Color Extended to the Five Senses
— My brother crank, who has given the Club an account of his strange habit of associating color with letters and words, will be glad to learn that he need not reach all the way across the Atlantic to grasp a sympathetic hand. From my earliest childhood I have had colors for most of the letters of the alphabet and for many sounds, but I was not until recently aware that I had a sympathizer in the wide world. The only thing that troubles me is that my friend sees different colors from mine It is painful to bear a called pale green, when it is red ; e, pale red, when it is white ; i, lemon or orange yellow, when it is black ; and o, indigo, when it is a very light shade of blue. In regard to the color of u, he is right in seeing it brown. For most of the consonants I also have colors. Thus, b and w are green ; c, p, s, and v are yellow ; d and m are almost black ; f is white ; and h and k are red.
Not long ago these peculiarities of mine were mentioned in the presence of a young girl, who was astonished to hear that they were peculiarities at all. She had supposed that every one had colors for letters and words. I talked with her about the matter, and found that she estimated the beauty of a name not, as most of us, by the euphony of its sounds or its romantic associations, but by its color. Thus, Wirt was a beautiful name because it bore her favorite color, that of the crape-myrtle. I noticed that she wore this color in her hat. The color of a name depended, with her, upon the color of the vowel in its stressed syllable, the shade being bright for a long vowel, and lighter for a short one. Rosa, for example, was bright red, but Otway a paler red.
In my own case, I have colors for other sounds besides those of letters and words, though these colors are only two, gray and yellow. A series of colors passing through successively lighter shades into a pale yellow, and thence into a bright yellow, represents exactly the colors of the notes of the musical scale from bass to treble. A woman’s voice is a more or less pale yellow ; a cricket’s chirp, a bright yellow ; while a man’s voice or a bull’s bellow has a dark color.
This I know appears very “ cranky ” to those who are unendowed with our quality ; but what will become of my reputation for sanity when I go further, and say that I have colors for the sensations of pain, taste, and odor? Yet I must make a clean breast of it, and confess that my toothaches are yellow, and my headaches dark ; that vinegar tastes and smells yellow, and that pepper (including red pepper) tastes and smells almost black. Where shall I find a companion in these idiosyncrasies?
I regret that I am utterly unable to offer any explanation of this phenomenon. I once thought that my impressions of the letter-colors were due to a colored card alphabet from which, I am told, I learnt my letters in infancy ; but this does not explain my other associations nor the similar experiences of my fellow “seers.” The German Klang-Farbe, which my Club friend suggests in connection with this, is, I think, innocent of any such associations as ours. Color is above all things prominent for delicate differences, and the word is naturally transferred to express a nice distinction of any sort, as when we speak of the color given to the meaning of a sentence by a nice turn of language.