Studies in the psychology of sex, volume 4 (of 6) by Havelock Ellis. - HTML preview

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for all classes. Granada is the spot in Europe where to-day we find the

most exquisite remains of Mohammedan culture, and, though the fury of

Christian conquest dragged the harrow over the soil of Granada, even yet

streams and fountains spring up there and gush abundantly and one seldom

loses the sound of the plash of water. The flower of Christian chivalry

and Christian intelligence went to Palestine to wrest the Holy Sepulchre

from the hands of pagan Mohammedans. They found there many excellent

things which they had not gone out to seek, and the Crusaders produced a

kind of premature and abortive Renaissance, the shadow of lost classic

things reflected on Christian Europe from the mirror of Islam.

Yet it is worth while to point out, as bearing on the

associations of the bath here emphasized, that even in Islam we

may trace the existence of a religious attitude unfavorable to

the bath. Before the time of Mohammed there were no public baths

in Arabia, and it was and is believed that baths are specially

haunted by the djinn--the evil spirits. Mohammed himself was at

first so prejudiced against public baths that he forbade both men

and women to enter them. Afterward, however, he permitted men to

use them provided they wore a cloth round the loins, and women

also when they could not conveniently bathe at home.

Among the

Prophet's sayings is found the assertion: "Whatever woman enters

a bath the devil is with her," and "All the earth is given to me

as a place of prayer, and as pure, except the burial ground and

the bath." (See, e.g., E.W. Lane, _Arabian Society in the Middle

Ages_, 1883, pp. 179-183.) Although, therefore, the bath, or

_hammam_, on grounds of ritual ablution, hygiene, and enjoyment

speedily became universally popular in Islam among all classes

and both sexes, Mohammed himself may be said to have opposed it.

Among the discoveries which the Crusaders made and brought home with them

one of the most notable was that of the bath, which in its more elaborate

forms seems to have been absolutely forgotten in Europe, though Roman

baths might everywhere have been found underground. All authorities seem

to be agreed in finding here the origin of the revival of the public bath.

It is to Rome first, and later to Islam, the lineal inheritor of classic

culture, that we owe the cult of water and of physical purity. Even to-day

the Turkish bath, which is the most popular of elaborate methods of

bathing, recalls by its characteristics and its name the fact that it is a

Mohammedan survival of Roman life.

From the twelfth century onward baths have repeatedly been introduced from

the East, and reintroduced afresh in slightly modified forms, and have

flourished with varying degrees of success. In the thirteenth century they

were very common, especially in Paris, and though they were often used,

more especially in Germany, by both sexes in common, every effort was made

to keep them orderly and respectable. These efforts were, however, always

unsuccessful in the end. A bath always tended in the end to become a

brothel, and hence either became unfashionable or was suppressed by the

authorities. It is sufficient to refer to the reputation in England of

"hot-houses" and "bagnios." It was not until toward the end of the

eighteenth century that it began to be recognized that the claims of

physical cleanliness were sufficiently imperative to make it necessary

that the fairly avoidable risks to morality in bathing should be avoided

and the unavoidable risks bravely incurred. At the present day, now that

we are accustomed to weave ingeniously together in the texture of our

lives the conflicting traditions of classic and Christian days, we have

almost persuaded ourselves that the pagan virtue of cleanliness comes next

after godliness, and we bathe, forgetful of the great moral struggle which

once went on around the bath. But we refrain from building ourselves

palaces to bathe in, and for the most part we bathe with exceeding

moderation.[23] It is probable that we may best harmonize our conflicting

traditions by rejecting not only the Christian glorification of dirt, but

also, save for definitely therapeutic purposes, the excessive heat,

friction, and stimulation involved by the classic forms of bathing. Our

reasonable ideal should render it easy and natural for every man, woman,

and child to have a simple bath, tepid in winter, cold in summer, all the

year round.

For the history of the bath in mediæval times and later Europe,

see A. Franklin, _Les Soins de Toilette_, in the _Vie Privée

d'Autrefois_ series; Rudeck, _Geschichte der öffentlichen

Sittlichkeit in Deutschland_; T. Wright, _The Homes of Other

Days_; E. Dühren, _Das Geschlechtsleben in England_, bd. 1.

Outside the Church, there was a greater amount of cleanliness

than we are sometimes apt to suppose. It may, indeed, be said

that the uncleanliness of holy men and women would have attracted

no attention if it had corresponded to the condition generally

prevailing. Before public baths were established bathing in

private was certainly practiced; thus Ordericus Vitalis, in

narrating the murder of Mabel, the Countess de Montgomery, in

Normandy in 1082, casually mentions that she was lying on the bed

after her bath (_Ecclesiastical History_, Book V, Chapter XIII).

In warm weather, it would appear, mediæval ladies bathed in

streams, as we may still see countrywomen do in Russia, Bohemia,

and occasionally nearer home. The statement of the historian

Michelet, therefore, that Percival, Iseult, and the other

ethereal personages of mediæval times "certainly never washed"

(_La Sorcière_, p. 110) requires some qualification.

In 1292 there were twenty-six bathing establishments in Paris,

and an attendant would go through the streets in the morning

announcing that they were ready. One could have a vapor bath only

or a hot bath to succeed it, as in the East. No woman of bad

reputation, leper, or vagabond was at this time allowed to

frequent the baths, which were closed on Sundays and feast-days.

