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Banquet at Delmonico's

Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America

By Barry Werth

Banquet at Delmonico's
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2009,
    400 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2011,
    400 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Micah Gell-Redman

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Herman Edelman (05/04/09)

Banquet at Delmonico's, by Barry Werth
Let me first congratulate Mr. Werth on a great job of putting together disparate persons in one central story. Although it may be difficult for the everyday reader to be aware of the special place in history that each of those characters played.

Obviously one of those central characters in the book is Herbert Spencer. My main complaint is that very little if any is made of the relationship of Herbert Spencer to Mary Ann Evans, a/k/a George Eliot (and as he mentions in the book as Mrs. G.H. Lewes). Although she is mentioned a number of times as the wife of George Henry Lewes, but in the one bottom note on p. 97, he does state that in fact G. H. Lewes and George Eliot were never married. They could not as Lewes still had a living wife whom he left because she had an affair & bore that man's child.Lewes allowed that child to take his name thus (legally ) forgiving her adultery, and obviating the legal cause for a divorce. Lewes died in 1878, as is mentioned Spencer attended his funeral, rare for Spencer to do so. In early 1880 Eliot actually married a man 20 years her junior. By this time she was a very rich author and Spencer was jealous of success. When Eliot died at the end of 1880, her now widowed husband conceived the idea of writing a biography and contacted Spencer, who adamantly refused to cooperate. In any event as the story of "Banquet " shows Spencer was planning his trip to the USA, in 1882, and was worried about being questioned in the USA about his relationship to George Eliot. He wrote to Edward L. Youmans stating the reality of his relationship with Eliot, asking him to keep the contents of that letter to himself. Although Spencer was known in intellectual circles.. Eliot was widely known as the greatest novelist. Of her many friends,Harriet Beecher Stowe was among the most famous. Much of this history is both interesting and important, because in a sense, it was George Eliot who first became aware of the importance of sociological studies in understanding human actions, only her work was in the form of fiction. Although Spencer first became aware of her when she translated an important German work.."The life of Jesus " into English. Thus it can be said George Eliot understood the new theories being propounded in the 19th century as regards human development.. So in effect what I am saying is that " Banquet at Delmonico's " should certainly have included much more on Eliot and Spencer and their relationship.. Maybe I'll do it.. My book is entitled.. " George Eliot, A rational Life " ISBN 141209196, Trafford Press, 2006.
Respectfully submitted; Herman Edelman
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Beyond the Book:
  Social Darwinism

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