previous | The Poem of Hashish | next


C H A P T E R  IV  -   T H E  M A N - G O D

I T  I S  time to leave on one side all this jugglery, these big marionettes, born of the smoke of childish brains. Have we not to speak of more serious things -- of modifications of our human opinions, and, in a word, of the "morale" of hashish? Up to the present I have only made an abridged monograph on the intoxication; I have confined myself to accentuating its principal characteristics. But what is more important, I think, for the spiritually minded man, is to make acquaintance with the action of the poison upon the spiritual part of man; that is to say, the enlargement, the deformation, and the exaggeration of his habitual sentiments and his moral perception, which present then, in an exceptional atmosphere, a true phenomenon of refraction.

T H E  M A N  who, after abandoning himself for a long time to opium or to hashish, has been able, weak as he has become by the habit of bondage, to find the energy necessary to shake off the chain, appears to me like an escaped prisoner. He inspires me with more admiration than does that prudent man who has never fallen, having always been careful to avoid the temptation. The English, in speaking of opium-eaters, often employ terms which can only appear excessive to those innocent persons who do not understand the horrors of this downfall -- "enchained, fettered, enslaved." Chains, in fact, compared to which all others -- chains of duty, chains of lawless love -- are nothing but webs of gauze and spider tissues. Horrible marriage of man with himself! "I had become a bounden slave in the trammels of opium, and my labours and my orders had taken a colouring from my dreams," says the husband of Ligeia. But in how many marvellous passages does Edgar Poe, this incomparable poet, this never-refuted philosopher, whom one must always quote in speaking of the mysterious maladies of the soul, describe the dark and clinging splendours of opium! The lover of the shining Berenice, Egoeus, the metaphysician, speaks of an alteration of his faculties which compels him to give an abnormal and monstrous value to the simplest phenomenon.

"T O  M U S E  for long unwearied hours, with my attention riveted to some frivolous device on the margin or in the typography of a book; to become absorbed, for the better part of a summer's day, in a quaint shadow falling aslant upon the tapestry or upon the floor; to lose myself, for an entire night, in watching the steady flame of a lamp, or the embers of a fire; to dream away whole days over the perfume of a flower; to repeat monotonously some common word, until the sound, by dint of frequent repetition, ceased to convey any idea whatever to the mind; to lose all sense of motion or physical existence, by means of absolute bodily quiescence long and obstinately persevered in: such were a few of the most common and least pernicious vagaries induced by a condition of the mental faculties, not, indeed, altogether unparalleled, but certainly bidding defiance to anything like analysis or explanation."

A N D  T H E  nervous Augustus Bedloe, who every morning before his walk swallows his dose of opium, tells us that the principal prize which he gains from this daily poisoning is to take in everything, even in the most trivial thing, an exaggerated interest.

"I N  T H E  meantime the morphine had its customary effect -- that of enduing all the external world with an intensity of interest. In the quivering of a leaf -- in the hue of a blade of grass -- in the shape of a trefoil -- in the humming of a bee -- in the gleaming of a dew-drop -- in the breathing of the wind -- in the faint odours that came from the forest -- there came a whole universe of suggestion -- a gay and motley train of rhapsodical and immethodical thought."

T H U S  expresses himself, by the mouth of his puppets, the master of the horrible, the prince of mystery. These two characteristics of opium are perfectly applicable to hashish. In the one case, as in the other, the intelligence, formerly free, becomes a slave; but the word "rapsodique," which defines so well a train of thought suggested and dictated by the exterior world and the accident of circumstance, is in truth truer and more terrible in the case of hashish. Here the reasoning power is no more than a wave, at the mercy of every current and the train of thought is infinitely more accelerated and more "rapsodique;" that is to say, clearly enough, I think, that hashish is, in its immediate effect, much more vehement than opium, much more inimical to regular life; in a word, much more upsetting. I do not know if ten years of intoxication by hashish would being diseases equal to those caused by ten years of opium regimen; I say that, for the moment, and for the morrow, hashish has more fatal results. One is a soft-spoken enchantress; the other, a raging demon.

