Chapter V The Pages Of The Body: The Five Senses
The Esquires of the Body have in turn their attendants, their pages, let us call them; very useful persons in their way, but, like the Esquires, they require looking after––in the first place, to see that they do their work, in the next, to secure that they do not become tyrants. For even they, servants of servants as they are, aim, if they are indulged, at the sole rule and subjection of Mansoul. People sometimes call these pages feelings, but we will call them sensations, because it is through the five senses that they do their work.
Taste, Agreeable and Useful.––The sensation of Taste, one of these, is not only usually agreeable, but is most useful. When food tastes unpleasant, that is often a sign that it is not wholesome. Taste is an excellent servant, and people who know how to keep him in order find simple foods, such as milk and bread and butter, delicious.
But, Pampered, becomes our Master.––But people who pamper taste make themselves his servants. They say they do not like porridge; they do not like mutton, potatoes, eggs. They want things with strong flavours to please their Taste; the older they grow the more difficult it will be to gratify them, so that at last it will take a French cook to think of things quite nice enough for their dinners. The best rule is not to allow oneself in daintiness about food, but to eat what is set before one; indeed, a wise person is rather glad when something is served which he does not exactly like, or when he has to take disagreeable medicine, because this gives him an opportunity to keep Taste in his proper place, that of a servant and not of a master. It is a good plan not to talk about our likes or dislikes, not even to know which kind of jam we like best.
'Smell' is Lazy.––Smell is another of these pages, really a very good fellow, and I do not know that he tries much for mastery in Mansoul, unless as the ally of Taste. When he goes about sniffing savoury dishes and making Taste wish for them, he is very objectionable; excepting for that he is harmless enough, but he has a fault which is bad in a servant. He is lazy. As his work is very important, this lazy habit must be dealt with.
Should give Mansoul much Pleasure.––He might be the means of giving Mansoul a great deal of pleasure, because there are many faint, delightful odours in the world, like the odour of a box-hedge, of lime-trees in flower, of bog-myrtle, which he might carry, and thus add to the pleasure of life. But that is not his only use.
Should serve on the Board of Health.––He should be quick to detect when there is the least impurity in the air, when a room is close, when a drain is out of order, when there is any unpleasant, unwholesome odour about, however slight; because all odours are really atoms floating in the air, which, by breathing, we take into our bodies. As we breathe all day long and all night long, and only take food three or four times a day, it is perhaps more injurious to health to breathe evil odours than to eat food which is not quite fit, though both are bad. But there are people in whom Smell has become so inactive, that they will lean over an open drain without perceiving any bad smell. By and by we hear they are laid up with a fever, and nobody thinks of reproaching that lazy servant, Smell, who has been the cause of the whole mischief.
Practice in catching Odours.––It is a good rule to practise oneself in catching every sweet and delightful fragrance, and in learning to tell, with one's eyes shut, the leaves of various trees, various flowers, food-stuffs, materials for clothing, all by their odours. In this way Smell would be kept in good working order, and should be able to detect, when he goes into a room, whether the air is fresh or fusty.
Touch, most Pervasive.––There are five of these Pages classed together under the name of The Five Senses, but the three we have now to speak of are not so much pages to Esquires of the Body, as body-servants themselves. Touch is a most pervasive fellow. He is all over the body at once, and there are only one or two places, like the nails and the teeth, where he is not. He collects a great deal of useful information. It is he who discovers whether things be hard or soft, hot or cold, rough or smooth, whether they pierce or scratch, or prick or burn.
Most Useful.––You see at once how useful his work is, for without Touch one might accidentally put one's finger in the fire and not know it was burning. Knives might cut, pins prick, frost bite, and fire burn, and we should be none the wiser, though our bodies might be receiving deadly injury. Some people have an exceedingly delicate sense of touch, especially in the finger-tips, and this enables them to work at making such delicate things as watch-springs and very fine lace.
The Touch of the Blind.––Blind people learn to find out through their finger-tips what their eyes no longer tell them. They learn even the faces of their friends by touch, and can tell whether they are well or ill, glad or sorry. You hear it sometimes said that a person has a nice touch in playing the piano, and it would really seem as if his finger-tips felt not only the keys of the instrument, but the music they are producing.
A Kind 'Touch.'––Some people, again, mothers especially, have so kind a touch that their hands seem to smooth away our troubles. But this sort of touch is only learned by loving. You remember Shakespeare thought that poor little Prince Arthur had it; certainly many loving children have comforting hands.
Practice in Touch.––Those persons whose senses are the most keen and delicate are the most alive and get most interest out of life; so it is worth while to practise our senses; to shut our eyes, for example, and learn the feel of different sorts of material, different sorts of wood, metal, leaves of trees, different sorts of hair and fur––in fact, whatever one comes across.
Touch tries for Mastery over Mansoul––it will surprise you to hear that Touch, simple and useful servant as he is, like the rest, watches for mastery over Mansoul. Have you ever found it hard to attend to lessons or other work because you have had a prick or a sting or a cut, which, as you, say, 'hurts'? When people let themselves think about these little things which can't be helped, they have no thoughts left for what is worth while; thus one of the least of the powers in their lives becomes master of all the rest. You remember the story of the Spartan boy and the fox? It is not necessary that we should be Spartans, because, if anything painful can be helped, it is right and necessary that we should speak about it, or do something to take away the cause of the pain.
