Excerpts from

An Essay on Hasheesh:
Historical and Experimental

by Victor Robinson

Medical Review of Reviews 1912

My brother Frederic Robinson took 25 minims in the presence of some ladies whom he had invited to witness the fun. An hour passed without results. A second hour followed, but -- to use the slang of the street -- there was nothing doing. The third hour promised to be equally fruitless, and as it was already late in the evening, the ladies said good-by. No sooner did they leave the room, than I heard the hasheesh-laugh. The hemp was doing its work. In a shrill voice my brother was exclaiming, "What foo-oolish people, what foo-oo-ool-ish people to leave just when the show is beginning." The ladies came back. And it was a show. Frederic made Socialistic speeches, and argued warmly for the cause of Woman Suffrage. He grew most affectionate and insisted on holding a lady's hand. His face was flushed, his eyes were half closed, his abdomen seemed uneasy, but his spirit was happy. He sang, he rhymed, he declaimed, he whistled, he mimicked, he acted. He pleaded so passionately for the rights of Humanity that it seemed he was using up the resources of his system. But he was tireless. With both hands he gesticulated, and would brook no interruption.

Peculiar ideas suggested themselves. For instance, he said something was "sheer nonsense," and then reasoned as follows: "Since shears are the same as scissors, instead of sheer nonsense I can say scissors nonsense." He also said, "I will give you a kick in the tickle" -- and was much amused by the expression.

At all times he recognized those about him, and remained conscious of his surroundings. When the approach of dawn forced the ladies to depart, Frederic made a somewhat unsavory joke, and immediately exclaimed triumphantly, "I wouldn't have said that if the ladies were here for a million dollars." Someone yawned deeply, and being displeased by the unexpected appearance of a gaping orifice, Frederic melodramatically gave utterance to this Gorky-like phrase: "From the depths of dirtiness and despair there rose a sickly odorous yawn" -- and instantly he remarked that the first portion of this sentence was alliterative! Is it not strange that such consciousness and such intoxication can exist in the same brain simultaneously!

The next day he remembered all that occurred, was in excellent spirits, laughed much and easily, and felt himself above the petty things of this world.

On May 13, 1910, this world was excited over the visit of Halley's comet. It is pleasant to remember that the celestial guest attracted as much attention as a political campaign or a game of baseball. On the evening of this day, at 10 o'clock, I gave 45 minims to a court stenographer named Henry D. Demuth. At 11:30 the effects of the drug became apparent, and Mr. Demuth lost consciousness of his surroundings to such an extent that he imagined himself an inhabitant of Sir Edmund Halley's nebulous planet. He despised the earth and the dwellers thereon; he called it a miserable little flea-bite, and claimed its place in the cosmos was no more important than a flea-jump. With a scornful finger he pointed below, and said in a voice of contempt, "That little joke down there, called the earth."

"Victor," he said, "you're a fine fellow, you're the smartest man in Harlem, you've got the god in you, but the best thoughts you write are low compared to the things we think up here." A little later he condescended to take me up with him, and said, "Victor, we're up in the realm now, and we'll make money when we get down on that damned measly earth again; they respect Demuth on earth."

He imitated how Magistrate Butts calls a prisoner to the bar. "Butts," he explained, "is the best of them. Butts-Butts-cigarette-butts." If this irreverent line should ever fall beneath the dignified eyes of His Honor, instead of fining his devoted stenographer for contempt of court, may he bear in his learned mind the fact that under the influence of narcocics men are mentally irresponsible.

By this time Mr. Demuth's vanity was enormous "God, Mark Twain and I are chums," he remarked casually. "God is wise, and I am wise. And to think that people dictate to me!"

He imagined he had material for a great book. "I'm giving you the thoughts; slap them down, we'll make a fortune and go whacks. We'll make a million. I'II get half and Vic will get half. With half a million we'll take it easy for a while on this damned measly earth. We'll live till a hundred and two, and then we'll skedaddle didoo. At one hundred and two it will be said of Henry Disque Demuth that he shuffled off this mortal coil. We'll skip into the great idea -- hooray! hooray! Take down everything that is significant -- with an accent on the cant -- Immanuel Kant was a wise man, and I'm a wise man; I am wise, because I'm wise."

It is to be regretted that in spite of all the gabble concerning the volume that was to make both of us rich, not even one line was dictated by the inspired author. In fact he got no further than the title, and it must be admitted that of all titles in the world, this is the least catchy. It is as follows: "Wise is God; God is Wise."