I  W I S H  in this last part to define and to analyse the moral ravage caused by this dangerous and delicious practice; a ravage so great, a danger so profound, that those who return from the fight but lightly wounded appear to me like heroes escaped from the cave of a multiform Proteus, or like Orpheus, conquerors of Hell. You may take, if you will, this form of language for an exaggerated metaphor, but for my part I will affirm that these exciting poisons seem to me not only one of the most terrible and the most sure means which the Spirit of Darkness uses to enlist and enslave wretched humanity, but even one of the most perfect of his avatars.

T H I S  T I M E,  to shorten my task and make my analysis the clearer, instead of collecting scattered anecdotes I will dress a single puppet in a mass of observation. I must, then, invent a soul to suit my purpose. In his "Confessions" De Quincey rightly states that opium, instead of sending man to sleep, excites him; but only excites him in his natural path, and that therefore to judge of the marvels of opium it would be ridiculous to try it upon a seller of oxen, for such an one will dream of nothing but cattle and grass. Now I am not going to describe the lumbering fancies of a hashish-intoxicated stockbreeder. Who would read them with pleasure, or consent to read them at all? To idealise my subject I must concentrate all its rays into a single circle and polarise them; and the tragic circle where I will gather them together will be, as I have said, a man after my own heart; something analogous to what the eighteenth century called the "homme sensible," to what the romantic school named the "homme incompris," and to what family folk and the mass of "bourgeoisie" generally brand with the epithet "original." A constitution half nervous, half bilious, is the most favourable to the evolutions of an intoxication of this kind. Let us add a cultivated mind, exercised in the study of form and colour, a tender heart, wearied by misfortune, but still ready to be made young again; we will go, if you please, so far as to admit past errors, and, as a natural result of these in an easily excitable nature, if not positive remorse, at least regret for time profaned and ill-spent. A taste for metaphysics, an acquaintance with the different hypotheses of philosophy of human destiny, will certainly not be useless conditions; and, further, that love of virtue, of abstract virtue, stoical or mystic, which is set forth in all the books upon which modern childishness feeds as the highest summit to which a chosen soul may attain. If one adds to all that a great refinement of sense -- and if I omitted it it was because I thought it supererogatory -- I think that I have gathered together the general elements which are most common in the modern "homme sensible" of what one might call the lowest common measure of originality. Let us see now what will become of this individuality pushed to its extreme by hashish. Let us follow this progress of the human imagination up to its last and most splendid serai; up to the point of the belief of the individual in his own divinity.

I F  Y O U  are one of these souls your innate love of form and colour will find from the beginning an immense banquet in the first development of your intoxication. Colours wil take an unaccustomed energy and smite themselves within your brain with the intensity of triumph. Delicate, mediocre, or even bad as they may be, the paintings upon the ceilings will clothe themselves with a tremendous life. The coarsest papers which cover the walls of inns will open out like magnificent dioramas. Nymphs with dazzling flesh will look at you with great eyes deeper and more limpid than are the sky and sea. Characters of antiquity, draped in their priestly or soldierly costumes, will, by a single glance, exchange with you most solemn confidences. The snakiness of the lines is a definitely intelligible language where you read the sorrowing and the passion of their souls. Nevertheless a mysterious but only temporary state of the mind develops itself; the profoundness of life, hedged by its multiple problems, reveals itself entirely in the sight, however natural and trivial it may be, that one has under one's eyes; the first-come object becomes a speaking symbol. Fourier and Swedenborg, one with his analogies, the other with his correspondences, have incarnated themselves in all things vegetable and animal which fall under your glance, and instead of touching by voice they indoctrinate you by form and colour. The understanding of the allegory takes within you proportions unknown to yourself. We shall note in passing that allegory, that so spiritual type of art, which the clumsiness of its painters has accustomed us to despise, but which is really one of the most primitive and natural forms of poetry, regains its divine right in the intelligence which is enlightened by intoxication. Then the hashish spreads itself over all life; as it were, the magic varnish. It colours it with solemn hues and lights up all its profundity; jagged landscapes, fugitive horizons, perspectives of towns whitened by the corpse-like lividity of storm or illumined by the gathered ardours of the sunset; abysses of space, allegorical of the abyss of time; the dance, the gesture or the speech of the actors, should you be in a theatre; the first-come phrase if your eyes fall upon a book; in a word, all things; the universality of beings stands up before you with a new glory unsuspected until then. The grammar, the dry grammar itself, becomes something like a book of "barbarous names of evocation." The words rise up again, clothed with flesh and bone; the noun, in its solid majesty; the adjective's transparent robe which clothes and colours it with a shining web; and the verb, archangel of motion which sets swinging the phrase. Music, that other language dear to the idle or the profound souls who seek repose by varying their work, speaks to you of yourself, and recites to you the poem of your life; it incarnates in you, and you swoon away in it. It speaks your passion, not only in a vague, ill-defined manner, as it does in your careless evenings at the opera, but in a substantial and positive manner, each movement of the rhythm marking a movement understood of your soul, each note transforming itself into Word, and the whole poem entering into your brain like a dictionary endowed with life.

