A Century-Old Field Guide to the Art of Kissing
By Maria Popova
Between Edison’s scandalous footage of the first kiss in cinema in 1896 and Bill Plympton’s quirky animated guide to kissing a century later, the public image of lip-locking underwent some radical transformations. In 1936 — the year my grandmother was born — a man named Hugh Morris penned a small illustrated pamphlet titled The Art of Kissing (public library), in which he guided young lovers through the techniques, tricks, and “approved methods of kissing,” including such varieties as “the spiritual kiss,” “the nip kiss,” “the pain kiss,” “the surprise kiss,” “the eyelash kiss,” and “the French soul kiss,” as well as tips on how to prepare for a kiss and how to approach a girl. Delightfully dated in its assumptions about love, heterosexuality, and marriage, it’s as much a charming time-capsule of a bygone era as it is a sure source of a good chuckle.
A section on “how to kiss girls with different sizes of mouths” advises:
Where the girl’s mouth is of the tiny, rosebud type, then one need not worry about what to do. … However, there are many girls whose lips are broad and generous, whose lips are on the order of Joan Crawford’s, for instance. The technique in kissing such lips is different. For, were one to allow his lips to remain centered, there would be wide expanses of lips, untouched and, therefore, wasted. In such cases, instead of remaining adhered to the center of the lips, the young man should lift up his lips a trifle and begin to travel around the girl’s lips, stopping a number of times to drop a firm kiss in passing. When you have made a complete round of the lips, return immediately to the center bud and feast there. Feast there as did the lover of Fatimas, in Tennyson’s poem, in which it was written that: ‘Once he drew, with one long kiss, my whole soul through my lips — as sunlight drinketh dew.’
Then, sip of the honey.
Like a bee that settles on the fragrant pistils of a flower, and sips in the nectar for honey, so should you sip in the nectar from between the lips of your love. And it is nectar. For there is in this mingling a symbol of the holy communion of the spirits of two soul-mates, joined together in the bonds of an indissoluble love.
The lips are not the only part of the mouth which should be joined in kissing. Every lover is a glutton. He wants everything that is part of his sweetheart, everything. He doesn’t want to miss a single iota of her ‘million-pleasured joys’ as Keats once wrote of them. That is why, when kissing, there should be as many contacts, bodily contacts, as is possible. Snuggle up closely together. Feel the warm touch of each other’s bodies. Be so close that the rise and fall of each other’s bosoms is felt by one another.
THE “VACUUM” KISS
Here you start off by first opening your mouth a trifle just after you have been resting peacefully with closed lips. Indicate to your partner, by brushing her teeth with the tip of your tongue, that you wish for her to do likewise. The moment she responds, instead of caressing her mouth, suck inward as though you were trying to draw out the innards of an orange. If she knows of this kiss variation, your maid will act in the same way and withdraw the air from your mouth. In this fashion, in a very short while, the air will have been entirely drawn out of your mouths. Your lips will adhere so tightly that there will almost be pain, instead of pleasure. But it will be the sort of pain that is highly pleasurable. That may sound odd, but nevertheless it is a fact. Pain becomes so excruciating as to become pleasurable.
THE DANCING KISS
A very pleasant way to kiss is found in the ‘dancing kiss.’ Here, again, it is the closeness of the bodies of the participants that adds to the enjoyment. What more could a pair of lovers ask for than a dimly lighted dance floor, the tender, rhythmical strains of a waltz being played by Wayne King, their arms around each other, their eager young bodies kissing each other in a myriad of excitable places, the while their cheeks meet in glowing, velvety strokes?
But even with its amusingly archaic advice, The Art of Kissing offers a timelessly necessary reminder:
A kiss can never be absolutely defined. Because each kiss is different form the one before and the one after. Just as no two people are alike, so are no two kisses like. For it is people who make kisses. Real, live people pulsating with life and love and extreme happiness.
Because even in 1936, they knew that in the (hand)book of love, we each write our own story.
Published February 14, 2013