In vino veritas (the banquet)



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IN VINO VERITAS (THE BANQUET)
It was on one of the last days in July, at ten o'clock in the evening, when the participants in that banquet assembled together. Date and year I have forgotten; indeed this would be interesting only to one's memory of details: and not to one's recollection of the contents of what experience. The "spirit of the occasion" and whatever impressions are recorded in one's mind under that heading, concerns only one's recollections; and just as generous wine gains in flavor by passing the Equator, because of the evaporation of its watery particles, likewise does recollection gain by getting rid of the watery particles of memory; and yet recollection becomes as little a mere figment of the imagination by this process as does the generous wine.

The participants were five in number: John, with the epithet of the Seducer, Victor Eremita, Constantin Constantius, and yet two others whose names I have not exactly forgotten -which would be a matter of small importancebut whose names I did not learn. It was as if these two had no proper names, for they were constantly addressed by some epithet. The one was called the Young Person. Nor was he more than twenty and some years, of slender and delicate build, and of a very dark complexion. His face was thoughtful; but more pleasing even was its lovable and engaging expression which betokened a purity of soul harmonizing perfectly with the soft charm, almost feminine, and the transparency of his whole presence. This external beauty of appearance was lost sight of, however, in one's next impression of him; or, one kept it only in mind whilst regarding a youth nurtured orto use a still tenderer expression- petted into being, by thought, and nourished by the contents of his own soula youth who as yet had had nothing to do with the world, had been neither aroused and fired, nor disquieted and disturbed. Like a sleep walker he bore the law of his actions within himself, and the amiable, kindly expression of his countenance concerned no one, but only mirrored the disposition of his soul.

The other person they called the Dressmaker, and that was his occupation. Of him it was impossible toget a consistent impression. He was dressed according to the very latest fashion, with his hair curled and perfumed, fragrant with eau de cologne. One moment his carriage did not lack self-possession, whereas in the next it assumed a certain festive air, a certain hovering motion which, however was kept in rather definite bounds by the robustness of his figure. Even when he was most malicious in his speech his voice ever had a touch of the smooth tonguedness of the the shop, the suaveness of the dealer in fancy goods, Which evidently was utterly disgusting to himself and only satisfied his spirit of defiance. As I think of him now I understand him better, to be sure, than when I first saw him step out of his carriage and I involuntarily laughed. At the same time there is some contradiction left still. He had transformed or bewitched himself, had by the magic of his own will assumed the appearance of one almost halfwitted, but had not thereby entirely satisfied himself; and this is why his reflectiveness now and then peered forth from beneath his disguise.

As I think of it now it seems rather absurd that five such persons should get a banquet arranged. Nor would anything have come of it, I suppose, if Constantin had not been one of us. In a retired room of a confectioner's shop where they met at times, the matter had been broached once before, but had been dropped immediately when the question arose as to who was to head the undertaking. The Young Person was declared unfit for that task, the Dressmaker affirmed himself to be too busy. Victor Eremita did not beg to be excused because "he had married a wife or bought yoke of oxen which he needed to prove",11 but, he said, even if he should make an exception, for once, and come to the banquet, yet he would decline the courtesy offered him to preside at it, and he therewith "entered protest at the proper time.22 This, John considered a work spoken in due season; because, as he saw it, there was but one person able to prepare a banquet, and that was the possessor of the wishing table which set itself with delectable things whenever he said to it "Cover thyself!" He averred that to enjoy the charms of a young girl in haste was not always the wisest course; but as to a banquet, he would not wait for it, and generally was tired of it a long while before it came off. However, if the plan was to be carried into effect he would make one condition, which was, that the banquet should be so arranged as to be served in one course. And that all were agreed on. Also, that the settings for it were to be made altogether new, and that afterwards they were to be destroyed entirely; ay, before rising from table one was to hear the preparation for their destruction. Nothing was to remain; "not even so much," said the Dressmaker, "as there is left of a dress after it has been made over into a hat." "Nothing," said John, "because nothing is more unpleasant than a sentimental scene, and nothing more disgusting than the knowledge that somewhere or other there is an external setting which in a direct and impertinent fashion pretends to be a reality."