Later came a variation in the form ofa hissing sound which was meant to be an imitation of the whizzing of Halley's comet; there was a wild swinging of the sheets as a welcome to the President; a definition of religion as the greatest joke ever perpetrated; some hasheesh-laughter; and the utterance of this original epigram: Shakespeare, seltzer-beer, be cheerful.

A little later all variations ceased, for the subject became a monomaniac, or at any rate, a fanatic. He became thoroughly imbued with the great idea that the right attitude to preserve towards life is to take all things on earth as a joke. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times he repeated: "The idea of the great idea, the idea of the great idea, the idea of the great idea." No question could steer him out of this track. "Who's up on the comet! Any pretty girls there!" asked Frederic. "The great idea is up there," was the answer.

"Where would you fall if you fell off the comet!"

"I'd fall into the great idea."

"What do you do when you want to eat and have no money!"

"You have to get the idea."

"When will you get married!"

"When I get the idea."

Midnight came, and he was still talking about his great idea. At one o'clock I felt bored. "If you don't talk about anything else except the idea, we'll have to quit," I said.

"Yes," he replied, "we'll all quit, we'll all be wrapped up in the great idea." He took out his handkerchief to blow his nose, remarking, "The idea of my nose." I approached him. "Don't interfere," he cried, "I'm off with the great idea."

I began to descend the stairs. When halfway down I stopped to listen. He was still a monomaniac. Had he substituted the word thought or theory or conception or notion or belief or opinion or supposition or hypothesis or syllogism or tentative conjecture, I would have returned. But as I still heard only the idea of the great idea, I went to bed.

In the morning his countenance was ashen, which formed a marked contrast to its extreme redness the evening before. He should have slept longer, but I thought of the duties to be performed for Judge Butts, and determined to arouse him, although I knew my touch would cast him down from the glorious Halley's comet to the measly little flea-bite of an earth, besides jarring the idea of the great idea.

So I shook him, but instead of manifesting anger, he smiled and extended his hand cordially, as if he had not seen me for a long time. The effects of the drug had not entirely disappeared, and his friends at work thought him drunk, and asked with whom he had been out all night. Mr. Demuth was in first-class spirits, he bubbled over with idealism, and felt a contempt for all commercial transactions. He was the American Bernard Shaw, and looked upon the universe as a joke of the gods. While adding some figures of considerable importance -- as salaries depended upon the results -- a superintendent passed. Mr. Demuth pointed to the column that needed balancing, and asked, "This is all a joke, isn't it!" Not appreciating the etiology of the query, the superintendent nodded and passed on.


There yet remains my own case. On March 4, 1910, I came home, feeling very tired. I found that some Cannabis indica which I had expected had arrived. After supper, while finishing up an article, I began to debate with myself whether I should join the hasheesh-eaters that night. The argument ended in my taking 20 minims at 9 o'clock. I was alone in the room, and no one was aware that I had yielded to temptation. An hour later I wrote in my memoranda book: Absolutely no effect. At 10:30, I completed my article, and entered this note: No effect at all from the hemp. By this time I was exhausted, and being convinced that the hasheesh would not act, I went to bed in disappointment. I fell asleep immediately.

I hear music. There is something strange about this music. I have not heard such music before. The anthem is far away, but in its very faintness there is a lure. In the soft surge and swell of the minor notes there breathes a harmony that ravishes the sense of sound. A resonant organ, with a stop of sapphire and a diapason of opal, diffuses endless octaves from star to star. All the moonbeams form strings to vibrate the perfect pitch, and this entrancing unison is poured into my enchanted ears. Under such a spell, who can remain in bed! The magic of that melody bewitches my soul. I begin to rise horizontally from my couch. No walls impede my progress, and I float into the outside air. Sweeter and sweeter grows the music, it bears me higher and higher, and I float in tune with the infinite -- under the turquoise heavens where globules of mercury are glittering.

I become an unhindered wanderer through unending space. No air-ship can go here, I say. I am astonished at the vastness of infinity. I always knew it was large, I argue, but I never dreamed it was as huge as this. I desire to know how fast I am floating through the air, and I calculate that it must be about a billion miles a second.

