Skip to main content

Chapter 12 - Exercises In Smell

It is stated in Mr. Stewart's account of James Mitchell, who was deaf, sightless and speechless, and, of course, strongly induced by his unfortunate situation to make much use of the sense we are considering, that his smell would immediately and invariably inform him of the presence of a stranger, and direct to the place where he might be; and it is repeatedly asserted that this sense had become in him extremely acute. 'It is related,' says Dr. Abercrombie, “of the late Dr. Moyse, the well-known blind philosopher, that he could distinguish a black dress on his friends by its smell.” Professor Thomas C. Upham.


Keenness of attention through discrimination in the sense of smell;

Persistently willed attention a feeder of Will;

A neglected sense cultivated and fullness and power of mind increased.

"I n all ages of the world," Dr. William Matthews has said, "a liberal allowance of proboscis has been admired, while a niggardly one has been held in contempt. The Romans lilted a large nose, like Julius Caesar's; and it is a significant fact that the same word in Latin, Nasutus means having a large nose, and acute or sagacious. All their distinguished men had snuff taking organs not to be sneezed at." "In modern days, large noses have been not less coveted and esteemed than in the ancient. ‘Give me,’ said Napoleon, ‘a man with a large allowance of nose. In my observations of men I have almost invariably found a long nose and a long head go together.’


"The faculty of scent may be cultivated like all other faculties, as is proven by blood hounds and breeds of dogs which have been specially trained in this direction until it becomes an hereditary faculty. Those who deal in teas, coffees, perfumes, wine and butter, often cultivate their powers to a wonderful degree in their especial lines, but with the majority of people it is the least cultivated of the senses, although Dr. O.W. Holmes thinks it the one which most powerfully appeals to memory."

The sense of smell, it would seem, then, has been greatly neglected, as is seen in the fact that the names of odors are almost entirely artificial or derived from association. That it may be trained may be proved by any druggist or manufacturer of perfumes. The druggist does not recognize the "smell" of his own shop, but he perceives by the nose when he enters that of another. Always must he discriminate among odors in his business. The perfummet lives on the acuteness of his olfactory nerves. The glue maker and soap refiner exist in spite of their pursuits.

Exercises in Smell

"We have little scientific knowledge of odors," says Calkins. "Even our names for them are borrowed, usually from the objects to which we chance to refer them, and occasionally even from their affective accompaniments. Thus we know some odors only vaguely as good or bad, that is, pleasant or unpleasant, and at the best we can say nothing more definite than ‘heliotrope fragrance’ or ‘kerosene odor.'’ This chaotic state of affairs is largely due to the limited significance of odors in our intellectual and our artistic life.

"Many smells are, of course, like tastes, obviously complex experiences containing elements of taste, touch and vision, as well as of smell. The pungency of such smells as that of ammonia is thus a touch quality; and such experiences as smelling sour milk are perhaps due to the entrance of particles through the nose into the throat.

"The most satisfactory classification of smells, as we meet them in nature, is that adapted by the Dutch physiologist, Zwaardemaker, from the classification of Linnaeus. It recognizes the following classes:

1. Ethereal smells, including all fruit odors.

2. Aromatic smells, for example, those of camphor, spices, lemon, rose.

3. Fragrant smells, for example, those of flowers. "Ambrosias smells, for example, all musk odors.

4. Alliaceous smells, for example, those of garlic, assafoetida, fish.

5. Empyreumatic smells, for example, those of tobacco and toast.

6. Hircine smells, for example, those of cheese and rancid fat.

7. Virulent smells, for example, that of opium.

8. Nauseating smells, for example, that of decaying animal matter.

An Odor or a Perfume, Which?

We have sensational experiences, known as smells or odors, distinguished from each other, but not designated by special names; they are probably analyzable into a few distinct elements, but this analysis has never been satisfactorily made; and they are often compounded, and sometimes confused with tastes and touches.

"The structure of the physiological end organs of smell is not very clearly made out. Two phenomena indicate, however, that these organs are so distinct that they correspond both with different physical stimuli and with different smell experiences. One of these phenomena is that of exhaustion. Experimental investigations show, for example, that a subject ‘whose organ is fatigued by the continuous smelling of tinc ture of iodine can sense ethereal oils almost or quite as well as ever, oils of lemon, turpentine and cloves but faintly, and common alcohol not at all.’ Evidently, therefore, different parts of the end, organs are affected by these distinct smell stimuli, else the nostrils would be exhausted for all smells at the same time.

