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1. The organs of taste, considered merely as the faculty of distinguishing flavours, are the lips, the tongue, and the palate, whose sensibility is preserved by a fluid, with which they are constantly moistened; and which is consequently a medium of communication for every thing applied to them.
2. If any quantity of any other fluid of exactly the same quality and temperature be received into the mouth, it will produce no other sensation than that of pressure; that is,
, it will merely cause itself to be perceived by its gravitation upon the extremity of the nerves, without otherwise altering the mode or degree of their action. This is the first and simplest kind of sensation ; for unless there be some gratification of a want, such as thirst, the perception is merely of contact.
3. But let the liquid, so received, be impregnated with salt, with sugar, with acid, or
any other extraneous matter; or let it be of a greater or less degree of warmth; and its impression will not be mere contact, but will produce a change in the mode or degree of action in the nerves; by which we perceive its flavour. I say a change in the mode or degree of action ; because the commencement of a new sensation is never from absolute inaction; all the organic parts of animal bodies, and many of those of vegetables, being irritable; and a certain degree of irritation being always kept up in the former by the mere stimulus of the blood, or by the necessary operation of vital warmth and motion.
4. This irritation may be either increased or diminished by external impressions, accordingly as they are stimulant or narcotic; or its modes may be changed according to the different qualities of the substances applied: but how these changes take place, or what those different modes are, by, which we discriminate such an infinite variety of different flavours, smells, tones, colours, &c. is beyond the reach of human faculties to discover. All that we know is, that certain modes of irritation produce sensations, which are pleasant, and others, sensations which are unpleasant; that there must be a certain degree of it to produce either; and that, beyond a certain degree, all are painful. If the irritation be too weak, the
effect is insipidity or flatness:-if it be too strong, it is pain or uneasiness.
5. The effect, however, of the same things on different individuals varies according to the different degrees of irritability in their organs; from which their sensibility arises-it also varies in the same individual, as he advances from infancy to maturity; and from maturity to decay. Very young children are almost always fond of pure sweet; but as the palate grows adult, it requires some mixture of acid or bitter to vary it, and give it pungency, or it becomes vapid and disgusting.
6. These mixt flavours continue ever after to be most grateful; and it is in mixing and preparing them in the ways best adapted to excite and prolong appetite by stimulating the organs, that all the arts subservient to gluttony consist. Nature, however, has anticipated most of these arts, and rendered them superfluous further than as they tend to assist and vary her operations; for we must not imagine that the food, which we call simple, is in reality so all the fruits, herbs, and meats, on which we feed being composed of many simple elements, blended and tempered by Nature with a delicacy and exactitude, which art can but feebly imitate. By the variation and succession of the seasons, too, we are supplied with all that variety, which, if not necessary to
1. Of Taste.
health, is certainly requisite to pleasure; 'at least to that of sense; as none can last long without it; there being scarcely any sensations but such as are too violent to be pleasant, that will not, by being very frequently repeated, or very long continued, become so familiar, as to be no longer sensations but mere habits of existence. The organs, by being continually subjected to the same impression, become assimilated and adapted to it, so that the action of the nerves excited by it becomes a sort of spontaneous motion; the irritation being little more perceived or noticed, than that caused by the action of the blood, or the natural operation of any other internal stimulus. Hence we naturally seek for some new impression, that may restore that pleasure, which we originally felt from this sensation, which has thus become stale and vapid.
7. If this desire of change be indulged to excess, men soon begin to require an increase in the degree, as well as variation in the mode, of irritation; whence arises that yicious appetite for strong odours, relishing food, and stimulant liquors, which, if once suffered to prevail, always, increases in a constant, and regularly accelerated progression; till at length things, naturally the most nauşeous, become, most grateful; and things, naturally most grateful, most insipid.
8. This extreme effect, however, only takes place where the palate has become morbid and vitiated by continued, and even forced, gratification; and even then the metaphors taken from this sense, and employed to express intellectual qualities, show that it is always felt and considered as a corruption, even by those who are most corrupted : for though there are many, who prefer port wine to malmsey, and
, tobacco to sugar, yet no one ever spoke of a sour or bitter temper, as pleasant, or of a sweet one, as unpleasant.
9. Yet the pleasures derived from these vitiated tastes seem to be more exquisite, than any derived from nature : for, when men have once acquired them, they are more constant in the indulgence of them, and find greater difficulty in dispensing with the gratification, after they have been used to it. No one, past the age of childhood, has ever found any permanent pleasure in sucking sugar-candy; but how many do we see, to whom the chewing or smoking of tobacco has become an habitual, and even an indispensable gratification. Ottar of roses and other sweet scents are only occasionally applied to the nose; and, if used too frequently, cloy and satiate : but the use of snuff becomes a permanent and constant habit.
10. The case is, that all those tastes, which are natural, lose, and all those which are un