Profondes joies du vin, qui ne vous a connues?
For all his time spent in opium dens and hashish clubs, le vin ultimately remained the drug of choice for Charles Baudelaire. Though hardly comparable in effect to opium and marijuana, his writings often include wine as part of a triumvirate of readily available intoxicants. Of special interest is Baudelaire’s contempt for hashish, which appears as a distant third to wine and opium as the favored means to inducing creativity within the evolving aesthetic of nineteenth century urban life. Baudelaire’s argument against hashish, bolstered by the observations of his contemporaries, Théophile Gautier and, across the Channel, Thomas De Quincey, implies that the confluence of their apologies for consumption of specific substances during the Romantic era stems from more than the need for paradis artificiels to stimulate creativity.
If one considers that rapid French colonial expansion coincides with the romantic era, making opium more widely available while at the same time bringing into sharper relief a dynamic between métropole and colonie, then Baudelaire’s anti-marijuana stance takes on deeper significance. As Liz Constable notes in her analysis of Balzac’s La Fille aux yeux d’or, the Orient in the nineteenth century “functions as both cause, and remedy, for social ills.” Perhaps the negative—and false—mythological origins of mangeurs du hachish (literally, “hashish eaters”) in the Orient, even more remote than the European-dominated opium trade, subtly contributes to Baudelaire’s outright critique of marijuana’s disastrous effects on the artist’s sensibility. After all, how could a European artist justify in good faith the use of a substance that figures so prominently in cultures where “Man is a weed”?
I hope to reveal the ways in which the blame these writers heap on drugs from the Orient is misplaced. Nineteenth century European rules of consumption, especially when it comes to drug use, originate out of a complex stew of morality, economics and sociology that was just coming to a boil in nineteenth century Western Europe. Marijuana and opium consumption threatened urban communities of Frenchmen and, by extension, France itself. Viewed thus, Baudelaire’s staunch advocacy of wine drinking takes on a pathetic urgency that Zola will undermine by the time he publishes his Rougon-Macquart saga, rife with alcoholics, corpulence, and capitalism. Against a fin-de-siècle backdrop, the earlier Romantic attitude toward wine consumption reveals a more precise addiction not so much to alcohol, but to the sense of community the act of drinking provides the French artist while he studies his subject, urban life.
Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) provides the starting point for a discussion of Romantic attitudes toward mind-altering substances. Discussing his addiction before the concept as we know it today even existed, de Quincey details the paradoxical relationships of both the addict to his drug as well as, tangentially, the European to his foreign drug supply. His axiom is the insistence that opium merely intensifies already existing intellectual prowess. “For my own part, without breach of truth or modesty, I may affirm, that my life has been, on the whole, the life of a philosopher: from my birth I was made an intellectual creature: and intellectual in the highest sense my pursuits and pleasures have been, even from my school-boy days,” he writes in his introduction. Clearly opium is not a means to intelligence, for de Quincey was already a “philosopher” to begin with. Laudanum however does permit one to use the intellect differently, specifically to provoke fantastic dreams that transcend the banality of everyday life and which further enlighten the opium-eater.
Great Britain’s dominance of the opium trade during the nineteenth century doubtless contributes to the cavalier attitude with which de Quincey narrates the tale of his drug use. In fact, the British had set up the trade with an economic double standard that allowed them to grow and consume the drug without technically trading it: “Because the trade did not violate any of their own national laws, most Westerners felt free to engage in it. Indeed, for 144 years (from1773 to 1917) it was the official policy of the British government to grow opium in India for sale in China but to disavow and abstain from the trade itself.” Nevertheless, the drug’s perceived exotic source exerted a strong pull on de Quincey’s imagination. He shudders to think that “in China […] I am terrified by the modes of life, by the manners, and the barrier of utter abhorrence, and want of sympathy, placed between us by feelings deeper than I can analyze. I could sooner live with lunatics, or brute animals.” So how exactly does one resolve Great Britain’s cultural supremacy with the fact that her subjects use the drug of “brute animals?”
