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Title: Aromatics and the Soul - A Study of Smells
Author: McKenzie, Dan
Language: English
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                         AROMATICS AND THE SOUL

                              DISEASES OF
                           THE THROAT, NOSE,
                                AND EAR

                  By DAN MCKENZIE, M.D., F.R.C.S.E.
                    Royal 8vo. 650 pages. 2 Coloured
                    Plates and 198 Illustrations.
                    =42s.= net.

                    _Times Literary
                    Supplement._—“There is probably
                    no better book on this branch of
                    medicine and surgery in

                           WILLIAM HEINEMANN
                          (MEDICAL BOOKS) LTD.

                         AROMATICS AND THE SOUL
                           A STUDY OF SMELLS

                      DAN McKENZIE, M.D. (GLASG.)

          “Natura rerum quae sit odoribus intenta sunt....”
                        _Q. Horatii Flacci Carminum_, Lib. V.

          “There are whose study is of smells”
                           _R. Kipling’s version of the same_


                           WILLIAM HEINEMANN
                          (MEDICAL BOOKS) LTD.

                              INSCRIBED TO

                        DR. V. H. WYATT WINGRAVE

                             IN ADMIRATION


                         AN INDOMITABLE SPIRIT

                      _Printed in Great Britain._


Having, as I thought, completed this book—bar the Preface, which is, of
course, always the last chapter—I sent it in manuscript to an old friend
of mine for his opinion.

He let me have it.

“Your brochure,” he wrote, “is remarkable more perhaps for what it omits
than for what it contains. For example, there is no mention whatever
made of the _vomero-nasal organ, or organ of Jacobson_.”

Then, after drastically sweeping away the much that seems to him
redundant in the body of the work, he closes his general criticism
(which I omit) with “I should like to have heard your views on the
vomero-nasal organ. Parker devotes a whole chapter to it.”

A carpenter, according to the adage, is known by his chips. And it was
by the simple removal of some superfluous marble, as everyone knows,
that the Venus of Milo was revealed to the world—which is only another
way of saying the same thing.

But what sort of a carpenter is he who leaves among his chips the
mouldings of his door? And what should we say of the sculptor, even in
these days, who would treat as a superfluity his lady’s chin?

No mention of the vomero-nasal or Jacobson’s organ! A serious, nay! a
damning, defect.

So here am I trying to atone for the sin of omission by giving the
neglected item place of honour in my Preface. “The stone which the
builders rejected....”

But my motive for erecting it here, in the gateway to my little pagoda
of the perfumes, is not quite so simple as I am pretending. The fact is
that in my capacity as creator I predetermined, I actually foredained,
the omission from my text of the structure to which “Parker devotes a
whole chapter.”

I am sorry in some ways. But as the Aberdeen minister so consolingly
said: “There are many things the Creator does in His offeecial capacity
that He would scorn to do as a private indiveedual.”

You see, I had a feeling about it. One of those feelings artists are
subject to. (But a scientific writer an artist?—Certainly! Why not?)

I felt, to be quite frank, that if I were to interpolate a description
and a discussion of this _minutia_ my book would ... would.... Quite so.
The artist will understand.

I came, in short, to look upon this “organ,” this nose within a nose, as
a touchstone, so to speak. The thing became a Symbol.

But here we plunge head over heels into the Subjective, on the other
side of which stream lie the misty shades of the Occult. For that is
what happens to you when you begin talking about Symbols.

However, we shall not be crossing to the other side on this occasion, my
symbolism being after all but a humdrum affair.—Merely this, that to me
this organ of Jacobson is the symbol of the Exhaustive—of the minute,
punctilious, unwearying, laboured comprehensiveness, Teutonic in its
over and under and through, that characterises the genuine, the
reliable, scientific treatise and renders it so desperately full of
interest—to examinees.

Imagine, if you can, the indignation of kindly Sir Walter were the news
ever to reach him in Valhalla that urchins now at school are not only
forced to study his light-hearted romances as holiday tasks, but are
actually examined upon them!

So, comparing small things with great, let me say: “_Absit omen_.”

My faith in the spoken charm of that phrase is, however, none too
robust. Heaven helps the man who helps himself. And so, by way of
reinforcing the Powers in their efforts to divert professorial attention
from this essay of mine, I am leaving it, by a careful act of
carelessness, incomplete.

Here, then, you have the real reason for my exclusion of the organ of
Jacobson (and the like). It is merely a dodge to prevent the book ever
becoming a task in any way, for any one, at any time.

He who runs may read herein, then, without slackening pace—or he may
refrain from reading, just as he pleases, seeing that he can never be
under the compulsion of remembering a single word I have written.

This, if I may say so, is, in my opinion, the only kind of book worth
reading. At all events, it is the only kind I ever enjoy reading, and I
say if a book is not enjoyable it is already placed upon the only Index
Expurgatorius that is worth a ... an anathema.

                                                                   D. M.

                           TABLE OF CONTENTS

          CHAP.                                           PAGE

                PREFACE                                      v

             I. OLFACTION AND PUBLIC HEALTH                  1


           III. OLFACTORY MEMORY                            43

            IV. SMELL AND SPEECH                            59


            VI. THE ULTIMATE                                79

           VII. SMELL AND THE PERSONALITY                   87

          VIII. THEORIES OF OLFACTION                       98

            IX. DUST OF THE ROSE PETAL                     140

                         AROMATICS AND THE SOUL

                               CHAPTER 1
                      OLFACTION AND PUBLIC HEALTH

I sing of smells, of scents, perfumes, odours, whiffs and niffs; of
aromas, bouquets and fragrances; and also, though temperately and
restrainedly I promise you, of effluvia, reeks, fœtors, stenches, and

A few years ago I stood before the public singing another song. By no
means a service of praise it was, but something of the order of a
denunciatory psalm, wherein I invoked the wrath of the high gods upon
such miscreants as make life hideous with din.

You must not think that imprecations cannot be sung. All emotional
utterance is song, said Carlyle; only he said it not quite so briefly.
And, leaving on one side the vituperations of his enemies by King David
(if he it was who wrote the Psalms) which we still chant upon certain
days of the Christian year, it may be remembered that in bygone times
when the medical practitioner was a wizard (or a witch) and uttered his
(or her) spell to stay the arrows of Apollo, it not infrequently
contained a denunciation of some brother (or sister) practitioner of the
art (how times are changed!), and it was known, in Rome at all events,
as a _carmen_, a song. Hence, say the etymologists, the English word
“charm,” which still, of course, characterises the modern witch, if not
the modern wizard—neither of whom, we may add, is nowadays a medical

Besides, denunciations are, of course, grunted and growled with more or
less of a semblance of singing in modern opera. To substantiate my words
I need only mention that interminable scene—or is it an act?—of gloom
and evil plottings by Telramund and Ortrud in _Lohengrin_.

But if I am again singing, this time, I trust, my voice will sound in
the ears of my hearers less shrill, less strident, less of a shriek.
For, in sooth, the present theme is one upon which we are justly
entitled, in so far as England and Scotland at all events are concerned,
to raise what would be a _Nunc Dimittis_ of praise and thanksgiving,
were it not that the price of cleanly air like that of liberty is
eternal vigilance, seeing that our nostrils are no longer offended by
the stenches our forefathers had to put up with. That they endured such
offences philosophically, cheerfully even, laughing at the
unpleasantness as men do at a bad smell, is true. Nevertheless most
people in those days probably felt as much objection to a vile odour as
Queen Elizabeth, for example, did, the sharpness of whose nose, her
biographers tell us, was only equalled by the sharpness of her tongue.

Irishmen who do me the honour of tasting this light omelette of
scientific literature will have noticed, I am sure, that I have not
included the sister isle in my olfactory paradise. And indeed, I
hesitated long before passing it over, because I am a man of peace—at
any price where the Land of Ire is concerned. But alas! I am by nature
truthful and only by art mendacious. And there sticks horrible to my
memory the fumous and steamy stench of parboiled cabbage that filled the
restaurant-car of the train for Belfast—yes! Belfast, not Dublin—one
evening as I landed at Kingstown. The sea had been—well! it was the
Irish Sea, and I stepped on to the train straight from the mail-boat, so
that ... in a word, I remember that luscious but washy odour too vividly
to bestow upon Ireland the white flower of a stenchless life.

In these remarks I have been careful to observe that the train was not
the Dublin train, but if any one feels moved to defend the capital city,
let him first of all take a stroll down by the Liffey as it flows
fermenting and bubbling under its bridges, and then ... if he can....

Let me, however, in justice to that grief-stricken country, spray a
little perfume over my too pungent observations. I can also recall after
many years a warm and balmy evening in the town of Killarney, the
peaceful close to a day of torrential rain. The setting sun, glowing
love through its tears, was reddening the sky and the dark green hills
around, those hills of Ireland where surely, if anywhere on this earth,
heaven is foreshadowed. And linked in memory with that evening’s glory
there comes, like the gentle strain of a long-forgotten song, the rich,
pungent smell of turf-smoke eddying blue from low chimneys into the soft
air of the twilight. Ireland! Ireland! What an atmosphere of love and
grief that name calls up! Surely the surf that beats upon the strands of
Innisfail far away is more salt, more bitter, and perhaps for that very
reason more sweet, than the waters of any of the other beaches that
ocean bathes!

Thence also comes a memory of heliotrope. It grew by a cottage just
beyond a grey granite fishing-harbour in Dublin Bay, and brings also,
with its faint, ineffable fragrance, the same inseparable blending of
emotions that clings, itself a never-dying odour, to the memory of
holidays in Ireland. There is a phrase in a song, simple, sentimental,
even silly if you like, that prays for “the peace of mind dearer than

“But what,” I remember asking the mother of our party—“what is meant by
‘peace of mind’?” Her wistful smile seemed to me to be a very inadequate
reply to my question—which, by the way, I am still asking.

It is an historical fact that the movement which rendered England the
pioneer country in the matter of Public Health received its first
impulse from, and even now owes its continued existence to, the simple
accident that the English public has grown intolerant of over-obtrusive
odours. Stenches have attained to the dignity of a legal topic of
interest, and are now by Act of Parliament become “nuisances” in law as
well as in nature, with the result that they have been, for the most
part, banished from the face of the land and the noses of its

The reason assigned by the man in the street for this reform was, and
indeed still is, that stenches breed epidemic diseases. In a noisome
smell people imagine a deadly pestilence, probably because patients
affected with such epidemic diseases as smallpox, typhus, and
diphtheria, give off nauseating odours. Now, bad smells from drains and
cesspools do not of themselves induce epidemic disease. Nevertheless,
there is this much of truth in the superstition, that where you have bad
smells you have also surface accumulations of filth, and these, soaking
through soil and subsoil, contaminate surface wells, until it only
requires the advent of a typhoid or other “carrier” to set a widespread
epidemic a-going. Further, as recent investigators have shown us, the
loathsome and deadly typhus fever, known for years to be a
“filth-disease,” is carried by lice, which pests breed and flourish
where bodily cleanliness is neglected and personal odours are strong.

So that in this, as in most superstitions, there is a substratum of

But the point is, that the objection to bad smells preceded all those
scientific discoveries and had, in the beginning, but a slender support
from rationalism. Our forebears builded better than they knew. Their
objection was in reality intuitive. It may be true that all nations
occupying a corresponding level of civilisation will manifest the same
instinctive abhorrences, but it has been left to the practical genius of
the English race to give effect to the natural repugnance and to
translate its urgings into practice.

The interesting question now arises: How and when did this intuition or
instinct, this blind feeling, arise, and what transformed it from a mere
individual objection, voiced here and there, to a mass-movement leading
to a general popular reformation?

The first explanation that is likely to occur to us is, that it was due
to the refinement of feeling that accompanies high civilisation
operating in a community quick to respond and to react when a public
benefit is anticipated. One of the results of culture is an increase in
the delicacy of the senses. When men and women strive after refinement,
they achieve it, becoming refined, in spite of what pessimists and
so-called realists preach, not only in their outward behaviour, but also
in their innermost thoughts and feelings, and this internal refinement
implies among other things a quickening of the sense of disgust. There
is naturally a close and intimate connection between the sense of smell
and the nerve-centres which, when stimulated, evoke the feeling of
nausea in the mind—and the bodily acts that follow it. We are here
dealing, in fact, with a primitive protective impulse to ensure that
evil-smelling things shall not be swallowed, and the means adopted by
Nature to prevent that ingestion, or, if it has accidentally occurred,
to reverse it, are prompt. And successful. There is no compromise with
the evil thing.

Like all other nerve-reactions, this particular reflex can be educated:
either up or down. It can be blunted and degraded, or it can be rendered
more acute, more prompt to react. Now, one of the effects of civilised
life, of town life, is to abbreviate the period of all reflex action.
And if this applies to knee-jerks and to seeing jokes, it is even more
noticeable in the particular reflex we are here considering.

A citizen of Cologne in Coleridge’s days, for example, must have been
anosmic to most of the seven-and-twenty stenches that offended the
Englishman, and in my own time I have counted as many as ten
objectionable public perfumes, yea! even in Lucerne, the “Lovely
Lucerne” of the railway posters. Several of these, perhaps, did not
amount to more than a mere whiff, just the suspicion of a something
unpleasant, no more (but no less) disturbing than, say, one note a
semitone flat in a major chord; two or three of them, however, to the
sensitive, thin-winged organ of an English school-ma’am, would have
attained to the rank of a “smell,” a word on her lips as emphatic as an
oath on yours or mine; four of them, at the least, were plain stenches,
and so beyond _her_ vocabulary altogether; and one was—well! beyond even
mine, but only too eloquent itself of something ugly and bloated, some
mess becoming aerial just round the corner. I did not turn that corner.

Now, the people of Lucerne could never have smelled them, or at all
events they could never have appreciated those perfumes as I did, or the
town would have been evacuated. Their olfactory sense compared with mine
must have been a stupid thing, dense to begin with, and cudgelled by use
and wont into blank insensibility. Because, it is obvious, delicacy in
this, as in all the senses, can only be acquired by avoiding habitual
overstimulation. And that avoidance is only possible in a country where
odours are fine, etherealised, rare.

Even in France, France the enlightened, the sensitive, the refined,
primitive odours pervade the country, as our Army knows very well. Not
only is the farm dunghill given place of honour in the farm courtyard,
close to doors and windows, but even in the mansions of the wealthy the
cesspool still remains—not outside, but inside, the house, the
water-carriage system, even the pail-system (if that can be called a
system), being unknown. So that our Army authorities had to send round a
peculiar petrol-engine, known to the Tommies as “Stinking Willie,” to
empty those pools of corruption. Some of the monasteries used by us as
hospitals were, at the beginning of the war, even worse.

From this we may surmise that the olfactory sense of our neighbours is
not yet so sensitive as is ours.

But in this matter Western Europe, at its worst—say, in one of the
corridor-trains to Marseilles—is a mountain-top to a pigstye compared
with the old and gorgeous East. “The East,” ejaculated an old Scotsman
once—“the East is just a smell! It begins at Port Said and disna stop
till ye come to San Francisco, ... if there!” he added after a pause.
From his sweeping condemnation we must, however, exempt Japan.

Who can ever forget the bazaar smells of India, the mingled must and
fust with its background of garlic and strange vices, or the still more
mysterious atmospheres of China with their deep suggestion of musk?

Naturally the air of a cold country is clearer of obnoxious vapours than
that of tropical and subtropical climes, but in spite of that, the first
whiff of a Tibetan monastery, like that of an Eskimo hut, grips the
throat, they say, like the air over a brewing vat.

So that, after making every allowance for the favour of Nature, we are
still entitled to claim that the relative purity of England, and of
English cities, towns and even villages, is an artificial achievement.

I may therefore, with justice, raise a song of praise to our fathers who
have had our country thus swept and garnished, swept of noxious vapours
and emanations, and garnished with the perfume of pure and fresh air, to
the delight and invigoration of our souls.

And yet the change has only recently been brought about. Up to the
beginning of the nineteenth century the city of London

  “was certainly as foul as could be. The streets were unpaved or
  paved only with rough cobble stones. There were no side walks. The
  houses projected over the roadway, and were unprovided with
  rain-water gutters, and during a shower rain fell from the roofs
  into the middle of the street. These streets were filthy from
  constant contributions of slops and ordure from animals and human
  beings. There were no underground drains, and the soil of the town
  was soaked with the filth of centuries. This sodden condition of the
  soil must have affected the wells to a greater or less extent.”
  (“London, Sanitary and Medical,” by G. V. Poore. 1889.)

Moreover, the nineteenth century was well on its way before the last of
the private cesspools disappeared from the dwelling-houses of London.

Edinburgh during the Middle Ages was, we are told, fresher and cleaner
upon its wind-swept ridge than London, but with the erection of lofty
houses in the High Street and Haymarket of the northern capital its
atmosphere became much worse than that of London. The reason for this
was that while the London houses remained low, and the population
therefore, for a city, widely distributed, in those of Edinburgh, on the
other hand, a large community of all classes of society was
concentrated, from the noble lord and lady to the beggarly caddie and
quean. And the whole stew was quite innocent of what we call drainage.
Quite. Yet the waste-products of life, the lees and offscourings of
humanity, all that housemaids call “slops,” had to be got rid of. Very
simple problem this to our worthy Edinburgh forefathers. After dark the
windows up in these “lands” were thrust open, and with a shrill cry of
“Gardy-loo” (_Gardez l’eau_) the cascade of swipes and worse fell into
the street below with a splash and an od—. “Ha! ha!” laughed Dr. Johnson
to little Boswell; “I can smell you there in the dark!”

The hygienic reformation of Britain, although adumbrated by sundry laws
made at intervals from the fifteenth century onwards, was not seriously
taken in hand until as late as the sixties of last century, and
Disraeli’s famous Act defining a bad smell as a “nuisance” became law in

But although we may justly congratulate ourselves upon the hygienic
achievements of England, one result of which has been the minimising of
unpleasant odours, nevertheless, as a wider consideration of the facts
will show us, the task of cleansing the air of England is not yet
entirely completed. It is doubtless true that what we may term domestic
stenches have for the most part been dispelled, but as regards public
fœtors there are still, I regret to say, a few that abide with us,
seemingly as nasty as ever they were.

One deplorable instance you will encounter at the Paddington terminus of
the Great Western Railway no less, at a certain platform of which
station, lying in wait for our fresh country cousins on their arrival in
London, there lurks a livid concoction of ancient milk, horse-manure,
live stock, dead stock, and, in the month of July, fermenting
strawberries, as aggressive and unashamed as the worst Lucerne has to
offer. I commend it to the attention of the Medical Officer of Health
for Paddington.

Nay more! This West London efflorescence does not lie blooming alone. It
is by no means the last rose of summer. On the east side of the great
city, another, a rival upas-tree, spreads its nauseating blight. This is
a mess that, oozing from a soap factory near Stratford-atte-Bow,
envelops in its oleaginous cloud several hundred yards of the main line
of the Great Eastern Railway. And the world we live in is so arranged
that the trains, particularly in summer, are held up by signal for
several minutes in this neighbourhood, so that, as the greasy slabs of
decomposing fats slump in at the open carriage windows, an early
opportunity is afforded to our Continental visitors of becoming
acquainted with the purifying properties of English soap.

I am blushing now for what I have been saying about Ireland, Cologne,
Lucerne, France, and even the East.

This last instance, however, opens up a large subject, that, namely, of
malodorous industries. Of these there is a great number, too great
indeed for me to do more than make a passing allusion to them. The
proximity of evil-smelling works and factories to human habitations is,
as a matter of fact, prohibited by the Public Health Acts, but it is
naturally impossible to remove them entirely from the knowledge of
mankind inasmuch as the workers frequently carry the atmosphere about
with them. Fortunately for them, but unfortunately for us, by reason of
the rapid exhaustion of the olfactory sense (which we are about to deal
with in the following section), they are, for the most part, not
incommoded by the objectionable airs they work in.

Perhaps the worst of all are the bone-manure factories, malodorous mills
which are almost invariably situated at a distance of several miles from
any dwelling-house, as it would be impossible for any one but the
workers themselves to live in their neighbourhood. These unfortunate
people, many of whom are women, carry, as I have already remarked, the
stench about with them on their clothing and persons, and I have
observed that, being themselves insensitive to the odour, they cannot
rid themselves of it even on Sundays and holidays.

In this class also we must place tanneries, glueworks, and size
factories, a visit to which is a severe trial for any one unaccustomed
to them. Dyeworks, likewise, by reason of the organic sulphur compounds
they disseminate through the spongy air, are unpleasant neighbours. In
cotton mills, also, the sizing-rooms are objectionable, and here,
curiously enough, the operatives do not seem to become accustomed to the
smell, as it is insinuatingly rather than bluntly offensive, and grows
worse with use. So much so, indeed, that but few of the girls, I am
told, are able to remain in that particular occupation for more than a
few weeks at a time.

At this stage, albeit early in our disquisition, we may appropriately
turn to consider the curious fact that of all our senses that of smell
is perhaps the most easily exhausted. The olfactory organ, under the
continued stimulation of one particular odour, quite quickly becomes
insensitive to it. Perhaps this is the reason, or one of the reasons,
why reform was so long delayed.

There are, however, in this respect great differences between odours.
With some the smell is lost in a few seconds, while with others we
continue to be aware of it for a much longer time. Curiously enough,
odours seem, in this matter, to follow the general law of the feelings
in that the pleasant are lost sooner than the unpleasant. It is the
first breath of the rose that makes the fullest appeal, when the whole
being becomes for a moment suffused with the loveliest of all perfumes.
But only for a moment. All too soon the door of heaven closes and the
richness thins away into the common airs of this our lower world.

On the other hand, the aversion we all feel from substances like
iodoform, or, what is worse, scatol, owes not the least part of its
strength to the fact that both of those vile smells are very persistent.
As was once said to a surgeon applying iodoform to a wound in a
patient’s nose: “This patient will certainly visit you again, sir,
but—it will not be to consult you!”

To this more or less rapid exhaustion of the sense is due the merciful
dispensation that no one is aware of his own particular aura. We are
only cognisant of odours that are strange to us. The Chinese and
Japanese find the neighbourhood of Europeans highly objectionable, and
we return the compliment. It is the stranger to the Island who remarks
the “very ancient and fish-like smell.”

Fatigue and then exhaustion of a sense-organ, rendering it finally
irresponsive to a particular stimulus, is, of course, familiar to us
also in the case of vision, as the soap advertisement of our boyhood
with its complementary colours taught us. Taste manifests the same
phenomenon, for which reason (so he says) the cheese-taster in Scotland
swallows a little whisky after each of the different samples he tries.
But, curiously enough, the healthy ear is not thus dulled save by a very
loud, persistent noise, and then there is the risk of permanent damage
to the hearing organ. Some forms of tactile sensation, also, would seem
to remain ever sensitive, for, although it may be possible to become so
inured to pain as to ignore it, yet that is probably a mental act, and
it is said, moreover, that men have been tortured to death by the
tickling of the soles of their feet.

But, as we have already seen, of all the senses none so quickly becomes
inert under stimulation as olfaction. Why it would be hard to say,
unless, like the exhaustion of colour-vision, it is due to the using up
of some chemical reagent in the sense-organ. At all events, if you wish
to appreciate the full intensity of a smell, you should arrange to come
upon it from the open air.

