The Science Of Kissing by William Cowper Brann

Story type: Essay

I note that a Britisher named Prof. Bridger has been infringing my copyright by proclaiming, as an original discovery, that kissing is an excellent tonic and will cure dyspepsia. When the o’erbusy bacteriologists first announced that osculation was a dangerous pastime, that divers and sundry varieties of bacteria hopped blithely back and forth engendering disease and death, I undertook a series of experiments solely in the interest of science. Being a Baptist Preacher and making camp-meetings my specialty, I had unusual opportunity for investigation, for those of our faith are strict constructionists of the biblical law to “greet one another with a kiss.” I succeeded in demonstrating before the end of the tenting season that osculation, when practiced with reasonable discretion and unfaltering industry, is an infallible antidote for at least half the ills that human flesh is heir to. The reason the doctors arrived at different conclusions is that they kissed indiscriminately and reasoned inductively. They found on casting up the account that bad breath and face powder, the sour milk-bottle of youth and the chilling frost of age, comprised six-sevenths of the sum total. Under such conditions there was nothing to do but establish a quarantine. I pointed out, as Prof. Bridger has since done, that a health microbe as well as a disease bacillus nidificates on the osculatory apparatus, and added that failure to absorb a sufficient quantity of these hygiologic germs into the system causes old maids to look jaundiced and bachelors to die sooner than benedicts. Kisses, when selected with due care and taken on the installment plan, will not only restore a misplaced appetite, but are especially beneficial in cases of hay fever, as they banish that tired feeling, tone up the liver, invigorate the heart, and make the blood to sing through the system like a giant jewsharp. I found by patient experiment that the health microbe becomes active at fifteen, reaches maturity at twenty, begins to lose its vigor at forty, and is quite useless as a tonic when, as someone has tersely expressed it, a woman’s kisses begin to “taste of her teeth.” Thin bluish lips produce very few health germs, and those scarce worth the harvesting; but a full red mouth with Cupid curves at the corners, will yield enormously if the crop be properly cultivated. I did not discover whether the blonde or brunette variety is entitled to precedence in medical science, but incline to the opinion that a judicious admixture is most advisable from a therapeutical standpoint. Great care should be taken when collecting the germs not to crush them by violent collision or blow them away with a loud explosion that sounds like hitting an empty sugar hogshead with a green hide. The practice still prevailing in many parts of this country of chasing a young woman ever the furniture and around the barn like an amateur cowboy trying to rope a maverick, rounding her up in the presence of a dozen people, unscrewing her neck and planting almost any place a kiss that sounds like a muley cow pulling her hind foot out of a black-waxy mud hole, and which jars the putty off the window panes, possesses no more curative powers than hitting a flitch of bacon with the back of your hand. I prithee, avoid it; when a girl runs from a kiss you may take it for granted either that the germ crop is not ripe or you are poaching on somebody else’s preserves. The best results can be obtained about the midnight hour, when the dew is on the rose, the jasmine bud drunken with its own perfume and the mock- bird trilling a last good night to his drowsy mate. You entice your best girl into the garden to watch Venus’ flaming orb hanging like the Kohinoor pendant from the crescent moon. You pause beneath the great gnarled live oak, its myriad leaves rustling softly as the wings of seraphs. Don’t be in a hurry, and for God’s sake, don’t gab–in such a night silence is the acme of eloquence. “In such a night Troilus mounted the Trojan walls and sighed his soul toward the Grecian tents where Cressid lay.” She watches the fireflies respiring in phosphorescent flame amid the clover blooms, while you watch her and twine a spray of honeysuckle in her hair. Your clumsy fingers unloose the guards and her fragrant tresses, caught up by the cool night wind, float about your face. Somehow her hand gets tangled up with yours, and after a spasmodic flutter there remains a willing prisoner. The fireflies have failed to interest her and she is studying the stars. You move your shoulder forward to give her head a rest and get hold of her other hand. Be patient; when she wants you to kiss her she’ll find means to make it manifest, and a maid worth kissing despises a forward man. She looks very beautiful with her face upturned in the moonlight; but don’t say a word about it, for there’s a little of the poseur about all the daughters of Eve. She withdraws her eyes from the stars, slowly turns them dreamily upon yours, and you note that they are filled with astral fire. They roam idly over the shadowy garden, then close as beneath a weight of weariness. Her head rests more heavily against your shoulder and her bosom trembles with a half-audible sigh. There is now really no occasion for further delay. Do not swoop down upon the health germs like a hungry hen-hawk on a green gosling, but incline your head gently until your carefully deodorized breath is upon her lips–there pause, for the essence of enjoyment is in anticipation. The man who gulps down a glass of old wine without first inhaling its oenanthic and feasting his eyes upon its ruddy splendors, is simply a sot. Wait until you have noted the dark lashes lying upon the cheek of sun-flushed snow, “the charm of married brows,” the throat of alabaster, the dimple in her chin, the wine-tint of her half-parted lips with their glint of pearl–wait until her eyes half-open, look inquiringly into yours, and close again, then cincture her gently but firmly with one arm, support her chin with the other hand, and give the health germs ample time to change their home. A kiss to have any scientific value, should last one minute and seven seconds by Shrewsbury clock, and be repeated seven times, not in swift succession, but with the usual interval between wine at a symposiac. Byron did these things differently, but the author of “Don Juan” is not a safe example for young folks to follow. He pictures Mars lying with his head in the lap of Venus,

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“Feeding on thy sweet cheek, while thy lips are
With lava-kisses melting while they burn,
Shower’d on his eyelids, brow and mouth as from an urn.”

That may be eminently satisfactory to Mars, but scarce proper for Venus. It is exciting, but not scientific. It suggests charity children gorging themselves with plum- pudding, rather than poetic natures drunken with beauty; and fragrance, swooning ‘neath the sweetness of a duet sung by their own chaste souls. The dyspeptic who cannot recover by following my prescription deserves to die. The pessimist whom it doesn’t make look at life through rose- tinted glasses, should be excluded from human society. The hypochondriac whom it doesn’t help ought to be hanged. There is not a human ill–unless it be hypocrisy– for which nature does not provide a remedy, and I recommend the health germ which builds its nest on lovely woman’s lips as worth more than the whole materia medica. I don’t know whether it will raise the dead, but I’ve always doubted the story that Egypt kissed the cold lips of her Roman Antony–have suspected it would have brought me back to life and love had I been dead a month. The unscientific catch-as-catch-can kiss has no more beneficial effect than slapping yourself in the face with a raw beef- steak. It is but a slight improvement on the civilization of Ashantee, where a man proposes marriage by knocking his Dulcina down with a club and dragging her through the backwoods’ pasture by the hair of her head; but kisses properly taken–beneath the stars and among the roses–are the perennial fount of youth for which Ponce de Leon sailed far seas in a vain search for the
blessed Bimini.

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