How the Poets of Paris Turned on Europe

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For this edition of Flashback Friday, we’ve got an post from Albert Goldman from the July, 1979 challenge of Higher Instances magazine.


Although hemp has been a familiar drug for thousands of years in the Orient, it did not enter the cautiously guarded precincts of European culture till the nineteenth century. Then, it produced a sensational look by becoming injected into the nerve center of the Western Globe: the brilliant and influential Paris of the 1840s. The discovery of the drug at this specific time and location can be connected with a quantity of components: Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt and the subsequent vogue of anything Oriental the blossoming of the French Romantic movement, with its addiction to exotic photos and sensations the influence of the initial good drug writers, especially Thomas De Quincey, whose Confessions of an English Opium-Eater was translated as early as 1828 by Alfred de Musset and whose disciples integrated Charles Baudelaire, who revered De Quincey as a Romantic genius, paying him the tribute of a second, additional eloquent, translation coupled with a commentary on the noble character of the English author.

However in spite of all these favoring situations, there would have been no vogue of hemp in Paris at this time if a specific young French psychiatrist had not brought the drug back from the Middle East and begun to experiment with it for purposes that had nothing at all to do with acquiring higher or getting visions or writing brilliant pieces in the Revue des Deux Mondes. As this entire episode in cultural history depends so absolutely on the original French Connection, the most organic location to commence the story of dope in the West is by introducing the “seraphic medical professional.”

Jacques Joseph Moreau commenced his health-related profession by escorting wealthy psychotics on prolonged journeys to picturesque locations: distraction becoming, as Dr. Johnson remarked to his fellow melancholic, James Boswell, the principal device for “the management of the thoughts.” For the duration of 1 such trip, which comprised sojourns in Egypt and Turkey, the young psychiatrist found hashish and was fascinated by its psychological effects. Observing that numerous of the symptoms of hashish intoxication have been identical with these of madness, Moreau determined to experiment upon himself and other people in a controlled setting to see if hashish would not supply a important to insanity.

The experiments that Moreau commenced in the early 1840s at Bicetre Hospital outdoors Paris produced health-related history. By employing hashish as a psychotomimetic, a substance that mimics the effects of madness, Moreau established the branch of medicine recognized these days as psychopharmacology. Like later experimenters with LSD, mescaline and other hypnotics, he was determined to capitalize on the reality that no matter how intense the delirium, how vivid the hallucinations, how compelling the delusions of the hashish eater, he under no circumstances loses the capacity for self-observation and communication. “To realize the ravings of a madman,” Moreau was to create later in his exceptional book Hashish and Madness, “one ought to have raved himself, but without the need of getting lost the awareness of one’s madness.”

Moreau’s strategy was audaciously straightforward: initial, he would take the drug and submit himself to the observations of his interns then, he would give the drug to 1 of the interns and turn out to be himself the observer.

Moreau ready his hashish in the manner he had observed amongst the Arabs. Applying imported plants (his personal attempts at cultivation on the hospital grounds did not make plants of adequate potency), he concocted an obsolete pharmaceutical preparation named an electuary. His recipe is intriguing: “the flowering tops of the plant are boiled in water to which fresh butter has been added. When this concoction has been decreased by evaporation to a syrupy liquid, it is strained by way of a cloth. One particular hence obtains a butter of greenish colour which includes the active ingredient. This extract is under no circumstances absorbed in its pure kind for the reason that of its obnoxious and nauseous odor. It is sweetened with sugar and flavored with scented fruit or flower extracts.”

Moreau’s fundamental dose of what the Arabs contact dawamesc was a “lump the size of a walnut.” According to the computations of the major authority on the pharmacology of cannabis, Professor Gabriel G. Nahas, this 30-gram dose contained about 150 milligrams of THC: a incredibly massive dose certainly, thinking of that the typical marijuana cigarette delivers only four to five milligrams. With 1-half or 1-quarter of this dose, writes Moreau, “one will really feel delighted and gay, and 1 may well have a handful of fits of uncontrollable laughter.” Only with the complete dose, even so, does 1 attain the state the Arabs contact “al-kief.” After, throughout the experiments, the hospital’s pharmacist took a triple dose. For 3 days he seasoned all the symptoms of acute psychosis: hallucinations, incoherence and good agitation. Normally, even so, the process was to take the standard dose, which developed a pattern of reactions that Moreau summarized in an eight-point list that stands to this day as the tersest and most telling of all descriptions of hashish intoxication. Arranged in an order of escalating mental derangement, the effects of hashish consuming are:

1. Feeling of Happiness

“The eater of hashish is delighted not like the ravenous man who is famished and satisfies his appetite, or like the hedonist who satisfies his desires, but like the man who hears news that overwhelms him with joy, like the miser counting his treasures, like the gambler favored by luck, like the ambitious man intoxicated by results.”

two. Excitement: Dissociation of Tips

“One of the initial noticeable effects of hashish is the gradual weakening of the energy that we have to orient our thoughts as we want. Imperceptibly, we really feel ourselves overwhelmed by strange tips unrelated to these on which we want to concentrate. These tips, which we do not want to recall, crop up in our thoughts, 1 knows not why or how, turn out to be additional and additional a lot of, livelier and sharper. Memory and imagination then predominate present issues turn out to be foreign to us, and we are concerned completely with issues of the previous and of the future.”

three. Errors of Time and Space

“Under the influence of hashish, the thoughts can fall into the strangest errors regarding time and space. Time appears at initial to drag with a slowness that exasperates. Minutes turn out to be hours, hours, days. Quickly, with additional and additional exaggeration, all precise tips of the duration of time escape us, the previous and the present are merged.”

four. Improvement of the Sense of Hearing: The Influence of Music

“Pleasant or unpleasant, delighted or sad, the feelings that music creates are only comparable to these 1 feels in a dream. It is not adequate to say that they are additional vivid than these of the waking state. Their character is transformed, and it is only upon reaching a hallucinatory state that they assume their complete strength and can induce genuine paroxysms of pleasure or discomfort.”

five. Fixed Tips (Delusions)

“You catch oneself at occasions imagining the most extraordinary issues, the strangest monstrosities, to which you surrender physique and soul. Then all of a sudden, on the stroke of lightning, conscious pondering returns: you take hold of oneself, you recognize the error in which you had indulged. You have been crazy and you have turn out to be affordable.”

six. Disturbance of the Feelings

“With hashish, the feelings show the very same degree of overexcitement as the intellectual faculties. They have the mobility and also the despotism of the tips. From irritation, 1 can pass swiftly to fury, from discontent to hate and want for revenge, from the calmest appreciate to the wildest passion. Worry becomes terror, courage a dedication that none can cease and that ignores danger.”

7. Irresistible Impulses

“Seeing an open window in my space I got the concept that if I wanted I could throw myself from that window. Although I did not assume I would commit such an act, I asked that the window be closed.’’

eight. Illusions and Hallucinations

“Progressively, 1 becomes the toy, initial of straightforward illusions and then of correct hallucinations which are like the remote sounds, the initial lights, which are coming to use from an imaginary and superb world…It has occurred to me numerous occasions that becoming in a rather lively state of intoxication and searching attentively at a portrait, I saw all of a sudden the portrait come to life. The head moved slightly and seemed to want to detach itself from the canvas. The whole face took an expression that only life may possibly confer the eyes specially have been alive I saw them turning in their orbits to adhere to all my movements.”

Moreau’s book was published in 1845. It sold only a couple hundred copies and did not even earn its author an election to the Academy of Medicine. However handful of scientists have ever registered such a direct effect on the finest literary minds of their generation. Moreau’s (and hashish’s) influence on the arts commenced two years ahead of the publication of his volume, when he provided some hashish to a young writer of his acquaintance named Theophile Gautier.

One particular of the most flamboyant of the French Romantics, Gautier had distinguished himself initial by major the historic demonstrations that accompanied the initial functionality of Hugo’s Hernani—the initial shot of the literary revolution that was French Romanticism—shouting, “Death to the old wigs!’’ He had then composed a novel, titled Mademoiselle De Maupin, which recounted the adventures of a female transvestite. A phrasemaker, he uttered initial the Romantic’s battle cry: “Art for Art’s sake.” Gautier was also an unblushing hedonist. In the preface to Mademoiselle De Maupin he wrote: ‘‘[I would] give a massive prize to everyone inventing a new pleasure, for enjoyment seems to me to be the finish of life and the only helpful issue in the planet.”

Providing Gautier his initial taste of hashish developed sensational effects, which have been quickly published in the Parisian press. Gautier seasoned 3 distinct episodes of consciousness alteration. In the initial, he hallucinated torrents of gems in floral kaleidoscopic patterns (a classic drug image with numerous counterparts each in the subsequent literature of mescaline and LSD and in the ancient religious writings of the Hebrew and Oriental peoples). He also seasoned good hilarity and started to toss pillows in the air like an Indian juggler. Half an hour later, the second wave of intoxication hit him this time he saw “billions of butterflies with wings fluttering like fans,” as effectively as giant flowers that exploded fantastically, and he seasoned synesthesia: “I heard the sounds of colors…A whispered word echoed in me like thunder…I swam in an ocean of sound.” Gautier had under no circumstances felt such bliss his fundamental image is that of a sponge soaking up delights, joys, sounds, perfumes, lights. The practical experience seemed to final 300 years, but in reality it occupied only 15 minutes. The third bout was the most intense. He became absolutely mad. He hallucinated every single sort of grotesquerie: ‘‘goatsuckers, fiddle-faddle beasts, budled goslins, unicorns, griffons, incubi fluttered, hopped, skipped and squeaked by way of the space.” Seizing a pencil, he sketched Moreau from behind playing the piano though dressed in a Turkish costume with a sun on the back of his frock coat—the drawing survives. The musical notes are visualized flying off the instrument as in a modern day comic book.