I T  M U S T  not be supposed that all these phenomena fall over each other pell-mell in the spirit, with a clamorous accent of reality and the disorder of exterior life; the interior eye transforms all, and gives to all the complement of beauty which it lacks, so that it may be truly worthy to give pleasure. It is also to this essentially voluptuous and sensual phase that one must refer the love of limpid water, running or stagnant, which develops itself so astonishingly in the brain-drunkenness of some artists. The mirror has become a pretext for this reverie, which resembles a spiritual thirst joined to the physical thirst which dries the throat, and of which I have spoken above. The flowing waters, the sportive waters; the musical waterfalls; the blue vastness of the sea; all roll, sing, leap with a charm beyond words. The water opens its arms to you like a true enchantress; and though I do not much believe in the maniacal frenzies caused by hashish, I should not like to assert that the contemplation of some limpid gulf would be altogether without danger for a soul in love with space and crystal, and that the old fable of Undine might not become a tragic reality for the enthusiast.

I  T H I N K  I have spoken enough of the gigantic growth of space and time; two ideas always connected, always woven together, but which at such a time the spirit faces without sadness and without fear. It looks with a certain melancholy delight across deep years, and boldly dives into infinite perspectives. You have thoroughly well understood, I suppose, that this abnormal and tyrannical growth may equally apply to all sentiments and to all ideas. Thus, I have given, I think, a sufficiently fair sample of benevolence. The same is true of love. The idea of beauty must naturally take possession of an enormous space in a spiritual temperament such as I have invented. Harmony, balance of line, fine cadence in movement, appear to the dreamer as necessities, as duties, not only for all beings of creation, but for himself, the dreamer, who finds himself at this period of the crisis endowed with a marvellous aptitude for understanding the immortal and universal rhythm. And if our fanatic lacks personal beauty, do not think he suffers long from the avowal to which he is obliged, or that he regards himself as a discordant note in the world of harmony and beauty improvised by his imagination. The sophisms of hashish are numerous and admirable, tending as a rule to optimism, and one of the principal and the most efficacious is that which transforms desire into realisation. It is the same, doubtless, in many cases of ordinary life; but here with how much more ardour and subtlety! Otherwise, how could a being so well endowed to understand harmony, a sort of priest of the beautiful, how could he make an exception to, and a blot upon, his own theory? Moral beauty and its power, gracefulness and its seduction, eloquence and its achievements, all these ideas soon present themselves to correct that thoughtless ugliness; then they come as consolers, and at last as the most perfect courtiers, sycophants of an imaginary sceptre.

