Charles Sprague on The Intemperate Husband

From Mr. Charles Sprague’s Address, delivered before the Massachusetts Society for Suppressing Intemperance.

The common calamities of life may be endured. Poverty, sickness, and even death may be met – but there is that which, while it rings all these with it, is worse than all these together. When the husband and father forgets the duties he once delighted to fulfill, and by slow degrees becomes the creature of intemperance, there enters into his house the sorrow that rends the spirit – that cannot be alleviated, that will not be comforted.

It is here, above all, where she, who has ventured every thing, feels that every thing is lost. Woman, silent-suffering, devoted woman, here bends to her direst affliction. The measure of her woe is, in truth, full, whose husband is a drunkard. Who shall protect her when he is her insult, her oppressor? What shall delight her, when she shrinks from the sight of his face, and trembles at the sound of his voice? The heart is indeed dark, that he has made desolate. There, through the dull midnight hour, her griefs are whispered to herself, her bruised heart bleeds in secret. There, while the cruel author of her distress is drowned in distant revelry, she holds her solitary vigil, waiting, yet dreading his return, that will only wring from her, by his unkindness, tears even more scalding than those she shed over his transgression.

To fling a deeper gloom across the present, memory turns back, and broods upon the past. Like the recollection of the sun-stricken pilgrim, of the cool spring that the drank at in the morning, the joys of other days come over her, as if only to mock her parched and weary spirit. She recalls the ardent lover, whose graces own her from the home of her infancy – the enraptured father, who bent with such delight over his new-born child – and she asks if this can really be him – this sunken being, who has now nothing for her but the sot’s disgusting brutality – nothing for those abashed and trembling children, but the sot’s disgusting example! Can we wonder, that amid these agonizing moments, the tender cords of violated affection should snap asunder? That the scorned and deserted wife should confess, “there is no killing like that which kills the heart?” That though it would have been hard for her to kiss, for the last time, the cold lips of her dead husband, and lay his body for ever in the dust, it is harder to behold him so debasing life, that even his death would be greeted in mercy?

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Had he died in the light of his goodness, bequeathing to his family the inheritance of an untarnished name, the example of virtues that should blossom for his sons and daughters from the tomb – though she would have wept bitterly indeed, the tears of grief would not have been the tears of shame. But to behold him, fallen away from the station he adorned, degraded from the station he adorned, degraded from eminence to ignominy – at home, turning his dwelling to darkness, and his holy endearments to mockery – abroad thrust from the companionship of the worthy, a self-branded outlaw. This is the woe that the wife feels is more dreadful than death, – that she mourns over, as worse than widowhood.

Source: THE COLORED AMERICAN – June 10, 1837
Collection: African American Newspapers
Title: The Intemperate Husband

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