Reva Basch (reva) Wed 16 Jun 99 16:44
Welcome to Donald P. Dulchinos (dpd), author of _Pioneer of Inner Space : The Life of Fitz Hugh Ludlow, Hasheesh Eater_ . Don's description of the book on Amazon.com begins: This is my first book, and it's the never- before-told story of a true American original. Twenty-one-year-old Fitz Hugh Ludlow became the best-selling author of The Hasheesh Eater in the years before the Civil War. His best-seller related his visionary experiences with large, oral doses of hashish, along with his religious, philosophical and medial reflections on the altered states they produced. He became a celebrated figure in the Bohemian circles of New York City, along with such friends as Walt Whitman. A short-story writer, drama and music critic and a journalist, he mingled with the high society of New York while dissolutely wandering among the disreputable, hard- drinking literati. Steve Solomon (ssol) will interview Don. Welcome to Inkwell, both of you. This sounds like a fascinating book.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Fri 18 Jun 99 07:08
Thanks, Reva! Okay, lets get started, Don. Can you briefly tell us who this Fitz Hugh Ludlow was, and why folks round here should know about this writer forgotten for so many years?
born cross-eyed (dpd) Sat 19 Jun 99 07:37
He was a teenager who took drugs. No big deal, except this was in 1854. He started taking large oral doses of hashish, and began a series of visionary, or hallucinatory, depending on your view, experiences. There was absolutely no one else who had ever written or told of such experiences at the time - only experiences with opium briefly sketched by DeQuincey. Fitz Hugh was a lone pioneer, and he recognized that his insights were both unique and important. He collected his experiences and reflections on them into a remarkable book - The Hasheesh Eater - a best seller in four editions beginning in 1857. And this was just the beginning of his career.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Sat 19 Jun 99 10:14
Now, you have at least one thing in common with Ludlow. Care to tell us how you happened upon his story? Give us some context before digging into the heart of Fitz Hughs tale.
born cross-eyed (dpd) Sat 19 Jun 99 12:14
We went to the same college, Union College in Schenectady New York. Around 1975, I met up with an interesting bunch of idiosyncratic intellectuals who belonged to a secret literary society called Kappa Alpha. Ludlow had been a member in his era, and the current bunch seemed to know a lot about him, in particular they claimed that Mark Twain had humbly submitted his writing to Fitz Hugh for advice and correction. This turned out to be true for a short time prior to Twain's move from West to East Coast. One thing I found out over time was that Union's English professors knew virtually nothing about Ludlow - one biographical pamphlet was published by a Union professor in the 1950's - it was based on secondary sources that I soon concluded were wholly inaccurate. Scholars of 19th century literature don't really know what to do with the likes of Ludlow, whose most important writings were centered around psychedelic exploration, opium addiction, and alcoholism.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Sat 19 Jun 99 12:51
Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to state that I was one of the folks at Kappa alpha in the mid-70's, and soaked up a bit of the secret history of the early and mid-1800s... To provide a little more of a frame to the following conversation, what should folks understand was, and is, unique about the Kappa Alpha Society, as opposed to subsequent Greek Letter societies? Can you put them into context historically in the heart of the Industrial Revolution, coming on the heels of the Age of Enlightenment? For example, you mention that one of Fitz Hughs mentors from Union College, a Professor Youman, was the founder of the magazine, Popular Science. Is it safe to say that the new age outlook of the mid-19th century contained equal parts emerging science and technology, Christian mysticism, and a fascination with things both ancient and oriental?
Don Dulchinos (dpd) Sat 19 Jun 99 13:08
Well, Union itself was one of the first colleges to have an engineering curriculum. Ludlow's father, an abolitionist preacher, was the first on the block to have natural gas lighting at home. Fitz Hugh, in addition to a broad classical education, knew a lot about technology and fused it to the general 19th century optimism. In his later years, he was given to outright boosterism about New York City commerce and industry. It played better than the mysticism with the city's leadership in that era, a leadership still very much shaped by puritanism and a narrowly Protestant outlook.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Sat 19 Jun 99 13:11
Still, things weren't entirely on the straight and narrow as some of our present day politicians would have us think, at least as far as social experimentation, if not spirituality, was concerned. David Bowman, of San Fransisco Magazine, in his very positive review of Pioneer of Inner Space, makes the observation that the 1860s America you portray in the book, the America that actually produced Ludlow, had much in common with the America of the 1960s, which produced such folks as Tim Leary. He also cites political comparisons between the eras. What do you think of this?
