Thursday, October 22, 2015


A Gamut of Odors, While Visiting the Saints

Edmund Gosse (1849-1928), Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments, chapter VI:
My Father, ever reflecting on what could be done to confirm my spiritual vocation, to pin me down, as it were, beyond any possibility of escape, bethought him that it would accustom me to what he called 'pastoral work in the Lord's service', if I accompanied Mary Grace on her visits from house to house. If it is remembered that I was only eight and a half when this scheme was carried into practice, it will surprise no one to hear that it was not crowned with success. I disliked extremely this visitation of the poor. I felt shy, I had nothing to say, with difficulty could I understand their soft Devonian patois, and most of all—a signal perhaps of my neurotic condition—I dreaded and loathed the smells of their cottages. One had to run over the whole gamut of odours, some so faint that they embraced the nostril with a fairy kiss, others bluntly gross, of the 'knock- you-down' order; some sweet, with a dreadful sourness; some bitter, with a smack of rancid hair-oil. There were fine manly smells of the pigsty and the open drain, and these prided themselves on being all they seemed to be; but there were also feminine odours, masquerading as you knew not what, in which penny whiffs, vials of balm and opoponax, seemed to have become tainted, vaguely, with the residue of the slop-pail. It was not, I think, that the villagers were particularly dirty, but those were days before the invention of sanitary science, and my poor young nose was morbidly, nay ridiculously sensitive. I often came home from 'visiting the saints' absolutely incapable of eating the milk-sop, with brown sugar strewn over it, which was my evening meal.

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