BLTC Press Titles

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The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller

The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

New cosmopolis

by James Huneker


But New York is double the size of the Paris of those days (1873), and instead of one national cuisine it boasts half a hundred. I am at the outset trying to show the magnitude of the task, a task I decline to undertake. But I may succeed, after a fashion, in indicating the resources of a city wherein even Pantagruel could line his monstrous paunch and slake his magnificent thirst.

With the possible exception of London, there is no place like New York for versatility in eating and drinking. Nearly all cuisines are represented. You can eat kosher or munch birds'nests in the Chinese style; while French, Russian, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, Polish, Austrian, Turkish, Syrian, Rumanian, Greek, Portuguese, Cuban, Mexican, Liberian — why drag out the list? — are to be found; everything from everywhere may be had in our city — everything but fried oysters as they cook them in Philadelphia. And that important fact will be clearly set forth during the course of this solemn sermon on gluttony.

It is only natural when a man's hair begins to thin and he has gout in the gums that he sadly turns to the "pleasures" of memory, a bitter-sweet game, the shadow of a vanished substance (this is a Celtic bull, but it is what I mean), and one which always sets the teeth on edge. Just why the man of the "lonesome latter years" should recall the feastings of his youth, I leave to psychologists.

He may have written at least one sonnet or story, he may have painted a row of brilliant portraits or landscapes, yet set him down before a fire and straightway he falls to musing about the girls of yesteryear or that particular night when the wine-cup was not red, but champagnecoloured. Or Finelli's fried oysters. Or the terrapin of Augustin (both in Philadelphia). Or the salads and burgundies at Delmonico's. Or — and this happens, too — the taste of those oysters eaten fresh from the shell at a cart-tail coram publico, say, on Fulton Street three decades ago. The miserable sinner should be thinking of his soul and lo! his belly is still his god — that is not in reality, for he is a dyspeptic and almost toothless, and Uncle Uric a daily visitor, so it needs must be only memory images, and poor entertainment such recollections usually are. Mother Church, who has minutely catalogued every nuance of transgression, calls such a perverse mental operation "morose delectation."

But it is not of such sour stuff that my dreams are made. Contrariwise, I recall with intense amusement the New York restaurants and caf6s of a quarter of a century ago. Were they any better then than now? is the inevitable question.

The answer is that we were younger then, our appetites and teeth unafraid; nevertheless, there are many changes and not all for the better. The young folk nowadays are not epicures. Wine palates they have not; cocktails and the common consumption of spirits have banished all sense of taste values. They are in too much of a hurry to dance or to ride, to sit long at table and dine with discrimination.

The number of cheap, quick-fire food hells is appalling. One understands during the midday rush that a glass of milk and a slice of pie suffice, but when the day's toil is over and the upper town achieved, then we expect leisure and elegance, taste in the evening menu. They are seldom to be found. Noisy bands of musicmakers, ill-cooked food and hastily gobbled, shrieking instead of conversation, and then — dancing. This is the order of the evening. The theatre is rapidly disappearing, I mean the real theatre, and only in a few choice spots is the cult and ritual of dining observed and performed.

However, these few do exist, and there you will find the remnant of a once-powerful congregation, members of the Church of the Holy Epicure. But they are doomed. Eating and drinking are rapidly entering the category of the lost fine arts. Bolting, guzzling, gum chewing, and film pictures have driven them away.

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