By the fourteenth century, however, the baths began to have a

reputation for immorality, as well as luxury, and, according to

Dufour, the baths of Paris "rivaled those of imperial Rome: love,

prostitution, and debauchery attracted the majority to the

bathing establishments, where everything was covered by a decent

veil." He adds that, notwithstanding the scandal thus caused and

the invectives of preachers, all went to the baths, young and

old, rich and poor, and he makes the statement, which seems to

echo the constant assertion of the early Fathers, that "a woman

who frequented the baths returned home physically pure only at

the expense of her moral purity."

In Germany there was even greater freedom of manners in bathing,

though, it would seem, less real licentiousness.

Even the

smallest towns had their baths, which were frequented by all

classes. As soon as the horn blew to announce that the baths were

ready all hastened along the street, the poorer folk almost

completely undressing themselves before leaving their homes.

Bathing was nearly always in common without any garment being

worn, women attendants commonly rubbed and massaged both sexes,

and the dressing room was frequently used by men and women in

common; this led to obvious evils. The Germans, as Weinhold

points out (_Die Deutschen Frauen im Mittelalter_, 1882, bd. ii,

pp. 112 et seq.), have been fond of bathing in the open air in

streams from the days of Tacitus and Cæsar until comparatively

modern times, when the police have interfered. It was the same in

Switzerland. Poggio, early in the sixteenth century, found it the

custom for men and women to bathe together at Baden, and said

that he seemed to be assisting at the _floralia_ of ancient Rome,

or in Plato's Republic. Sénancour, who quotes the passage (_De

l'Amour_, 1834, vol. i, p. 313), remarks that at the beginning of

the nineteenth century there was still great liberty at the Baden


Of the thirteenth century in England Thomas Wright (_Homes of

Other Days_, 1871, p. 271) remarks: "The practice of warm bathing

prevailed very generally in all classes of society, and is

frequently alluded to in the mediæval romances and stories. For

this purpose a large bathing-tub was used. People sometimes

bathed immediately after rising in the morning, and we find the

bath used after dinner and before going to bed. A bath was also

often prepared for a visitor on his arrival from a journey; and,

what seems still more singular, in the numerous stories of

amorous intrigues the two lovers usually began their interviews

by bathing together."

In England the association between bathing and immorality was

established with special rapidity and thoroughness.

Baths were

here officially recognized as brothels, and this as early as the

twelfth century, under Henry II. These organized bath-brothels

were confined to Southwark, outside the walls of the city, a

quarter which was also given up to various sports and amusements.

At a later period, "hot-houses," bagnios, and hummums (the

eastern _hammam_) were spread all over London and remained

closely identified with prostitution, these names, indeed,

constantly tending to become synonymous with brothels. (T.

Wright, _Homes of Other Days_, 1871, pp. 494-496, gives an

account of them.)

In France the baths, being anathematized by both Catholics and

Huguenots, began to lose vogue and disappear.

"Morality gained,"

remarks Franklin, "but cleanliness lost." Even the charming and

elegant Margaret of Navarre found it quite natural for a lady to

mention incidentally to her lover that she had not washed her

hands for a week. Then began an extreme tendency to use

cosmetics, essences, perfumes, and a fierce war with vermin, up

to the seventeenth century, when some progress was made, and

persons who desired to be very elegant and refined were

recommended to wash their faces "nearly every day."

Even in 1782,

however, while a linen cloth was advised for the purpose of

cleaning the face and hands, the use of water was still somewhat

discountenanced. The use of hot and cold baths was now, however,

beginning to be established in Paris and elsewhere, and the

bathing establishments at the great European health resorts were

also beginning to be put on the orderly footing which is now

customary. When Casanova, in the middle of the eighteenth

century, went to the public baths at Berne he was evidently

somewhat surprised when he found that he was invited to choose

his own attendant from a number of young women, and when he

realized that these attendants were, in all respects, at the

disposition of the bathers. It is evident that establishments of

this kind were then already dying out, although it may be added

that the customs described by Casanova appear to have persisted

in Budapest and St. Petersburg almost or quite up to the present.

The great European public baths have long been above suspicion in

this respect (though homosexual practices are not quite

excluded), while it is well recognized that many kinds of hot

baths now in use produce a powerfully stimulating action upon the

sexual system, and patients taking such baths for medical

purposes are frequently warned against giving way to these


The struggle which in former ages went on around bathing

establishments has now been in part transferred to massage

establishments. Massage is an equally powerful stimulant to the

skin and the sexual sphere,--acting mainly by friction instead of

mainly by heat,--and it has not yet attained that position of

general recognition and popularity which, in the case of bathing

establishments, renders it bad policy to court disrepute.

