“Soldiering, my dear madam, is the coward’s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong, and keeping out of harm’s way when you are weak. That is the whole secret of successful fighting. Get your enemy at a disadvantage; and never, on any account, fight him on equal terms.”
His first great success, Arms and the Man is at once one of GBS’s lightest plays and one of his most satirically cutting. While it’s clearly a parody of a type of play which has long fallen into well-deserved obscurity, the humour and the commentary within have both worn very well.
Set during one of the interminable Balkan wars which plagued the era and would lead eventually to the First World War, the play concerns a young girl, engaged to a local war hero, who finds a foreign mercenary hiding in her bedroom, who by turns shocks and beguiles her with old fashioned truth bombs. The mercenary is the original raisonneur, exposing the hypocrisy of the war, the age and the medium, but thankfully he’s also fuzzy round the edges, a wimp and a coward, with an inflated opinion of himself.
If this sounds too hackneyed to work, well, it is, but it isn’t, the execution is done well enough for it not to matter.
At the end of August I paid a visit to Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire – mainly as a fun and educational day out for the family, of course, but also because I’ve been watching it as the setting of the BBC historical recreation programme Victorian Pharmacy, the sequel to Victorian Farm.
You might expect the possibilities of a pharmacy to be less than that of a farm, but it was quite the reverse – from medicine and cosmetics to photography and dentistry, the pharmacy functions well as a gateway to exploring almost every social and cultural issue imaginable, and Ruth Goodman is still the most committed and enthusiastic host on TV.
My metal pictures of the nighttime world of 1894 mainly involve darkness – with, of course, the occasional gas lamp or candle peering gingerly out of the gloom. In fact, many towns were investing in shockingly bright arc lighting, so bright in fact that it had to be lifted up onto a platform 150ft in the air, where they could illuminate a circle of 3000ft.
“In 1885, Austin, Texas was terrorized by a serial killer known as the Servant Girl Annihilator. The murderer was never actually found, but he claimed eight victims, mostly black servant girls, all attacked in the dark of night.
Back then, once night fell, Austin had only moonlight. The city had no outdoor lighting until 1894, when Austin decided to buy more moonlight, in the form of towers. They were fifteen stories tall, each crowned with a circle of six lights, soaring way up above the city.”
I’m sorry to say that I’ve previously only been familiar with the Disney version of The Jungle Book, and while I was aware that the original was different, I didn’t realise that the almost entirely different story of Mowgli was only one of five included. Among the others we have the also-fairly-well-known story of Riki-Tikki-Tavi, a mongoose that saves a family by killing a couple of cobras and smashing their eggs, and ‘The While Seal’ which is about a seal (so not in the jungle) finding new a island where his friends and family will not be graphically slaughtered by humans. The mix of ecological concern and moralistic anthropomorphism does seem to be of another age, but the lack of condescension towards different cultures (and in fact different species!) is almost unique within an imperial context, and that’s most likely why it has survived as a cultural touchstone (and why ‘The White Man’s Burden’ has acquired quite a different reputation – but that’s for another time.)
The first battery-operated telephone switchboard in Lexington, Massachusetts.
The Manchester Ship Canal
Tower Bridge in London
Paris–Rouen Competition for Horseless Carriages, the first automobile competition.
New Zealand enacts the world’s first minimum wage law.
The National College of Music, London.
Sir William Ramsay and Lord Rayleigh discover the first noble gas, argon.
The Donghak Peasant Revolution in Korea.
Coxey’s Army (of the unemployed) marches from Massillon, Ohio, to Washington, D.C.
The May Day Riots (against unemployment) in Cleveland, Ohio.
In New York 12,000 tailors strike against sweatshop working conditions.
Late-period colonial geopolitics
Britain establishes a Protectorate over Uganda.
Japanese capture the port city of Lüshunkou and begin the “Port Arthur massacre” killing more than 1,000 Chinese servicemen and civilians.
Disaster and disgrace
Bubonic plague breaks out in the Hong Kong, killing 2,552 people.
A fire at the site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago destroys most of the remaining buildings.
French Army officer Alfred Dreyfus is arrested for spying.