I wonder if this, or something like it, is the reason why England was
the first country in the world to wage war against its stenches. For the
English are of all races the most addicted to fresh air. Consequently,
they are the most likely to keep habitually their olfactory sense
unspoiled and virgin. This, I admit, is only pushing the matter a step
further back, and we are still left with the question: Why is it that
the English are so fond of the open? Largely, I imagine, because their
climate is so damp that an indoor atmosphere is always a little
oppressive to them.

Whatever may be the reason, however, there is no doubt that the keen,
clean chill of an English April day, especially when the wind is in the
east (_pace_ Mr. Jarndyce), brings to us an exaltation of spirit that
surpasses the exhilaration of wine, and at the same time renders us
impatient with mustiness and fustiness, intolerant of domestic
stuffiness, and frankly disgusted with the pungent, prickly vapours of
intimate humanity in the mass. The wind on the hilltop is our
aspiration, our ideal. Hence, maybe, the Public Health Acts, and also
the national tub.

The use of the domestic bath is, we must not forget, a social revolution
of our own day and generation. Our grandfathers ventured upon a bath
only when it seemed to be called for—by others. Our grandmothers, with
their clean, white cotton or linen undergarments, had, or thought they
had, even less need for it. Besides, in their prim and bashful eyes the
necessary denudation antecedent to total immersion would have amounted,
even when they were alone, to something like gross indecency. Before
their time, again, in the eighteenth century, matters were even worse,
for the society ladies of that day painted their faces _instead_ of
washing them, and mitigated the effects of seldom-changed underclothing
by copiously drenching themselves with musk and other reliable perfumes.
(I am told, however, that even to-day fashionable ladies refrain from
washing their faces!)

The domestic bathroom is the direct offspring of the gravitation
water-supply and the modern system of drainage. Buy an old house, and
you will have to convert one of the bedrooms into your bathroom, and, to
this day, you must carry your bath with you if you go to reside in
certain of the Oxford colleges.

I can myself remember in my younger days in Scotland an old doctor
having his first bath in the palatial surroundings of a modern bathroom.
Not in his own house, needless to say! After a patient and particular
inspection of all the glittering taps of “shower,” “spray,” “plunge,”
and what not, he commended his spirit to the Higher Powers—or rather, I
fear, according to his wont, for he was not of the Holy Willie
persuasion, to the keeping of those of the Nether Regions. Then he
proceeded gingerly to insert into the steaming water first of all his
toes, then his feet, next his ankles, and so bit by bit, until, greatly
daring, he had committed his entire body to the deep—to emerge as soon
as possible! He was no coward, let me tell you, in the ordinary run of
life. But this was his first bath in the altogether since his primal
post-natal plunge. His first bath! And his last! It nearly killed him,
he said; never in all his life had he felt so bad, and not for a
thousand pounds would he repeat the experiment!

One more tale. Cockney this time. A gentleman of my acquaintance was one
day discussing with an old-fashioned baker the modern making of bread by
machinery. Both agreed that the older method made the better bread. The
new was not so good. “It seems,” said my friend, “as if nowadays bread
lacks something, but what that something is I cannot tell.”

“You are puffickly right, sir,” returned the baker. “It does lack
something, and wot that something is I can tell you—it lacks the aromer
of the ’uman ’and!”

                               CHAPTER II

Olfaction is generally felt to be the lowest, the most animal, of the
senses, so much so that in polite society it is scarcely good manners to
mention smells, and I am well aware of the risks I run in writing a book
on the subject. And yet this feeling is by no means false modesty,
because it is, first and foremost, to the animal in us that smell makes
its appeal. None of the other senses brings so frankly to notice our
kinship with the brute.

Olfaction is, indeed, one of the primitive senses of animal life. And in
man, as it happens, while vision has constructed for itself a highly
complicated camera-like end-organ, and hearing has produced an apparatus
even more elaborate, the olfactory organ, on the other hand, remains
primitive, its essential structure having undergone no apparent
evolutionary change from the simplest and earliest type.

This, perhaps, is scarcely the proper way of expressing the situation.
Evolutionary change has, as a matter of fact, occurred, but it reaches
its highest development not in man, but in terrestrial mammals otherwise
inferior to him—in the dog, for example.

For once, man does not occupy the apex of the evolutionary pyramid.

Olfactory development, high or low, is linked up with the natural habits
of the different species. Thus, mammals which go about on all fours,
whose visual outlook is restricted and whose muzzle is near the ground,
are the most highly gifted; those, again, like the seals, porpoises,
whales, and walruses, which have reverted from a terrestrial to an
aqueous environment, where smell is of less value to them, show poorly
developed olfactory organs; and finally, the apes and man, living
habitually above the ground, the former in trees, the latter on his hind
legs, and relying chiefly upon vision, also show a decline from the high
point reached by four-footed mammalians.

The animals of this kingdom are thus divided into macrosmatic and
microsmatic groups. To the latter man belongs, but we must add that his
olfactory sense has not yet degenerated so completely as that of certain
other species (porpoises, etc.).

It is, of course, common knowledge that in most of the animals we are
closely acquainted with the sense of smell is infinitely more delicate
and acute than ours, so much so, indeed, that the imagination can on
occasion scarcely conceive theirs to be of the same nature. As a matter
of fact, many authorities incline to the belief that not only mammalians
and other vertebrates, but also insects, must be guided to their food
and to their love-mates by some kind of perception, by some mysterious
sense, of which we are totally devoid.

As this is a division of our subject of the highest interest, and one to
which we shall have occasion to recur at intervals throughout this
treatise, we shall discuss the matter as fully as the space at our
disposal will permit.

The unit of the olfactory sense-organ is the olfactory cell. This, which
does not vary in structure from one end of the animal kingdom to the
other, is microscopically seen to consist of an elongated body like a
tiny rod, bearing on its free end a small enlargement or prominence, on
the surface of which is a cluster of extremely fine protoplasmic
filaments, the olfactory hairs. These hairs project into and are
immersed in a thin layer of mucus, at all events in air-breathing
animals, an environment which is necessary for their functional
activity, because, if the nose becomes desiccated, as it does in some
diseases, the sense of smell is lost (anosmia). The hairs are, without
doubt, the true receptive elements of the olfactory cells. It is these
which come into contact with and are stimulated by odours—whatever the
nature of Odour may be.

The deep (proximal) end of the rod-like olfactory cell tapers into a
nerve-fibre, which passes by way of the olfactory nerve to a special
lobe of the brain—the olfactory lobe—in the vertebrates, or to a
nerve-ganglion in the invertebrates.

Olfactory cells in man are only found in the upper—the olfactory—region
of the nose, spread over a surface of about one square inch, the
olfactory area—part lying on the outer (lateral) wall of each nasal
passage and part on the septum, or partition between the nasal passages.
In macrosmatic animals the olfactory area is relatively greater than in
man, but there is apparently no other difference between them.

Olfactory cells are held in place by ordinary epithelial cells—the
sustentacular cells—which contain pigment. Olfactory cells are found in
animals as low in the scale as the sea-anemone. They occur in the
integument of the animal, and their structure is the same as in man, the
only difference evolution has brought about being that in the higher
animals they are protected by lodgment in a _cul-de-sac_. Their function
in the sea-anemone is probably limited to the sensing of food, but we do
not yet know much about this particular organism.

It is otherwise with the olfaction of insects. Here the work of
painstaking observers like Lubbock, Fabre, and Forel, has supplied us
with a mass of information of the utmost interest, which we shall now
proceed to discuss in some detail, commencing with the work of that
remarkable French naturalist, Fabre, whose interest in the subject was
aroused by an accident—the accident of which the genius of observation
knows so well how to take advantage.

Having by chance a living female Great Peacock moth captive in his
house, Fabre was surprised one night by the advent of some forty others
of the same species—males in search of a mate. At once the question
arose in his mind: How was it that they had been attracted?

Sight could not have guided them, because, apart from the comparative
rarity of this moth in that particular district, the night of their
arrival was dark and stormy, his house was screened by trees and shrubs,
and the female was ensconced under a gauze cover. He observed, besides,
that the males did not make straight for their objective, as is
characteristic of movement when directed by sight. They blundered and
went astray, some of them wandering into rooms other than that in which
the female was lying. They behaved, that is to say, as we ourselves do
when we are trying to locate the source of a sound or a smell. But sound
was ruled out by the fact that they must have been summoned from
distances of a mile or a mile and a half.

Olfaction remains, and with this in his mind Fabre undertook several
experiments, some of which, as it happens, support, while others oppose,
the theory of an olfactory cause.

When the female was sequestered under the gauze cover, and in drawers or
in boxes with loosely-fitting lids, the males always succeeded in
discovering her. But when she was placed under a glass cover, or in a
sealed receptacle, no male at all appeared. Further, Fabre found that
cotton-wool stuffed into the openings and cracks of her receptacle was
also sufficient to prevent the summons reaching the males. This last
observation should be borne in mind in view of further discussion later
on regarding the nature of the lure.

Similar observations and experiments were made on the Lesser Peacock,
with very much the same kind of result. But in dealing with this moth
Fabre made an observation which, if it was accurate, tells against the
theory of olfaction, or at least against such olfaction as we ourselves
experience. At the time when he was carrying out his experiments the
mistral was blowing hard from the north, and as nevertheless males
arrived, they must all have come with the wind; no moth ever hatched
could beat up against the mistral. But then, if the guide is an odour,
the wind, blowing it to the south, would have prevented it ever reaching
the males! Here, then, we have a circumstance which leaves us groping
for an explanation.

In watching the behaviour of the third moth on his list, the Banded
Monk, on the other hand, Fabre discerned a circumstance very strongly
suggestive of the operation of an odorous lure. He found that, if the
female was left for a time in contact with some absorbent material and
was afterwards shifted, the males were attracted, not to her new
situation, but to the place where she had originally been lying.
Subsequent experiment showed that a period of about half an hour was
necessary to lead to the impregnation of the neighbourhood with the
effluvium she elaborated.

The obvious test was employed of trying to drown the supposed odour of
the female by filling the room she was in with powerful aromas, like
naphthaline, paraffin, the alkaline sulphides, and the like. But in
spite of the presence of these stenches, in our experience overwhelming
to fainter exhalations, the males still continued to arrive in droves.
This result led Fabre to doubt whether it could really have been an
odour that attracted them. But surely this negative conclusion ignores
the possibility of the moths being anosmic to these gross scents while
highly specialised for one particular olfactory stimulus to which, as a
matter of fact, we ourselves are wholly insensitive.

Apart from this particular problem, however, to which we return below,
biologists agree that insects undoubtedly possess an olfactory sense
capable of appreciating the same kind of odours as ours does. Lubbock,
for example, demonstrated that ants give signs of perceiving the
presence of musk and other perfumes. There is no doubt, indeed, that the
olfactory sense plays a great, it may be a preponderating part in their

The olfactory organ of insects is situated at the bottom of little
crypts in the antennæ and in the palpi of the mouth apparatus, more
particularly in the antennæ. And those insects, like bees, wasps,
butterflies and moths, that frequent flowers, are attracted to them by
their perfumes as well as by their colours. It has been found, for
example, that covering up flowers from view does not put a stop to the
visits of insects. Some naturalists go so far, indeed, as to say that
odour is their principal guide. At all events, the sarcophagic and
stercophagic insects are attracted to their food chiefly, if not
entirely, by odour. Fabre has recorded how such insects are lured to
their death by certain insectivorous plants which exhale a smell like
that of putrid beef.

In this connection I may interpolate here an experience which shows that
this class of insect may be attracted solely by odour. Incidentally, it
also manifests how the olfactory sense of insects can be utilised in the
matter of hygiene.

  A clever plumber of my acquaintance was once called to a large
  drapery establishment in the West End of London, because the
  dressmakers at work in one of the rooms were making complaints of an
  evil smell that haunted the place. So much had they been troubled,
  indeed, that several of them had been made ill by it. On examining
  the workroom my friend found everything apparently faultless. It was
  a large, well-lighted and airy apartment, and he himself was unable
  to detect anything amiss in the atmosphere. Plans were consulted,
  but no evidence could be found of any possible source of unpleasant
  odour. His opinion therefore was, that the ladies were—ladies, that
  is to say, fanciful, and the matter was dropped. But the ladies were
  not consenting parties to this opinion, and the complaints
  continued. More of the assistants fell ill as a consequence, they
  said, of the smell, so that he was again sent for. On this occasion,
  it being the height of summer, he called, on his way to the draper’s
  emporium, at a butcher’s shop, and much to that man’s surprise,
  asked permission to capture a few of his bluebottle flies. These he
  took with him to the draper’s, and, the suspected room having been
  emptied of furniture and occupants, he closed all the windows and
  doors and released his flies. After waiting patiently for some time,
  he observed that these amateur detectives of his had all made for
  one part of the room, where they were settling on the wall. Here he
  had an opening made, and found hidden behind the plaster an open
  drain-pipe, old and foul, which had formerly been connected with a
  lavatory, and had been enclosed and forgotten during some
  alterations made on the building several years before.

The olfactory sense of insects has been credited with perhaps even more
wonderful powers than those we have just been writing about. For
instance, both Lubbock and Forel have shown that the extraordinary
aptitude ants possess for finding their way back to their nest after
their peregrinations in the mazy labyrinth of their world depends upon
the sense of smell. On their return to the nest they follow the scent
left by their own footsteps.

This “homing” instinct, or “orientation,” which is found in many species
of insects and animals, has long been a matter of interest to scientific
naturalists. The subject is, however, much too large for us to enter
fully into on the present occasion.

Winged insects like bees and wasps manifest also the homing instinct. In
their case the return to the nest or hive is effected probably
altogether under the guidance of vision. This is what we should expect,
as elevation in the air secures for these creatures a wide and unimpeded
view of their world. Circumstances are obviously different in the case
of ants and other creeping things, whose immediate outlook, like that of
four-footed mammals, is circumscribed to an area of but a few inches or
feet at the most.

Investigating the orientation of ants, Forel found, first of all, that
while the covering of their eyes with an opaque varnish “embarrassed”
them to some extent, they went hopelessly astray when their antennæ were

He also repeated Lubbock’s well-known experiments of supplying the ants
with bridges over obstacles in the neighbourhood of their nests, noting
their behaviour when the bridges were changed, removed, or reversed,
with the result that he came to credit the olfactory system of ants with
much greater powers than the more cautious Lubbock would have believed.

These insects, says Forel, exploring with their mobile antennæ the
fields of odour they encounter, form in their memory a kind of “chemical

Thus when an ant sets out from her nest she distinguishes the various
odours and varying strengths of odours she comes upon, noting and
memorising them as in two main fields, one on her left side, the other
on her right. In order to find her way back again all she has to do is
to unwind, so to speak, the roll in her memory, transposing right and
left, and this successfully accomplished will bring her back to the
point she started from.

If, he concludes, we ourselves were endowed with such a perfect
olfactory mechanism situated in long, flexible whip-lashes, which we
could move and tap with each step, the world for us would be
transformed. Odour would become a sense of forms. Thus the orientation
of ants can be explained without assuming the existence of an unknown
sense. (It has recently been suggested, by the way, that bats owe the
exquisite power they manifest of steering their flight among obstacles
to the use of their squeaks, the echoes from which enable them to form
“sound-pictures” of their environment. In the same way a blind man in
the street tapping the pavement with his stick forms a more or less
well-defined sound-picture of the walls, doorways, and alleys about

In the immediately foregoing paragraphs we have been dealing with the
ability of insects to smell the smells that we smell. But Fabre’s
experiments have familiarised us also with the notion that there are
insects which can smell smells we cannot smell.

We shall see in the following section that the same may also be true of
some of the higher animals.

In fish olfaction is, unlike that of air-breathing animals, effected by
odorous material in solution. Whether or not their olfactory sense is as
acute it is impossible in the present state of our knowledge to say.
Anatomically the end-organ of fishes is simpler, but there are some
species, the dog-fishes for example, which possess a large olfactory
lobe in the brain; and this certainly suggests that they, at all events,
are gifted with an olfactory sense of relatively high development.

Experiment on fish is difficult, nevertheless it has been definitely
proved that they do smell, and it seems probable that the sense is used
by them for food-perception. Moreover, that it may be highly sensitive
seems likely from the fact that sharks (which belong to the same order
as dog-fish) can be attracted from great distances to putrid meat thrown
into the water as bait, the high dilution of which resembles the
behaviour of odour in an air medium.

The belief that life in water, however, is less favourable than life on
land to the fullest development of the sense is supported by the fact we
have already mentioned that mammals living in water are extremely

In the macrosmatic terrestrial animals not only is the olfactory sense
relatively highly organised, but it is absolutely the predominant sense.
Vision is subsidiary to it. In their brains the olfactory region
constitutes by far the largest component. (The same, by the way, is true
of the Reptilia.)

In other words, it is upon the olfactory sense that these animals
chiefly depend for their knowledge of the world. By it they are directed
to their food, warned of their enemies, and attracted to their mates.
Their universe is a universe of odour.

In order to become more intimate with the details of this part of our
subject, we shall pass in review some of the olfactory habits and
characteristics of the macrosmatic animal most familiar to us, namely,
the dog.

There can be no doubt of the all-important part that smell plays in the
life of the dog. Every one is familiar with it, and yet we do not often
stop to think what its meaning is for the canine brain and
understanding. One of the mysteries that must, one would suppose, for
ever remain hidden from us, is what aspect the world we both share in
company bears to this our closest animal friend. Who can tell what is
passing through his mind as he sniffs at us? He can recognise his master
by sight, no doubt, yet, as we know, he is never perfectly satisfied
until he has taken stock also of the scent, the more precisely to do so
bringing his snout into actual contact with the person he is examining.
It is as if his eyes might deceive him, but never his nose.

The greyhound courses by sight, but all other dogs hunt by scent, and
the speed and certainty of foxhounds in full cry bear a new significance
when we recollect that it is scent that is directing them. Could vision
be any more swift and sure?

We may heartily wish, as a child once remarked to a friend of mine, that
Rover had a prettier way of saying “How d’ye do?” to his canine friends.
But that and other even more objectionable habits do not prevent his
_entrée_ into the most exclusive circles of human society. He is taken
at his own valuation, and that, to be sure, is considerable. But the
minute, the meticulous, olfactory scrutiny he makes of other dogs is but
one more example of the predominance of this sense in his brain. (See
also later.)

When you take him for a walk also, how busy his nose makes him!
Burrowing here and there among the grass and undergrowth, picking up an
interesting trail that leads him a little way, until it crosses another,
fresher, perhaps, or more interesting, that has to be taken up—here a
cat’s, there a rat’s, further on a rabbit’s, and then, with short
squeals, scrapings in the ground, and buryings of his muzzle, a
weasel’s!—the whole intermixed and intermingled with whiffs of something
like old decayed bones, or of another and an unfriendly dog, or of some
ardent lady-love who has passed this way but shortly since!—is not this
a richer, a fuller, a more attractive, world than ours, with its fickle
sunlight, its pallid greys, its mournful purples, its unattainable
horizon-blue? For our life is primarily one of vision.

I am sure his dreams, also, are compounded of the gorgeous odours of
some other world, such odours as even our woods in autumn know nothing

But we must return again to science and Fabre. This time we shall
accompany him on an excursion with the wonderful dog who is trained to
discover for the _gourmet_ the truffles that are growing deep in the

Left to his own devices, we learn, the truffle-hunting dog indicates the
position not only of truffles, but also of all manner of hypogean
(underground) fungi, “the large and the small, the fresh and the putrid,
the scented and the unscented, the fragrant and the stinking.” Only, he
never at any time indicates the presence of the ordinary mushroom, not
even while it is still underground, before it sprouts up as the fungus
we know. And yet to our nostrils the mushroom has the same smell as many
of the hypogean fungi he does indicate. Consequently, therefore, the dog
is not guided to the deep fungi by what may be called the general odour
common to all fungi. He must be able, that is to say, to distinguish the
hypogean varieties by some quality which is not odour, or, at least, not
odour as we understand it.

There is, as it happens, something like a truffle-hunter among the
insects also, what is known as the Bolboceros beetle. This little
creature feeds on the _hydnocystis arenaria_, a hypogean fungus. Fabre,
having captured some of these insects, placed them on earth in which he
had buried the fungus at depths of six or seven inches. It was found
that the beetles, without making any trial bores, sank vertical shafts
through the soil direct to their food.

We may insert here also, as bearing upon the problem which is now
emerging into clearness, an observation and a suggestion similar, as we
shall see, to that of Fabre, on the badger by Mr. Douglas Gordon
(_Spectator_, August 6th, 1921):

  “The real damage wrought by the badger is microscopic. His diet
  mainly consists of roots, green herbs, mice, frogs, and insects.
  Like the fox, he has a great partiality for whorts and blackberries
  when in season, and he is particularly fond of grubs. For the sake
  of these he will dig out every wasp’s nest he can find. A
  considerable number of rabbit ‘stops’ also fall to his share, and in
  unearthing the latter he practises a somewhat remarkable piece of
  woodcraft. The hole which contains the nest may run to the depth of
  several feet, and the nest itself be situated ten feet from any
  entrance, but this does not trouble the badger. He makes no attempt
  to follow the tortuous passage, as a man when digging would be
  obliged to do. His unerring nose locates the exact spot where the
  young rabbits lie, and from the most convenient point he bores for
  them. Should it be a ‘ground-burrow,’ he sinks a vertical shaft. In
  the case of a steep bank he drives a horizontal tunnel, and, shallow
  or deep, with unvarying accuracy.

  “Not long ago I saw a striking case of this on Haldon Hill, near
  Exeter. The burrow opened on to a little gully, and ran back some
  distance under the heath. At least five paces from the nearest hole
  was the badger’s freshly cut shaft, about three feet deep, and
  around it were littered the ruins of the nest—the little tale of
  bloodstained fur so eloquent of tragedy. There on the earth drawn
  from the shaft the raider’s spoor was plain enough, but no imprint
  of his pads could I find upon the impressionable mould anywhere near
  the holes. This meant that he must have found the nest while
  traversing the heather—sensed it beneath him, in fact. And here an
  interesting point arises. What sense did he employ? Could he
  possibly ‘smell’ the rabbits through three feet of packed mould?
  Earth is a potent deodoriser. Do certain animals possess a sixth
  sense—a sympathy something akin to that of the divining rod? If so,
  this goes farther to explain the much-discussed principle of scent
  than anything yet suggested.”

Is this sense, then, as we see it in operation in the badger, in the
truffle-hunting dog, in the Bolboceros beetle, and still more
wonderfully in the Peacock and Banded Monk moths, drawn to their mates
“from the edge of the horizon,” and, it may be, against the wind—is this
sense the same as our own sense of olfaction, only much more acute?
Fabre finds some difficulty in believing that it can really be the same.
“Odour,” he argues, “is molecular diffusion.” But nothing material,
nothing our senses can perceive, is emitted by these moths, and yet they
can summon their mates from relatively enormous distances. However fine
may be the divisibility of matter, Fabre’s mind refuses to entertain the
suggestion that this far-flung summons is addressed to a sense of smell
of the same nature as ours. It would be tantamount, he says, “to
reddening a lake with an atom of carmine, to filling immensity with

It is impossible not to sympathise with this opinion, but caution
compels us to say that for the most striking of these observations, that
of the calling of the males against a high wind, we should like to have
confirmation by some independent observer.

Besides, I think perhaps Fabre would have hesitated to express his
scepticism regarding the power of insect olfaction had he known more of
the marvels of the human sense.