To counter such horror, cultural bias quickly enters de Quincey’s narrative. Stereotypes of languid “Orientals” reinforce his insistence on blaming the opium user, not the substance itself, for any negative mental side effects. This stance permits him to retain his dignified identity as a lifelong British philosopher-gentleman with the neat assertion that intellectual prowess precedes opium use. De Quincey can therefore dismiss lazy opium users as simply products of a lazy culture. In other words, opium doesn’t make you stupid, and if it does, it means you already were to begin with. For instance:
Turkish opium-eaters, it seems, are absurd enough to sit, like so many equestrian statues, on logs of wood as stupid as themselves […] I question whether any Turk, of all that ever entered the paradise of opium-eaters, can have had half the pleasure I had. But, indeed, I honour the Barbarians too much by supposing them capable of any pleasures approaching to the intellectual ones of an Englishman.
Curiously enough, this is the same reasoning Baudelaire will make to justify wine consumption.
Like de Quincey’s opium, Baudelaire’s wine is a facilitator of intensified consciousness, drawing out and amplifying your true personality for better or for worse: “There are mean drunks: these are people who are naturally mean.” Wine itself is no worse than water; rather, the drinker’s innate constitution is to be blamed for the way alcohol works on him. In the end, De Quincey kicks his habit in a triumph of his will over physical dependency. After nearly two decades of opium use, his insistence that he is master over the drug begins to ring hollow. Opium heightens perception but is fundamentally isolating and debilitating, even for an Englishman: de Quincey the intellectual needs to rejoin the world in order to bestow his thoughts upon it.
Proceeding from the de Quincey’s conclusions it is easier to understand Baudelaire’s antipathy toward le hachish as well as his proclivity for wine. For the artist/writer, consuming wine, with its “universal” use by the French, provides quick access to the state of sublime Parisian modernity that is so closely linked to la foule for Baudelaire. In his 1851 essay “Du vin et du hachish” ("On Wine and Hashish"), he writes : “There is on this planet a vast, nameless crowd, whose sleep does not sufficiently put to rest its sufferings. Wine composes for them songs and poetry.” Baudelaire’s calling is, of course, to write down these “chants et poèmes” as he pulls them from the inebriated company of working-class Parisian wine drinkers. His attitude toward marijuana when compared with opium and alcohol is consequently severe: “wine is a physical support, hashish is a weapon for suicide.” We should read this as a figurative suicide of the artist, that under the influence of hashish he will isolate himself and lose his desire to be with the crowd, an experience crucial to Baudelaire’s creativity. With marijuana he asserts “it is the will that is attacked, and that is the most precious organ."
Hashish attacks the will in several ways, and Baudelaire wasn’t the first to describe them. That honor fell to Doctor Jean Jacques Moreau, who in 1845 reported the first use of the drug in his experiments with mental patients. For Moreau, “the hashish experience was a way to gain insight into mental disease.” He would administer the drug to patients with a history of mental illness in order to draw out and study symptoms of schizophrenia and mania, producing in the lab what Baudelaire and the Romantics would later attempt in hashish clubs; that is, a controlled environment in which hashish-eaters could experiment with the drug’s effects. The doctor and the artists both came to the same conclusion after experimentation: “It is clear from the observations of Moreau and of the French Romantics […] that ingestion of Cannabis extracts might precipitate episodes of acute mental confusion reminiscent of an acute brain syndrome. Their intensity was enough to discourage Gautier from repeating a second time [his] hashish experiences.” However, whereas “Moreau attributed the emotional instability of his patient to a primary disturbance of the intellect,” Baudelaire will ascribe waning mental powers to the drug itself. Either way, French thinkers took heed: “The admonition of Baudelaire seems to have been followed by his contemporaries, and Cannabis intoxication has never spread to the French intellectual elite.”
As one of French literature’s most famous inebriates, Baudelaire levels much criticism against marijuana, building his case one anecdote at a time. Among its most offensive qualities is the creation of a false, irretrievable heightening of mental acuity—the high rivals that of opium, but any transcendent vision is forgotten the next day:
When the next morning you see the daylight in your room, your first sensation is a profound astonishment. Time had completely disappeared […] This is the deserved punishment for the impious prodigality withi which you have made such a huge waste of nervous fluid. You have thrown your personnality to the wind, and now you have to go through the trouble of reassembling and refocusing it.
