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Petra Ichor

Secrets Of The Perfumes - Part 2

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Graham's magazine, Volume 48
Philadelphia, January, 1856.


On coming to the perfumes derived from animals, our author has a curious remark—" In its pure state, civet has, to nearly all persons, a most disgusting odor; and when diluted to an infinitessimal portion, its perfume is agreeable. It is difficult to ascertain the reason why the same substance, modified only by the quantity of matter presented to the nose, should produce an opposite effect on the olfactory nerve; but such is the case with nearly all odorous bodies, especially with ottos, which, if smelled at, are far from agreeable, and in some cases positively nasty— such as otto of neroly, otto of thyme, otto of patchouly; but if diluted with a thousand times its volume of oil, spirit, etc., then their fragrance is delightful."

Here is the composition of the best quality of Eau de Cologne—" Spirit, (from grape,) 60 overproof, 6 gallons; otto of neroly, Petale, 8 ounces; otto of neroly, Biggarade, 1 ounce; otto of rosemary, 2 ounces; otto of orange-peel, 5 ounces; otto of citron-peel, 6 ounces; otto of bergamot-peel, 2 ounces." The second quality, still a very good perfume, is made of corn, instead of grapespirit; on which is this remark—" To speak of the 'purity' of French spirit, or of the 'impurity' of English spirit, is equally absurd. The fact is, that spirit derived from grapes, and spirit obtained from corn, have each so distinct and characteristic an aroma, that the one cannot be mistaken for the other. The odor of grape spirit is said to be due to the oeanthic ether, which it contains. The English spirit, on the other hand, owes its odor to fusel oil. So powerful is the oeanthic ether in the French spirit, that notwithstanding the addition to it of such intensely odoriferous substances as the ottos of neroly, rosemary, and others, it still gives a characteristic perfume to the products made containing it; and hence the difficulty of preparing Eau de Cologne with any spirit distillate of this substance." 'The difference between the French and English perfumes, is owing to the difference in the spirit employed. The strong bouquet of brandy is favorable in some cases, but in others, the less obtrusive corn spirit is better. For instance, "Musk, ambergris, civet, violet, tuberose, and jasmine, if we require to retain their true aroma, when in solution in alcohol, must be made with the British spirit." The famous perfume Rondeletia owes its peculiarity to the mixture, of lavender and cloves; and of Spring Flowers, we are told—" The just reputation of this perfume places it in the first rank of the very best mixtures that have ever been made by any manufacturing perfumer. Its odor is truly flowery, but peculiar to itself. Being unlike any other aroma, it cannot well be imitated, chiefly because there is nothing that we are acquainted with that at all resembles the odor of the esprit de rose, as derived from macerating rose-pomade in spirit, to which, and to the extract of violet, nicely counterpoised, so that neither odor predominates, the peculiar character of spring flowers is due; the little ambergris that is present, gives permanance to the odor upon the handkerchief, although, from the very nature of the ingredients, it may be said to be a fleeting odor."

It may seem remarkable that the odor of any particular flower should be imitated to absolute perfection by a combination of other flowers, and we should be glad if our author had explained his sentiments on this point, instead of merely hinting at some mystical relationship between the odors. Scents, he tells us, like sounds, appear to influence the olfactory nerve in certain definite degrees; and as there is an octave of colors like an octave in music, so certain odors coincide like the keys of an instrument. For instance, "almond, ketchup, vanilla and orange blossom blend together, each producing different degrees, of a nearly similar impression;" and so, in like manner, "citron, lemon, orange-peel and verbena, forming a higher octave of smells." The analogy between music and perfume is completed by what may be called the semi-odors, such as rose and rose-geranium for the half-note. This, it must be owned, is but a meagre attempt at the aesthetics of smells; but it opens the subject, and we hope soon to hear more of it. The idea, it must be admitted, is at least an elegant one; and we do not see that it should be considered specially fanciful, since we know that music depends upon a fixed mathematical law, not invented by man, but existing in nature. Nature .is not a prodigal in her operations—she is no waster of power: the better she is understood, the more simple she appears; and there is nothing, therefore, contrary to sound reason in the idea, that the whole of the pleasures of sense will be found to depend upon cognate laws.

Another thing worthy of remark is this: "The odor of some flowers resembles others so nearly that we are almost induced to believe them to be the same thing; or, at least, if not evolved from the plant as such, to become so by the action of the air-oxydation. It is known that some actually are identical in composition, although produced from totally different plants, such as camphor, turpentine, rosemary. Hence, we may presume that chemistry will sooner or later produce one from the other, for with many it is merely an atom of water or an atom of oxygen that causes the difference. It would be a grand thing to produce otto of roses from oil of rosemary, or from the rose-geranium oil; and theory indicates its possibility. The essential oil of almonds in a bottle that contains a good deal of air-oxygen, and but a very little of the oil, spontaneously passes into another odoriferous body, benzoic acid, which is seen in erystals to form over the dry parts of the flask."

Mr. Piesse illustrates his notions regarding the relationship of odors by the recipe for imitating the essence of sweet pea, which is this: "Extract of tuberose, extract of fleur d'orange, extract of rose from pomatum—1/2 pint each; and extract of vanilla, 1 ounce." This composition is formed with the idea that the odor of sweet pea resembles that of orange-blossom, and the imitation is brought still nearer by the addition of the rose and the tuberose. The vanilla is used merely to give permanence to "the scent on the handkerchief, and this latter body is chosen in preference to extract of musk or ambergris, which would answer the same purpose of giving permanence to the more volatile ingredients; because the vanilla strikes the same key of the olfactory nerve as the orange-blossom, and thus no new idea of a different scent is brought about as the perfume dies off from the handkerchief. When perfumes are not mixed upon this principle, then we hear that such and such a perfume becomes 'sickly' or 'faint' after they have been on the handkerchief a short time."

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