Don Dulchinos (dpd) Sat 19 Jun 99 13:33
well sure - civil rights is the obvious one. Fitz Hugh grew up in an abolitionist household - his father was very much a social liberal. Fitz Hugh spent a few post-college years in the company of Walt Whitman and a Bohemian circle that has been compared to the Beat generation of the 1950s. And I hadn't really thought about it before, but there was a general exhaustion that followed the Civil War that saw a parallel in what happened in this country in the wake of the 60's. And maybe in both eras, the sense of spiritual possibilities for the individual was experienced but never validated by the mainstream or keepers of official history.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Sat 19 Jun 99 15:14
Oh, my, to be out there and pretty much alone negotiating between the straight world (politicly and culturally) with a thin fabric of "bohemian" pals to be trusted as social safety-net... whilst pursuing the futhurest-out psycho-spiritual self-research of the day. Can you post an url for pix of this guy. I know that, for me, something really hit home when I saw an image of this frail young human, knowing how robust and fearless (perhaps a bit clueless in his early experiments) he was in attitude and curiousity.
Don Dulchinos (dpd) Sat 19 Jun 99 15:48
www.well.com/user/dpd/fitz.html but the earliest is age 25. younger ones in the book.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Sat 19 Jun 99 16:23
<scribbled by ssol Sat 19 Jun 99 18:43>
Steven Solomon (ssol) Sat 19 Jun 99 18:48
'Scuse the scribble. Weekend relocation from my desk machine to my Powerbook produced massive digital/typographicdisclocations. Anyhow, Thanks! Any other urls pointing to FHLalia would be of interest, as well. But first... On the book cover, Michael Horowitz is quoted praising the wealth of new information discovered in your research. Tell us who Michael is, and what role, if any he played in your research. Also, Horowitz has an interesting theory regarding a certain Louisa May Alcott. Care to tell us about it?
Don Dulchinos (dpd) Sun 20 Jun 99 11:49
Michael is founder and curator of the Fitz Hugh Ludlow Memorial Library, a unique collection of drug literature. Inspired by a reprint of The Hasheesh Eater in a Beat generation periodical called THe Hasty Papers in 1960, Michael combined his profession as bookseller with a subject that then and now has received scant academic attention. Michael's theory about Alcott was that she and Ludlow echanged correspondence on opium (Fitz Hugh an expert on treatment of addiction, and she a sometime user and who included opium as a plot device in some stories - just as Wilkie Collins did in the same time frame) and carried on an affair. He wrote a screenplay about it that at one time drew interest from actor Johnny Depp - in part due to his interest in the subject (hence the name of his club The VIper Room) and in part due to his romance at the time with Mike Horowitz's daughter, Winona Ryder. Mike's rare book service, Flashbook Books, is an interesting project - the address is at the web site noted above - you should all write and order his very nicely annotated catalog.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Sun 20 Jun 99 12:44
Thanks. Getting back to your work, how long were you researching Ludlow with the idea of wiritng his biography?
Don Dulchinos (dpd) Mon 21 Jun 99 13:50
well, I started collecting primary material (most of his short work never reprinted) for a couple of years before deciding to do the book, then another two years of spare time research around the edges of my full time job - which at the beginning was at the Library of Congress. As an employee, I had full access to the stacks at the LOC, and it is an amazing place.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Mon 21 Jun 99 15:16
Heh! I'll forget about the next question I had planned. What was amazing about the LOC, and did it influence you decision to write this book?
