The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow

Chapter XXII. Grand Divertissement.

As the months went on, the fervor of my longing toward the former hasheesh life in some measure passed away, and in general the fascination to return did not present itself so much in the form of pining for an affirmative as loathing of a negative state. It was not the ecstasy of the drug which so much attracted me, as its power of disenthrallment from an apathy which no human aid could utterly take away. Yet even now there were seasons of absolute struggle in which I fought as against a giant, or more truly to the nature of things should I say, in which I resisted as against a demon houri, for my tempter was more passing lovely than any thing on earth.

As in the earlier period of my warfare, I now and then caught glimpses of ravishing delight, which, through some rift in the thick cloud elsewhere completely enveloping my daily life, broke in upon me for a moment, yet lasted long enough to prove that I could not yet write myself secure, that my integrity was not yet beyond corruption.

Some of my readers will doubtless be amused, others pained, and a few disgusted at the childlike expedients to which I found it necessary to resort for the purpose of appeasing this renewed appetite for visions without a return to hasheesh. There were three different sets of circumstances which almost infallibly brought on the longing. It was never suggested by dark and stormy weather, since this was too much in consonance with my habitual mood to demand more than a passing notice. The man who has lost an intimate friend does not pay much attention to murk and mist; it is sunshine which seems to mock his melancholy. So in my own case did it happen. The season of most intense longing was a day of clear sky and brilliant light. That beauty which filled the heart of every other living thing with gladness, only spoke of other suns more wondrous rolling through other heavens of a more matchless dye. I looked into the sky, and missed its former unutterable rose and sapphire; no longer did the whole dome of the firmament sound with grand unwritten music.

It was a pain to look into that desert wilderness of blue which of old my sorcery had peopled for me with innumerable celestial riders, with cities of pearl and symphony-haunted streams of silver. I shut my eyes, and in a moment saw all that I had lost.

A night of brilliant moonlight brought me other repentings after my enchanted life, whose tone was not so high as those of the sunshine, but deeper and more enduring. Wrapped in a melancholy which could not be imparted, I wandered by the hour through the beaming streets, and looked sadly around me to see the meanest object by the wayside

Into something rich and strange.”

The stones beneath my feet gleamed like unhewn crystals. The frosty fretwork on the panels of doors which I passed, at the touch of the divine Moon-Alchemist became exquisite filigrees of silver. The elm-trees and the locust, shedding sparkles of radiance from their ice-incased twigs, might well have been those trees of gleamy ore which Allah buried when man was cast out of Paradise.

Yet mournfully I thought of the old days, when I would have walked down these shining ways as through an ever-lengthening vista of glories, when the moon-light would have fallen on me mysteriously empurpled, when over all the wondrous domain I had felt myself unquestioned sovereign, and out of the beauteous recesses of earth and sky sprite voices had musically hailed me to my kingdom.

As I thought upon these things, now forever irretrievably abandoned to the past, I have wept — yes, though it be unmanly, I have wept to find myself a discrowned king, a sorcerer ravished of his wand, a god shorn of his glories. I am not ashamed to remember that I did this; for if there be any ecstasy possible which we do not now feel imparted to us, if any excellency in things which does not now make itself tangible, it is no more ignominious to lament over it perished than to sigh after it tarrying.

There was another, a bodily condition, which I always found it necessary to avoid if I would not be smitten with repinings after the hasheesh life. It was the nervous sensitiveness induced by deprivation of tobacco.

In smoking, if in nothing else, could I boast regularity of habit. To be sure, for this regularity neither an unusually developed organ of order nor the possibility of any thing like a systematic arrangement in my multiplicity of labors was to be pre-eminently thanked. To defer for an hour the nicotine indulgence was to bring on a longing for the cannabine which was actual pain. When circumstances have occurred which made it impossible to smoke before entering my daily round of duties, until they closed I have hardly dared to shut my eyes, lest I should be borne incontinently out of the actual life into which necessity called me to a land of colossal visions. If for a moment I yielded to the impulse, I was straightway in the midst of sky and landscape whose splendors were only less vivid than the perfect hallucinations of the fantasia.

But I have not yet spoken of those expedients to which I resorted for relief and to avoid the necessity of resuming the use of hasheesh. Certainly, in them ingenuity, so far as I possessed any, was tortured to its utmost endurance.

Sometimes I spent the few moments of leisure which during the day could be snatched from business in — mention it not confidently in Gath, breathe it not to the friend of thy bosom in Askelon — blowing soap-bubbles. Not that there is aught deserving of contempt in the enjoyment of that which has been made a philosophic toy by one of the greatest of Anglo-Saxon sages — not that the pleasure of rare beauties from humble elements is of necessity an æsthetic heresy, but because the hasheesh-eater is well aware of the existence of critics, to whom all that is childlike is also childish, who quarrel with men for being perversely happy on moderate means, and with their Creator because he has not made all the little hills as high as Cotopaxi.

Yes, throwing down the wand of professional majesty, degrading myself to the level of the most callow neophyte of an infant class, did I take up the pipe, and, going into the presence of the nearest sunbeam (a course which, by the way, might well be followed by those who for their light go farther and fare worse), did I create sphere after sphere, not, as the grotesquely but unintentionally blasphemous old poet hath it, snapping them off my fingers into space, but with careful hand taking rest over the back of a chair to counteract the tremulousness of over-anxiety not to tremble, did I inflate them to the maximum, and then sit wrapped up in gazing at their luxuriant sheen until they broke.

There I found some faint actualization of my remembered hasheesh-sky, and where the actual failed there did the ideal, thus stimulated, come in to complete the vision. Had time allowed me, I could have consumed hours in watching the sliding, the rich intermingling, the changes by origination, and the changes by reaction of those matchless hues, or hues at least so matchless in the real world that to find their parallel we must leave the glories of a waking life, and go floating through the firmament of some iridescent dream. Verily, he who would be meet for the participation in any joys must robe himself in humility and become as a little child.

There was one other way in which I measurably reproduced the past for my innocent satisfaction. Had I permitted, at certain seasons, any foreign eye to invade the sanctity of my room, it would have fallen, possibly with some surprise, upon a singular arrangement of the books upon my table into a form somewhat resembling those houses which children build at their play. Yet the stranger would have very little suspected a clew to the mystery in the fact that I had thus been embodying to myself the ideal of the ancient cavern or the resplendent temple in which many a day ago I had exulted through a whole evening, while the rocks echoed with strange music, or oracular voices spoke to me out of the inner shrine. Had he asked me the secret, he had probably not been much the wiser for my answer.

There is still another method, and by far the most efficient of all, by which I gratified the visionary propensity without returning to the old indulgence. I had been advised by the counselor to whose article I originally owed my emancipation, whenever the fascination of the drug came upon me with peculiar power, to evade it by re-enacting some former vision upon paper. A truly wise and well-considered counsel did I find this, and one which, whenever the possibility existed from any gap in my daily occupation, I followed scrupulously. As would have resulted from once more superinducing the hasheesh delirium, my visions, marshaled out of memory, marched past beneath varying banners; some of them banded under hell-black flags, and others carrying the colors of a rainbow of the seventh heaven.

From this reproduction of the past in the order in which it had occurred, I gained a double benefit, the pleasure of appeasing the fascination without increasing it, and the salutary review of abominable horrors without any more than the echo of a pang. In this way some portion of the present narrative was sketched at first, but of necessity a very small one, since the pressure of business made my abode, even in the most innoxious dream-land, that only of a wayfaring man who turneth aside but for a night.

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