C O N C E R N I N G  love, I have heard many persons feel a school-boy curiosity, seeking to gather information from those to whom the use of hashish was familiar, what might not be this intoxication of love, already so powerful in its natural state, when it is enclosed in the other intoxication; a sun within a sun. Such is the question which will occur to that class of minds which I will call intellectual gapers. To reply to a shameful sub-meaning of this part of the question which cannot be openly discussed, I will refer the reader to Pliny, who speaks somewhere of the properties of hemp in such a way as to dissipate any illusions on this subject. One knows, besides, that loss of tone is the most ordinary result of the abuse which men make of their nerves, and of the substances which excite them. Now, as we are not here considering effective power, but motion or susceptibility, I will simply ask the reader to consider that the imagination of a sensitive man intoxicated with hashish is raised to a prodigious degree, as little easy to determine as would be the utmost force possible to the wind in a hurricane, and his senses are subtilised to a point almost equally difficult to define. It is then reasonable to believe that a light caress, the most innocent imaginable, a handshake, for example, may possess a centuple value by the actual state of the soul and of the senses, and may perhaps conduct them, and that very rapidly, to that syncope which is considered by vulgar mortals as the "summum" of happiness; but it is quite indubitable that hashish awakes in an imagination accustomed to occupy itself with the affections tender remembrances to which pain and unhappiness give even a new lustre. It is no less certain that in these agitations of the mind there is a strong ingredient of sensuality; and, moreover, it may usefully be remarked -- and this will suffice to establish upon this ground the immorality of hashish -- that a sect of Ishmaelites (it is from the Ishmaelites that the Assassins are sprung) allowed its adoration to stray far beyond the Lingam-Yoni; that is to say, to the absolute worship of the Lingam, exclusive of the feminine half of the symbol. There would be nothing unnatural, every man being the symbolic representation of history, in seeing an obscene heresy, a monstrous religion, arise in a mind which has cowardly given itself up to the mercy of a hellish drug and which smiles at the degradation of its own faculties.

S I N C E  we have seen manifest itself in hashish intoxication a strange goodwill toward men, applied even to strangers, a species of philanthropy made rather of pity than of love (it is here that the first germ of the Satanic spirit which is to develop later in so extraordinary a manner shows itself), but which goes so far as to fear giving pain to any one, one may guess what may happen to the localised sentimentality applied to a beloved person who plays, or has played, an important part in the moral life of the reveller. Worship, adoration, prayer, dreams of happiness, dart forth and spring up with the ambitious energy and brilliance of a rocket. Like the powder and colouring-matter of the firework, they dazzle and vanish in the darkness. There is no sort of sentimental combination to which the subtle love of a hashish-slave may not lend itself. The desire to protect, a sentiment of ardent and devoted paternity, may mingle themselves with a guilty sensuality which hashish will always know how to excuse and to absolve. It goes further still. I suppose that, past errors having left bitter traces in the soul, a husband or a lover will contemplate with sadness in his normal state a past over-clouded with storm; these bitter fruits may, under hashish, change to sweet fruits. The need of pardon makes the imagination more clever and more supplicatory, and remorse itself, in this devilish drama, which only expresses itself by a long monologue, may act as an incitement and powerfully rekindle the heart's enthusiasm. Yes, remorse. Was I wrong in saying that hashish appeared to a truly philosophical mind as a perfectly Satanic instrument? Remorse, singular ingredient of pleasure, is soon drowned in the delicious contemplation of remorse; in a kind of voluptuous analysis; and this analysis is so rapid that man, this natural devil, to speak as do the followers of Swedenborg, does not see how involuntary it is, and how, from moment to moment, he approaches the perfection of Satan. He admires his remorse, and glorifies himself, even while he is on the way to lose his freedom.

T H E R E,  then, is my imaginary man, the mind that I have chosen, arrived at that degree of joy and peace where he is compelled to admire himself. Every contradiction wipes itself out; all philosophical problems become clear, or at least appear so; everything is material for pleasure; the plentitude of life which he enjoys inspires him with an unmeasured pride; a voice speaks in him (alas, it is his own!) which says to him: "Thou hast now the right to consider thyself as superior to all men. None knoweth thee, none can understand all that thou thinkest, all that thou feelest; they would, indeed, be incapable of appreciating the passionate love which they inspire in thee. Thou art a king unrecognised by the passers-by; a king who lives, yet none knows that he is king but himself. But what matter to thee? Hast thou not sovereign contempt, which makes the soul so kind?"

W E  M A Y  suppose, however, that from one time to another some biting memory strikes through and corrupts this happiness. A suggestion due to the exterior world may revive a past disagreeable to contemplate. How many foolish or vile actions fill the past! -- actions indeed unworthy of this king of thought, and whose escutcheon they soil? Believe that the hashish-man will bravely confront these reproachful phantoms, and even that he will know how to draw from these hideous memories new elements of pleasure and of pride!