When the conversation had thus become animated, Victor Eremita suddenly arose, struck an attitude on the floor, beckoned with his hand in the fashion of one commanding and, holding his arm extended as one lifting a goblet, he said, with the gesture of one waving a welcome: "With this cup whose fragrance already intoxicates my senses, whose cool fire already inflames my blood, I greet you, beloved fellow banqueters, and bid you welcome; being entirely assured that each one of you is sufficiently satisfied by our merely speaking about the banquet; for our Lord satisfied the stomach before satisfying the eye, but the imagination acts in the reverse fashion." Thereupon he inserted his hand in his pocket, took from it a cigar case, struck a match, and began to smoke. When Constantin Constantius protested against this sovereign free way of transforming the banquet planned into an illusory fragment of life, Victor declared that he did not believe for one moment that such a banquet could be got up and that, in any case, it had beena mistake to let it become the subject of discussion in advance. "Whatever is to be good must come at once; for 'at once' is the divinest of all categories and deserves to be honored as in the language of the Romans: ex templo,33 because it is the starting point for all that is divine in life, and so much so that what is not done at once is of evil." However, he remarked, he did not care to argue this point. In case the others wished to speak and act differently he would not say a word, but if they wished him to explain the sense of his remarks more fully he must have leave to make a speech, because he did not consider it all desirable to provoke a discussion on the subject.

Permission was given him; and as the others called on him to do so at once, he spoke as follows: "A banquet is in itself a difficult matter, because even if it be arranged with ever so much taste and talent there is something else essential to its success, to wit, good luck. And by this I mean not such matters as most likely would give concern to an anxious hostess, but something different, a something which no one can make absolutely sure of: a fortunate harmonizing of the spirit and the minutiae of the banquet, that fine ethereal vibration of chords, that soul stirring music which cannot be ordered in advance from the town musicians. Look you, therefore is it a hazardous thing to undertake, beause if things do go wrong, perhaps from the very start, one may suffer such a depression and loss of spirits that recovery from it might involve a very long time.

"Sheer habit and thoughtlessness are father and godfather to most banquets, and it is only due to the lack of critical sense among people that one fails to notice the utter absence of any idea in them. In the first place, women ought never to be present at a banquet. Women may be used to advantage only in the Greek style, as a chorus of dancers. As it is the main thing at a banquet that there be eating and drinking, woman ought not to be present; she cannot do justice to what is offered; or, if she can, it is most unbeautiful. Whenever a woman is present the matter of eating and drinking ought to be reduced to the very slightest proportions. At most, it ought to be no more than some trifling feminine occupation, to have something to busy one's hands with. Especially in the country a little repast of this kindwhich, by the way, should be put at other times than the principal meals- may be extremely delightful; and if so, always owing to the presence of the other sex. To do like the English, who let the fair sex retire as soon as the real drinking is to start, is to fall between two stools, for every plan ought to be a whole, and the very manner with which I take a seat at the table and seize hold of knife and fork bears a definite relation to this whole. In the same sense a political banquet presents an unbeautiful ambiguity inasmuch as one does not44 want to cut down to a very minimum the essentials of a banquet, and yet does not wish to have the speeches thought of as having been made over the cups.