Like bathing, massage is a hygienic and therapeutic method of

influencing the skin and subjacent tissues which, together with

its advantages, has certain concomitant disadvantages in its

liability to affect the sexual sphere. This influence is apt to

be experienced by individuals of both sexes, though it is perhaps

specially marked in women. Jouin (quoted in Paris _Journal de

Médecine_, April 23, 1893) found that of 20 women treated by

massage, of whom he made inquiries, 14 declared that they

experienced voluptuous sensations; 8 of these belonged to

respectable families; the other 6 were women of the _demimonde_

and gave precise details; Jouin refers in this connection to the

_aliptes_ of Rome. It is unnecessary to add that the gynæcological massage introduced in recent years by the Swedish

teacher of gymnastics, Thure-Brandt, as involving prolonged

rubbing and kneading of the pelvic regions,

"_pression glissante

du vagin_" etc. (_Massage Gynécologique_, by G. de Frumerie,

1897), whatever its therapeutic value, cannot fail in a large

proportion of cases to stimulate the sexual emotions. (Eulenburg

remarks that for sexual anæsthesia in women the Thure-Brandt

system of massage may "naturally" be recommended, _Sexuale

Neuropathie_, p. 78.) I have been informed that in London and

elsewhere massage establishments are sometimes visited by women

who seek sexual gratification by massage of the genital regions

by the _masseuse_.


[21] "_Dicens munditiam corporis atque vestitus animæ esse

immunditiam_"--St. Jerome, _Ad Eustochium Virginem_.

[22] With regard to the physiological mechanism by which bathing produces

its tonic and stimulating effects Woods Hutchinson has an interesting

discussion (Chapter VII) in his _Studies in Human and Comparative


[23] Thus among the young women admitted to the Chicago Normal School to

be trained as teachers, Miss Lura Sanborn, the director of physical

training, states (_Doctor's Magazine_, December, 1900) that a bath once a

fortnight is found to be not unusual.


Summary--Fundamental Importance of Touch--The Skin the Mother of All the

Other Senses.

The sense of touch is so universally diffused over the whole skin, and in

so many various degrees and modifications, and it is, moreover, so truly

the Alpha and the Omega of affection, that a broken and fragmentary

treatment of the subject has been inevitable.

The skin is the archæological field of human and prehuman experience, the

foundation on which all forms of sensory perception have grown up, and as

sexual sensibility is among the most ancient of all forms of sensibility,

the sexual instinct is necessarily, in the main, a comparatively slightly

modified form of general touch sensibility. This primitive character of

the great region of tactile sensation, its vagueness and diffusion, the

comparatively unintellectual as well as unæsthetic nature of the mental

conceptions which arise on the tactile basis make it difficult to deal

precisely with the psychology of touch. The very same qualities, however,

serve greatly to heighten the emotional intensity of skin sensations. So

that, of all the great sensory fields, the field of touch is at once the

least intellectual and the most massively emotional.

These qualities, as

well as its intimate and primitive association with the apparatus of

tumescence and detumescence, make touch the readiest and most powerful

channel by which the sexual sphere may be reached.

In disentangling the phenomena of tactile sensibility ticklishness has

been selected for special consideration as a kind of sensation, founded on

reflexes developing even before birth, which is very closely related to

sexual phenomena. It is, as it were, a play of tumescence, on which

laughter supervenes as a play of detumescence. It leads on to the more

serious phenomena of tumescence, and it tends to die out after

adolescence, at the period during which sexual relationships normally

begin. Such a view of ticklishness, as a kind of modesty of the skin,

existing merely to be destroyed, need only be regarded as one of its

aspects. Ticklishness certainly arose from a non-sexual starting-point,

and may well have protective uses in the young animal.

The readiness with which tactile sensibility takes on a sexual character

and forms reflex channels of communication with the sexual sphere proper

is illustrated by the existence of certain secondary sexual foci only

inferior in sexual excitability to the genital region.

We have seen that

the chief of these normal foci are situated in the orificial regions where

skin and mucous membrane meet, and that the contact of any two orificial

regions between two persons of different sex brought together under

favorable conditions is apt, when prolonged, to produce a very intense

degree of sexual erethism. This is a normal phenomenon in so far as it is

a part of tumescence, and not a method of obtaining detumescence. The kiss

is a typical example of these contacts, while the nipple is of special

interest in this connection, because we are thereby enabled to bring the

psychology of lactation into intimate relationship with the psychology of

sexual love.

The extreme sensitiveness of the skin, the readiness with which its

stimulation reverberates into the sexual sphere, clearly brought out by

the present study, enable us to understand better a very ancient

contest--the moral struggle around the bath. There has always been a

tendency for the extreme cultivation of physical purity to lead on to the

excessive stimulation of the sexual sphere; so that the Christian ascetics

were entirely justified, on their premises, in fighting against the bath

and in directly or indirectly fostering a cult of physical uncleanliness.

While, however, in the past there has clearly been a general tendency for

the cult of physical purity to be associated with moral licentiousness,

and there are sufficient grounds for such an association, it is important

to remember that it is not an inevitable and fatal association; a

scrupulously clean person is by no means necessarily impelled to

licentiousness; a physically unclean person is by no means necessarily

morally pure. When we have eliminated certain forms of the bath which must

be regarded as luxuries rather than hygienic necessities, though they

occasionally possess therapeutic virtues, we have eliminated the most

violent appeals of the bath to the sexual impulse. So imperative are the

demands of physical purity now becoming, in general opinion, that such

small risks to moral purity as may still remain are constantly and wisely

disregarded, and the immoral traditions of the bath now, for the most

part, belong to the past.



The Primitiveness of Smell--The Anatomical Seat of the Olfactory

Centres--Predominance of Smell among the Lower Mammals--

Its Diminished

Importance in Man--The Attention Paid to Odors by Savages.

