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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Most Regrettable Dinner-Party Stabbing

In the 19th century, the Kembles were a successful American theatrical family. One of them told the poet Fitz-Greene Halleck of an adventure he had at a dinner party, while seated beside a hot-blooded gentleman from Georgia. It is contained in James Grant Wilson's The Life and Letters of Fitz-Greene Halleck.
[Kemble] was at a supper in Philadelphia, with several Southerners, in the good old pistol and bowie-knife days, when the gentleman seated next to him related an adventure he had met with on the Mississippi River. A gambler having been detected by him in cheating at cards, he drew his long knife and pinned the fellow's hand to the table just as he was abstracting a card from the pack. The excited Southerner, in telling the story, had drawn out his bowie-knife, and, in illustrating how it was done, brought down the knife with such force as to drive the instrument through Kemble's hand, which he, of course, did unintentionally, not having observed the hand until his twelve-inch knife had pinned it to the table.

After many apologies, the Southerner offered to give him satisfaction in the manner customary among the fire-eating gentry of the period--an offer, added the poet, which the player very respectfully declined, being perfectly satisfied with having a bowie-knife run through his right hand, without the slightest desire to afford the Southerner an opportunity of sending a bullet through his head.

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