VIP Bayard Taylor

Bayard Taylor (January 11, 1825 - December 19, 1878)

First published in 1844, Bayard Taylor traveled to Europe and the East, sending graphic accounts of his travels to The New York Tribune, The Saturday Evening Post, and The United States Gazette, for which an appreciative audience was found. In 1848, Horace Greeley, then editor of the Tribune, placed Taylor on staff, and he traveled to California and Mexico, publishing a highly successful book of travels, El Dorado: Adventures in the Path of Empire. In 1851 he found himself on the banks of the Nile and in 1852, he sailed for Calcutta, proceeding to China where he joined the expedition of Commodore Perry to Japan, writing all the way. On his return in 1853 he became a popular public lecturer in towns from Maine to Wisconsin. After more travelling, he entered the diplomatic service as secretary of legation at St. Petersburg, and the following year (1863) became charge d'affaires there. His late novel, Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania (New York, 1870), recounts an intimate friendship between two men and has been called America's first gay novel.

In his 1854 Putnam's Monthly article "The Vision of Hasheesh," Taylor begins, "During my stay at Damascus, that insatiable curiosity which leads me to prefer the acquisition of all lawful knowledge through the channels of my own personal experience, rather than in less satisfactory and less laborious ways; induced me to make a trial of the celebrated Hasheesh--that remarkable drug which supplies the lusurious Syrian with dreams more alluring and more gorgeous than the Chinese extracts from his darling opium pipe."

A previous experience in Egypt of a mild dose of cannabis "was so peculiar in character, that my curiosity, instead of being satisfied, only prompted me the more to throw myself, for once, wholly under its influence. The sensations it then produced were those, physically, of exquisite lightness and airiness--mentally, of a wonderfully keen perception of the ludicrous, in the most simple and familiar objects...."

In Damascas, when the Egyptian producing the hashish for the party of Americans and British asked, "per ridere, o per dormire?" [To laugh, or to sleep?] Taylor replied, "Oh, per ridere, of course, and see that it be strong and fresh." Taylor got more than he bargained for, ingesting, he reckoned later, enough for six men.

When intoxication came upon him, "[T]he same fine nervous thrill of which I have spoken, suddenly shot through me. But this time it was accompanied with a burning sensation at the pit of the stomach...The sense of limitation--of the confinement of our senses within the bounds of our own flesh and blood--instantly fell away....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 the revelation of the mystery of omnipresence."

"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. They physical feeling of extended being was accompanied by the image of an exploding meteor, not subsiding into darkness, but continuing to shoot from its centre or nucleus--which corresponded to the burning spot at the pit of my stomach..."

"The thrills which ran through my nervous system became more rapid and fierce, accompanied with sensations that steeped my whole being in unutterable rapture. I was encompassed in a sea of light, through which played the pure, harmonious colors that are born of light." He saw himself at the foot, then the apex, of the Pyramid of Cheops, only to find it made of blocks of tobacco, which sent him into laughter.

Soon, "I was moving over the Desert, not upon the rocking dromedary, but seated in a barque made of mother-of-pearl, and studded with jewels of surpassing luster. The sand was made of grains of gold, and my keel slid through them without jar or sound. The air was radiant with excess of light, though no sun was to be seen. I inhaled the most delicious perfumes; and harmonies, such as Beethoven may have heard in dreams but never wrote, floated around me. The atmosphere itself was light, odor, music; and each and all sublimated beyond any thing the sober senses are capable of receiving. Before me--for a thousand leagues, as it seemed--stretched a vista of rainbows, whose colors gleamed with the splendor of gems--arches of living amethyst, sapphire, emerald, topaz and ruby...."

"The view of a sublime mountain landscape, the hearing of a grant orchestral symphony, or of a choral upborne by the 'full-voiced organ,' or even the beauty and luxury of a cloudless summer, suggest emotions similar in kind, if less intense. They took a warmth and glow from that pure animal joy which degrades not, but spiritualizes and ennobles our material part, and which differs from cold, abstract intellectual enjoyment, as the flaming diamond of the Orient differs from the icicle of the North. " Taylor claimed to be aware at all times of his whereabouts in the Damascus hotel, his Reason observing all. "I was double, not 'swan and swallow,' but rather, Sphinx-like, human and beast. A true Sphinx, I was a riddle and a mystery to myself."

Taylor begins a "bad trip" where he is hyperaware of blood rushing through his body and imagines his throat to be made of brass; he recovers in a bath with a glass of an acidic sherbet. Still feeling strange sensations for a few days later, Taylor remarks, "My mind was now as clear as the sky, my heart as free and joyful as the elastic morning air. The sun never shown so brightly to my eyes, the fair forms of nature were never penetrated with so perfect a spirit of beauty. I was again master of myself, and the world glowed as if new-created in the light of my joy and gratitude. I thanked God who had let me out of a darkness more terrible than that of the Valley of the Shadow of Death..."

Should he have "awakened that restless curiosity which I have endeavored to forestall" in experimentally-minded readers, Taylor warns 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."

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