a wind to shake the world

Everett S. Allen

Everett S. Allen, 1914-1990

Everett S. Allen joined the staff of the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-times in 1938 after graduating with a degree in English from Middlebury (Vermont) College. He served as a reporter, editor and editorial writer for several decades. He also wrote personal essays for several decades. His Sunday column, “The Present Tense,” started in January 1966. He died in August 1990. I like the title of Mr. Allen’s book, “A Wind to Shake the World,” a chronicle of a hurricane that hit New England the day he began his newspaper career, so I appropriated it for my use.

I first became aware of Mr. Allen (no relation to the principal author of this blog) after he was named the Grand Prize Winner for Commentary in 1979 by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

I’ll be adding to this archive over time but one of the prize-winning pieces, I’ll call it “The Addisonians,” struck a chord with me:

July 23, 1978
I never pass this particular house—a place of broad chimneys and small panes which has a timeless graciousness without thinking of the most extraordinary dinner party that was held there.
The host, a widower, was in his sixties, and it is characteristic of the whole man that he remained perpetually well groomed, physically fit, and altogether attractive, both to males and females. In his face, mankind was mirrored; strength, joy, tragedy, compassion; in his speech, sparkling with wit, and always with an undercurrent of thoughtfulness, there were words for the world. And his temperament, whatever it have been before, had been leavened by life and therefore eschewed such aberrations as anger and alarm.
I do not propose to paint him as perfect; had he been, no one would have liked him, I assume—as it was, virtually everybody did. Principally, this was because he was civilized, in the best sense of the word.
He had been a professional person but in these years to which I refer, he was retired and lived very well. His home, filled with books, paintings, and objects collected from a score of countries was an oasis of culture. There was not one item in that place which was tasteless or ostentatious—or, one supposes, inexpensive. He sailed, fished a little, in perfectionist fashion, interested himself in a greenhouse, and read constantly.
He was a gourmet by inclination. I almost said by heritage, envisioning his taste for pate de foie gras with truffles in canapés as something so much a part of him that it must have been locked into his genes. It was typical of him that I should think that; he gave the impression of having been born well-bred—taste and manners were so much a part of him that one could not imagine any time of his life, however early, when his mother would have had to say to him, “You are holding your fork incorrectly,” or whatever.
After his wife died, he was lonely, and out of his interest in good food and wine and his desire to keep in touch with the world, there emerged a loosely knit group called the Addisonians. What it amounted to was that eight males whom he had known for many years came to his house for dinner, on the third Thursday of each month. He derived great pleasure from selecting the menu, traveling miles to find the best ingredients, spending up to a couple of days preparing the meal, and keeping the whole business a surprise from them until the moment of serving.
The name of their group—which was his idea—derives from Joseph Addison, who wrote in The Spectator in 1711: “Were I to prescribe a rule for drinking, it should be formed upon a saying quoted by Sir William Temple: the first glass for myself, the second for my friends, the third for good humor, and the fourth for mine enemies.” The man of whom I write thought much of Addison’s works; this quotation he had had printed on cocktail napkins which were handed in almost ritualistic fashion to his eight guests each month.
On this night in question when they had gathered, it was early October, one of those evenings in which nature chooses to beguile: “there will be no winter this year,” she says, and it seems possible because the air is still mild, the wind kind, and sky powdered with stars.
I owe it to you to tell you about the dinner. It began with escargots bourguignonne, which is to say, snails stuffed into shells, with a mashed clove of garlic in butter poured over, heated in a moderate oven until the butter melts, garnished with parsley and served with chunks of French bread to dip into the sauce. If you have not eaten escargots, pray do not find the notion unthinkable; if you have eaten them, then I assume I do not have to persuade you.
There followed roast squab, each about a pound apiece, and stuffed with a mixture of bread crumbs, parsley, tarragon or basil, paprika, salt, pepper, maybe a little nutmeg, some mushrooms, and melted butter, all preciously baked. The birds were served with stuffed olives and beet pickles, buttered green beans dusted with nutmeg, romaine salad with French dressing, and hot rolls.
The wine was a chilled Graves, a white table wine which comes from grave district of Bordeaux, in this case, chateau Haut Brion. And for dessert, they had strawberries Romanoff—cut the berries into generous pieces, sprinkle with sugar, whip heavy cream until it is stiff, mix it with vanilla ice cream, fold the berries into the mixture, add a jigger of port, and stash in the freezing compartment for an hour before serving. And after that, coffee and brandy.
The affair, as with all of these dinner parties was a jewel—as if one stepped into the fourth dimension at the front door of his house, leaving behind the scars and bruises of the day, and for these few hours, lived as a man ought to live. From the beginning, the nine of them—taking a page from naval officers’ wardroom rules—had decided that certain subjects, such as business, politics, sex, and matters likely to produce abrasiveness, would not be discussed at the dinners. The plane of conversation, therefore, tended to be most agreeably ageless and predominantly philosophical. On this particular evening, they had spent nearly an hour discussing what difference it makes where a person lives—that is, what effects upon life style, ambition, longevity, attitude and so on do temperature and climate make?
The phone rang. The host rose from the table, answered it, spoke briefly, and returned. Conversation resumed, during which he finished his brandy, and then excused himself, saying, “I have to go out to the greenhouse for just a moment.”
When he had not returned in a half-hour, they went looking for him. He had shot himself. Time revealed that the phone call was from a law-enforcement officer, that arrest was imminent, because the money that had purchased the host’s good life was not his.
Yet I submit that it was typical of him, civilized man that he was, that he should have finished his brandy, completed his conversation, retained his composure, and properly excused himself before putting a bullet through his head.

Click to read a few reviews of “A Wind to Shake the World.”

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