|This document is under construction. It will be updated and revised in the days to come, and will be significantly footnoted as well.|
A Brief Biography of Fitz Hugh Ludlow
by Dave Gross
His father, the Rev. Henry G. Ludlow, was a outspoken abolitionist minister at a time when anti-slavery enthusiasm was not popular, even in the urban North where he preached. Rev. Ludlow was one of the more radical and emotional of the abolitionists; one source has him "[going] so far as to appeal to all Northern negroes for support, and to defend intermarriage between whites and blacks" another says that "[i]n his pulpit ministrations he would frequently weep copiously in his appeals to his people - indeed tears were said to be an invariable accompaniment of his sermons." His position of prominence in the New York abolitionist movement made him a frequent target of the (often equally emotionally charged) opposition. One of the churches where he preached was partially demolished in 1834 in a night of anti-abolitionist rioting, and on another occasion he complains in a letter to his brother that he was "mobbed and egged... in broad day light... in the presence of approving & assenting justices of the peace and other officers of the town set to preserve the Constitutional rights of its Citizens."
Hostile crowds commonly attacked abolitionist speakers like the Rev. Henry Ludlow, Fitz Hugh's father.
Only months before his birth, Fitz Hugh Ludlow wrote, "my father, mother, and sister were driven from their house in New York by a furious mob. When they came cautiously back, their home was quiet as a fortress the day after it has been blown up. The front-parlor was full of paving-stones; the carpets were cut to pieces; the pictures, the furniture, and the chandelier lay in one common wreck; and the walls were covered with inscriptions of mingled insult and glory. Over the mantel-piece had been charcoaled 'Rascal'; over the pier-table, 'Abolitionist.'"
Stories of abolitionist heroes and martyrs were "[a]mong the earliest stories which were told me in the nursery," and as young Fitz Hugh so often saw guests at his home who had come there after having preached against slavery to hostile crowds, he wrote that even as an adult "I find it hard to rid myself of an instinctive impression that the common way of testifying disapprobation of a lecturer in a small country-town is to bombard him with obsolete eggs, carried by the audience for that purpose." His father was also a "ticket-agency on the Underground Railroad," as Fitz Hugh discovered when he was four, although, misunderstanding the term in his youth, Fitz Hugh would occasionally be seen "going down cellar and watching behind old hogsheads by the hour to see where the cars came in."
Little is known of Fitz Hugh Ludlow's earliest years. What we do know comes through the occasional reminiscence in his published works or from the few family letters preserved. A family legend, later used to explain his attraction for intoxicants, is that when Fitz Hugh was two years old he "would climb upon the breakfast table and eat Cayenne pepper from the castor!" His father, in addition to the moral lessons implicit or explicit that he imparted through his social activism and his ministry, taught his son the basis of a more standard education at home, including Latin and Greek, and had high hopes for his education. "He has learned to read almost without help and is we think a bright boy," he wrote when Fitz Hugh was five.
In the pages of The Hasheesh Eater we are introduced to the bookish young Fitz Hugh: "A feeble childhood soon exhausted its superfluous activities, and into books, ill health, and musing I settled down when I should have been playing cricket, hunting, or riding. The younger thirst for adventure was quenched by rapid degrees as I found it possible to ascend Chimborazo with Humboldt lying on a sofa, or chase harte-beests with Cumming over muffins and coffee." He was found to be very nearsighted at age twelve, and was fitted with "a large pair of barnacles" that opened him up to "four-eyes" ridicule by those around him, even though, as he explained it, it was unfair to ridicule one whose "infirmity is so compassionably great as to render his making a sight of himself to others the only alternative to his enjoying no sight of them."
While Fitz Hugh's father had obvious and enormous influence on him, his mother played a more marginal role in his life. Abigail Woolsey Wells contracted a very painful and debilitating illness which, as early as 1842 (when Fitz Hugh was five), made her husband fear (with good reason) that she would never be much better. "She coughs incessantly," he wrote, "and has a constant pain in her breast. Poor woman. She is literally worn out..." She lived until 1849, dying a few months after Fitz Hugh's twelfth birthday. At her funeral, the presiding minister said that "[f]or many years she has scarcely known what physical ease and comfort were. She labored with a body prostrated and suffering; and laid herself down to sleep in pain."
Fitz Hugh's mother may have brought out in him an obsession with the problem of mortality and the connection between the spiritual and animal in man. It was observed that "through all her life [she] had a constitutional and indescribable dread of death; not so much the fear of being dead, as of dying itself. An appalling sense of the fearful struggle which separates the soul from the body."
Fitz Hugh was probably remembering his mother's death when the eleven-year-old character of one of his short stories has her mother's impending death explained to her: "[I]n a few days your mamma will leave you, and go alone to a country where she will be quite well, and will not cough or have this hard pain of the head, that you feel so sorry for, any more. Oh how she wishes she could take you with her! By-and-by you will be with her - very soon, but not quite yet; and till then you will go and live with... your uncle, Golorum Grimm." As the name Golorum Grimm implies, this uncle wasn't the most appealing of prospective caretakers to the youngster, and we can imagine that when Fitz Hugh was sent off to live with his uncle, Samuel B. Ludlow, he was none too pleased with the situation.
His mother being incapacitated by illness during his youth, and his father being - although very concerned about Fitz Hugh's moral guidance and education - somewhat detached emotionally (he wrote early in Fitz Hugh's childhood that his son "is a sweet child and is improving every way. But he fills not up the vacancy occasioned by the departure of our blessed Mary. I can never feel as I have felt towards children. The gloss is rubbed off by that blow which withered my heart like grass and burned it up like an hearth." ), Fitz Hugh exhibited more than his share of teenaged rebellion.
His father, for the most part, blamed himself. "I mourn in bitterness of spirit that myself have miserably blended love and firmness in my management of him... I can only weep tears of blood over my unfaithfulness - not to say cruelty in his government." Letters from his uncle showed that the "waywardness" of Fitz Hugh survived the move. "What will become of him I know not," Henry Ludlow wrote to a woman he was courting. "That he will have to pass through terrible heart-breaking - bow breaking afflictions, I have little doubt - ere his proud & arrogant spirit is subdued & humbled..." Still, he said, "[f]ew understand that Boy - and early education has made him something of an Ishmael - whose 'hand was against every man and every man against him.'"
The moral lessons learned at home were certainly principles hard to maintain among his peers, especially when expressed with his father's exuberance.
Among the large crowd of young Southerners sent to [my] school, I began preaching emancipation in my pinafore. Mounted upon a window-seat in an alcove of the great play-hall, I passed recess after recess in haranguing a multitude upon the subject of Freedom, with as little success as most apostles, and with only less than their crowd of martyrdom, because, though small boys are more malicious than men, they cannot hit so hard.Experiences like these may have been what inspired Fitz Hugh in his first published work that has survived to this day, a poem published in a school literary magazine at about the same time as his father was composing those worried letters about the boy. The poem, "Truth on His Travels" has "Truth" personified and wandering the earth, trying to find some band of humans who will respect him, but being soundly rejected at every turn.
The woman Henry Ludlow was wooing, his future wife Marie Tappen, felt confident about the future, but counseled a strong hand: "I only ask my dear dear husband elect that he will maintain his ground.... They make the better children whose parents err on the side of sternness rather than on the side of indulgence." Henry warned Marie: "You little know dear what it is to have the incessant wear and tear arising from the care of such a boy as F."
We can only speculate as to family attitudes toward intoxicants. Henry Ludlow's father was a pioneer temperance advocate, according to one source "adopting and advocating its principles before any general and organized effort for them." Henry himself, in one of his few preserved sermons, attacked Great Britain for "her cruel oppression of her East India subjects, often starving... and forced to cultivate opium on land they need to supply themselves with bread..." and defended China "for resisting a traffick which was sapping, by its terrible effects upon her citizens, the very foundation of her empire..." But what Fitz Hugh learned about intoxicating drugs from his father and uncle we do not know.
Fitz Hugh's college life started at the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton), where his father had been in the seminary, in 1854. He was not there long, and little is known of the time he spent there. We know that he joined the Cliosophic Society, and we have an itemized expense sheet that he sent to his father to explain where all the money was going (items include three cents "given to a poor blind man," a two dollar "[s]ubscription to the College literary Monthly," and two more dollars for "[t]wo bottles of wine, taken when sick at beginning of term.")
|Nassau Hall today, rebuilt after the 1855 fire that prompted Ludlow's move to Union College|
When Nassau Hall was destroyed in an accidental fire in March of 1855, Fitz Hugh left Princeton and transferred to Union College in Schenectady the following month, joining Kappa Alpha and living with other members of the fraternity on the fourth floor of North College. Reminiscences of classmates are varied. One describes him as "conspicuous for his uniform good nature, brilliant talent, unbounded enthusiasm, marked generosity, congenial companionship, keen sense of humor, simplicity and courage," while another says that "[h]e was regarded as somewhat 'queer' by the other students, among whom he was not very popular. He was reticent, and hilarious and talkative at intervals..."
He performed academically at a level just about in the middle of a graduating class of sixty-six, from an original class of one hundred and five, doing well enough to make a shot at, but not well enough to succeed at Phi Beta Kappa. "...I shook the tree of knowledge / Till it rattled down pippins of gold," he wrote in a poem to a brother in Kappa Alpha, "And though I coined none of those pippins / To the shape of a Phi Bete key, / Yet their fragrance is none the poorer / In the hoards of memory..."
Among the classes Ludlow took at Union must have been some intensive courses in medicine. As early as 1857, he is talking with authority of having been an anesthesiologist on occasions of minor surgery, and being asked by surgeons for his opinions on the actions of various courses of anesthesia.
A class in which Fitz Hugh always got the highest marks was a course taught by university president Eliphalet Nott and based on Lord Kames' Elements of Criticism, although by the time Nott got through with it it really became a course on the philosophy of Eliphalet Nott. Nott's philosophy, particularly his frequently asserted belief that knowledge in itself was next to worthless without subjective experience to back it up would have an influence on Ludlow, but perhaps more immediately Nott's assertion that "[i]f I had it in my power to direct the making of songs in any country, I could do just as I pleased with the people."
|Union College president Eliphalet Nott|
It may be a testimony to Nott's feelings toward Ludlow - both toward his philosophy and his writing talent - that he asked Fitz Hugh to write a song for the commencement ceremony of his 1856 class. College legend holds that Ludlow, having finished writing the lyrics to the tune of a drinking song ("Sparkling and Bright") late at night, was so unhappy with what he had written that he threw away the manuscript and it would have been lost had not his roommate discovered it and brought it to Rev. Nott's attention."Song to Old Union" became the alma mater, and is sung at commencement to this day.
In fact, Ludlow wrote several college songs, two of which were even fifty years later considered the two most popular Union College songs. You can believe his enthusiasm, in The Hasheesh Eater, when he says that "[h]e who should collect the college carols of our country... would be adding no mean department to the national literature... [T]hey are frequently both excellent poetry and music... [T]hey are always inspiring, always heart-blending, and always, I may add, well sung."
Ludlow would return to Union on future occasions, to recite commencement poems from the perspective of an alumnus. He hoped to return as a professor, saying that "Union has always been one of my idols; I have hardly ever seen the time, even when my prospects in a worldly point of view were most flattering, when I would not have abandoned them to return to the pleasantest home of my life." But it was not to be: "I should have been very glad if Union had ever appeared to care for my connection with it as much as I did."
