Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Gough, John Bartholomew

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GOUGH, John Bartholomew, temperance lecturer, b. in Sandgate, Kent, England, 23 Aug., 1817; d. in Frankford, Pa., 18 Feb., 1886. His father had served in the Peninsular war as a private soldier. The son received his education chiefly from his mother, and, when twelve years of age, after the death of his father, was sent to the United States. He arrived in New York in August, 1829, and went to Oneida county, where he lived on a farm for two years. He then obtained a situation in a publishing-house in New York city, where he learned the trade of a bookbinder. Here his mother and sister joined him, but in 1833, during a time of depression, he lost his situation, and the family was reduced to destitution. In a few months after her arrival in New York his mother died, and Gough drifted into the worst of dissipation. For some years he obtained a precarious subsistence about drinking-shops and low resorts by singing and by his remarkable powers of comic delineation. He had always a passion for the stage, and made one or two efforts to become an actor, but owing to his habits gained little favor. He married in 1839, and became a bookbinder on his own account. The effort to do his work without giving up his nightly dissipations so affected him that he was on the verge of delirium tremens. He lost his wife and child, and was reduced to the utmost misery. In 1842 he was in Worcester, Mass., where he was regarded as a hopeless drunkard. Delirium had taken possession of him, and, as he used to relate to his audiences in after years, the tools of his trade seemed to turn to serpents and crawl about him. Thousands of people have heard him tell how, in October, 1842, a little kindness shown him by a Quaker induced him to attend a temperance meeting, to sign the pledge, and to keep it, in spite of a raging appetite for drink. A few months later some of his former companions induced him to violate his pledge, and he confessed the fact at a public meeting at Worcester. From the time of his taking the pledge there came upon him an irresistible desire to devote his life to the cause of temperance, and he clung with singular tenacity to his purpose. He set forth, carpet-bag in hand, to tramp through the New England states, glad to obtain even seventy-five cents for a temperance lecture, and soon became famous for his eloquence. An intense earnestness derived from experience, and his power of imitation and expression, enabled him to work on the sensibilities of his audiences as few men have been able to do. He was accustomed to mingle the pathetic and humorous in such a way as to attract thousands to hear him who had no purpose but to be interested and amused. In the first year of his travels he spoke 386 times, and thenceforward for seventeen years he dealt only with temperance. During that period he addressed over 5,000 audiences. He visited England in 1853, by invitation of the London temperance league, was entertained by George Cruikshank, the veteran artist and total abstainer, and his first address, delivered at Exeter Hall, produced a great sensation. He intended to stay but six months, but was kept busy for two years. In 1854 he had undertaken to speak at Oxford, and the students had determined to prevent him. He was greeted with hisses, cat-calls, and yells. But Gough had a disciplined temper and the courage of his convictions, and an appeal to the Briton's proverbial love of fair play ended in his obtaining a hearing. On a subsequent visit, in 1878, he was received with distinguished attention by the Oxonians. He returned to the United States in 1855, and took up his old work with unabated success. In 1857 he made another journey to England, and lectured for three years. In his temperance efforts Mr. Gough always kept aloof from politics or any organized effort to accomplish results through legislation, relying entirely on moral influences and on the total abstinence pledge. After confining his addresses to the subject of temperance for seventeen years, he began to take up other subjects, literary and social, though from first to last his chief successes were obtained on the temperance platform. After his popularity had led him to vary his subject and to lecture before lyceums, he made a moderate fortune by his eloquence. His subjects were such as to give full scope to his powers of imitation, and to furnish opportunity to stir the feelings. “Eloquence and Orators” and “Peculiar People” were topics of this kind, in which diverting imitations played a prominent part, but he rarely failed to introduce some reference to the evils of intemperance. His oratory was not acquired, but natural. He had no elocutionary training, his reading was singularly restricted, and all his resources were from within, yet never failed to hold the attention of his audiences. For several years Mr. Gough had made his home at West Boylston, Mass., where he spent much time among his books and friends. He was engaged in the delivery of a lecture at the 1st Presbyterian church, Frankford, Pa., when he was stricken by cerebral apoplexy, two days afterward lapsing into unconsciousness that lasted until his death. Amherst conferred upon him the honorary degree of A. M. A sketch of his life was published by Rev. W. Reid in 1854. His publications (some of which have been translated into French, Dutch, Scandinavian, and Tamil) are “Autobiography” (London, 1846; 3d ed., 1853); “Orations” (1854); “Temperance Address” (New York, 1870); “Temperance Lectures” (1879); and “Sunlight and Shadow, or Gleanings from my Life-Work” (1880).