Vanillin, for example, is perceptible by us as a smell when it amounts
to no more than 0·000000005 gram in a litre of air; and we can perceive
mercaptan, a substance with a garlicky odour, in a dilution of
1/460,000,000 of a milligram in fifty cubic centimetres of air
(approximately 0·0000000026 of a grain in a little over three cubic
inches of air!) (See also p. 108.)

What is this but immensity filled with nothing? And yet we, even we,
microsmatic though we are, can perceive that “nothing.”

But we must pick up again the thread of Fabre’s argument. Baffled as he
feels himself to be when he regards olfaction in the light of these
observations of his, he goes on: “For emission substitute undulation,
and the problem of the Great Peacock is explained. Without losing any of
its substance a luminous point shakes the ether with its vibrations and
fills a circle[1] of indefinite width with light....

Footnote 1:

  A sphere rather.

“It does not emit molecules; it vibrates; it sets in motion waves
capable of spreading to distances incompatible with a real diffusion of

“In its entirety smell would thus seem to have two domains: that of
particles dissolved in the air and that of ethereal waves. The first
alone is known to us....

“The second, which is far superior in its range through space, escapes
us altogether, because we lack the necessary sensory equipment. The
Great Peacock and the Banded Monk know it at the time of the nuptial
rejoicings. And many others must share it in various degrees according
to the exigencies of their mode of life.”

In criticism of this conclusion of Fabre, however, we must again draw
attention to the fact that in the case of the Greater Peacock he found
that a plug of cotton-wool was sufficient to prevent the emanation
leaving the immediate neighbourhood of the female, a circumstance
strongly in favour of some material exhalation which was caught and held
by the cotton-wool filter. Again, in the case of the Banded Monk, the
suggestion of odour is unmistakable in the tainting, as it were, of
substances in her vicinity with her emanation. Further, if the guide to
the males were something like a luminous undulation we should expect
that, like the Bolboceros beetle and the badger, there would have been
no blundering and going astray; they would have precipitated themselves
straight on to the female, or as near to her as they could get.

Moreover, although we are ourselves unable to detect any odorous
emanation, may not our inability be due simply to the fact that our
olfactory hairs are not susceptible to this particular stimulus? It may
be of the same nature as odour, and yet we may be unable to perceive it,
just as the moths themselves seemed anosmic to what we would call the
stenches Fabre filled his room with.

These critical questions seem to me to be difficult to answer.
Nevertheless, our imagination is certainly staggered by the fact of a
tiny creature like a moth being able to disseminate in the immensity of
atmospheric space an odour capable of perception at such great distances
as a mile or a mile and a half. Hero, with the Great Peacock’s power,
could have summoned Leander from a hundred miles away.

Apart, however, from such considerations for and against his opinions,
one of the modern theories of odour, and of odour belonging to Fabre’s
first, or material, order, is, as we shall see later on, that even it is
a vibratory and not a material quality.

But leaving that development aside, and admitting for the moment the
validity of Fabre’s contentions, I am bold enough to ask: Are we human
beings so ignorant of the second domain of olfaction as he supposes? Is
it true that we are, as he says, lacking in the equipment necessary for
the exploration of that mysterious region? To answering these questions
we shall presently address ourselves. In the meantime, I may forestall
what I shall then say by remarking that I count it a very remarkable
circumstance, if not, indeed, a significant coincidence, that, before I
had become acquainted with Fabre’s writings, I had, considering the
phenomena of human olfaction and psychology alone, actually asked myself
the same question as he asks, and had come to very much the same

                              CHAPTER III
                            OLFACTORY MEMORY

The predominant special senses in man are vision and hearing, olfaction
occupying a quite unimportant position in the scale.

Smell and taste, by the way, are usually regarded not only as allied
senses, but also as if they were akin in their nature and function.
Allied they are, undoubtedly, seeing that both subserve the function of
food-perception. But the resemblance ends there. For, of the two, smell
is at once the more delicate and the more extensive in capacity, and, as
they differ widely in their anatomical structure, there can be no doubt
but that in physiological action also they are dissimilar.

The taste-bulbs are capable of appreciating four sensations only, and
these quite simple, while the capacity of the olfactory organ, as we
shall see more fully later on, is practically unlimited. All the
subtlety of “taste,” all that we call “flavour,” is an olfactory
sensation. Thus, people devoid of the sense of smell cannot discern the
finer savours. They would be unable to distinguish, say, a vanilla from
a strawberry ice. All they could tell would be that both were cold and

The popular phrase which refers the appreciation of the finer shades of
taste to the “palate” we may therefore look upon as an attempt to
express the feeling that delicate flavours are sensed somewhere higher
up than in the mouth. So that a “man of taste” is really a man of smell,
and all the literary eloquence in praise of wine and dainty food, to say
nothing of the more prosy cookery books, is, in reality, a general hymn
of adulation offered unwittingly to the nose!

Compared with sight and hearing, however, smell in man is only one of
the minor senses. But, as if to make up for a position so inferior, it
is remarkable as being the most subtle of all our senses, possibly, as
some hold, because of the ancestral appeal to our (more or less
repressed) animal nature. So subtle is it, indeed, that I am persuaded
its stimuli may not, on occasion, emerge into consciousness at all. They
remain below the threshold. So that, although subjected to their
influence, we may remain ignorant of the cause of that influence. For
smell often operates powerfully, not only in surreptitiously enriching
and invigorating the mental impression of an event, but also in
directing at times the flow of ideas into some particular channel
independent of the will. The influence of the perfume of a woman’s hair
in unexpectedly arousing a feeling of intimacy will appeal to the male
reader as a good example of this upsurging interference with the placid
flow of normal ideation.

Perhaps, also, this is the explanation of a strange and rather
unpleasant ghost-story I once heard. I dare not vouch for the truth of
it, but as it bears upon the subject we are considering, I give it here,
not without misgiving, for what it is worth. For the sake of
verisimilitude I shall relate it pretty much in the narrator’s own

  “The evening he came back I was sitting in my room alone. I had just
  got back from the play, the subject of which had been, it so
  happened, the influence of people recently dead upon those left
  behind. I suppose that’s what turned my mind to my sorrow of the
  previous year when I lost him. It is my husband I am talking about.

  “I was sitting gazing at the fire, and I expect you will say I had
  fallen asleep. Perhaps I had. It doesn’t matter really.

  “We had been happy enough together, he and I. Just an ordinary
  married couple, you might say. But now and then a terrible longing
  would come over me just to see him once more, ... to hear him
  speak, ... to touch him.... I know it is selfish, and maybe unwise,
  to give way to those feelings, ... but never mind that! Well, on the
  night I am telling you about, there came to my recollection some of
  the silly cantrips those Spiritualist people used to carry on. Oh,
  yes, it is quite true: I had gone once or twice to see them, and had
  even taken part in their services—séances, I should say—in James’s
  lifetime, I mean, before he died. Indeed I went with him.... I never
  went after.... I don’t know.... It seemed to me like trifling
  somehow. Anyhow I have never gone since.

  “All the same there came into my head a curious jingling rhyme I had
  heard them repeat once or twice, because they said somebody called
  Plato or Plautus or something had used it. It would bring back the
  dead, so they used to say, if you recited it alone at midnight, and
  accompanied it with certain gestures. The words are nothing but
  gibberish, a jumbled sort of.... No, I’m not going to repeat
  them.... Let me go on.

  “Before I had realised what I was doing, without stopping to think,
  I uttered the words aloud, moving my arms so as to follow the
  ritual. Scarcely were the syllables out of my mouth—it closes with
  the name and the clock was striking twelve as I spoke it—scarcely, I
  say, were the words out of my mouth when—God! the pang comes yet
  when I think of it!—I heard the latch-key going into the hall door,
  and the door slowly opening—I was alone in the flat, and—oh! I can
  never tell you! I felt dreadful!—I didn’t know how to undo the
  thing, and yet I knew it was wrong—wicked—I never for a moment
  thought.—Perhaps it had been my longing so much.—The hall door
  opened.—The chain wasn’t up.—I heard a step,—a cough—oh! the usual
  sounds he used to make when he came in.—What would he be
  like?—What...? what...?

  “Then the door of the room opened, and there he stood, swinging
  himself backwards and forwards, half toes, half heels, in a way he
  had, and replacing his jingling keys in his trouser-pocket—I could
  only stare at him speechless, and gasp—till suddenly he stretched
  out his hand and pointed at me with a ... a sort of snarl.

  “‘Good heavens, Jane!’—the words sounded so commonplace that every
  trace of the unearthly was dissipated at the first syllable.—‘Good
  heavens, Jane! Go and change that frock!—How often have I told you
  what a fright you look in mauve.—A mill-girl on a holiday!—Come! Get
  along and change it!’

  “It seems silly, I daresay, and all that, but, do you know, no
  sooner did I hear him growling and grumbling and finding fault with
  colours he had a dozen times at least admired and praised than—I
  couldn’t help it!—I forgot everything—everything. And all I could
  say was:

  “‘James! You’ve been eating onions again!’

  “‘Not my fault, I assure you, my dear,’ he snapped back; ‘that
  damned cook always will put garlic in the nectar! You must get rid
  of her.’

  “... I suppose I must have fainted then, for I remember no more till
  I found myself lying on the floor with my head on the fender. I
  picked myself up very puzzled as to what had happened. Then I
  remembered my ... dream, with a shock rather of amusement than fear,
  when suddenly—suddenly I smelled the nauseating stench of strong
  garlic! That finished me entirely. How I got out of the place I
  cannot tell. Out I did get. And I have never gone back.”

This lady evidently would not have subscribed to the old teaching of

          “Six things that heere in order shall issue
          Against all poisons have a secret poure.
          Peares, Garlick, reddish-roots, Nuts, Rape and Rew,
          But Garlick cheese, for they that it devoure
          May walk in ways infected every houre;
          Sith Garlick then hath poure to save from death
          Bear with it though it make unsavoury breath:
          And scorne not Garlick, like to some that think
          It only makes men wink, and drinke, and stink.”

(It may be remembered, by the way, that Wilkie Collins’s “Haunted Hotel”
was haunted by a smell.)

Although we may agree with Shelley that

                  “Odours when sweet violets sicken
                  Live within the sense they quicken,”

yet we must admit that the memory of an odour cannot be reproduced in
our mind with the same clearness as a vanished scene or an old tune.

It may be found on trial that by concentrating the attention strongly
upon some familiar smell, particularly if at the same time we stimulate
the memory by picturing in our mind’s eye a scene in which that odour
figured as a feature in the sensory landscape, we are sometimes able to
recall its actual sensation. But the recollection lacks the intimate
reality of visual and auditory images. Without doubt the mind’s eye and
mind’s ear, when consciously aroused, are consistently more acute and
their representations are more vivid than those of the mind’s olfactory

When, for instance, I call to memory the drawing-room of my boyhood
days, I can once more catch a faint reminiscence of the acid-sweet
rose-leaves that filled it with perennial fragrance, but not until I
have first of all recalled its pale greys and blues and its over-bright
windows, not until I have listened once more to “The March of the
Troubadours” my mother is playing on the old rosewood piano, like a call
to some life greater, grander, and, above all, more simple than this
bewildering affair!

People, Ribot has ascertained, vary considerably in their power of
resuscitating dead perfumes. According to his statistics, 40 per cent.
could not revive any image at all; 48 per cent. could recall some, but
not all; and only 12 per cent. could recall all or nearly all at
pleasure. The odours most easy to bring back were pinks, musk, violet,
heliotrope, carbolic acid, the smell of the country, grass, and so on.
Many, as in my own case, have to evoke the visual image first.

But if the recollection of a scene can only with difficulty, or not at
all, revive the sensation of an odour, the converse is most startlingly
true. For odours have an extraordinary, an inexplicable, power of
spontaneously and suddenly presenting a forgotten scene to the mind, and
with such nearness to reality that we are translated bodily, being
caught up by the spirit, as it were, like St. Philip, to be placed once
more in the midst of the old past life, where we live the moment over
again with the full chord of its emotions vibrating our soul and
startling our consciousness. There are, it is true, certain sounds which
wield the same miraculous power over our being—

            “... the chime familiar of a bell
            Last heard at sea, but now on homely ground,
            Can, with the sprites that deep in memory dwell,
            Create the world anew with stroke of sound,
            Transforming daisied fields to foaming seas,
            And changing vales from summer calm serene
            To warring tides round wintry Hebrides
            That fling and toss in wat’ry hillocks green”—

but I do not think they operate in this way so frequently as do smells.

This strange revival of bygone days by olfaction is, as I have said,
automatic. It is most clearly and completely to be realised when the
inciting odour comes upon us unawares, and then as in a dream the whole
of the long-forgotten incident is displayed, even although it may have
been an incident in which the odour itself was not specially obtrusive.
Yet the display is not only a spectacle, for we become, as I have
already laboured to point out, once more actors in the old life-drama.

Now memory can nearly always be recognised as memory. There is about its
representations a dulling in colour, a haziness in outline, a vagueness
in detail, that serves to distinguish it from the harder, clearer
pictures of the imagination. Its figures and their doings are like
ghosts; through them you can see the solid furniture of to-day. But from
the olfactory miracle we are now considering the effect of time, the
fraying effect of time and superimposed incident, is absent. That is
still fresh, still, as we might say, in process of elaboration, the
manifold and complicated experiences we have undergone since its
occurrence being blotted for the moment out of the mind.

Curiously enough, although Ribot finds that about 60 per cent. of people
experience the “spontaneous” revival of odour in memory, and so
presumably are subject to this arresting phenomenon, it does not seem to
have been mentioned by writers in general until about our own time. At
all events, the earliest allusion I can find to it is in “Les Fleurs du
Mal” of Baudelaire:

               “Lecteur, as-tu quelquefois respiré
               Avec ivresse et lente gourmandise
               Ce grain d’encens qui remplit une église
               Ou d’un sachet le musc invétéré?

               “Charme profond, magique, dont nous grise
               Dans le présent le passé restauré”....

Shortly after Baudelaire’s time Bret Harte, on the other side of the
Atlantic, imported it into “The Newport Romance”:

            “But the smell of that subtle, sad perfume,
              As the spiced embalmings, they say, outlast
            The mummy laid in his rocky tomb,
                Awakes my buried past.

            “And I think of the passion that shook my youth,
              Of its aimless loves and its idle pains,
            And am thankful now of the certain truth
                That only the sweet remains.”

But the most precise and definite allusion to this curious power of
odours seems to have first been made by Oliver Wendell Holmes in “The
Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.” Here is what he says, and it will be
noted that he makes as high a claim for the power of olfaction as I have

  “Memory, imagination, old sentiments and associations, are more
  readily reached through the sense of SMELL than by almost any other

  “Phosphorus fires this train of associations in an instant; its
  luminous vapours with their penetrating odour throw me into a
  trance; it comes to me in a double sense, ‘trailing clouds of

  “Perhaps the herb _everlasting_, the fragrant _immortelle_ of our
  autumn fields, has the most suggestive odour to me of all those that
  set me dreaming. I can hardly describe the strange thoughts and
  emotions that come to me as I inhale the aroma of the pale, dry,
  rustling flowers. A something it has of sepulchral spicery, as if it
  had been brought from the core of some great pyramid, where it had
  lain on the breast of a mummied Pharaoh. Something, too, of
  immortality in the sad, faint sweetness lingering so long in its
  lifeless petals. Yet this does not tell why it fills my eyes with
  tears and carries me in blissful thought to the banks of asphodel
  that border the River of Life.”

In introducing the subject, Holmes states that he has “occasionally met
with something like it in books, somewhere in Bulwer’s novels, ... and
in one of the works of Mr. Olmstead.”

When one considers the obvious poetic appeal of this psychic phenomenon
as exemplified in the touching expressions we have just quoted, it seems
strange that the older writers made no use of it.

Even omniscient Shakespeare, although odorous images and allusions are
not uncommon in his works, seems to have overlooked this sportive trick
of the sense. Otherwise we might have had Lady Macbeth sleep-walking
because her nightposset exhaled the vapour of the draught she had
drugged Duncan’s guards with.

Several seventeenth century writers make a general reference to odours
as “strengthening the memory.” Here is one for which I am indebted to my
friend F. W. Watkyn-Thomas:

  “OLFACTUS (_loq._)—
    Hence do I likewise minister perfume
    Unto the neighbour brain, perfume of force,
    To cleanse your head, and make your fancy bright
    To refine wit and sharp invention,
    _And strengthen memory_: from whence it came
    That old devotion incense did ordain
    To make man’s spirit more apt for things divine....”

        (“Lingua, or the Combat of the Tongue and the Five Senses,”
        Act IV., Sc. 5, Anthony Brewer (_circa_ 1600): Dodsley’s “Old
        Plays,” Vol. V., p. 179, 1825.)

And Montaigne may be alluding to it when he says:

  “Physicians might (in my opinion) draw more use and good from odours
  than they do. For myself have often perceived, that according unto
  their strength and qualitie, _they change and alter, and move my
  spirit, and worke strange effects in me_: Which makes me approve the
  common saying, that invention of incense and perfumes in Churches,
  so ancient and so far-dispersed throughout all nations and
  religions, had an especiall regard to rejoyce, to comfort, to
  quicken and to rowze and to purifie our senses, ...”

The Jacobean herbalists and therapeutists in general, as we shall see
later on, frequently credit aromatics with the power of strengthening
the memory. But, so far as my reading goes, I have failed to find a
clear and unmistakable description of this peculiar phenomenon in any
writer prior to the nineteenth century. It is, of course, difficult to
prove a negative, and so it would not be surprising if some such
allusion were to be dug up. But even then the wonder would remain that
it had attracted little, if any, attention from others. As a matter of
fact, mental happenings of this order did not interest our forebears
much. Shakespeare is the exception to this statement, and that is one of
his claims to greatness.

Moreover, quite apart from this particular, the writings of the old
English poets and of such French and German authors as I am acquainted
with, seem curiously deficient in references to all but the more gross
and obvious phenomena of olfaction, and these are most frequently of the
farcical order, a little too gross and obvious for modern readers.

Since Dickens’s time, however, we have had almost too much literary

I do not agree with the purists who deny to Dickens the glory of a great
writer of English prose. Dickens was an impressionist, perhaps the first
and certainly the greatest of this school, and as such he was a master.
Few equal and none surpass him in the rare vigour of scene, and
portrait-painting. And it is significant to find him using the aroma of
the place and also of the person to impart life and reality to his

Take for example, to cite but one out of many olfactory references in
his books, the humorous analysis of the smells in various London
churches in “The Uncommercial Traveller.” One congregation furnishes “an
agreeable odour of pomatum,” while in the others “rat and mildew and
dead citizens” seemed to be the fundamentals, to which in some
localities was added “in a dreamy way not at all displeasing” the staple
character of the neighbourhood. “A dry whiff of wheat” circulated about
Mark Lane, and he “accidentally struck an airy sample of barley out of
an aged hassock” in another. The reader’s throat begins at once to feel

Then note how Mr. E. W. B. Childers starts from the page the moment his
creator breathes into our nostrils a breath of his life:—“a smell of
lamp oil, straw, orange-peel, horses’ provender, and sawdust.”

I could fill this book with olfactory citations from Dickens alone. But
to come to contemporary writers, those of Rudyard Kipling are almost as
plentiful, the smell that brings places to the mind being a favourite
with him. But I have always wondered how it came about that the highly
sensitive nose of Mr. Kipling permitted Imray’s corpse on the rafters
above the ceiling-cloth to remain undiscovered for as long as three
months. This in India. The bungalow, we gather, was haunted. It would

Nevertheless, in spite of the keen olfaction of both of those writers,
neither of them, as far as I can remember, weaves the memory-reviving
power of olfaction into a plot. We come across it, however, in foreign
literature, as in the suggestive play made with the smell of lamp-oil in
Dostoievsky’s “Crime and Punishment.”

The more recent English and foreign writers, however, give us a surfeit
of odours—as if to prove their superiority in this as in all else.

It seems strange, moreover, that the theatre should have overlooked this
avenue to the memory and imagination of its audiences. The ancient
Romans, to be sure, during the gladiatorial games, used to perfume the
atmosphere of the Colosseum, whether to counteract the raw smell of
dust, blood, and sweat, it were hard to say, as these rank odours play
their part, again subtly, in stimulating the slaughterous passions of

But our modern theatre, which a prominent Scots ecclesiastic of the
nineteenth century characterised as redolent only of “orange-peel,
sawdust, and vice,” has not yet risen to anything higher than a
continuous discharge of incense during spectacular dramas depicting the
(theatrical) East.

Why not go further? Think how the appeal of a love-scene would be
strengthened by an invisible cloud of roses blown into the house through
the ventilating shafts! The villain would be heralded by an olfactory
_motif_ of a brimstony flavour mingled, if he was of the usual swarthy
countenance, with a _soupçon_ of garlic. The hero, well groomed and
clean-limbed, would waft a delicate suggestion of Brown Windsor to the
love-sick maidens in the dress-circle. The heavy father would radiate
snuff with his red pocket-handkerchief. The large-eyed foreign
adventuress would permeate the auditorium on wings of patchouli. The
dear broken-hearted old mother would disseminate that most respectable
of perfumes (for there is a caste-system among smells) eau de Cologne—a
scent that always evokes in my mind a darkened room, tiptoes, hushed
voices, raised forefingers, and Somebody in bed with a—headache.

And so on. Here is a new way of “putting it over.”

Critics will object that, as the influence of eau de Cologne on my own
mind shows, the particular odours so supplied would defeat their purpose
by calling up a thousand different and incongruous images in the
thousand minds of the audience. But such mischances could easily be
avoided by conventionalising the odours after the manner already
familiar in the stock gesticulations of our players, all of whom enter,
sit down, pull off their gloves, blow their noses, utter defiance, shed
tears, launch curses, make love, live, die, and are buried, according to
an inveterate, cast-iron ritual.

                               CHAPTER IV
                            SMELL AND SPEECH

That the effect of odour upon the mind is largely concealed is further
illustrated by the curious fact that our native language does not
possess a terminology descriptive of smells. We never name an odour; we
only say it has a “smell like” something or another. As a matter of
fact, the same remark was made regarding French by P. P. Poncelet as
long ago as 1755.

In this defect smell is unique among the senses. Even the sense that
governs equilibration, of which the consciousness in normal conditions
is never aware, has furnished us with “giddy” and “dizzy.”

Vision is represented by hundreds of words. We have, for instance, names
not only for the primary colours red, yellow, and blue, but also for
many of their combinations. (In these remarks we are not including the
modern names given to the many shades of the synthetic colours.)

If we take red as an example, we find scarlet, crimson, vermilion, and
pink. This colour, indeed, is ranked above all others in the vulgar
tongue as having shades, doubtless because red, being the colour of
blood and so of danger, always makes a strong appeal to the mind, an
appeal which, among the responses, has led to special names being given
to four of its tones.

The sense of hearing again, upon which speech is wholly dependent, has
given rise to a multitude of words, many of them closely imitative of
the sound, or onomatopoetic, with which words English, like the related
German, is richly adorned.

Touch also has produced a number of descriptive epithets—“hot,” “cold,”
“wet,” “dry,” “moist,” “clammy,” “rough,” “smooth,” as well as those
like “heavy” and “light,” from the deep tactile sensibility.