What occurred subsequent is a clear anticipation of Timothy Leary and his cenacle or Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. The young cultural revolutionary decided to spread hashish about like a new sacrament and to organize its devotees into a secret society. Taking a hint from the good French Arabist, Antoine Sylvestre De Sacy—who argued that the word assassin was derived from hashishin, i.e., “hash eaters” —Gautier named his new organization “The Assassins Club.” The original members integrated Gerard de Nerval, who was writing oriental romances and was subsequently to travel extensively in the Middle East the painter Fernand Boissard and a sculptor, F.B. de Bois-denier Dr. Moreau and one more medical professional, Louis Aubert-Roche and, six years later, Baudelaire. Honore de Balzac visited the club but would not swallow the proffered spoon of dawamesc, fearing the loss of mental handle (even though subsequently he confessed in a letter to a female buddy that he had tasted the drug below other auspices). Alexandre Dumas is from time to time listed as a member, but he belonged to one more planet completely his account of hashish in The Count of Monte Cristo is hugely factitious.

The month-to-month meetings of the club have been bohemian parodies of standard club meetings. The dessert— dawamesc—and coffee (Turkish) have been served ahead of the principal course so that the slow-acting drug could take impact by the finish of the meal. The table settings and utensils have been a bizarre conglomeration of chipped antiques and exotic weapons: krisses, poignards, daggers. The business itself was a motley crew of extended-haired, bearded and queerly costumed guys whose faces assumed strange appearances in the light of the flickering lamps and candles. When the meal concluded, the members repaired to the immense salon of the seventeenth-century mansion exactly where Gautier resided: this drawing space was of “the purest Louis XIV style, with its paneling set off by tarnished gold leaf. Beneath the overhanging cornice, some pupil of Lasueur or Poussin had painted a scene of nymphs pursued by satyrs by way of the reeds. On the big mantelpiece of Pyrenean marble, flecked in white and red, stood a clock in the kind of a golden, harnessed elephant that carried on its back an armed turret on which was carved an enamel face with blue numerals. The armchairs and couches have been old and upholstered with faded tapestries of hunting scenes.” Then, the enjoyable would commence. Music would be played and stoned conversations and monologues commenced. Members would roll on the floor crying out in ecstasy or sit on the big settees experiencing in frozen, trancelike states the streaming hallucinations developed by such enormous doses.

For 3 years the club’s activities remained a secret, up till Gautier printed a dazzling description of the entire scene in France’s most celebrated literary and cultural journal, La Revue des Deux Mondes (February 1, 1846). The post applied an extravagant style to an extravagant practical experience. Modern day readers have treated it with skepticism or assumed it was merely a item of the Romantic imagination. Moreau, the ideal judge of such matters, regarded Gautier’s description of the hashish practical experience very differently, enabling for the “stylistic exaggeration” of the author, he concluded that “the effects of hashish could not have been far better described.” Certainly, when 1 subjects this popular post to close literary evaluation, what 1 discovers is that every single 1 of Moreau’s eight categories of hashish practical experience has been brilliantly realized in passages of hyperbolic but basically genuine imagery. Although it would be naive to study the account as a literal transcription, the piece ought to be pronounced a brilliant rendering of the archetypal hash trip.

The post, which reads like Edgar Allan Poe on speed, commences like a horror film with a extended, suspensefully charged series of pans and zooms, as the narrator, who has received a mysterious invitation to the club, arrives at the ancient mansion in the middle of the Seine on a cold, stormy evening in December. Guided by the skinny finger of the concierge, he crosses the courtyard and climbs the vast palatial staircase adorned with paintings and frescoes, with Chimera and Cupid. Getting into a domed apartment that transports him back two centuries, he encounters the “seraphic medical professional,” who provides him a vermeil spoon filled with green paste, remarking portentously, “This will be subtracted from your share of paradise.” Immediately after the meal, the guests eliminate to the drawing space. The narrator, who is currently so higher that “he could not inform a peach from a cutlet,” goes into the chimney corner and sits down to clock his head. Immediately, there seems a grotesque apparition who is destined to preside more than the entire Witch’s Sabbath that commences now in the hash eater’s thoughts. A weird tiny demon with a bird’s beak, a man’s coat and legs of bifurcated mandrake root covered with dirt, this creature is identified as “Daucas-Carota—of The Golden Pot” (a story by the good German fantasist, E.T.A. Hoffmann, who was so common in Paris at this time that he became the hero of Offenbach’s masterpiece, Tales of Hoffmann, Daucas-Carota is not in The Golden Pot, but he is identical with a creature of German folklore that seems elsewhere in Hoffmann: the Alraunder: an incubus engendered by the sperm that drips from a hanged man’s erect penis onto the earth).