The first more highly organized sense to arise on the diffused tactile

sensitivity of the skin is, in most cases, without doubt that of smell. At

first, indeed, olfactory sensibility is not clearly differentiated from

general tactile sensibility; the pit of thickened and ciliated epithelium

or the highly mobile antennæ which in many lower animals are sensitive to

odorous stimuli are also extremely sensitive to tactile stimuli; this is,

for instance, the case with the snail, in whom at the same time olfactive

sensibility seems to be spread over the whole body.[24]

The sense of smell

is gradually specialized, and when taste also begins to develop a kind of

chemical sense is constituted. The organ of smell, however, speedily

begins to rise in importance as we ascend the zoölogical scale. In the

lower vertebrates, when they began to adopt a life on dry land, the sense

of smell seems to have been that part of their sensory equipment which

proved most useful under the new conditions, and it developed with

astonishing rapidity. Edinger finds that in the brain of reptiles the

"area olfactoria" is of enormous extent, covering, indeed, the greater

part of the cortex, though it may be quite true, as Herrick remarks, that,

while smell is preponderant, it is perhaps not correct to attribute an

exclusively olfactory tone to the cerebral activities of the _Sauropsida_

or even the _Ichthyopsida_. Among most mammals, however, in any case,

smell is certainly the most highly developed of the senses; it gives the

first information of remote objects that concern them; it gives the most

precise information concerning the near objects that concern them; it is

the sense in terms of which most of their mental operations must be

conducted and their emotional impulses reach consciousness. Among the apes

it has greatly lost importance and in man it has become almost

rudimentary, giving place to the supremacy of vision.

Prof. G. Elliot Smith, a leading authority on the brain, has well

summarized the facts concerning the predominance of the olfactory

region in the mammal brain, and his conclusions may be quoted. It

should be premised that Elliot Smith divides the brain into

rhinencephalon and neopallium. Rhinencephalon designates the

regions which are pre-eminently olfactory in function: the

olfactory bulb, its peduncle, the tuberculum olfactorium and

locus perforatus, the pyriform lobe, the paraterminal body, and

the whole hippocampal formation. The neopallium is the dorsal cap

of the brain, with frontal, parietal, and occipital areas,

comprehending all that part of the brain which is the seat of the

higher associative activities, reaching its fullest development

in man.

"In the early mammals the olfactory areas form by far the greater

part of the cerebral hemisphere, which is not surprising when it

is recalled that the forebrain is, in the primitive brain,

essentially an appendage, so to speak, of the smell apparatus.

When the cerebral hemisphere comes to occupy such a dominant

position in the brain it is perhaps not unnatural to find that

the sense of smell is the most influential and the chief source

of information to the animal; or, perhaps, it would be more

accurate to say that the olfactory sense, which conveys general

information to the animal such as no other sense can bring

concerning its prey (whether near or far, hidden or exposed), is

much the most serviceable of all the avenues of information to

the lowly mammal leading a terrestrial life, and therefore

becomes predominant; and its particular domain--the forebrain--becomes the ruling portion of the nervous system.

"This early predominance of the sense of smell persists in most

mammals (unless an aquatic mode of life interferes and deposes

it: compare the _Cetacea, Sirenia_, and _Pinnipedia_, for

example) even though a large neopallium develops to receive

visual, auditory, tactile, and other impressions pouring into the

forebrain. In the _Anthropoidea_ alone of nonaquatic mammals the

olfactory regions undergo an absolute (and not only relative, as

in the _Carnivora_ and _Ungulata_) dwindling, which is equally

shared by the human brain, in common with those of the other

_Simiidæ_, the _Cercopithecidæ_, and the _Cebidæ_.

But all the

parts of the rhinencephalon, which are so distinct in macrosmatic

mammals, can also be recognized in the human brain.

The small

ellipsoidal olfactory bulb is moored, so to speak, on the

cribriform plate of the ethmoid bone by the olfactory nerves; so

that, as the place of attachment of the olfactory peduncle to the

expanding cerebral hemisphere becomes removed (as a result of the

forward extension of the hemisphere) progressively farther and

farther backward, the peduncle becomes greatly stretched and

elongated. And, as this stretching involves the gray matter

without lessening the number of nerve-fibres in the olfactory

tract, the peduncle becomes practically what it is usually

called--i.e., the olfactory 'tract.' The tuberculum olfactorium

becomes greatly reduced and at the same time flattened; so that

it is not easy to draw a line of demarcation between it and the

anterior perforated space. The anterior rhinal fissure, which is

present in the early human foetus, vanishes (almost, if not

altogether) in the adult. Part of the posterior rhinal fissure is

always present in the 'incisura temporalis,' and sometimes,

especially in some of the non-European races, the whole of the

posterior rhinal fissure is retained in that typical form which

we find in the anthropoid apes." (G. Elliot Smith, in

_Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of the Physiological

Series of Comparative Anatomy Contained in the Museum of the

Royal College of Surgeons of England_, second edition, vol. ii.)

A full statement of Elliot Smith's investigations, with diagrams,

is given by Bullen, _Journal of Mental Science_, July, 1899. It

may be added that the whole subject of the olfactory centres has

been thoroughly studied by Elliot Smith, as well as by Edinger,

Mayer, and C.L. Herrick. In the _Journal of Comparative

Neurology_, edited by the last named, numerous discussions and

summaries bearing on the subject will be found from 1896 onward.

Regarding the primitive sense-organs of smell in the various

invertebrate groups some information will be found in A.B.