Even taste has its vocabulary, a complete one, as it happens, since each
of the four varieties of taste has its own appropriate name—“sweet,”
“sour,” “bitter,” and “salt.”

But smell is speechless. We can truthfully say that in our native
English language there is not a single word characterising any one of
all the myriad odours in the world.

No doubt there are many words that we do apply to smells. But they are
either borrowed from the vocabulary of one of the other senses, in order
to describe a state of mind induced by the smell, or else they originate
from some known odoriferous object.

Thus in the opening paragraph of this book we encountered a large number
of olfactory words. But they are all vague; some applying to pleasant,
some to unpleasant, odours. Many of them are very expressive, for
disgust begets strong language. But although our olfactory vocabulary
may be forceful, it is not discriminative. In other words, it is an
emotional, not an intellectual, vocabulary.

These considerations will become more obvious as we deal with olfactory
epithets in detail.

Thus smells may be “faint” or “strong,” but so may any other sensation.
And to call a smell “sweet” leaves it but vague, while at the same time
the epithet is borrowed from the vocabulary of taste, where its meaning
is quite precise. “Pungent” is also a transposition, this time from
touch, as it is a Latin word signifying “prickly.”

In addition to such terms as these we have a small number of words which
we are in the habit of applying to certain classes of odours. “Musty” is
one of these. This adjective certainly has the look of a pure English
word about it, but, as it indicates a smell like that of mould, it is
probably derived from the Latin _mucidus_, mouldy; we cannot, therefore,
claim it to be English any more than we can claim it to be definite.
Perhaps the puff-balls of our autumn woods supply the best example of a
musty smell.

“Mawkish,” however, is certainly English, as it is derived from an old
word, still used, by the way, in Scotland—“mauk,” a maggot. “Dank,”
again, means moist, and is the smell of damp, cold places. “Stuffy”
also, which is a modern application to a smell, is the odour of a close,
badly ventilated room, where we feel oppressed, as if half stifled.

But these words—and there are not many more of them—are only applied
vaguely and to general classes of odours. We never say of any one in
particular that, _e.g._, “This is the smell called ‘dank,’” in the
precise way we can say: “That colour is green,” or “That sound is a

We may even go further. We know that the flavour of things tasted is an
olfactory sensation. Now while language attains to precision in
characterising the sensations of pure taste, as we have just seen, it is
significant that flavours are left unnamed, except in the manner we have
just explained for olfactory epithets.

The scanty number of odorous terms in English has of late been copiously
added to by words borrowed from other languages, chiefly, it is said,
from the Persian.

“Musk,” for instance, is Persian. “Aroma” is pure Greek, and if Liddell
and Scott’s suggested derivation of ἄρωμα (a spice) from the Sanscrit
_ghrâ_ (a smell) is correct, then the original meaning of “aromatic” is
merely “smelly.” “Mephitic,” not a popular word even now, comes from the
Latin _mephitis_, “a foul, pestilential exhalation from the ground,
often sulphury in character, as from volcanic regions.” The brimstone
odour of the devil—of which more anon—is mephitic.

Now we must here discriminate. Etymologists, delving down among the
roots of our spoken language, come, so they say, to a point at which
even the simplest epithet, even the plainest description of a sensation,
is seen to derive from some object. Obviously this must be so in the
beginning, whether or not etymologists are always correct in their
particular ascriptions. An adjective describing, and later denoting, a
quality, is generalised from some object bearing that quality. A “stony”
countenance is a countenance rigid as stone. So in like manner, we are
told, even the names of colours, deeply embedded in the language though
they be, are ultimately referable to objects bearing that colour.
“Brown,” to take the least dubitable instance, is the colour of
burnt—“brunt”—things, while “blue,” according to authority, like the
Scots “blae,” means “livid” really, and is connected with “blow,” being
the colour left after a blow. (But we say “a black eye”!)

Thus the descriptive epithets not only of smell, but also of sight, are
ultimately derived from objects. But there is this great difference
between them: the names of colours take us back to near the original
trunk from which the Aryan languages branch off, whereas the names of
odours, to this day still vague and indeterminate (at least in popular
phraseology), are derived from the spoken tongue of to-day, or, in some
cases, from foreign languages, and are, therefore, but recent additions.

This delay in the naming of classes of odours justifies the statement
made at the outset of this section that smell is speechless. It shows,
in other words, that although, as we have seen, its influence upon the
mind may be profound, yet that influence does not extend as far as the
speech-centres. It remains largely in the subconsciousness.

We should be guilty of error, however, were we to conclude that the
scantiness of olfactory names is due to the lack of recognition by the
consciousness of early man of smell in general, or to a failure to
distinguish between different odours, because savages, in general less
discriminating and analytical than cultured races, have, there is every
reason to believe, a more acute and highly perfected olfactory sense. It
has been reported that the North American Indian was able to track his
enemy or his game by the scent alone, and Humboldt has recorded a
similar acuteness on the part of the Indians of Peru. While admitting
the marvellous skill of the American Indians in following up their
quarry, most of us will, I imagine, be inclined to doubt whether its
dependence upon smell is a true inference from the facts observed. Skill
in woodcraft can be brought to such marvellous perfection that it may
seem like magic to the onlooker—like magic, or like scent!

Further, although we are able to distinguish clearly enough between
different odours, the identification and the naming of odours does not
come easy to us. _Parfumeurs_ and druggists, no doubt, by the daily
education of the sense, attain to a high degree of skill in this art,
but those who have not cultivated their powers will find it very
difficult, as the amusing parlour-game of guessing the names of
concealed foodstuffs and spices shows. The difficulty is, like the
paucity of olfactory terms, probably due to an absence of ready
communication between the olfactory and speech centres in the brain.

                               CHAPTER V

Evidence of olfactory influences is encountered in folk-lore not
infrequently, particularly in connection with primitive medicine, and
survivals of old olfactory methods of treatment are still extant, not
only in the doings of the wise women of our remoter country villages,
but also, as we shall see, in modern scientific medicine.

Treatment by fumigation is perhaps the most widely prevalent of these.

Probably the earliest motive for “smoking” a patient was merely the
replacing of an offensive by a pleasant odour, as we find it frequently
employed in malodorous conditions. Here the practice links up with
ancient ideas on epidemic diseases.

Behind this rationale, however, there lies perhaps the idea of
association of death with the fœtor of decomposition and the expectation
that a pleasant aromatic odour will naturally “obviate the tendency to
death.” This view of the matter must have become strengthened among
nations like the ancient Egyptians, who had discovered that aromatic
substances might be relied upon to preserve the body after death. Even
in recent times and countries similar customs have prevailed. Scott in
“The Bride of Lammermoor” tells us that rosemary, southernwood, rue and
other plants were in Scotland strewn on the body after death, and were
“burned by way of fumigation in the chimney.”

Be that as it may, we find fumigation employed all over the world as a
rite of purification, particularly during the menstrual and puerperal
periods, women being at those times regarded as unclean or taboo.

Later, in the natural course of evolution, fumigation comes under the
category of anti-demoniac remedies.

When disease was ascribed to the operation of demons in residence in the
patient’s body, a belief at one time world-wide in its distribution, the
treatment mostly relied upon to cure the disease, and, granting the
premises, a perfectly rational therapeutic method, was by various
devices to render the patient’s body too uncomfortable for the demon.
And among many other modes of securing this desirable end was the
smoking of the demon out by strong odours, fumes being generated around
the patient by burning horns, hair, and certain odoriferous woods and
plants. Among the Chippeway Indians, we are told, a species of cypress
was set on fire for this purpose, and the efficacy of the remedy was
heightened by the needle-shaped leaves of the tree flying off and
sticking in the spirit.

Sometimes a medical man may feel disposed to smile when he sees the
priest in church “censing” the Bible in order to drive away the evil one
before he begins to read it. Yet fumigation has lingered on long in
medicine as well as in religion. During the severe epidemics of cholera
in Egypt not so many years ago, hundreds of pounds weekly were spent
upon bonfires of sulphur in the streets of Cairo, a method of
disinfection more likely to drive off demons than to destroy the comma
bacillus in the drinking-water!

In mediæval, Jacobean, and Georgian medicine, fumigation was a favourite
remedy. Every one, for example, is familiar with the old-fashioned
treatment of fainting by burning feathers under the nose. And perfumes
and aromatics in general were widely used in the medicine of those days,
as the following extract from Salmon’s “Dispensatory” (1696) shows:

  “_Balsamum Apoplecticum Horstii_, Apoplectick Balsam of Horstius.

  “_Take of the Oils of Nutmegs_ ℥i, _of white Amber rectified_ ℥ʃ,
  _Roses (commonly called Adeps Rosarum) of Cinnamon_ A. ℈i., _of
  Lavender_, _of Marjoram_ A. grs. xv. _of Benjamin_, _of Rue_ A. ℈ʃ
  _of Cloves_, _of Citrons_ A. grs. iv. _Mix all well together, then
  add Ambergrise_ ʒʃ, _Oriental Civet_ ℈iv., _Choice Musk_ ʒi. _Mix
  all according to Art, to the just consistence of a Balsam._

  “_Salmon._ The Oil of Nutmegs is that made by expression, all the
  rest are Chymical. _Horstius_ saith, that in the whole Republick of
  Medicine, there is scarcely found an Apoplectick Balsam more
  illustrious for Fame, more noble for Virtue, more worthy for Honour,
  more ready for Help, and more fragrant for smell, than this. It
  chears and comforts all the spirits, natural, vital, and animal, by
  anointing the extremities of the Nostrils and the Pulses. It cures
  Convulsions, Palsies, Numbness, and other Diseases proceeding of

The modern physician may think this Balsam “apoplectick” in a sense
never dreamt of by its author; nevertheless he must also sigh for the
faith that believed all those wonders.

Here is another from the same source for “the strengthening of memory”:

  “_Balsamum Maemonicus_ (sic) _Sennerti_. Balsam for the loss of

  “℞ _of the juices of Bawm_, _Basil_, _flowers of Sage_, _Lillies_,
  _Primroses_, _Rosemary_, _Lavender_, _Borrage_, _Broom_, A. ℥ii.;
  _Aqua Vitae_, _Water-lillies_, _Roses_, _Violets_, A. ℥i.; _Cubebs_,
  _Cardamoms_, _Grains of Paradise_, _yellow Sanders_, _Corpo
  balsamum_, _Orrice_, _Saffron_, _Savory_, _Peony_, _Tyme_, A. ℥ʃ;
  _Storax liquid and Calamita_, _Opopanax_, _Bdellium_, _Galbanum_,
  _Gum of Ivy_, _Labdanum_, A. ʒvi.; _Roots of Peony_, _long
  Birthwort_, _Oils of Turpentine_, _Spike_, _Costus_, _Juniper_,
  _Bays_, _Mastick_, _Baben_, _Lavender_, A. ʒv. _Pouder them that are
  to be poudered, then mix and distil in an Alembick, with a gradual
  fire; separate the Balsam from the Water._

  “_Salmon._ In this we have put flowers of Sage instead of Mynica or
  Tamarisk: otherwise it is _verbatim_. It is a truly noble Cephalick,
  and it is reported to cause a perpetual memory, both Water and
  Balsom are excellent good against all cold Diseases: you may anoint
  the hinder part of the Head, the Nostrils and Ears therewith. Dose
  gut. iii. ad vi. This is that Balsam which _Charles_, Duke of
  _Burgundy_ bought of an English Doctor for 10000 Florentines.”

It is to be noted, by the way, the odours do not “strengthen the memory”
as a whole; what they do is to revive special memories.

The use of perfumes like camphor to ward off infection has long been in
vogue. The pompous doctors of Hogarth’s time—just 200 years ago—carried
walking-sticks the hollow handle of which formed a receptacle for
camphor, musk, or other pungent substances, which they held to their
noses when visiting patients, to guard against the smells that to them
spelt infection. And the air of the Old Bailey used to be, and indeed
still is, sweetened with herbs strewn on the Bench, lest the prisoner
about to be condemned to death by the rope might return the compliment
and sentence his judge to death by gaol-fever. To this day, also, herbs
are strewn about the Guildhall on state and ceremonial occasions, an
interesting survival.

Demoniac possession was also largely responsible for the nauseous and
disgusting remedies of which early medicine, both among the folk and
among the more educated medical men, was very fond.

Paracelsus was a great believer in such concoctions, one of which,
_zebethum occidentale_, was his own invention. Fortunately I am not
compelled to divulge the constitution of this remarkable remedy. All I
need say is that it was by no means the “cassia, sandal-buds, and
stripes of labdanum” of Browning’s “Paracelsus”!

Those unspeakable medicaments were (and are still) sometimes applied
externally, sometimes administered internally. One of the most absurd
variants of this class was the holding of divers foulsmelling mixtures
under the patient’s nose for the cure of hysteria, the idea being that
the stench would repel the “mother” from the patient’s throat, whither
it had wandered through sheer boredom and lack of interest elsewhere.

Nevertheless, out of these most absurd and to us meaningless methods of
treatment modern medicine has here and there selected remedies which
experiment and experience have proved to be of value; valerian, for
example, which is still largely employed for hysterical conditions, and
asafœtida (popularly named “devil’s dung”).

As a matter of fact, many pungent, strong-smelling substances are
powerful cardiac and muscular stimulants.

Nor must we overlook the carminatives, the pleasantly smelling dill,
aniseed, rue and peppermint, the very names of which bring to our minds
the sweetness of old country places and the efforts, not always vain, to
quiet screaming country babies! Well are they named the _carminatives_,
acting as they do “like a charm.”

In the Æneid we are told how once upon a time his divine mother was
revealed to pious Æneas by a heavenly odour. And although Lucian
intimates that the gods themselves enjoyed the smell of incense, yet,
according to Elliot Smith, the real object of incense-burning was to
impart the body-odour of the god to his worshippers. Something of the
kind, whatever the primary motive may have been, must have been needed,
one would imagine, to drown the unpleasant smells from the abattoirs in
the temples where the sacrificial animals were slaughtered.

The wrath of the Lord God of the Hebrews after the Flood, it will be
remembered, was appeased when he smelled the sweet savour of the burnt
offerings of Noah on his emergence from the Ark. The sacrifice was, of
course, the meal of the god, the flesh of bullocks, rams, doves, and
what not, being spiritualised by the flames and so transformed into food
a spirit could absorb. The Greek gods, it is true, refreshed themselves
with such ethereal delicacies as nectar and ambrosia, but they were by
no means indifferent to the square meal of roast beef so punctiliously
provided for them by human purveyors. Homer is always careful to mention
that, as often as a feast was toward, neither the gods nor the bards
were forgotten, the former being fed before and the latter after the
heroes themselves had been satisfied.

When, following the Persian division of the unseen world of spirits into
good and bad, the idea of an evil-minded and consistently hostile god
became popular, his odour was naturally enough the opposite of that of
the kindly gods. And as in time he came to assume some of the attributes
of the Roman _di inferni_, he, like the dragons of an even greater
antiquity, sported the sulphury odour of his underground dwelling.

The Northern nations of ancient Europe, Grimm tells us, believed that
hell was a place of burning pitch, whence arose an intolerable stench.
Our English word “smell” is obviously related to a German dialect word
for hell—_smela_—which in turn is itself akin to the Bohemian _smola_,
resin or pitch.

The Christian “hell” was thus the lineal descendant of the subterranean
“Hades” of the pagans, and what its stench was like may be gathered from
that of the noxious fumes that rise out of clefts in volcanic rocks,
such fumes, we may suppose, as in earlier days threw the Oracle at
Delphi into her prophetic trances. (Some authorities, however, say that
it was the smoke of burning bay-leaves that the Oracle inhaled.)

The offensive odour of hell adheres to all the devils right down to
modern times. In the Middle Ages you could always tell the Evil One by
his sulphurous stink, but, unfortunately for the tempted, it was not
usually observed until after his departure.

But evil odours not only attended the devil himself: they were also
generated by the sins. For St. Joseph of Copertino, “seeing beneath the
envelope of the body,” was able to recognise the sins of the flesh by
their odour. And St. Paconi, so it was said, could even smell out
heretics in his day, presumably in the same way as witches are now
discovered in Africa.

Moreover, as the devil and his minions are attended with a vile smell,
the odour of their infernal home, so naturally they detest what we call
sweet and aromatic perfumes and are repelled by them, as the following
tale from Sinistrari of Ameno shows. I give it _verbatim_ as it appears
in Sax Rohmer’s “Romance of Sorcery”:

  “In a certain monastery of holy nuns there lived as a boarder a
  young maiden of noble birth who was tempted by an Incubus, that
  appeared to her by day and by night, and with the most earnest
  entreaties, the manners of a most passionate lover, incessantly
  incited her to sin; but she, supported by the grace of God and the
  frequent use of the Sacraments, stoutly resisted the temptation. But
  all her devotions, fasts, and vows notwithstanding, despite the
  exorcisms, the blessings, the injunctions showered by exorcists on
  the Incubus that he should desist from molesting her, in spite of
  the crowd of relics and other holy objects collected in the maiden’s
  room, of the lighted candles kept burning there all night, the
  Incubus none the less persisted in appearing to her as usual in the
  shape of a very handsome young man.

  “At last among other learned men whose advice had been taken on the
  subject was a very erudite Theologian, who, observing that the
  maiden was of a thoroughly phlegmatic temperament, surmised that the
  Incubus was an aqueous demon (there are in fact, as is testified by
  Guaccius, igneous, aerial, phlegmatic, earthly, subterranean demons,
  who avoid the light of day) and prescribed an uninterrupted
  fumigation of the room.

  “A new vessel, made of glass like earth, was accordingly brought in,
  and filled with sweet cane, cubeb seed, roots of both aristolochies,
  great and small cardamom, ginger, long-pepper, caryophylleae,
  cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmegs, calamite, storax, benzoin, aloes
  wood and roots, one ounce of triapandalis, and three pounds of half
  brandy and water; the vessel was then set on hot ashes in order to
  distil the fumigating vapour, and the cell was kept closed.

  “As soon as the fumigation was done, the Incubus came, but never
  dared enter the cell; only, if the maiden left it for a walk in the
  garden or the cloister, he appeared to her, though invisible to
  others, and, throwing his arms around her neck, stole or rather
  snatched kisses from her, to her intense disgust.

  “At last, after a new consultation, the Theologian prescribed that
  she should carry about her person pills made of the most exquisite
  perfumes, such as musk, amber, chive, Peruvian balsam, etc. Thus
  provided, she went for a walk in the garden, where the Incubus
  suddenly appeared to her with a threatening face, and in a rage. He
  did not approach her, however, but, after biting his finger as if
  meditating revenge, disappeared, and was nevermore seen by her.”

On the other hand, the odour of sanctity in mediæval times was a much
more real perfume than that in which the Jackdaw of Reims died. It does
not seem, so far as I can make out from my reading, that the sweet smell
of the Saints was ever remarked in the early centuries of the Christian
era. The odour diffused around his pillar by St. Simeon Stylites, for
example, was by no means pleasant. But by A.D. 1000 the sweetness of the
Saints’ persons was beginning to pervade the religious atmosphere.
Writing about that time, Odericus Vitalis tells us that “from the
sepulchre of St. Andrew” (at Patras, Asia Minor) “manna like flour and
oil of an exquisite odour flow, which indicate to the inhabitants of
that country” what the crops will be like that year. And the example
thus set by this apostle is followed by all other saintly personages for
many centuries.

In England, we read that when the Blessed Martyr Alban’s burial place on
the hill above Verulamium was opened, in obedience to a sign from heaven
in the shape of a flash of lightning, the good people were enraptured by
the delicious fragrance of the Saint’s remains, and the same
characteristic attended those of the later martyr Thomas à Becket.

St. Thomas à Kempis is credited with the statement that the chamber of
the blessed Leduine was so charmingly odorous that people who were
privileged to enter it were delighted, and wishing to enjoy her perfume
to the full, were wont to approach their faces close to the bosom of the
Saint, “who seemed to have become a casket in which the Lord had
deposited His most precious perfumes.” After the death of St. Theresa a
salt-cellar which had been placed in her bed preserved for a long time a
most delicious odour. And so on indefinitely, some of the stories being,
as might be expected, a little too plain-spoken and artless for modern

It is difficult to account for the pleasant odour of Saints whose pride
it was to live without change of raiment, to harbour parasites, and to
abstain from washing. Nevertheless that certain persons exhale a
naturally pleasant aroma from their bodies is true. Alexander the Great
is noted by Plutarch as having so sweet an odour that his tunics were
soaked with aromatic perfume, and taking a flying leap through the pages
of history, we come to Walt Whitman, who had the same characteristic.
Indeed, a piny aromatic odour, of considerable strength, is occasionally
noticeable in certain people, and I can myself testify that it becomes
stronger on the approach of their death.

We are not often told when historical heroes were unpleasant in this
respect, but in the case of Louis XIV. we have the authoritative
evidence of Madame Montespan, who after their “divorce, when having a
public set-to with her sun-god in the glittering _salles_ of Versailles,
discomfited that little, red-heeled, bewigged, and pompous mannikin with
the following broadside:

“With all my imperfections, at least I do not smell as badly as you do!”

His ancestor, “Lewis the Eleventh,” says Burton in “The Anatomy of
Melancholy,” “had a conceit everything did stink about him. All the
odoriferous perfumes they could get would not ease him, but still he
smelled a filthy stink.”

A modern rhinologist would suspect this monarch of having been afflicted
with maxillary antrum suppuration. It will be noted, however, that there
is no record that the odour he himself perceived was perceptible to
others. The fœtor, as we say, was subjective, not objective, in which
respect it differed from that of another historical personage, Benjamin
Disraeli to wit, who was the subject probably of the disease known as
ozæna. (See later.)

                               CHAPTER VI
                              THE ULTIMATE

In a former chapter we dwelt upon the curious fact that memories aroused
by olfactory stimuli are independent of the will. Now there is yet
another way in which smell ignores the head of the cerebral hierarchy.

Although on occasion confining its operations to the subconsciousness,
and exercising, so to speak, only a backstairs influence upon the mind,
olfaction much more frequently insists upon recognition, breaking in
upon our privacy, like a disreputable acquaintance, at most inopportune

If you do not wish to see you can look the other way. When you would
rather not hear you can be inattentive. A proffered handshake you can
ignore. A dish you dislike you may decline. But you can’t help
smelling—no, not even if you turn up your nose.

Olfaction is thus the great leveller among the senses, equality having
here a reality but rarely found elsewhere. For odour makes its way into
the nose of king and cadger, duke and drayman, lady and lout,
indifferently. Nay, by an ironical law of olfaction the fœtors are more
powerful than the fragrances, and vervain the feeble turns tail before
the onslaught of scatol (as well it might, indeed!), in which case there
is nothing to be done but to bear it (without the grin mostly); or to
follow the wise example of vervain; or to remove the offence, as we have
done in England these latter days, only to render ourselves, as I have
carefully pointed out in Chapter I., all the more sensitive to it when
it does come.

To many of us it comes on the dog.

This animal has a regrettable fondness for wallowing, diligently and
with forethought, in the Abominable, until his coat is thoroughly well
impregnated. For no other reason, I do verily believe, than, as he
thinks, to give his human friends for once some of the olfactory
pleasure he himself enjoys. A treat he thinks it, without any doubt.
Just look at the smirk of pride and satisfaction on his face as he trots
in and resumes his place on the drawing-room hearthrug and the amazement
with which he receives the sudden toe of your boot!