Chesney Allen, British entertainer and comedian (d. 1982)
Fred Allen, American comedian (d. 1956)
Meher Baba, Indian Avatar of the Age (d. 1969)
Isaac Babel, Ukrainian writer (d. 1940)
Jack Benny, American actor and comedian (d. 1974)
King Boris III of Bulgaria (d. 1943)
Satyendra Nath Bose, Indian physicist (d. 1974)
Walter Brennan, American actor (d. 1974)
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, French writer (d. 1961)
e. e. cummings, American poet (d. 1962)
King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, afterwards The Duke of Windsor (d. 1972)
René Fonck, French World War I flying ace (d. 1953)
John Ford, American film director (d. 1973)
V. V. Giri, Indian politician and 4th President of India (d. 1980)
Martha Graham, American dancer and choreographer (d. 1991)
Corinne Griffith, American actress and author (d. 1979)
Dashiell Hammett, American detective fiction writer (d. 1961)
Rudolf Hess, German Nazi official (d. 1987)
Aldous Huxley, English novelist (d. 1963)
Isham Jones, American bandleader (d. 1956)
Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet politician (d. 1971)
Alfred Kinsey, American sexologist (d. 1956)
Harold Macmillan, British Prime Minister (d. 1986)
Moms Mabley, African American comedian (d. 1975)
Konosuke Matsushita, Japanese industrialist (d. 1989)
Robert Menzies, Australian Prime Minister (d. 1978)
Dick Merrill, American aviation pioneer (d. 1982)
Khawaja Nazimuddin, Pakistani Prime Minister (d. 1964)
Pola Negri, Polish actress (d. 1987)
J. B. Priestley, English novelist and playwright (d. 1984)
Jean Renoir, French film director (d. 1979)
Norman Rockwell, American artist and illustrator (d. 1978)
Joseph Roth, Austrian writer (d. 1939)
E. C. Segar, American cartoonist, creator of Popeye (d. 1938)
Bessie Smith, American blues singer (d. 1937)
James Thurber, American cartoonist and writer (d. 1961)
Philip K. Wrigley, American business and sports executive (d. 1977)
Marietta Alboni, Italian opera singer (b. 1826)
Emperor Alexander III of Russia (b. 1845)
Robert Michael Ballantyne, Scottish novelist (b. 1825)
Gustave Caillebotte, French painter (b. 1848)
Emmanuel Chabrier, French composer (b. 1841)
Marie François Sadi Carnot, French statesman (assassinated) (b. 1837)
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Bengali poet (b. 1838)
Hermann von Helmholtz, German physician and physicist (b. 1821)
Heinrich Hertz, German physicist (b. 1857)
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., American author (b. 1809)
Lajos Kossuth, Hungarian politician (b. 1802)
Anton Rubinstein, Russian pianist and composer (b. 1829)
Adolphe Sax, Belgian instrument maker, inventor of the saxophone (b. 1814)
Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish author (b. 1850)
Ned Williamson, American baseball player (b. 1857)
Charles Romley Alder Wright, British chemist synthesized Heroin (b. 1844)
The classic minstrel show is refracted through just about every aspect of American entertainment since. As a ritual, the minstrel show was as formalized as an exorcism. Each of its set parts has its own afterlife, appears peeking through a different window in American culture like a leering, priapic idiot glimpsed through a heavily barred attic dormer. The show had three main parts. Originally, it would begin with a sheaf of songs. By the 1870s this evolved into a full-blown mockorchestral overture, swerved only by the rather unsettling rattle of Mr. B’s bones. As this dies down, Mr. I steps to the fore and says, “Gentlemen, be seated.”
David Wondrich – Stomp & Swerve; American Music Gets Hot
We’re a few decades into recorded sound now, but so far the field has been the preserve of innovators and hobbyists. In 1894 this is fundamentally still the case, but things are beginning to open up. This year saw the launch of the Graphophone G, the “Baby Grand” – the first machine designed for home entertainment. It sold for $75, or $100 with a horn, a listening tube and a set of records, and allowed the playing of both competing standards of cylinder, Edison and Columbia. Then in November, Berliner disc recordings finally went on sale to the general public. Very little of this would have filtered through into the average household, but for well-off, forward thinking types, having this device in your house was now at least an option. So the piano still has its place in the drawing room, for now, but the shift from home musicianship to mass consumption of recorded sound has begun.
And the actual sounds being recorded? Slim progress on that front, I’m afraid, but greater volume of production at least makes more to choose from.
Minstrel shows were still just about the dominant paradigm of American entertainment in 1894, and the obvious way to tap into this for the wax cylinder market was to produce cut down taster menu versions which could fit into the two-and-a-half minutes available. Our mix starts with the opening overture and first joke from one of these, complete (of course) with the usual racist slurs being thrown around, an unfortunate fact of the time. This is followed by another representation of commercial entertainment – a reproduction of a dance number performed by Edison’s in-house band to promote Edison’s electric lights.
