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 Moliere's
time. Champagne, in the comedy of "La Mere 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
The kiss was a very ordinary form of salutation throughout ancient
times. Plutarch recalls that the conspirators, before killing Caesar,
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
It was a horrible thing to betray with a kiss; it was that that made
Caesar'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 Marechal 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 _agapae_. This word signified "love-feast." They gave each other
the holy kiss, the kiss of peace, the kiss of brother and sister, +agion
philema+. 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 agapae 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, what Saint
Epiphanius adds in Greek (Epiphanius, _contra haeres_, 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 agapae. 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 _columbatim_, 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
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."
 Or the English--_Translator._