Since it is the property of marijuana, according to Baudelaire, to destroy the very identity of whoever ingests it, French mangeurs du hachish do not share the same ability to overcome drug-induced stupor by the grace of their cultural superiority (as does de Quincey the opium-eater). Baudelaire’s texts consequently vividly describe at length the gradual erosion of both mental and physical capacities over the course of a marijuana high and he concludes in disgust: “But why describe the heavy fantasies of one high on hashish: who would read them with pleasure? Who would agree to read them?” The considerations of Baudelaire the artist are never clearer than in this appraisal of the lousy readability of the hashish-eater’s work. If the experience is not worth rereading, Baudelaire seems to be asking, what is the point in taking the drug at all?
The anti-marijuana European testimony is predicated on the mythic origin of the drug in the Orient. Baudelaire and his contemporaries believed the ancient story of an old man who would give marijuana to his disciples in order to induce them to kill his enemies.  This myth, so barbaric and frightening to the European’s civilized ear, gives marijuana an even more remote cultural quality: “We were already familiar with the hallucinations smoking opium can cause; but hashish we only knew by name,” writes Gautier. It is a word of course that conjures up a savage part of the world. Like de Quincey, Baudelaire’s experience with drugs cannot be totally separated from their violent, exotic origins. A substance must therefore not only keep one in touch with the community, but also have a certain proximity to one’s culture in order to be of serious, lasting interest.
Although Baudelaire does not explicitly say so (perhaps because it is simply a fact of life for him), wine, unlike opium and hashish, is both locally produced and communally experienced. From a socio-anthropological standpoint a bottle of wine and a few people can create an instant community in France. “Wine is considered by the French nation as a good that is special to it, in the same way as its three hundred sixty cheeses and its culture. It’s a totem-drink.” Roland Barthes’s articulation of the French relationship to wine is foregrounded in centuries of French drinking. Considering that wine has been around in France since the middle ages, the concept of alcoholism arrived surprisingly late and was actually accepted and enforced even later. Sociologist Robert Chapuis writes:
For the first time, in 1848, the concept of alcoholism was launched into history by Doctor Magnus Huss, Professor in Stockholm […] Huss’s scientific advance did not provoke a swift revolution of the medical world in French, which was already little inclined—except for several exceptions—to be bothered by the birth of the phenomenon of “drunkenness,” of which knowledge remained limited.
Only in 1954 did “Pierre Mendès-France’s goverment […] finally make it mandatory for judicial authorities to take alcoholism as an illness into account for defendants where applicable." The case of official French reluctance to recognize the addictive properties of alcohol demonstrates the power of cultural factors that mitigate negative consequences of alcohol consumption by instead emphasizing the benefits of community and camaraderie drinking provides.
According to this tradition, Barthes in the twentieth century elucidates wine’s gift of revelation: “It is before anything else a substances of conversion, capable of transforming situations and states, extracting from objects their inverse : to make, for instance, a weak person of a strong one, or an extrovert out of an introvert." Presented thus, it usually alters for the better. “In France drunkenness is a consequence, never a finality ; drink is felt to be the continuation of a pleasure, not as the necessary cause of a specific effect." I think Baudelaire would agree. What Barthes says about wine in France—that the act of drinking it is the goal, not the drunkenness—is precisely what appeals to Baudelaire. Chapuis sheds more light on this concept of contemporary social drinking when he describes just how ingrained alcohol consumption has become in our relationships with others:
The alcohol-object, which becomes reality through its increasingly diversified presentation is permanent in social life, not only because of a personal appetite, family habit or peer pressure, but also because of the imagination driven by the entire social body and encouraged and directed by advertised models.
Despite contemporary acknowledgement of alcoholism as a disease, wine permeates nearly all aspects of the French cultural imagination and so cannot be broadly condemned (and subsequently eliminated as unacceptable in the same way opium and marijuana previously were). Whenever and wherever French people are relating to one another, a bottle of merlot is probably close by.