When, in the "Song to Old Union," today's graduates sing that "the brook that bounds through Union's grounds / Gleams bright as the Delphic water..." they probably do not realize that they may very well be commemorating drug-induced states of vision, in which this bounding brook became alternatingly the Nile and the Styx according to the nature of the hallucinations.
Early in his college years, probably during the spring of 1854, Fitz Hugh's medical curiosity drew him to visit his "friend Anderson the apothecary" regularly. During these visits, Ludlow "made upon myself the trial of the effects of every strange drug and chemical which the laboratory could produce." A few months before, Bayard Taylor's Putnam's Magazine article "The Vision of Hasheesh" had been devoured by Ludlow. It contained these inviting words about the effects of the mysterious drug of the East:
The sense of limitation - of the confinement of our senses within the bounds of our own flesh and blood - instantly fell away. The walls of my frame were burst outward and tumbled into ruin; and, without thinking what form I wore - losing sight even of all idea of form - I felt that I existed throughout a vast extent of space. The blood, pulsed from my heart, sped through uncounted leagues before it reached my extremities; the air drawn into my lungs expanded into seas of limpid ether, and the arch of my skull was broader than the vault of heaven. Within the concave that held my brain, were the fathomless deeps of blue; clouds floated there, and the winds of heaven rolled them together, and there shone the orb of the sun. It was - though I thought not of that at the time - like a revelation of the mystery of omnipresence. It is difficult to describe this sensation, or the rapidity with which it mastered me. In the state of mental exaltation in which I was then plunged, all sensations, as they rose, suggested more or less coherent images. They presented themselves to me in a double form: one physical, and therefore to a certain extent tangible; the other spiritual, and revealing itself in a succession of splendid metaphors....Taylor's account bore many similarities to Ludlow's later visions, and had a similar format to The Hasheesh Eater - visions of heaven, visions of hell, and the obligatory warning (a sort of "Don't try this at home, kids") placed so as to gently contradict the enthusiastic tone of the rest of the narrative. This is the warning Ludlow disregarded, as his warnings would later be disregarded:
I have here faithfully and fully written out my experience, on account of the lesson which it may convey to others. If I have unfortunately failed in my design, and have but awakened that restless curiosity which I have endeavored to forestall, let me beg all who are thereby led to repeat the experiment upon themselves, that they be content to take the portion of hasheesh which is considered sufficient for one man, and not, like me, swallow enough for six.So Ludlow became a "hasheesh eater," taking heroic doses of cannabis extract (up to an eighth of an ounce) regularly throughout his college years. Just as in his youth he found to his delight that he could from the comfort of his couch adventure along with the words of authors, he found that with hasheesh "[t]he whole East, from Greece to farthest China, lay within the compass of a township; no outlay was necessary for the journey. For the humble sum of six cents I might purchase an excursion ticket over all the earth; ships and dromedaries, tents and hospices were all contained in a box of Tilden's extract" (this reminiscent of DeQuincey's discovery that opium was "happiness that may be purchased for a penny and carried in the waistcoat pocket; the portable ecstasies which may be had corked up in a pint bottle; and the peace of mind that can be sent down in gallons by the mail-coach.").
Furthermore, he found the drug to be a boon to his creativity: "[M]y pen glanced presently like lightning in the effort to keep neck and neck with my ideas," he writes at one point, although, "[a]t last, thought ran with such terrific speed that I could no longer write at all."
His experiences, adventures, insights, and conclusions regarding hashish are explained nowhere better than in the text of The Hasheesh Eater, so they will be but glossed over here.
Although he later grew to think of hashish as a product of "the very witch-plant of hell, the weed of madness" and his involvement with it as unwise, "[w]herein I was wrong I was invited by a mother's voice.... The motives for the hasheesh-indulgence were of the most exalted ideal nature, for of this nature are all its ecstasies and its revelations - yes, and a thousand-fold more terrible, for this very reason, its unutterable pangs. I yielded, moreover, without realizing to what. Within a circle of one hundred miles' radius there was not a living soul who knew or could warn me of my danger."
For a time he seemed never to be out from under the influence of hashish. "[L]ife became with me one prolonged state of hasheesh exaltation..." he wrote, and noted that "the effect of every successive indulgence grows more perduring until the hitherto isolated experiences become tangent to each other; then the links of the delirium intersect, and at last so blend that the chain has become a continuous band.... The final months... are passed in one unbroken yet checkered dream." He concluded:
"Hasheesh is indeed an accursed drug, and the soul at last pays a most bitter price for all its ecstasies; moreover, the use of it is not the proper means of gaining any insight, yet who shall say that at that season of exaltation I did not know things as they are more truly than ever in the ordinary state?.... In the jubilance of hashish, we have only arrived by an improper pathway at the secret of that infinity of beauty which shall be beheld in heaven and earth when the veil of the corporeal drops off, and we know as we are known."In Ludlow's endeavor to end his "addiction" to hashish we today are puzzled. After all, the intoxicating chemicals in marijuana and hashish are not considered addictive in the strict sense of the word, and are only thought to be habit-forming in the same way that tennis, ice cream, or soap operas can be said to be habit-forming. Yet Ludlow was utterly sincere in his description of the horrors of withdrawal, even adding that "[i]f, from a human distaste of dwelling too long upon the horrible, I have been led to speak so lightly of the facts of this part of my experience that any man may think the returning way of ascent an easy one, and dare the downward road of ingress, I would repair the fault with whatever of painfully-elaborated prophecy of wretchedness may be in my power, for through all this time I was indeed a greater sufferer than any bodily pain could possibly make me."
Ludlow's account was probably flavored by the account of opium addiction which formed the model for his book: Thomas DeQuincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. But Ludlow's "addiction" is curiously missing signs of physical withdrawal symptoms - terrible nightmares are about the worst symptom he specifies. He takes up tobacco smoking to help him through his "suffering," but this suffering seems mostly to be from disappointment at the dreary colors and unfantastic drudgery of day-to-day life, rather than from any physical pain (ironically, his incipient nicotine addiction may have been the real source of any physical suffering he experienced; he writes at one point that "to defer for an hour the nicotine indulgence was to bring on a longing for the cannabine which was actual pain."):
The very existence of the outer world seemed a base mockery, a cruel sham of some remembered possibility which had been glorious with a speechless beauty. I hated flowers, for I had seen the enameled meads of Paradise; I cursed the rocks because they were mute stone, the sky because it rang with no music; and the earth and sky seemed to throw back my curse....He was teased repeatedly in this by flashbacks which gave him glimpses of the hashish universe occasionally, only to pull back just as quickly, returning him to the mundane world. His grayed-over universe he sought with some success to remedy philosophically, by trying to logically discover in the workings of nature "a spirit which works throughout all creation, by which the most microscopic plant-filament, no less than the grandest mountain, is inwrought and informed."
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.
Perhaps the most poignant remedy he described for the dullness of the world around him was blowing soap-bubbles:
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.He says in The Hasheesh Eater that through the drug, "I had caught a glimpse through the chinks of my earthly prison of the immeasurable sky which should one day overarch me with unconceived sublimity of view, and resound in my ear with unutterable music." This glimpse would haunt him for the rest of his days. A poem, undated and untitled, preserved in his sister's notebook, reads in part: "I stand as one who from a dungeon dream / Of open air and the free arch of stars / Waking to things that be from things that seem / Beats madly on the bars. // I am not yet quite used to be aware / That all my labor & my hope had birth / Only to freeze me with the coffined share / Of void & soulless earth."
The Hasheesh Eater itself (along with "The Apocalypse of Hasheesh," which was published, like Bayard Taylor's earlier sketch, in Putnam's, and which was an earlier attempt to put Ludlow's experience on paper) was written on the advice of his physician during his withdrawal. He had difficulty, of course, in finding words to describe his experiences: "In the hasheesh-eater a virtual change of worlds has taken place... Truth has not become expanded, but his vision has grown telescopic; that which others see only as the dim nebula, or do not see at all, he looks into with a penetrating scrutiny which distance, to a great extent, can not evade.... To his neighbor in the natural state he turns to give expression to his visions, but finds that to him the symbols which convey the apocalypse to his own mind are meaningless, because, in our ordinary life, the thoughts which they convey have no existence; their two planes are utterly different."
Still, he made the attempt, trying on the one hand to make a moral or practical point that "the soul withers and sinks from its growth toward the true end of its being beneath the dominance of any sensual indulgence" and on the other to map out the territory of hashish intoxication like an explorer of a new continent: "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."
The Hasheesh Eater was published when Ludlow was twenty-one years old, a recent graduate who had taken a job as a teacher of English and the classics at Watertown Academy. "I had determined, for the year to come, to be independent for a support of all aid save my own exertions. Entire self-sustenance was a very dear project with me." Self-sustenance and independence from his family, we can imagine, since things were still tense at home. A cousin of Fitz Hugh wrote to her brother around this time "[h]ow glad I am that I board here, instead of at Uncles. ... it is awful when Fitz is at home. I should think that they would be sorry when he comes and glad when he goes away. he is all the time disputing, and he contradicts his Father every word he says. he is so impudent, that I should think Uncle would turn him out of the house."
The Hasheesh Eater was a success, going through a few printings in short order, and Ludlow, although he published both the book and his earlier article "The Apocalypse of Hasheesh" anonymously, was able to take advantage of the book's notoriety. Harper's New Monthly Magazine wrote that:
Unequal to De Quincey in literary culture and in the craft of book-making, the author of this work compares favorably with him in the passion for philosophical reflection, in the frankness of his personal revelations, and in perternatural brilliancy of fancy. In point of compact and orderly method in the narration of his story he has a decided advantage over De Quincey. The comparative merits of hasheesh and opium as a stimulant to the intellect and the source of wild, imaginative dreams, may be learned from a comparison of the two volumes.... The experience of the author in its use is here frankly and fully related, in a narrative which is equally rich in psychological illustration and in imaginative vision.He stayed only briefly at Watertown, soon moving on to study the law under William Curtis Noyes (himself a lawyer who had begun his legal studies at the age of fourteen in the offices of Fitz Hugh's uncle Samuel). Noyes was, as well as an accomplished legal scholar, a firm temperance advocate who gave speeches regularly on the subject. Although Ludlow's studies enabled him to pass the bar exam in New York in 1859, he never practiced law, instead deciding to pursue a literary career.
The late 1850s marked a changing of the guard in New York City literature. Old guard literary magazines like The Knickerbocker and Putnam's Monthly were fading away, and upstarts like the Atlantic Monthly, The Saturday Press, and Vanity Fair were starting up. While still working on his legal studies, Ludlow took on a position as an associate editor at the new Vanity Fair, a magazine which at the time resembled Punch in tone, filled with short jokes, puns, lighthearted verse and cartoons. It was probably through the Vanity Fair staff that Ludlow was introduced to the New York City bohemian and literary culture, centered around Pfaff's beer cellar on Broadway (where the Vanity Fair staff regularly met) and Saturday night gatherings at Richard Henry Stoddard's home on Tenth Street. This scene attracted the likes of Walt Whitman, Fitz James O'Brien, Bayard Taylor, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Edmund Clarence Stedman, and Artemus Ward. As one commentator puts it, "If the New England authors, serene upon their transcendental heights, taught the virtues of plain living and high thinking, the frequenters of Pfaff's believed as potently in high thinking and hard drinking." Ludlow, however, also belonged to the "Century Association," which attracted the more respectable, less bohemian, literary talent in the city.
