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  ― 101 ―

Confessions of an Australian Brandy Drinker.

And Peter * * * *, when he had been
With * * * * * hell-fire warmed,
Grew serious—from his dress and mien
'Twas very plainly to be seen
Peter was quite reformed.

——SHELLEY.

“PASSING events” have been to me recently no more than the shadows of the dancing ivy-leaves outside the chancel-window to the marble effigy that lies within—would only that my sleep had been as stonily devoid of all subjective consciousness! But fearfully energetic—enough to convert the stoutest materialist to Fichteism—has been the activity of the Opossic Ego; spider-like, spinning from itself a circling web of horrors. Nature, mineralogists tell us, in her crystal-making, never quite attains the geometrical figure at which she aims—falls short of her physical ideal; what wonder, then, that a poor scribbler should fail to reach his ethical ideal? A sadder, and, I trust, a wiser man, with less confidence in myself, with far more charity for my fellows, shall I henceforth write. Peter must do penance in the broad sheet, with a burning brow by way of taper. He hath been drunk, very drunk. To make my penitence practical, to convert my own burning into a beacon-light for others, I will give a plain record of my folly and its fruits. Luther-like, though I spatter my own wall, I'll fling my inkstand at the Devil—for such, maugre his mythological Greek godship, is Dionysus really.

I start from Groggee Groggee.

First Day.—Get drunk, and walk into a lagoon.

Second Day.—Get drunker, and “walk into” a digger; digger retributively “walks into” me; mail drops me, like a letter-bag, at a roadside-inn.

Third Day.—Benighted barmaid don't know what I mean by “soda-water;” advises bitters. A wearisome warm walk. Dreamy recollection of dirty Maitland, basking like a pig in the sunlight; of an inebriated Irishman who calls me “a raal gintleman,” and to whom I give silver—I can't tell exactly why; of a 'bus, and of a boat.




  ― 102 ―

Fourth Day.—I wake and find myself—not famous, but in Sydney, much marvelling how I got there: thoughts jostle one against another like chairs and tables in a flooded room; atmosphere all in a tremble, like the air over a lime-kiln; friends burst out laughing when I speak, imagining I'm joking; but subsequently compassionately recommend me to lie down.

Sundry days not accurately distinguished. Ex uno disce omnes. Like De Candolle's sensitive plant, I change my nature, invert my habitudes; sleeping during the daytime and waking to drink in fiery dew at sunset. Click of billiard-balls, pictures, sofas, little marble-topped tables, magazines whereon buttery thumbs have left their unctuous autographs, podgy brass spring-bells, Etruscan water-jugs, cups of black coffee, with floating spoons, crowned with blue flickering flames—pigmy transports on fire in Lilliputian Black Seas, I fancy them; tumblers with various contents; —the Cafè, I suppose; literary friends talking transcendentalism—unsubstantial as the smoke of the cigars we puff—in Carlylese; moimeme listening with owlish expression of countenance; dimly impressed, however, with the idea that all things are about to dissolve in the Inane. Proposeless visits to the playhouse, where—to borrow an image from Thackeray —the performances appear to me like dancing to a man who has stopped his ears to the music—I can't understand why the people laugh, and clap, and stamp—I remember that I once used to take an interest in these things, but now I have lost all appreciative sense—they are to me as the Greek he read at school so glibly, to him who has forgotten his Greek. Intrusive visits to the Green Room; yarns with histrionic houris—I see one (making up for an old woman's part) with yellow-ochre wrinkles, regularly parallel as telegraph-wires, upon her pretty brow, and, contrasting her with the laughing blushet I knew under her name half a year ago, remark seriously and sadly that she has aged very much within the last six months. Supper room: resounding with the strife of tongues and the rattle of knives, forks, spoons, tankards, plates, and dishes, where “fried brains,” whole hecatombs of oysters (their shells piled high in heaps like Celtic cairns), devilled kidneys, Welsh rabbit, and other post-theatrical delicacies are washed down with strong waters, porter, and pale ale— liquids and solids that afterwards figure in little French pencilled bills of parcels, the totals by no means justifying the fame for mathematical accuracy that the French enjoy; where the round, unshorn, indolently-benignant countenance of the blue-bloused proprietor, lazily lolling, with his hands in his pockets, against the wall, looms through the greasy steam, like the moon through London mist, waking up, however, into a look of magpie cautious cunning, should some 'cute commercial habitue, blending business


  ― 103 ―
with pleasure, endeavour to wheedle him, in moments of festivity, into a copious order for coals. Where, too, those who once were women, with their bold hungry eyes, and harsh, hoarse, hollow laugh, flit hither and thither, restlessly, black velvet-mantled sirens seeking whom they may destroy.

Being full of supper and distempering draughts,

I sally forth, intending to “go home.” Vague wanderings. Emeute in the streets. Troopers charge madly up and down, valorously ordering mobs of three instanter to disperse. Foot traps, twigging my alcoholic condition, mark me for their own; but by some good luck I escape the watch-house, and reach my lodgings—to find myself locked out. Having no latch-key, I knock up some neighbouring friend, who kindly makes me up a sofa-bed—Da Capo—I forget exactly how many times. A noble, manly life—quite worthy of a creature into whom God has breathed, from His own essence, as it were—a soul. The gift seemed somewhat superfluous, though, for him whose best type is a barrel. Daily to drown the intellectual life, as though it were some worthless kitten—an elevated labour, truly, a most exalted mission!

