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Smell

( Originally Published 1899 )

IN the order of intellectual value the sense of smell is next to be noted. It also serves a double function, subjective and objective. For some time after birth it is not differentiated from the other physical senses, but at about the age of three months begins to serve as a help in distinguishing food and soon after to contribute materially to the sensuous pleasures of the child. With taste, it stands a watchful guardian to protect the system from injurious foods. It also adds much to the relish of many dishes by mingling the enjoyment of their aroma with that of their flavor. The grateful feeling throughout the whole body accompanying slight changes in temperature serves well as an introduction to the higher physical pleasures that fragrant odors produce. Poets sing of the delights of the bath and of the gentle zephyrs that lull to restful sleep, but their lyres assume a lighter, quicker movement as they de-scribe the odors of the

" May-flowers blooming around them ;
Fragrant, filling the air with a strange and wonderful sweetness."

For the physical well-being alone, the organ of smell needs that same careful attention that any other sense organ demands. Its structure is easily understood by reference to any work on anatomy or physiology. The delicacy of the Schneiderian membrane, on which are spread out the fine filaments of the olfactory nerve and against which the odorous particles must pass, is, however, not so generally appreciated as it ought to be. The turbinated chambers are kept pliable and sensitive by a regular supply of moisture whose slight variation affects at once both the ability to distinguish odors and the health of the organ. Probably no other organ so quickly reveals a great variety of bodily disorders. It serves as a distress flag, giving notice of internal derangement. It is liable to painful diseases of its own, such as catarrh, polypi, adenoidal growths, etc. Most of them are more incident to childhood than to manhood, and unless promptly detected and suppressed become the generators of a whole brood of ills that make life miserable for one's companions as well as for himself. Sometimes the trouble originates in one duct, sometimes in both. It frequently happens that the sense of smell in a child is practically destroyed, and that an offensive disease has fastened itself upon him before the parents know that anything is wrong. No child ever has a cold, or a fever, or frontal inflammations of any character, that may not settle in that tender network of bone and nerves at the base of the nose. Skin eruptions are likely to find a home there also. Occasionally some insect or some hard substance lodges in one of the canals and endangers even the life of the child. The only safe course with children is to be constantly on the lookout for disorders. Sympathetic intimacy with them will usually bring them to you on the slightest disturbance in this or in any other organ, and their appeal should have instant and intelligent response. The derangement may not seem serious and it may be but temporary. If it be serious, however, or if it does not appear serious and yet is persistent, medical assistance should be sought. Often these nasal affections are manifestations of systemic disturbances, but, whether one or the other, remedies can not too quickly be applied.

Two seemingly parallel straight lines may be but an inch apart at their origin and yet be ten feet apart at the end of a mile, and a nasal disorder that appears very slight in the child may in manhood be robbing life of all its pleasure.

This little volume would grow to undue pro-portions if space should be taken to describe the diseases to which the different sense organs are subject, together with their symptoms and remedies, and yet the object would not be attained if simple methods of discovering the affections were not presented. The closing of one nostril by external pressure with the finger and the child's effort to force air through the other as he expels it from the lungs readily reveals obstructions and frequently removes them. The inability of the child to breathe through his nostrils, which is the way Nature intended, is always cause for attention, though in case of colds not necessarily for uneasiness. If a child of six or seven has no cold, and yet can not distinguish the odors of flowers, perfumes, kinds of fruit, etc., the cause of it should be ascertained as soon as possible and its removal intelligently attempted. Very simple remedies may prove effectual at once. Possibly the development of this sense is a little belated and the presentation of a few strikingly different odors may at once arouse and stimulate it. If the child complains of dull pains or of pressure between the eyes for a week or two, it is a sure sign of incipient catarrh, or of a kindred disease, and needs skillful treatment.

To the general feeling of well-being, when the other senses already mentioned are responding naturally, the sense of temperature may possibly add the slightest glimmer of the aesthetic element, but it comes into grateful prominence with the growth of the sense of smell. In addition to its utility as a factor in determining the nature of food, smell also proves of great value in an intellectual and practical way. It assists in getting knowledge of a thousand things in the world round about us. The botanist is dependent upon it for distinguishing many varieties of plants; the mineralogist would be sorely handicapped in classifying minerals if his sense of smell were to fail him; the biologist with-out a good nose would be almost as bad as a miner without a lantern; the chemist would be in greater confusion than Pandora, when she opened her famous box, if he were unable to discover the odor of the various compounds in his laboratory. What is true of the sciences is also as true of the arts.

Many diseases are revealed to the physician largely by their odor. The plumber and gasfitter would not earn his salt who could not discover the presence of deleterious or poisonous gases by their peculiar odor. Without this sense the cook could hardly know that a stew is burning, a sauce is fermenting, an egg is addled, or that a dish will prove relishable at the table. Without this sense one would succeed poorly in handling drugs, perfumery, groceries, farm products of all kinds, etc. Without it what would become of

" The butcher and the baker And the candlestick maker ?"

Properly trained, it is a good insurance against fire, for it often reveals the presence of fire in the house long before any other sense discovers it.

The sense of smell as an aesthetic sense has already been mentioned. It has always been prized, even among barbarous nations, for its pleasure-producing capacities; the sweet-smelling unguent and the musk-scented ointment are as popular among the wild men of Borneo as among the dilettante of the salons of Paris. Fragrant odors vied with the cithara and the harp in the entertainments at the royal palaces of Egypt, of Assyria, of Phoenicia, of Greece, and of Rome. As guests entered, the glad welcome of sweet music was even excelled by the sweeter perfumes, whose fragrance filled the ambient air; the rich tapes-tries, the multicolored rugs, the luxurious couches exhaled the attar of roses, the aroma of myrrh and of the pomegranate; while fine spray, laden with lavender, fell in floating mists over the fair company as they passed around and among the rare plants that added their wealth of beauty to the splendor of the scene. Gentle ladies through all the ages have sought the choicest waters and per-fumes for their toilets, and they are now regarded as necessaries in the boudoir of every cultivated woman, whether Christian or pagan. But how-ever successfully art may bring captive these rare extracts from Nature's rarest laboratories, the per-fumed air of springtime, of summer, and of autumn gray, freighted with the blushes of opening flowers, with the rustle of nodding grain, and the aroma of the mellowing fruit, awakens harmonies and images of subtler beauty and deeper meaning.

But much of this is known to everybody, and it finds a place here simply to emphasize more fully the importance of the care and culture of the sense of smell. The noseless man knows less by far than many people imagine. Into whatever walk or occupation in life a child is to go, he will need for his physical well-being, for his general knowledge, for his aesthetic enjoyment, for his practical use, a sensitive, delicately discriminating sense of smell. The health of the organ is the first requisite, but that is important only as enabling it to profit by training and to attain unto the highest possible perfection. The means at hand are so various and so abundant that further suggestions will be withheld until the chapter on general methods of cultivating the senses is reached.

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