Page images




ODOURS demand our first attention, in considering the sense of smell. Many highly interesting facts will thus be disclosed. Some of these are little known, and others are likely to appear in a new light. In this way knowledge may be improved and increased—an object worthy of constant effort.

The fragrance of the fields enters largely into that delightful group of images which often arises in our minds. How are they called up, even by the mere

of the country, or of spring and summer ! Only let it be imagined that all the flowers rising from the surface of the earth, like a tribute of incense poured forth to its God, were stripped in a single moment of their



odour, and what a loss would there be ! Cold and dead would they instantly appear; and one of our pleasures, large in itself from its frequent occurrence, would be utterly destroyed.

Our poet Gray felt that odours greatly contribute to our vernal joy, when he said —

In vain the golden morn aloft

Waves her dew-bespangled wing;
With vermeil cheek and whisper soft

She woos the tardy spring;
Till April starts and calls around

The sleeping fragrance from the ground. The basis of all the vegetable perfumes is formed by the volatile or essential oils. These are found, more or less, in every part of the plant, except the seed. As few organised bodies, in their natural state, are without some volatile part, so there are not many entirely without smell. The odours of flowers will at once occur to the reader, but the volatile oil that produces it is often most abundant in the rinds of oranges, lemons, and other fruits. That it may be easily extracted by the slightest pressure is well known. This oil is also plentiful in the leaves of mint, thyme, and many other sweetsmelling herbs. Geranium leaves are remarkable for yielding a much more powerful odour than the flowers.

But though we may proceed thus far, let us not boast of our knowledge on the subject. Here, as in many other cases in the survey of natural objects, pride should be abased. Mysteries are constantly met with,

[graphic][merged small]

which we cannot unravel. Even in reference to the odour of plants much obscurity remains. The senses are gratified by the sweet perfumes of leaves and flowers,


and art employs its skill to preserve them. But as to the reasons why they are yielded by one flower, while another is scentless, or why one is so at noon, and odorous in the evening, we know at best extremely little.

Some odours are fugitive. They are produced only during the life of a plant; are scattered as soon as formed, and, when dead, leave no trace behind. Such are the orange and the violet. In general, the power of smell varies according to the height of the temperature and the dampness of the air. When the weather is hot and dry, flowers lose much or all of their usual fragrance. Even the most odorous among them need to be bruised or trampled on to yield their scent; but only let a heavy shower fall, and every leaf and flower will soon give forth its usual odour. The musk plant, for instance, will diffuse its peculiar scent through the air; and thus it will be found, that, when moisture is added to the atmosphere, a total change is produced in the scent-yielding organs of plants.

So it is, too, in the driest days of autumn. Well has Milton said

Sweet is the breath of morn;

and those only who have inhaled its fragrance in their early walks, are aware how different a well-stored garden is a few hours afterwards. It is before the dew is

« PreviousContinue »