W2511 TO DR. CALVIN BROOKS MCQUESTEN from his brother Isaac B. McQuesten
Oct 1 1887
To: Dr. Calvin Brooks McQuesten, New York
From: 31 James Street South, Hamilton, Ontario MCQUESTEN & CHISHOLM
Barristers, Solicitors, Etc.
I.B. McQuesten, M.A., James Chisholm, B.A.
Office: Victoria Chambers
31 James Street South, P.O. Box 167
Telephone No. 711
My dear brother:
I should have written you last week. Soon after my return a good many things required my attention. And I found it difficult for some days to get even much ground. Dr. Lett felt satisfied that with care, exercise, there was no need of my remaining longer.1 He would have preferred three months but thought if the more lengthened absence was likely to in any special degree add to business complications on my return here, the shorter period without such would be of more value than the longer period with them. I returned two weeks ago yesterday, had on Thursday last an appointment in Guelph and called on the doctor. And I think for the next six months I will every few weeks stay over there for a time when I go to the mills.
It is years since I have felt in the same physical and mental condition that I do now. Even when I thought I was particularly well because my brain was very active and I could do much more than I can just now, I can see that that was from an unhealthful excitement, and afterwards came the reaction.2 But at no time for days together was there such a thing as drowsiness at night, or if so then wakefulness in the morning. Now for weeks past I have felt a certain degree of sluggishness such as was always my natural temperament years ago when never systematically using stimulants. The going to bed every night a little after ten o'clock for six weeks did what I could not have imagined it would. I know perfectly well that if I trust in my own strength and think I am all safe, I most surely shall fail; and I know that there must be a constant watchfulness against what one would be inclined to say were the smaller elements of temptation. Never before could I for a long period review my past life. At times the bringing of it all up produced something very near despair, and then when it was impossible for me to realize in my heart & feelings the heinousness of sin as clearly as in my mind & intellect I could see its nature, I could not but conclude that a Merciful God instead of delivering me was in pity hiding from me a suddenly felt revelation, which in its intactness reason could scarcely realize and bear the weight of. I do think that this tampering with evil, dallying with it, in a way that nearly all men seem to do is a terrible source of evil. I feel assured in my own case the doing of that in any deliberate form will culminate in my giving way to stimulants, just as truly as any one part of the physical frame being a little weaker than the rest, disease will surely fasten upon that weaker part.
This leads me to another and closely considered matter. I have resolved after reflection and seeking from my maker guidance that appears to me to be clearly given, that I will not continue in any sort of intimate business association with John Harvey.3 From the day I first had to do with him his influence has been in every way for evil--don't misunderstand me, and imagine that I am seeking any mitigation of blame to be attached to me. I am fully aware that I and I only am to blame as far as responsibility. Nor think that I will allow feelings to permit me to do a foolish thing that could benefit nobody, and simply injure all concerned. But I know now that I cannot rely on his truthfulness or honesty. And while I cannot tell what the exact step to be taken--as yet--is, or what it will result in; I will not be party to right being subservient to any other motive.
It would seem that no sooner had I finally resolved upon that course than Providence assisted me in a way that I could not have devised, by putting before me such evidence and I could not have looked for of my part in the folly and want of integrity; and by the temporary absence of himself and the party in whom he most relied to support him, have I had this evidence supplied through the agency of those whom he cannot contravene by reason of their relations to him rather than me. I will not weary you with what a letter could not satisfactorily place before you. But you can rely upon it I will take no decisive step without first having you fully acquainted with it. That will probably involve your running over here. I will not give you any unnecessary worry. But I shall not consider your likes or dislikes to examine into & investigate thoroughly all that must be done.