"We know little of the physical conditions of smell. Two statements only can be made with any degree of assurance. It is highly probable, in the first place, that the smell stimulus is always gaseous, not liquid; and it is almost certain that the property of stimulating the end organs of smell is a function of the physical molecule, not of the atom, since most of the chemical elements are odorless. Summing up both physiological and physical conditions, we may say, therefore, that certain gaseous particles are carried by inspiration into the nostrils, where they stimulate cells found in the mucous membrane, and that these nerve impulses are conveyed by the olfactory nerves to the temporal lobes of the brain."

The action of the olfactory nerves may be controlled by thought, that is by power of Will. Arranging paper tubes in such a way as to convey separate perfumes to each nostril, as suggested by Professor Scripture, " we can smell either one in preference to the other by simply thinking about it." An experiment may be made of this fact.


Exercise No. 1.

Take some fragrant flower. Inhale its odor. Walk about the room, away from the flower. Now recall the quality and intensity of the smell. Repeat this exercise with various extracts and perfumes taken separately. Care must be had to give the nostrils sufficient rest between whiles, otherwise the sense of smell will become confused.


Page : 126

Exercises in Smell

Repeat these exercises every day for at least ten days, with rest of two days. It will be better to go on until improvement is certainly noted in keenness of scent and mental power to describe smells or odors. On the tenth day note improvement.

During all the above and following practice the feeling of strong Will must be kept constantly at the fore. Put your soul into your nose.

Exercise No. 2.

Procure two different kinds of extracts. Inhale the odor of one. Do the same with the other. Think strongly of the first odor; then of the second. Now try to compare them, noting the difference. Repeat this exercise every day for ten days, and on the tenth day note improvement.

Exercise No. 3.

While sitting erect, gently inhale the air, and try to name any odor perceived. Is it real? Where does it originate? Let friends secrete some odoriferous substance in a room, a number of pink roses or an open bottle of perfumery, not known to you, and while you are in another room. Enter and endeavor by smell alone to find the article. All other pronounced odors must be excluded from the place. Repeat these exercises every day for ten days, and on the tenth day note improvement.

Exercise No. 4.

Ask some friend to hold in the hand an object which is not known to you and is fragrant or odoriferous. He is to hold the article some distance from you, and then gradually to move it, held unseen in his two hands placed together, nearer and nearer, until you perceive the odor. Note the distance at which you perceive the object by smell. Can you name the smell? Can you name the object? Repeat the experiment with intervals of rest, with various different "smellable " articles.

Do you perceive some at a less distance than others? Why is this? Is it due to strength of odor or the quality? Repeat the exercise every day for ten days with rest of two days, and on the tenth day note improvement.

Humboldt declared that Peruvian Indians can, in the darkest night, determine whether a stranger, while yet far distant, is an Indian, European or Negro. The Arabs of the Sahara can detect by smell the presence of a fire forty miles away.

An Odor or a Perfume, Which?

Exercise No. 5.

Each of the five senses has the power of continually new discoveries in the world of reality. Impressions appropriate to each may be related to the huge things of life. High living puts great significance into even the sense of smell. The present exercise may be made perpetual. Build up in your life the habit of associating the agreeable odors perceived in garden, field or wood, with true and great thoughts. Examples: new mown hay, Whittier's poem, "Maud Muller "; sea-flats, Sidney Lanier's "Marshes of Glynn"; fresh-turned soil, the teeming life of the world; flowers, beauty regnant in the earth. Such a habit will open new worlds, and it will develop energetic attention, and so tend to build up a strong Will in your life.

This work may be so conducted as to make improvement possible. Its value always depends upon the amount of soul put into it, that is, into the nose. The exercises will cultivate a neglected sense, but more, will develop a power of attention that will surprise you, and through this a power of Will, which is the end sought. The idea of Will must always be present. In every act preserve the willing attitude.


“Self and Worlds”

If you could touch the outer rim

Of life's huge wheel of being,

Lo, knowledge still would seem but dim,

As now, forever fleeing.

And if your thought could penetrate

Below the last existence,

Still, ignorance would be your fate;

In vain. all such insistence.

The primrose by the river's brim,

This is the wheel of being's rim;

Love it: all life you penetrate;

Love's boundless knowledge then your fate.

You touch in self the farthest bound

Of matter and of spirit:

When the last glory here you've found,

Self only shall insphere it.

For Mind's below the self, you see,

And Mind's below the flower;

And in Love's touch of harmony

All knowing finds its power.

Great Nature is the outer rim,

But self the deepest center dim;

You will farther penetrate,

Knowledge your goal, but love your fate.

-- The Author.



Syndicate content