Bayard Taylor, whose published reminiscences of his own extreme hashish experience "had moved [Ludlow] powerfully to curiosity and admiration" a few months before Ludlow began experimenting with the drug, must have had much to discuss with him. Taylor's wife wrote later that the Ludlow "belonged to our inner coterie."
Ludlow and Stedman were also particularly close. When Stedman performed a beyond-the-call-of-journalism act of bravery when covering the first Battle of Bull Run, a friend wrote to him that "we're all proud of you. Ludlow just cried when he read of your brave thing with the flag." Stedman was impressed with Ludlow's writing, working to get him a job at the New York World and hoping at another point to lure him to Washington, D.C., so the city "would not meet with the fate of Sodom for want of three virtuous men and tobacco-smokers. Fitz-Hugh sends me his last story. He has talent enough for anything, and a heart as noble as native sunshine can make it." Stedman later included the "The Hour and the Power of Darkness" chapter of The Hasheesh Eater in his A Library of American Literature.
New York City, with its vibrant literary scene and its cosmopolitan attitudes, was a boon to Ludlow. "It is a bath of other souls," he wrote. "It will not let a man harden inside his own epidermis. He must affect and be affected by multitudinous varieties of temperament, race, character. He avoids grooves, because New York will not tolerate grooviness. He knows that he must be able, on demand, to bowl anywhere over the field of human tastes and sympathies."
New York was also tolerant of iconoclasts, and people with just the sort of notoriety Ludlow had cultivated. "No amount of eccentricity surprises a New-Yorker, or makes him uncourteous. It is difficult to attract even a crowd of boys on Broadway by an odd figure, face, manner, or costume. This has the result of making New York an asylum for all who love their neighbor as themselves, but would a little rather not have him looking through the key-hole."
Once, he and two friends of similar build and looks purchased identical gaudy suits, caps and canes. "We looked enough alike to be triplets; and as we surveyed ourselves darkly reflected in shop windows we found this resemblance so charmingly odd that we couldn't help chuckling at the inevitable sensation destined to be caused by our brilliant freak." Alas, as they walked around downtown New York, "Nobody looked at us. Nobody was in the least astonished at us. We were disgusted."
He "began to suspect that any gentleman possessing an income which permitted the support of such a lofty animal, might keep a giraffe for saddle exercise on the Fifth Avenue without attracting burdensome attention or getting more than three lines in the 'City Items' of the Tribune the morning after he took his first airing."
The late 1850s and early 1860s found Ludlow in just about every literary quarter of New York. He wrote for, among many others, the Harper's publications (Weekly, Monthly and Bazar), the New York World, Commercial Advertiser, Evening Post, and Home Journal, and for Appleton's, Vanity Fair, Knickerbocker, Northern Lights, the Saturday Press, and the Atlantic Monthly.
George William Curtis, the editor of Harper's New Monthly Magazine, remembered that Ludlow "seemed scarcely more than a boy" when he started writing for the magazine.
George William Curtis, the editor of Harper's New Monthly Magazine at the time, remembered Ludlow as "a slight, bright-eyed, alert young man, who seemed scarcely more than a boy," when he came in for a visit. At this time, Ludlow was still considering the law as a profession, and had in his office been using his creative talents to write up imaginary cases while awaiting real ones. Curtis tried to convince Ludlow that the literary life was a difficult one, but Ludlow, with his "hopeful, frolicsome bearing," was not dissuaded.
Curtis introduced Ludlow to the princes of the Harper publishing family, as an upcoming literary talent who, before his twenty-fifth birthday, would have his first book go through several printings, and would place more than ten stories in Harper's publications, some of which were printed serially and spanned several issues.
A revealing letter has been preserved from this period. In early 1859, Ludlow wrote to Fletcher Harper about an advance of sixty dollars he received, to explain why he had been unable to produce the promised stories.
I... fully expected to fulfil my promise, to the letter. I had hardly made it however, before the nervous ailment, of which I am now, thank God, nearly cured, resulted in a congested state of the brain, which has lasted up to a week ago with continual pain and part of the time much danger.... I am but twenty-two years now - I have had somewhat of illness and of bad habits in stimulus-using to fight on my way up into a more successful and untiring career. The Water Cure and my will have utterly conquered my habits of stimulus - not even tobacco do I trouble now - and my health is fast becoming thoroughly re-settled...Ludlow would on several occasions during his life attend a "Water Cure," both as a remedy for serious illness, and as a way of lessening the terrors of drug withdrawal (although he bitterly said at one point that "In hydropathic institutions cure of any thing more serious than a tooth-ache takes at the least several years"). He describes a visit to the cure in a fictional account:
"Utterly weary - world-weary, self-weary - was I when I set my foot languidly on the threshold of the moist place of cure. I fled to the water literally because I was sick of the earth.... So I gathered up enough vitality to get there; and after that evening, for fifteen days, I knew nothing more of the world popularly called "sane."
Regularly Ludlow's fictional stories follow (or occasionally precede) with fair accuracy the events of his life. One can, therefore, with confidence suppose that the child-like eighteen-year-old with brown hair and eyes and "a complexion, marble struck through with rose flush" (who "sometimes blow[s] bubbles too - though you mustn't tell anyone") and who falls for the narrator of "Our Queer Papa," a young magazine sub-editor described as a "good-looking gentleman with brains, who had published" is the fictionalized Rosalie Osborne, who follows that description, and whom he would marry the year after the story's publication.
Rosalie was eighteen when she married, not very young at all by the standards of the day, but young enough in character that it would later be remembered that "she was... but a little girl when she was married." Memoirs written by members of the New York literary circle in which the Ludlows were an active part universally paint Rosalie as both very beautiful and very flirtatious. The wife of Thomas Bailey Aldrich, for instance, remembered Mrs. Ludlow as "the Dulcinea who had entangled [Aldrich] in the meshes of her brown hair" and recalls a party at Albert Bierstadt's studio where "Mr. Aldrich's look of quick surprise was not without a certain triumph... On this evening Mrs. Ludlow was without her cavalier."
Rosalie's mother, evidently a little worried at the prospect of her daughter marrying America's first famous dope fiend, wrote to Union College president Nott for reassurance. Nott wrote back that although "I have had little personal intercourse with him since he left the Institution... I have frequently inquired after him and been gratified to learn, that the stand taken by him in New York was such as to justify... the hope that he was destined to make a distinguished professional or literary man."
Fitz Hugh's father seemed pleased by the match, but used the congratulatory letter to the couple to lecture Rosalie on "the most rigid economy [and] the most punctilious payment of what you owe when you owe," perhaps anticipating the financial hardship of Fitz Hugh's chosen profession as a literary man. Still, Fitz Hugh may have felt the healing of a long-open wound in his father when he read in the letter that "Rose is my daughter & comes in my little Mary's place to fill up the vacant place in my heart."
The couple spent the first half of 1859 vacationing in Florida, where Fitz Hugh wrote a series of articles, called "Due South Sketches" describing what he later recalled as "the climate of Utopia, the scenery of Paradise, and the social system of Hell." He noted that while apologists for slavery condemned abolitionists for condoning miscegenation, "[t]he most open relations of concubinage existed between white chevaliers and black servants in the town of Jacksonville. I was not surprised at the fact, but was surprised at its openness.... not even the pious shrugged their shoulders or seemed to care." The political differences which would soon rip apart the country were the subject of lively conversations in the household where the Ludlows were staying in Jacksonville. Rosalie wrote to her mother:
When it comes to politics we have fine times. Mr. Hart roars like a revolutionary cannon, beats the poor table with his fat, red fist until the dishes dance and with his other hand hurls thunder bolts on all the world in general but particularly on Southern democrats - he himself is a whig - who buckle to the North. Judge Pierson who is a democrat and has fought duels! rises on such occasions, with carving knife in hand and vows vengeance on Mr. Hart and everybody who dares to disagree with him. He is a Fire-Eater, a Disunionist... and much to his own satisfaction - an Ex-Judge of the Supreme Court!From Florida, the couple moved to New York City, staying in a boarding house and diving rapidly back into the literary social life.
Mr. Dew worships Buchanan... as much as Mr. Hart hates [him], has promised however to vote for Mr. Ludlow when he is nominated for the presidency.
Mr. Shuniway - in these discussions - "Gets mad" - to use his own expression - but his voice is too weak to enable him to argue so he can only mutter his favorite expletive "By George" and leave Mr. Ludlow to defend, as well as he can, the interests of the North.
Fitz Hugh does this by laughingly parrying their thrusts and occasionally giving sharp retorts. He has already made a compact with Judge Pierson to the effect that when the Union is dissolved they shall provide one another with sugar-cane and ice.
|Albert Bierstadt, who accompanied Ludlow on their trip across the "heart of the continent."|
In 1863 Albert Bierstadt was at the peak of a career that would make him for a time America's top landscape artist. Ludlow was among his supporters, considering Bierstadt's landscapes representative of the best trends in American art of the era, and using his position as art critic at the New York Evening Post to praise the Bierstadt aesthetic.
Bierstadt wanted to return West, where on a trip in 1859 he had found scenes for some of his more recently successful and popular paintings. He asked Ludlow to accompany him on a more extensive journey, both as a friend, and, one suspects, a publicist. Ludlow's writings about the trip, published in the New York Evening Post, the San Francisco Golden Era, the Atlantic Monthly and then later compiled into book form, according to one biographer of Bierstadt, "proved to be among the most effective vehicles in firmly establishing Bierstadt as the preeminent artist-interpreter of the western landscape in the 1860s."
The two left Philadelphia by rail, on a ride which would take them eventually to Atchison, Kansas, and which cost them not a cent, thanks to the philanthropy of railroad presidents who fancied themselves patrons of the arts, or perhaps also wanted to be thought of kindly when remembered by Ludlow's pen. In St. Louis, they were met by Rosalie, who had come out for the visit with her cousins. Then in Atchison, with some abruptness, the west started, as the party witnessed a lynching and prepared to board the overland stage.
They camped out for several days on the Kansas river, hunting "on the very flank of the main buffalo herd of North America."
When I remember that I have chased on horseback and slain a brace of giant bulls; that I have helped to hold one of those royal monsters at bay for half an hour while the Artist Bierstadt made a color study of his death charge; beyond all, when I recall the memory of that black moving mass of savage life, reaching without gap to the horizon's edge on every side of me - that main herd only to be counted by hundreds of thousands - I can almost forgive myself the suffering endured later in the Overland trip.Even before he reached Denver, and before the real suffering of the trip began, the overland stage was wearying. He describes sleep-deprivation dreams that rank in absurdity and aggravation with some of his earlier-described hashish hallucinations:
I, for my part, am so incredibly sleepy and exhausted that when I nod for a minute between jolts, I dream of beds as the traveler dying of thirst dreams of fountains. I am in, oh such a glorious old family bed! with a spring mattrass eight feet square and sheets that seem like the first-quality slumber spread on linen backs in the poor-man's plaster style. Just as it feels the heavenliest, and every nerve is relaxing from the tension of five madly open-eyed nights and days, a chambermaid who seems strangely like the clerk who booked me at Atchison, dressed in woman's clothes, rushes in to say that its all a mistake. The gentleman's bed is not this bed but some other bed, a little matter of ten stories up and six galleries off. I am dragged out and away; I totter half inanimate through interminable corridors; find the bed that is not a mistake and get into it. I am just as near unconsciousness as occurred in bed the first, when a dreadful thump comes at the door, and from a voice outside I discover myself to be what in my waking moments of greatest despondency and self-abasement I never heretofore suspected - a Member of Congress - whose vote is imperatively necessary to pass a bill compelling stages to stop every night and let their passengers sleep eight full hours - a bill which I am still further assured by the voice, will be eternally lost unless I reach the House within ten minutes, as there is now every prospect of a tie, and the Speaker, besides being a man who in childhood used to pull flies legs off, owns fifty shares in the Overland Road. Desperately staggering out of bed in a haste which admits of no additions to my rather airy costume, I wish to seek our national chamber of Legislation - am detained on the way by those thousand dreadful hindrances which belong to nightmare, and finally drag into the house a pair of feet, each one of which seems to have a fifty-six pounder hung to it, just as an Absentee from the Anti-Sleep party enters by the opposite door!This inability to get even a few moments of rest "rouses all that is Yankee and self-conservative in my nature."
I ask the ostler if he has any spare rope about the stable. Perhaps I look so resolved that he fears I want to hang myself - a proceeding which it is more than likely he has grown familiar with in the case of overland passengers.... He presently returns with about ten yards of line.... I knot these into two very respectable cables, both of which I tie around the roof of the coach, passing the ends through the windows and uniting them above. I roll my overcoat into a pillow and lay it on top, just back of the hinder loop. Through this loop I squeeze my shoulders - fasten them securely to it by a pair of gaskets in the form of shawl straps - insinuate my feet between the foremost loop - lay my head on the coat - and thus trussed to the top of the coach, am ready for an old-fashioned horizontal sleep by the time it starts.Ludlow's enthusiastic curiosity led him to strike up conversations with people he met from all walks of life, and on the most diverse of subjects. He was especially curious about Indian legends and features of the natural world, from the geography of the valleys he passed through, to the plants along the way, most of which he seemed to know both by scientific name and by one or more common ones. The curiosities of frontier dialect seemed a constant source of interest, and his accounts of the journey are filled with examples of strange diction. One of the stage drivers he quoted as follows:
"When I first came out from Ameriky," said [William] Trotter, (and that's the universal phrase for getting west of the Missouri River) "I found lots o' bad liquor here. It 'curred to me that ef I pitched right in, I might help him to drink it all up shortly. But after tryin' that on a matter o' three year, I found they had kept a gainin' on me and that the folks had a dam sight more of it than I supposed. They kept a bringin' and a bringin' of it on - and finally, when I began to see the turkeys a walkin' round with little green hats on, I reckoned it was time to quit. So I did - and I haint touched liquor this eleven years. Do you know," continued Trotter, fixing on me a gaze of impressive solemnity, "that they haint drunk down to the bottom of that 'ere bad liquor yet?..."They stayed in Denver for a while, taking excursions into the nearby mountains. Ludlow describes the scene of one of Bierstadt's studies, which would form the basis for his painting "Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie":
Sparkling in fir-sheltered niches upon the bosom of this giant distance, nestled the three lakes, fed with pure molten crystal from the snow crown of the peak - fonts and chalices of holy water resting against the mighty fire-carven wall of God's most glorious out-door Cathedral. Earthquake and Flood - these were the Michael Angelo and Raphael of that wonderful temple, and when we thought through what patient centuries they had wrought, counting each as we reckon a single labor-hour; what giant tools they had wielded, what measureless masses handled - and how the result of wild convulsion had come to be a beauty like the face of the Divine, sweet peace, tenderness, and purity brooding over the very scars of rage and fire, self and its low aims sank utterly out of sight from us, and we were alone with the Omnipotent Love and Power. That glorious roseate mountain stood nameless among the peaks in its virgin vail of snow; so Bierstadt, by right of first portrayal, baptized it after one far away from our sides, but very near and dear to our hearts - a gentle nature who had followed us clear to the verge of our Overland wanderings at Atchison, and parted from us bravely lest she should make our purpose fainter by seeming moved. Henceforth that shining peak is Monte Rosa.
|"A Storm in the Rocky Mountains - Mt. Rosalie"|
Albert Bierstadt, 1866
Though all the once live material of the tree has been replaced by what we call inorganic matter (as if anything could be inorganic in a world which is all one network of systematic relations!) the work has been so gradual, accomplished by such infinitesimal accretions, that the stone tree has obeyed all the laws once vital in the wood.... [T]he tree has a soul which survived immortal after its body was dead, and controlled the new atoms by the same law with which it governed the old ones, marshalling them around it into a nobler body which should express its invisible essence by the same character as of old. There is a great lesson of immortality in petrified trees.
"There is a great lesson of immortality in petrified trees."
"It is so hard for even the experienced imagination to avoid doing that poetic justice which exists nowhere in the real world," Ludlow wrote, "that I had always pictured to myself the Mormons dwelling in some such physical waste as the wilderness they abide in spiritually." Instead, when he arrived at Salt Lake City, he found an industrious and sincere group of settlers in a place of no small amount of beauty.
Of the view toward an island in the Salt Lake (a scene he thought "one of the loveliest things I ever saw in nature"), he wrote that
seen through the screen of mellowing vapors which insensibly tinged the atmosphere above the lake, the whole vast mass seemed soft as a sunset cloud in a tone of both of [sic.] feeling and color, or might have been taken for a luxurious bank of roses set adrift to sway lazily on the long swells of some hasheesh-eater's Lotos Bay.But he brought to the city an enormous about of prejudice and misgiving about the Mormons, and a squeamishness about polygamy which embarrassed him almost as much as his first view of a household of multiple wives did. "I, a cosmopolitan, a man of the world, liberal to other people's habits and opinions to a degree which had often subjected me to censure among strictarians in the Eastern States, blushed to my very temples," he writes.
Even worse was that his embarrassment was not shared by those who were participating in such a spectacle. He couldn't believe that a pair of co-wives "could sit there so demurely looking at their own and each others' babies without jumping up to tear each others' hair and scratch each others' eyes out... It would have relieved my mind... to have seen that happy family clawing each other like tigers."
"Brigham Young is the farthest remove on earth from a hypocrite; he is that grand, yet awful sight in human nature, a man who has brought the loftiest Christian self-devotion to the altar of the Devil..."
But this was Utah, and here monogamy was not at all an obvious moral guideline. "My mistake arose through forgetfulness that the social moralities are manufactured; artificial, not natural; man's temporary expediency, not God's eternal law; that shame is merely the regret one feels, discovering himself ridiculously at variance with the usages of the surrounding majority..." And as a non-Mormon in Salt Lake City, Ludlow had reasons to feel "like the three-thousandth homoeopathic dilution of monogamy."
He discovered, for instance, that Brigham Young had been "sealed" to so many wives that he imagined "[h]e thus looks forward to spending his first years in Heaven in a state of perpetual suspense and twitter at every new arrival from the earth, expecting to hear announced by the celestial usher: 'Another Mrs. Young.'"
His impressions of the Mormons came at a time when Utah was seen by many as a state as rebellious and dangerous as those in the Confederacy. In fact, Ludlow encountered frequent snide comments about the disintegration of the Union, with some of the Mormons under the impression that with the flood of immigrants to Utah fleeing the draft, and with the decimation of the male population in war time making polygamy seem more practical, the Mormon state of Utah would come out of the Civil War in a stronger position than either the Union or the Confederacy. Ludlow's opinions were read with great interest back East, and would constitute a special appendix to the book he would later write about his travels.
"The Mormon system," wrote Ludlow, "owns its believers - they are for it, not it for them. I could not help regarding this 'Church' as a colossal steam engine which had suddenly realized its superiority over its engineers and... had declared once for all not only its independence but its despotism." Furthermore, "[i]t is very well known in Salt Lake City that no man lives there who would not be dead tomorrow if Brigham willed it so." Ludlow spent considerable time with Orrin Porter Rockwell, who had been dubbed the "Destroying Angel" for his supposed role as Brigham Young's assassin of choice. Ludlow wrote a sketch of the man which Rockwell's biographer, Harold Schindler, called "the best of those left behind by writers who observed the Mormon first-hand." Ludlow said, in part, that he "found him one of the pleasantest murderers I ever met."
A later visitor to Salt Lake City, another journalist unfriendly to polygamy and bearing a physical resemblance to Ludlow, was mistaken for him and confronted by Rockwell:
[Rockwell had] confused me... with Fitz Hugh Ludlow, who had passed through two years before, and given an unflattering description of him for the Atlantic Monthly. Some one told Porter, or he dreamed it, that I had characterized him as the murderer of one hundred and fifty men; and he significantly remarked that if I had said it he believed he would make it one hundred and fifty-one! He finally concluded it a mistake and contended himself with complaining to me that he had been cruelly slandered by Ludlow, and afterward while in his cups, assuring me that he would kill any journalist who should publish such falsehoods about him...Ludlow wanted his readers to know that "[i]n their insane error, [the Mormons] are sincere, as I fully believe, to a much greater extent than is generally supposed. Even their leaders, for the most part, I regard not as hypocrites, but as fanatics." For instance, "Brigham Young is the farthest remove on earth from a hypocrite; he is that grand, yet awful sight in human nature, a man who has brought the loftiest Christian self-devotion to the altar of the Devil..." A warning that must have seemed especially poignant was this: "[T]he Mormon enemies of our American Idea should be plainly understood as far more dangerous antagonists than hypocrites or idiots can ever hope to be. Let us not twice commit the blunder of underrating our foes."
One of the less well-known, and certainly less well-understood aspects of Ludlow's personality and his writings was his occasional forays into close-minded bigotry. In the face of his progressive nature, inquiring mind, and abolitionist politics, we find a "motherly mulatto woman" described as possessing "the passive obedience of her race;" or Mexicans in California described as originating from "a nation of beggars-on-horseback... the Spaniards, Greasers, and Mixed-Breeds...;" or Chinese immigrants in "a kennel of straggling houses" with Ludlow imagining them "finally... swept away from San Francisco, and that strange Semitic race... either exiled or swallowed up in our civilization...;" or "the natural, ingrained laziness of the Indians."
Native Americans were a particular target of his bigotry. He rarely has anything good to say about "the copper-faced devils," and looked with scorn on "the pretty, sentimental, philanthropic prayers" that constituted much of the contemporary literature about the "noble savage." According to Ludlow, the "Indian" was subhuman - an "inconceivable devil, whom statesmen and fools treat with, but whom brave and practical men shoot and scalp." In an article for the Golden Era, he fantasized about when the Overland Stage would be replaced by passenger trains:
Contemplate the splendid luxury of dramatic vengeance open to the man who saw his ghastly countrymen roasting on the rafters of Canon Station, and rode through one hundred miles of torturing suspense with his hand glued to his rifle - when he shall diversify the day's reading and sleeping by occasionally running over half a dozen Go-Shoots! Be sure, that if I can thus participate in even the mechanical-extermination of our country's copper-skinned, treaty-petted murderers; if I can follow the engine which plays guillotine to these fiendish loafers of the desert; if I can create a famine in that market of the "noble red-man" which our sickly Eastern sentimentalists are so fond of patronizing for the raw material of their maundering poems and addresses - I shall cheerfully, my Era, pay you an early visit in this way, even though I have to ride on the tender. You see I hate the Indians, I make no scruple about acknowledging it. I should hate myself if I didn't, after what I have seen of those loathsome wretches throughout the whole country West of the Mississippi - and I fully believe that the only treaty with them which can save our brave men, with their defenceless wives and babes from the horrid massacres whose memory curdles in my veins, must be written in blood... with that only style whose characters an Indian can read - the scalping knife.When he turned on the Jews, however, his opponent struck back. He compared the Mormon culture to that described in the Old Testament, saying that the Mormons are "like the Jews, shameless polygamists, assassins, bigots, inquisitors, delighters in massacre, extortioners and zealots..."
After the San Francisco Golden Era printed the article containing these sentiments, the Hebrew responded in an editorial, "More Slanders Refuted," in a way that might be expected, casting scorn on most of Ludlow's comments about Jews, and ridicule specifically on his assertion that Jews were "bigots [and] inquisitors." The Golden Era was left to give Ludlow the weakest of defenses, saying that his article was "full of prejudice and misapprehension. To a considerable degree, the very extravagence of his strictures and denunciations carries with it their refutation.... Clever literary men cannot write well under restriction, and prefer to place their opinions before the public, pure and simple, as the expression of their own personality. It is in precisely this light that individual contributors are regarded by intelligent readers."
To Ludlow's credit, or perhaps to the credit of his editors, most of the anti-Semitic comments in his published articles were removed from the text of the book he eventually published about his trip (although a reference to "the dark portals of Idolatry and Judaism" remained intact).
"Webster's Unabridged closes its covers in despair before the task of giving expression to the misery suffered from Salt Lake to the Sierra," Ludlow wrote, noting that the Overland Stage became only more intolerable after Salt Lake City. "The manner of packing passengers upon this part of the line evinces intellects accustomed to close storage and large profits." The bumpy ride and the silt kicked up by the horses led to "black and blue bruises - serious abrasions of the skin - [and] ulcers when these last became irritated with omni-present alkali-dust." Furthermore, from just beyond Salt Lake City through most of Nevada Territory, there was regular danger of attack from Native American guerrillas, necessitating constant watchfulness and prompting paranoia about every sound heard in the distance. "Our six-shooters lay across our laps, our bowie-knives were at our sides... We sat with tight-shut teeth, - only muttering now and then to each other, in a glum undertone, 'Don't get nervous, - don't throw a single shot away, - take aim, - remember it's for home!'"
At Canon Station, where the stage was to change their weary and overworked horses, they instead came upon the scene of a massacre:
Under a heavy cloud of black, clinging smoke, lay the charred beams and smouldering rafters of the house - while a little further on the ruins of great trusses of hay were still steaming above the conflagration of the stables. On that further pile lay the mangled remains of all the stage stud - ten or a dozen fine animals who had perished with their halters unloosed; and nearer by, among the burning planks of the house, were stretched the bones of six horribly mutilated men, the flesh still partly adhering to them, and the whole mass rapidly becoming undistinguishable, roasting into our nostrils with the smell of mingled man and beasthood...But once their "feet pressed the borders of the Golden State" they "came into glorious forests of ever-living green, a rainbow-affluence of flowers, an air like a draught from windows left open in heaven," and the suffering of the journey started almost immediately to be placed in memory under layers of California beauty and culture.
"It is as hard to leave San Francisco as to get there," Ludlow recalled later, of the city which formed the base camp for his west-coast area travels. "To a traveler paying his first visit it has the interest of a new planet." (On the other hand, "the candid visitor must regret that the grading of San Francisco seems to have been done by a Giant armed with a fish-slice and a coal-scoop under the influence of Delirium Tremens.").
He was struck by the maturity and cosmopolitan culture of the city, "[t]he Urban Nonchalance, in other words, the one's-own-business-minding, which is so characteristic of New York, struck me as only less remarkable in San Francisco before I had been with you a week."
During his short stay in San Francisco, he stayed at the Occidental Hotel and as a guest of Thomas Starr King, the youthful California preacher and passionate public speaker who was very influential in mustering California support for the Union cause and who had written for the East-coast press about the natural wonders of the state. King was to have joined Ludlow's party when they ventured to Yosemite, but his vigorous war-relief work prevented it. (Ludlow, in a later role as secretary and historian for the National Sanitary Commission - the forerunner to the American Red Cross which was founded during the Civil War - would say that "Starr King was the Sanitary Commission in California.")
He again found himself in a vibrant literary community, centered around San Francisco's Golden Era, which included Mark Twain, Joaquin Miller and Bret Harte. Of Twain, who was at the time still a virtual unknown (he had first used the pen name "Mark Twain" in a published piece a few months before), Ludlow wrote that "[i]n funny literature, that Irresistable Washoe Giant, Mark Twain, takes quite a unique position.... He imitates nobody. He is a school by himself." Twain reciprocated by asking Ludlow to preview some of his work, and wrote in a letter to his mother, "if Fitz Hugh Ludlow, (author of 'The Hasheesh Eater') comes your way, treat him well.... He published a high encomium upon Mark Twain, (the same being eminently just & truthful, I beseech you to believe) in a San Francisco paper. Artemus Ward said that when my gorgeous talents were publicly acknowledged by such high authority, I ought to appreciate them myself..."
|Bret Harte and Mark Twain, among the creative talents Ludlow met in California|
The man who dubbed Twain the "Washoe Giant" was Charles Henry Webb, who, under the pen name "Inigo," was the editor and merry-maker of the Era. He dubbed Ludlow "The Hasheesh Infant" and in an early mention publicized a literary boxing match between the three, with the punster Inigo "bent on giving Ludlow Fitz and rending the apostolic Mark in Twain."
Harte had also attracted Ludlow's attention. "I may hope to lure him from you," he wrote, "and shall certainly attempt to." He imagined that the East-coast publications he worked for would welcome a writer with Harte's "luscious richness of imagery, a high-toned delicacy, and a noble strength of original thought scarcely excelled by any author in his department now writing our language." In Ludlow's belief, "there is no eminence as a writer which he may not adorn to his own honor and that of his adopted state."
The poet Charles Warren Stoddard wrote in his unpublished autobiography that Ludlow was the first critic of worth to praise his work. Ludlow wrote that "I also like very much some things I have seen of a young poet who calls himself Pod. I wish he wouldn't..." - Stoddard soon would drop the "Pip Pepperpod" pen name - "[T]here's a future for him, I am sure."
Ludlow was genuinely impressed by the talents of the Era staff: "[N]one of our New York literary weeklies seem to me more brilliant or more readable than that to which I am now contributing. In your columns I find evidence of a class of young literary men growing up upon the Pacific coast, who... will be able to live by their pens in a manner honorable to any country supporting them..."
Ludlow had also, by this time, become a passionate defender of Darwin's recently published Origin of Species, at least according to some sources. (Although this may be speculation based on taking a facetious article of Webb's authorage too seriously, it is not too far fetched, given Ludlow's voracious science reading. And Henry Ward Beecher, the influential preacher who was a strong influence on Ludlow and who shared his passion for reconciling science with Christianity, would later also defend Darwin's theories) According to Franklin Walker, in San Francisco's Literary Frontier, the San Francisco crowd that welcomed Ludlow
were so amused to have the famous drug-addict, the DeQuincey of America, turn out to be an ingenuous proselytor for the evolutionary theory that they held a mock trial in which they accused him of heresy. Ludlow, dressed in gray flannel breeches and dragoon boots, spectacles on nose and Darwin under arm, testified in polysyllables to an amazed court and obtained a verdict of acquittal.Ludlow also observed first-hand the ravages of opium addiction among the Chinese immigrant population in San Francisco.
I shall never forget till my dying day that awful Chinese face which actually made me rein my horse at the door of the opium hong where it appeared, after a night's debauch, at six o'clock one morning.... It spoke of such a nameless horror in its owner's soul that I made the sign for a pipe and proposed, in "pigeon English," to furnish the necessary coin. The Chinaman sank down on the steps of the hong, like a man hearing medicine proposed to him when he was gangrened from head to foot, and made a gesture, palms downward, toward the ground, as one who said, "It has done its last for me - I am paying the matured bills of penalty."From San Francisco, the group, which now had expanded to include a few others gathered from the area's artistic and scientific scenes, ventured to Yosemite. "If report was true," Ludlow wrote, "we were going to the original site of the Garden of Eden."
|"A Rest on the Ride" by Albert Bierstadt, a scene from the trip to the "Heart of the Continent" undertaken by Ludlow and Bierstadt in 1863.|
On the way to Yosemite, they stopped at a Sequoia grove. "I find no one on this side of the continent," he wrote upon returning home, "who believes the literal truth which travellers tell about these marvelous giants. People sometimes think they do, but that is only because they fail to realize the proposition.... I freely confess, that, though I always thought I had believed travellers in their recitals on this subject, when I saw the trees I found I had bargained to credit no such story as that, and for a moment felt half-reproachful towards the friends who had cheated me of my faith under a misapprehension."
They entered Yosemite Valley at Inspiration Point. "That name had appeared pedantic, but we found it only the spontaneous expression of our own feelings on the spot. We did not so much seem to be seeing from that crag of vision a new scene on the old familiar globe as a new heaven and a new earth into which the creative spirit had just been breathed. I hesitate now, as I did then, at the attempt to give my vision utterance. Never were words so beggared for an abridged translation of any Scripture of Nature."
But with a writing style honed on descriptions of the bafflingly unutterable visions of hashish, he made the attempt, putting together some of the most vivid and moving sections in his travel sketches, and occasionally recalling some of the philosophy of nature first expressed in The Hasheesh Eater, where he said that "In no sense... does any such thing as dead matter exist:"
I never could call a Yo-Semite crag inorganic, as I used to speak of everything not strictly animal or vegital. In the presence of the Great South Dome that utterance became blasphemous. Not living was it? Who knew but the débris at its foot was merely the cast-off sweat and exuviæ of a stone life's great work-day? Who knew but the vital changes which were going on within its gritty cellular tissue were only imperceptible to us because silent and vastly secular? What was he who stood up before Tis-sa-ack and said, "Thou art dead rock!" save a momentary sojourner in the bosom of a cyclic period whose clock his race had never yet lived long enough to hear strike. What, too, if Tis-sa-ack himself were but one of the atoms in a grand organism where we could see only by monads at a time, - if he and the sun and the sea were but cells or organs of some one small being in the fenceless vivarium of the Universe? Let not the ephemeron that lights on a babys hand generalize too rashly upon the non-growing of organisms!
"We did not so much seem to be seeing... a new scene on the old familiar globe as a new heaven and a new earth into which the creative spirit had just been breathed."
On the banks of the Merced river, in Yosemite valley, they pitched camp, "calling it 'Camp Rosalie,' after a dear absent friend of mine and Bierstadt's." After a morning dip in the river, Ludlow would spend his days in the valley hunting, fishing, collecting butterflies ("My experience teaches that no sage (or gentleman) should chase the butterfly on horseback.... The idea is a romantic one; it carries you back to the days of chivalry, when court-butterflies were said to have been netted from the saddle, - but it carries you nowhere else in particular, unless perhaps into a small branch of the Merced, where you don't want to go."), sight-seeing and writing, while the artists made color studies of various Yosemite scenes.
It is worth noting that the areas that Ludlow described in his Atlantic article, the Yosemite valley and the nearby Mariposa redwood grove, were officially made a state park by President Lincoln in the same month that the article appeared.
From Yosemite, the group returned to San Francisco, where they stayed for several days while preparing for the next adventure. This time, just the two travelers, Bierstadt and Ludlow, would make the journey, going north to Mount Shasta, and then into Oregon, where Ludlow was struck "by a violent attack of pneumonia, which came near terminating my earthly with my Oregon pilgrimage" and which stopped their trip cold for the better part of a week. Still, the views of nature quickly erased the memories of the suffering. Of the view of the "beautiful, yet awful ghosts" of Oregon mountains, he wrote that "[n]o man of enthusiasm... will wonder that my friend and I clasped each other's hands before it, and thanked God we had lived to this day."
Ludlow enthusiastically took in the scenery, gold rush towns, and native culture of the Pacific Northwest, finding the west-coast casual manner and eager friendliness a welcome contrast to the social conventions of New England, and speculating (often with uncanny accuracy) about where rail lines would soon open up the American wilderness. They stayed for a while in Portland, delayed by notorious springtime Pacific Northwest rainstorms and capricious transportation, where Ludlow spun out a few puns for the Golden Era before returning to San Francisco:
As I go by the saloons the bar keepers look at me. They think I'm a fool because I won't get drunk as everybody else does, waiting for an inscrutable, over-due, boat, in such weather. They think I'm trying to palm myself off as a superior being because I don't. They see through that transparent pretence and know very well that the superior being in such weather is the man who gets a little drunker than all the rest. But I won't do it! It's all very well to say when you're in Rum do as the Rum-uns do, and when you're in Port do as the Portlanders do. I ain't in Port, or in liquor of any kind. And the steamer isn't in port - and I'm dreadfully out of spirits..."They are all going," Charles Henry Webb wrote in the Golden Era, "all the good fellows that came out here to break the monotony of life in California..."
Don't be alarmed, a large gap will not be made in the population of this city, for there are only two of them, Bierstadt, the artist, and Ludlow, the author.Ludlow, for his part, felt equally warmly toward California and the people he met there, but thought he would wait for the transcontinental railroad before venturing West again: "[T]wenty-thousand dollars would be no temptation to me to visit you again by the Overland Stage - (I don't know anybody who would make me that offer, unless I were the possessor of a vast estate and he its presumptive heir)..."
But I can mention ten thousand men that I had rather spare and would miss less.
...Ludlow has the material for a book among his multitude of papers that will go beyond his first and successful flight in literature, The Hasheesh Eater. We shall miss Ludlow from the Era as well as at table, but shall gain him again in the magazines, and this must reconcile us to his departure.
By late in 1864, after Ludlow's return to New York and the reestablishment of ties to the literary community there, his marriage was in trouble. The reasons for the strife are unknown, but surviving letters point to a mutual and scandal-provoking flood of infidelity which left his reputation damaged. "Rose certainly has done very wrong in pursuing the course she has," wrote Fitz-Hugh's cousin Carrie, a hard-working chronicler of Ludlow family gossip, "and I have always thought her a weak silly little thing, fond of flattery and admiration, from any source. but she was nothing but a little girl when she was married, and Fitz is very much to blame. he has sadly neglected her, and I don't believe they have ever been happy, for all the demonstration that have sickened lookers on!"
And that assessment of the situation was the most generous to Fitz-Hugh to be offered by his cousin (who had the previous winter referred to Rosalie disdainfully as one who "has acted rather absurd for a married lady this winter from all accounts. I have but little respect for a married flirt."). "I believe he is Crazy," she wrote later, "and I hope he is, it wont be quite so bad then, if he is not accountable for what he does. he is a pretty fellow to be cursing poor Rose, whatever she may have done, is no excuse for him, and if he had done as he should she never would have been so fond of the attentions of other men. I don't entirely excuse her, but I will stand up for her against him. I have no patience with him."
By early 1865, Fitz Hugh had also found a new lover, as Rosalie found out when a friend of hers saw an entry in a St. Joseph's, Missouri, hotel register reading "Fitzhugh Ludlow, wife & servant." Ludlow had abandoned his wife to chase after another married woman - a "Mrs. Ives," whom he ended up leaving behind in Kansas where she was to obtain a divorce. When he returned, "she told him she hadn't a particle of affection for him & never had," so he returned to New York and for a time tried to reconcile with Rosalie.
"He has had his eyes opened to the abominable wickedness of [Mrs. Ives]," Fitz Hugh's sister Helen wrote, to her aunt, "[a]nd to his sin in forsaking his wife for her... He wants to stay here [in Oswego, at his father's home] where he can have rest and quiet till he can finish his book which he is busily engaged upon... he is very sad much of the time, and I try to do all in my power to cheer him and keep up his courage. But his health seems very good generally. And he is entirely free from all stimulants but tobacco.... What Rose's final decision will be in the matter I do not know. They have exchanged several letters. He has hoped that she would return to him, though of course he claims nothing."
"Notwithstanding Helen's hope," Uncle Samuel Ludlow responded, "all the reform about him is that he don't in fact live with his second wife: - & the only reason for this is that she has got sick of him. In other respects, I see no change whatever. Liquor & hasheesh & he are still intimate, & his life is just as irregular as it can be. He sits up frequently all night, writing his book, & sleeps all day. I think he couldn't write at all without his stimulants."
Fitz Hugh entered a water-cure in the fall in an attempt to abandon the drugs to which he had become addicted, and, according to his father, "seems to be very anxious to abandon all stimulants & get well" although, "I fear he will be unwilling to obey rules [and] that they will get tired and dismiss him from the Cure. You know his self sufficiency-"
"Sometimes I feel great compassion for Fitz, & then again, I feel out of patience with him," Ellen Ludlow wrote from Oswego, "for he dont seem to try to give up hasheesh or liquor, or to care how old & sorrowful & way worn he makes his poor sister."
Rosalie rejected the attempted reconciliation, obtaining a divorce in May of 1866. She would, a few months later, marry Albert Bierstadt. The Utica Daily Observer with ignorant irony the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard, announced the wedding:
The marriage of Bierstadt, the artist, is announced in our columns today. Like Fitz Hugh Ludlow, he comes to Oneida county to find a bride; and not only that: he allies him self with the same estimable family. We shall be proud henceforth to regard Bierstadt as, in a manner, "one of us."Fitz Hugh quickly upon his return from the water-cure started up a relationship with Maria O. Milliken (or, perhaps, Mulliken), of whom little is known except that she was ten years his senior (she is frequently said to have been the widow of Judge Seth Milliken of Augusta, Maine, who was in Fitz Hugh's graduating class at Union, but as he did not die until 1897, and as his wife's name was Lizzie, I tend to doubt the reports. On the other hand, the irony of such a marriage is appealing, as Ludlow had two years previously poked fun in print at a man who cynically married a Judge's widow to keep out of the poor house). They were married shortly after Rosalie's marriage to Bierstadt. Meanwhile, Fitz Hugh's father had started displaying bizarre behavior that his family was starting to attribute to the "opium he takes in injections" - probably a medical prescription as he was very sick and near death. "[H]e will preach every Sunday in the house - to the patients and the boarders although the Dr. don't like it..."
There was very little in the field of literature that Ludlow did not feel himself qualified to attempt. Throughout his life he wrote short stories for the magazines of his day, as well as poetry, political commentary, art-, music-, drama-, and literary-criticism, and science and medical writing. As a newspaper writer, he also translated articles from foreign newspapers.
Most of his short stories were light-hearted romances, sprinkled with characters having names like "Mr. W. Dubbleyew," or "Major Highjinks," and generally concerning some sort of semi-ridiculous obstacle which comes between the narrator and the beautiful young woman he's fallen in love with. But occasional stories break from this mold, and some are worth special mention here.
"The Phial of Dread" was one of his earliest, published in October of 1859. It is written as the journal of a chemist who is visited in his laboratory by the insane daughter of an acquaintance, who felt herself pursued by Death. When she got to the lab, she immediately sought out some chemical with which she could kill herself:
We were alone together among the strange poisons, each one of whom, with a quicker or a slower death-devil in his eye, sat in his glass or porcelain sentry-box, a living force of bale. Should it be Hemp? No, that was too slow, uncertain, painful. Morphine? Too many antidotes - too much commonness, ostentation in that. Daturin? I did not like to ask how much of that was certain...She finally stabs herself in the heart with a knife she finds in the lab. The author of the journal, Edgar Sands, panics, fearing that he will be blamed for the death, and attempts to destroy the body,
...he went calmly to work, with an awful despair in his eyes, and cut the shell of me - the husk I had left - to pieces; as a surgeon would, on a table in the laboratory. These fragments he screwed down into a large retort, and placed in the fiercest of flames, fed with pure oxygen.... I knew that all of me that had been seen on earth was reducing there to its ultimates - I was distilled there by degrees.Her soul becomes trapped in the vial in which he pours the last drops of this substance, and he in turn is tormented by the presence he sees as a small, tortured woman within the vial. She is, however, able to at one point take over his body with her soul long enough to write the confession from which the above excerpts come. This saves Mr. Sands, when he is eventually found, from capital punishment, but he notes that the last pages of his journal were "written at the first lodging I moved to after I was discharged from Bloomingdale Insane Asylum."
In "The Taxidermist," his sole Knickerbocker story (also printed in Sharpe), a woman who loves the narrator but is too ugly to attract his romantic attention dies only to be reborn in a succession of animal bodies (a bird and a marmoset), each of which comes into the life of the narrator, and then as a more beautiful woman, who becomes his wife. It is a strange story, of mixed horror, romance, and absurdity, and recalls at times the more philosophical discussions of reincarnation from the pages of The Hasheesh Eater.
"The Music Essence," printed at the end of 1861 by The Commercial Advertiser, featured a man who composes a symphony for his deaf wife by translating the musical notes into light and colors. This story was certainly inspired by the synesthesia Ludlow experienced during his hashish experiences, of which he wrote that:
The soul is sometimes plainly perceived to be but one in its own sensorium, while the body is understood to be all that so variously modifies impressions as to make them in the one instance smell, in another taste, another sight, and thus on, ad finem. Thus the hasheesh-eater knows what it is to be burned by salt fire, to smell colors, to see sounds, and, much more frequently, to see feelings.The portion of "John Heathburn's Title" that is most interesting has been reproduced in these web pages. It concerns an opium and alcohol addict who is cured through the patience of a concerned physician, and through a substitution therapy utilizing a cannabis extract. Published in 1864, it represents Ludlow's first published discussion of his role as a physician treating opium addicts.
"The Household Angel" was published over a series of thirteen issues of Harper's Bazar in 1868, and is a soap opera of betrayal, deceit, and more importantly, the descent of a likable protagonist into alcoholism and despair. But more will be said about this later.
Ludlow's sole foray into drama was an adaptation of "Cinderella" which he wrote for the New York Sanitary Fair in 1864, an enormous affair to benefit the National Sanitary Commission in their war-relief efforts. The play was performed entirely by children, under the direction of the wife of General John C. Fremont (and starring their son), and included two shetland ponies in the staging. It was reported that "[t]he house was filled to its utmost, and many went away, unable to gain admission." The performance raised almost three thousand dollars for the Commission, and received glowing reviews, much better than simple generosity to the play's charitable purpose would warrant.
Of his non-fiction articles, a few also bear mention. His "Through-Tickets to San Francisco: A Prophecy," which was included along with the pieces he published about his trip West in the Atlantic Monthly in 1864, was indeed prophetic, and many of the short, encyclopedia-biographies of Ludlow seem impressed at how closely Ludlow predicted the path of the transcontinental railroad.
"If Massa put Guns into our Han's," printed in the April, 1865 edition of the Atlantic Monthly, is a response to Confederate threats to arm their slaves and send them into battle against the North. Ludlow finds this threat ludicrous, and speculates that if the slaves he has met were armed, the Confederacy would have much more to fear than the Union. This article is remarkable because the Civil War, certainly the most traumatic event the United States has yet seen, is rarely mentioned elsewhere in Ludlow's writings.
