The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow

Chapter XXV. Cave Succedanea.

I am not aware of the existence of any in this part of the world who are now in the habit of using hasheesh. Those persons to whom, at their request, I formerly administered it, for experiment’s sake, were satisfied with the one trial, upon my assuring them that any prolonged indulgence would infallibly lead to horrors.

Yet, since it is not at all impossible that these pages may meet the eye of those who, unknown to me, are incipient hasheesh-eaters, or who, having tested to the full the powers of the drug, now find its influence a slavery, yet are ignorant of the proper means of emancipation, I will not let this opportunity pass for suggesting, through a somewhat further narrative of my own case, a counsel which may chance to be salutary.

The hasheesh-eater needs particularly to resist the temptation of retreating, in the trials of his slow disenthrallment, to some other stimulus, such as liquors or opium. Against such a retreat I was warned by the same adviser whose article in the Magazine had been my prime motor to escape.

As in an early part of this narrative it has been mentioned, strong experimental tendencies had led me, long before the first acquaintance with hasheesh, to investigate the effect of all narcotics and stimulants, not so much with a view to pleasure as to the discovery of new phases of mental life. Among these researches had been opium. This drug never affected me very powerfully, not in one instance producing any thing like hallucination, but operating principally through a quiet which no external circumstances could disturb — slightly tinged, when my eyes were shut, with pleasing images of scenery. Its mild effect was probably owing to some resistant peculiarity of constitution, since I remember having once taken a dose, which I afterward learned, upon good authority, to have been sufficient to kill three healthy men, without any remarkable phenomena ensuing. Several considerations operated with me to prevent my making opium an habitual indulgence, besides this fact of its moderate potency. This, of itself, might not have been sufficient, since the capability which I acquired in its use of sustaining the most prolonged and severe fatigue was in my case unexampled.

In the first place, I was secured from enslavement by the terrors of De Quincey’s suffering. I felt assured that he had not unmasked the half of it, since his exquisite sense of the refined and the appropriate in all communion with the public, showing itself in a thousand places throughout his works, had evidently withheld him, in his confessions, from giving to the painful intaglio that deep stroke of the graver which he thought that good taste would not permit, even under sanction of truth.

Again, a consideration of more narrow prejudice withheld me — the impossibility, if I should use opium, of concealing the fact from my associates, some of whom were physicians, and hardly any of them so unobserving as not to be attracted curiously to the peculiarities of the opium eye, complexion, and manner.

At this time the reputation of being an opium-eater was one very little desirable in the community which included me, had its further abominable consequences been recklessly put aside. It was impossible for any one known to have used the drug to make any intellectual effort whatever, speech, published article, or brilliant conversation, without being hailed satirically as Coleridge le petit, or De Quincey in the second edition. That this was not altogether a morbid condition of public sentiment in the microcosm where I dwelt, may be inferred from a fact which, occurring a few months before I entered it, had no doubt acted to tinge general opinion.

A certain person, in reading “The Confessions,” had gathered from them (it would be hard to say how, since their author every where expresses the opium state as one whose serenity is repulsive to all action for the time being) that he should be able to excel De Quincey upon his own field if he wrote while at the height of the effect. Setting apart one evening for the English opium-eater’s literary discomfiture, he drank his laudanum, and locked himself into his room alone with the awful presence of a quire of foolscap. On the following morning, his friends, knocking at the door repeatedly, received no answer, and, fearful of some accident, broke in the lock. Lo! our De Quincey in petto was seated in his chair, with pen in hand, and his forehead resting on a blank mass of paper, in all the abandon of innocent repose!

After the final abandonment of hasheesh, however, at times, when distress had reduced me to the willingness to test any relief save that of return, I once or twice tried the effect of opium. It was invariably bad, not operating, as a renewal of the hasheesh indulgence would have done, to lift me into the former plane of pleasurable activity and interest in things about me, but singularly combining with whatever of the hasheesh force might be remaining in my system to cover me once more with the pall which made the worst parts of the old life so painful. Insane faces glared at me; dire voices of prophecy spoke to me even when wide awake; I was filled with foreboding of some impending wrathful visitation, and learned to my sorrow that I was only exchanging one bitter cup for another. As the opium-influence never approximated the authority of a fascination over me, I willingly and finally abjured it as an impossible relief.

It was some time after this that my constitution, broken down by hard work, which, corporeally, to use an intensely idiomatic term, was much more “cruel on me” than hasheesh had been at its most nerve-racking stages, demanded not only rest, but something immediately tonic. The former was easily attained by closing my connection with the educational “Knight of the Rueful Countenance” — a connection which all the while had not been chemical, like that of an acid with a base, but mechanical, like that of a force with a lever. The latter (the tonic) was to be found ultimately in exercise; but, for the sake of more instantaneous relief from debility, at the advice of a physician, I had recourse to spirits. A very short trial of their effect having convinced me that their stimulus was as dangerous as opium, I abandoned this also as a means of relief. The experiment made with it renewed, sometimes for two days together, the clarity, though not the exquisite beauty of the hasheesh visionary state, and repeated, in due succession, its ideal sufferings of night and daylight.

Thus taught that every possible stimulus of any power must invariably act as auxiliary to the partially routed forces of my foe, I called in no more treacherous helps from without, but went single-handed to the fight, armed only with patience and friendly sympathies.

Since learning this lesson, the progress into recovery has been by slow degrees, yet a progress after all. Ever and anon a return of the former suffering has made it necessary to spend half the night in walking; but the sense that every step forward was also a step, however infinitesimal, upward, is a greater relief than the possibility of once more journeying through the rosiest realms of the former hasheesh happiness. At least for the present — as a proviso to the proposition let this be added — for he who has once looked upon great glories can not but hope to behold them again, when nature is freed from all the grossness which makes them painful in the present state, and they shall come to him, not through walls which they must melt to make a passage-way, but like the sunlight, which, falling joyously and harmlessly, bathes the forehead of the little child asleep.

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