"So far, we are agreed, I suppose; and our numberin case anything should come of the banquet -is correctly chosen, according to that beautiful rule: neither more than the Muses nor fewer than the Graces. Now I demand the greatest superabundance of everything thinkable. That is, even though everything be not actually there, yet the possibility of having it must be at one's immediate beck and call, aye, hover temptingly over the table, more seductive even than the actual sight of it. I beg to be excused, however, from banqueting on sulphur matches or on a piece of sugar which all are to suck in turn. My demands for such a banquet will, on the contrary, be difficult to satisfy; for the feast itself must be calculated to arouse and incite that unmentionable longing which each worthy participant is to bring with him. I require that the earth's fertility be at our service, as though everything sprouted forth at the very moment the desire for it was born. I desire a more luxurious abundance of wine than when Mephistopheles needed but to drill holes into the table to obtain it. I demand an illumination more splendid than have the gnomes when they lift up the mountain on pillars and dance in a sea of blazing light. I demand what most excites the senses, I demand their gratification by deliciously sweet perfumes, more superb than any in the Arabian Nights. I demand a coolness which voluptuously provokes desire and breathes relaxation on desire satisfied. I demand a fountain's unceasing enlivenment. If Maecenas could not sleep without hearing the splashing of a fountain, I cannot eat without it. Do not misunderstand me, I can eat stockfish without it; but I cannot eat at a banquet without it; I can drink water without it, but I cannot drink wine at a banquet without it. I demand a host of servants, chosen and comely, as if I sate at table with the gods; I demand that there shall be music at the feast, both strong and subdued; and I demand that it shall be an accompaniment to my thoughts; and what concerns you, my friends, my demands regarding you are altogether incredible. Do you see, by reason of all these demands -which are as many reasons against itI hold a banquet to be a pium desideratum,55 and am so far from desiring a repetition of it that I presume it is not feasible even a first time."

The only one who had not actually participated in this conversation, nor in the frustration of the banquet, was Constantin. Without him, nothing would have been done save the talking. He had come to a different conclusion and was of the opinion that the idea might well be realized, if one but carried the matter with a high hand.

Then some time passed, and both the banquet and the discussion about it were forgotten, when suddenly, one day, the participants received a card of invitation from Constantius for a banquet the very same evening. The motto of the Party had been given by him as: In Vino Veritas, because there was to be speaking, to be sure, and not only conversation; but the speeches were not to be made except in vino, and no truth was to be uttered there excepting that which is in vino--when the wine is a defense of the truth and the truth a defense of the wine.

The place had been chosen in the woods, some ten miles distant from Copenhagen. The hall in which they were to feast had been newly decorated and in every way made unrecognizable; a smaller room, separated from the hall by a corridor, was arranged for an orchestra. Shutters and curtains were let down before all windows, which were left open. The arrangement that the participants were to drive to the banquet in the evening hour was to intimate to themand that was Constantin's ideawhat was to follow. Even if one knows that one is driving to a banquet, and the imagination therefore indulges for a moment in thoughts of luxury, yet the impression of the natural surroundings is too powerful to be resisted. That this might possibly not be the case was the only contingency he apprehended; for just as there is no power like the imagination to render beautiful all it touches, neither is there any power which can to such a degree disturb allmisfortune conspiringif confronted with reality. But driving on a summer evening does not lure the imagination to luxurious thoughts, but rather to the opposite. Even if one does not see it or hear it, the imagination will unconsciously create a picture of the longing for home which one is apt to feel in the evening hoursone sees the reapers, man and maid, returning from their work in the fields, one hears the hurried rattling of the hay wagon, one interprets even the far away lowing from the meadows as a longing. Thus does a summer evening suggest idyllic thoughts, soothing even a restless mind with its assuagement, inducing even the soaring imagination to abide on earth with an indwelling yearning for home as the place from whence it came, and thus teaching the insatiable mind to be satisfied with little, by rendering one content; for in the evening hour time stands still and eternity lingers. Thus they arrived in the evening hour: those invited; for Constantin had come out somewhat earlier. Victor Eremita who resided in the country not far away came on horseback, the others in a carriage. And just as they had discharged it, a light open vehicle rolled in through the gate caarrying a merry company of four journeymen who were entertained to be ready at the decisive moment to function as a corps of destruction: just as firemen are stationed in a theatre, for the opposite reason at once to extinguish a fire.

