Excerpt of Banquet at Delmonico's by Barry Werth
(Page 8 of 14)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
Youmans found London to be no better; overcrowded, teeming, foulsmelling,
the savage hub of empire. Hiring a cab by the hour, he visited
"about a dozen places of all sorts, high and low," but found no vacancies,
finally taking a room no bigger than his stateroom. "It is close and suffocating,
and I have had a hard time in it," he wrote to his sister. Unable to
sleep but a couple of hours, his strained eyes burning and uncomfortable,
he ventured out the next morning to meet with Spencer feeling "much
"Spencer is looking very well," he reported to her the next day; "plays
billiards a great deal; disciplines himself to amusement." If Spencer, who
more than any of his contemporaries sought to take in all knowledge and
understanding in pursuit of an encompassing, systematic philosophy, had
a blind spot, this was it: he refused to admit to himself how well off he
was, never taking into account his own privilege. Blaming his breakdown
and insomnia on overwork, he pursued idleness and leisure with the same
puritanical zeal with which Youmans sought out punishing labor. Nearly
finished with his reissued Psychology, he described for Youmans his next
endeavor, a large book codifying a new science of society. Undaunted,
Youmans urged him to consider writing an abbreviated volume for his
proposed "International Scientific Series," as he now called it. "Spencers
side projects on the sociology are amazingly interesting," he told Catherine.
"He is afraid of their being stolen and is being shady, but he will show
them to me."
Racing around London throughout the summer, Youmans found genial
support for his series, but also mounting obstacles. Many of the authors
he called on had been engaged to write for Appletons Journal,
disappointingly, or were committed to other publishers. All were overly
busy with their own work. More than a few doubted he could succeed.
Youmans persisted, gaining endorsements from Spencer, Huxley, and
others, as well as an unsolicited pledge from Darwin to have the idea
brought up at the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
Gleefully he told Catherine about having lunch with Darwin and his
wife, Emma. "They were all curiosity about America," he wrote:
I told them about my lecturing the Brooklyn clergymen on evolution.
"What!" said he, "clergy of different denominations all together? How
they would fight if you should get them together here!" They were
greatly amused with a spiritualistic paper they had received from
Chicago, which stated that if it were known that God were dead
Beecher would be unanimously elected by the American people to
fill his place.
Even more than McCosh, it was Beecher who Youmans believed
might lead American clergy to accept the doctrine of evolution, as Darwin
seemed to appreciate. Beecher was, as Sinclair Lewis would write,
"the archbishop of American liberal Protestantism." He had sold female
slaves from the pulpit to gain their freedom and helped finance John
Browns attempted insurrection in Kansas - Browns rifles were called
"Beecher Bibles." In 1864, four months before President Lincoln would
choose Beecher to consecrate the end of the Civil War with prayers at Fort
Sumter, South Carolina, Beecher had told Youmans in a letter: "Stir them
up - subsoil the people with Spencer, Huxley and [Irish natural philosopher
and physicist John] Tyndall. Ive got them all, and go in for them all.
If the trellis of old philosophies is falling down, take it away and let us
have a better. We can train the vines of faith on the new one just as well."
Now, though, Youmans was blocked. He couldnt ask Darwin, Huxley,
Spencer, and others "to go in on the enterprise, but I must make them as
available as possible to get other men." Leveraging commitments, like
building a house of cards, called for delicacy and patience, and privately
he was anxious and out of sorts. "I prayed that this cup might pass from
me," he wrote Catherine, "but the worlds scientific salvation required
that I drink it to the dregs."
Excerpted from Banquet at Delmonico's
by Barry Werth. Copyright © 2009 by Barry Werth. Excerpted by
permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.