I am transported to wonderland. I walk in streets where gold is dirt, and I have no desire to gather it. I wonder whether it is worth while to explore the canals of Mars, or rock myself on the rings of Saturn, but before I can decide, a thousand other fancies enter my excited brain.

I wish to see ifI can concentrate my mind sufficiently to recite something, and I succeed in correctly quoting this stanza from a favorite poem which I am perpetually re-reading:

   Come into the garden, Maud,
      For the black bat, night, has flown,
   Come into the garden, Maud,
      I am here at the gate alone;
   And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
      And the musk of the rose is blown.
  
It occurs to me that it is high honor for Tennyson to have his poetry quoted in heaven.

I turn, I twist, I twirl. I melt, I fade, I dissolve. No diaphanous cloud is so light and airy as I. I admire the ease with which I float. My gracefulness fills me with delight. My body is not subject to the law of gravitation. I sail dreamily along, lost in exquisite intoxication.

New scenes ofwonder continually unravel themselves before my astonished eyes. I say to myself that if I could only record one one-thousandth of the ideas which come to me every second, I would be considered a greater poet than Milton.

I am on the top of a high mountain-peak. I am alone -- only the romantic night envelops me. From a distant valley I hear the gentle tinkling of cow-bells. I float downwards, and find immense fields in which peacocks' tails are growing. They wave slowly, to better exhibit their dazzling ocelli, and I revel in the gorgeous colors. I pass over mountains and I sail over seas. I am the monarch of the air.

I hear the songs of women. Thousands of maidens pass near me, they bend their bodies in the most charming curves, and scatter beautiful flowers in my fragrant path. Some faces are strange, some I knew on earth, but all are lovely. They smile, and sing and dance. Their bare feet glorify the firmament. It is more than flesh can stand. I grow sensual unto satyriasis. The aphrodisiac effect is astonishing in its intensity. I enjoy all the women of the world. I pursue countless maidens through the confines of heaven. A delicious warmth suffuses my whole body. Hot and blissful I float through the universe, consumed with a resistless passion. And in the midst of this unexampled and unexpected orgy, I think of the case reported by the German Dr. Reidel, about a drug-clerk who took a huge dose of hasheesh to enjoy voluptuous visions, but who heard not even the rustle of Aphrodite's garment, and I laugh at him in scorn and derision.

I sigh deeply, open my eyes, and find myself sitting with one foot in bed, and the other on my desk. I am bathed in warm sweat which is pleasant. But my head aches, and there is a feeling in my stomach which I recognize and detest. It is nausea. I pull the basket near me, and await the inevitable result. At the same time I feel like begging for mercy, for I have traveled so far and so long, and I am tired beyond limit, and I need a rest. The fatal moment approaches, and I lower my head for the easier deposition of the rising burden. And my head seems monstrously huge, and weighted with lead. At last the deed is done, and I lean back on the pillow.

I hear my sister come home from the opera. I wish to call her. My sister's name is Ellen. I try to say it, but I cannot. The effort is too much. I sigh in despair. It occurs to me that I may achieve better results if I compromise on Nell, as this contains one syllable instead of two. Again I am defeated. I am too weary to exert myself to any extent, but I am determined. I make up my mind to collect all my strength, and call out: Nell. The result is a fizzle. No sound issues from my lips. My lips do not move. I give it up. My head falls on my breast, utterly exhausted and devoid of all energy.

Again my brain teems. Again I hear that high and heavenly harmony, again I float to the outposts of the universe and beyond, again I see the dancing maidens with their soft yielding bodies, white and warm. I am excited unto ecstasy. I feel myself a brother to the Oriental, for the same drug which gives him joy is now acting on me. I am conscious all the time, and I say to myself in a knowing way with a suspicion of a smile: All these visions because of 20 minims of Cannabis indica. My only regret is that the trances are ceaseless. I wish respite, but for answer I find myself floating over an immense ocean. Then the vision grows so wondrous, that body and soul I give myself up to it, and I taste the fabled joys of paradise. Ah, what this night is worth!

The music fades, the beauteous girls are gone, and I float no more. But the black rubber covering of my typewriter glows like a chunk of yellow phosphorus. By one door stands a skeleton with a luminous abdomen and brandishes a wooden sword. By the other door a little red devil keeps guard. I open my eyes wide, I close them right, but these spectres will not vanish. I know they are not real, I know I see them because I took hasheesh, but they annoy me nevertheless. I become uncomfortable, even frightened. I make a superhuman effort, and succeed in getting up and lighting the gas. It is two o'clock. Everything is the way it should be, except that in the basket I notice the remains of an orange -- somewhat the worse for wear.

