The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow


It is the author of “The Golden Dagon,” one of our most original and interesting American books of travel, who gives to Boodh, as the deity of eternal absorption, the most appropriate title with which he has ever, to my knowledge, been glorified. He calls him “The Stagnant Calm.” As I read it, such peculiar relevancy did this title seem to hold to one part of my own experience, that, but for occasional twinges of remaining humanity, remembered as having afflicted me about that time, I should have yielded to the conviction that I had myself then been an incarnation of Boodh. Hitherto my narrative has been of spell and counter-spell; of ecstasies bought on this side of Acheron, where the market was low, and paid for on the other side, where the rate of exchange is diabolic; of the checkered days of indulgence, and the one starless night of abandonment. It was during this latter period that the Boodhist state occurred. For many a month before I had been bathed in the springs of a fiery activity. I had lived in ether. Every sense had been worked at its highest power, the sense of the body, and the unspeakably more energetic sense of the imagination.

Now the exalting agency was removed. I have said how I suffered, affirmatively, from its lack in preternatural nightmares, in disgust at what seemed to me the lifeless forms of the outer world, in countless modes of pain and weariness, whose detail would be only less disagreeable to my reader than originally grievous to me. Far be it from me to recount these things again; indeed, for the past I have sometimes feared that I owed an apology, and might be expected to say, with him who had reduced courtliness to a science, “Pardon me, gentlemen, that I am so long in dying.”

But, negatively, as the months of trial went on, I came into a state which, had it been pain, would have made me fear less for myself. Gradually, after having for a long time known what it was to say, “Now I am perfectly wretched,” occurred seasons whose intervals constantly lessened when I said, “Now I am totally null.” It was not happiness any more than the rolling of a ball is sustained motion; like it, I went on mechanically by the not utterly extinct momentum of a removed force.

This force, too, was an hourly retarded one. There was constantly less and less hope, less volition, less interest, and the only offset to this negation was the opposite negation of disagreeable emotions. I did not despair, because there seemed nothing to despair of.

What should I do? Often (for this state of non-entity was only occasional as yet) I was visited by stern self-reprovings, admonitions to bestir myself spiritually as well as mechanically, threatenings of a final absorption into utter listlessness unless I resorted to some immediate means for quickening the pulses of thought and action.

Good people told me to sleep; Nature was reading me a lesson upon the curative properties of quiet. Good people, I could not sleep. I should never wake up again. Moreover, I attended another church of Nature’s, where the lesson for the day was, “He that will not work, neither let him eat;” and the margin was illuminated, not with cherubs like Raphael’s, who have nothing to do except to rest their chins upon their palms, but with certain others, sitting in rows upon a bench, diversifying their hopeless stare at the topmost pippins of the tree of knowledge by the furtive conveyance, from pocket to pocket, of a baser variety of apple, smuggled into school for the stay and consolation of the outer man which perisheth with the using.

This being the exact state of things until I left behind me, with my fulfilled responsibilities, that portentous and uncomfortable ghost, in whom my previous relations had forced me to behold Duty most eccentrically making herself incarnate, there were strong reasons for activity, besides its necessity as an energy of existence. In dissolving my connection with the portent, the latter reason still remained, and the question was how to satisfy it.

There was no further possibility of seeking activity in a research through supernatural passages. Stimulus had been abjured; the accumulation of mental facts, to serve as food for wonder, under its influence, was finished. Reason, Right, Well, all asserted this. There remained for me but one expedient.

This was to take the facts already secured, and discover, if possible, their meaning, their relations to each other; to crystallize them around the axis of some hypothesis, and determine what they taught of the operations of their source, the mind.

It was in this way that I kept up the vital heat of thought for months, and battled against an all-benumbing lethargy. The results of this practice I now go on to give, without any pretension to group them into a system; not only lack of time, but of a sufficiently broad basis of experiment having prevented that. If I shall seem to have fixed the comparative positions of even a few outposts of a strange and rarely-visited realm, I shall think myself happy. To travel farther into the interior, even for the sake of science, would have required a heroism wearing the guise, as looked at in different directions, of the martyr or the suicide. Of the first of these titles I did not hold myself worthy, nor of the last desirous.

How far hasheesh throws light upon the most interior of the mental arcana is a question which will be dogmatically decided in two diametrically opposite ways. The man who believes in nothing which does not, in some way, become tangent to his bodily organs will instinctively withdraw himself into the fortress of what he supposes to be antique common sense, and cry “madman!” from within. He will reject all of experience under stimulus, and the facts which it has professedly evolved as truth, with the final and unanswerable verdict of insanity.

There is another class of men which has its type in him who, while acknowledging the corporeal senses as very important in the present nutriment and muniment of our being, is convinced that they give him appearances alone; not things as they are in their essence and their law, classified harmoniously with reference to their source, but only as they affect him through the different adits of the body. This man will be prone to believe that Mind, in its prerogative of the only self-conscious being in the universe, has the right and the capacity to turn inward to itself for an answer to the puzzling enigmas of the world. Mind, infinite Mind, to be sure, created them and must have known their law; as an inference, Mind, though finite, may still interrogate its own phenomena for the reasons of outer existences which, however grand, are far less majestic than itself, and may obtain a clew proportionally perfect.

Arguing thus, the man, albeit a visionary, will recognize the possibility of discovering from mind, in some of its extraordinarily awakened states, a truth, or a collection of truths, which do not become manifest in his every-day condition. From this man, a few such pages as these may hope for a candid reading, if not for total assent.

Nor am I anxious to repel the charge of insanity which may be brought against the facts evolved by a hasheesh delirium. Indeed, the exaltation, in this narrative, has been repeatedly called an insanity. I only wish to be understood as believing that into some subjects the insane man can look farther than the sane. Let not idiocy here be confounded with insanity. The former is the extinction of all faculties; the latter, the extraordinary development of one faculty or a group of faculties, while the others lie comparatively dormant.

In the same way, therefore, that the characteristics of the plant are sought, not in the microscopic filaments and tissues of the germ (although they truly exist there), but in the expanded individual of the species, we may, more legitimately and with much better hope of success, search out the law of a given mental organ in its unusually than its usually developed state.

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