Of kissing it has been quaintly said that nature was its author and it began with the first courtship.

AUD NOTES:  That of Mother with Baby.  When breast feeding was done and solid foods were introduced, the mother chewed food for the baby and passed it from her mouth to that of the baby’s directly, as that was the most sanitary way to pass it along.  This touching of lips continued long after the need for chewed food had ended, because it was pleasant and reassured the child.  This affectation must have carried on to the second courtship, that of a couple and their first love.


The Scandinavian tradition was that kissing was an exotic introduced into Angleland by Rowena, the beautiful daughter of Hengist, the Saxon King.  At a banquet given by the British monarch in honor of his allies the princess, after pressing the brimming beaker to her lips, saluted the astonished and delighted Vortigern with a little kiss, after the manner of her own people.


For a long time it was an act of religion in ancient Rome and among the Romans the sacredness of the kiss was inviolable.  At length it was degraded into a current form of salutation.

The kiss was, in process of time, used generally as a form of salutation in Rome where men testified their regard and the warmth of their welcome for each other chiefly by the number of their kisses. There was a curious law among the Romans made by Constantine; that, if a man had kissed his betrothed, she gained thereby the half of his effects should he die before the celebration of the marriage; and should the lady herself die, under the same circumstances, her heirs or nearest to kin would take the half due her, a kiss among the ancients being the sign of plighted faith.


Among the Jews, kissing was a customary mode of salutation as we may judge from the circumstance of Judas approaching his Master with a kiss.  The Rabbis did not permit more than three kinds of kisses, the kiss of reverence, of reception and dismissal. Kissing in many religions has played a part as a mark of adoration or veneration. In Hosea xiii-2, speaking of idolatry, we find the sentence “Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves.”  Again, the discontented prophet is told that even in idolatrous Israel are seven thousand knees which have not bowed to Baal, “and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” The Mohammedans, on their pious pilgrimage to Mecca, kiss the sacred black stone and the four corners of the Kaaba. The Roman Catholic priest kisses the aspergillum, and Palm Sunday the palm.

In the works of St. Augustine we find an account of four kinds of kissing; the first, the kiss of reconciliation which was given between enemies wishing to become friends; the second, the kiss of peace which Christians exchanged in church in the time of the celebration of the holy eucharist. The third, the kiss of love which loving souls gave to one another and to those whom they showed hospitality. St. Peter and St. Paul used to finish their letters by saying, “salute one another with a holy kiss.” In the early church kissing seems to have been a common form of greeting, irrespective of age, sex, or social condition, and, in some it seems to have created a jealous feeling.

One heathen writer speaks of how annoying it must be to a heathen husband to see his wife exchanging kisses with the Christian brethren.  Origen, one of the early Christian writers, says that the kisses must be “holy.” He may have had occasion to give this reminder for mention is made by another writer of kisses so loud that they resounded through the churches and occasioned foul suspicions and evil reports.


In the Bible there are eight kinds of kisses mentioned:

Salutation – David fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times; and they [David and Jonathan] kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded.  I. Samuel xx, 41. Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. I. Thess. v, 26. Salute one another with a holy kiss. Romans xvi, 16. See also Ex. xviii, 7; I. Cor. xvi, 20; I. Pet. v, 14.

Valediction – The Lord grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband [Naomi to her daughter-in-law.] Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept. Ruth i, 9.

Reconciliation – So Joab came to the king, and told him; and when he had called for Absalom, he came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king; and the king kissed Absalom. II. Samuel xiv, 33.

Subjection – Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Psalm ii, 12.

Adoration – All the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him. I. Kings xix, 18. [See also Hosea xiii, 2.] And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with ointment. Luke vii, 38.

Approbation – Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer. Prov. xxiv, 26.

Treachery – Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; hold him fast, and forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, Master; and kissed him. Matt. xxvi, 48, 49. The kisses of an enemy are deceitful. Prov. xxvii, 6. [See also Prov. vii, 13.]

Affection – When Laban heard the tidings of Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Gen. xxix, 13. Moreover he [Joseph] kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them. Gen. xlv, 15. And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him. Gen. l, 1. [See also Gen. xxxi, 55; xxxiii, 4; xlviii, 10; Exod. iv, 27; Luke xv, 20; Acts xx, 37.]


