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This article is taken from PN Review 200, Volume 37 Number 6, June - July 2011.

Smell and the Moral Sentiments Iain Bamforth
The nose is the supremely Shandean organ. Protruding, comic, hubristic, shiny, a zoological bizarrery, as plain as any fact can be yet somehow related to that other organ hidden in men’s breeks (and the nostrils are allegedly in tantric close relation to all sorts of hidden psychic zones in both sexes), it seems first to have butted in on polite society in the novel Doctor Johnson so greatly disapproved of – ‘Nothing odd will do long’, he growled of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

Johnson’s antipathy to the nose carried over into his conversation: Boswell reports in chapter 39 of his biography The Life of Dr Johnson an unsuccessful attempt by a young controversialist to get the good Doctor to take on board the notion that the mind might body itself forth other than through the eye: ‘A young gentleman present took up the argument against him, and maintained that no man ever thinks of the NOSE OF THE MIND, not adverting that though that figurative sense seems strange to us, as very unusual, it is truly not more forced than Hamlet’s “In my MIND’S EYE, Horatio.” He persisted much too long, and appeared to Johnson as putting himself forward as his antagonist with too much presumption; upon which he called to him in a loud tone, “What is it you are contending for, if you BE contending?”’ At which belligerent retort the young man backs off, and the conversation switches, in spite of ...


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