1559: Fainting Belgian brought round with smoking horse dung


Writing in 1559, the Dutch physician Levinus Lemnius claimed that those who lived constantly among the foulest smells were weakened and nauseated by perfumes and other sweet scents. He offered an example of this olfactory reversal:

“Those are made to empty jakes [toilets] and make clean sinks… these men reject all sweet smells as offensive unto them.”

Lemnius also wrote that these people, when overcome by sweet smells, could be brought back into a state of sensibility by waving contrasting smells – such as bitumen or burnt goat’s hair – under their noses:

“A certain countryman at Antwerp was an example of this, who when he came into a shop of sweet smells [a perfumery] he began to faint, but one presently clapped some fresh smoking warm horse dung to his nose, and fetched [roused] him again.”

The Scottish writer Tobias Smollett repeated the principle in 1769 when he wrote that:

“A citizen of Edinburgh stops his nose when he passes by the shop of a perfumer.”

Source: Levinus Lemnius, The Secret Miracles of Nature, Book II, 1559; Tobias Smollett, The History and Adventures of an Atom, 1769. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

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