The papillæ of the tongue, it is generally considered, are endowed with gustatory sensibility, and this sensibility is principally attributed to the fungiform papillæ. According to M. Longet they are rather tactile organs, and the learned physiologist supports his opinion by the fact that, on the point of the tongue the taste is no less perfect where the parts are destitute of papillæ, while the feeling there is much less delicate than on the papillæ themselves.
The impressions of taste are quite persistent according to some authors, but this persistence is due to the presence of savoury particles on the tongue, and is more correctly the constant renewal of the impression. Experience shows how difficult it is to get rid of certain flavours, and it is easy to understand that when dissolved, and retained by the saliva in what may be called the papillary fleece of the tongue, the particles remain, and furnish for a considerable time the materials for the sensation. It is a mechanism analogous to that which produces the persistent smell of creosote and dextrine from the hands several hours after contact with the disgusting perfume.
Taste is but slightly developed in infancy, and, although it acquires some delicacy in youth, it is especially in mature age that it reaches its perfection. Far from growing feeble with the lapse of years, it retains all its acuteness, and consoles the aged for the irreparable injuries of time. It is perfected by exercise, and attains in some individuals remarkable delicacy, as in professional tasters, for example; but the prolonged use of highly seasoned food, the abuse of alcoholic liquors, and above all of tobacco, enfeebles and blunts it in what may be termed its olfactory portion.
The question has been raised whether taste is developed by civilization. This is admitted by several physiologists, but perhaps it would be necessary to establish a distinction between the natural sensibility of the organ and its aptitude in judging of a great number of flavours. In this last respect there is no doubt of the superiority of civilized nations, but there is great difference between them notwithstanding, and if we were to measure the civilization of nations by the delicacy of their taste, we might arrive at very flattering conclusions for some, it is true, but at very painful ones for many others. We will content ourselves with saying that, in Europe, the taste is generally more developed in the south than in the north. In conclusion, it furnishes very little material to the intellect. Its scientific use is limited to indicating to the chemist the sapidity and species of flavour of substances.
Its functions, in relation to nutrition, dispose to gaiety and good humour, and nothing except labour produces a more powerful diversion for the mind of a person a prey to chagrin or melancholy. Stationed at the entrance to the digestive passages, it guides us in the choice of food, and controls its nature and quality; it warns us against repletion by its indifference to the flavours the most appreciated at the beginning of the repast; and compensates by agreeable sensations for hunger—the hard necessity of our organization.
Taste is therefore a useful servant, but on the whole we see that of all our senses, it is not the farthest removed from matter, and what is worse still, it has much to be pardoned for. The stomach reproaches it with not being so virtuous as physiologists seem to believe, and accuses it of being dangerously seductive, and the worst enemy of those who should regulate their diet; and though it sometimes gives timely warning by disgust, it is often in the wrong in rejecting wholesome food under the pretext that it is new or that its prejudices condemn it. The taste retorts by throwing the blame on those who have taught it to be fastidious; it professes, and with truth, to be docile to training, and that the prejudices come from the master of the house; and it adds that, though perfectly competent to judge of the merits of a cook, it is very little acquainted with questions of hygiene, and that the enemy of the stomach is gluttony and not taste.
Some persons affect a contempt for this sense, explicable, no doubt to a certain extent, but which tempts us to believe that they speak of it only from hearsay. "The mind should take precedence of the body," as Belisus emphatically declares; but the good Chrysalus, was he wrong in saying, "Yes! my body is myself, and I will take care of it?" May we not remember in proper time and place that "man lives on good soup, and not on fine words:" besides, one does no harm to the other, and to want even the most modest sense is to be imperfect after all. Thenard, speaking of cooking before a crowded audience at the Sorbonne, called it " that important part of chemistry".
We may think what we please of the taste, but it has always in all ages been the endowment of men of genius.
In reading Brillat-Savarin, we feel disposed to believe that the mind and the gastronomic senses are inseparable. But these are delicate questions; and as we would not toss an apple of discord between nations, neither shall we between individuals, but rather prudently refer the reader to the Physiology of Taste.