Hachisch Eating

Victorian social life

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 We were five comrades, seated on a circular divan around a richly served table. A pile of cushions was at the disposal of each, a circumstance which, joined to the unusual width of the divan, tended to favour at need a complete horizontal position. 

The windows of the apartment, which was situated in the second storey of the Boulevard, were framed by the delicate verdure of acacias, while the whole front of the opposite house seemed lighted up by the reflection of the sun, which fell full on to these panes of glass. The blue of heaven, washed by a hasty shower which had fallen in the night, was almost as pure as that of an Italian sky. In short, one has rarely seen so beautiful a morning. 

In each corner of the room where we were seated blossomed, in Japanese vases, enormous clusters of flowers; one was composed entirely of lilacs, a second of wallflowers, a third of hyacinths, and a fourth of hawthorn—that essential basis of the odour which accompanies the suave renewal of th6 vitality of the year. 

Thanks to the emanations from these perfumes of Jouvence, the spring seemed to filter and permeate through all our pores. One felt proud and happy to be of this world; one appreciated the bounty of the God who created us, with all our accessories, and, with one’s heart teeming with gratitude, one felt a sort of confused need to give a penny to a beggar, and even a vague desire to become virtuous. 

The breakfast, which had been the means of bringing us together, was not, as our, readers have foreseen, an ordinary breakfast. Scarcely were we seated when two lackeys entered the room, one carrying a quaintly chased silver coffer, which he placed on the table before our host and his master, the celebrated Dr. M——; the other bore a tray on which were placed tiny cups of Turkish coffee, in their outer cups of filigree silver. 

The doctor drew the coffer towards him and gravely opened it. He took therefrom several small boxes of rock crystal, one of which was half full of a greenish sort of compound. 

“Here,” said he, “we have the substance in question in all its possible forms—in powder for the Nargbily smoker, in an oily extract, in a spirituous one, and even cleverly disguised in sweets and conserves. It is under the latter cloak that I recommend it to you as being more pleasant to swallow; its taste is sufficiently agreeable when prepared with pistachio nuts, like that which I procured yesterday. Here,” he said, producing a second box, “is some which came from Alexandria twelve years ago; it has lost nothing of its strength, but has become somewhat rancid. As to the pure extract,” said he, opening another box which held a blackish-green substance, “a pill of the usual size would be a sufficient dose.” 

Coffee—which it is usual to drink at the same time—tends to ameliorate and develop the effects of the drug, which effects would be uncertain, and might be null, if the hachisch were not taken on an empty stomach. 

“And is it long before one is under its influence?” inquired a guest. 

“Ordinarily in about three-quarters of an hour, but I have seen some rare instances where it has only acted on the following day, and then it burst forth with extreme violence.” 

“Is the effect always agreeable, doctor?”

“On the contrary, it is often most disagreeable, but is always excessively curious. At other times,” continued the doctor, “it produces exquisite enjoyment—it is either paradise, or the infernal regions. In short, it is with hachisch as with play, one gains often, but one may lose.” 

“But how do you account for these opposite effects from the same drug?” 

“Oh, as to that, it may depend on divers circumstances which it is difficult to determine—the dose, the temperament of the individual, the electricity of the atmosphere, the phase of the moon. For instance, when the moon is at her apogee, I feel certain that the effect produces a greater shock.” 

“You believe then in the influence of this planet?” 

“Most assuredly. Do you wish for one proof of its action? If you plant garlic when the moon is in the full, the root will be round like an onion, instead of its being composed, as it usually is, of several cloves. Any gardener will tell you this. As to the action of the moon on individuals, that is undeniable.”

“Does one run no risk, or danger, by using this drug?”

“By some learned men it is asserted to be quite innoxious, but it would be difficult for me to share their conviction, for I think that a too frequent use of it would induce cerebral congestion, and certainly the pitiable condition of those individuals who are given up to this passion, seems to me sufficiently instructive. But I believe that one may occasionally use it without any marked ill effect. I, who am speaking to you, have taken it close on two hundred times, and I am none the worse for it. Even if disagreeable experiences do follow, they are, I repeat, so very curious that he who has not exposed himself to them, once at least, can scarcely say that be has lived. And now, gentlemen, if you please, let me offer a dose of hachisch to each of you.” 

So saying he gave to us a small teaspoonful of the conserve. 

“Doctor,” said I, “as I wish to be completely under the influence of the drug, will you please to increase the dose for me?”

“If you wish it I will do so. There, you can take that quantity with impunity, I often give double such a dose to my patients.” 

“To your patients?” 

“Without doubt, hachisch is often given with marked success in cases of mental alienation; it is useful in nervous affections, and is a sovereign remedy for epilepsy.” 

Here the servants brought in the different dishes, and as our host has the reputation of being a gourmet, it is needless to say that the breakfast was exquisite. We were also surrounded with agreeable objects to look upon, so that our impressions might be influenced by pleasant pictures. 


Each and all did honour to the repast, and, during quite a good half-hour, I felt nothing in any way abnormal, but when the meal was drawing to its close, a subtle warmth, which came as it were in gusts to my head and chest, seemed to permeate my body with a singular emotion. Later on the conversation around me reached my understanding charged with droll significance. The noise of a fork tapped against a glass struck my ear as a most harmonious vibration. The faces of my companions were transformed. The particular animal type—which, according to Lavater, is the basis of every human countenance-appeared to me strikingly clear. My right-hand neighbour became an eagle; he on my left grew into an owl, with full projecting eyes; immediately in front of me the man was a lion; while the doctor himself was metamorphosed into a fox. 

