whom brandy (I have seen them drink it like wine), at all events whom wine, taken in ever so plentiful a measure, can do no worse injury to, than just to muddle their faculties, perhaps never very pellucid. On them this discourse is wasted. They would but laugh at a weak brother, who, trying his strength with them, and coming off foiled from the contest, would fain persuade them that such agonistic exercises are dangerous. It is to a very different description of persons I speak. It is to the weak, the nervous, to those who feel the want of some artificial aid to raise their spirits in society to what is no more than the ordinary pitch of all around them without it. This is the secret of our drinking. Such must fly the convivial board in the first instance, if they do not mean to sell themselves for term of life.
Twelve years ago I had completed my six-andtwentieth year. I had lived from the period of leaving school to that time pretty much in solitude. My companions were chiefly books, or at most one or two living ones of my own book-loving and sober stamp. I rose early, went to bed betimes, and the faculties which God had given me, I have reason to think, did not rust in me unused.
About that time I fell in with some companions of a different order. They were men of boisterous spirits, sitters up a nights, disputants, drunken ; yet seemed to have something noble in them. We dealt about the wit, or what passes for it, after midnight, jovially. Of
the quality called fancy, I certainly possessed a larger share than my companions. Encouraged by their applause, I set up for a professional joker ! I, who of all men am least fitted for such an occupation, having, in addition to the greatest difficulty which I experience at all times in finding words to express my meaning, a natural nervous impediment in my speech !
Reader, if you are gifted with nerves like mine, aspire to any character but that of a wit. When you find a tickling relish upon your tongue, disposing you to that conversation, especially if you find a preternatural flow of ideas setting in upon you at the sight of a bottle and fresh glasses, avoid giving way to it as you would fly from certain destruction. If you cannot crush the power of fancy, or that within you which you mistake for such, divert it, give it some other play-write an essay, pen a character or description—but not as I do now, with tears trickling down your cheeks.
To be an object of compassion to friends, of derision to foes; to be suspected by strangers, stared at by fools; to be esteemed dull when you cannot be witty; to be applauded for witty when you know you have been dull; to be called upon for the extemporaneous exercise of that faculty, which no premeditation can give; to be spurred on to efforts which end in contempt; to be set on to provoke mirth, which procures the procurer hatred; to give pleasure, and to be paid with squinting malice; to swallow draughts of life-destroying wine, which are to be distilled into airy breath to tickle auditors; to mortgage miserable morrows for nights of madness; to waste whole seas of time upon those who pay it back in little inconsiderable drops of grudging applause, are the wages of buffoonery.
Time, which has a sure hand in dissolving all connexions which have no better fastening than this liquid cement, more kind to me than my own taste or penetration, at length opened my eyes to the supposed qualities of my first friends. No trace of them is left but in the vices which they introduced, and the habits they infixed. In them my friends survive still, and exercise ample
retribution for any supposed infidelity towards them of which I may have been guilty.
My next more immediate companions were, and are, persons of such intrinsic worth, that though accidentally their acquaintance has proved pernicious to me, I do not know, if the thing were to do over again, whether I should have the courage to eschew the mischief at the price of forfeiting the benefit. I came to them reeking with the steams of my late overheated notions of companionship, and the slightest fuel, which they unconsciously afforded, was sufficient to feed my old fires into a perpetuity.
They were no drinkers. But one, from professionable habits, another from a custom derived from his father, smoked tobacco. The devil could not have devised a more subtle trap to retake a backsliding penitent. The transition from gulping down draughts of liquid fire, to puffing out innocuous blasts of dry smoke, was so like cheating the enemy.
It were impertinent to carry the reader through all the processes by which, from smoking at first with malt liquor, I took my degrees through thin wines, through stronger wine and water, through small punch, to those juggling compositions, which, under the name of mixed liquors, slur a great deal of brandy or other poison under less and less water continually, until they come to next to none, and so to none at all. But it is hateful to disclose the secrets of my Tartarus.
I should repel my readers from a mere incapacity of believing me, were I to tell them what tobacco has been to me, the drudging service which I have paid it, the slavery which I have vowed to it. How, when I have resolved to quit it, a feeling of ingratitude has started up; how it has put on personal claims, and made the demands of a friend upon me. How the reading of it casually in a book (as where Adams takes his whiff in the chimney corner of some inn, in Joseph Andrews, or Piscator in the Complete Angler, breaks his fast upon a morning pipe in that delicate room piscatoribus sacrum), has in a moment broken down the resistance of weeks. How a pipe was ever in my midnight path before me, till the vision forced me to realize it-how then its ascending vapours curled, its fragrance lulled, and the thousand delicious ministerings conversant about, employing every faculty, extracted the sense of pain. How from illuminating, it came to darken; from a quick solace, it turned to a negative relief, thence to a restlessness and dissatisfaction, thence to a positive misery. How, even now, when the whole secret stands confessed in all its dreadful truth before me, I feel myself linked to it beyond the power of revocation. Bone of my bone.
Persons not accustomed to examine the motives of their actions, to reckon up the countless nails that rivet the chain of habit, or, perhaps being bound by none so obdurate as those I have confessed, may recoil from this as from an overcharged picture. But what is it short of such a bondage, which in spite of protesting friends, a weeping wife, and a reprobating world, chains down many a poor fellow, of no original indisposition to goodness, to his pipe and his pot?
I have seen a print after Corregio, in which three female figures are ministering to a man, who sits bound fast at the root of a tree. Sensuality is soothing him, Evil Habit is nailing him to a branch, and Repugnance at the same instant of time is applying a snake to his side. In his face are feeble delight, the recollection of past rather than the perception of present pleasures, languid enjoyment of evil, with utter imbecility to good, a Sybaric effeminacy, a submission to bondage, the springs of the will gone down like a broken clock, the sin and the suffering coinstantaneous, or the latter forerunning the former, remorse preceding action, all this represented in one point of time. When I saw this, I admired the wonderful skill of the painter. But when I went away, I wept, because I thought of my own condition.
Of that there is no hope that it should ever change. The waters have gone over me. But out of the black depths, could I be heard, I would cry out to all those