Confervæ and liverworts may live in boiling springs, but brandy is a Pyriphlegethon, in which for a man to soak is madness; and mad I soon became. The delirium-demon had danced around me for some hours before he clutched me in his grasp. I strove to lay the spirit in a hot red sea, but nearer and nearer came he, grinning horribly a ghastly smile as I raised my head from each successive glass; and at length his blasting fingers seized me by the brow, and burnt inwards to my brain.

Believing that by some show of utter cowardice I had become the scorn, and by some deed of meanest baseness the detestation, of mankind, I rushed from the city, where every living being that I met hissed out the words, and pointed the finger of contempt at me—the very stones I trod upon as though indignant at the contamination of my touch, crying out against me; determined to destroy myself, or to die of starvation in the wilderness. I should have destroyed myself, could I for one moment have fancied myself alone; but the bush was peopled with hundreds of scoffing spectators, stinging my soul with their mosquito-taunts. Blacker and blacker grew the crimes imputed to me, and all of the most degrading infamy. I was cut off from the sympathies of my kind; solitary as Cain, and, worse than Cain, a coward. Every where the country people rose (I say not seemed to rise; the rising was so real—I saw and heard them) to drive me from their districts, and hunt me down like vilest vermin. At length I was captured, and was about to be De Witted, when I gave


  ― 104 ―
money (really threw it away, I find) to the leaders of the mob, in order that I might be shot instead. A pistol was levelled at my head, and glad to have an opportunity of wiping off, at least, the loathsome stain of poltroonery from my character, and eager to flee away from this troubled world, and be at rest, I bid them fire with a smile upon my lips. In some inscrutable way I was saved, and, after renewed weary wanderings, fell down exhausted in the scrub, and slept. In the morning, all my terrors had returned, and a fresh mob was at my heels, headed by a ferocious Irishman, who wielded a huge battle-axe, with which he swore that he would cleave my skull. Flinging away my hat and boots, I made for Botany Bay, ran breathless along its fringe of silvery sand, and seeing a boat at the end of the jetty, bounded over its creaking planks (there is one wanting about the middle, I remember) intending to pull out to sea, and sink or swim as chance might please. I reached the boat: there were no oars. I turned once more to the land, gained it before my retreat was cut off, and tried to catch a horse that was grazing in the bush. “Stop the thief,” shouted my pursuers, and came howling on like hounds. About ten feet from the beach I saw some stakes; taking off my belt for a weapon, I ran into the water, and stood at bay, with these for a breastwork. A parley ensued, and it was proposed that I should exchange shots with some one whose sister I had insulted, and who had joined in the chase after me in order to avenge the insult. If I fell, it would be a more honourable death than to be torn to pieces like a hare; if I escaped his fire, I was to be allowed to depart without further molestation. I gladly accepted the challenge, but when I reached the land, a blindness came over me; I could not find my way to my antagonist; and now, as the hot wind stirred their dull metallic leaves, the very gum trees called me “coward!” I was unconscious for awhile. When consciousness returned, I had committed a new crime—fouler than any before. The pack that had previously hounded me came thundering back like dogs, long at fault, that have at last recovered the scent. They vowed that they would burn out my eyes, disembowel me, chop me up piecemeal. I jumped into a pool, and tried to drown myself—I held my head beneath the water until I was almost suffocated, but I had not courage to complete the act. I implored my late antagonist to shoot me—to give me the death I longed for, and yet trembled to win by my own deed. He scoffed at my entreaties. There were women with him—women with pitiless eyes, flashing out scorn. It was more bitter to endure the loathing of those queenly faces than the fiercest fury blazing in the countenances of the men. The plague had come upon me. None liked to lay hands on me, but a


