My first lecture—A cold and disagreeable evening—A fair audience—My success—Lecture at Fairview—The people turn out en masse—At Rushville—Dread of appearing before the audience—Hesitation—I go on the stage and am greeted with applause—My fright—I throw off my father’s old coat and stand forth—Begin to speak, and soon warm to my subject—I make a lecture tour—Four hundred and seventy lectures in Indiana—Attitude of the press—The aid of the good—Opposition and falsehood—Unkind criticism—Tattle mongers—Ten months of sobriety—My fall—Attempt to commit suicide—Inflict an ugly but not dangerous wound on myself—Ask the sheriff to lock me in the jail—Renewed effort—The campaign of ’74—“Local option.”
I delivered my first lecture at Raleigh, the scene of many of my most disgraceful debauches and most lamentable misfortunes. The evening announced for my lecture was unpropitious. Late in the afternoon a cold, disagreeable rain set in, and lasted until after dark. The roads were muddy, and in places nearly impassable. I did not expect on reaching the hall, or school house, or church in which I was to speak, to find much of an audience, but I was agreeably disappointed; for while the house was by no means “packed,” there was still a fair audience. Raleigh had turned out en masse, men, women and children. I suppose they were curious to hear what I had to say, and they heard it if I am not much in error. I was much embarrassed when I first began to speak—more so than I have ever been since, even when in the presence of thousands. I did the best I could, and the audience expressed very general satisfaction. I think some of my statements astounded them a trifle, but they soon recovered and listened with profound and respectful attention. My next appointment was at Fairview. Here, as at Raleigh, I had often been seen during some of my wild sprees, and here, as at Raleigh, the people came out in force to hear me. I improved on my first lecture, I think, and felt emboldened to make a more ambitious effort. I settled on Rushville as the next most desirable place to afflict, and made arrangements to deliver my lecture there. A number of the best young men in the town of the class that never used liquor, but who had always sympathized with me, went without my consent or knowledge to the ministers of the different churches, and had them announce that on the next Monday evening Luther Benson, “the reformed drunkard,” would lecture in the Court House. I was nervous from the want of my accustomed stimulants, and the added dread of appearing before an audience before whose members I had so many times covered myself with shame, and in whose Court House—the very place in which I was to speak—I had been several times indicted for violations of the law, almost caused me to break my engagement. While still hesitating on what course to take, whether to go before the audience or go home and hang myself, the dreaded Monday evening came, and with it came my friends to escort me to the stage, which had been extemporized for me. I waited until the last moment before entering the room.