So long as one is a child one possesses sufficient imagination to maintain one's soul at the very top notch of expectation- for a whole hour in the dark room, if need be; but when one has grown older one's imagination may easily cause one to tire of the Christmas tree before seeing it.

The folding doors were opened. The effect of the radiant illumination, the coolness wafting toward them, the beguiling fragrance of sweet perfumes, the excellent taste of the arrangements, for a moment overwhelmed the feelings of those entering; and when, at the same time, strains ftom the ballet of "Don Juan" sounded from the orchestra, their persons seemed transfigured and, as if out of reverence for an unseen spirit about them, they stopped short for a moment like men who have been roused by admiration and who have risen to admire.

Whoever knows that happy moment, whoever has appreciated its delight, and has not also felt the apprehension lest suddenly something might happen, some trifle perhaps, which yet might be sufficient to disturb all! Whoever has held the lamp of Aladdin in his hand and has not also felt the swooning of pleasure, because one needs but to wish? Whoever has held what is inviting in his hand and has not also learned to keep his wrist limber to let go at once, if need be?

Thus they stood side by side. Only Victor stood alone, absorbed in thought; a shudder seemed to pass through his soul, he almost trembled; he collected himself and saluted the omen with these words: "Ye mysterious, festive, and seductive strains which drew me out of the cloistered seclusion of a quiet youth and beguiled me with a longing as mighty as a recollection, and terrible, as though Elvira had not even been seduced but had only desired to be! Immortal Mozart, thou to whom I owe all; but no! as yet I do not owe thee all. But when I shall have become an old manif ever I do become an old man; or when I shall have become ten years olderif ever I do; or when I am become oldif ever I shall become old; or when I shall diefor that, indeed, I know I shall: then shall I say: immortal Mozart, thou to whom I owe alland then I shall let my admiration, which is my soul's first and only admiration, burst forth in all its might and let it make away with me, as it often has been on the point of doing. Then have I set my house in order,66 then have I remembered my beloved one, then have I confessed my love, then have I fully established that I owe thee all, then am I occupied no longer with thee, with the world, but only with the grave thought of death."

Now there came from the orchestra that invitation in which joy triumphs most exultantly, and heaven storming soars aloft above Elvira's sorrowful thanks; and gracefully apostrophizing, John repeated: "Viva la liberta" "et veritas," said the Young Person; "but above all, in vino," Constantin interrupted them, seating himself at the table and inviting the others to do likewise.

How easy to prepare a banquet; yet Constantin declared that he never would risk preparing another. How easy to admire; yet Victor declared that he never again would lend words to his admiration; for to suffer a discomfiture is more dreadful than to become an invalid in war! How easy to express a desire, if one has the magic lamp; yet that is at times more terrible than to perish of want!

They were seated. In the same moment the little company were launched into the very middle of the infinite sea of enjoymentas if with one single bound. Each one had addressed all his thoughts and all his desires to the banquet, had prepared his soul for the enjoyment which was offered to overflowing and in which their souls overflowed. The experienced driver is known by his ability to start the snorting team with a single bound and to hold them well abreast; the well trained steed is known by his lifting him­self in one absolutely decisive leap: even if one or the other of the guests perhaps fell short in some particular, cer­tainly Constantin was a good host.

Thus they banqueted. Soon, conversation had woven its beautiful wreaths about the banqueters, so that they sat garlanded. Now, it was enamored of the food, now of the wine, and now again of itself; now, it seemed to develop into significance, and then again it was altogether slight. Soon, fancy unfolded itselfthe splendid one which blows but once, the tender one which straightway closes its petals; now, there came an exclamation from one of the banqueters: "These truffles are superb," and now, an order of the host: "This Chateau Margaux!" Now, the music was drowned in the noise, now it was heard again. Sometimes the servants stood still as if in pausa, in that decisive moment when a new dish was being brought out, or a new wine was ordered and mentioned by name, sometimes they were all a bustle. Sometimes there was a silence for a moment, and then the re animating spirit of the music went forth over the guests. Now, one with some bold thought would take the lead in the conversation and the others followed after, almost forgetting to eat, and the music would sound after them as it sounds after the jubilant shouts of a host storming on; now, only the clinking of glasses and the clattering of plates was heard and the feasting proceeded in silence, accompanied only by the music that joyously advanced and again stimulated conversation. Thus they banqueted.

