The Temperance Song
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"Dear father," said Mary Edwards, "please don't go out this evening!" and the young girl, who had scarcely numbered fourteen years, laid her hand upon the arm of her parent.
But Mr. Edwards shook her off impatiently, muttering, as he did so,
"Can't I go where I please?"
"O! yes, father!" urged Mary, drawing up to him again, notwithstanding her repulse. "But there is going to be a storm, and I wouldn't go out."
"Storm! Nonsense! That's only your pretense. But I'll be home soon — long before the rain, if it comes at all."
And, saying this, Mr. Edwards turned from his daughter and left the house. As soon as she was alone, Mary sat down and commenced weeping. There had been sad changes since she was ten years old. In that time, her father had fallen into habits of intemperance, and not only wasted his substance, but abused his family; and, sadder still, her mother had died broken-hearted, leaving her alone in the world with a drunken father.
The young girl's trials, under these painful circumstances, were great. Night after night her father would come home intoxicated, and it was so rare a thing for her to get a kind word from him, that a tone of affection from his lips would move her instantly to tears. Daily the work of declension went on. Drunkenness led to idleness, and gradually Mr. Edwards and his child sank lower and lower in the scale of comfort. The pleasant home where they had lived for years was given up; and in small, poorly furnished room, in a narrow street, they hid themselves from observation. After this change, Mr. Edwards moved along his downward spiral more rapidly; earning less — and drinking more.
Mary grew old fast. Under severe trials and afflictions, her mind rapidly matured; and her affection for her father, grew stronger and stronger, as she realized more and more fully the dreadful nature and ultimate tendency of the infatuation by which he was led.
At last, in the anguish of her concern, she ventured upon remonstrance. This brought only angry repulse, adding bitterness to her cup of sorrow. The appearance of a storm, on the evening to which we have alluded, gave Mary an excuse for urging her father not to go out. How her remonstrance was received, has been seen. While the poor girl sat weeping, the distant rolling of thunder indicated the approach of the storm to which she had referred. But she cared little for it now. Her father had gone out. She had spoken of it only with the hope that he might have been induced to remain with her. Now that he was away, the agitation within was too great to leave any concern for the turbulent elements without.
On leaving his home, Mr. Edwards, who had not taken any liquor for three or four hours, and whose appetite was sharp for the accustomed stimulus, walked quickly in the direction of a tavern where he usually spent his evenings. On entering, he found that there was a little commotion in the bar-room. A certain temperance man, not over friendly to bartenders, had intruded himself; and, his character being known, the inhabitants were disposed to have a little sport with him.
"Come now, old fellow!" said one, just as Edwards came in — "mount this table and make us a first rate temperance speech!"
"Do it — and I'll treat you to the stiffest glass of whisky toddy the bartender can mix," added another. "Or perhaps you'd like a mint julep or gin cocktail better? Anything you please. Make the speech — and call for the liquor. I'll stand the treat."
"What did you say, bartender? Shall he make the speech?" said another, who was eager for sport.
"Please yourselves," replied the bartender, "and you'll please me."
"Very well. Now for the speech, old fellow! Here! mount this table." And two or three of the most forward took hold of his arms.
"I'm not just in the humor for making a speech," said the temperance man, "but, if it will please you as well, I'll sing you a song."
"Give us a song then. Anything to accommodate. But come, let's liquor up first."
"No!" said the other firmly, "I must sing the song first, if I sing it at all."
"Don't you think your pipes will be clearer for a little drink of some kind or other."
"Perhaps they would," was replied. "So, provided you have no objection, I'll take a glass of cold water — if such a thing is known in this place."
The glass of water was presented, and then the man, who was somewhat advanced in years, prepared to give the promised song. All stood listening attentively, Edwards among the rest. The voice of the old man was low and tremulous, yet every word was uttered distinctly, and with a pathos which showed that the meaning was deeply felt. The following well-known temperance song was the one that he sung; and while his voice filled the bar-room every other sound was hushed.
"Where are the friends that to me were so dear,
Long, long ago — long, long ago?
Where are the hopes that my heart used to cheer,
Long, long ago — long ago!
Friends that I loved, in the grave are laid low,
Hopes that I cherished, are fled from me now,
I am degraded, for rum was my foe
Long, long ago — long ago!
"Sadly my wife, bowed her beautiful head,
Long, long ago — long, long ago.
Oh! how I wept, when I knew she was dead!
Long, long ago — long ago.
She was an angel! my love and my guide!
Vainly to save me, from ruin she tried;
Poor, broken-hearted! 'twas well that she died
Long, long ago — long ago.
"Let me look back, on the days of my youth,
Long, long ago — long, long ago,
I was no stranger, to virtue and truth,
Long, long ago — long ago.
Oh! for the hopes, that were pure as the day!
Oh! for the joys, that were purer than they!
Oh! for the hours, that I've squandered away
Long, long ago — long ago."
The silence that pervaded the room when the old man's voice died, or might rather be said, sobbed away, was as the silence of death. His own heart was touched, for he wiped his eyes, from which tears had started. Pausing scarcely a moment, he moved slowly from the room, and left his audience to their own reflections. There was not one of them who was not more or less affected; but the deepest impression had been made on the heart of Edwards. The song seemed as if it had been made for him. The second verse, particularly, went thrilling to the very center of his feelings.
"Sadly my wife, bowed her beautiful head!"
How suddenly arose before him, the sorrow-stricken form of the wife of his youth at these words! and when the old man's voice faltered on the line — "Poor, broken-hearted! 'twas well that she died!" the anguish of his spirit was so great, that he only kept himself from sobbing aloud by a strong effort at self-control. Before the spell was broken, or a word uttered by anyone, he arose and left the tavern.
For many minutes after her father's departure, Mary sat weeping bitterly. She felt hopeless and deserted. Tenderly did she love her father; but this love was only a source of the keenest anguish, for she saw him swiftly passing along the road to destruction without the power to save him.
Grief wastes itself by its own violence. So it was in this instance. The tears of Mary were at length dried; her sobs were hushed, and she was about rising from her chair, when a blinding flash of lightning glared into the room, followed instantly by a deafening jar of thunder.
"Oh, if father were only home!" she murmured, clasping her hands together.
Even while she stood in this attitude, the door opened quietly, and Mr. Edwards entered.
"I thought you would be afraid, Mary; and so I came home," said he in a kind voice.
Mary looked at him with surprise. This was soon changed to joy as she perceived that he was perfectly sober.
"Oh, father!" she sobbed, unable to control her feelings, and leaning her face against his bosom as she spoke — "if only you would never go to the tavern any more!"
Tenderly the father drew his arm around his weeping child, and kissed her pure forehead.
"Mary," said he, as calmly as he could speak, "for your mother's sake — " but he could not finish the sentence. His voice quivered, and became inarticulate.
Solemnly, in the silence of his own heart, did the father, as he stood thus with his child in his arms, repeat the vows he had already taken. And he kept his vows.
Wonderful is the power of song! It is the heart's own language, and speaks to it in a voice of irresistible persuasion. It is a good gift from Heaven, and should ever be used in a good cause.
"Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise." Proverbs 20:1
"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper!" Proverbs 23:29-32