The Drunkard’s Story

In a street of London City leading toward Pen Church Station,
I was walking one fine morning in serious meditation,
On the world and all its crosses, difficulties and troubles,
On the changes of existence, on ambition and its,
When I saw towards me coming slow, meandering on the sidewalk,
Such a wretched-looking creature, steeped in misery and in liquor,
That I dodged behind a lamp post so the man might pass me quicker,
But as I around him dodging tried on the other side to place me,
By a sudden lurch to leeward, right about he wheeled and faced me;
And with gravity of visage and an air of meek decorum
Says, “You’re friendly and I know it, and I want another jorum,
To be drunk is to be happy, to be happy I am willing,
And I’ll get entirely happy if you’ll lend you friend a shilling;
O, you needn’t turn your nose up, nor explode with indignation,
Nor commence a prosy lecture on my moral degredation;
I’m a little bit in liquor, I’ll admit, but that’s no matter,
I’ve no recourse but spirits thronging memories to scatter:
Yes, I’m a wretched drunkard, I’m sunk past sounding distance,
In the gulf of shame and horror, I’m a blot upon existence,
But when once I’m in liquor then a show of joy comes to me,
Then I lose the curse of memory with its fearful pangs and gloomy;
Ah, I had once friends and kinsfolks, I was held in estimation,
By neighbors and my townsmen as a pillar of the Nation;
Yes, a staunch and trusty pillar, one whom people always called so,
For I had my hundred thousand and a splendid mansion also,
And I had possessions greater – wife and children – never fairer,
George my boy, my darling prattler, Ellen, blue-eyed like her mother,
There made up my happy household, could the world find such another;
O, you think you have all firmness that my steps you ne’er will follow;
That you feet will never flounder in the mire wherein I wallow.
So thought I , my sneering neighbor, had some prophet as a victim
To the brandy bottle donned me, 10 to 1 I had not kicked him;
What a slave to base indulgence clothed in tatters spurned and spat at
Such a coat as this upon me crowned with such a hat as that hat,
I’d have laughed at all such nonsense, yet you see the situation
And as I am, you may be though you drink in moderation.
Moderation! ugh, what nonsense, ask the whirlwind to be quiet,
Speak of peace unto the tempest, but in drinking never try it;
Rouse of appetite the lion, and though friend and guard attend you,
From his lair the beast will leap out when you least expect and rend you,
I was moderate in drinking, but my chain of limit lengthened,
Feeding on its constant practice, day by day the habit strengthened,
Fortune fled and friends abandoned, darkened all the skies above
me;
Save poor Ellen and her children, there was no one left to love me;
O: those years of maddest revel, when good fellows – sat beside me,
Then with glossing words they fed me, when with flattery they plied me
Till I sank me deeper, deeper in the vast abyss unholy,
Never heeding that my darlings faded, certainly though slowly;
Do you blame me then when thus I madly seek my leethe draught of liquor?
What care I though it bring me to my doleful end the quicker?
All my friends with wealth departed, non are left to mourn my dying,
In a pauper’s grave unheeded are my wife and children lying,
Man may talk about romance, if they want a sharp sensation
Let them get the real story of a drunkard’s degredation,
Of the pangs that sober moments bring with agony to fill him
And the hearer get a novel that will interest and thrill him.”
Longer still no doubt his story, had I stayed to listen to it.
But I gave the wretch a shilling, though ’twas doubtless wrong to do it,
Leaving him to seek his dram shop there to drown his troublous thinking
While I wondered, would I ever through my moderate way of drinking,
Sink so low in my debasement, as the wretch from whom I’d parted,
Make my children suffer hunger and my wife die broken-hearted:
And though his maudlin sermon seemed in my case to be wasted,
Yet that day the glass of sherry to my dinner went untasted.
Days and months since I had met him, stocks and woolen yarns and cotton,
All combined to make my drunkard and his tale of woe forgotten:
But this morning’s daily paper while events domestic noting,
Told how someone on the Thames had found a dead man’s body floating,
In his age he seemed past forty, face and rags the drunkard showing,
But within the wretch some angel kept a spark of feeling glowing,
For upon his clammy bosom, like a token of a lover,
Lay a single golden ringlet, “Ellen” written on its cover.
Sent in by C.E.B., Hartford, Conn,

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