And yet he rolls himself over on the odoriferous for the same reason
that a fashionable lady has orris-root put in her bath; namely, for the
pleasure and gratification of society at large. There are who say that
my lady’s perfume seems as vile to her Pekinese as his then does to her!
If so, he is the more tolerant animal of the two.

Anyhow, he certainly has the knack of thrusting the Unmentionable upon
the attention of the most fastidious, and smell is no longer speechless.

Now, if we are to treat fully of things olfactory, we must at least take
cognisance of the Unmentionable. But to extend our notice would take us
across the garden to the muckrake and the dunghill. And such nearer
investigation and description I must decline, even although in these
days of outspokenness I may have to apologise for Victorian
squeamishness. To attain merit as a writer the advice now given you is:
Be frank! And if you disgust, why, so much the better!

That may be so. I do not question the value of the advice, not for a
moment. All I say is that I prefer not to take it. And if somebody else
desires this particular laurel-crown, this crown of tainted laurel, he
shall wear it without arousing any envy upon my part, albeit, as I know
full well, this is a branch of the subject which illuminates many
obscurities and seeming eccentricities in human conduct. I know all
about that, but, as Herodotus so often says, I am not going to tell all
I know, although, I fear, an allusion or two may be necessary.

We may take it as on the whole true that a repulsive odour is a
dangerous odour. Not invariably, however. Otherwise grouse in their
season would not be esteemed a dainty and Gorgonzola would everywhere be
buried. Nevertheless in these high realms palatability is limited to
quite a narrow streak. There is a level beyond which the boldest
gastronomic adventurer dare not climb.

It is remarkable that the liking for half-decomposed food, although an
acquired taste, is found everywhere in the world, among savage and
civilised, rich and poor, high and low—but not among young and old. For
young people do not usually approve of such _recherché_ flavours. It
would be a mistake, however, to argue from that fact that these savoury
meats act as fillips to a sense jaded with age, because it is generally
agreed that neither smell nor taste declines in acuteness as we grow
old. On the contrary, they become more instructed, more particular, more
delicate. Appetite declines if you like, but taste and smell abide
increasingly unto the end.

Nevertheless we can only look upon this particular liking as acquired,
since the high relish of one country but fills its neighbours with

It is worthy of remark, perhaps, that the last whiff, the final
sublimated breath of ripe Gorgonzola as it passes over, is a faint
suggestion of ammonia. Curiously enough, this always fills my
imagination with the sack of cities and the end of all things in smoke
and thunder. It may be because the penultimate phase of life itself is
ammonia. Fire, slaughter, and much more besides come quite promptly to
this gas for the City of Destruction, what there is left of the
remainder in dust and ashes being but a handful for the wind.

To the keen-sensed medical man certain morbid states can be recognised
by their exhalations. I have even heard of an enthusiast on the subject
who alluded to them as “both visible and tangible”; but that, I think,
must be exceptional.

Physicians of the last generation used to speak of typhus fever as
having a close, mawkish odour, and the smell of smallpox is horrible.
But these, as well as the appalling stench of the hospitals in olden
days, are among the smells which have, for the most part, fled our

There are others, however, less powerful and repugnant, which are still
with us, and which we recognise as among the prominent characteristics
of certain maladies, the acid smell of acute rheumatism for one, and I
have sometimes thought I could detect a characteristic odour also in
acute nephritis, a smell resembling that of chaff. The odour of a big
hæmorrhage is unmistakable and, to obstetricians particularly, ominous.

Then there is the smell of mice which attends upon the skin disease
known as favus.

The breath of a chronic drunkard is familiar enough to everybody, and
the more delicate aroma in the circumambient atmosphere of the careful
tippler, ethereal and by no means unpleasant, will often reveal to the
physician the hidden cause of obscure symptoms. It is particularly
valuable when your patient is, as so many of these secret drinkers are,
a woman, it may be a woman of good social standing.

A disease-odour of great value and significance is the sweet-smelling
breath caused by acetone poisoning in the later stages of diabetes.

A sweet smell is also said by Bacon to attend plague:

  “The plague is many times taken without a manifest sense, as hath
  been said. And they report that, where it is found, it hath the
  scent of a smell of a mellow apple; and (as some say) of
  May-flowers; and it is also received that smells of flowers that are
  mellow and luscious are ill for the plague, as white lilies,
  cowslips and hyacynth.” (Quoted by Creighton, “A History of British
  Epidemics,” p. 685, f.n.)

Death sometimes heralds his approach by means of an odour, said in some
parts of the country to bring ravens about the house, which may well be
true, as it is apparently a summons of the same nature that calls the
Indian vulture in flocks from apparently untenanted skies. Birds in
general, however, seem to belong to the microsmatic group of animals,
relying chiefly upon their vision, which is often highly perfected,
particularly for distance.

Much has been made, too much perhaps, of the part played by olfaction in
the sex-life, and its undoubted prominence in the coupling of
four-footed animals is pointed to as an indication of its potency in
mankind also. But the reasoning is fallacious. Olfactory influences
predominate in these animals simply because olfaction is their principal

Among birds, now, courtship and marriage are conducted without any
apparent aid from olfaction, and in no group of beings, not even in
mankind, is the poetic side of courtship, both before and after
marriage, so highly developed and so beautifully displayed. In their
love-making the birds appeal to each other through the ear in their
songs, and through the eye in the nuptial splendours of the male,
splendours which he parades with glorious pomp before what often seems
to be, indeed, but a lackadaisical and indifferent spouse.

As we have already seen, this independence of olfactory stimuli is, so
far as obvious indications go, also the case with human lovers. True, we
have numerous references by poets to the sweetness of their ladies’
breath, only one, as far as I know, being blunt enough to say:

            “And in some perfumes there is more delight
            Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.”

But the sum and substance of Havelock Ellis’s exhaustive inquiry on this
point is undoubtedly this, that if a lover loves the aroma of his lady,
that is because of his love, not because of her inherent sweetness. In
other words, the attraction, subtle though it be, at least in the early
or romantic stage, is seldom or never obviously olfactory. It is the
suggestion of closer intimacy that constitutes the attraction of her
nearer environment, and this suggestion is the offspring of the lover’s

As to the influence of her personal emanation in the second, the
realistic, stage, there also, it would seem, its power is subsidiary,
certainly to that of touch, although more active than that of sight and
hearing, seeing that the holy of holies is only unveiled in darkness and
in silence.

As for our opinion in everyday life, I think most people will subscribe
to the old adage “_Mulier bene olet dum nihil olet_.”

                              CHAPTER VII
                       SMELL AND THE PERSONALITY

Whatever of myth there may be in the quaint stories we related in
Chapter V., there is no doubt about this, that there is great variety
among different individuals in respect to their personal atmosphere. I
mean the natural atmosphere of the person, of course, not the artificial
airs that surround and envelop the beperfumed modern lady.

There is no need to enlarge upon this branch of our subject. Those who
are curious about it may apply themselves to Havelock Ellis for more
detailed information. What I am concerned with here is something much
less commonplace and obvious, the question, namely, whether we
disseminate and receive, each of us, anything less material than the
odours we are conscious of.

In addition to his other olfactory accomplishments, our friend the dog
seems to be able to distinguish by smell when a strange dog is to be
cultivated as a friend or wrangled with as a foe, and nothing is more
amusing to watch than the careful and even suspicious olfactory
investigation two dogs meeting for the first time make of each other’s
odours, during which exchange of credentials a state of armed neutrality
exists, to pass, apparently as a result of some mysterious olfactory
decision, either into frank, open, and unchangeable hostility, or into
friendship equally frank, open, and unchangeable.

But what it is that makes one dog smell to another of enmity or of
friendship is as mysterious as—the mutual attraction or repulsion felt
for each other by two human beings, shall we say? For, of course, this
suspense of judgment on encountering a new-comer is a human no less than
a canine trait. There were physiognomists before Lavater, since we are
naturally influenced by what our senses, and especially our eyes and our
ears, tell us about a person we are meeting for the first time. We like
the look of the man, his expression, his smile, the character of his
movements, bodily as well as facial; we find the intonation of his
voice, his accent, his laugh, agreeable. Or we don’t. And our decision
is curiously independent of his moral character, even after we have got
to know that side of him. Now, this act of judgment seems to us to be
quite independent of any olfactory evidence. We rely upon our
predominant senses just as the dog relies upon his. Yet I sometimes
catch myself wondering whether olfaction, olfaction rarefied and refined
beyond imagining, does not without our knowledge play some part in our
estimate of the pros and cons in character.

What is conveyed to us by the “personality” of a man? Here we have
apparently a complex of sense-impressions, for the most part vague,
which we are seldom able to analyse, even to ourselves. Still less can
we put it into words capable of conveying our impression to other
people. “There is _something_ about him that I like” is about the
sum-total of our attempts at description.

And if this be true as between man and man, it is even more often
remarked as between man and woman. Meredith it is, I think, who says
that the surest way to a woman’s heart is through her eye. Fortunately
for most of us, his dictum is open to question. Otherwise the human race
would soon come to an end. Now, although, unlike Meredith, I cannot
claim the rank of a high-priest in the temple of Venus, yet so far as I
may dare to express an opinion upon a matter so recondite, not to say
mysterious, I should rather be inclined to say that the surest route is
by way of her ear, and I am fortified in my belief by an authority as
erudite in these matters as Meredith himself, Shakespeare to wit:

             “That man that hath a tongue, I say, is no man
             If with his tongue he cannot win a woman.”

John Wilkes, they say, to all appearance a “most uninteresting-looking
man,” asked for only half an hour of a start to beat the handsomest
gentleman in England at the game of games. Women forgot what he was like
as soon as he began to talk.

Who has not seen women turning sidelong glances, with that surreptitious
intentness we all know so well, towards some very ordinary man in whose
voice they, but not we, detect the indefinable something that has the
power of luring these shy creatures from their inaccessible retreats?
What man has not seen this play and puzzled over it? The quality—is it
perhaps something caressing, or something brutal and ultra-masculine, or
both at once? Who knows what it is that their intuition perceives?

So we ask, we less favoured mortals, as we turn and look at him also,
hard and long, only to give it up with a shrug!

When I am one of a crowd under the spell of an orator—a rare bird, by
the way, in England—I feel his power less in what he says than in how he
says it. Gladstone, for example, swayed his audience by the fervour of
his personality, not by any beauty of word or thought in his rhetoric.
How meaningless his speeches seem to us nowadays as we vainly try to
read them, how involved, discursive, ambiguous, turgid. How dull! And
yet we know that these same involved, discursive, ambiguous, turgid and
dull speeches could and did rouse hard-bitten Scotsmen to a wildness of
enthusiasm that seems to us incredible.

Thus the personality is something that travels on the wings of sound.
But is that all? Is there not something more, something imperceptible
which yet exercises a secret power over our emotions and passions? Is
there an olfactory aura?

  “Why does the elevation of the Host in a Roman Catholic church bring
  such an assurance of peace to the congregation?” writes a friend of
  mine. “This remarkable sensation I have myself frequently
  experienced and wondered at. Yet I am, as you know, a Scots
  Presbyterian, and do not credit for a single moment the miraculous
  change of bread and wine. And yet to this gracious and comforting
  influence I have been subject on more than one occasion. It is for
  all the world as if the constant pin-pricks of our normal life were
  suspended for a moment or two.

  “It is present only during service, and then only at the culmination
  of the rite.

  “As I do not believe in the miracle, the influence must come to me
  from without, not from within myself. Indeed, I have actually come
  to the conclusion that it is borne in upon me not by the church
  atmosphere with its incense, nor by the solemn intonation of the
  priest, nor by the whisper of the muted organ, nor yet by the
  distant murmur of the choir, but—by the congregation itself!

  “It is from the kneeling worshippers that the mysterious influence
  emanates, invisibly, inaudibly, intangibly, to suffuse with the
  peace of some other world the spirit even of an unbeliever....”

Is it possible that influences such as these may enter by the olfactory

This perhaps may seem to be rather a fanciful suggestion for a
scientifically trained writer to offer. But it is not wholly fanciful,
since it has some support at least from theory (whatever that may be
worth), and even from some considerations based upon solid fact.

As to theory, we have already seen how Fabre arrived at the conclusion
that the olfactory sense of certain insects is capable of receiving
stimuli to which we are insensitive, stimuli which he surmised to be of
the nature of an ethereal vibration. Consider too the following facts.

It is well known that there are people who have an instinctive dislike
of cats. The late Lord Roberts was one, and it is said of him that he
was aware of the presence of his _bête noire_ before he caught sight of
it. How was he made aware?

The same instinctive aversion is felt by some people towards spiders. I
myself know of one, a young girl, who cannot sleep if her bedroom
contains one of these creatures. She, like Lord Roberts feels without
knowing how when a spider is near her.

Here also is a letter to a newspaper from a correspondent telling the
same tale:


  “I notice with interest that the official photographer who is to
  accompany Sir Ernest Shackleton’s _Quest_ expedition has an intense
  dislike of spiders. Can any of your readers explain this uncanny
  horror, which I believe is shared by a large number of people?

  “I myself loathe and fear spiders—so much so that I have been known
  on more than one occasion to go into a darkened room and to declare
  the presence of one of these creatures, my pet abomination being
  subsequently discovered....

                                                               “F. E.”

What sense-organ—because there must be one—enables F. E. and others like
him (or her) to detect the presence of a small creepy-crawly?

We turn now to a series of medical cases which may throw some light upon
this peculiarity.

There are people who suffer from asthma when they go near horses. To
enter a stable or to sit behind a horse is to them a certain means of
bringing on an attack.

This susceptibility and the peculiar form taken by the reaction remind
us of hay fever. In sufferers from this troublesome complaint the pollen
of certain plants has an irritating effect upon the mucous surfaces of
the eyes, nose, and bronchial tubes. So in like manner recent
investigation has shown that there is in the blood of the horse a
proteid substance which acts as an irritant poison to those susceptible
people. Their asthma, therefore, is merely a manifestation of the
irritation produced by the poisonous body or its emanation when it is
borne to them through the air. Similarly we are justified in arguing
that cats and spiders may throw off an effluvium which is irritating to
those susceptible to it.

But it is to be noted that the antipathy in these last instances
manifests itself, not in a tissue change, but in a feeling of the mind,
an emotion. Nay more, these people do not smell the cat or the spider,
except in the way that James I. “smelled” gunpowder. Nevertheless, the
irritant must travel through the air as an odour does, and it probably
enters the organism by the mucous membrane of the nose.

But does it act upon the olfactory cells? Here we encounter, I must
confess, a serious obstacle to an acceptance of this theory.

The interior of the nose is sensitive not only to odours, but also to
certain chemical irritants. Any one who has peeled a raw onion or has
taken a good sniff at a bottle of strong smelling-salts knows what I
mean. Now, the chemical irritant, in the latter case ammonia gas,
affects not the olfactory nerve, but certain naked nerve fibrils in the
mucous membrane belonging to what is known as the fifth cranial nerve, a
nerve of simple sensation.[2] And the simultaneous irritation of the
eyelids, and in the case of the pollen and horse effluvia the bronchial
tubes, shows that these resemble in their action the simple chemical
irritants, and not the odours.

Footnote 2:

  The difference between those two sensations becomes clearly evident
  when an anosmic person is peeling an onion. The usual irritation of
  the eyes and nose is felt and manifested, but the patient is unaware
  of any odour.

It must be remembered, however, that, as we have said, the cat and the
spider effluvia induce an emotional effect simply, without local
irritation. And emotional change not only follows, it may also precede,
the perception of an odour.

The following anecdote of Goethe, for example, shows how smell may
affect the personality before it is recognised as an odour by the

  “An air that was beneficial to Schiller acted on me like poison,”
  Goethe said to Eckermann. “I called on him one day, and as I did not
  find him at home, I seated myself at his writing-table to note down
  various matters. I had not been seated long before I felt a strange
  indisposition steal over me, which gradually increased, until at
  last I nearly fainted. At first I did not know to what cause I
  should ascribe this wretched, and to me unusual, state, until I
  discovered that a dreadful odour issued from a drawer near me. When
  I opened it I found, to my astonishment, that it was full of rotten
  apples. I immediately went to the window, and inhaled the fresh air,
  by which I was instantly restored. Meanwhile his wife came in, and
  told me that the drawer was always filled with rotten apples,
  because the scent was beneficial to Schiller, and he could not live
  without it.”

I wish to emphasise, for the sake of my argument, that Goethe underwent
a profound constitutional disturbance, with its attendant discomfort,
before he realised that its cause was an odour.

If, then, an odour can induce such emotional changes without attracting
attention to itself, the suggestion is not, after all, so very
far-fetched that an emanation proceeding from the worshippers at the
moment of the elevation of the Host in a Roman Catholic church may be
transmitted to the bystanders through the olfactory door to induce in
them an emotion similar to that felt by the initiated.

It may be objected that Goethe’s experience and that of my friend are
not alike, since Goethe plainly, though tardily, became aware of a real
odour. It must be remembered, however, that Goethe was a scientist and
naturally gifted, besides, with an unusual power of introspective
analysis. He found the cause of his disturbance because he sought for

Moreover, we learn from Havelock Ellis that during religious excitement
a real (and pleasant) odour is sometimes perceptible in the atmosphere
around the faithful.

May it not also be the same kind of influence, transmitted in the same
way, that dominates the mind, in company with impressions received by
sight and hearing, when we are in the vicinity of other people?

Our study of smells has brought us, to be sure, into a strange region of
psychology, for it is possible that we have here one explanation of the
mysteries of crowd-psychology, of those unreasonable waves of passion
that sometimes sweep through masses of people and lead to all manner of
strange happenings, like crusades and holy wars; _autos-da-fé_;
witch-burnings; lynch-murders; State-prohibition; spiritualistic
manifestations; and other miracles.

(The somewhat uncanny “sense” we have when some one else is present in
what we suppose to be an empty room may be olfactory in origin, but it
has generally seemed to me that it is due rather to an alteration in the
echo of the room, a change in its normal sound-picture. If the room is a
strange one to us, I do not think we so readily become suspicious of the
presence of an unseen and unexpected visitor.)

                              CHAPTER VIII
                         THEORIES OF OLFACTION
                      (_The Pièce de Résistance_)

The anatomical structure of the olfactory end-organ in the nose is, as
we saw in Chapter II., simple.

Contrast it with the eye. Here we have what is obviously an optical
instrument, with lens, iris diaphragm, dark walls, and sensitive plate
complete—a photographic camera, in a word.

Contrast it also with the ear, which is an acoustic apparatus reminding
us in its detail of a recording gramophone leading to a closed box in
which are what look like a series of resonators, like the wires of a

In the antechamber of each of those organs the physical vibrations to
which they respond undergo considerable modification before they reach
the sensory cells.

In the antechamber of the olfactory organ, on the other hand, the amount
of modification necessary is evidently but slight, as the olfactory
region of the nasal chamber is merely a narrow, open passage. As far as
we know, all that takes place is that the incoming stimulus, the odorous
molecule, is warmed and received by the nasal mucus.

Thus the very complexity of the structure both of the eye and of the ear
helps us to comprehend their function.

But what can we deduce from a flat surface in which all we can see is a
collection of cells with minute protoplasmic hairs projecting from their
distal ends? Obviously, little or nothing. We are, in fact, confounded
by simplicity. It may be that we are here dealing with one of the
essential properties of all living matter, little, if at all, altered
from its primitive condition.

To the physiologist, then, olfaction is the most mysterious of all the
senses. It still retains its secrets, and therein lies the fascination
of its study.

Of late years, the exploration of this dark region of physiology has
been, and is still being, vigorously pushed, and we shall now proceed to
give what, however, can only be a brief and superficial account of the
progress made and of the opinions held. Even so we shall be compelled to
make an incursion into the high and dry realms of modern chemical and
physical theory. That may not be good hearing, but what is still worse
is that almost every single point we shall be discussing is a matter of

Let us commence with a few of the details, mostly unimportant, upon
which there is general agreement.

Consider, first of all, the variety, the almost infinite variety, of
odours. We have, for example, all the odours of the world of Nature, the
emanations of inorganic matter, of the earth itself, its soil and its
minerals; to these we must add the multitudinous perfumes of the
vegetable kingdom, of barks, roots, leaves, flowers and fruits,
including those of growing herbaceous plants, which differ so widely
from one another that it is said of Rousseau, whose myopia was
compensated for by an unusually acute sense of smell, and who was,
moreover, no mean botanist, that he could have classified the plants
according to their smell had there been a sufficiency of olfactory terms
for the purpose; then we have the thousand effluvia, some pleasant and
others not so pleasant, of living animals, including the various races
of mankind; next come the—mostly repulsive—odours of decaying vegetable
and putrefying animal matter; and finally the products of man’s own
proud ingenuity and skill, such as the artificial perfumes and flavours
on the one hand and on the other coal-gas, acetylene, carbon disulphide,
and the like.

Parker notes it as worthy of remark that man has created, both
accidentally and intentionally, many new odours—smells, that is to say,
which have no fellow in the world of Nature—and he emphasises the fact
that the nose is nevertheless capable of appreciating such novel

In this connection we may mention that the art of modern perfumery can
imitate closely many of the natural perfumes, and more particularly the
natural flavours, by mixing together essences, or components, which in
no way resemble the final product.

Thus the flavour of peaches can be compounded artificially of aldehyde,
acetate, formate, butyrate, valerianate, œnanthylate, and sebate of
ethyl, and salicylate of methyl, with glycerine, glycerine being added
to the fruit essences, as it is to wines, in order to restrain the
evaporation of the volatile bodies. (The fruit essences are used only in
the making of flavours. They cannot be employed as perfumes, as they are
too irritating to the nose.)

The union of components to form a product different from any one of them
is found also in vision. When the colours of the spectrum, for example,
are commingled, the resultant white light is devoid of any colour.

Thus the potential responsiveness of the olfactory organ seems to be
practically inexhaustible. So far, at all events, it has not yet reached
the limits of its capacity.

The number and variety of recognised smells being so great, then, one
can readily understand how difficult it is to construct a classification
of odours. Many attempts have, in fact, been made, but, depending as
they do more or less upon subjective sensation, no two classifiers give
us the same classification. Indeed, a division of all smells into
“nice,” “neutral,” and “nasty” would be about as good as many much more
ambitious efforts.

Zwaardemaker’s is the classification most usually followed at present,
and as it is to him we owe most of our knowledge of scientific
olfaction, we shall detail it here:

(1) Ethereal or fruity odours; (2) aromatic, including as sub-classes
camphrous, herbaceous, anisic and thymic, citronous, and the bitter
almond group; (3) balsamic, with sub-groups floral, liliaceous, and
vanillar; (4) ambrosial or muscous; (5) garlicky (including garlic),
oniony, fishy, and the bromine type of odour; (6) empyreumatic
(guaiacol); (7) caprylic (valerianic acid); (8) disgusting; and (9)

The subjective character of these classes is obvious, especially in the
last two groups, but, apart from that objection, most people will be
inclined to protest when they learn that chloroform and iodoform are put
into the first, the ethereal or fruity, group, while it is suggested,
though to be sure with a query, that coffee, bread, and burnt sugar may
belong to the “repulsive” (pyridine) group!

