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Thursday, November 22

(1924) [MARC] Author: Fredrika Bremer
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Thursday, November 22. Is there anything in this world more wearisome, more dismal, more intolerable, more reckless, more sumptuous, more unbearable, anything more calculated to kill both soul and body, than a big dinner in New York? For my part, I do not believe there is. People sit down to table at half past five or six o’clock; they are still sitting there at nine o’clock, and being served with one course after another, with one rich dish after another, eating and remaining silent. I have never experienced such a silence as at these great dinners. In order not to go asleep, I am obliged to eat, to eat without being hungry, and dishes, too, which do not agree with me. And all the while I feel such an emotion of impatience and wrath at this mode of wasting time and God’s
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gifts, and that in so stupidly wearisome a manner, that I am just ready to fling dish and plate on the floor, and repay hospitality by a sermon of rebuke, if I only had courage enough. But I am silent and suffer, and grumble and scold in silence. This is not very polite, but I cannot help it! I was yesterday at one of these big dinners—a horrible feast! Two elderly gentlemen, lawyers, sat opposite me, sat and dozed while they opened their mouths and put in the delicacies which were offered to them. At our peasant weddings, where people also sit three hours at the table, there are, nevertheless, talks and toasts, gifts for the bride and bridegroom, and fiddlers to play at every dish; but here one has nothing but food. And the dinners in Denmark! I cannot but think of them, with their few but exquisite dishes, and animated, cheerful guests, who merely were sometimes too loud in their zeal for talking and making themselves heard; and the wit, the jokes, the stories, the toasts, the conversations, that merry, free, lively laissez-aller, which distinguishes Danish social life; in truth, it was champagne—champagne for soul and body at those entertainments. But these here are destined for hell, as Heiberg says in A Soul After Death, and they are termed the tiresome. They should be introduced into the Litany. On another occasion, however, Fortune was kind to
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me and placed by my side an interesting clergyman, Dr. F. L. Hawks, who during dinner explained to me, with his beautiful voice and in his lucid, excellent manner, his ideas regarding the remains in Central America, and his hypothesis of the union of the two continents of America and Asia in a very remote age. It was interesting to hear him, and it would be interesting for me to see and hear more of this man, whose character and manner attract me.

When at night I went home with Anne Lynch, the air was delightful, and the walk through this night air and in the quiet streets—the highways here are broad and as smooth as a house floor—very agreeable. The starry heavens, God’s city, formed a canopy with streets and groups of glittering dwellings in quiet grandeur and silence above us. And here in that quiet, starlight night, Anne Lynch unfolded her soul to me, and I saw an earnest and profound depth, bright with stars, such as I scarcely expected in this gay being, who, butterfly-like, flutters through the life of society as in her proper element. I had always thought her uncommonly pleasant, and admired the ability with which, without affluence, by her own talents and personal attainments, she had made for herself and for her estimable mother an independence, and by which she had become the center of the
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literary and the most cultivated society in New York, which assembled once a week in her drawing-room. I had admired also her inoffensive wit, her childlike gayety and good humor, and especially liked a certain expression in her eye, as though it were seeking for something, "something a long, long way off," even, in her apparently dissipated, worldly life; in a word, I liked her, took a deep interest in her—now I loved her. She is one of the birds of Paradise which skim over the world without soiling their wings with its dust. Anne Lynch, with her individuality and her position in society, is one of the peculiar figures of the New World.

A lecture was delivered last Sunday evening, in the same hall where I had heard Channing, on Christian Socialism, by Mr. Henry James, a wealthy and, it is said, a good man. His doctrine was one which recognizes no right except that of involuntary attraction, no law of duty but the artist’s worship of beauty, no greatness except that of power, no God but that of the pantheist, everywhere and yet nowhere—a doctrine which has its preachers even in Sweden. After the conclusion of the discourse, given extempore, with enthusiasm and flashing vivacity, Channing arose and said that if the doctrine which we had just heard were Christian Socialism, then he did not agree with it;
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that the subject ought to be thoroughly investigated; that he considered the views of the speaker to be erroneous; and that on the following Sunday he would take up the question in that same place, and show them in what the errors of these views consisted.


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