I feel relieved, and fall asleep. Something is handling me, and I start in fright. I open my eyes and see my father. He has returned from a meeting at the Academy of Medicine, and surprised at seeing a light in my room at such a time, has entered. He surmises what I have done, and is anxious to know what quantity I have taken. I should have answered, with a wink, quantum sufficit, but I have no inclination for conversation; on hearing the question repeated, I answer, "Twenty minims." He tells me I look as pale as a ghost, and brings me a glass of water. I drink it, become quite normal, and thus ends the most wonderful night of my existence.

In the morning my capacity for happiness is considerably increased. I have an excellent appetite, the coffee I sip is nectar, and the white bread ambrosia. I take my camera, and walk to Central Park. It is a glorious day. Everyone I meet is idealized. The lake never looked so placid before. I enter the hot-houses, and a gaudy-colored insect buzzing among the lovely flowers fills me with joy. I am too languid to take any pictures; to set the focus, to use the proper stop, to locate the image, to press the bulb -- all these seem Herculean feats which I dare not even attempt. But I walk and walk, without apparent effort, and my mind eagerly dwells on the brilliant pageantry of the night before. I do not wish to forget my frenzied nocturnal revelry upon the vast dome of the broad blue heavens. I wish to remember forever, the floating, the mercury-globules, the peacock-feathers, the colors, the music, the women. In memory I enjoy the carnival all over again.

"For the brave Meiamoun," writes Theophile Gautier, "Cleopatra danced; she was apparelled in a robe of green, open at either side; castanets were attached to her alabaster hands.... Poised on the pink tips of her little feet, she approached swiftly to graze his forehead with a kiss; then she recommenced her wondrous art, and flitted around him, now backward-leaning, with head reversed, eyes half-closed, arms lifelessly relaxed, locks uncurled and loose -- hanging like a bacchante of Mount Maenalus; now again active, animated, laughing, fluttering, more tireless and capricious in her movements than the pilfering bee. Heart-consuming love, sensual pleasure, burning passion, youth inexhaustible and ever-fresh, the promise of bliss to come -- she expressed all.... The modest stars had ceased to contemplate the scene; their golden eyes could not endure such a spectacle; the heaven itself was blotted out, and a dome of flaming vapor covered the hall."

But for me a thousand Cleopatras caroused -- and did not present me a vase of poison to drain at a draught. Again I repeated to myself: "And all these charming miracles because of 20 minims of Fluidextractum Cannabis Indicae, U.S.P."

By the afternoon I had so far recovered as to be able to concentrate my mind on technical studies. I will not attempt to interpret my visions psychologically, but I wish to refer to one aspect. Spencer, in Principles of Psychology, mentions hasheesh as possessing the power of reviving ideas. I found this to be the case. I spoke about air-ships because there had been a discussion about them at supper; I quoted from Tennyson's Maud because I had been re-reading it; I saw mercury-globules in the heavens because that same day I had worked with mercury in preparing mercurial plaster; and I saw the peacock-tails because a couple of days previous I had been at the Museum of Natural History and had closely observed a magnificent specimen. I cannot account for the women.

All poets -- with the possible exception of Margaret Sangster -- have celebrated Alcohol, while Rudyard Kipling has gone so far as to solemnize delirium tremens; B. V. has glorified Nicotine; DeQuincey has immortalized Opium; Murger is full of praise for Caffeine; Dumas in Monte Cristo has apotheosized hasheesh, Gautier has vivified it in Club des Hachicins. Baudelaire has panegyrized it in Artificial Paradises, but as few American pens have done so, I have taken it upon myself to write a sonnet to the most interesting plant that blooms:

Near Punjab and Pab. in Sutlej and Sind.
Where the cobras-di-capello abound,
Where the poppy, palm and the tamarind,
With cummin and ginger festoon the ground --
And the capsicum fields are all abloom,
From the hills above to the vales below,
Entrancing the air with a rich perfume,
There too does the greenish Cannabis grow:
Inflaming the blood with the living fire,
Till the burning joys like the eagles rise,
And the pulses throb with a strange desire,
While passion awakes with a wild surprise: --
O to eat that drug, and to dream all day,
Of the maids that live by the Bengal Bay!



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