Griffiths's _Physiology of the Invertebrata_, Chapter XI.

The predominance of the olfactory area in the nervous system of the

vertebrates generally has inevitably involved intimate psychic

associations between olfactory stimuli and the sexual impulse. For most

mammals not only are all sexual associations mainly olfactory, but the

impressions received by this sense suffice to dominate all others. An

animal not only receives adequate sexual excitement from olfactory

stimuli, but those stimuli often suffice to counterbalance all the

evidence of the other senses.

We may observe this very well in the case of the dog. Thus, a

young dog, well known to me, who had never had connection with a

bitch, but was always in the society of its father, once met the

latter directly after the elder dog had been with a bitch. He

immediately endeavored to behave toward the elder dog, in spite

of angry repulses, exactly as a dog behaves toward a bitch in

heat. The messages received by the sense of smell were

sufficiently urgent not only to set the sexual mechanism in

action, but to overcome the experiences of a lifetime. There is

an interesting chapter on the sense of smell in the mental life

of the dog in Giessler's _Psychologie des Geruches_, 1894,

Chapter XI, Passy (in the appendix to his memoir on olfaction,

_L'Année Psychologique_, 1895) gives the result of some

interesting experiments as to the effects of perfume on dogs;

civet and castoreum were found to have the most powerfully

exciting effect.

The influences of smell are equally omnipotent in the sexual life

of many insects. Thus, Féré has found that in cockchafers sexual

coupling failed to take place when the antennæ, which are the

organs of smell, were removed; he also found that males, after

they had coupled with females, proved sexually attractive to

other males (_Comptes Rendus de la Société de Biologie_, May 21,

1898). Féré similarly found that, in a species of _Bombyx_, males

after contact with females sometimes proved attractive to other

males, although no abnormal relationships followed.

(_Soc. de

Biol_, July 30, 1898.)

With the advent of the higher apes, and especially of man, all this has

been changed. The sense of smell, indeed, still persists universally and

it is still also exceedingly delicate, though often neglected.[25] It is,

moreover, a useful auxiliary in the exploration of the external world,

for, in contrast to the very few sensations furnished to us by touch and

by taste, we are acquainted with a vast number of smells, though the

information they give us is frequently vague. An experienced perfumer,

says Piesse, will have two hundred odors in his laboratory and can

distinguish them all. To a sensitive nose nearly everything smells. Passy

goes so far as to state that he has "never met with any object that is

really inodorous when one pays attention to it, not even excepting glass,"

and, though we can scarcely accept this statement absolutely,--especially

in view of the careful experiments of Ayrton, which show that, contrary

to a common belief, metals when perfectly clean and free from traces of

contact with the skin or with salt solutions have no smell,--odor is still

extremely widely diffused. This is especially the case in hot countries,

and the experiments of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition on the

sense of smell of the Papuans were considerably impeded by the fact that

at Torres Straits everything, even water, seemed to have a smell. Savages

are often accused more or less justly of indifference to bad odors. They

are very often, however, keenly alive to the significance of smells and

their varieties, though it does not appear that the sense of smell is

notably more developed in savage than in civilized peoples. Odors also

continue to play a part in the emotional life of man, more especially in

hot countries. Nevertheless both in practical life and in emotional life,

in science and in art, smell is, at the best, under normal conditions,

merely an auxiliary. If the sense of smell were abolished altogether the

life of mankind would continue as before, with little or no sensible

modification, though the pleasures of life, and especially of eating and

drinking, would be to some extent diminished.

In New Ireland, Duffield remarks (_Journal of the Anthropological

Institute_, 1886, p. 118), the natives have a very keen sense of

smell; unusual odors are repulsive to them, and

"carbolic acid

drove them wild."

The New Caledonians, according to Foley (_Bulletin de la Société

d'Anthropologie_, November 6, 1879), only like the smells of meat

and fish which are becoming "high," like _popoya_, which smells

of fowl manure, and _kava_, of rotten eggs. Fruits and vegetables

which are beginning to go bad seem the best to them, while the

fresh and natural odors which we prefer seem merely to say to

them: "We are not yet eatable." (A taste for putrefying food,

common among savages, by no means necessarily involves a distaste

for agreeable scents, and even among Europeans there is a

widespread taste for offensively smelling and putrid foods,

especially cheese and game.)

The natives of Torres Straits were carefully examined by Dr. C.S.

Myers with regard to their olfactory acuteness and olfactory

preferences. It was found that acuteness was, if anything,

slightly greater than among Europeans. This appeared to be

largely due to the careful attention they pay to odors. The

resemblances which they detected among different odorous

substances were frequently found to rest on real chemical

affinities. The odors they were observed to dislike most

frequently were asafoetida, valerianic acid, and civet, the last

being regarded as most repulsive of all on account of its

resemblance to fæcal odor, which these people regard with intense

disgust. Their favorite odors were musk, thyme, and especially

violet. (_Report of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to

Torres Straits_, vol. ii, Part II, 1903.) In Australia Lumholtz (_Among Cannibals_, p. 115) found that the

blacks had a keener sense of smell than he possessed.

In New Zealand the Maoris, as W. Colenso shows, possessed,

formerly at all events, a very keen sense of smell or else were

very attentive to smell, and their taste as regarded agreeable

and disagreeable odors corresponded very closely to European

taste, although it must be added that some of their common

articles of food possessed a very offensive odor.