Don't think I am making any mystery now. I am not. But I want you simply to be prepared, when such occasion may occur, to quietly & calmly use your best judgement; and not by my leaving the possible consideration of steps that may not be necessitated, until such time an action has to be taken, then be flurried by being taken unexpectedly. All I want you to understand is that if it becomes necessary to deal decidedly with a man who is not a fool, you will be prepared to act without rashness; and further that I will not pursue a course of temporizing simply because I do not want to fairly face what may not be pleasant.4
I send you with this $150.00. I cannot just today very easily let you have more. Also enclose notice of [Dean?] Fisher's death just came in by last mail. I saw a paragraph in the paper about it a few days after it occurred. Next week Mamie Sawyer is to be married and the week after Carrie, Jas. Turner's daughter. I would give a good deal to avoid going to either; but if the seeing people will cheer Mary up, I will be glad to have her enjoy it. A more deplorable union than Mamie's with young Brown I cannot well conceive. If ever the principles of Plato's Republic as to marriage ought to be invoked, they should in this case.5
We are all well at home; though Mary is much wearied with Edna, who will go to sleep for no one else, and though a really good little child, she seems to have much trouble sleeping soundly.6
I have met with every kindness at the hands of friends since my return. Though I am told that not many know where I have been, I have made no attempt at concealment & have so informed those who have spoken with me. It may be very painful & humiliating, but nothing is gained by an attempt at evading it, and the knowledge that men know of it will go far should a sudden temptation come over me to cause me not to give way. And it is these sudden impulses that I must look out for. It is one long continuous want or craving. Let me hear from you when you have time.
Yours most sincerely
[Isaac Baldwin McQuesten]
1 Isaac had been receiving treatment with Dr. Lett, at the Homewood Retreat, a Guelph Sanatorium for alcoholism, the use of "stimulants," depression, and "nervous disease." He had been an alcoholic from an early age. but tried to give it up twice in order to win Mary's hand in marriage. Isaac also suffered from insomnia. Chlorodyne or Paregoric (both Opium) and Calomel (Mercury) were common prescribed and patent medications of the day, and were used by the McQuestens even for children (W2469). Calomel is a mercury compound which became known to cause mental derangement, e.g. "Mad Hatter's Disease." See Mary Baker McQuesten's letter to Dr. Calvin Brooks McQuesten in which she seeks help for Isaac's mental condition, W4327, also, W4331, W2520, W-MCP2-4.029.
Alcoholism and drug addiction were considered "The Aristocratic Vice" at the time 1881-1900, and it was mainly the wealthy and educated classes who became addicted. . . . Homewood's patients in the nineteenth century were physicians and barristers, housewives and politicians--individuals of high social standing who were able to maintain their status after institutionalisation. . . . [However], By the 1920s, the "furtive" dope fiend was entrenched in the public imagination ("The Aristocratic Vice" Ontario History, Vol. LXXV, No.4, Dec. 1983).
2 Isaac may be describing a condition that came to be known as "Manic Depression" characterized by periods of excitement and high productivity followed by periods of extreme lassitude, inactivity, depression and insomnia.
3 John Harvey was Isaac's business partner in the Hespeler wool and cotton mill which went bankrupt around this time. However, Isaac is taking blame for some failure, likely the financial failure of the mill. It appears that he may have controlled the financial aspects of the business and even acted against Harvey, using Harvey's share of profits to make investments (W2653, W2504).
4 Isaac's comments here are difficult to interpret. We have discovered a rather poignant indication of Isaac's preoccupation with death and suicide in a book of his entitled: Responsibility in Mental Illness (London, 1874). The book is neatly underlined, presumably by Isaac. One passage so highlighted reads, "let him then suppose it to be no dream, but conceive himself to be overwhelmed by the horrible nightmare day after day, and to be, as he surely would be, incapable of the hope of relief; what cry would then suffice to express his agony and despair save the cry of supreme agony, 'My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?'--what act save an act of suicide?" (240). (This passage came to light when Whitehern's library books were being sorted and packaged to be sent out for deacidification and buffering).
5 This comment on Plato's Republic suggests that the family was aware of the system of eugenics in Plato, and that it may have had some bearing on Mary Baker McQuesten and her decision to discourage her children from marrying.
6 Edna (Margaret Edna) was born October 25, 1885, just 5 days after the death of her grandfather, Dr. Calvin McQuesten. She was nearly two years of age at the time of this letter. Edna suffered insomnia as a child, and was treated with Chlorodyne or Paregoric and/or Calomel, Opium and Mercury medicines). She gradually developed serious emotional problems, insomnia, headaches, had several breakdowns, and "her irrational and hysterical behaviour made it necessary for the family to place her in The Homewood Sanatorium in Guelph, Ontario on October 23, 1920," and she died there in 1935 (Minnes 1). (See also, W5426, W5382, and FN about medications used for sleeplessness at W2469). See also W6373 written by daughter Mary, for an indication of the relationship between Edna and her mother which may have contributed to the stress in the McQuesten household.
7 For an essay on the treatment of drug addiction at Homewood in Guelph, see Box 15-007: "The Aristocratic Vice."