Excerpt of Banquet at Delmonico's by Barry Werth
(Page 9 of 14)
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Before leaving for the Continent, Youmans dined with the botanist Sir
Joseph Hooker, the first recognized man of science to risk his reputation
by publicly supporting Darwin. It was Hooker, director of the worldfamous
Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew, who had introduced Darwin to
Asa Gray. Weeks earlier, at Spencers urging, Hooker had invited
Youmans to Kew, where they now discussed at length not the international
series but Youmanss decision to endow Spencer. Hooker recently
had tried to do the same for Gray, but the deal soured when Gray "gave
the money to Harvard instead," he explained. "You did better for
Spencer," he told Youmans.
Your work told where it should: Spencer is the mighty thinker
among us. And what a splendid talker. He talks right at you like a
book, and his language is so fluent and adaptive! He is all right now.
The recognition of his genius is now complete. What a lucky thing
it was that he failed in getting a consulate or some other public
appointment when he began his Philosophy. . . . No man can do great
original work and be hampered by the cares of a position. The thing
is impossible. The work must have the whole man. That is why I have
tried to get Gray free in America. You Americans dont know how
much of a man Gray is. But he is hampered with students work, and
In mid-November, Beecher, the fifty-nine-year-old pastor of Plymouth
Church of the Pilgrims in thriving Brooklyn Heights, received a note
from thirty-three-year-old Victoria Woodhull, celebrated copublisher of
Woodhull & Claflins Weekly, which advanced among other causes womens
suffrage, shoetop-length skirts, spirit contact with the dead, free love,
vegetarianism, and licensed prostitution. Some months earlier a vague,
menacing statement had appeared in her newspaper:
Civilization is festering to the bursting point in our great cities and
notably in Brooklyn. . . . At this very moment, awful and Herculean
efforts are being made to suppress the most terrific scandal which
has ever astounded and convulsed any community. . . . We have the
inventory of discarded husbands and wives and lovers, with dates,
circumstances and establishments.
Since then Beecher had resisted Woodhulls efforts to meet with him.
Men of God, like politicians, grow accustomed to accusations of infidelity,
but Beecher, an antislavery and womens rights paragon, feared
that Woodhull could destroy him. More than a year earlier his parishioner
Elizabeth Tilton had confessed to her husband, Theodore, a popular
newspaper editor, poet, reformer, and devoted friend and follower of
Beechers, that she and Beecher had been sexually intimate. Rumors of
the charge coincided with Woodhulls sensational rise to national prominence.
Betrothed to an alcoholic with whom she bore a profoundly retarded
son at age fifteen, she had eked out a living in the years before the
war operating séances, telling fortunes, and peddling patent medicines
and abortifacients before finally divorcing him, marrying an anarchist,
and moving with both of them (her first husband was now infirm) to
New York City. With her sister, Tennessee Claflin, she soon came under
the wing of railroad and shipping mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt, who established
them as the first female brokers on Wall Street, where in six
months they made enough money to enter the rising mainstream of
Manhattan society, establish their weekly, and launch Woodhull into politics.
A businesswoman, Woodhull wore tailored, mannish jackets, skirts
that ended above the ankle, and colored neckties, trappings that downplayed
her passions and rage at society, though only slightly. She was
dark-eyed, surprisingly elegant considering her history, and slimmer than
her sister, whom Vanderbilt, an illiterate transportation genius with a wife
and thirteen children, liked to call "my little sparrow" as he cooed to her
and bounced her on his knee in his office.
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.