Don Dulchinos (dpd) Mon 21 Jun 99 18:14
(holding envelope to head) the answer is, the Dewey decimal system.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Mon 21 Jun 99 18:37
Ok... forget it ;-) Before getting into any details and later implications of Ludlows experience with Hasheesh, lets look at something up front. Now his trips, particularly the first, were a harrowing mix of hellish apparitions and delightful visions. At one point, he actually sees himself from out of his body, it being dead upon his own funeral bier. On another occassion, he envisions the Mohawk River to be the ancient Nile. What do you suppose it is about him, and perhaps the human species, that finds such experiences so compelling. Why would a supposedly rational creature nurture its own capacity for ecstasy at the possible, and in the case of large oral doses of Hasheesh, likely price of episodes of mortal terror.
Don Dulchinos (dpd) Mon 21 Jun 99 20:50
maybe something that confirms deep truths, whether you've thought about them before or not. That out of body experience was profoundly confirming to Fitz Hugh of the truth of the existence of a soul, something his preacher father drilled into him but he never really believed prior to that moment.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Tue 22 Jun 99 05:35
So, there was this idea afoot at the time, that somehow science and scientific experiment might provide proof of the "supernatural"?
Don Dulchinos (dpd) Tue 22 Jun 99 07:49
well, more ambiguous than that I think. the idea that science was assuredly making life better, but hadn't forced anyone to give up their Christian beliefs. Fitz Hugh was also by the early 1860's a proseltyzer for the theories of Darwin, putting considerably more pressure on orthodoxy.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Tue 22 Jun 99 08:03
Not surprisingly, he was a fellow with complex beliefs with plenty of room for ambiquity, uncertainty, and growth. At one point in his career, he mistakenly declares, The truly spiritual man is he who lives well. What a man likes wont hurt him. Later he becomes a caretaker for those in the grip of opiate addiction. Now, you describe the maturation of Ludlows writing on the issues surrounding the use of mind-altering substances between the publication of The Hasheesh Eater in the mid-1850s and his latest work in the late 1860s. You seem to suppose that had he been so deft a writer at the beginning of his career, America might have developed a more insightful attitude toward drug use. He preciently understood substance abuse as a medical, not moral problem.
Don Dulchinos (dpd) Tue 22 Jun 99 09:22
absolutely. he also argued that there was a difference between use and abuse - that distinction is only allowed to be made about alcohol in the current public discourse - I just heard a conservative Congressman comment on a Congressional hearing about the pros and cons of medical marijuana - "we don't have debates about the pros and cons of _rape_, do we?" Unfortunately, Fitz Hugh himself may have unwittingly set the table for the debate in this country by the form of his first book The Hasheesh Eater was titled to recall DeQuincey's Confessions of an Opium Eater (the latter being really only tangentialy about TD's opium experiences), and followed a Victorian confessional model because, as a young and somewhat immature writer, Fitz Hugh was leaning on the model. So in the book he intersperses glowing or funny reports on his visionary experiences with repeated attempts to abandon his "addiction". I think it was what he thought his audience expected. Yet all the primary evidence about his life during these experiences indicates he was under no debilitating addiction at all. Letters to and from him and family members at the time betray no untoward effects (and the family loved to gossip), he got good grades at college, was offered several teaching positions and took one upon graduation, and indeed wrote The Hasheesh Eater which is a marvelous prose effort, all while supposedly addicted. Years later, in several stories, he refers to hashish either playfully or as a medical agent. In fact, he suggests its use in treatment of both alcholism and opium addiction, both of which he treated explicitly as "addiction" per se. His novel on alcoholism, The Household Angel, was remarkable in not treating booze as simply a moral failing, but the result of pressures and complexities of life. He made similar points about opium, and even suggested that opium was a signature dis-ease of then-new modern industrial life.
Don Dulchinos (dpd) Tue 22 Jun 99 09:25
alas, The Household Angel was never reprinted, although his anthology The Opium Habit was reprinted in the 1970's as part of an academic house's "Addiction in America" series. In that book, by the way, Fitz Hugh may very well have invented the idea of a "halfway house" as treatment for addiction.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Tue 22 Jun 99 09:52
There are a number of other themes in his story that resonate beyond his own time, in fact are in a way immortal; the tough relationship with his father, his difficult marriage and the betrayal by his best friend, the great adventures through the continental frontier and back, and, of course, to the frontiers of his own mind and character. How much of this was known to you when you decided to become his biographer?
Members: Enter the conference to participate