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(42) Scented oils, utr of roses [[200-202]]

[[200]] The lowest and most poverty-struck woman in Bengal, would consider herself truly wretched if she could not, now and then, anoint her head with oil of some kind. The ladies of affluence invariably use scented oils, of which those impregnated with the bale, the jasmine, and sandal, are most in use. Doubtless, custom reconciles the nostrils of an Asiatic to "the rancid fragrance"; but to an European, nothing can be more offensive. A full-dressed Hindoostanee lady is the living type of that sarcastic couplet of Swift:

"Enrich'd with all the gay perfume,
She wafts a stench around the room."

The sale of these oils, as also of the missy, is confined to a class of men called gundies, who carry their ware [[201]] about in small baskets. The missy is applied by both sexes to their teeth, and by forming a black coating or varnish, is supposed to preserve their enamel from the action of the lime contained in the pawn, or beetle, which they generally chew. From these gundies is also procured the soormah, or levigated antimony, used for blackening the edges of the eyelids.

The oils, and especially the utr, or ottah of roses, are very carefully packed in cottonwool, and made to appear of great value. Wonderful are the deceptions practised by this class of hawkers, who are consummate in the arts of flattery and intrigue. From the exercise of one or the other, not unfrequently from the union of both, they could not fail to become very rich, but for the dissipated lives they generally lead.

Of the perfumed oils in common use among the Hindoostanee ladies, the preparation is very easy, being, for the most part, sweet oils of any kind, extracted from linseed, or from the cocoa-nut, or from any plant coming under the denomination of metah (sweet), perfumed by means of a small quantity of the essential oil of any fragrant flower, particularly the rose, the jasmine, the bale, &c. All these oils are extremely common.

That highly fragrant oil extracted from the rose, called attar, or by Europeans ottah, is by no means so common as might be expected, at least not in perfection. As to reputed attar, that may be had of every gundy, and at even a few annas per tolah (or half-ounce weight). Genuine attar is sold only by particular persons, and at a very high price; commonly about four guineas (two gold mohurs) per ounce. The natives for many years pretended to make a great secret of the process/1/ whereby this valuable oil was extracted; whence they not only retained the whole profit, hut could practise various deceptions of [[202]] great advantage to themselves, but extremely injurious to the extract.

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/1/ Although many gentlemen had occasionally endeavoured to ascertain the proportions used by the venders of attah, it was not till about the year 1781 or 1782, that any attempt was made, on an extensive scale, to compete with that class of distillers. The late Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony Polier, who resided for many years at his beautiful villa some miles from Lucknow, appears to have been the first whose researches included the distillation of attah, in which pursuit he was remarkably successful, considering how much intrigue, corruption, and ignorance he had to contend with.

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((434)) I have heard that gentleman declare that in almost every train of experiments he undertook, some latent opposition was sure to prevail; often baffling every effort, and sometimes compelling him to abandon his design.

This resulted from the jealousy entertained by the natives of distinction at the court of the Nabob Vizier of Oudh, Azoph ul Dowlah, with whom his extreme urbanity, suavity of manners, ingenuity, and incorruptible integrity, rendered him a great favorite. The courtiers apprehended that through the united intelligence of Colonel Polier and of Colonel Claude Martine, whose genius in every mechanical ((435)) art was on a par with that of the former in the polite arts, as well as in most branches of useful science, the several expensive establishments supported by the Nabob would ultimately be set aside as useless, and as devouring a revenue which might be turned towards purposes in which they should have no concern; or, at least, no profit. 

Therefore, notwithstanding his highness's positive orders, most of the indispensablcs were either withheld or, when furnished at all, proved of the worst quality: any man less mild than Polier would have insisted on a due attention to his requisitions; but he forbore from remonstrance, except when so closely pressed as to render representation inevitable. Whenever, in spite of all direct hostility and of underhand resistance, the Colonel fulfilled his wishes, displaying the complete success of his ingenuity and learning, then all was cried down as j'haddoo, as witch-craft; and the whole body of Mahomedan ecclesiastics joined to crush the growth of science.

