A short story by Guy De Maupassant


They had just dined together, five old friends, a writer, a doctor and
three rich bachelors without any profession.

They had talked about everything, and a feeling of lassitude came over
them, that feeling which precedes and leads to the departure of guests
after festive gatherings. One of those present, who had for the last
five minutes been gazing silently at the surging boulevard dotted with
gas-lamps, with its rattling vehicles, said suddenly:

"When you've nothing to do from morning till night, the days are long."

"And the nights too," assented the guest who sat next to him. "I sleep
very little; pleasures fatigue me; conversation is monotonous. Never do
I come across a new idea, and I feel, before talking to any one, a
violent longing to say nothing and to listen to nothing. I don't know
what to do with my evenings."

The third idler remarked:

"I would pay a great deal for anything that would help me to pass just
two pleasant hours every day."

The writer, who had just thrown his overcoat across his arm, turned round
to them, and said:

"The man who could discover a new vice and introduce it among his fellow
creatures, even if it were to shorten their lives, would render a greater
service to humanity than the man who found the means of securing to them
eternal salvation and eternal youth."

The doctor burst out laughing, and, while he chewed his cigar, he said:

"Yes, but it is not so easy to discover it. Men have however crudely,
been seeking for--and working for the object you refer to since the
beginning of the world. The men who came first reached perfection at
once in this way. We are hardly equal to them."

One of the three idlers murmured:

"What a pity!"

Then, after a minute's pause, he added:

"If we could only sleep, sleep well, without feeling hot or cold, sleep
with that perfect unconsciousness we experience on nights when we are
thoroughly fatigued, sleep without dreams."

"Why without dreams?" asked the guest sitting next to him.

The other replied:

"Because dreams are not always pleasant; they are always fantastic,
improbable, disconnected; and because when we are asleep we cannot have
the sort of dreams we like. We ought to dream waking."

"And what's to prevent you?" asked the writer.

The doctor flung away the end of his cigar.

"My dear fellow, in order to dream when you are awake, you need great
power and great exercise of will, and when you try to do it, great
weariness is the result. Now, real dreaming, that journey of our
thoughts through delightful visions, is assuredly the sweetest experience
in the world; but it must come naturally, it must not be provoked in a
painful, manner, and must be accompanied by absolute bodily comfort.
This power of dreaming I can give you, provided you promise that you will
not abuse it."

The writer shrugged his shoulders:

"Ah! yes, I know--hasheesh, opium, green tea--artificial paradises.
I have read Baudelaire, and I even tasted the famous drug, which made me
very sick."

But the doctor, without stirring from his seat, said:

"No; ether, nothing but ether; and I would suggest that you literary men
should use it sometimes."

The three rich bachelors drew closer to the doctor.

One of them said:

"Explain to us the effects of it."

And the doctor replied:

"Let us put aside big words, shall we not? I am not talking of medicine
or morality; I am talking of pleasure. You give yourselves up every day
to excesses which consume your lives. I want to indicate to you a new
sensation, possible only to intelligent men--let us say even very
intelligent men--dangerous, like everything else that overexcites our
organs, but exquisite. I might add that you would require a certain
preparation, that is to say, practice, to feel in all their completeness
the singular effects of ether.

"They are different from the effects of hasheesh, of opium, or morphia,
and they cease as soon as the absorption of the drug is interrupted,
while the other generators of day dreams continue their action for hours.

"I am now going to try to analyze these feelings as clearly as possible.
But the thing is not easy, so facile, so delicate, so almost
imperceptible, are these sensations.

"It was when I was attacked by violent neuralgia that I made use of this
remedy, which since then I have, perhaps, slightly abused.

"I had acute pains in my head and neck, and an intolerable heat of the
skin, a feverish restlessness. I took up a large bottle of ether, and,
lying down, I began to inhale it slowly.

"At the end of some minutes I thought I heard a vague murmur, which ere
long became a sort of humming, and it seemed to me that all the interior
of my body had become light, light as air, that it was dissolving into

"Then came a sort of torpor, a sleepy sensation of comfort, in spite of
the pains which still continued, but which had ceased to make themselves
felt. It was one of those sensations which we are willing to endure and
not any of those frightful wrenches against which our tortured body

"Soon the strange and delightful sense of emptiness which I felt in my
chest extended to my limbs, which, in their turn, became light, as light
as if the flesh and the bones had been melted and the skin only were
left, the skin necessary to enable me to realize the sweetness of living,
of bathing in this sensation of well-being. Then I perceived that I was
no longer suffering. The pain had gone, melted away, evaporated. And I
heard voices, four voices, two dialogues, without understanding what was
said. At one time there were only indistinct sounds, at another time a
word reached my ear. But I recognized that this was only the humming I
had heard before, but emphasized. I was not asleep; I was not awake; I
comprehended, I felt, I reasoned with the utmost clearness and depth,
with extraordinary energy and intellectual pleasure, with a singular
intoxication arising from this separation of my mental faculties.

"It was not like the dreams caused by hasheesh or the somewhat sickly
visions that come from opium; it was an amazing acuteness of reasoning, a
new way of seeing, judging and appreciating the things of life, and with
the certainty, the absolute consciousness that this was the true way.

"And the old image of the Scriptures suddenly came back to my mind.
It seemed to me that I had tasted of the Tree of Knowledge, that all the
mysteries were unveiled, so much did I find myself under the sway of a
new, strange and irrefutable logic. And arguments, reasonings, proofs
rose up in a heap before my brain only to be immediately displaced by
some stronger proof, reasoning, argument. My head had, in fact, become a
battleground of ideas. I was a superior being, armed with invincible
intelligence, and I experienced a huge delight at the manifestation of my

"It lasted a long, long time. I still kept inhaling the ether from my
flagon. Suddenly I perceived that it was empty."

The four men exclaimed at the same time:

"Doctor, a prescription at once for a liter of ether!"

But the doctor, putting on his hat, replied:

"As to that, certainly not; go and let some one else poison you!"

And he left them.

Ladies and gentlemen, what is your opinion on the subject?


Guy de Maupassant