Yet how viable is it to speak today of the “imagination” of alcohol in the twentieth century? Emile Zola, writing in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, finally sees that alcohol consumption creates only farce of human solidarity. If Baudelaire’s swarming, inebriated Paris is sublime, Zola’s is simply terrifying—there is no inspiration to be found here, only the constant treading underfoot of a never-ending supply of urban dwellers, each isolated in his or her private, drunken misery. The flâneur has fallen victim to the market that begins to dominate the movement of crowds into a massive orgy of buying and selling: “Paris chewed up by great mouthfuls its two million inhabitants. It was like a great central organ, beating furiously, hurling the lifeblood in its veins.” In Zola’s fiction Baudelaire’s Parisian spleen has been replaced by the city’s squalid guts. Pasi Falk, in The Consuming Body, argues for a Zola-inspired model of modern consumption that no longer establishes social reciprocity, but functions as an isolating experience. Now we consume to mark ourselves as individuals, each different from the next based on our tastes:
On the whole, the modern individual cannot reach for completion by giving his individual self (autonomy) and becoming part of a more or less symbiotic group-self. The modern individual is bound to the freedom of maintaining his self boundaries, his separatedness, thus creating a state of lack acting as an impetus for the further pursuit of completion […]
Nineteenth century Romantics ironically anticipate this sociological sea change with their desperate need for to find a substance that will allow the artist immediate and faithful access to his peers (or his “symbiotic group-self”). Baudelaire, with his romantic cultural image of wine, clings to the last vestiges of drink as a means to creating social bonds through drink.
But it would be a mistake to completely isolate orientalist romantic approaches to consumption psychoactive substances from present theories of why we use certain drugs. For instance, Michael Pollan finds a dynamic of memory and forgetting in drug use that brings to light an interesting hypothesis that Baudelaire and de Quincey indirectly suggest in their writing. Pollan proposes that mind-altering plants fulfill a very basic need; so basic in fact that we take it for granted. The psychoactive chemical THC (found in cannabis) is “involved with pain relief, short-term memory sedation, and mild cognitive impairment.” Marijuana, in conclusion, takes the edge off just enough to free us from the stultifying minutiae of day-to-day life: You forget the mundane and remember the sublime. De Quincey raves about opium’s ability to grant unprecedented access to remote memory, which is a paradoxical way of saying opium allows you to forget the present:
The minutest incidents of childhood, or forgotten scenes of later years, were often revived: I could not be said to recollect them; for if I had been told of them when waking, I should not have been able to acknowledge them as parts of my past experience. But placed as they were before me, in dreams like intuitions, and clothed in all their evanescent circumstances and accompanying feelings, I recognized them instantaneously […] I feel assured that there is no such thing as forgetting possible to the mind.
Wine too serves this purpose, albeit in a less dramatic way. The saying in vino veritas still suggests that we drink to access hidden truth. We “forget ourselves” to become more honest, faithful to some truer version of who we are. In light of this common characteristic of all three substances to privilege certain parts of memory, it must be the cultural pressures of the historical moment that cause Baudelaire to favor wine over hashish and opium.
Jacques Derrida clarifies the slippery status of many drugs with his deconstruction of faulty terms such as “natural” that get called into play on both sides of the debate over drug use. The impossibility of the existence of such a thing as “the natural” proves “one must conclude that the concept of drugs is not a scientific concept, but is rather instituted on the basis of moral or political evaluations: it carries in itself both norm and prohibition, allowing no possibility of description or certification.” Derrida’s fundamental contention that drugs in society are “both a word and a concept” rather than a concretely definable substance lies at the source of the confusion surrounding what to prohibit (heroin, cocaine) and what to permit (cigarettes, coffee). He further shows that the disorderly ordering of drugs is part of a larger capitalist critique: we loathe the addict because he or she “produces nothing, nothing true or real.” Michael Pollan suggests a similar interpretation:
So why does using a plant like cannabis still strike us, for spiritual purposes, as false and cheap? Is it the work ethic—no pain, no gain? I think the problem is really the provenance of those chemicals in this case, that they come from outside us, and even worse, they come from nature, from plants.
And, I would add, from far away less-civilized cultures in Baudelaire’s time. Derrida could be describing Baudelaire when he writes, “We require that this alterity (which produces literature) be authentic and not factitious, neither simulated nor stimulated by artificial projections.”
