The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow


I like prefaces as little as my readers can. If this so proverbially unnoticed part of the book catch any eye, the glance that it gives will of course travel no farther to find my apology for making this preface a short one. There is but one thought for which I wish to find place here. I am deeply aware that, if the succeeding pages are read at all, it will be by those who have already learned to love De Quincey. Not that I dare for a moment to compare the manner of my narrative with that most wondrous, most inspired Dreamer's; but in the experience of his life and my own there is a single common characteristic which happens to be the very one for whose sake men open any such book. The path of De Quincey led beyond all the boundaries of the ordinary life into a world of intense lights and shadows — a realm in which all the range of average thought found its conditions surpassed, if not violated. My own career, however far its recital may fall short of the Opium Eater's, and notwithstanding it was not coincident and but seldom parallel with his, still ran through lands as glorious, as unfrequented, as weird as his own, and takes those who would follow it out of the trodden highways of mind. In the most candid and indulgent reader who has come to my story from the perusal of the Confessions, I forsee that there will exist an inevitable tendency to compare the two, to seek resemblances, and perhaps, if such be found, to ascribe them to my at least unconscious imitation of the great, the elder author. How much to my disparagement this would be, my natural desire for the success of this book makes unpleasant to represent even to myself.

If it be possible to forestall such a state of things, let me aim at it by a few brief representations of the manner in which this work has been written.

Frankly do I say that I admire De Quincey to such a degree that, were not imitation base and he inimitable, I know no master of style in whose footsteps I should more earnestly seek to tread; but, in the first place, as this book asserts, it is a resumé of experiences which, so far from being fiction, have received at my hands a delineation unsatisfactory to myself from its very inadequacy. The fact of my speaking truths, so far as they can be spoken, out of my actual memory, must shield me, if the assertion be received by any but one who has tasted my cup of Awakening, from the imputation of being a copyist of incidents.

In the second place, to copy style, study, care, and frequent references to the proposed model are indispensable. Very well; not one of the pages which make this book has ever been rewritten. It has been printed from the first draft, and that, through necessities of other occupation, illness, and care, compelled to be thrown off, though on its author's part unwillingly, currente calamo. Moreover, out of particular jealousy against the risk of burlesquing the inimitable, I have refrained from looking at the Confessions from the beginning to the end of my undertaking.

My memory, however, tells me that occasionally there are actual resemblances both in incident and method. As an incident-resemblance, I instance the perception, in both experiences, of the inerasible character of the mind's memorial inscriptions — as De Quincey grandly has it — the Palimpsest characteristic of memory. Acknowledging the resemblance, I only say that we both saw the same thing. The state of insight which he attained through opium, I reached by the way of hasheesh. Almost through the very same symbols as De Quincey, a hasheesh-maenad friend of mine also saw it, as this book relates, and the vision is accessible to all of the same temperament and degree of exaltation. For a place, New York for instance, a stranger accounts, not by saying that any one of the many who testify to its existence copied from one another, but by acknowledging “there is such a place.” So do I account for the fact by saying “there is such a fact.”

As a resemblance in method, by which I mean mechanical arrangement, I am aware only of this, viz., that I divide my narrative into use and abandonment of hasheesh, and speculations upon the phenomena after abandonment, which latter, for the sake of anticipating the charge, I say might perhaps be compared as to its order with Suspiria but the most perfect Zoilus among hypercritics would be aware that in this arrangement I follow Nature, who begins, goes on, and finishes, and reflects the past in her progress, so that I should seem no copyist on that score.

But, at any rate, if influenced by the memory of the great Visionary's method in any sense (and it is true that I might have made my course more dissimilar by neglecting the order of time), I feel that the influence must necessarily have been beneficial to my own efforts.

As the bard who would sing of heroes follows the blind old harper of Ionia along that immortal corridor of resounding song which first made Greece imperishable, and tells his battles in the Epic, not the Elegy, so must every man hereafter, who opens the mysteries of that great soul within him, speak, so far as he can, down the channels through which Thomas de Quincey has spoken, nor out of vain perversity refuse to use a passage which the one grand pioneer has made free to all.

If in any way, therefore, except servilely, I seem to have followed De Quincey, I am proud of it. If there be any man who does not feel the grace which the mantle of that true poet's influence confers upon every thinker and scholar who loves truth, beauty, and the music of the English tongue, I ask that he will transfer unto me his share thereof, and at once the Preface and the Prayer of

The Son of Pythagoras
are ended.

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