Daisy Bell is one of the few hits of the 90s which is still well-known today, and is included more for reasons of familiarity than quality of performance or recording. After that we have the first of two recordings of Native American “Ghost Dances” collected by noted anthropologist Professor James Mooney. It’s unclear who is actually recorded on the cylinder, but it’s very likely to be Mooney himself. Then we have a clip of a grandfather using the phonograph for ins intended purpose, the dictation of letters – in this case to his grandchildren.
Nostalgia for the pre-Civil War South might seem at best distasteful today, but it was the very definition of a safe topic in the 1890s, and for that matter the only real way for black artists to gain a mass audience. The Standard Quartet were stars of a touring show called “The South Before The War” which presented the era of slavery as “happy days and pleasant nights.” A single recording of the group still exists, and it’s better than might be reasonably expected.
After the chimes of Harvard Clock Tower, and more from the unknown grandfather, we have some recordings from famed Russian violin player and composer Jules Conus, pianist and composer Anton Arensky, tenor Lavrentii Donskoi and pianist Vladimir Wilschaw. The Wilschaw piece is particularly interesting for its almost furious speed which seems to prefigure certain aspects of 20th century piano music. Then, after a very brief bit of speech, we have an excellent piece from a trio of two famous pianists and a violin player and a spooky sample of soprano Maria Ivanovna Gutheil. All of these recordings come from the archive of Julius Block.
Next we have a sentimental story about ‘Old Jim’ going off to war, backed with a mournful piece from “The World’s Greatest Cornetist” Jules Levy, then something from noted bagpipe player John MacColl. The Brilliant Quartette seem to have been blackface singers, but their singing on ‘Blind Tom’ is at least a tad more respectful and lacking in racist stereotypes than most of their peers.
After another “Ghost Dance” excerpt, we have an example of that other staple of the age, pre-vaudeville ethnic music hall performance, here a song and monologue about an Irish wedding. Then in our final stretch we have three songs from the understandably ubiquitous Sousa’s Band (twice called the U.S. Marine Band, but quite possibly exactly the same people), plus one similar piece from the 23rd Regiment Band. Of these the “Enthusiast Polka” is perhaps the best, featuring astounding cornet playing from a young Arthur Pryor, who will doubtless become a fixture of these mixes in the next decade. Then to finish there is some very accomplished stroke-style banjo and proto-country vocals from Charles Astbury and a brief bit of harmony singing from the Bison City Quartet.
Spencer, Wiliams And Quinn’s Imperial Minstrels – Minstrel First Part
Issler’s Orchestra – Electric Light Quadrille
Edward M. Favor – Daisy Bell
James Mooney – Arapaho No. 73. Ghost Dance
Unknown – Personal Message from a Grandfather to his Grandchildren (excerpt 1)
Standard Quartet – Keep Movin’
Harvard Clock Tower – Chimes
Unknown – Personal Message from a Grandfather to his Grandchildren (excerpt 2)
Jules Conus – Chopin-Sarasate- Nocturne In E-Flat, Op. 9, No. 2
Anton Arensky – Le Ruisseau Dans La Forêt In G, No. 15 From 24 Morceaux Charactéristiques, Op. 36
Lavrentii Donskoi – Rubinstein- O Pechal I Toska From Nero
Vladimir Wilschaw – Godard- En Courant In G-Flat, No. 1 From 6 Morceaux, Op. 53
Joseph Sawyer – Birthday Speech, October 22 1894
Anton Arensky, Jan Hrímalý And Anatoly Brandukov – Arensky- Piano Trio No. 1 In D Minor, Op. 32- Second Movement – Scherzo- Allegro Molto
Maria Ivanovna Gutheil – Rubinstein- Sail
Russell Hunting – The Old Man And Jim
Jules Levy – The Last Rose Of Summer
John MacColl – Campbells Are Coming
Brilliant Quartette – Blind Tom
James Mooney – Caddo No. 2. Ghost Dance
Dan Kelly – Paddy’s Wedding
Sousa’s Band – The Crack Regiment
U.S. Marine Band – The Enthusiast Polka
23rd Regiment Band – New York Herald
U.S. Marine Band – The Directorate March
Charles Asbury – Haul The Woodpile Down
Bison City Quartet – Mill Medley