The fact is that Zwaardemaker’s classification is based upon a chemical
foundation, that is to say, upon properties which, as we shall see later
on, do not necessarily correspond with the odours as we smell them.
That, no doubt, explains his inclusion of iodoform among the “fruity”
odours.—Iodoform fruity!—Shades of George Saintsbury and his “Cellar

A shorter classification is that of Heyninx, who, aiming at objectivity,
bases his arrangement, to some extent at all events, upon the spectrum
analysis of odorous molecules in the atmospheric medium, of which more
anon. His list is: acrid, rotten, fœtid, burning, spicy, vanillar or
ethereal, and garlicky. But here, also, the coupling of vanillar with
ethereal odours seems a little inappropriate.

We stand, perhaps, on rather firmer ground when we turn to the
manufacturer’s classification, founded as it is frankly upon subjective
sensation, and therefore devoid of any surprises to the logical faculty.
Here is Rimmel’s arrangement: rose, jasmine, orange, tuberose, violet,
balsam, spice, clove, camphor, sandal-wood, lemon, lavender, mint,
anise, almond, musk, ambergris, fruit (pear).

It may be objected, perhaps, that this is a catalogue merely, not a
scientific classification. That is quite true. But what is also true is
that the others we have quoted are little, if any, better. The fact is
that we do not yet possess the knowledge necessary to enable us to
arrange odours in classes.

The manufacturers, of course, concern themselves with agreeable and
attractive odours only. To the great and growing company of the stinks
they pay no attention whatever. For that reason their contribution to
our knowledge is necessarily but partial and limited.

In their own proper domain, however, they can point to several great
successes. They recognise, for practical purposes, about eighty
primitive scents. Many natural (to say nothing of many unnatural)
perfumes can now be prepared artificially, and some so prepared are said
to be even more powerful than the natural productions. Artificial musk,
for example, is one thousand times stronger than natural musk, Parker
tells us. Deite, on the other hand, says that the smell of artificial
musk is not equal to that of the natural! Indeed, according to this
authority, although synthetic perfumes play an important part in the
concocting of scents, there are only a few of them which can be used
instead of the natural product. What happens is that the artificial and
the natural are generally used in combination. Thus the “mignonette” of
the shops is prepared by passing geraniol, an artificial odorivector
made from citronella oil, over the natural mignonette flowers, the
resulting product being an essence smelling strongly of mignonette, and
not at all of geraniol.

One or two, as we said, are purely artificial imitations; coumarin, for
example, the “new-mown hay” of sentimental memory, which used to be
obtained from the tonka bean, is now entirely made up by the synthetic
chemist. But for all the more subtle essences we have still to rely upon
Nature’s laboratory. The manufacturer steps in and distils the precious
essential oil certainly, but it is from flowers that he obtains it.
Attar of roses, for instance, contains, in addition to natural geraniol,
a number of other ingredients which have so far escaped analysis, a
hundred thousand roses supplying only an ounce of it. In like manner a
ton of orange blossom yields but thirty to forty ounces of the odorous
essential oil.

Many of the costly plant perfumes come from tropical or semi-tropical
countries, such as Ceylon, Mexico, and Peru. But tropical perfumes,
though strong, lack the delicacy of those found in temperate climates.
Cannes, on the Riviera, gives us roses, acacias, jasmine and neroli;
from Nimes come thyme, rosemary, and lavender oil; from Nizza, on the
Italian Riviera, we get violets; from Sicily, oranges and lemons; from
Italy, iris and bergamot. English lavender, until quite recently the
most highly esteemed, came from the towns of Hitchin and Mitcham. But I
am informed that the growing of lavender in England is no longer pursued
with the same success as formerly, and we have to regret the
disappearance of this old and truly English industry.

The natural musk, curiously enough, which comes from the musk-deer of
Tibet, is not used in making musk perfume. It is, however, widely
employed in the perfumer’s art, as it has the curious property of
enhancing the strength of other perfumes and of rendering them
permanent. Civet, also an animal product, being “the very uncleanly
flux” of the civet cat, has similar properties. It is added to other
perfumes to strengthen them (“to set them off,” as it were) and to
render them more stable.

But the most curious, and also one of the most ancient of perfumes is
ambergris, which is a fatty, wax-like substance found floating in the
sea or washed ashore. It comes from places as far apart as the west
coast of Ireland, China, and South America. The origin of this substance
was for long a mystery. But we know now that it consists of the
undigested remnants of cephalopods (squids and octopuses) swallowed by
the spermaceti whale. Ambergris is used, like musk and civet, to render
other scents durable.

But while the victory of the chemist is by no means so complete as it is
in the matter of the dyestuffs, research is steadily going on, and the
next few years will almost certainly witness an evergrowing conquest
over this department of natural chemistry.

In the meantime chemists are applying themselves to the creation of new
varieties of perfume, and, if we may judge from those disseminated by
certain ladies in public places, with a success that startles and even
irritates us. Compared with them, the love-philtres of olden days must
have been but feeble things.

“How d’you know you’re in the right ’bus?” asked the ’bus conductor of
the blind man who was confidently boarding his vehicle.

“This is the Maida Vale ’bus,” was the contemptuous reply. “I knows it
by the smell o’ musk.”

The inexhaustible capacity of the olfactory organ, to which we alluded
above, is by no means its only marvel. It is also of the most wonderful
delicacy, equalling, even if it does not surpass, in this respect, the
sensitiveness of the eye to light.

This property of the smell-organ has been scientifically estimated.
There are many ways of doing so, that by means of Zwaardemaker’s
olfactometer being perhaps the most popular:

  “This consists of two tubes that slide one within the other, and so
  shaped that one end of the inner tube may be applied to the nostril.
  The odorous material is carried on the inner surface of the outer
  tube. When the inner tube, which is graduated, is slipped into the
  outer one so as to cover completely its inner face, and air is drawn
  into the nostril through the tube, the odorous surface, being
  covered, gives out no particles, and no odour is perceived. By
  adjusting the inner tube in relation to the outer one, whereby more
  or less of the odorous surface is exposed, a point can be found
  where minimum stimulation occurs. The amount of odorous substance
  delivered under these circumstances to the air current has been
  designated by Zwaardemaker as an olfactie, the unit of olfactory
  stimulation. Having determined for a given substance the area
  necessary for the delivery of one olfactie, doubling that surface by
  an appropriate movement of the inner tube will produce a stimulus of
  two olfacties, and so forth. Thus a graded series of measured
  olfactory stimuli can easily be obtained. Further, by using outer
  tubes carrying different odorous substances various comparisons can
  be instituted as measured in olfacties” (Parker).

Instruments more elaborate and of greater accuracy have, as a matter of
fact, been devised and used, but they need not detain us.

The results obtained by these and other methods of determining the
minimum stimulus of olfaction are certainly astonishing, and reveal as
nothing else can the delicate acuteness of the sense.

Fischer and Penzoldt found that they could plainly smell one milligram
of chlorphenol evaporated in a room of 230 cubic metres capacity. This
is equivalent to 1/230,000,000 of a milligram to each cubic centimetre
of air, or, assuming 50 cubic centimetres of air as the minimum needed
for olfaction, the amount of chlorphenol capable of exciting sensation
is 1/4,600,000 of the thousandth part of a gram—approximately
1/276,000,000 of a grain!

Many other odours have been similarly tested, and although there is much
numerical discrepancy in the records made by different observers, all
agree as to the extreme delicacy of the sense. (For vanillin and
mercaptan, see p. 39.)

Those experiments and estimations explain how it comes about that many
odours (musk, for example) may go on giving off their scent until they
part with the whole of it _without undergoing any appreciable loss of

Thus there is no chemical test known to us so delicate as olfaction.

It has been found, for example, that over-assiduous efforts at filtering
and purifying the air used for ventilation so as to remove all noxious
chemical and bacterial ingredients defeat their own end. Such air,
although to our artificial tests absolutely clean and pure, seems to the
sense of smell to lack freshness. And the nose is right. The tests are
wrong. For sojourn in such an atmosphere induces lassitude and torpor of
mind, as members of the Houses of Parliament, where this method has been
tried, know to their cost—and ours.

But albeit so highly sensitive to minute traces, the sense occasionally
fails to perceive a highly concentrated odour.

For example, every one is aware that a bunch of violets which is filling
a room with its fragrance seems when held to the nose to have no smell
at all, or at the most to have but a vague, indefinable sort of odour.

The effect, as a matter of fact, varies with the perfume employed. Some,
like violets, have no smell at all. Others give a different smell when
concentrated from what they give when dilute. Muskone, for one, the
essential constituent of musk, has an odour of pines when concentrated;
and storax, a delightful perfume when dilute, is disagreeable when too
powerful, and so on.

It is to be noted that the disagreeable character of these last is not
due to the mental “cloying” or “sickening” of excessive sweetness; it is
a definite odour. Nor is the anosmia for concentrated violets due to the
exhaustion of the sense.

Heyninx, comparing, as we shall see, olfaction with vision, believes the
indefinite odour of concentrated violets to be akin to the absence of
colour in white light. But this explanation seems to me to be
improbable, since the effect is due not to the combination of a number
of odours, as white light is the combination of all the colours of the
spectrum, but to the overpowering influence of a single odour.

Indeed, none of the other senses shows the same phenomenon. If we happen
to catch a momentary glimpse of the noonday sun, we plainly see a disc
of intense light (it is pale blue in colour to my eye), surrounded by a
fiery halo, before it blinds us. In the same way, when a gun is fired
close to the ear, we hear the sound before we are deafened by it.

It is for such reasons that perfumers never sniff at a bottle of scent;
they take a little, rub it on the back of the hand, and then wait until
the spirit has evaporated before they proceed to smell it.

The exquisite delicacy of the sense might lead us to suppose that the
olfactory organ must be quick at responding to its proper stimulus. But
such is not the case. It is, on the other hand, relatively “slow in the

Gleg has estimated that the reaction time for auditory sensation is from
0·12 to 0·15 of a second, whereas the reaction time for smell is as much
as 0·5 of a second, only one sensory stimulus being slower, that of
pain, namely, which occupies 0·9 of a second.

Odours are conveyed to the olfactory end-organ in the air we breathe.
Before they can rise into the air from the odorivector (the odorous
body) and be transported they must, it is clear, pass into the vaporous
or gaseous state. (In the case of fish, of course, the odour must
undergo solution, that is pass into the liquid state.) Many of the
natural properties manifested by smells have been related to this
transformation into vapour.

Everybody knows how rich garden scents become after a shower. It has
been claimed that this results from the lightening of the atmosphere by
the storm, in consequence of which the diffusion of odorous vapours,
following the law that governs the diffusibility of gases, is
facilitated. But some of the effect must be due, one would think, partly
to the impact of the raindrops breaking up and dispersing the halo of
perfumed air that surrounds each flower, and partly also to the
evaporation of the rain-water that has absorbed these floral emanations.

We are told also that during the night and in the chill of early morning
the air is less charged with odours because cold checks the diffusion of
gases. This may be true enough for some odours, but I am inclined to
think that the fact is not stated with perfect accuracy, as there are
certain perfumes, that of the tobacco-plant for one and that of the
night-scented stock for another, which are most prevalent after
nightfall. And it has always seemed to me that Mother Earth is never so
nicely perfumed as on a cool September morning, although I should never
be inclined to call any morning “incense-breathing,” like Gray, for
anything less like incense could scarcely be imagined.

There is no doubt, however, that frost seals up all odorivectors and
renders the air quite odourless.

A physical law appertaining to gases is also invoked to explain the
“clinging” of odours. Many, if not all, solids and liquids when exposed
to air and other gases adsorb (cause to adhere) to their surfaces a
thin, dense layer or film of the gas. If now that gas happens to contain
an odour, or is itself odorous, the odour must also be adsorbed, and so
in the case of porous materials, such as fabrics, permeated by the
odour, it lingers tenaciously in their depths.

Odorous bodies in the solid or powdered form are known to retain their
perfume for prolonged periods. Look how long a sandal-wood box remains
aromatic. This property is supposed to depend upon the lowered vapour
tension of the odorous molecules in the depths of the solid or powder,
in virtue of which they rise into the air, or evaporate, but slowly.

It would seem to be natural to suppose that, as vaporisation plays such
an important part in the dissemination of odours, the volatile bodies
and liquids would be more odorous than the nonvolatile. But, as
Zwaardemaker has pointed out, this is by no means always the case. Many
substances of low volatility are nevertheless highly odorous, and _vice

We turn now for a moment to consider the behaviour of the odorous vapour
in the nose.

As it passes through the nose the current of inspired air sweeps along
the lower and middle regions only; the upper or olfactory region is not
directly traversed. But almost certainly some of the air is diverted up
into the olfactory region in light eddies, and the act of sniffing,
which is a short inspiration abruptly begun and ended, and which we
instinctively resort to when trying to detect a faint odour, is
obviously of a nature to propel side-streams or eddies up into the
olfactory zone. One is reminded of the production of smoke rings from a

We smell not only during inspiration, however, but also during
expiration, the latter conveying to the olfactory region the flavours of
food and drink.

Flavours, that is to say the olfactory elements of so-called “taste,”
are not appreciated to the full until after deglutition. To most of us,
although experts and connoisseurs can determine it by smelling the wine
in the glass, the bouquet of port has really no meaning until after it
is drunk, simply because the expiratory current of air as it ascends
through the throat into the nose receives the concentrated vapours of
the warmed volatile higher alcohols which are clinging about the fauces.

We may here remark that although we are usually able to perceive that
the odour and the flavour of a sapid food or drink are akin to each
other, the sensation of the odour anticipating that of the flavour, yet
they are by no means always identical. They may strike us as do a plain
and a coloured version of the same print. Sometimes the flavour seems to
be the more powerful, sometimes the odour. Nearly all bouillons, for
example, possess a flavour more rich and full than the odour they give
off with their steam. On the other hand, valerian has a strong,
objectionable smell, which, strange to say, becomes subdued and
relatively tolerable when that medicine is being swallowed.

It is a curious fact, well known to expert “tasters,” that if the eyes
are kept closed during the test, the delicacy of appreciation of
flavours, and also of the smell of the wine in the glass, is entirely
lost. I cannot suggest any explanation for this curious phenomenon.

Anosmia, absence of smell, which is the next topic for our
consideration, is a not uncommon defect. It is generally the result of
some form of nasal obstruction, such as a bad “cold in the head,” as
Æsop’s fox was clever enough to remember. This type is temporary and
remediable. But there are other forms that are due to nerve-disease, and
for these nothing can be done.

A congenital anosmia is occasionally met with, and a curious partial
anosmia, reminding us of colour-blindness or tone-deafness. I myself
know people who cannot smell coal-gas unless it is very strong, and I
once knew a cook,—a cook who couldn’t smell a bad egg!

Albinos are said to be congenitally anosmic, and there was recorded many
years ago by Hutchison the case of a negro who, gradually losing all his
pigment, became anosmic in consequence (cited by Ogle). As the
sustentacular cells of the olfactory area contain granules of pigment
(see Chapter II.), we are forced to conclude that it must exercise a
highly important function in the perception of odours. We shall see
later on that its presence is supposed by some to support the theory
that odour is a specific ethereal vibration similar to light.

We turn now to discuss the real nature of odour, a section of our
subject which is still theoretical and highly problematical.

Having accomplished so much in the art of perfumery, the chemist ought,
one would think, to be able to tell us whether or not there is any
relationship or correspondence between odour and chemical constitution.

When investigation of this point was begun, a hopeful fact came to
light, as it was pointed out that certain bodies of similar chemical
composition had all the same kind of smell. These were the compounds of
arsenic, bismuth, and phosphorus, all of which smell of garlic. But it
was soon realised that this fact was of little or no significance, as
the oxides of many of the metals, although quite different from the
former group, also smell of garlic. To these we may add the instance of
water and sulphuretted hydrogen, two substances which are related
chemically, as their formulæ show (H_{2}O and H_{2}S), and yet one of
them is odourless, While the other has a strong, unpleasant smell.
Finally, according to Deite, natural and artificial musk have nothing in
common but their smell. Chemically they are quite different.

The property of odour, then, does not depend upon the Chemical
constitution of bodies.

The next question that arises is: Do bodies exhaling the same kind of
odour resemble each other in the structure of their molecules? In other
words, can odour be related to molecular structure?

To the chemist all matter is made up of atoms and molecules. The
elements, bodies which cannot be broken up by chemical action into any
simpler form, are composed of atoms. On the other hand, when elements
combine to form a compound, the unit of the new body, composed as it is
of two or more atoms of different elements linked together, is known as
a molecule. (Probably the elements also exist in the molecular state,
the atoms of which they are composed being linked together in groups.)
Both atoms and molecules are, of course, very minute in size.

For reasons we need not enter into here, the molecule is held to have a
certain structural form, which form is indicated by what is known as a
graphic formula. The graphic formula of water, one of the simplest, may
be written as H—O—H, and we may regard it as having a linear form.
(Modern views indicate that it is not a simple line, but in two planes.)

Many molecules, however, particularly those of the organic compounds,
are highly complex, and their structural form must be very different
from that of water.

The question, then, now before us is: Does odour bear any relationship
to the molecular structure of bodies? And again it has been maintained
that a clue to the problem of the real nature of odour lies here.

There is a well-known series of chemical bodies known as the
“aromatics,” by reason of the fact that they possess strong smells more
or less similar in quality. With regard to this series, which is made up
of groups of what are known as radicles which occupy definite positions
on a molecule shaped like a ring—the benzene ring, as it is
called—Henning, a German observer, has expressed the opinion that the
odour depends, not upon the radicles as such, but upon the position they
occupy on the ring.

Transferring his argument to odorous bodies in general, and taking six
groups as embracing all (spicy, flowery, fruity, resinous, burnt, and
foul), he associates each of these types with some feature in the
constitution of the molecule which is common to all the members of each

To enter more fully into this branch of the subject would carry us too
deeply into chemistry. I shall content myself therefore with saying that
Henning’s views have received considerable support from scientific
chemists and have led to several interesting and suggestive

Heyninx, however, criticising this theory, points out that hydrocyanic
(or prussic) acid and nitrobenzol, two substances with the same smell,
have each a molecular structure in no way resembling the other.

The graphic formulæ of these bodies, which I give here, plainly show the
difference between them:

H—C≡N (hydrocyanic acid) and

                    HC  C—NO_{2}
                    |   ||
                    HC  CH           (nitrobenzol).
                    \ /

(T. H. Fairbrother, to whom I am indebted for much information on the
chemistry of olfaction, would dispose of this criticism of Hcyninx’s by
denying that the odours of those two substances are identical. See
later, p. 132.)

Chemistry, then, having, according to the critics, failed us, we turn to
the allied science of physics. Physics deals with matter in its ultimate
state, beginning, so to speak, where chemistry, with its work of changes
and combinations, ceases, and taking us deep into the heart of matter
independent of its chemical properties and behaviour.

We have seen that, chemically speaking, elements and their compounds
exist as molecules made up of atoms. Now molecules may be minute, and
atoms even more minute, but in “electrons,” the name given to the last
divisible particle of matter known to the physicist, we are dealing with
minuteness inconceivable. Sir Oliver Lodge has said that if an atom
could be expanded to fill a space equal to that of the entire solar
system, the electrons composing it would each be the size of an orange!
There is supposed, indeed, to be an atomic “system” composed of a
central nucleus like the sun, with electrons revolving round it, the
nucleus having a positive, and the revolving particles a negative,
electric charge. Further (whether in virtue of these moving electrons or
otherwise is not quite clear), the molecule is supposed to be in a state
of constant vibration.

The physical theory of odour, then, refers that quality to the vibration
of the molecule. It suggests that the molecules of an odorous body
passing in the gaseous or, in fishes, the liquid state into the
olfactory region of the nose, are there received by the film of mucus in
which the olfactory hairs lie, and stimulate these hairs by their
molecular vibration. No chemical change is supposed to take place, only,
as it were, a mechanical stimulation, comparable to the mechanical
stimulation of the retina by the waves of light.

A recent development of the theory which we owe to Heyninx, a Belgian
scientist, brings the process very closely into harmony with what occurs
in the eye. According to this authority, olfaction is in reality a
perception of ethereal undulations of the same character as the
undulations of light, these undulations being provoked by the
intra-molecular vibrations of the odorous vapour in the nasal mucus and
transmitted to the olfactory hairs not by immediate contact, but through
the medium of the ether.

We owe this last suggestion to the curious fact, but recently
discovered, that many odorous substances (in their gaseous form in the
air) absorb the rays of ultra-violet light.

In order to make clear what this means, we must say a preliminary word
regarding the spectrum and spectrum analysis.

The passage of a beam of white light through a glass prism breaks it up
into its component parts, beginning with red, then orange, yellow,
green, blue, and ending with violet. Beyond the violet end of the
spectrum we know there are rays invisible to us, but capable of acting
on a photographic plate. These are called the ultra-violet rays.

In like manner, beyond the red end of the spectrum we know there are
also rays, likewise invisible to us, but perceptible by our tactile
sense as heat. These are called the infra-red rays.

Now, the rate of vibration of all these different rays, visible and
invisible, has been estimated, and they increase in frequency from the
infra-red, which are the slowest, to the ultra-violet, which are the
most rapid.

As we have already said, it has recently been shown that the odorous
vapours absorb certain ultra-violet rays. That is to say, when the beam
of light is directed through a chamber containing the odorous vapour
before entering the prism, what are known as absorption-bands—vertical
black lines in the white—appear in the photograph of the spectrum.

Similar lines are seen, as a matter of fact, in the visible spectrum of
sunlight, and as these correspond in position with the spectrum given by
chemical elements in an incandescent gaseous state, it is supposed that
they are produced by the absorption of the corresponding light-rays by
these gases in the solar atmosphere.

The physical explanation given of this phenomenon is that the molecules
of the gas in the sun absorb such light-rays as are equal in rate of
vibration to the rate of their own vibrating molecule.

In the same way, Heyninx and others argue that the odorous vapour is
composed of molecules which are vibrating with a period equal to that of
the light-rays they absorb.

Moreover, since the position of the absorption-band in the photograph
varies, lying in some cases nearer to the visible violet and in others
further away from it, and since this position varies with the particular
fundamental odour employed, it is suggested that not only do the
molecules vibrate with a period equal to that of the ultra-violet rays
they absorb, but as this vibration varies in rate, so it is to this
variation that we must ascribe the differences in odours. This is
analogous, of course, to the appreciation of colour by the eye. One
odorous molecule, that is to say, like the colour red, having a slower
rate of vibration, will give rise to one kind of smell; another, like
the colour yellow, with a more rapid rate, will give rise to another
kind of smell, and so on for all the fundamental odours. Heyninx,
indeed, goes so far as to fix the position in the olfactory gamut of all
fundamental odours, and to base upon it the classification we have
already considered.

It is supposed, that is to say, that the vibrations of the odorous
molecule set up undulations in the ether, and that it is those ethereal
undulations that stimulate the olfactory hairs, just as ethereal
undulations emanating from a luminous source stimulate the retina.

There is one great difference, however, between light and odour, a
difference admitted, we may mention, by the supporters of the undulatory
theory, but not emphasised by them. The difference is this: in the case
of visible light the ethereal undulations emanate from a source at a
distance (it may be like starlight at an enormous distance) from the
sensory end-organ, whereas in the case of odour the undulation is
supposed to be generated by the odorous molecule in close proximity to
the end-organ.

The theory makes no attempt to explain how the olfactory hairs respond
to these hypothetical ethereal waves.