They are not

only sensitive to European perfumes, but possessed various

perfumes of their own, derived from plants and possessing a

pleasant, powerful, and lasting odor; the choicest and rarest was

the gum of the _taramea_ (_Aciphylla Colensoi_), which was

gathered by virgins after the use of prayers and charms. Sir

Joseph Banks noted that Maori chiefs wore little bundles of

perfumes around their necks, and Cook made the same observation

concerning the young women. References to the four chief Maori

perfumes are contained in a stanza which is still often hummed to

express satisfaction, and sung by a mother to her child:--

"My little neck-satchel of sweet-scented moss, My little neck-satchel of fragrant fern, My little neck-satchel of odoriferous gum, My sweet-smelling neck-locket of sharp-pointed _taramea_."

In the summer season the sleeping houses of Maori chiefs were

often strewed with a large, sweet-scented, flowering grass of

powerful odor. (W. Colenso, _Transactions of the New Zealand

Institute_, vol. xxiv, reprinted in _Nature_, November 10, 1892.)

Javanese women rub themselves with a mixture of chalk and strong

essence which, when rubbed off, leaves a distinct perfume on the

body. (Stratz, _Die Frauenkleidung_, p. 84.) The Samoans, Friedländer states (_Zeitschrift für Ethnologie_,

1899, p. 52), are very fond of fragrant and aromatic odors. He

gives a list of some twenty odorous plants which they use, more

especially as garlands for the head and neck, including

ylang-ylang and gardenia; he remarks that of one of these plants

(cordyline) he could not himself detect the odor.

The Nicobarese, Man remarks (_Journal of the Anthropological

Institute_, 1889, p. 377), like the natives of New Zealand,

particularly dislike the smell of carbolic acid.

Both young men

and women are very partial to scents; the former say they find

their use a certain passport to the favor of their wives, and

they bring home from the jungle the scented leaves of a certain

creeper to their sweethearts and wives.

Swahili women devote much attention to perfuming themselves. When

a woman wishes to make herself desirable she anoints herself all

over with fragrant ointments, sprinkles herself with rose-water,

puts perfume into her clothes, strews jasmine flowers on her bed

as well as binding them round her neck and waist, and smokes

_ûdi_, the perfumed wood of the aloe; "every man is glad when his

wife smells of _ûdi_" (Velten, _Sitten und Gebraüche der

Suaheli_, pp. 212-214).


[24] Emile Yung, "Le Sens Olfactif de l'Escargot (Helix Pomata),"

_Archives de Psychologie_, November, 1903.

[25] The sensitiveness of smell in man generally exceeds that of chemical

reaction or even of spectral analysis; see Passy, _L'Année Psychologique_,

second year, 1895, p. 380.


Rise of the Study of Olfaction--Cloquet--Zwaardemaker--

The Theory of

Smell--The Classification of Odors--The Special Characteristics of

Olfactory Sensation in Man--Smell as the Sense of Imagination--Odors as

Nervous Stimulants--Vasomotor and Muscular Effects--

Odorous Substances as


During the eighteenth century a great impetus was given to the

physiological and psychological study of the senses by the philosophical

doctrines of Locke and the English school generally which then prevailed

in Europe. These thinkers had emphasized the immense importance of the

information derived through the senses in building up the intellect, so

that the study of all the sensory channels assumed a significance which it

had never possessed before. The olfactory sense fully shared in the

impetus thus given to sensory investigation. At the beginning of the

nineteenth century a distinguished French physician, Hippolyte Cloquet, a

disciple of Cabanis, devoted himself more especially to this subject.

After publishing in 1815 a preliminary work, he issued in 1821 his

_Osphrésiologie, ou Traité des odeurs, du sens et des organes de

l'Olfaction_, a complete monograph on the anatomy, physiology, psychology,

and pathology of the olfactory organ and its functions, and a work that

may still be consulted with profit, if indeed it can even yet be said to

be at every point superseded. After Cloquet's time the study of the sense

of smell seems to have fallen into some degree of discredit. For more than

half a century no important progress was made in this field. Serious

investigators seemed to have become shy of the primitive senses generally,

and the subject of smell was mainly left to those interested in "curious"

subjects. Many interesting observations were, however, incidentally made;

thus Laycock, who was a pioneer in so many by-paths of psychology and

anthropology, showed a special interest in the olfactory sense, and

frequently touched on it in his _Nervous Diseases of Women_ and

elsewhere. The writer who more than any other has in recent years restored

the study of the sense of smell from a by-path to its proper position as a

highway for investigation is without doubt Professor Zwaardemaker, of

Utrecht. The invention of his first olfactometer in 1888

and the

appearance in 1895 of his great work _Die Physiologie des Geruchs_ have

served to give the physiology of the sense of smell an assured status and

to open the way anew for much fruitful investigation, while a number of

inquirers in many countries have had their attention directed to the

elucidation of this sense.

Notwithstanding, however, the amount of work which has been done in this

field during recent years, it cannot be said that the body of assured

conclusions so far reached is large. The most fundamental principles of

olfactory physiology and psychology are still somewhat vague and

uncertain. Although sensations of smell are numerous and varied, in this

respect approaching the sensations of vision and hearing, smell still

remains close to touch in the vagueness of its messages (while the most

sensitive of the senses, remarks Passy, it is the least precise), the

difficulty of classifying them, the impossibility of so controlling them

as to found upon them any art. It seems better, therefore, not to attempt

to force the present study of a special aspect of olfaction into any

general scheme which may possibly not be really valid.