Announcing, “Today, we ought to die laughing,’’ Daucas-Carota summons forth a route of apparitions such as Hieronymous Bosch delighted to paint: “Monks with wheels for feet and cauldrons for bellies warriors, in armor produced of dishes, brandishing wooden swords in bird’s claws statesmen moved by turnspit gears kings plunged to the waist in saltcellar turrets alchemists with their heads arranged as bellows, their limbs twisted into alembics obscene figures produced of bizarrely knobbed squashes.” As the narrator is dissolving into hysterical fits of laughter, 1 member of the club (in all probability Moreau), who has stayed straight so that he can monitor the other people and maintain them from throwing themselves out the windows, sits down to the piano and begins playing an ethereal melody by Weber.

Immediately, Gautier’s mood reverses from “fantasia,” he passes without the need of transition into “al-kief,” the state of blissful, erotically tinged ecstasy. Gazing at the nymphs pursued by fawns, he imagines himself Syrinx becoming chased by the horny goat-god, Pan. Desperate to keep away from rape, he cowers, panting, behind the painted reeds.

The subsequent mood modify is to nightmare, as he plunges into the paranoia so standard of a hash trip. Imagining that the wicked demon has snatched off his head and replaced it with one more, he rushes to the mirror and is horrified to uncover that he appears like a Hindu or Javanese idol: “My forehead had risen my nose, lengthened into a trunk, curled on my chest my ears swept my shoulders and to compound the grievance, I was indigo in colour.” Smashing the troll till he restores the narrator’s genuine head, the crazed doper succumbs subsequent to one more delusion. A tiny, unknown voice whispers to him: “Beware, you are surrounded by enemies…you are a prisoner right here: attempt to leave, and you will see.” Increasing with good work, he attempted to flee by way of the door but he finds himself practically paralyzed and his legs turning to marble!

When he staggers out to the landing and appears down the stairwell, he is appalled to see that the stairs have lengthened to infinity. When he measures on the marble treads, they sink beneath his feet like toad bellies. When he reaches the courtyard, it extends ahead of him like the Champs-de-Mars. Now he feels old and gray. A mournful chorus assures him that “Time is dead.” He will under no circumstances appreciate his eleven o’clock rendezvous with his mistress for the reason that the clock will stay for eternity at a quarter previous nine. Just when this lowest ring of the dope hell has been reached, the club’s straight man strikes up a cheerful air on the piano and the narrator snaps out of his nightmare. Hastening down the stairs to his waiting carriage, he rushes off to his assignation, testing his purpose by composing rhyming triplets.

All through the remainder of the nineteenth century, numerous other authors, each in Europe and America, contributed to the swelling literature on hashish. Late in life, Baudelaire produced his final statement on the topic. Addicted fundamentally to opium and alcohol, like his hero, De Quincey, Baudelaire is not probably to have been a good hash eater. He had tasted the drug, even so, in the most intriguing situations in which it could have been consumed, and he has compiled his tiny retailer of hashish anecdotes so when the occasion arose in the course of his journalistic profession to contribute a paper on the subject, he ought to have felt himself effectively certified for the job.

The function that emerged, “The Hashish Poem,” is a deeply jaundiced therapy of its theme. The common impression is that of an exhausted but dutiful lecturer eager to close up his notes and go dwelling. House, in this case, seems at the finish of the piece, when Baudelaire sinks, virtually gratefully, into a incredibly somber meditation upon the evil of this paradisal drug. Sermonizing with the echo of the pulpit about his words, he excoriates the Romantic aspiration toward human divinity. Obtaining denounced the drug as conducive to the ultimate sin of pride, he turns lastly to destroy the myth of its Faustian powers of inspiration: ‘‘Let us grant,” he motives, “that hashish offers, or at least increases, genius, but it can not be forgotten that it is the nature of hashish to diminish the will hence it offers with 1 hand what it requires away with the other it offers imagination without the need of the potential to use it.” With these pessimistic words, the annals of the Assassins Club conclude.



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