Finally, we have the question of the olfactory pigment to consider, and
in this matter we cannot do better than follow the exposition of William
Ogle, an English physician who wrote as long ago as 1870. As will be
seen, he forestalls the modern undulatory theory of olfaction in a
remarkable manner.

Ogle contends that the presence of pigment must be of great importance
in the function for the following reasons:

First, the epithelium of the olfactory region is pigmented, while that
of the rest of the nasal chamber and sinuses is devoid of colouring

Secondly, there seems to be some correspondence between the degree of
pigmentation and the acuteness of smell, as the following facts

In macrosmatic animals, such as the dog, cat, fox, sheep, and rabbit,
pigmentation extends over a larger space and is darker in tint than in
man. In these animals also the mucus covering the olfactory area of the
nose is itself pigmented.

We have seen that human albinos are anosmic, and the same is probably
true of animal albinos. But care is necessary in making observations on
suspected albinos in animals, as even when they are altogether white a
certain amount of black pigment remains about the face and nose.

The following reports, however, would lead us to conclude that as with
man, so with the animals, a relative deficiency of pigment is associated
with a dull olfactory sense.

It is by smell that the herbivora detect and avoid plants which are
poisonous, and when poisoning does occur, it is usually a white animal
that suffers. In some parts of Virginia the farmers will only rear black
pigs, because, they say, the white ones eat and are poisoned by the
roots of _Lachtanthus tinctoria_. For the same reason in the Tarentino
only black sheep are reared.

Thirdly, the dark-skinned human races have a keener sense of smell than
the lighter races.

Fourthly, the sense grows more acute as we get older, as we have already
seen, and nasal pigmentation, it is said, also increases with age.

As to the function of the olfactory pigment, Ogle remarks first of all
that odours are absorbed more readily by dark than by light materials.

Pigment is also present in the labyrinth of the ear as well as in the
eye, and its presence in these organs seems to be essential to their

It is to be noted that the pigment does not occur on the nerve structure
in any of those end-organs, but external, though contiguous to it. In
the eye, it lies in contact with the rods and cones of the retina; in
the nose, with the olfactory hairs; in the ear, with the terminal bodies
of the auditory nerve.

Hence the pigment, he supposes, must be associated with the reception of
the sensory impressions.

In the eye and the ear those impressions are undulatory in character.
That being so, he holds that the undulatory theory of olfaction also is
probably the correct one.

Ogle finishes with the remark that the theory would be strengthened if
it could be shown that pigment was specially suited for the absorption
and modification of undulations.

It is interesting to us to learn that claims are now being made that
pigment does possess the power necessitated by Ogle’s theory. At all
events, there is a theory of vision (Castelli’s) which claims for the
ocular pigment the power of absorbing and modifying light waves, and
Heyninx holds that the olfactory pigment possesses a similar property.

Summing the whole matter up, then, we may say that the undulatory theory
of olfaction is, that an odorivector gives off in the form of vapour (in
the aerial medium) extremely attenuated portions of its substance, too
minute to be weighed, and that this vapour, disseminated through the
air, enters the nose in respiration, and, being wafted up into the
olfactory region, is received by the mucus bathing the olfactory hairs,
where, in virtue of the ultra-violet radiations which proceed from its
molecules and are modified by the olfactory pigment, it acts on the
hairs, setting up changes (it may be also undulatory in nature) in them
and in their cells, which changes are transmitted thence by the
olfactory nerves to the neurones or nerve-cells of the olfactory bulb
(or lobe) of the brain.

The undulatory theory of olfaction, then, as will be evident to the
reader, has a good deal in its favour. And in addition to what we have
already said of it as accounting for the absorption by odorous vapours
of ultra-violet rays, and as giving a hint regarding the function of
pigment in the olfactory area, there are also a number of other
phenomena which it seems to explain. We have seen, for example, how one
odorivector, such as musk or civet, may have the property of enhancing
the power of another, and this is a property which is characteristic
also of certain luminous conditions (fluorescence, lumino-luminescence).

Again, there is a harmony existing between certain of the manufacturers’
primitive odours; “they go well together,” and are employed for that
reason in the art of perfumery. This resembles the harmony existing in
another class of undulations, the sound waves.

On the other hand, just as one sound may silence another by the clashing
of their waves, so one odour may “kill” or neutralise another odour
(iodoform and coffee, _e.g._).

There are several other minor phenomena which are in agreement with this
theory. They need not detain us.

We turn now to the criticism of the undulatory theory of odour.

First of all, we shall dispose of an objection which, at first sight,
has a very serious aspect.

It may seem difficult to understand how vibrations which appear to us
when of a certain rate to be light should when they are of another rate
become to us smell. How can one and the same physical condition produce
sensations so different?

The same difference, however, is encountered when we pass to the rays at
the other end of the spectrum, the reds and infra-reds. On one side of
the dividing line we only perceive these as heat; on the other side they
also become light.

Obviously, the difference can only be due to the different character of
the sensory end-organ, the receptor of these vibrations. As Head says:
“Each peripheral end-organ is a specific resonator attuned to some
particular kind of physical vibration”—reminding us not only of
soundresonators, but also of wireless receivers, which are “tuned” or
accommodated to particular wave-lengths.

Thus, if red rays encounter certain tactile end-organs in the skin, they
are perceived by the mind as heat, and if they pass into the eye and
stimulate the retina, they are perceived as red light. In other words,
in whatsoever manner an end-organ is stimulated, it only induces its own
particular sensation.

How it comes about that the various end-organs induce such different
sensations is not yet known.

The ultra-violet theory of olfaction, however, has to run the gauntlet
of much more serious criticism than the difficulty we have just disposed

One great objection to it (to my mind) is that it fails to account for
another absorption phenomenon of which I have not yet made any mention.
It was first observed by Tyndall nearly fifty years ago.

On submitting odorous vapours to examination Tyndall found, not that
they absorbed ultra-violet rays, as this method is of quite recent
usage, but that they _absorbed heat-rays_, or the _infra-red rays_ of
the spectrum. So that, if it be correct to say that odours set up
ultra-violet rays in the ether, we must be equally ready to credit them
with setting up infra-red rays also!

But there is another, and perhaps a stronger, objection to the
ultra-violet theory.

In the interesting and highly instructive schema drawn up by Heyninx of
the wave-lengths of ultra-violet absorbed by odours, we find one or two
discrepancies of a serious character.

For example, iodoform and cinnamic aldehyde show absorption-bands
occupying nearly the same position on the spectrum; and presumably,
therefore, these substances have the same molecular vibration-rate. Yet
their odours are not at all alike!

Again, acetone-methylnonic and butyric acids have _precisely_ the same
absorption bands, and yet they also exhale totally different odours.

But the most serious discrepancy remains. The absorption bands of
hydrocyanic acid and watery vapour (steam) have precisely the same
position in the spectrum, yet one of these has a highly characteristic
odour, and the other has none at all!

It is rather difficult, in view of these findings, to believe that this
absorption phenomenon can have anything to do with the quality of odour.

My friend Mr. T. H. Fairbrother writes regarding this controversy:—

  “Whilst I do not for one moment suggest that the whole phenomena of
  smell can be explained entirely in terms of chemical constitution, I
  do maintain that it has much to do with it, and I certainly think
  that more valuable information about the cause of various odours has
  been obtained from considerations of chemical constitution than from
  the many extravagant physical theories which do not lead us very
  far. In my view the physicists are begging the question, because
  they usually postulate something which we cannot prove, and whilst
  it is possible that the vibration of electrons causes smell, how
  much wiser does that statement make us? One might easily say that it
  was possible that the bombardment of electrons caused smell, etc. On
  the chemical side, however, we are bound down to experimental facts,
  and we do know that esterification of carboxylic acids does bring
  about a fruity odour invariably, etc. Chemical constitution cannot
  explain fully all these phenomena, because chemical formulæ
  themselves are only approximations, but the effect of groups in a
  nucleus has done much to help synthetic production of odorous
  bodies. When the physicist can control the vibrations of his
  electrons and make them rotate in accordance with his will, then he
  may be able to synthesise new odours—till then we have no means of
  testing his theories.”

The older view of olfaction—and many modern scientists, as we see, still
adhere to it—is that the odorous molecule acts as a chemical reagent
upon the olfactory hairs. And there is something to be said for this

To begin with, no one doubts nowadays that odours are material. They
pass through the air as vapours, and they are known to travel miles on
the wind. That is to say, apart from those hypothetical varieties of
odour (if we can call them odour at all) discussed by Fabre earlier in
this book, odours do not emanate from a point and disperse in all
directions as light and sound do. Why then drag in the ether? Is it not
more probable that the odorous molecule acts on the olfactory hairs by
direct material contact, and that it sets up chemical changes in them?

We are asked to believe that the ultra-violet rays of odour stimulate
the olfactory hairs as visible light-rays stimulate the retina. But it
must not be forgotten that in the eye those rays may induce first of all
chemical changes in the retina, just as they would act on the silver
salt of a photographic plate, and that it may be by these changes that
the retina is stimulated.

In the phenomenon of olfactory exhaustion, as we said in our first
chapter, we have a circumstance which suggests the presence of some
chemical reagent in the olfactory area.

It may be, of course, that in the nose as well as in the eye the process
is a combination of chemical and physical changes. And in any case we
are here dealing with that obscure region where chemistry and physics
meet and mingle.

We have now come to the end of our discourse upon the theories of odour,
and it must be confessed that we are still very much in the dark as to
the nature of the odorous, and as to the manner in which it excites the
olfactory organ to activity.

Still more mysterious, however, is the process by which the physical
quality of odour becomes the sensation of the mind we call smell.

The transmutation of a physical quality into a sensation is indeed the
great mystery of all our senses. Olfaction is not the only one before
which we throw up our hands, and this in spite of the detailed and
voluminous information which modern physiology, neurology, and
psychology place at our disposal, perhaps less in spite of this
information than because of it, seeing that the further our knowledge
extends the wider seems the unknown realm beyond. Our science is an
ever-expanding sphere, no doubt, but it is expanding into the infinite.

How is it that the rhythmic vibration of matter becomes what we call
“sound,” or the rhythmic vibration of the ether “light”?

How does the physical pass into and become part of the psychic?

According to recent teaching, the physical can be followed as such from
the sensory end-organ itself as far as the first synapse, or junction
with the neurone. But there something happens; ... then it reappears in
a new guise, vibration becomes sensation, the physical psychic, the
objective subjective, the real ideal, the dead alive! In that brief
tumble of time what a miraculous transformation!

Modern science has cleared up much of the mystery of the objective
world, and although it may be far from the end of its search, although,
indeed, the search, one must think, can never entirely elucidate the
dense obscurity that envelops us on every side, dark as a starless night
around a candle, yet we already know this much, that the real world is
very different from the world depicted for us by our senses.

Only a little imagination is needed to convey us out of the magic circle
into which we have been born, and what a strange universe do we then
find ourselves in! Entangled in a meshwork of space-time and permeated
by whirling maelstroms of varied and innumerable oscillations, we lose
all hold on reality in the very act of grasping it.

But although we do possess some sort of vague notion as to the
constitution of the outer universe, before the inner we stand ignorant
and speechless.

Regarded as a machine, the brain, it is true, like the world without, is
reluctantly yielding up its secrets one by one. We are learning how it
works as a chemical factory, as a physical power-house, so that already
we can surmise that here also we have probably to deal with a
multiplicity of vibrations, of exquisitely minute transformations of
energy, of involved intercommunications, of deft though intricate
associations, of rapid yet permanent recordings and registrations.

We are now able to follow the undulations we term light, not only into
the eye, but into the brain itself, locating their central station in
the occipital lobe, whence their effects radiate all over the organism.
And in the case of olfaction Pawlow has taught us that its chief
vegetative function, the result of radiations from the olfactory central
station in the brain, is the arousing of the digestive glands to
activity. The first act of digestion is olfaction. But the routes which
the olfactory stimuli follow in the central nervous system and their
communications with other sensory paths are not yet known.

The secrets of the brain which have been disclosed to us, however
wonderful they may be, concern only, we must remember, the machinery of
the nervous system, that part, namely, which is of the same nature and
order as the objective world, of which indeed it is a member. Hitherto
have we come, but no further:

           “The traveller hails. The echoing walls respond.
           And there the matter ends. The wilds beyond
           Are broken rock and desert where no foot
           Can venture on to trace a further route,
           For none hath trodden or shall ever tread
           This hither limbus of the outer dread.
           Cloven abrupt, the absolute abyss
           Falls sheer beneath us, fathoms fathomless,
           And still high o’er us heaves the unclimbed hill,
           And the unanswered questions front us still.”

The “thought” escapes us. Somewhere beyond the boundary of the physical
flits this elusive, this tantalising ghost. How it is acted upon and how
it reacts we know to some extent. But what the nature of its action may
be is more than we can determine.

Nay! A moment ago we lightly spoke of passing out of the magic circle
into which we have been born, and we forthwith proceeded to talk as if
we had in reality escaped from this our prison. But there is no escape
for us, of course. No man can jump out of his skin. There undoubtedly
are such things as “waves,” or “undulations,” or “oscillations,” or
“vibrations,” or whatever we like to call them. But they are not what we
imagine them to be. There is, we may suppose, a four-dimensioned
universe of “space-time.” But it is beyond our conception. There is
“objective reality,” in a word. But it is no reality to us. Those very
expressions, glibly used though they be, are but metaphors—“pretendings”
a child would call them—attempts to bring the remote a little nearer to
us, to clothe the uncouth in the garments we ourselves wear; all of
which is nothing but Maya—illusion—shadowplay.

Let us not deceive ourselves. Along with the recent revelations of
physical science there comes, say certain modern philosophers, the
suspicion that the universe is irrational. At every point we are brought
up short by the unknowable.

For example, Einstein tells us that what we call the “ether” has no
existence. It is merely a “void.”—But how can we call that void which
contains something—undulations, to wit?

“Nay!” you argue; “the undulations traverse the ether, but they are not
it. The ether is a non-entity. It has no existence. It is nothing.”

To which I reply: “But ‘nothing’ is an absolute term. It means ‘no
thing.’ How, then, can undulations, or anything else for that matter,
pass through nothing?”

“What nonsense!” you cry; “this kind of verbal poser is just the silly
old metaphysicians’ parlour game of playing with words.”

I know it is. But the word-play has its uses. It demonstrates to us that
words, language, logic, all alike, fail our thought, not so much because
those instruments are limited in power as because the thought itself is
lacking in precision and comprehensiveness.

It is when our word-play probes the expression that the vagueness of the
idea is made manifest. Our foil, even with the button on, goes clean
through the phantom.

The mind, in short, has not absorbed, nor can it absorb, the _fact_. We
seize a glass of water to drain it, and presently, like Alice, we find
ourselves swimming about in an ocean! Obviously the universe _is_ beyond
our comprehension, a conclusion desperate if you like, yet undeniable.

But how very annoying it is, after all our heavy labour, to hear the
ancient scoff of Zophar the Naamathite still ringing triumphant:

“Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty
unto perfection?”

(Still we mean to go on trying!)

Yet of all the senses none surely is so mysterious as that of smell.
For, as we have shown, the nature of the emanations that stir it to
activity is still unknown; the simple structure of its end-organ
confronts us, like a sphinx, with silence; and after the reception of
the stimulus in the olfactory lobe of the brain its further connections
and communications still remain unsurveyed, albeit, as I have already so
amply displayed, its effects upon the _psyche_ are both wide and deep,
at once obvious and subtle.

                               CHAPTER IX
                         DUST OF THE ROSE PETAL

By way of relief from the exacting mental strain of the last chapter, I
have thought that the reader who has got this length might be grateful
for something more simple, and so it is not altogether egotism that
leads me to finish up with a few of the olfactory pictures I cherish.

Before proceeding with the subject-matter proper of the chapter,
however, let me put in a plea for the conscious cultivation of the sense
of smell. But little more, I take it, is needed in this way than to pay
attention to the olfactory sensations that reach us, for the very fact
of taking note of them is sufficient probably to increase the power and
delicacy of olfaction, this being always the effect of the mental
process known as attention.

Smell may thus be easily cultivated and improved, and with the increase
in its appreciation of the world comes an enriching of the other
sense-impressions that is quite surprising.

It is possible that there is no substance in the natural world entirely
devoid of odour. At all events, after a time the amateur in smell may
find himself able, like Rousseau, to perceive perfumes when other people
do not notice any, and as a mark at which he can aim let it be said that
when he finds himself able to distinguish streets from each other by
their smell alone he has made some little progress in the art.

The innate acuteness of the sense varies widely in different people.
Some go through life blunt to all but the coarser smells, while others
are gifted with a sensitiveness as delicate almost as that of a
macrosmatic animal. This is scarcely an exaggeration. I am acquainted
with people—English people—who are able to recognise by olfaction not
only different races and the two sexes, but even different persons. One
of those sensitives informs me that to her the personal olfactory
atmosphere is every whit as characteristic and unmistakable as the play
of features or the carriage of the figure.

Another remarkable feat within the capacity of human macrosmatics, and
one that seems almost incredible to the ordinary individual, is that of
being able to distinguish the clothing of different persons by its
aroma. Some can even recognise their own, a remarkable circumstance in
view of the almost universal rule that each is anosmic to his own
particular atmosphere.

It is true that we can get on quite well without smelling. Probably
congenital anosmia is the least crippling of all sense-deprivations. But
how much it enters into our enjoyment of life when we have once
possessed it is shown by the blankness that attends its loss; we feel
then as if a tint had been bleached out of the world.

At this juncture we may stay a moment to allude to the action of tobacco
on olfaction. There are few people nowadays who would uphold King
Jamie’s “Counterblaste,” wherein he denounces smoking as—

  “a custome loathsome to the Eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to
  the Braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the black stinking fume
  thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit
  that is bottomlesse.”

But, in fact, regarding the influence of the tobacco-habit on the sense
there is a conflict of opinion. Some say it dulls olfaction; others, it
has no deleterious effect. My own experience would lead me to agree with
the former opinion.

We now proceed with our memories.

Who does not become a boy again when the fragrance of a gardener’s
bonfire fills the air? In my own case when I smell it my eyes begin to
smart and to water, and I hear the laughter and shouts of my brothers
as, daring the wrath of Olympus, we leap over the blaze and land on the
white powdery ash that rises in clouds around us to the ruination of
boots and clothing. It is always evening, “’twixt the gloamin’ and the
mirk.” The moon, still golden, is hung low in the sky; the wind is sharp
with a touch of frost, but the glare and the glow of the embers reddens
and warms us—at least that part of us we turn to the fire. (Have you
ever felt the fierce pleasure of being at once scorched and frozen?)

In those few country places in Scotland where the old Beltane fires of
midsummer or midwinter are still kindled, children are encouraged to
pass through the smoke, that being good for their health. The custom,
frankly pagan, is probably the maimed rite of a sacrifice of children to
the old gods. That may be quite true, and yet I concur in believing the
practice to be beneficial. At all events, the bonfires of so many years
ago have left with me a memory that has often recurred since, and always
with healing on its wings.

Again, the fainter, keener odour of burning pine-wood combined with the
fanning sensation on the face of the cold wind of the dawn always brings
back to me a summer morning at the Swiss frontier station of Pontarlier
after an evening when vin ordinaire had induced effects extraordinaire
upon a youth unaccustomed to that fiery beverage. Those, no doubt, were
the days when nothing mattered much. Nevertheless the fragrant coolness
of that morning after touches my aching brow to this day with the
soothing gentleness of a hand fraught with understanding and

Then what sea-lover is there but responds to the salt pungency of
seaweed on an empty beach?

It is an interesting fact that the smell of the sea may travel inland
for miles on a favouring breeze. With the south-west wind blowing moist,
I have in the heart of Lanarkshire repeatedly been stirred out of
everyday hebetude by the smell of the sea on the Ayrshire coast, some
thirty miles away. And Réné Bazin (in “Les Oberlé”) says you can even
smell it sometimes in Alsace, 250 miles from the Mediterranean.

Once, indeed, at King’s Cross, London, I beheld monstrous
railway-stations and muddy streets, with their motor-’buses, dingy
wayfarers, yelling newsboys and all, melting away into the glimmer and
space of the sea in a sort of magical transformation, just as mist
low-lying in Russell Square will turn at times those garish hotels into
sea-girt palaces.... Only this time there was no mist. There was,
indeed, no need of mist. For the spell of power was a sudden whiff of
the sea from far across the bricks, slates, and sooty chimneys.

But there is another sea-smell, equally powerful and much less romantic.
Can you endure the breath of hot oil and metal from the engines of a
steamer without a qualm?

If ever a boy has watched and helped the fishermen clean and tan their
nets, he will always after, as often as chance brings the smell to his
nostrils, revive again the pit in the ground and the gruff voices of the
heavy-booted men pulling the twisted net up and down, in and out.

Or the bean-flowers’ boon?

This, as it happens, concerns also somebody else, but as she has long
since been lost in the crowd, I am not breaking any confidences in
recalling the scene.

We are standing together beside the gate of a hill plantation, and I see
a tall lady’s delicately cut profile against the sombre green and brown
of the fir-trees. Although the flush of the sunset has almost entirely
faded from the sky, it seems to be lingering yet a while on her cheek as
if reluctant to leave her. As for me, I am as keen to every breath of
emotion as the little loch below is to the slightest stir of air. The
time is past for talk, and I am watching her in silence. So I see the
thin curved nostril dilate a little, at once to be quietly restrained,
as if even this little display of feeling on her part were out of
place,—and then I also turn to look at the butterfly bean-flowers in the
field at our feet.

Now as often as the bean blooms, so does her memory.

How powerfully associations affect our olfactory likes and dislikes we
hinted on a former page, and in this matter of smell-memories we can
observe the same effect. Smells which to others seem offensive may, if
they arouse a pleasant memory, borrow from it a tinge that turns their
offence into a joy for ever. In my own case iodine and the rather
irritating odour of bleaching powder are always welcome and always
sweet. Yet they recall nothing more interesting than the days of
childhood to me! On the other hand, perfumes generally considered to be
pleasant will be objectionable to us if they arouse unhappy memories.

The most beautiful, however, are those which have been young with us,
and yet have never forsaken us, by continual refreshment keeping an
eternal youth. And of all the odours in life none surely is so rich both
in retrospect and in prospect as the smell of books to him who loves
them. The cosy invitation of a library! Not a public library, needless
to say, where the intimate appeal is lost in a jumble of smells—dust,
paste, ink and clammy overcoats. Such public mixtures the bookworm, that
solitary self-centred individual, must, by reason of his shyness, ever
consistently shun. But usher him into the private room of a private
house where books, many books, have reposed for many years. Then go away
and leave him to it.

The smell of a room full of books is slow to form. Like the bouquet of
wine, it must ripen. You have to wait. But if you are able to wait, then
one fine day you will be welcomed there by the snuggest smell in all the
world, which, when once it comes, will for ever remain, like rooks in a
clump of elms. I know a few houses where this most seductive of all
perfumes has resided for untold years, and whence it will never depart
as long as our immemorial England endures. But alas! like most people, I
have only been a fleeting visitor to those nooks of enchantment, and
have had to wait myself not once, but many times, as often indeed as I
have shifted my roof-tree, for that ancient fusty atmosphere. There is,
I fear, no way of hastening the appearance of this beckoning finger to
oblivion. We need not linger over the analysis of this particular odour.
Book-lovers know it. Others don’t care.