By their ultimate rejections of marijuana as a viable source of creativity, Baudelaire and his contemporaries exemplify Derrida’s assertion that to condone certain drugs is to really condone a certain morality. It is no coincidence the acceptance of opium use was contingent upon the rise and fall of the fortunes of the British businessmen and politicians who controlled the trade during the nineteenth century. Once the Chinese entered the trade, rendering it dramatically less profitable to the British, the anti-opium movement finally succeeded in banning the drug in the early twentieth century. Though all three substances alter consciousness, wine manages to come off as necessary to daily life, for artists and regular folk alike, by virtue of is entrenched status in French life. Wine’s “drug but not a drug” cultural status briefly allows Baudelaire to bridge the gap between authentic artistic output and the wasteful ranting of an alcoholic until capitalism deals the final blow and consumption evolves to become the isolating phenomenon Falk recognizes in the twentieth century. Similarly, wine’s iconic place in the French imaginary connotes French artistic superiority vis-à-vis the Orient’s mind-numbing substances before colonialism’s demise in the twentieth century.
Barthes, Roland. « Le vin et le lait. » Oeuvres complètes. Paris : Seuil, 2003.
Baudelaire, Charles. Les Paradis artificiels. Paris : Gallimard-Folio Classique, 2001.
-----. « Du Vin et du hachish. » Les Paradis artificiels. Paris : Gallimard-Folio Classique, 2001
Chapuis, Robert. L’alcool, un mode d’adaptation sociale? Paris: Editions L’Harmattan,1989.
Constable, Liz. “Balzac’s Golden Triangle in the Colonial Genealogy of Decadence.” Manuscript, 2004.
Derrida, Jacques. “The Rhetoric of Drugs: An Interview.” Trans. Michael Israel. Differences 5.1 (1993):1-23.
Falk, Pasi. The Consuming Body. London: Sage Publications, 1997.
Gautier, Théophile. « Le Hachich. » Les Paradis artificiels. Paris : Gallimard-Folio Classique, 2001.
Janin, Hunt. The India-China Opium Trade in the Nineteenth Century. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland&Co., Inc., Publishers, 1999.
Nahas, Gabriel G. Marihuana—Deceptive Weed. New York: Raven Press, 1973.
Pollan, Michael. “Cannabis, Forgetting and the Botany of Desire.” October 1, 2003 Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities. Occasional Papers. Paper 27.
Postel-Vinay, Gilles and Jean-Marc Robin. “Eating, Working and Saving in an Unstable World: Consumers in Nineteenth Century France.” The Economic History Review 45.3 (Aug. 1992): 494-513.
Quincey, Thomas de. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings.London: Penguin Books, 2003.
Zola, Emile. Le Ventre de Paris. Paris : Gallimard-Folio, 1989.
 Charles Baudelaire, “Du vin et du hachish” in Les Paradis artificiels (Paris : Gallimard-Folio Classique, 2001) 80.
 Liz Constable, “Balzac’s Golden Triangle in the Colonial Genealogy of Decadence” 41.
 Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings (London: Penguin Books, 2003) 81.
 Cf. Hunt Janin: “By the 1830s opium was the single most valuable commodity being traded in the entire world, and personal fortunes were being made from it. According to a contemporary account, opium sales in China in 1833—well before the trade reached its zenith in the 1870s—were equal in value to the toal amount then being paid by the British and Americans for Chinese tea, namely, about $14 million” (The India-China Opium Trade in the Nineteenth Century, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland&Co., Inc., Publishers, 1999) 23.
 Il y a des ivrognes méchants ; ce sont des gens naturellement méchants," Baudelaire 91.
 “I had motives external to myself […] and these supplied me with conscientious supports which mere personal interests might fail to supply to a mind debilitated by opium” (De Quincey 88).
 "Il y a sur la boule terrestre une foule innombrable, innomée, dont la sommeil n’endormirait pas suffisamment les souffrances. Le vin compose pour eux des chants et des poèmes," Baudelaire 84.
 “Le vin est le support physique, le hachish est une arme pour le suicide.“ Baudelaire 103.
 « C’est la volonté qui est attaquée, et c’est l’organe le plus précieux,” Baudelaire 102.
 Gabriel G. Nahas, Marihuana—Deceptive Weed (New York: Raven Press, 1973) 7.
