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- The Physiology of Taste - 8/49 -


which ensures its success.

Elsewhere we will consider the march. We may, however, observe, that he who has enjoyed a sumptuous banquet in a hall decked with flowers, mirrors, paintings, and statues, embalmed in perfume, enriched with pretty women, filled with delicious harmony, will not require any great effort of thought to satisfy himself that all sciences have been put in requisition to exalt and to enhance the pleasures of taste.

OBJECT OF THE ACTION OF THE SENSES.

Let us now glance at the system of our senses, considered together, and we will see that the Author of creation had two objects, one of which is the consequence of the other,--the preservation of the individual and the duration of the species.

Such is the destiny of man, considered as a sensitive being; all his actions have reference to this double purpose.

The eye perceives external objects, reveals the wonders by which a man is surrounded, and tells him he is a portion of the great whole.

Hearing perceives sounds, not only as an agreeable sensation, but as warnings of the movement of bodies likely to endanger us.

The sense of touch watches to warn us by pain of any immediate lesion.

That faithful servant the hand has prepared his defence, assured his steps, but has from instinct seized objects it thought needed to repair losses caused by the use of life.

The sense of smell explores; deleterious substances almost always have an unpleasant smell.

The taste decides; the teeth are put in action, the tongue unites with the palate in tasting, and the stomach soon commences the process of assimilation.

In this state a strange languor is perceived, objects seem discolored, the body bends, the eyes close, all disappears, and the senses are in absolute repose.

When he awakes man sees that nothing around him has changed, a secret fire ferments in his bosom, a new organ is developed. He feels that he wishes to divide his existence.

This active unquiet and imperious sentiment is common to both sexes. It attracts them together and unites them, and when the germ of a new being is fecundated, the individuals can sleep in peace.

They have fulfilled the holiest of their duties by assuring the duration of the species. [Footnote: Buffon describes, with all the charms of the most brilliant eloquence, the first moments of Eve's existence. Called on to describe almost the same subject, we have drawn but one feature. The reader will complete the picture.]

Such are the general and philosophical principles I wished to place before my readers, to lead them naturally to the examination of the organ of taste.

MEDITATION II.

TASTE.

DEFINITION OF TASTE.

Taste is the sense which communicates to us a knowledge of vapid bodies by means of the sensations which they excite.

Taste, which has as its excitement appetite, hunger and thirst, is the basis of many operations the result of which is that the individual believes, developes, preserves and repairs the losses occasioned by vital evaporation.

Organized bodies are not sustained in the same manner. The Author of creation, equally varied in causes and effects, has assigned them different modes of preservation.

Vegetables, which are the lowest in the scale of living things, are fed by roots, which, implanted in the native soil, select by the action of a peculiar mechanism, different subjects, which serve to increase and to nourish them.

As we ascend the scale we find bodies gifted with animal life and deprived of locomotion. They are produced in a medium which favors their existence, and have special and peculiar organs which extract all that is necessary to sustain the portion and duration of life allotted them. They do not seek food, which, on the contrary, comes to seek them.

Another mode has been appointed for animals endowed with locomotion, of which man is doubtless the most perfect. A peculiar instinct warns him of the necessity of food; he seeks and seizes the things which he knows are necessary to satisfy his wants; he eats, renovates himself, and thus during his life passes through the whole career assigned to him.

Taste may be considered in three relations.

In physical man it is the apparatus by means of which he appreciates flavors.

In moral man it is the sensation which the organ impressed by any savorous centre impresses on the common centre. Considered as a material cause, taste is the property which a body has to impress the organ and to create a sensation.

Taste seems to have two chief uses:

1. It invites us by pleasure to repair the losses which result from the use of life.

2. It assists us to select from among the substances offered by nature, those which are alimentary.

In this choice taste is powerfully aided by the sense of smell, as we will see hereafter; as a general principle, it may be laid down that nutritious substances are repulsive neither to the taste nor to the smell.

It is difficult to say in exactly what the faculty of taste consists. It is more complicated than it appears.

The tongue certainly plays a prominent part in the mechanism of degustation--for, being endued with great muscular power, it enfolds, turns, presses and swallows food.

Also, by means of the more or less numerous pores which cover it, it becomes impregnated with the sapid and soluble portions of the bodies which it is placed in contact with. Yet all this does not suffice, for many adjacent parts unite in completing the sensation --viz: jaws, palate, and especially the nasal tube, to which physiologists have perhaps not paid attention enough.

The jaws furnish saliva, as necessary to mastication as to the formation of the digestible mass. They, like the palate, are gifted with a portion of the appreciative faculties; I do not know that, in certain cases, the nose does not participate, and if but for the odor which is felt in the back of the mouth, the sensation of taste would not be obtuse and imperfect.

Persons who have no tongue or who have lost it, yet preserve the sensation of taste. All the books mention the first case; the second was explained to me by an unfortunate man, whose tongue had been cut out by the Algerines for having, with several of his companions, formed a plot to escape from captivity.

I met this man at Amsterdam, where he was a kind of broker. He was a person of education, and by writing was perfectly able to make himself understood.

Observing that his whole tongue, to the very attachment, had been cut away, I asked him if he yet preserved any sense of taste when he ate, and if the sense of taste had survived the cruel operation he had undergone.

He told me his greatest annoyance was in swallowing, (which indeed was difficult;) that he had a full appreciation of tastes and flavors, but that acid and bitter substances produced intense pain.

He told me the abscission of the tongue was very common in the African kingdoms, and was made use of most frequently to punish those thought to be the leaders of any plot, and that they had peculiar instruments to affect it with. I wished him to describe them, but he showed such painful reluctance in this matter, that I did not insist.

I reflected on what he said, and ascending to the centuries of ignorance, when the tongues of blasphemers were cut and pierced, I came to the conclusion that these punishments were of Moorish origin, and were imported by the crusaders.

We have seen above, that the sensation of taste resided chiefly in the pores and feelers of the tongue. Anatomy tells us that all tongues are not exactly alike, there being three times as many feelers in some tongues as in others. This circumstance will explain why one of two guests, sitting at the same table, is delighted, while the other seems to eat from constraint; the latter has a tongue but slightly provided. These are recognized in the empire of the taste--both deaf and dumb.

SENSATION OF TASTE.

Five or six opinions have been advanced as to the modus operandi of the sensation of taste. I have mine, viz:

The sensation of taste is a chemical operation, produced by humidity. That is to say, the savorous particles must be dissolved in some fluid, so as to be subsequently absorbed by the nervous tubes, feelers, or tendrils, which cover the interior of the gastatory apparatus.

This system, whether true or not, is sustained by physical and almost palpable proofs.


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