S U C H  W I L L   be the evolution of his reasoning. The first sensation of pain being over, he will curiously analyse this action or this sentiment whose memory has troubled his existing glory; the motive which made him act thus; the circumstances by which he was surrounded; and if he does not find in these circumstances sufficient reasons, if not to absolve, at least to extenuate his guilt, do not imagine that he admits defeat. I am present at his reasoning, as at the play of a mechanism seen under a transparent glass. "This ridiculous, cowardly, or vile action, whose memory disturbed me for a moment, is in complete contradiction with my true and real nature, and the very energy with which I condemn it, the inquisitorial care with which I analyse and judge it, prove my lofty and divine aptitude for virtue. How many men could be found in the world of men clever enough to judge themselves; stern enough to condemn themselves?" And not only does he condemn himself, but he glorifies himself; the horrible memory thus absorbed in the contemplation of ideal virtue, ideal charity, ideal genius, he abandons himself frankly to his triumphant spiritual orgy. We have seen that, counterfeiting sacrilegiously the sacrament of penitence, at one and the same time penitent and confessor, he has given himself an easy absolution; or, worse yet, that he has drawn from his contemplation new food for his pride. Now, from the contemplation of his dreams and his schemes of virtue he believes finally in his practical aptitude for virtue; the amorous energy with which he impresses this phantom of virtue seems to him a sufficient and peremptory proof that he possesses the virile energy necessary for the fulfilment of his ideal. He confounds completely dream with action, and his imagination, growing warmer and warmer in face of the enchanting spectacle of his own nature corrected and idealised, substituting this fascinating image of himself for his real personality, so poor in will, so rich in vanity, he ends by declaring his apotheosis in these clear and simple terms, which contain for him a whole world of abominable pleasures: "I am the most virtuous of all men." Does not that remind you a little of Jean-Jacques, who, he also having confessed to the Universe, not without a certain pleasure, dared to break out into the same cry of triumph (or at least the difference is small enough) with the same sincerity and the same conviction? The enthusiasm with which he admired virtue, the nervous emotion which filled his eyes with tears at the sight of a fine action or at the thought of all the fine actions which he would have wished to accomplish, were sufficient to give him a superlative idea of his moral worth. Jean-Jacques had intoxicated himself without the aid of hashish.

S H A L L  I pursue yet further the analysis of this victorious monomania? Shall I explain how, under the dominion of the poison, my man soon makes himself centre of the Universe? how he becomes the living and extravagant expression of the proverb which says that passion refers everything to itself? He believes in his virtue and in his genius; can you not guess the end? All the surrounding objects are so many suggestions which stir in him a world of thought, all more coloured, more living, more subtle than ever, clothed in a magic glamour. "These mighty cities," says he to himself, "where the superb buildings tower one above the other; these beautiful ships balanced by the waters of the roadstead in homesick idleness, that seem to translate our thought 'When shall we set sail for happiness?; these museums full of lovely shapes and intoxicating colours; these libraries where are accumulated the works of science and the dreams of poetry; this concourse of instruments whose music is one; these enchantress women, made yet more charming by the science of adornment and coquetry: all these things have been created for me, for me, for me! For me humanity has toiled; has been martyred, crucified, to serve for pasture, for pabulum to my implacable appetite for emotion, knowledge, and beauty."

I  L E A P  to the end, I cut the story short. No one will be surprised that a thought final and supreme jets from the brain of the dreamer: "I am become God."

B U T  A  savage and burning cry darts from his breast with such an energy, such a power of production, that if the will and the belief of a drunken man possessed effective power this cry would overthrow the angels scattered in the quarters of the heaven: "I am a god."

B U T  S O O N  this hurricane of pride transforms itself into a weather of calm, silent, reposeful beatitude, and the universality of beings presents itself tinted and illumined by a flaming dawn. If by chance a vague memory slips into the soul of this deplorable thrice-happy one -- "Might there not be another God?" -- believe that he will stand upright before Him; that he will dispute His will, and confront Him without fear.

W H O  W A S  the French philosopher that, mocking modern German doctrines, said: "I am a god who has dined ill"? This irony would not bite into a spirit uplifted by hashish; he would reply tranquilly: "Maybe I have dined ill; but I am a god."

- Charles Baudelaire


previous | The Poem of Hashish | next

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.