During the worst days of the war, Ludlow was enjoying the majesty of the untamed West, far away from Gettysburg: "We slept on our blankets... ate buffalo and antelope, and saw the stage come in daily from the seat of war." But the war must have strongly affected him, as it did any other American. Classmates from Union, like Captain Samuel Newbury, who accompanied Ludlow on an hallucinatory adventure that saw a meadow turn "into a tremendous Asiatic plateau thronged with innumerable Tartars," and Colonel Fredrick Wead, who, when introduced to hashish by Ludlow, "was so delighted with the spell that for several months he made trial of its powers," as well as New York acquaintances such as the poet Fitz-James O'Brien, died in the war.
Among the more interesting of Ludlow's articles was "'E Pluribus Unum'," published anonymously in The Galaxy on the first of November, 1866. It is a review of attempts by pre-relativistic physicists to unify the known forces into a single force. It is occasionally anachronistic, as when Ludlow reviews failed attempts to explain the enormous energy radiated from the sun using classical physics, eventually settling on the heat given off as enormous quantities of meteors collide with the sun as the most likely explanation.
Decades before Einstein, Ludlow mused that "because our only cognitions of matter are cognitions of force, matter in the scientific sense is force."
And it is occasionally visionary, as when Ludlow, decades before Einstein would do the same, abandons the idea of the æther and muses that "[w]e might be allowed to... assert that because our only cognitions of matter are cognitions of force, matter in the scientific sense is force." He does not elaborate, and evidently the article was altered and cut for publication substantially, so we are left to wonder how far he pursued this idea of the equivalency of matter and energy.
One of the last published pieces by Ludlow was written for the New York Tribune, and published early in the year of his death. Probably prompted by his work with destitute opiate addicts, the article, "Homes for the Friendless," advocated the establishment of homeless shelters in New York City, particularly for alcoholics and other drug addicts, noting that the existing shelters served women and children only, and that there was a growing class of homeless men in need of assistance. The idea was enthusiastically endorsed in an editorial by Tribune editor Horace Greeley.
New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley enthusiastically supported Ludlow's call to help New York's homeless men.
The Heart of the Continent, a book-length recounting of his journey west, occupied his writing time on and off for much of Ludlow's life. Its publication was announced as early as 1864, but the book was not in fact released until just a few months before his death in 1870. It was illustrated by etchings based on Bierstadt's studies done during the trip, but Bierstadt's name was removed from the text, replaced with phrases like "one artist companion" and "my artist comrade." This, along with some more-poignantly changed references (such as the reference to "the indefatigable nursing of the best friend I ever travelled with" in his original Atlantic magazine text which was changed to "the indefatigable nursing of the friend I travelled with" in the book) show that there were still, understandably, hurt feelings over the turn of events since their return from California.
The New York Times was enthusiastic about the book: "We rejoice to see a book of American travel of which we can speak in terms of almost unqualified praise.... We have read many descriptions of the Yosemite Valley, and when it is said that we have found Mr. Ludlow's as fresh and entertaining as if the subject and locality were altogether moved to us, the reader will understand the sort of merit for which this author deserves credit." But this praise was not universal.
The Atlantic Monthly found the book too bulky, and published too late after the events it describes: "Since Mr. Ludlow made his explorations, some ten years ago, the Heart of the Continent has been visited by such numbers of travellers that it is wellnigh as stale and battered as the heart of a coquette entering upon her fifth or sixth season of flirtations..." Furthermore, of Ludlow's writing style, "the savor is somewhat rank at times, and he throws you in whole collops of sentiment whenever he likes," and makes "himself the hero of most of the adventures narrated." The reviewer did say that "[w]hilst it is too literary at times, it is yet the most artistically written account of the heart of the continent which we have seen; and the style, where it has not been made too good, is very good indeed, - frank and facile." The appendix, in which Ludlow expanded on his analysis of the Mormon settlement in Utah, was "[p]erhaps the most interesting - certainly the solidest and most thoughtful - part of the book..."
Bret Harte, reviewing the book for The Overland Monthly said that "Mr. Ludlow's florid and gorgeous descriptions of natural scenery, atmospheric effects, and the physical influences of Plains life, bear an air of unreality which is quite uncomfortable. The fine writing - of which there is much in the book - is so very fine as to pass into the domain of fiction to one who would think well of the veracity of the writer.... Then, too, the author's vice of style is his constant use of the wildest and least understood words and phrases. If his descriptions have a hasheesh flavor, his simplest language is a marvel of etymological research and gymnastics."
On his death bed, according to his sister Helen, Fitz Hugh Ludlow's last words were a request to "[t]ell all my friends that dear Jesus is all I ever thought him; my only savior, my Lord and my God." Ludlow believed strongly in Christianity, even in the depths of his worst suffering and withdrawal, when doubt was inevitable:
I sometimes lose all faith in the existence of any being who takes the slightest interest in at least our earthly welfare, and sink down into a darkness of heart like that of Egypt. Where is the right hand - the outstretched arm - where He who clothes the lillies, and will much more clothe us - where any merciful, loving Lord at all? My only sheet-anchor - all that keeps me, when I think of the terrible suffering of mind and body that has been heaped upon me for the last few years, from drifting away into blank atheism - from acknowledging that the materialistic school is right - that I have all along been led away by a romantic, loving heart into believing that what was so dear to me must be, and that there is no personal God at all - nothing but a grim, stern Nature, whose laws crush out the worm and man's tortured heart alike, inexorably - all that holds me, I say, is the gospel of John. When I read of the life Christ lived, and the death he died for me, I say, "He must love me," though I have to wait in the terrible gloom to have the mystery why he lets me so suffer be explained.But his Christianity was iconoclastic, and he was ever testing his faith on his own terms, never willing to accept the dogma of others. He would return to the importance of this ever-questioning, never blindly accepting spirituality and philosophy, often using the protagonists of his short stories to speak for him:
"Regular Habits" (1859): If there is any pitiable, hopeless order of mind, for which nothing great or useful can ever be foretold, it is the order which my friend the German Professor used to call... "Struthiokamelopsychists." ... "The ostrich-souls." Yes, the ostrich-souls, who go about gobbling up this man's rag of rhyme - this one's clenching-nail of argument - so-and-so's crackling fragment of tin-eloquence - such another's pine-splinter of theology - then stick their silly heads into the laurel bush from which ought not only the garlands of the truly great to be outplucked? and flapping their wings, cry hoarsely, "Am I not verily accomplished?" But is not their tail the mean while evident to the observing?A friend remembered that Ludlow "sometimes carried a Greek Testament in his pocket, and he was fond of reading from it and translating for those of his friends who did not read Greek. The second verse of the seventeenth chapter of St. John's Gospel he would often dwell upon, pouring out his indignation against King James' translators for interpolating there, as in other places, ideas that he affirmed had no place in the original Greek. The verse reads: "Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him." Ludlow, rising from his chair and gesticulating as was his wont, would say: "How dared those translators to insert 'as many' there when there is no limit or qualification in the words spoken by Christ? He claims authority over all that he may give to them eternal life."
I agree with my friend the Deutsch Professor. From ostrich-souls nothing worthy can ever be expected...
"Thrown Together" (1861): The mind of a man is not a sponge but a crucible. He who merely draws knowledge in and pours it out unaltered does his neighbor a wrong - cheats him of the additional value which he should have impressed upon it by reflection. The true and honest intellect receives facts, melts them in the proportions of its favorite alloy, then crystalizes them into new systems and theories...
"The Battle and Triumph of Dr. Susan" (1865): ...I am quite sick of one thing... which I have seen a great deal of in my life. To speak in general terms, it is the practice of sending our belief, like our washing, to be done out of the house for us by some individual school-man, doctor, parson, or some collective body - some Faith-Factory carried on by combination within the bosom of an Ism or an Ology.... [U]p at that Tribunal of All-Souls - where every honorable man wishes to be judged, and every man, honorable or caitiff, must be - there is no such word as "proxy" ever uttered.... [I]t is criminal folly and dishonesty for me to pretend to accept in this life any one else's opnion unproved by myself - be it æsthetic, ethical, theological, any thing - knowing, as I do, that in a higher life it will fail me, and I shall be brought miserably to shame!
Challenging and reaffirming his faith would be a life-long project for Ludlow, and starting from a very early age, thanks to the religious tutilege of his father, who wrote, when Fitz Hugh was five, "I wish you could have heard him pray last eve. with me in my study. I had been talking to him of the love of Christ, and his heart evidently felt the strong pressure of its obligations to love him. I told him he might if he wished kneel and consecrate himself to God, and he did it with a fulness and appropriateness of expression, and an apparent sincerity of feeling, that would have surprized you and put to shame many an old professor in my church."
And as "yet a mere boy" Ludlow overheard a couple of amateur metaphysicians discussing the idea that we only perceive appearances and not actual objects. Illustrating his early propensity for demanding first-hand evidence for any philosophical assertion, we see in a chapter of The Hasheesh Eater the young Fitz Hugh confronting a tree with the various ways in which his senses can perceive it:
But hold! I said to myself; what do I find out in leaning here, which makes me think that I have found a thing? Why, resistance, hardness, to be sure. And it is a fact, these are qualities only. But this is nothing but feeling; let me try the senses of smell and taste. By applying nose and tongue to the tree, I perceived a fresh woody savor - quality still! I put my ear to the tree and struck it: still nothing but quality resulted, the capability to beget sound. I began to be alarmed for the dignity of the Sense, as I saw her chance of proving herself worthy of my past consideration narrowed down to one single organ - the eye. Alas for her! Quality still - a brown tint, a faculty of transmitting certain rays of light, and absorbing others. It seems strange now, but it is true that, with my knife, I began blazing the side of the tree, with a sort of fond flattery of the Sense that, though the qualities lay in the bark, "the thing" was to be detected lurking underneath. In a moment, however, I laughed perplexedly, realizing that I could make the matter no better if I hacked the tree through.But the inquisitiveness of childhood which drove him into profounder and more baffling subtleties of philosophy would ironically drive him further away from a childlike innocence and freedom from philosophical abstractions which he would later try to recapture with hashish and other intoxicants:
[T]he whole glory of the world to come will consist in a return to our Childhood's gifts in this very respect - a resumption of the power which we once had of substituting Life for Abstractions - and that glorious capability each of us now grown up, save the extremest Genius, has parted with for the present...In fact, he would say near the close of his life:
Oh, if those eyes could only be spared to us for our lifetime, who would ever seek in stimulants the sense of pleasure and well-being? The child is forever in that state of elasticity, ecstasy, and brightness which our potent liquors but feebly imitate - a state of healthy intoxication, to which our feverish adult joys answer only as Anteros to Eros. Whatever temptation exists in the condition whose pluperfect and grosser tense men call 'drunk' is due to its simulation of the feeling which, when we see our children, we remember was once our own.... why can't we look forever out of your eyes? Show us how to keep them after we get the down on our cheeks, and there'll be no more need of Temperance meetings - we will thank no man for the most exhilirating nectar that was ever brewed of hemp or poppies, grapes or grain.The journey from childhood to responsible adulthood was, to Ludlow, in part a sad journey away from genuine self: "[I]n society, a man's true self is such a deep down substratum, so overlain by successive layers of constitutional caution, educational reserve, handosme physique, elegant manners, tailor skill, and innmuerable deceptive conventional circumstances, that it is hard for any one, however world-sharpened, to penetrate the crust and get at the basis of the human geological system."
