Excerpted from Chapter Six (in) “The History of Coca”
by William Golden Mortimer MD 1901
Editor’s Note: Angelo Mariani was the most celebrated producer of Coca Leaf-based medicines in the 19th Century. The following passage from Dr. Mortimer’s “History of Coca”, which can be found in its entirety in my sourcebook “The Coca Leaf Papers” explains why Mariani was celebrated throughout the Western world for the quality of his creations.
The Genius Of Angelo Mariani
It has been said that a man is created for some especial work, and this seems happily applied in the present instance. Angelo Mariani was born in Bastia, the largest city of Corsica, where a foundation for scientific training through an ancestry of physicians and chemists preceded him. But better than ancestry is the work that a man does which shall live after him. Reared in an atmosphere where chemical possibilities were daily thoughts – while united with these was a love for books, and allied art and antiquities – it seemed but natural that he should experiment on the then much talked of Coca of the Incas, an ideal of endurance, interest in which the tales of travelers and scientists from Cieza to Mantegazza had only intensified. The problem of the elixir of life, so baffling to philosophers since long before the days of Hermes Trismegistus, which many now believed was pent up in Coca – seemed capable of as definite solution as is possible through human intervention. Commencing investigation with the unmistakable evidence regarding the properties of Coca, it was sought to present these in a positive and available form, which fluid and solid extracts, or the volatile herb, had not uniformly preserved. Experimentation led to combining several varieties of leaf, setting aside those which contained chiefly the bitter principle – since known to be cocaine – and selecting those which contained the aromatic alkaloids. An extract of these blended leaves embodied in a wholesome wine, was found to represent the peculiar virtue of Coca as so much prized by the native users.
There is no secret other than method claimed in the process which has made the name of its inventor synonymous with that of Coca, though I heard an anecdote related of this gentleman – who personally scrutinizes every detail of manufacture, that “after everything else is done he goes around and drops something else in.” Whether this be so or not, it is certain that the preparations of Coca manufactured by Mariani are entirely different in aroma and action from other Coca preparations which I have examined. These latter have not the agreeable flavor of Coca, but the fluid extracts are usually bitter and the wines have a peculiar birch-like taste comparable with the smell of an imitation Russia leather. That this “musty cellar flavor,” as it is technically termed, is due to the quality of Coca leaf was evidenced by a preparation of wine made for me in Paris in the fall of 1898, from choice leaves direct from the Caravaya district, which, however, were rich in cocaine.
It seems appropriate in a history of Coca that I should say something of the personality of one whose life work has been devoted to rendering the “divine herb” popular. It may be said that Coca is the hobby of Mariani. It is his recreation, his relaxation and constant source of pleasure, wholly removed from sordid commercial interests. At Neuilly, on the Seine, Paris, France, where his laboratory is located, his study is tastefully arranged with rich tapestries and carvings, in which the exquisite designs possible from conventionalizing the Coca leaf and flower are so artistically used as the motif of decoration that they are not obtrusive but must be pointed out in order to be recognized. Here he has extensive conservatories, which are filled with thousands of Coca plants of various species, among which he takes the greatest delight in experimenting upon peculiarities of growth and cultivation. From this collection specimen plants have been freely distributed to botanical gardens in all parts of the world.
As I had difficulty in preserving appropriate examples of the Peruvian shrub for my study, ten choice Coca plants were sent to me from Neuilly, and these, for proper care and preservation, I presented to the New York Botanical Garden, while still being permitted to continue my experiments upon them. In addition to this courtesy, I have been the recipient of numerous favors from M. Mariani, who has generously accorded me details upon the subject of research not readily obtainable elsewhere, and who literally extended the resources of his vast establishment to the furtherance of my investigation. Aside from papers in current journals Mariani wrote a monograph upon Coca and its therapeutic application, a translation of which by Mr. J. N. Jaros, of this city, has been the most available authority for the English reader.
I am convinced no more happy realization can occur to this savant than the knowledge that his efforts to render Coca popular and available have met with a spontaneous approval from representative personages in various parts of the world. Entirely aside from any personal interest, a voluminous testimony has literally showered in from those whose motive and sincerity must be accepted as an unquestionable regard for recognized merit. Eminent artists and sculptors have painted and chiseled some dainty examples which serve to typify their esteem for a modem elixir vitae.
Roty, President of the Academie des Beaux Arts, and probably the most eminent living medalist, has executed a presentation medal of appreciation. Famous musical composers, such as Gounod, Faure, Ambrose Thomas, Massenet, and many others have sung their hosannas in unique bars of manuscript melody. Poets and writers without number have versed the qualities of the Coca leaf and the present happy idealization of its powers.
Royalty has set upon it the meritorious seal of patronage, and the modern Church, more liberal than its edicts of long ago, has welcomed its use. Only recently Pope Leo XIII sent a golden medal of his ecclesiastical approval, for it is said that for years His Holiness has been supported in his ascetic retirement by a preparation of Mariani’s Coca, of which a flask constantly worn is, like the widow’s cruse, never empty.
So numerous have been these expressions from eminent characters of the day, that it has been possible to compile from them a cyclopedia of contemporary biography which has already reached several large octavo volumes. A brief outline of each notable is given, with an etched portrait, and often accompanied by a sketch showing some known forte of the individual. Where these are artists their impromptu illustrations display a happy humor associated with their characteristic touch.
The resultant compilations, exquisitely printed and bound as an edition deluxe, are much sought by bibliophiles. A short time since, while the Princess of Battenberg was on a visit at Nice, she was presented with one of these copies, and in acknowledging the courtesy suggested that her mother, the Queen of England, would be delighted to have one for her private library. In fulfillment of such a hint, which was accepted as an imperial command, two sets, especially illuminated by Atalaya, were forwarded to Her Majesty, who wrote that she considered them among the finest specimens in her collection.
Editor’s note: If you would like to access a beautifully illustrated, downloadable PDF of this wonderful collection of portraits and praise for Mariani’s Coca Leaf & Bordeaux Wine tonic by many of the great artists, singers, actors (including Sarah Bernhardt), and other stars of the Victorian age CLICK HERE.