Dante, in the fifth canto of his Hell, has celebrated the power a kiss may have over human beings. In the course of his wanderings in the nether world, when he has reached the spot where abide those who have sinned through love, he sees two souls that "flutter so lightly in the wind." These are Francesco da Rimini and her brother-in-law Paolo. He asks Francesco to tell him:
"In the time of your sweet sighs,
By what, and how love granted, that ye knew
Your yet uncertain wishes?"
Whereto she replies:
For our delight we read of Lancelot,
How him love thrall'd. Alone we were, and no
Suspicion near us. Ofttimes by that reading
Our eyes were drawn together, and the hue
Fled from our alter'd cheek. But at one point
Alone we fell. When of that smile we read,
The wished smile, so rapturously kissed
By one so deep in love, then he, who ne'er
From me shall separate, at once my lips
All trembling kiss'd. The book and writer both
Were love's purveyors. In its leaves that day
We read no more."
I have had a special object in prefacing my studies on the history of kissing with these famous verses, for I regarded it in the light of a duty to caution my readers emphatically, and at the very outset, as to the danger of even reading about kisses; and I consider that, having done this, I have warned my readers against pursuing the subject, and "forewarned is forearmed," or, "homme averti en vaut deux."
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