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Kissing

I ask pardon of the boys and the girls; but maybe they will not find here what they will seek. This article is only for scholars and serious persons for whom it is barely suitable.

There is but too much question of kissing in the comedies of Molière's time. Champagne, in the comedy of "La Mère Coquette" by Quinault, asks kisses of Laurette; she says to him--"You are not content, then; really it is shameful; I have kissed you twice." Champagne answers her--"What! you keep account of your kisses?" (Act I. Sc. 1.).

The valets always used to ask kisses of the soubrettes; people kissed each other on the stage. Usually it was very dull and very intolerable, particularly in the case of ugly actors, who were nauseating.

If the reader wants kisses, let him look for them in the "Pastor Fido"; there is one entire chorus where nothing but kisses is mentioned; and the piece is founded solely on a kiss that Mirtillo gave one day to Amarilli, in a game of blind man's buff, un bacio molto saporito.

Everyone knows the chapter on kisses, in which Jean de la Casa, Archbishop of Benevento, says that people can kiss each other from head to foot. He pities the people with big noses who can only approach each other with difficulty; and he counsels ladies with long noses to have flat-nosed lovers.

The kiss was a very ordinary form of salutation throughout ancient times. Plutarch recalls that the conspirators, before killing Cæsar, kissed his face, hand and breast. Tacitus says that when Agricola, his father-in-law, returned from Rome, Domitian received him with a cold kiss, said nothing to him, and left him confounded in the crowd. The inferior who could not succeed in greeting his superior by kissing him, put his mouth to his own hand, and sent him a kiss that the other returned in the same way if he so wished.

This sign was used even for worshipping the gods. Job, in his parable (Chap. xxxi.), which is perhaps the oldest of known books, says that he has not worshipped the sun and the moon like the other Arabs, that he has not carried his hand to his mouth as he looked at the stars.

In our Occident nothing remains of this ancient custom but the puerile and genteel civility that is still taught to children in some small towns, of kissing their right hands when someone has given them some sweets.

It was a horrible thing to betray with a kiss; it was that that made Cæsar's assassination still more hateful. We know all about Judas' kisses; they have become proverbial.

Joab, one of David's captains, being very jealous of Amasa, another captain, says to him (2 Sam. xx. 9): "Art thou in health, my brother? And he took Amasa by the beard with the right hand to kiss him," and with his other hand drew his sword and "smote him therewith in the fifth rib, and shed out his bowels on the ground."

No other kiss is to be found in the other fairly frequent assassinations which were committed among the Jews, unless it be perhaps the kisses which Judith gave to the captain Holophernes, before cutting off his head while he was in bed asleep; but no mention is made of them, and the thing is merely probable.

In one of Shakespeare's tragedies called "Othello," this Othello, who is a black, gives two kisses to his wife before strangling her. That seems abominable to honourable people; but Shakespeare's partisans say it is beautifully natural, particularly in a black.

When Giovanni Galeas Sforza was assassinated in Milan Cathedral, on St. Stephen's day, the two Medici in the Reparata church; Admiral Coligny, the Prince of Orange, the Maréchal d'Ancre, the brothers Witt, and so many others; at least they were not kissed.

There was among the ancients I know not what of symbolic and sacred attached to the kiss, since one kissed the statues of the gods and their beards, when the sculptors had shown them with a beard. Initiates kissed each other at the mysteries of Ceres, as a sign of concord.

The early Christians, men and women, kissed each other on the mouth at their agapæ. This word signified "love-feast." They gave each other the holy kiss, the kiss of peace, the kiss of brother and sister, +agion philêma+. This custom lasted for more than four centuries, and was abolished at last on account of its consequences. It was these kisses of peace, these agapæ of love, these names of "brother" and "sister," that long drew to the little-known Christians, those imputations of debauchery with which the priests of Jupiter and the priestesses of Vesta charged them. You see in Petronius, and in other profane authors, that the libertines called themselves "brother" and "sister." It was thought that among the Christians the same names signified the same infamies. They were innocent accomplices in spreading these accusations over the Roman empire.

There were in the beginning seventeen different Christian societies, just as there were nine among the Jews, including the two kinds of Samaritans. The societies which flattered themselves at being the most orthodox accused the others of the most inconceivable obscenities. The term of "gnostic," which was at first so honourable, signifying "learned," "enlightened," "pure," became a term of horror and scorn, a reproach of heresy. Saint Epiphanius, in the third century, claimed that they used first to tickle each other, the men and the women; that then they gave each other very immodest kisses, and that they judged the degree of their faith by the voluptuousness of these kisses; that the husband said to his wife, in presenting a young initiate to her: "Have an agape with my brother," and that they had an agape.

We do not dare repeat here, in the chaste French tongue,[11] what Saint Epiphanius adds in Greek (Epiphanius, contra hæres, lib. I., vol. ii). We will say merely that perhaps this saint was somewhat imposed upon; that he allowed himself to be too carried away by zeal, and that all heretics are not hideous debauchees.

The sect of Pietists, wishing to imitate the early Christians, to-day give each other kisses of peace on leaving the assembly, calling each other "my brother, my sister"; it is what, twenty years ago, a very pretty and very human Pietist lady avowed to me. The ancient custom was to kiss on the mouth; the Pietists have carefully preserved it.

There was no other manner of greeting dames in France, Germany, Italy, England; it was the right of cardinals to kiss queens on the mouth, and in Spain even. What is singular is that they had not the same prerogative in France, where ladies always had more liberty than anywhere else, but "every country has its ceremonies," and there is no usage so general that chance and custom have not provided exceptions. It would have been an incivility, an affront, for an honourable woman, when she received a lord's first visit, not to have kissed him, despite his moustaches. "It is a displeasing custom," says Montaigne (Book III., chap. v.), "and offensive to ladies, to have to lend their lips to whoever has three serving-men in his suite, disagreeable though he be." This custom was, nevertheless, the oldest in the world.

If it is disagreeable for a young and pretty mouth to stick itself out of courtesy to an old and ugly mouth, there was a great danger between fresh, red mouths of twenty to twenty-five years old; and that is what finally brought about the abolition of the ceremony of kissing in the mysteries and the agapæ. It is what caused women to be confined among the Orientals, so that they might kiss only their fathers and their brothers; custom long since introduced into Spain by the Arabs.

Behold the danger: there is one nerve of the fifth pair which goes from the mouth to the heart, and thence lower down, with such delicate industry has nature prepared everything! The little glands of the lips, their spongy tissue, their velvety paps, the fine skin, ticklish, gives them an exquisite and voluptuous sensation, which is not without analogy with a still more hidden and still more sensitive part. Modesty may suffer from a lengthily savoured kiss between two Pietists of eighteen.

It is to be remarked that the human species, the turtledoves and the pigeons alone are acquainted with kisses; thence came among the Latins the word columbatìm, which our language has not been able to render. There is nothing of which abuse has not been made. The kiss, designed by nature for the mouth, has often been prostituted to membranes which do not seem made for this usage. One knows of what the templars were accused.

We cannot honestly treat this interesting subject at greater length, although Montaigne says: "One should speak thereof shamelessly: brazenly do we utter 'killing,' 'wounding,' 'betraying,' but of that we dare not speak but with bated breath."


FOOTNOTES:

[11] Or the English--Translator.


Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire