The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 21|
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
We come now to a singular work of Baudelaire's, half translation, half original, entitled, "The artificial Paradises, Opium and Hashish," and at which we must pause; for it has contributed not a little to the idea among the public, who are always happy in spreading unfavourable reports of authors, that the writer of the "Flowers of Evil" was in the habit of seeking inspiration in these stimulants. His death, following upon a stroke of paralysis which made him powerless to express the thoughts in his brain, only confirmed this belief. This paralysis, so it was said, came undoubtedly from excess in hashish or opium, to which the poet first gave himself up out of love of peculiarity, and then from that fatal craving these drugs produce.
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His illness was caused by nothing but the fatigue, ennui, sorrow, and embarrassments inherent in literary people whose talent does not admit of regular work, easy to sell, like journalism, and whose works, by their originality, frighten the timid directors of reviews. Baudelaire was as sober as all other workers, and, while admitting a taste for the creation of an "artificial paradise," by means of some stimulant, opium, hashish, wine, alcohol, or tobacco, seems to follow the nature of man—since one finds it in all periods, in all conditions, in all countries, barbarous or civilised—he saw in it the proof of original perversity, a means of escaping necessary sorrow, a satanical suggestion for usurping, even in the present, the happiness reserved as a recompense for resignation, virtue, and the persistent effort towards the good and the beautiful. He thought that the devil said to the eaters of hashish, the smokers of opium, as in the olden times to our first parents, "If you taste of the fruit you will be as the gods," and that he no more kept his word than he did to Adam and Eve; for, the next day, the god, tempted, weakened, enervated, descended lower than the beast and remained isolated in an immense space, having no other resource to escape himself than by recourse to his poison, the doses of which he gradually increases. That he once or twice tried hashish, as a psychological experience, is possible and even probably; but he did not make continuous use of it. This happiness, bought at the chemist's and carried in the pocket, was repugnant to him, and he compared the ecstasy that it produced to that of a maniac, for whom painted cloth and coarse decorations replaced real furniture and the garden enriched with living flowers. He came but rarely, and then only as a spectator, to the séances at the Hôtel Pimodan, where our circle met to take the "dawamesk"; séances that we have already described in the "Review of the Two Worlds," under this title: "The Club of the Hashishins." After some ten experiments we renounced once and for all this intoxicating drug, not only because it made us ill physically, but also because the true littérateur has need only of natural dreams, and he does not wish his thoughts to be influenced by any outside agency.
Balzac came to one of these soirées, and Baudelaire related his visit thus: "Balzac undoubtedly thought that there is no greater shame or keener suffering than the abdication of the will. I saw him once at a reunion when he was contemplating the prodigious effects of hashish. He listened and questioned with attention and amusing vivacity. People who knew him would guess that he was bound to be interested. The idea shocked him in spite of himself. Some one presented him with the dawamesk. He examined it, smelt it, and gave it back without touching it. The struggle between his almost infantile curiosity and his repugnance for the abdication, betrayed itself in his expressive face; love of dignity prevailed. In effect, it is difficult to imagine the theorist of 'will,' the spiritual twin of Louis Lambert, consenting to lose even a particle of this previous substance."
We were at the Hôtel Pimodan that evening, and therefore can relate this little anecdote with perfect accuracy. Only, we would add this characteristic detail: in giving back the spoonful of hashish that was offered him, Balzac only said that the attempt would be useless, and that hashish, he was sure, would have no action on his brain. That was possible. This powerful brain, in which will power was enthroned and fortified by study, saturated with the subtle aroma of moka, and never obscured by even a few bottles of the lightest of wine of Vouvray, would perhaps have been capable of resisting the passing intoxication of Indian hemp. For hashish, or dawamesk, we have forgotten to say, is only a concoction of cannabis indica, mixed to a fleshy substance with honey and pistachio-nuts, to give it the consistence of a paste or preserve.
The analysis of hashish is medically very well done in the "Artificial Paradises," and science is able to cull from them certain information; for Baudelaire prided himself on his accuracy, and on no consideration whatever would he slur over the least technical ornamentation of this habit in which he had himself indulged. He specifies perfectly the real character of the hallucinations produced by hashish, which of itself creates nothing, simply developing the particular disposition of the individual, exaggerating it to the very last degree. What one sees is oneself, aggrandised, made sensitive, excited, immoderately outside time and space, at one time real but soon deformed, accentuated, enlarged, and in which each detail, with extreme intensity, becomes of supernatural importance. Yet all this is easily understandable to the hashish-eater, who divines the mysterious correspondence between the often incongruous images. If you hear a piece of music which seems as though performed by some celestial orchestra and a choir of seraphim, compared to which the symphonies of Haydn, of Mozart, and of Beethoven are no more than aggravating clatter, you may believe that it is only that a hand has skimmed over the keys of a piano in some vague prelude, or that a distant organ murmurs through the uproar of the streets a well-known piece from the opera. If your eyes are dazzled by blinding lights, scintillations, and flames, assuredly it is only a certain number of candles that burn in the torches and flambeaux. As to the walls, ceasing to be opaque, sinking away into vaporous perspective, deep, blue, like a window opening on the infinite, it is but a glass mirror opposite the dreamer with its mingled and transparently fantastic shadows. The nymphs, the goddesses, the gracious apparitions, burlesque or terrible, come out of the pictures, the tapestries, from the statues displaying their mythological nudity in the niches, or from the grimacing china figures on the shelves.
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