Being provided with an ample still, and having very extensive plantations of roses, in which I have often passed a leisure hour, admiring equally their fragrance, and the amiable qualities of their planter, the Colonel made a shift to carry on his operations, but not with invariable success; the native distillers having frequently influenced his servants, by means of bribes, to ((436)) mix various ingredients, which either tainted or otherwise deteriorated, the produce of his stil.. At length, after a great variety of experiments, in which he of course experienced many most mortifying and equally unaccountable disappointments, he hit upon the just proportions, and the most favorable process.

His method was as follows. To a maund (i.e. 82lb.) of roses, he put about a maund and a half of water: the roses being entire, and having their stems cut away close under the chalices. These being all duly mixed, by hand, in the still, a gentle fire was made under it; the head not being applied until the water began to throw off a vapor; after that it was put on, and carefully luted down. The fire was, throughout the distillation, kept rather slow than fierce: especially after about a tenth part of the water had come over into the receiver: in about five hours, half the water had come over tolerably clear.

The rose-water thus obtained, was again put to another maund of roses, which were subjected to the same operation, until about half its quantity had passed into the receiver. As the former was called  single rose-water,' so was this designated 'double rose-water;' but it is evident that the term 'quadruple' would be more appropriate, since double the quantify of perfume was brought into half the former space. The produce of the last distillation was put into broad pans, either ((437))  of earthen ware, or of tinned metal, and left exposed, dining the night, to the cold air.

Here, I should remark that the roses generally bloom early in the year, and that during the month of January, sometimes also in February, ice is produced by pouring hot water into shallow pans of porous crockery; to which, being placed on beds of loose sand, in exposed situations, during the whole night, generally yield a substantial pellicle, and in very favorable instances, sometimes cause the whole of the water to be congealed. The colonel's object in exposing the rose-water, as above shewn, was to congeal the essential oil, called attar, which has the peculiar propeity of becoming compact and flaky, when exposed to a degree of cold far above [the] freezing point; in this instance, bearing some affinity to animal oils in general.

Now, it is evident that such an exposure subjected the attar, which floated on the surface as it became cold, to the access of dust at least, if not of other grosser rubbish; therefore the plan was certainly injudicious: this the Colonel soon perceived, for the quantity of what he considered to be faeces proved that there was some mismanagement. Accordingly, he took a hint, and while the rose-water was yet lukewarm, poured it into a large caraboy, or glass bottle, so as to fill it completely. The caraboy was then subjected to a refrigerating ((438)) process; by which the attar was condensed on its surface in its neck, whence it was easily removed into a large-mouthed phial, furnished with a ground stopper. What little adhered to the neck of the caraboy, did not come away with the rose-water as it was poured off, but on the vessel being reversed, and subjected to a considerable degree of heat, dropped slowly into a phial placed below it, but protected from the action of the fire.

The products in attar have been widely different. The natives rarely obtain more than a drachm and a half from a maund of roses; whereas Colonel Polier obtained full two drachms from a hundred pounds troy. In Europe, we find that some continental chemists have extracted half an ounce: Hamberg succeeded so far as to draw a whole ounce, and Hoffman was rewarded with no less than two ounces. All these persons, however, rejected the chalices, using only the petals; which necessarily made a great difference, the perfume being principally, if not wholly, confined to them,

The rose-water, even after the attar has been completely separated, is rich in fragrance, but is far more so, when the attar is suffered to remain united with it, as may be effected by the addition of various menstrua, which keep it suspended in the fluid. The general price of such ((439)) rose-water as is ordinarily sold under the designation of 'double,' and of course passes for the very best, may be from twenty to forty rupees per maund, according as the season may have been productive, or as the purchase may be made from the distiller himself, or through a second or a third hand....


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