“You are a reader, I see,” said an observant doctor to me once.

“How d’you know that?” I asked in surprise, as we had just met for the
first time.

“I know it,” was his reply, “by the caressing way you took up that

Your real bookworm loves all books. Like the modern genius, he is
amoral. But unlike the genius, his amorality, simple soul, is confined
within the four walls of a library. He could never, I am sure, bring
himself to agree with André Theuriet, who in “La Chanoinesse” depicts

  “les _Bijoux indiscrets_ auprès des œuvres de Duclos; _Candide_,
  _Jacques la Fataliste_ et _le Sophia_ voisinant de _Restif de la
  Brétonne_ à deux pas de _l’Emile_, et _les Aventures du Chevalier de
  Faublas_—une nouveauté—non loin de _l’Histoire philosophique des

all of which books, by a kind of moral exercise of his imagination we
cannot sufficiently deplore, he found exhaling “une odeur de volupté
perverse, quelque chose comme le parfum aphrodisiac des seringes et des
tubereuses dans une chambre close.”

Every dwelling-house has its own peculiar atmosphere, sometimes
agreeable, sometimes not. But, whatever its quality, so characteristic
and persistent are some of them that I am sure a blind man would always
be able to tell them by the smell alone. Few of us may be gifted with
the analytical nose of a Charles Dickens to detect the ingredients that
make up a complex domiciliary atmosphere, but everybody must have
noticed that basement houses smell differently from bungalows, the
former greeting you with a harmonious blend of earthiness, soapsuds, and

Nay! The house you live in has a separate odour for each room: the
drawing-room with its chintzes; the snuggery with its stale tobacco,
and, perhaps, like an insinuating nudge, with a whiff of the stronger
alcohols; the bedrooms, if your housekeeper knows her business, with the
freshness of well-aired linen.

The very days of the week have each its own particular olfactory mark,
dating from our childhood: Sundays (in Scotland), peppermint followed by
roast beef and richness; Mondays, pickles and soapsuds; Tuesday, the
damp airs from the washing hung up to dry; Wednesdays, warmth and
beeswax from the laundry, with ever and anon the thump of the flat iron;
Thursdays, bread new from the baker and the washing of floors with soft
soap—“Mind yer feet, now!”—Fridays, jam-boiling and the
never-to-be-forgotten aroma of oat-cakes on the girdle; Saturdays—but
Saturday is a day of wind and banging doors, of tops and dust; all its
smells are out of doors.

Shops, too! What of the coffee-shop?—Who does not pause a moment at that
door when the beans are roasting? One of the richest of all odours that;
curious how you lose it in the beverage! Then there is the ironmonger’s,
where the sharp smell of steel strikes, by some strange reflex, the
upper incisor teeth and gums; the oil and colour shop, with its putty,
turpentine, and general clamminess; and, last and best of all, the

What about the fried fish-shop? Faugh! I once for a reason connected
with my calling had cause to spend a whole night in a room above a
fish-shop—once only. The next time (there never will be a next time, she
swears, but there always is)—the next time I happened, curiously enough,
to arrive late!

But although houses and rooms and, as we hinted, streets also, all smell
differently, each town and city has its own peculiar fundamental odour.
There is a town in Yorkshire that smells of “mungo.” I know another that
smells of mineral oil, and many that exhale the dank smell of the

London has a smell of its own, a fundamental familiar odour, which, by
the way, has changed of late. Twenty years ago it was faintly acid with
a background of horses and harness. To-day it is a mixture of tar and
burned lubricating oil, by no means so pleasant. In addition to these,
however, there is another and less prominent odour characteristic of the
London atmosphere, which I confess I cannot describe.

  “Once upon a time, some forty years ago, there lived at Highgate,
  which then still retained some of the characters of a village, a
  lady who declared that when a yellow fog drifted up from London she
  could detect the smell of tobacco smoke in it. To most people the
  odour is flatly that of coal smoke, which is perhaps always more or
  less to be perceived in London air. This at any rate would seem to
  have been the opinion of Edward Jenner, if we may trust a note made
  by Farington in his diary for 1809, which is being printed in the
  _Morning Post_. Farington’s note is as follows:

  “‘Dr. Jenner observed to Lawrence that He could by smelling at His
  Handkerchief on going out of London ascertain when he came into an
  atmosphere untainted by the London air. His method was to smell at
  His Handkerchief occasionally, and while He continued within the
  London atmosphere He could never be sensible of any taint upon it;
  but, for instance, when He approached Blackheath and took His
  Handkerchief out of His pocket where it had not been exposed to the
  better air of that situation—His sense of smelling having become
  more pure he could perceive the taint. His calculation was that the
  air of London affected that in the vicinity to the distance of three
  miles’” (_The Lancet_).

Paris, in like manner, has its own peculiar aroma. Lord Frederick
Hamilton analyses it correctly into “one-half wood-smoke, one-quarter
roasting coffee, and one-quarter drains.” But for myself the Paris air
always brings a curious half-suppressed feeling of excitement, part of
it pleasure, part apprehension, as if something tremendous were about to
happen. But here perhaps we cross the border-line between conscious
sensation and subconscious stimulation.

Rome is a city of candles and incense mingled with the dry mustiness of
crumbling skeletons.

In Edinburgh you encounter here and there the smell of old Scotland.
Thatch enters into its make-up, why I cannot tell you. But the cold grey
metropolis still preserves the soul of the thatch, a cosy sensation that
is prone to bring tears to the eyes of the returning exile.

In Glasgow damp soot struggles with the smell of the Bromielaw for the

Dublin mingles the warm, rich aroma of Guinness’s Brewery with the cold
smell of a corpse from the Liffey.

Those are the cities I know best myself. But I have often been told, and
can quite believe it, that every city has its own particular atmosphere.

Some days, both in a city and in the country, are as rich and full of
odours as a Turner picture is rich and various in colour. Other days
bring us but a grey Whistlerian monotone, in which, nevertheless, the
trained sense delights to distinguish an infinity of tender shades,
unobserved by the casual.

I used to think that country smells were particularly dear to the
country-born only, and that their charm lay in their evocation of
childish memories. But that is not the whole of the story. They attract
us by their own inherent beauty. I have known town-bred lads linger
about a stable because the smell, I was told, was “so sweet.” And most
of us are, to be sure, sufficiently horsey to enjoy that smell of straw
and ammonia. We linger near it as bees haunt clover or cats valerian.
And we are all horse-lovers sitting behind a smart cob on a hot day when
the smell of the harness is mingling with the horse-odour. But these now
old-world odours are being every day more and more ousted by the less
pleasant smells of the motor-car, petrol, lubricating oil, and
acetylene—a pure stink this last.

But the farm is an olfactory museum, a library, a symphony! How warm and
comforting is the smell of a byre full of cows! Plunge into it from the
cool of the evening and listen again to the sudden swish of the warm
milk into the pail, the uncompleted low of the sober cattle and the
rattle of the chain as they turn to look at the new-comer. A gentle
relaxation of the spirit attends the visit like the relief of the limbs
from a cramped position, and we readily fall into that mood, so rare
these latter days, when attention disperses and the reins drop on the
neck of the mind so that it wanders on at its will up and down the lanes
and by-ways of fancy. These paths are dangerous, to be sure, leading as
they do to the Castle of Indolence, where you may dream your life away
and be none the wiser.

Yet there must be many who have so wandered regardless, and have wakened
up too late to recapture the days they have lost in dreaming, if they
ever do want to recapture them, which is doubtful. If we really intended
happiness in life—as we do not; what we intend, and ensure, too, for
that matter, is excitement—but if we really intended happiness, here is
where we should find it, in and about a farmyard as hangers-on. Not as
the farmer, needless to say, to whose mind these olfactory stimuli are
stimulant, not anodyne. So that there can be no greater contrast than
that between him and us. Every one knows how the idler idling irritates
the worker working. And so we are brought back to reality all too soon
by the slap of fate, waking up from a bank of thyme and dreams to the
pavement of worry and hard work.

But it is sweet while it lasts, and if you can acquire, or are lucky
enough to have been born with, pachydermia of the soul, then it may last
for a lifetime—unless, that is to say, fate, as aforesaid, in the shape
of the farmer, brings you back a-bump to earth with a clout on the side
of the head and an order to take the hook and cut down thistles.

Stevenson has told us that idling is no loss of time. Perhaps not, if we
happen to be geniuses. But the mischief is that the rest of your family
deny (with oaths) the major premiss, and the prophet-without-honour
consolation prize is but a poor substitute for the loss of comfortable
eternities dozed away beside the lazy kine.

Some time in the ’eighties of last century a French professor (Jaccoud)
recommended the air of a byre as beneficial in phthisis.

I have known worse cures.

Why do not the perfume-makers present us with more of these gateways to
Paradise, short cuts beside which De Quincey’s laudanum in the
waistcoat-pocket is but a by-path to hell? We might be given odours of
peace and contentment—think of them in the hands of a clever wife! We
might make libraries of them as people make libraries of gramophone
records. So far all we have are flower scents, like roses, lilies,
violets, and outlandish Eastern aromata, redolent rather of vice and its
excitements than of virtue and its placidity.

Then there is the scent of thyme and roses in the farm garden. This
brings to me old Sundays and ladies passing the open garden-gate on
their way to church, with their Bible carefully wrapped up in a clean
pocket-handkerchief, bearing with them also what somebody in Scotland
calls “the odour of sanctity”—peppermints, to wit—and all the time the
bees are humming in the warm air a deep note to the trills and runs of
the skylark lost in the blue.

But I could wander on for an eternity with these smell memories and
pictures. One more, and I have done with the farm, and that is the cool
smell of the milk-house. It is dark there after the blaze outside, and
the stone flags strike cold to a boy’s bare feet wandering in from the
burning cobbles of the courtyard. As your eyes become accustomed to the
dimness you can see on the floor the wide, shallow milk coolers, silvery
as full moons in that twilight, the only light that enters coming
through the long slit of a narrow unglazed window where blistery leaves
of green docken, springing rank from the unkempt garden without, show a
splash of sunlight. The smell is sourish and cold, if we may speak, as I
think we may, of the temperature of a smell. This is forbidden land to
boys for obvious reasons, but so strong is the impression that I have
never forgotten my one and only visit to that secluded chamber.

What is it that gives to a dungeon its characteristic smell? Emphatic as
a blow. Obviously, we have here a combination of several sense
impressions, tactile, visual, olfactory: tactile, for the air is damp
and chilly; visual, for it is a blank, a negative, and yet a powerful
influence; olfactory, smelling ominous and of death. Old dried bones
emit precisely the same exhalation. In a subtle way, too, the presence
of mould is perceptible, all blending into the horrible and grisly
atmosphere of despair; the Valse Triste and the Dance of Death.

Smell can bring as certainly and as irresistibly as music emotions of
all sorts to the mind.

In this same category we may place the dusty smell of a dry hay-loft,
which is curiously like that of bitter almonds and hydrocyanic acid. It
has a sensation like ghostly fingers fumbling about your neck with a
threat, half playful, half serious, of suffocation. And, curiously
enough, the mental feeling of throttling fingers is not amiss. Prussic
acid kills by paralysing the respiratory centres.

Let us get out into fresh air again! The sun is shining. A gentle breeze
from the west is snowing the lawn with fragrant hawthorn blossoms. I
catch a whiff of delicate lilac, and see coming towards me over the
grass a slender figure in white....

And so we close with the perfumes of the spring, sunshine, and beauty.


The impulse of which this study of olfaction is the outcome emanated
from Sir St. Clair Thomson, who three years ago handed me for my
edification and growth in knowledge the _Essai d’Olfactique
Physiologique_, a _Thèse de Bruxelles_, by _A. Heyninx_, dated 1919.

In addition to that work the following have been utilised, for the
scientific side of the subject at all events:—

  _Poncelet, P. P._ Chimie du Goût et de l’Odorat, etc. Paris. 1755.

  _Parker, G. H._ Smell, Taste, and Allied Senses in the Vertebrates.

  _Deite, C._ Manual of Toilet Soap-Making. Eng. Trans., 2nd ed. London.

  _Ogle, Wm._ Medico-Chir. Trans., Vol. LIII., p. 263.

  _Bonvier, E. L._ The Psychic Life of Insects. Eng. Trans. London.

In Heyninx’s book there is a good bibliography, but the English reader
will find an excellent _résumé_ of recent scientific literature in
_Osmics_, by Mr. J. H. Kenneth, published by Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh.

It is impossible in the space at my disposal to print a bibliography
dealing with the historical aspect of olfaction.

In addition to my debt to books, I am also under deep obligation to Dr.
Wyatt Wingrave, Dr. Arnold Renshaw, Mr. Archer Ryland, Mr. F. W.
Watkyn-Thomas, and Mr. T. H. Fairbrother, for many valuable hints and
criticisms, as well as for much useful information, and I take this
opportunity of offering my thanks to them for their kind interest.


 Acetone poisoning, Odour of, 84

 Adsorption of odours, 113

 Æneid, The, Odour in, 72

 Albinos, Anosmia of, 116, 126

 Alcoholism, Odour of, 84

 Alexander the Great, 77

 Ambergris, 106

 Ammonia, 94

 Animals, Lower, Olfaction in, 21

 Aniseed, 71

 Anosmia, 23, 115, 142

 Anti-demoniac treatment by fumigation, 67

 Ants, Olfaction in, 28

 Apoplectick, Balsam of Horstius, 69

 Aromatics, The, 119

 Asthma from horses, 93

 Asafœtida, 71

 Aura, Olfactory, 91

 Bacon, Francis, 84

 Badger, Olfaction in, 37

 Bat and sound-pictures, 32

 Bath, The domestic, 18

 Baudelaire, 51

 Bay, 73

 Bazin, Réné, 144

 Bean-flowers, Fragrance of, 145

 Beltane fires, 143

 Bolboceros beetle, 37

 Books, Smell of, 146

 Brain, Olfactory Routes in, Unknown, 136

 Brewer, Anthony, 53

 Browning, Robert, 71

 Burton, Robert, 78

 Cairo, Cholera in, 68

 Camphor as disinfectant, 70

 Carminatives, 71

 Castelli’s theory of vision, 127

 Cats, Aversion towards, 92

 Cities and towns, Smells of, 150

 Civet, 106

 Collins, Wilkie, 47

 Colosseum, Perfumes in the, 56

 Coumarin, 105

 Creighton, 84

 Crowd-psychology and Odour, 97

 Death, Odour of, 84

 Deite, 104, 117

 Devil, Odour of the, 63, 73

 Dickens, Charles, 54, 148

 Disease, Epidemic, and Stenches, 5, 66
   Odours of, 83

 Disraeli, Benj., 12

 Dog, The, and the Abominable, 80
   Olfaction in the, 34, 87
   truffle-hunter, the, 34

 Dostoievsky, 56

 Dwelling-houses, Odours of, 148

 Eau de Cologne, 57

 Einstein and the ether, 138

 Ellis, Havelock, 86, 87, 96

 Equilibration, Vocabulary of, 59

 Fabre, 25, 29, 36, 92
   Olfaction in dogs, 36
     insects, 25
   on nature of odour, 38

 Fairbrother, T. H., 120, 132

 Farington’s Diary, 151

 Farm, Smells of, 153

 Favus, Smell of, 84

 Fischer and Penzoldt, 108

 Fish, Olfaction in, 32

 Flavour an odour, 43, 114

 Flavours, High, 82
   compounding of, 101

 Flowers, Perfumes of, Diffusion of, after rain, 112
   and insects, 28

 Folk-lore, Smell in, 66

 Forel, Olfaction in insects, 25, 30

 Fumigation, treatment by, 66
   for cholera, in modern times, 68

 Garlic, 45, 57

 Geraniol, 105

 Gladstone, W. E., 90

 Goethe, 95

 Gordon, Douglas, and olfaction in badger, 37

 Hæmorrhage, Odour of, 83

 Hamilton, Lord Frederick, 151

 Harte, Bret, 51

 Hay fever, 93

 Head, Henry, 130

 Health, Public, and Olfaction, 1

 Hearing, End organ of, 98
   Exhaustion of, 17
   Vocabulary of, 60

 Hell, Odour of, 73

 Henning, 119

 Heyninx, 110, 119
   Classification of odours, 103, 124
   Undulatory theory of odour, 121

 History, Smell in, 77

 Hogarth, 70

 Holmes, Oliver Wendell, and Olfactory memory, 51

 Homer, 73

 Homing instinct, 30

 Hospitals of olden days, of, 83

 Humboldt, 64

 Hutchison, 116

 Hydrocyanic acid, 119, 131, 157

 Hysteria, Treatment of, by stenches, 71

 Incense, 51, 53, 56, 68, 72

 Incubus repelled by aromatics, 74

 Industries, Malodorous, 14

 Infra-red light rays, 122, 129
   absorption by odorous vapours, 131

 Insects, Olfaction in, 25
   and hygiene, 29

 Iodoform, 16, 103, 129, 131

 Ireland, Odours in, 3, 152

 James I., “Counterblaste,” 142

 Jenner, Edward, 151

 Kipling, Rudyard, 55

 Lavender, English, 106

 Lodge, Sir Oliver, 121

 London, Smells of, 150

 Louis XI., 78

 Louis XIV., 77

 Love and Olfaction, 85

 Lubbock, Sir John, 25, 30

 Macrosmatic animals, 22

 Memory, Olfactory, 43
   Strengthening of, by Odours, 53, 69, 70

 Mercaptan, 39

 Meredith, George, 89

 Microsmatic animals, 22

 Mignonette, 105

 Molecular structure of odorous bodies, 117

 Molecules, Vibration of, 121

 Montaigne, 53

 Moths, Olfaction in, 25

 Mummification by aromatics, 67

 Musk, 28, 75, 104, 106, 107, 109, 110, 117

 Nauseous remedies, 70

 Nephritis, Acute, Smell of, 83

 Nerve, Fifth Cranial, 94
   Olfactory, 23

 Nitrobenzol, 119

 Nose, Olfactory Region of, 114
   Pigment in, 116

 Odericus Vitalis, 76

 Odours, Clashing of, 129
   Classifications of, 102
   Clinging of, 113
   Concentrated, Anosmia for, 110
   Diffusion of, 39, 108, 112
     Effect of cold on, 112
   of Disease, 83
   Harmony between, 129
   Identification of, 65
   Nature of, 38, 98 _et seq._
   Novel, 101
   Personal, 76
   Physical theory of, 42, 116
   of poisonous herbs, 126
   Recollection of, 47
   Repulsive, 79
   in water, 33
   Theories of, 98
     Chemical, 116, 132
   Undulatory theory of, 42, 116, 120
     Criticism of, 129
   Varieties of, 100

 Ogle, 116

 Olfaction. _See also_ SMELL.
   Allusions to, in literature, 51 _et seq._
   and digestion, 136
   a primitive sense, 21
   Evolution of, 21
   in fish, 33
   in insects, 25
   in the lower animals, 21
   in the sex-life, 85
   Theories of, 98 _et seq._
   and ventilation, 17, 109

 Olfactory cells, 23
   hairs, 23, 121
   memory, 43
   organ, 23
     of insects, 28
   pictures, 140 _et seq._
   pigment, 24, 116, 125
   region of nose, 114

 Onions, effect of, 94 f.n.

 Orientation. _See_ Homing Instinct.

 Paracelsus, 70

 Paris, Smell of, 151

 Parker, G. H., 100, 104, 108

 Pawlow, 136

 Peppermint, 71

 Perfumes, Classification of, 103
   New varieties of, 107
   Sources of, 105

 Pigment, Olfactory, 24, 125

 Pinewood, Odour of burning, 143

 Plague, Sweet smell of, 84

 Poncelet, P. P., 59

 Queen Elizabeth, 3

 Reality, Objective, 137

 Religion, Smell in, 72

 Remedies, Nauseous, 70
   Olfactory, 66

 Rheumatism, Acute, Acid smell of, 83

 Ribot and olfactory memory, 48, 50

 Rimmel, Classification of odours, 103

 Roberts, Lord, and cats, 92

 Rohmer, Sax, 74

 Rose perfume, 57, 105
   and exhaustion, 16

 Roses, Attar of, 105

 Rousseau, 100, 141

 Sacrifice, Savour of, 72

 Saints, Odour of the, 74

 Saintsbury, George, 103

 Salerno, Teaching of, on garlic, 47

 Salmon’s Dispensatory, Fumigation in, 68

 Sandal-wood, 113

 Scatol, 16, 80

 Scott, Sir Walter, 67

 Sea, Smell of, 144

 Sea-anemone, Olfactory cells of, 24

 Sensation, Nature of, 134
   Tactile. _See_ Touch.

 Sensory end-organ, Specific reaction of, 130

 Shakespeare, 52, 86–89

 Shelley, 47

 Shops, Smell of, 149

 Sinistrari of Ameno, 74

 Sins, Odour of the, 74

 Small-pox, Smell of, 83

 Smell and the Emotions, 91, 95, 142 _et seq._
   in Folk-Lore, Religion, and History, 66
   and the Personality, 74, 87, 141
   Exhaustibility of, 15, 133
   Sensation of, 134
   Sense of, Acuteness of, in man, 141
     Cultivation of, 140
     in old age, 82, 126
     in uncivilised man, 64
     mystery of, 139
     Reaction-time of, 111
   Sense Organ of, 23, 101, 107
     Delicacy of, 107
     Potential responsiveness of, 101
   and Speech, 59
   Subtlety of, in man, 44, 56
   Vocabulary of, Emotional, 61
     Etymology of, 61 _et seq._

 Smith, Elliot, 72

 Spectrum analysis of odours, 123

 Speech and smell, 59

 Spiders, Aversion towards, 92

 Stenches a nuisance in law, 12
   in Cologne, 8
   in the East, 10
   in Edinburgh, 11
   in France, 9
   in London, 11, 13
   in Lucerne, 8
   Industrial, 14

 Subconsciousness, Smell and the, 44, 56, 64, 65, 79, 91, 95, 139

 Sulphur compounds, Organic, 15

 Taste and smell contrasted, 43
   Exhaustion of, 17
   Vocabulary of, 60

 Tasting wine with closed eyes, 115

 Terminology, Olfactory, Scanty, 59 _et seq._

 Theatre, The, Perfumes in, 56

 Theuriet, André, 148

 Tobacco, Effect of, on olfactory sense, 142

 Touch, Vocabulary of, 60

 Truffle-hunter, The, 36

 Tyndall, 130

 Typhus fever, Odour of, 83

 Ultra-violet light rays, 122
   absorbed by odorous bodies, 122

 Unconscious, The. _See_ Subconsciousness.

 Valerian, 71, 115

 Vanillin, 39

 Ventilation and sense of smell, 17, 109

 Vervain, 80

 Violets, 110

 Vision, End organ of, 98
   Vocabulary of, 59

 Vocabulary of Smell, Scanty, 59 _et seq._

 Volatility and odours, 113

 Walking-stick, Medical, 70

 Watkyn-Thomas, F. W., 53

 Wilkes, John, 90

 Whitman, Walt, 77

 Zebethum occidentale, 71

 Zwaardemaker, 114
   Classification of odours, 102
   Olfactometer, 107



                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES

 1. Silently corrected typographical errors.
 2. All spelling errors were left uncorrected.
 3. Footnotes have been re-indexed using numbers.
 4. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.
 5. Enclosed bold font in =equals=.

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