Among the poets we will select Johannus Secundus (Johannes Everard) to sing to the origin of kisses:

          When young Ascanius, by Queen of Love,

          Was wafted to Cythera’s lofty grove,

          The slumbering boy upon a couch she laid,

          A fragrant couch, of new-blown violets made,

          The blissful bower with shadowing roses crowned,

          And balmy-breathing airs diffused around.

          Soon as she watched, through all her glowing soul,

          Imprisoned thoughts of lost Adonis stole.

          How oft, as memory hallowed all his charms,

          She longed to clasp the sleeper in her arms!

          How oft she laid admiring every grace,

          “Such was Adonis! Such his lovely face!”

          But, fearing lest this fond excess of joy

          Might break the slumber of the beauteous boy,

          On every rose-bud that around him blowed,

          A thousand nectared kisses she bestowed;

          And straight each opening bud, which late was white,

          Blushed a warm crimson to the astonished sight.

And the poet goes on to say that as Triptolemus gave a golden plenty tothe land:

         Fair Cytherea, as she flew along,

         O’er the vast lap of nature kisses flung;

         Pleased from on high she viewed the enchanted ground,

         And from her lips thrice fell a magic sound;

         He gave to mortals corn on every plain,

         But she those sweets which mitigate my pain.


In Angleland during the reign of King Edward, kissing was very popular; a guest was expected on his arrival and also on his departure to salute not only his hostess but all the ladies of the family. So well did this novel importation thrive under the cloudy skies of Angleland that from being an occasional luxury it soon became an every-day enjoyment and the English were celebrated far and near as a kissing people.


In 497 when Erasmus was in Angleland, according to his description, the practice was at its height. He says “if you go to any place you are received with a kiss by all; if you depart on a journey you are dismissed with a kiss; you return, kisses are exchanged; they have come to visit you—a kiss the first thing; they leave you—you kiss them all round. Do they meet you anywhere?—kisses in abundance. Lastly wherever you move there is nothing but kisses—and if you had but once tasted them! how soft they are! how fragrant! on my honor you would not wish to reside here for ten years only, but for life!”


In an old book called “The Anglo-Saxon Dictionary,” speaking of kissing in Northumbria, the author says: “But kissing and drinking are now both grown to a greater custom among us than in those days with the Romans.” And to what extent kissing was carried on in Rome, Martial has stated in his “Epigrams.” “Every neighbor,” he says, “every hairy-faced farmer presses on you with a strongly scented kiss. Here the weaver assails you, there the fuller and the cobbler, who has just been kissing leather; here the owner of the filthy beard, and a one-eyed gentleman; there one with bleared eyes, and fellows whose mouths are defiled with all manner of abominations.”


AUD NOTES:  When Adam saw Eve take a bite off the vin, he wished to take a part in the sin, but fearing God, he let her chew, then gave her a kiss so she could pass it through.  Then Adam saw Eve in her nakedness, and with more than a kiss, did her, he bless.


Returning to our first thought as to the origin of Kissing, we may use the very safe phrase that “its origin is involved in mystery,” and agree with the poet that:

           When we dwell on the lips of the love we adore,

             Not a pleasure in nature is missing.

           May that man lie in Heaven—he deserves it I’m sure,

             Who was first the inventor of kissing.

Though we may be unfortunate in tracing back the origin of this pleasing custom, let us see if we have better luck in an attempt to answer the question, “What is a kiss?”

First, we will go to the dictionary where we learn that a kiss, a smack, or a buss, is “a salute made by touching with the lips pressed closely together and suddenly parting them.”

Others say that the word kiss seems to have had its origin in the practice of feudal times of expressing homage to a superior by kissing the hand, foot or some part of the body or, in his absence, some object belonging to him, as a gate or a lock.

One poet calls kisses “the fragrant breath of summer flowers.” This is a very happy conceit that is not always found to be true, for how fragrant kisses are depends very much on the breath of the principals engaged.

An old poet asks:

                What is a kiss? alas! at worst,

                A single drop to quench a thirst,

                Tho’ oft it proves in happier hour

                The first sweet drop of one long shower.

