The Subtle Role of Aromas in Man's Life-Jame John Wilkinson fro the Human Body and its Connexion with Man

At the Garden Shrine, Pompeii



Amongst the admirable and eloquent things in the volume, we must regard the description of the air and its contents as given under the head of the lungs. It is full of charm to the poet, but it is equally important to every one of us, regarded in a sanitary point of view. Nothing can be more just, in opposition to the ordinary way in which we generally have it summed up to us as merely compounded of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon. We do not recollect to have seen this glorious element so truly and beautifully treated, in any work of science, or even of literature;—
'The air ministers to the blood an infinity of fine endowments which chemistry does not appreciate. How full it is of odours and influences, that other animals, if not man, discern, and which, in certain states of disease and over-susceptibility, become sensible to all. Moreover, at particular seasons, all fertile countries are bathed in the fragrance shaken from their vegetable robes. Is it conceivable that this aroma of four continents, emanating from the life of plants, has no communion with our impressible flood? Is it reasonable to regard it as an accidental portion of the atmosphere? Is it not certain that each spring and season is a force which is propagated onwards? That the orderly supply, according to the months, of these subtle dainties of the sun, corresponds to fixed conditions of the atmospheric and imponderable world adequate to receive and contain them; that the skies are the medium aud market of the kingdoms, whither life resorts with its lungs to buy; that therefore the winds are cases of odours; and that distant aromas, obeying the laws of time and place, conform also to other laws, and are not lost, but are drawn and appreciated by our blood? Nay, more; that there is an incessant economy of the breath, and emanations of men and animals, aud that these are a permanent company, and animal kingdom in the air. It is, indeed, no matter of doubt, that the air is a product elaborated from all the kingdoms; that the seasons are its education; that spring begins aud sows it; that summer puts in the airy flowers, and autumn the airy fruits, which close-fisted winter shuts up ripe in wind granaries for the use of lungs and their dependent forms. Thus it is passed through the fingers of every herb and growing thing, and each enriches its clear-shining tissue with a division of labour and a succession of tubes, at least as great as goes to the manufacture of a pin. Whosoever, then, looks upon air as an unvaried thing, is like the infant, to whom all animals are a repetition of the fireside cat; or like a dreamer playing with the words, animal kingdom, vegetable kingdom, atmosphere, and so forth; and forgetting that each comprises many genera, innumerable species, and individuals many times innumerable. From such a vague idea, we form no estimate of the harmony of the air with the blood in its myriad-fold constitution. The earth might as well be bare granite, and the atmosphere untinctured gas, if the vegetable kingdom has no organic products to bestow through the medium of the air, upon the lungs of animal tribes. Faiting all analysis, we are bound to believe the atmosphere varies by a fixed order, parallel with that of the seasons and climates; that aromas themselves are abiding continents and kingdoms; and that the air is a cellarage of aerial wines, the heaven of the spirits of the plants and flowers, which are safely kept in it, without destruction or random mixture, until they are called for by the lungs and veins of the animal tribes. Facts show this past all destructive analysis. It is also evident that accumulation goes on in this
kind, and that the atmosphere, like the soil, alters its vegetable depth, and grows richer or poorer from age to age in proportion to civilization. The progress of mankind would be impossible if the winds did not go with them. Therefore, not rejecting the oxygen formula, we subordinate it to the broad fact of the reception by the atmosphere of the choicest produce of the yenr; and we regard the oxygen more as the minimum which is provided even in the sandy wilderness, or rather as the crockery upon which the dinner is eaten, than as the repast which hospitable nature intends for the living blood in the lungs. The assumption that the oxygen is the all, could be tolerable only in some Esquimaux philosopher, in the place and time of thick-ribbed ice. There is something too ungrateful in jt for the inhabitant of any land, whose fields are fresh services of fragrance from county to county, and from year to year. Chemistry itself wants of change of air—a breath of the liberal landscape, when it would limit us to such prison diet.
'Here, however, is a science to be undertaken; the study of the atmosphere by the earth which it repeats; of the mosaic pillars of the landscape and climate in the crystal sky; of the mass of the scented and tinted winds, and the tracing' of the virtues of the ground, through exhalation and aroma, property by property, into the lungs and the circulating blood. For the physical man himself is the bnilded aroma of the world. This then, at least, is the office of the lungs—to drink the atmosphere wiuth the planet dissolved in it. And a physiological chemistry with no crucible but brains must arise, and be pushed to the ends of the air, before we know what we take when we breathe, or what is the import of change of air, and how each pair of lungs has a natire air tinder some one dome of the sky; for these phrases arc old, and consequently new truths.'