Want to be a successful nineteenth-century writer? Get high on Mariani

I previously wrote about Vin Mariani – the cocaine laced alcoholic drink labeled as a ‘medicinal tonic’ – being marketed to female cyclists. But apparently it wasn’t just women cyclists who were wandering the streets of Paris on a constant buzz. In 1933 Colette recalled her first encounters with the world of journalism in the 1890’s, visiting the offices of newspaper L’Écho de Paris where her then husband Henri Gauthier-Villars aka Willy worked.  She gives a vivid account of the dingy, gas-lit offices on the rue du Croissant filled with:

l’odeur d’encre, d’hommes, de gros tabac, de boue mouillée et de bière… Catulle Mendès  écrivait ses articles de critique en parlant, en fumant, en invectivant, en buvant du Mariani

the smell of ink, men, wholesale tobacco, wet dirt and beer… Catulle Mendès wrote his reviews while talking, smoking, railing against something, and drinking Mariani

(Le Journal de Colette, La Republique, 15 December 1933)

 Catulle Mendès (1841-1909), poet/novelist/ renowned critic, was one of L’Écho de Paris’ most prolific journalists, contributing columns, reviews, poetry and sensationalist serial novels to the newspaper almost non-stop. Now we know his secret. Also, Mendès was not alone. All over the world people were drinking the ‘French tonic wine’ judging from this poster published in Harper’s Weekly in 1894 advertising the drink through endorsements from international celebrities, including Émile Zola (top right) and playwright Victorien Sardou (top left).

Zola, Sardou: all high on Vin Mariani. Harper's Weekly, 1894.

These celebrities were all high on Vin Mariani.  Advertisement Harper’s Weekly, 1894.

Every time I used to read something about these nineteenth-century writers and journalists I have always been amazed by the sheer amount of work they produced. Every single literary figure seems to have been a poet or a novelist as well as playwright, journalist and a critic churning out articles, novels and plays on a daily basis while still having time left to read other people’s work, socialize in cafes and have an interesting life. It has always made me feel incredibly lazy in comparison, but I consoled myself by putting their high productivity down to not having phones, computers or the Internet to distract them from work with Twitter updates or a top twenty of the world’s cutest cat videos. Turns out I was wrong. They were just high all the time.

Catulle Mendès : probably holding a bottle of Mariani outside of the frame.

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