But the most extraordinary circumstance was, that I read, or seemed to read, their thoughts, and penetrate the depth of their intelligence, as easily as one deciphers a page printed in large type. Like an experienced phrenologist, I could indicate accurately the force and quality of their endowments, and the nature of their sentiments; in this analysis I discovered affinities and contrasts which would have escaped one in a normal state. 

Objects around me seemed, little by little, to clothe themselves in fantastic garb, the arabesques on the walls revealed themselves to me in rich rhymes of attractive poesy—sometimes melancholy, but more generally rising to an exaggerated lyrism, or to transcendent buffoonery. 

The porcelain vases, the bottles, the glasses sparkling on the table, all took the most ludicrous forms. At the same time I felt creeping all around the region of my heart a tickling pressure, to squeeze out, as it were, with gentle force, a laugh which burst forth with noisy violence. 

My neighbours, too, seemed subjected to an identical influence, for I saw their faces unfold like peonies—victims of boisterous hilarity, holding their sides and rolling about from right to left, their countenances swollen like Titans! 

My voice seemed to have gained considerable strength, for when I spoke it was as if it were a discharge of cannon, and long after I had uttered a sentence I heard in my brain the reverberation, as it were, of distant thunder. 

Thoughts seized on me with fury, and unchained and disentangled themselves by torrents in my brain, and developed a rapid Succession of geometrical combinations which appeared to be the simplest, as well as the most exact, expression of those ideas which one is obliged to render in an approximate manner by prolix words of gross moulding. I should have liked to fix on paper these fugitive figures of my visible thoughts, but the rapidity of their succession absolutely excluded me from this complicated operation. My head became as it were the burning source of fireworks, throwing up bouquets of stars, in dazzling forms, but of perfect design, of a light so intense and of colours so brilliant that nothing in nature had ever equalled them. 

My brain was doubtless the theatre of this prodigious spectacle, but in virtue of the particular excitement under which I laboured, this internal vision showed itself exteriorly with all the clearness of a diorama. 

I felt, in short, what those who are afflicted with sensorial maladies feel, with this difference, that my hallucinations, instead of persisting like theirs, must naturally cease after the full digestion of the drug which had produced them. My brain bubbled like a locomotive in which there is too much fire, and carried me rapidly through infinite space, where I perceived at each moment a new perspective. 

Besides all this, I lost completely the idea of time, and should have been incapable of deciding whether my hallucination was of a minute’s, or of a century’s, duration. 

The same uncertainty held good with regard to size, so that I could hardly establish the difference betwixt an egg shell and the cupola of the Pantheon.  However, as the action of hachisch is intermittent, I gradually came back to my own identity, and believing that the effect of the drug, was exhausted, I thought it time to withdraw myself, and leave to their respective dreams my companions, who were too much absorbed to trouble themselves at my departure.  But scarcely had I set foot on the pavement outside the house, than the effect of the drug, which had in a measure subsided, seized upon me again with redoubled force. 

Here words utterly fail me to express the incomprehensible agony which ran through all my being!  Sometimes I felt that my feet took root in the earth, and that I was sinking up to my neck in the soil, and that I could only draw my feet out with the greatest difficulty, each step seeming to have hundreds of pound weights attached to them. 

Then I appeared to be gifted with the lightness of a sponge, and I remember that I held firmly on to a tree fearing that I should suddenly disappear in the air with the velocity of a balloon. 

Vibrations, like shocks of electricity, ran through my body, and I was a victim to the most horrible sensations.  An iron hand seemed to have got hold of my brain, and was crushing it; I was seized with dizziness, and I shudder even now when I think how intense was my suffering. 

The horror of a man being flung from a precipice, of a martyr chained to the stake, and knowing that he would be consumed to cinders, may perhaps approach the terror which I experienced at this cruel period, and which seemed to be the length of eternity. I was in despair! I longed to fly from my proper self, and from this persecuting influence under which I was wholly powerless. 

Shortly after this I began to feel myself growing tall, so immensely tall that I towered above the horizon, and my skull was even touching the blue roof of heaven! 

It seemed as if the walls of the universe spread out around me, and that there issued therefrom strains of delicious music. This circumstance filled me with pleasure, and seemed to extinguish the anguish and terror with which I had been previously tortured. 

I persuaded myself that I was divested of a material body, and became rapidly a divinity.  He must have felt somewhat as I felt —this pagan, Caesar—when he cried from his death-bed, “My friends, I feel that I am becoming a God!”

I now began to experience a voluptuous happiness, to which no human enjoyment could be compared; I floated in a sea of pleasure, at once physical, moral, and intellectual. I bad an immensity of love in my heart which enveloped all nature, and filled me with unlimited hope. 

Under such impressions—which seemed to endure for ages—I began to feel a sense of corporeal lassitude creeping over me, and as I approached a cab-stand I threw myself into a carriage, and requested to be driven along the Champs-Elysees.

Then began for me other and new visions. A series less grandiose, but much more amusing. It seemed to me that I had entered now in full possession of an existence anterior to that of my actual life—existence which consequently had nothing fresh for me, notwithstanding its strangeness. I entered into the embodiment of my personality, as one does after the repose of sleep.

Some hours later these visions began to dissolve, and I felt an urgent necessity for food; entering a restaurant, I attacked with a voracious appetite all which was set before me, but I must not forget to add that what I ate and drank was of exquisite and unknown flavor—in comparison with which ambrosia and nectar would be but ordinary bread and sour wine.

On reaching my chambers I fell into a profound and peaceful sleep, and on the morrow nothing remained of the effects of the hachisch, save a pallid countenance, an agreeable languor, and a bitter sentiment of regret at the aspect of the reality to which I had awakened.


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