The earliest and most general tendency in regard to the theory of

smell was to regard it as a kind of chemical sense directly

stimulated by minute particles of solid substance. A vibratory

theory of smell, however, making it somewhat analogous to

hearing, easily presents itself. When I first began the study of

physiology in 1881, a speculation of this kind presented itself

to my mind. Long before Philipp von Walther, a professor at

Landshut, had put forward a dynamic theory of olfaction

(_Physiologie des Menschen_, 1807-8, vol. ii, p.

278). "It is a

purely dynamic operation of the odorous substance in the

olfactory organ," he stated. Odor is conveyed by the air, he

believed, in the same way as heat. It must be added that his

reasons for this theory will not always bear examination. More

recently a similar theory has been seriously put forward in

various quarters. Sir William Ramsay tentatively suggested such a

theory (_Nature_, vol. xxv, p. 187) in analogy with light and

sound. Haycraft (_Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh_,

1883-87, and _Brain_, 1887-88), largely starting from

Mendelieff's law of periodicity, similarly sought to bring smell

into line with the higher senses, arguing that molecules with the

same vibration have the same smell. Rutherford (_Nature_, August

11, 1892, p. 343), attaching importance to the evidence brought

forward by von Brunn showing that the olfactory cells terminate

in very delicate short hairs, also stated his belief that the

different qualities of smell result from differences in the

frequency and form of the vibrations initiated by the action of

the chemical molecules on these olfactory cells, though he

admitted that such a conception involved a very subtle conception

of molecular vibration. Vaschide and Van Melle (Paris Academy of

Sciences, December 26, 1899) have, again, argued that smell is

produced by rays of short wave-lengths, analogous to light-rays,

Röntgen rays, etc. Chemical action is however, a very important

factor in the production of odors; this has been well shown by

Ayrton (_Nature_, September 8, 1898). We seem to be forced in the

direction of a chemico-vibratory theory, as pointed out by

Southerden (_Nature_, March 26, 1903), the olfactory cells being

directly stimulated, not by the ordinary vibrations of the

molecules, but by the agitations accompanying chemical changes.

The vibratory hypothesis of the action of odors has had some

influence on the recent physiologists who have chiefly occupied

themselves with olfaction. "It is probable,"

Zwaardemaker writes

(_L'Année Psychologique_, 1898), "that aroma is a physico-chemical attribute of the molecules"; he points out that

there is an intimate analogy between color and odor, and remarks

that this analogy leads us to suppose in an aroma ether

vibrations of which the period is determined by the structure of

the molecule.

Since the physiology of olfaction is yet so obscure it is not

surprising that we have no thoroughly scientific classification

of smells, notwithstanding various ambitious attempts to reach a

classification. The classification adopted by Zwaardemaker is

founded on the ancient scheme of Linnæus, and may here be


I. Ethereal odors (chiefly esters; Rimmel's fruity series).

II. Aromatic odors (terpenes, camphors, and the spicy,

herbaceous, rosaceous, and almond series; the chemical types are

well determined: cineol, eugenol, anethol, geraniol, benzaldehyde).

III. The balsamic odors (chiefly aldehydes, Rimmel's jasmin,

violet, and balsamic series, with the chemical types: terpineol,

ionone, vanillin).

IV. The ambrosiacal odors (ambergris and musk).

V. The alliaceous odors, with the cacodylic group (asafoetida,

ichthyol, etc.).

VI. Empyreumatic odors.

VII. Valerianaceous odors (Linnæus's _Odores hircini_, the capryl

group, largely composed of sexual odors).

VIII. Narcotic odors (Linnæus's _Odores tetri_).

IX. Stenches.

A valuable and interesting memoir, "Revue Générale sur les

Sensations Olfactives," by J. Passy, the chief French authority

on this subject, will be found in the second volume of _L'Année

Psychologique_, 1895. In the fifth issue of the same year-book

(for 1898) Zwaardemaker presents a full summary of his work and

views, "Les Sensations Olfactives, leurs Combinaisons et leurs

Compensations." A convenient, but less authoritative, summary of

the facts of normal and pathological olfaction will be found in a

little volume of the "Actualités Médicales" series by Dr. Collet,

_L'Odorat et ses Troubles_, 1904. In a little book entitled

_Wegweiser zu einer Psychologie des Geruches_ (1894) Giessler has

sought to outline a psychology of smell, but his sketch can only

be regarded as tentative and provisional.

At the outset, nevertheless, it seems desirable that we should at least

have some conception of the special characteristics which mark the great

and varied mass of sensations reaching the brain through the channel of

the olfactory organ. The main special character of olfactory images seems

to be conditioned by the fact that they are intermediate in character

between those of touch or taste and those of sight or sound, that they

have much of the vagueness of the first and something of the richness and

variety of the second. Æsthetically, also, they occupy an intermediate

position between the higher and the lower senses.[26]

They are, at the

same time, less practically useful than either the lower or the higher

senses. They furnish us with a great mass of what we may call

by-sensations, which are of little practical use, but inevitably become

intimately mixed with the experiences of life by association and thus

acquire an emotional significance which is often very considerable. Their

emotional force, it may well be, is connected with the fact that their

anatomical seat is the most ancient part of the brain.