How poor is language in comparison with that symphony of sounds unmeaning, yet how significant, whether of a battle or of a banquet, which even scenic representation cannot imitate and for which language has but a few words! How rich is language in the expression of the world of ideas, and how poor, when it is to describe reality!

Only once did Constantin abandon his omnipresence ill which one actually lost sight of his presence. At the very beginning he got them to sing one of the old drinking songs, "by way of calling to mind that jolly time when men and women feasted together," as he saida proposal which had the positively burlesque effect he had perhaps calculated it should have. It almost gained the upper hand when the Dressmaker wanted them to sing the ditty: "When I shall mount the bridal bed, hoiho!" After a couple of courses had been served Constantin proposed that the banquet should conclude with each one's making a speech, but that precautions should be taken against the speakers' divagating too much. He was for making two conditions, viz., there were to be no speeches until after the meal; and no one was to speak before having drunk sufficiently to feel the power of the wineelse he was to be in that condition in which one says much which under other circumstances one would leave unsaidwithout necessarily having the connection of speech and thought constantly interrupted by hiccoughs.77 Before speaking, then, each one was to declare solemnly that he was in that condition. No definite quantity of wine was to be required, capacities differed so widely. Against this proposal, John entered protest. He could never become intoxicated, he averred, and when he had come to a certain point he grew the soberer the more he drank. Victor Eremita was, of the opinion that any such preparatory premeditations to insure one's becoming drunk would precisely militate against one's becoming so. If one desired to become intoxicated the deliberate wish was only a hindrance. Then there ensued some discussion about the divers influences of wine on consciousness, and especially about the fact that, in the caseof a reflective temperament, an excess of wine may manifest itself, not in any particular impetus but, on the contrary, in a noticeably cool self possession. As to the contents of the speeches, Constantin proposed that they should deal with love, that is, the relation between man and woman. No love stories were to be told though they might furnish the text of one's remarks.

The conditions were accepted. All reasonable and just demands a host may make on his guests were fulfilled: they ate and drank, and "drank and were filled with drink," as the Bible has it;88 that is, they drank stoutly.

The desert was served. Even if Victor had not, as yet, had his desire gratified to hear the splashing of a fountain,which, for that matter, he had luckily forgotten since that former conversationnow champagne flowed profusely. The clock struck twelve. Thereupon Constantin commanded silence, saluted the Young Person with a goblet and the words quod felix sit faustumque99 and bade him to speak first.

(The Young Person's Speech)


The Young Person arose and declared that he felt the power of the wine, which was indeed apparent to some degree; for the blood pulsed strongly in his temples, and his appearance was not as beautiful as before the meal. He poke as follows:

If there be truth in the words of the poets, dear fellow banqueters, then unrequited love is, indeed, the greatest of sorrows. Should you require any proof of thisyou need but listen to the speech of lovers. They say that it is death, certain death; and the first time they believe itfor the space of two weeks. The next time they say that it is death; and finally they will die sometimeas the result of unrequited love. For that love has killed them, about that there can obtain no doubt. And as to love's having to take hold three times to make away with them, that is not different from the dentist's having to pull three times before he is able to budge that firmly rooted molar. But, if unrequited love thus means certain death, how happy am I who have never loved and, I hope, will only achieve dying some time, and not from unrequited love! But just this may be the greatest misfortune, for all I know, and how unfortunate must I then be!




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