Robert of Herrick, the old Anglish divine, says of a kiss:

                It isn’t creature born and bred

                Between the lips all cherry red;

                It is an active flame that flies

                First to the babies of the eyes;

                Then to the cheek, the chin, the ear;

                It frisks and flies—now here, now there;

                ’Tis now far off, and then ’tis near;

                Here and there and everywhere.

Among short definitions we have that of the old Bernician farmer who caught a young couple kissing on a cart that was passing along a bridge, and called the act “dipping honey.” A kiss is like a rumor, because it goes from mouth to mouth; its shape is a lip-tickle; as a grammatical part of speech it is a conjunction; kisses are the interrogation points in the literature of love. Then again, kissing has been called lip-service and has been defined as the prologue to sin; more often, let us hope, it is simply a sweetmeat which satisfies the hunger of the heart.

Martial, the old satirist, has called the kisses of his favorite “the fragrance of balsam extracted from aromatic trees; the ripe odor yielded by the teeming saffron; the perfume of fruits mellowing in their winter repository; the flowery meadows in the vernal season; amber warmed by the hand of a maiden; a garden that attracts the bees.”

Kisses have been called the balm of love; Cupid’s seal; the lover’s fee; the fee of parting; the first and last of joys; the homage of the life; the hostage of promise; love’s chief sign; love’s language; love’s mintage; love’s print; love’s tribute; love’s rhetoric; the nectar of Venus; the pledge of bliss and love; the seal of bliss; the melting sip, and the stamp of love.

Johannes Secundus says to his sweetheart:

                 ’Tis not a kiss you give, my love!

                 ’Tis richest nectar from above!

                 A fragrant shower of balmy dews,

                 Which thy sweet lips alone diffuse!

                 ’Tis every aromatic breeze,

                 That wafts from Africa’s spicy trees;

                 ’Tis honey from the osier hive,

                 Which chymist bees with care derive

                 From all the newly opened flowers

                 That bloom in Cecrop’s roseate bowers,

                 Or from the breathing sweets that grow

                 On famed Hymettus’ thymy brow.

Kisses, according to Sam of Slick, are like creation, because they are made out of nothing and are very good. Another wag says they are like sermons, they require two heads and an application.


An ingenious Anglo-Saxon grammarian thus conjugates the verb: Buss, to kiss; rebus, to kiss again; pluribus, to kiss without regard to number; sillybus, to kiss the hand instead of the lips; blunderbus, to kiss the wrong person; omnibus, to kiss every person in the room; erebus, to kiss in the dark.

Robert of Burnside thus speaks of it:

                 Honeyed seal of soft affections,

                   Tenderest pledge of future bliss

                 Dearest tie of young connections.

                   Love’s first snowdrop, virgin bliss.

But kissing baffles all attempts at analysis; as Josh of Billings says, “the more a man tries to analyze a kiss, the more he can’t; the best way to define a kiss is to take one.” Kisses are commodities costing nothing, never wearing out, and always to be had in abundance. After all, why are kisses pleasant?


  A scientist says that kissing is pleasant because the teeth, jawbones and lips are full of nerves, and when the lips meet a spark is generated.


            Oh that a joy so soon should waste!

            Or so sweet a bliss as a kiss

            Might not forever last!

              So honeyed, so melting, so soft, so delicious.

            The dew that lies on roses,

            When the morn herself discloses,

              Is not so precious.

            Oh, rather than I would it smother,

            Were I to taste such another.

            It should be my wishing

            That I might die kissing.

The late George of Prentice said he had a female correspondent who wrote:

“When two hearts are surcharged with love’s sparkling, a kiss is the burning contract, the wild leaping flames of love’s enthusiasm.” The humorist observed that the idea was very pretty, “but a flash of spark is altogether too brief to give a correct idea of a truly delicious kiss.” We agree with Byron of Kent that the strength of a kiss is generally measured by its length.  Still, there should be a limit, and we really think that Mrs. Byron, strong-minded woman as she is, transcends all reasonable limits in her notions of a kiss’s duration. In her ‘Aurora Borealis’ she talks of a kiss ‘As long and silent as the ecstatic night.’

That, indeed, must be ‘linked sweetness’ altogether too long drawn out.