 In England, the drug was pulled from pharmacy shelves after a brief heyday. Originally used as a cure-all “relieving pain, muscle spasms, and convulsions occurring in tetanus, rabies, rheumatism and epilepsy” in mid-nineteenth century England, “when more specific medication of known potency such as aspirin, barbituates, and anesthetic agents became availabe, hemp preparations fell rapidly into disrepute. In 1932 hemp drugs were deleted from the British pharmacopeia because of their variable potency and unexplained variations in response to their use in man” (Nahas 7).
 Quand le lendemain matin, vous voyez le jour installé dans votre chambre, votre première sensation est un profond étonnement. Le temps avait complètement disparu […] C’est la punition méritée de la prodigalité impie avec laquelle vous avez fait une si grande dépense de fluide nerveux. Vous avez jeté votre personnalité aux quatre vents du ciel, et maintenant vous avez de la peine à la rassembler et à la concentrer." Baudelaire 100.
 "Or, je n’ai à décrire les lourdes fantaisies d’un éleveur enivré de haschisch: qui les lirait avec plaisir? Qui consentirait à les lire ?" Baudelaire, « Les Paradis artificiels » 145.
 « Les Paradis artificiels » 114.
 "Nous connaissions déjà les hallucinations que cause l’opium fumé; mais le hachich ne nous était connu que de nom,” Theophile Gautier, “Le Hachich” (Les Paradis artificiels, Paris : Gallimard-Folio classique, 2001) 41.
 “Le vin est senti par la nation française comme un bien qui lui est propre, au même titre que ses trois cent soixante espèces de fromages et sa culture. C’est une boisson-totem,” Roland Barthes « Le vin et le lait » in Oeuvres complètes (Paris : Seuil, 2003) 607.
Pour la première fois, en 1848, le concept d’alcoolisme fut lancé dans l’histoire par le Docteur Magnus Huss, Professeur à Stockholm[…]L’avancée scientifique de Huss ne provoqua pas en France une révolution rapide du monde médical, déjà peu inclin—sauf quelques exceptions—à s’émouvoir de la naissance du phénomène “d’ivrognerie”, sur lequel le savoir restait limité. Robert Chapuis. L’alcool, un mode d’adaptation sociale? (Paris: Editions L’Harmattan, 1989) 16.
 "le gouvernement de M. Pierre Mendès-France […] fera enfin obligation aux autorités judiciaires de prendre en compte l’alcoolisme des ‘prévenus’ en tant que maladie.” Chapuis 17.
 "Il est avant tout une substance de conversion, capable de retourner les situations et les états, et d’extraire des objets leur contraire: de faire, par exemple, d’un faible un fort, d’un silencieux, un bavard.” Barthes 607.
 En France, l’ivresse est conséquence, jamais finalité; la boisson est sentie comme l’étalement d’un plaisir, non comme la cause nécessaire d’un effet recherché.” Barthes 608.
 L’objet alcool, qui devient réalité, par sa présentation de plus en plus diversifiée, est permanent dans la vie sociale, non seulement en raison d’appétence personnelle, d’initiation familiale, ou de la pression d’un groupe, mais aussi en raison de l’imaginaire véhiculé par le corps social tout entier, conforté ou orienté par les modèles publicitaires." Chapuis 17.
 "Paris mâchait les bouchées à ses deux millions d’habitants. C’était comme un grand organe central battant furieusement, jetant le sang de la vie dans toutes les veines.” Emile Zola, Le Ventre de Paris (Paris : Gallimard-Folio, 1989) 77.
 Pasi Falk, The Consuming Body (London: Sage Publications, 1997) 144.
 Michael Pollan, “Cannabis, Forgetting and the Botany of Desire” (October 1, 2003. Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities. Occasional Papers. Paper 27) 13.
 Jacques Derrida, “The Rhetoric of Drugs: An Interview,” trans. Michael Israel (Differences 5.1 (1993): 1-23) 2.
 Cf. Gilles Postel-Vinay and Jean-Marc Robin, “Eating, Working and Saving in an Unstable World: Consumers in Nineteenth Century France” (The Economic History Review 45.3 (Aug. 1992): 494-513.)
The authors conclude that the French consumed more meat and wine than bread, disproportionately even to the rise in income. Economic historians have noted that wine consumption by the entire country in the last half of the nineteenth century rose much faster than an increase in income; it was almost like a necessary luxury.