Breaking through this crust could not be anything but a profound release. "The ceasing to seem to be what he is not must always be an untold relief to any one who has not, by long training in the necessary caution of a responsible place, utterly ceased to be what he was."
Just out of college, he was introduced to the writings of Swedenborg, whose speculations about the seat of the soul in the brain and the existence of a spiritual world as real and phenomenal as the world around us in our daily existence (of which Ludlow did certainly have first-hand experience), and whose "conception of the Divine Humanity, or glorification of Jesus," according to a friend, "...he did not think simply to be true, or believe it merely to be true; he knew it to be true, for it solved the entire problem of theology, life and death!"
God was not something unknowable and invisible, by Ludlow's understanding, but was evident everywhere. "[S]pirit itself is in its very essence imperceptible to senses," he wrote, but the communion between the spirit of man and that of God "makes itself perceptible by appearances. These appearances, whose cause we call 'matter,' are therefore, in reality, but the effects of spirit's action upon spirit. In no sense, then, does any such thing as dead matter exist. It is God's thinking felt by us."
The bulk of Ludlow's published philosophical and metaphysical speculations were asides summoned forth by hashish-musings and provide some of the most intriguing and memorable sections of The Hasheesh Eater.
The last years of Fitz Hugh Ludlow's life seem to have been a constant struggle with addiction. Family letters, when they mention him, are usually either hopefully discussing his latest release from habit, or mourning his latest relapse. Less than a year before his death, his cousin wrote:
Gus said he had seen Helen, she & Fitz came into the Office a few days ago - and Gus said Fitz was certainly intoxicated either with whiskey or Opium & he thought Opium. he acted dreadfully, and tho Helen was with him, &, the Office full of gentlemen, he commenced talking & going on like a crazy man...By this point, his family had lost hope in his recovery. In his final months, he was desperate to find a cure, but no hope could be found. Carrie wrote, in March of 1870, that "Dr. Smith has been treating him for a while but he said to a lady the other day - that there was no use in his wasting his strength [treating] Mr. Ludlow, for he took a teaspoonful of morphine in a glass of whisky every day - and while he persisted in doing that it was only time & strength thrown away..."
His writing focus, as well as the focus of his life, had turned to the problem of opium addiction. He described this quest as "one of my life's ruling passions - a very agony of seeking to find - any means of bringing the habituated opium-eater out of his horrible bondage, without, or comparatively without, pain." His essay "What Shall They Do to be Saved" from Harper's was included in the 1868 book (written by Horace Day, himself a recovering addict, and edited in part by Ludlow) The Opium Habit, one of the first books to deal in a medical way with the problem of opium addiction, which had become a national crisis in the wake of the Civil War. For the book Ludlow expanded on his original essay with "Outlines of the Opium Cure," a portrait in words of what the ideal, perhaps utopian, drug addiction treatment clinic would be like.
Although the Civil War had made opiate addiction an epidemic among veterans, Ludlow worried that it was among the average American worker that the addiction would spread. As early as 1857, in The Hasheesh Eater, he wrote that "opium-eating in all countries is an immense and growing evil. In America peculiarly it is so, from the constitution of our national mind... a stifled craving for something higher," or "the long pent-up craving for a beauty of which business-activity has said, 'It is not in me,' [which] rises from its bonds, and, with a sad imperativeness, asks satisfaction." When the dissatisfied worker looks for that satisfaction, "the devil stands at his ear, and suggests opium. From that moment begins the sad, old, inevitable tale of the opium-eater's life." He resumed his connection of drug addiction to the demands of modern life a decade later, writing that
The habit is gaining fearful ground among our professional men, the operatives in our mills, our weary sewing women, our fagged clerks, our disappointed wives, our former liquor-drunkards, our very day-laborers, who a generation ago took gin; all our classes, from the highest to the lowest, are yearly increasing their consumption of the drug. The terrible demands, especially in this country, made on modern brains by our feverish competitive life, constitute hourly temptations to some form of the sweet, deadly sedative. Many a professional man of my acquaintance, who twenty years ago was content with his tri-diurnal "whisky," ten years ago, drop by drop, began taking stronger "laudanum cock-tails," until he became what he is now - an habitual opium-eater.
But the opium addict, according to Ludlow, in a view which even today seems progressive, "is a proper subject, not for reproof, but for medical treatment. The problem of his case need embarrass nobody. It is as purely physical as one of small-pox.... [He] is suffering under a disease of the very machinery of volition; and no more to be judged harshly for his acts than a wound for suppurating or the bowels for continuing the peristaltic motion."
"All our classes, from the highest to the lowest, are yearly increasing their consumption of the drug."
Ludlow's writings on opiate addiction led addicts from all over the country to write him for advice, and he spent a great deal of time in his last years answering this correspondence. He would also take an active role as a physician in treating addicts, and one friend said that "I have known him to go for three weeks at a time without taking off his clothing for sleep, in attendance upon the sick. His face was a familiar one in many a hospital ward.... During the last weeks of his residence in New York, he supported, out of his scanty means, a family of which one of the members had been a victim to opium. This family had no claim upon him whatever excepting that of the sympathy which such misfortunes always excited in him. The medicines and money he furnished this single family in the course of the several weeks that I knew about them, could not have amounted to less than one hundred dollars, and this case was only one of many."
But Ludlow himself was unable to break the habit. The same friend writes,
Alas, with what sadness his friends came to know that while he was doing so much to warn and restore others from the effects of this fearful habit, he himself was still under its bondage. Again and again he seemed to have broken it. Only those most intimate with him knew how he suffered at such periods... I recall a night he passed with me some months after the publication of ["What Shall They Do to Be Saved?"]. He was in an excited state, and we took a long walk together, during which he spoke freely of his varied trials, and he finally went to my house to sleep. I went directly to bed, but he was a long time making his preparations, and I at length suspected he was indulging his old craving. For the first and only time in my life I spoke harshly to him, and characterized his abuse of himself and of the confidence of his friends as shameful. He replied depreciatingly, and turning down the gas-light came around and crept into bed beside me. We both lay a moment in silence, and feeling reproved for my harshness, I said: "Think, Fitz, of your warnings on the subject, and of your effort, in behalf of other victims." In a tone and with a pathos I can never forget, he answered - "He saved others, himself he could not save."The alcoholic, also, was a subject of Ludlow's pen. A serial he wrote for Harper's Bazar in 1868, called "The Household Angel" was widely praised as variously, "the only temperance story of genius ever written," and "a real work of genius amidst the usually rather vapid temperance literature." One New York critic wrote that "temperance societies could do nothing better than to republish this story as a tract for popular circulation."
The irony, of course, was that Ludlow spent his last several years in a state hardly sober and free from drug abuse, but perhaps it was this fact that gave his story a realism that outshone mere moralism. What really stands out in "The Household Angel" is the sympathy the author shows for the alcoholic. Cuthbert Kearney, the victimized character of his story finds himself lifted up by his first experience of alcohol intoxication:
...he felt a marvelous change stealing over his views of life.... he saw that ruin has no existence to a resolved spirit. The old self-respect... quietly returned to put its hand under his chin, and lift his head to the full stature of a man.... There was more goodness in the world; more confidence between man and man; more delicacy, mutual respect, toleration, and allowance than he had suspected.... he could not refrain from the enthusiastic observation what a lovely day it was; he had never, even in New England, seen the grass and trees greener at this season of the year....However,
Cuthbert had learned the only way by which he could escape from his worst tormentor. He was his own jailer - his own dungeon.... There was something so heavenly in the escape, that if once knowing the means he had refrained from using them, he would have been a stronger man than any prisoner in the Bastile who had sat motionless in his dungeon, with the master-key to all the barriers in his hand.... while the ticket-of-leave held good, no franchised bondsman, no uncaged wood-thrush, no racked person whose cruel ropes are slackened, knows sweeter ecstasy of deliverance.... The strength afforded is not mere semblance. Stimulus confers on a nature fresh to, or unjaded by it, a quickness of perception, a masterly promptness and giant facility of execution which enables the man to perform feats looked back on as incredible by his cooler head. If the man could remain for one year, without necessity of advance or danger of retrogression, at the point where he is left by the second glass of whisky, he could conquer the world.
...all this divine power and ease is made a thing so evanescent - he hangs motionless just for an unappreciable instant on the pivot of an earthly omnipotence, and then the scale descends. He drinks again to retain the equilibrium; but that delicate poise is irrecoverable; he swings out of balance the opposite way. In the truth and the transitoriness - not in the spuriousness of the power - lies the danger of the fascination.And unfortunately for Cuthbert, "He was one of the men who can no more hold themselves for years at a certain limit than they can jump off the eaves of a house and say, 'I will stop at the third story.'" Ludlow contrasted the drunkard, which Cuthbert would become, with the "chronic alcoholic," which he said could be found in "[o]ur best society in every city, in all professions and callings... they are a world-wide remove from the brawling drunkard or the fast man and voluptuary." At this point, Ludlow digressed into a lecture on chronic alcoholism, "a form of drinking which is the most insidious of all, because it never disgraces itself:"
Chronic alcoholism keeps a bottle on the top shelf of the closet - takes small drinks constantly - knows the exact line beyond which liquor shows, and that other line, considerably short of this, where it is pleasantly, subjectively sensible; then takes religious care never to reach the former mark, and never to fall below the latter one - never to betray itself, yet never to be free from the influence of stimulus during any hour of its waking life.When Ludlow left for Europe in June of 1870 in an attempt to recover, both from his addictions, and from the tuberculosis he had contracted at the bedside of an addict patient he had been treating, he seemed resigned. "To-day sailing for Europe," he wrote to Harper's, "an invalid, with all the uncertainties of return which attend such a one..." But the letter was optimistic, being an announcement that his quest for a cure for opiate addiction might well be over. "[I]n all probability, that wonderful discovery has now been made," he wrote. "[T]he discovery is one which ranks in importance to human weal and woe with vaccination, chloroform, or any grandest achievement of beneficent science which marks an age."
The specifics of this cure have been lost to history, and there is some question as to whether it was anything as exciting as Ludlow claimed. Harper's New Monthly Magazine, where Ludlow announced the discovery, was later led to comment that the magazine had received letters "from persons evidently painfully anxious upon the subject [that] stated that a large sum was required to be paid in advance, and that the whole business had a mysterious and suspicious aspect." It doesn't appear that Ludlow stood to profit financially from the "cure," and as a friend commented that "in the last months of his life he thought he had conquered" the opiate habit, it seems that he was probably sincere.
Ludlow left New York with his sister Helen, who had been a constant source of support, and his wife and one of her sons, for Europe. They stayed for a month and a half in London, leaving for Geneva, Switzerland when his health again took a downturn. "I am struggling for the sake of my angels in human form to stay a little longer," he wrote to a friend from his deathbed. "My sufferings are very bitter, but, oh! what love, what wisdom in them hovers round my bed; and, oh! how full of gratitude my soul is. Who am I that such devotion, such unutterable patience and self-abnegation gather round my bed?"
He died the morning after his thirty-fourth birthday, and, perhaps as he meant to predict in this passage in "What Shall They Do to Be Saved?": "Over the opium-eater's coffin at least, thank God! a wife and a sister can stop weeping and say, 'He's free.'"
Over his head the daisies swim In wind-swept eddies of sea-green grass He hath rest in every limb, Nothing more can come to pass Which hath aught in it for him To weary or harrass.-- Fitz Hugh Ludlow
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