  ― 105 ―
rope was brought to drag me from my watery refuge. Afterwards, I was to be burnt to death. Logs were piled for my pyre, and turpentine sent for to cast on my drenched clothing. A magistrate interfered. I had persuaded him of my innocence, when a stranger arrived, overthrew all my statements, and I was given up to my persecutors. They now resolved to hang me, and whilst the gallows was erecting, I remained exposed to the gaze of the hundreds who came flocking to witness my execution. At length, the gibbet was prepared; the crowd rushed to it; I was ordered to follow. For a time, I was delivered from the intolerable torment of hostile faces. There was the sound of feet and voices in the distance, but a hush, a solitude, around me. I stole away, and flying like the wind, for my hangmen grew impatient, and were coming back to seek me, I fell in with some one who kindly gave me shelter in a store. How strange it seemed to hear a friendly tone again! The mob surged round my hiding-place like a stormy sea—fierce as fiends at being disappointed of their prey. Often I was just on the point of being discovered, but, at last, another victim was found; he was hanged, and all was still. The store became a dark room in a public-house—a murderer's haunt. I overheard a whispered plot. I was to be beguiled into setting out for Sydney, lured to the Botany Heads, and tossed into the waves. A policeman came for me—him I believed to be an accomplice of my enemies, and resisted until he handcuffed me. Men that now I know to have been phantoms, but who then were full as real to me as he, walked with us into Sydney; striving to slip behind me, and fell me unawares. The huge iron pipes for the Water Works that lay beside the road, belched forth assassins hired to cudgel me to death. Whilst I was in the watch-house similar scenes were enacted over and over again. A young creature, beautiful and cruel as a leopardess, mounted a balcony, and, in a voice strangely silvery for the savage words it uttered, now denounced me to listening myriads as a coward and a traitor; and anon, as though to taunt me with a glimpse of a lost heaven, told how once they reverenced and loved me. I exhausted the catalogue of abominable crimes; mobs roared like hungry lions for my blood; Vigilance Committees, with solemn chants and muffled drums, led me forth to execution. I remember being brought before the magistrates upon a Monday morning. For a short time, the Police Court wore its ordinary, commonplace appearance: a joking Bench, chatting reporters, constables stiff as Dutch dolls, a crowd of curious idlers, and a dock full of drunkards, dirty and haggard as a pen of pigs. Suddenly shot through my mind that thrilling verse in the Dies Irœ




  ― 106 ―
Tuba mirum spargens sonum,
Per sepulchra regionum,
Coget omnes ante thronum,—

and all was changed. I saw the Great White Throne, and Him who sat thereon. It was the Final Judgment. I only heard my doom. I was hurried down a deep dark stream, looming beyond the mouth of which I beheld a sulphury sea, red-foamed, purple, sullen, boundless; with that look of suppressed hate, rage soon to revel at its own wild will, that the ocean wears at sunset in the tropics on the eve of a thunderstorm. The liberated denizens of that dread sea passed me, as I swept onwards to its torments, with awful pity in their eyes. I was the one damned being in the universe, and the waves that broke against the boat that bore me murmured, “For ever!”

I came to myself in a strait-jacket in the “cranky-cell” in Darlinghurst; B. O., the broad arrow, and “Gaol” upon my blankets. Worse even than sheer madness is that transition state, when you are conscious of your folly, and yet not able to regulate your life, but have to give yourself up to the guidance of another's will—when you are neither mad nor sane— when you can neither breathe the upper air, nor enjoy the Lethe-draught beyond the Styx, but wander gibbering—an unburied ghost. How hateful are the pitying or despising eyes that fall upon you! The very convicts, with their narrow brows and faces, bestialised, as they came into church, from which we, “the silly men,” were taken out by our keepers, like a flock of sheep, seemed to say as they passed, “Stand by! I am more rational than thou!” And, oh! how horribly the animalism, in times of mental health, a dead Enceladus buried beneath graceful foliage of forest trees and vineyards, then rubs his eyes, shakes himself, and rises up a giant! A bulimy came on me. Like an Otomac, I could have eaten clay. Oh! those dreary, purposeless walks up and down that cold comfortless corridor, unflecked by any cheering light save the occasional visit of a friend (God's blessings on the dear Samaritans!), for the sunlight outside was a mocker, and that that fell upon the walls and floor, a misty, mournful captive, like ourselves! Oh! those long, hateful, locked-up hours of stench, and sleeplessness, and maniacal raving! Incipient toper, is brandy worth imbibing at such a price as this? Nay, my brother, let us drink to each other's reformation in a cup of fragrant coffee. With that aromatic moisture will I refresh my frame, and, lycopodium-like, once more take root in the soil of sanity. Another name for the lycopodium is the “resurrection plant”—ego quoque resurgam.




  ― 107 ―

Free, and with a friend!

O joy extreme! is it indeed
The outer gate I see?
Is this the road? Is that a cab?
And has it come for me?

After my late life, “Peter 'Possum, gentleman,” seems an extravagantly flattering designation in my bail-bond; but n'importe! I grasp that precious liberty-giving document, thanks to thee, St—h—e,—most genial and generous of the sons of Themis, and delicate as kind!

And now, blowing the long-forbidden cloud, I sit in that friend's home, veiled round with verdure like a bird's nest. It is in the library that I sit; the walls are literally hidden by books—new and old, popular and rare, ponderous and sparkling—mental wine from every land, of the vintages of every age and soil. I sit and listen, delighted, to my host's “most musical” meandering flow of talk. Ripe scholarship, erudition singularly wide and deep, the most delicate sensibility to the Beautiful, glee at discovering it like that of a child who has come upon a hidden bank of forest flowers, personal recollections of the literary lights that glorified Edinburgh twenty years ago—the stars that stud the Noctes Ambrosianœ and ambrosial, make it, indeed, a treat; whilst, ever and anon, my hospitable hostess, with her bright smile and warm Hibernian heart, glides in and out, beamingly beautiful as a sorrowless Madonna. Close by the open window a pear-tree waves its wealth of summer-snow: like it, my heart has blossomed in the sunshine, and droops beneath its load of gratitude and joy—

“Sweet is pleasure after pain.”

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