The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 22|
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
It is the same with the olfactory ecstasies which transport one to the paradises of perfumes, of marvellous flowers, balancing their calices like censors which send out aromatic scents of penetrating subtlety, recalling the memory of former lives, of balsamic and distant shores and primitive loves in some Tahiti of a dream. One does not have to seek far in the room for a pot of heliotrope or tuberose, a sachet of Spanish leather or a cashmere shrawl impregnated with patchouli, negligently thrown over the arm of a chair.
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It is understood, then, if one wishes to enjoy to the full the magic of hashish, it is necessary to prepare in advance and furnish in some way the motif to its extravagant variations and disorderly fantasies. It is important to be in a tranquil frame of mind and body, to have on this day neither anxiety, duty, nor fixed time, and to find oneself in such an apartment as Baudelaire and Edgar Poe loved, a room furnished with poetical comfort, bizarre luxury, and mysterious elegance; a private and hidden retreat which seems to await the beloved, the ideal feminine face that Chateaubriand, in his noble language, calls the "sylphide." In such circumstances, it is probable, and even almost certain, that the naturally agreeable sensations turn into ravishing blessings, ecstasies, ineffable pleasure, much superior to the coarse joys promised to the faithful in the paradise of Mahomet, too easily comparable to a seraglio. The green, red, and white houris coming out from the hollow pearl that they inhabit and offering themselves to the faithful, would appear as vulgar women compared to the nymphs, angels, sylphides, perfumed vapours, ideal transparencies, forms of blue and rose let loose on the disc of the sun and coming from the depths of infinity with stellary transports, like the silver globules on gaseous liquor, from the bottom of the crystal chalice, that the hashish-eater sees in innumerable legions in the dreams he dreams while wide-awake.
Without these precautions the ecstasy is likely to turn into a nightmare. Pleasure changes to suffering, joy to terror; a terrible anguish seizes one by the heart and breaks one with its fantastically enormous weight, as though the sphinx of the pyramids, or the elephant of the king of Siam, had amused itself by flattening one out. At other times an icy cold is felt making the victim seem like marble up to the hips, like the kind in the "Thousand and One Nights," half changed to a statue, whose wicked wife came every morning to beat the still supple shoulders.
Baudelaire relates two or three hallucinations of men of different temperaments, and one experienced by a woman in a small room hidden by a gilt trellis and festooned with flowers, which is easily recognised as the boudoir of the Hôtel Pimodan. He accompanies each vision with an analytical and moral commentary, through which his unconquerable repugnance for happiness obtained by such means is easily discernable. He counts as nothing the consideration of the help that genius can draw from the ideas suggested by intoxication of hashish. Firstly, these ideas are not so beautiful as one imagines, their charm comes chiefly from the extreme excitement in which the subject is. Then hashish, which produces these ideas, destroys at the same time the power of using them, for it reduces to nothing the will and plunges its victims in an ennui in which the mind becomes incapable of any effort or work, and from which it cannot escape except through the medium of another dose. "Lastly," he adds, "admitting the minute hypothesis of a temperament well enough balanced, strong enough to resist the evil effects of this perfidious drug, it is necessary to consider another fatal, terrible danger, which is that of habit. Those who have recourse to a poison to make them think, will soon find that they cannot think without poison. Picture to yourself the terrible fate of a man whose paralysed imagination no longer fulfils its functions without the aid of hashish or opium."
And, a little later, he makes his profession of faith in these noble terms: "But man is not so lacking in honest means of inspiration that he is obliged to invite the aid of the pharmacy or of sorcery; he has no need to sell his soul to pay for the intoxicating caresses and friendliness of the houris. What is the paradise that one buys at the price of eternal salvation?"
There follows the painting of a sort of Olympus placed on the arduous mount of spirituality where the muses of Raphael or of Mantegna, under the guidance of Apollo, surround with their rhythmical choirs the artist vowed to the cult of beauty and recompense him for his continuous efforts. "Beneath him," continues the author, "at the foot of the mountain, in the brambles and mud, the troop of men, the band of helots, simulate the grimaces of enjoyment, and yell out if the bite of poison is taken away from them; and the saddened poet says: 'These unfortunate beings who have refused to work out their own redemption, demand from black magic the means of elevation, with a sudden stroke, to a supernatural existence. Magic dupes them and kindles in them false happiness and light; whilst we, poets and philosophers, who have given new life to our souls by continued work and thought, by the assiduous exercise of the will and permanent nobility of intention, we have created for our pleasure a garden of real beauty. Confiding in the word which says faith can remove mountains, we have accomplished the only miracle which God has allowed.'"
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