They lie in a

remote almost disused storehouse of our minds and show the fascination or

the repulsiveness of all vague and remote things. It is for this reason

that they are--to an extent that is remarkable when we consider that they

are much more precise than touch sensations--subject to the influence of

emotional associations. The very same odor may be at one moment highly

pleasant, at the next moment highly unpleasant, in accordance with the

emotional attitude resulting from its associations.

Visual images have no

such extreme flexibility; they are too definite to be so easily

influenced. Our feelings about the beauty of a flower cannot oscillate so

easily or so far as may our feelings about the agreeableness of its odor.

Our olfactory experiences thus institute a more or less continuous series

of by-sensations accompanying us through life, of no great practical

significance, but of considerable emotional significance from their

variety, their intimacy, their associational facility, their remote

ancestral reverberations through our brains.

It is the existence of these characteristics--at once so vague and so

specific, so useless and so intimate--which led various writers to

describe the sense of smell as, above all others, the sense of

imagination. No sense has so strong a power of suggestion, the power of

calling up ancient memories with a wider and deeper emotional

reverberation, while at the same time no sense furnishes impressions which

so easily change emotional color and tone, in harmony with the recipient's

general attitude. Odors are thus specially apt both to control the

emotional life and to become its slaves. With the use of incense religions

have utilized the imaginative and symbolical virtues of fragrance. All the

legends of the saints have insisted on the odor of sanctity that exhales

from the bodies of holy persons, especially at the moment of death. Under

the conditions of civilization these primitive emotional associations of

odor tend to be dispersed, but, on the other hand, the imaginative side of

the olfactory sense becomes accentuated, and personal idiosyncrasies of

all kinds tend to manifest themselves in the sphere of smell.

Rousseau (in _Emile_, Bk. II) regarded smell as the sense of the

imagination. So, also, at an earlier period, it was termed

(according to Cloquet) by Cardano. Cloquet frequently insisted on

the qualities of odors which cause them to appeal to the

imagination; on their irregular and inconstant character; on

their power of intoxicating the mind on some occasions; on the

curious individual and racial preferences in the matter of odors.

He remarked on the fact that the Persians employed asafoetida as

a seasoning, while valerian was accounted a perfume in antiquity.

(Cloquet, _Osphrésiologie_, pp. 28, 45, 71, 112.) It may be

added, as a curious example familiar to most people of the

dependence of the emotional tone of a smell on its associations,

that, while the exhalations of other people's bodies are

ordinarily disagreeable to us, such is not the case with our own;

this is expressed in the crude and vigorous dictum of the

Elizabethan poet, Marston, "Every man's dung smell sweet i' his

own nose." There are doubtless many implications, moral as well

as psychological, in that statement.

The modern authorities on olfaction, Passy and Zwaardemaker, both

alike insist on the same characteristics of the sense of smell:

its extreme acuity and yet its vagueness. "We live in a world of

odor," Zwaardemaker remarks (_L'Année Psychologique_, 1898, p.

203), "as we live in a world of light and of sound.

But smell

yields us no distinct ideas grouped in regular order, still less

that are fixed in the memory as a grammatical discipline.

Olfactory sensations awake vague and half-understood perceptions,

which are accompanied by very strong emotion. The emotion

dominates us, but the sensation which was the cause of it remains

unperceived." Even in the same individual there are wide

variations in the sensitiveness to odors at different times, more

especially as regards faint odors; Passy (_L'Année Psychologique_, 1895, p. 387) brings forward some observations on

this point.

Maudsley noted the peculiarly suggestive power of odors; "there

are certain smells," he remarked, "which never fail to bring back

to me instantly and visibly scenes of my boyhood"; many of us

could probably say the same. Another writer (E.

Dillon, "A

Neglected Sense," _Nineteenth Century_, April, 1894) remarks that

"no sense has a stronger power of suggestion."

Ribot has made an interesting investigation as to the prevalence

and nature of the emotional memory of odors (_Psychology of the

Emotions_, Chapter XI). By "emotional memory" is meant the

spontaneous or voluntary revivability of the image, olfactory or

other. (For the general question, see an article by F. Pillon,

"La Mémoire Affective, son Importance Théorique et Pratique,"

_Revue Philosophique_, February, 1901; also Paulhan,

"Sur la

Mémoire Affective," _Revue Philosophique_, December, 1902 and

January, 1903.) Ribot found that 40 per cent. of persons are

unable to revive any such images of taste or smell; 48 per cent,

could revive some; 12 per cent, declared themselves capable of

reviving all, or nearly all, at pleasure. In some persons there

is no necessary accompanying revival of visual or tactile

representations, but in the majority the revived odor ultimately

excites a corresponding visual image. The odors most frequently

recalled were pinks, musk, violets, heliotrope, carbolic acid,

the smell of the country, of grass, etc. Piéron (_Revue

Philosophique_, December, 1902) has described the special power

possessed by vague odors, in his own case, of evoking ancient


Dr. J.N. Mackenzie (_American Journal of the Medical Sciences_,

January, 1886) considers that civilization exerts an influence in

heightening or encouraging the influence of olfaction as it

affects our emotions and judgment, and that, in the same way, as

we ascend the social scale the more readily our minds are

influenced and perhaps perverted by impressions received through

the sense of smell.