Note on the e-text: this Renascence Editions text was provided by Ben R. Schneider, Lawrence University, Wisconsin. It is in the public domain. "Florio's Translation of Montaigne's Essays was first published in 1603. In 'The World's Classics' the first volume was published in 1904, and reprinted in 1910 and 1924." Content unique to this presentation is copyright © 1998 The University of Oregon. For nonprofit and educational uses only.
T is reported of some, namely of Alexander, that their sweat, through some rare and extraordinary complexion, yeelded a sweet smelling savour, whereof Plutarke and others seeke to find out the cause. But the common sort of bodies are cleane contrarie, and the best qualitie they have is to be cleare of any smell at all. The sweetnesse of the purest breaths hath nothing more perfect in them than to bee without savour, that may offend us, as are those of healthy sound children. And therefore saith Plautus:Mulier tum bene olet, ubi nihil olet. Plau. Mostel act. 1. sc. 3.Then smels a woman purely well,The most exquisit and sweetest savour of a woman it is to smell of nothing; and sweet, well-smelling, strange savours may rightly be held suspicious in such as use them; and a man may lawfully think who useth them doth it to cover some naturall defect: whence proceed these ancient Poeticall sayings, To smell sweet, is to stinke,
When she of nothing else doth smell.Rides nos, Coracine, nil olentes,
Malo quam bene olere, nil oleres. --Mart. vi. Epig. lv. 4.You laugh at us that we of nothing savour,And else where:
Rather smell so, than sweeter (by your favour).Posthume, non bene olet, qui bene semper olet. -- ii. Epig. xii. 4.Good sir, he smells not ever sweet,Yet love I greatly to be entertained with sweet smells, and hate exceedingly all manner of sowre and ill savours, which I shall sooner smell than any other.
Who smells still sweeter than is meet.Namque sagacius unus odoror,
Polypus, an gravis hirsutis cubet hircus in alis,
Quam canis acer ubi lateat sus. -- Hor. Epod. xii. 4.Sooner smell I, whether a cancred nose,The simplest and meerely natural smells are most pleasing unto me; which care ought chiefly to concerne women. In the verie heart of Barbarie, the Scithian women, after they have washed themselves, did sprinkle, dawbe, and powder all their bodies and faces over with a certaine odoriferous drug that groweth in their countrie: which dust and dawbing being taken away, when they come neere men, or their husband, they remaine verie cleane, and with a verie sweet savouring perfume. What odour soever it be, it is strange to see what hold it will take on me, and how apt my skin is to receive it. He that complaineth against nature, that she hath not created man with a fit instrument, to carrie sweet smells fast-tied to his nose, is much to blame: for they carrie themselves. As for me in particular, my mustachoes, which are verie thick, serve me for that purpose. Let me but approach my gloves or my hand-kercher to them, their smell will sticke upon them a whole day. They manifest the place I come from. The close-smacking, sweetnesse-moving, love-alluring, and greedie-smirking kisses of youth, were heretofore wont to sticke on them many houres after; yet am I little subject to those popular diseases that are taken by conversation and bred by the contagion of the ayre: And I have escaped those of my time of which there hath beene many and severall kinds, both in the Townes about me, and in our Armie: We read of Socrates that during the time of many plagues and relapses of the pestilence, which so often infested the Citie of Athens, he never forsooke or went out of the Towne: yet was he the only man that was never infected, or that felt any sicknesse. Physitians might (in mine opinion) draw more use and good from odours than they doe. For myselfe have often perceived that according unto their strength and qualitie they change and alter, and move my spirits, and worke strange effects in me: which makes me approve the common saying, that the invention of incense and perfumes in Churches, so ancient and so far-dispersed throughout all nations and religions, had an especiall regard to rejoyce, to comfort, to quicken, to rowze, and to purifie our senses, that so we might be the apter and readier unto contemplation. And the better to judge of it, I would I had my part of the skill which some Cookes have, who can so curiously season and temper strange odors with the savor and relish of their meats. As it was especially observed in the service of the King of Tunes, who in our days landed at Naples, to meet and enter-parly with the Enperour Charles the fifth. His viandes were so exquisitely farced, and so sumptuously seasoned with sweet odoriperous drugs and aromaticall spices, that it was found upon his booke of accompt the dressing of one peacocke and two fesants amounted to one hundred duckets; which was their ordinarie manner of cooking his meats. And when they were carved up, not only the dining chambers, but all the roomes of his palace and the streets round about it, were replenished with an exceeding odoriferous and aromaticall vapour, which continued a long time after. The principall care I take, wheresoever I am lodged, is to avoid and be far from all manner of filthy, foggy, ill-savouring and unwholesome aires. The goodly Cities of strangely-seated Venice, and huge-built Paris, by reason of the muddy, sharp, and offending savors which they yeeld; the one. by her fennie and marish situation, the other by her durtie uncleannesse and continuall mire, doe greatly alter and diminish the favor which I beare them.
Or ranke gote-smell in hairie arme-pits lie,
Than sharpest hounds, where rowting bores repose.