Good to have Little Things to put up with.––But, on the other hand, I think we should be rather glad to have little things to put up with now and then––a scratch, a mustard poultice, or a vest that pricks––just that we may get into the way of not letting ourselves think about such matters. There is an instance of a man who was obliged to have his leg cut off, before Sir James Simpson had made the blessed discovery of the use of chloroform. This man was determined that he would not think about the pain, and he succeeded in so keeping his mind occupied with other things, that he was not aware of the operation. This would be too much for most of us, but we might all try to bear the prick of a pin, or even the sting of a wasp, without making a fuss.
Sight brings half our Joy.––The two senses that we have still to speak of are ministers of delight to Mansoul, and I do not know that they have any serious faults as servants, excepting those of laziness and inattention. Sight brings us half our joy. The faces of our friends, gay sunshine, flowers and green grass, and the flickering of the leaves, pretty clothes and little treasures and pictures, mountains and rivers, and the great sea––where would our joy in all these be if we could not see them? Kind friends might read to us, certainly, but it would not be the same thing always as to have our own book and read it in the apple-tree, or in the corner of the window seat. Let us pity the blind. But there are other people to be pitied, almost as much as they.
Eyes and No-Eyes.––Do you know how Eyes and No-Eyes went out for a walk? No-Eyes found it dull, and said there was nothing to see; but Eyes saw a hundred interesting things, and brought home his handkerchief full of treasures. The people I know are all either 'Eyes' or 'No-Eyes.' Do you wish to know which class you fall into? Let me ask you two or three questions. If you can answer them we shall call you, Eyes. If you cannot, why, learn to answer these and a thousand questions like them. Describe, from memory, one picture in your mother's drawing-room without leaving out a detail. Name a tree (not shrub) which has green leaf-buds? Do you know any birds with white feathers in their tails? If you do not know things such as these, set to work. The world is a great treasure-house full of things to be seen, and each new thing one sees is a new delight.
Hearing a Source of Joy.––There is a great deal of joy, again, to be had out of listening––joy which many people miss because Hearing is, in their case, an idle servant who does not attend to his business.
Have you ever been in the fields on a spring day, and heard nothing at all but your own voice and the voices of your companions, and then, perhaps, suddenly you have become silent, and you find a concert going on of which you had not heard a note? At first you hear the voices of the birds; then, by degrees, you perceive high voices, low voices, and middle voices, small notes and great notes, and you begin to wish you knew who sang each of the songs you can distinguish.
The more we Listen, the more we Hear.––Then, as you listen more, you hear more. The chirp of the grasshoppers becomes so noisy that you wonder you can hear yourself speak for it; then the bees have it all to themselves in your hearing; then you hear the hum or the trumpet of smaller insects, and perhaps the tinkle and gurgle of a stream. The quiet place is full of many sounds, and you ask yourself how you could have been there without hearing them. That just shows you how Hearing may sleep at his post. Keep him awake and alive; make him try to hear and know some new sound every day without any help from sight. It is rather a good plan to listen with shut eyes.
Some Nice Sounds.––Have you ever heard the beech-leaves fall one by one in the autumn? That is a very nice sound. Have you heard the tap, tap of the woodpecker, or have you heard a thrush breaking snail-shells on a stone? Of course you can tell the difference between one horse and a pair by sound. Can you tell one kind of carriage from another, or a grocer's cart from a carriage? Do you know the footfall of everybody in the house? Do you know the sound of every bell in the house? Do you listen to people's voices, and can you tell by the intonation whether the people are sad or glad, pleased or displeased?
Music, the Great Joy we owe to Hearing.––Hearing should tell us a great many interesting things, but the great and perfect joy which we owe to him is Music. Many great men have put their beautiful thoughts, not into books, or pictures, or buildings, but into musical score, to be sung with the voice or played on instruments, and so full are these musical compositions of the minds of their makers, that people who care for music can always tell who has composed the music they hear, even if they have never heard the particular movement before. Thus, in a manner, the composer speaks to them, and they are perfectly happy in listening to what he has to say. Quite little children can sometimes get a good deal of this power; indeed, I knew a boy of three years old who knew when his mother was playing 'Wagner,' for example. She played to him a great deal, and he listened. Some people have more power in this way than others, but we might all have far more than we possess if we listened.
How to get the Hearing Ear.––Use every chance you get of hearing music (I do not mean only tunes, though these are very nice), and ask whose music has been played, and, by degrees, you will find out that one composer has one sort of thing to say to you, and another speaks other things; these messages of the musicians cannot be put into words, so there is no way of hearing them if we do not train our ear to listen. A great help towards learning to hear music is to know the notes, to be able to tell with one's eyes shut any note or chord that is struck on the piano or sung with the voice. This is as entertaining as a puzzle, and if we find that we are rather dull of hearing at first we need not be discouraged. The hearing ear comes, like good batting, with much practice; and the time will come when in a whole chorus of birds you will be able to distinguish between the different voices, and say which is the thrush, which is the blackbird, which the white-throat, which the black-cap, which the wren, which the chaffinch. Think how happy the person must be for whom every bird's note is the voice of a friend whom he knows!