Radio Podcast #7 – 1898 to 1899

MP3 download | Apple | Spotify | Castbox | Stitcher | Radiopublic | RSS

As we are coming towards the end of the 19th Century, I present an overview of the music and history of 1898 and 1899 – minstrel shows, vaudeville, cakewalk, the horribly-named “coon songs” and an exciting new genre called “ragtime.”

Centuries of Sound is an independent podcast without any advertising, and it’s only with the support of my patrons that the show can survive. To download full mixes, get early access to the radio podcast, and a get host of other benefits for $5 (or local equivalent) per month, please come to

Centuries of Sound on Cambridge 105 Radio – Episode 7 (1898-1899)

This time, coming towards the end of the 19th Century, we present an overview of the music and history of 1898 and 1899 – minstrel shows, vaudeville, cakewalk, the horribly-named “coon songs” and an exciting new genre called “ragtime.” This is a one-off solo show from James, as Sean is ill, expect lots of talking with occasional bits of something else, but it’s all good, really it is, honest.

1898 in Art

Anna Klumpke – Portrait of Rosa Bonheur

Arnold Böcklin – Plague

Edwin Austin Abbey – King Lear, Act I, Scene I

Ivan Aivazovsky – Among Waves

José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior – The Inopportune

L. A. Ring – Ved frokostbordet og morgenaviserne

Odilon Redon – The Cyclops

Teodor Axentowicz – Self-portrait

Thomas Eakins – Salutat

Vilhelm Hammershøi – Interior with young man reading

1898 in Film

The Astronomer’s Dream

Dewar’s – It’s Scotch! (The first advert)

Divers at Work on the Wreck of the “Maine”

Eiffel Tower

The Four Troublesome Heads

A Switchback Railway

Queen Victoria Arrives at a Royal Garden Party

The Oil Gush Fire in Bibiheybat

Tommy Atkins in the Park

The Famous Box Trick

Santa Claus

Adventures of William Tell

The Miller And The Sweep

The Magician

The Ball Game


It might not be the most reprinted newspaper editorial of all time, but the J’Accuse letter resonates all the way to the dark heart of the 20th Century like nothing else. Antisemitism, inter-European rivalries, the politics of industrial hate – it stands as both a grim foretelling of these forces and an example of the moral and intellectual forces that would stand against them.

Zola is one of my favourite authors (I’ve written quite a bit about why this is over here – and may even finish it someday) but by the late 1890s he was definitely past his best, his last truly great novel, Germinal, being published ten years earlier. His work was always political, both explicitly and in its smallest detail, but central to his politics was an empathy for individual people and the rotten things the world throws at them.

Alfred Dreyfus certainly had a harder time of it that almost anyone. Born into a Jewish family in the forever-contested region of Alsace, he worked his way up the French army ranks before being found to be a convenient scapegoat when military secrets were leaked to the Germans.

History has to judge Zola’s intervention as a success. Despite the havoc it caused initially, it was clear that Dreyfus was innocent, and in 1906, already out of jail, he received his pardon. Zola was less fortunate, though. After fleeing to England, he died from carbon monoxide poisioning from a blocked chimney, the blocking quite possibly done by a chimney sweep who had been paid to kill him.

There is a fairly good In Our Time podcast about the Dreyfus affair to be found here – – and the whole text can be found in English here –…!

H. G. Wells – The War of the Worlds


Reading The Island of Doctor Moreau, I thought it must be the darkest of Wells’s science fiction stories, but The War of the Worlds represents some solid competition on that front. As stories of alien invasion go, it’s remarkably bleak and lacking in heroism. After the aliens land in the suburbs of London (the capital of a third of the world in 1898) every attempt to deal with them is doomed by naivety, arrogant folly and blind, incoherent panic. An attempt by one individual to survive and rebuild is a castigation of these faults, but is, as the narrator soon realizes, guilty of the same. Victory over the Martians only comes by chance, with the humans having nothing at all to do with it.

The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds (full text at Project Gutenberg)
The War of the Worlds (free audiobook at Librivox)

1898 and the Spanish-American War


1898 is quite a memorable year for one big reason; it marks the start and end of the Spanish-American war, the first adventure of the USA’s imperial phase, and the making of one of its most zeitgeist-setting leaders, Theodore Roosevelt. On the plus side this means the year is easier to research, but on the downside, the focus is usually blinkered.

1898: The Birth of the American Century by David Traxel

When I’m scouting around for research sources through my strange little narrow frame, the most obvious thing to look at is “books about years.” This is the first one I’ve encountered so far (there are many, many more to come once we get into the 20th century) and is not the best, or the worst introduction to the genre. While supposedly about the events of 1898, the book is mostly (say 80%) about the Spanish-American war, from an entirely American perspective, and even the context setting introduction and conclusion are only basically lists of events in the USA. I guess this is fair enough, the war was nicely contained by the year, though the repercussions in Cuba and The Philippines would continue for decades after, and expecting American historians to take an international perspective is obviously wishful thinking. The war is described well-enough, taking a pretty even-handed approach to the rights and wrongs of it, but the analysis is a bit limited, events are covered in a reasonable depth, with no extra time taken on analysing deeper issues. Not sure I would recommend it, but I’m not giving it to Oxfam.

In the same sort of quality, but preferable due to being consumable in two hours, here’s a fairly dry PBS documentary with a host of military historians in front of bookshelves and hoary voice actors playing McKinley, Roosevelt and the rest.

The Lions of Tsavo

It’s one of those stories that barely seems credible; British-led construction workers building a railway across Kenya and Uganda are picked off and eaten by a pair of unusually cunning lions. Traps are laid, but the lions manage to outwit the hunters at every stage, until in a final showdown they are defeated by a lieutenant-Colonel with a moustache and a twinkle in his eye. Some facts about the case seem to have been embellished or exaggerated (the kill-count being more like 35 than 100 for example), but the basics of the tale are apparently legit.

This is a podcast from ‘Stuff You Missed In History Class’ which discusses the case. As with all of their shows, great information, wish they would tone it down a little with the chat, and reduce the ads to something less than 30% of the show

The Wikipedia article on the case is also unusually readable and comprehensive

Oscar Wilde – The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Oscar in his third and final act was perhaps on the surface a different sort of animal; withdrawn and solemn, altogether lacking in the choice witticisms that made his name. I like to think that nothing had changed – here is the honesty and compassion that I see in his essays and his novel, just with the artifice relentlessly stripped away, and infused with an enforced humility in the face of the forces of fate. For all that, the resignation is still shocking in its cold fury, the numbing repetition of the simple meter mirroring the tramp of prisoners around the yard, the descriptions of the execution almost unbearably vivid. I’m not really a poetry person (hopefully with this project that can change) but this gets me *there* more than almost any other text.

The entire text is here and (if you are in the mood for something grim and depressing) I urge you to read it:

And this is the best reading I can find of it on youtube:



Elsewhere in 1898


The Spanish–American War
The Battle of Omdurman: British and Egyptian troops defeat Sudanese tribesmen.
700 Greeks and 15 Englishmen are slaughtered by the Turks in Heraklion, Greece, leading to the establishment of the autonomous Cretan State.

Other Conflict (inter-human)

Émile Zola’s “J’accuse…!” letter is published on the front page of the Paris daily newspaper L’Aurore, accusing the government of wrongfully imprisoning Alfred Dreyfus and of antisemitism.
Empress Dowager Cixi of China engineers a coup d’état – the Guangxu Emperor is arrested.
Hundreds of demonstrators are killed when General Fiorenzo Bava-Beccaris orders troops to fire on a rally in Milan, Italy.
Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni assassinates Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Geneva.

Other Conflict (human-vs-animal)

The first of the two Tsavo Man-Eaters is shot by John Henry Patterson; the second is killed 3 weeks later, after 135 workers have been killed by the lions.


The British government makes a 99 year rent of Hong Kong from China.
The United States annexes the Hawaiian Islands.
New York City is divided into the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island.


William Ramsay and Morris Travers discover neon.
Marie and Pierre Curie announce discovery of an element they name radium.
Caleb Bradham names his soft drink Pepsi-Cola.


Alvar Aalto, Finnish architect (d. 1976)
Vicente Aleixandre, Spanish writer, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1984)
Arletty, French model and actress (d. 1992)
Hastings Banda, 1st President of Malawi (d. 1997)
Debaki Bose, Indian actor, director and writer (d. 1971)
Bertolt Brecht, German writer (d. 1956)
Alexander Calder, American artist (d. 1976)
Violet Carson, British actress (d. 1983)
Sara Carter, American country music singer, musician, and songwriter (d. 1979)
Baby Dodds, American jazz drummer (d. 1959)
Irene Dunne, American actress (d. 1990)
Alfred Eisenstaedt, American photojournalist (d. 1995)
Sergei Eisenstein, Russian and Soviet film director (d. 1948)
Hanns Eisler, German composer (d. 1962)
Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Colombian politician (d. 1948)
M. C. Escher, Dutch artist (d. 1972)
Enzo Ferrari, Italian race car driver and automobile manufacturer (d. 1988)
Gracie Fields, British singer, actress and comedian (d. 1979)
Umm Kulthum, Egyptian singer and actress (d. 1975)
Lotte Lenya, Austrian actress and singer (d. 1981)
Liu Shaoqi, President of the People’s Republic of China (d. 1969)
Federico García Lorca, Spanish poet and playwright (d. 1936)
George Gershwin, American composer (d. 1937)
John Grierson, Scottish documentary filmmaker (d. 1972)
Armand Hammer, American entrepreneur and art collector (d. 1990)
Tamara de Lempicka, Art Deco painter (d. 1980)
C. S. Lewis, British author (d. 1963)
René Magritte, Belgian artist (d. 1967)
Firpo Marberry, American baseball pitcher (d. 1976)
Blind Willie McTell, American singer (d. 1959)
Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel (d. 1978)
Willy Messerschmitt, German aircraft designer and manufacturer (d. 1978)
Marilyn Miller, American actress, singer, and dancer (d. 1936)
Kenji Mizoguchi, Japanese film director (d. 1956)
Henry Moore, English sculptor (d. 1986)
Luis Muñoz Marín, Puerto Rican poet, journalist and politician (d. 1980)
Harry Patch, British World War I soldier, last Tommy Atkins (d. 2009)
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, American clergyman (d. 1993)
Marie Prevost, Canadian actress (d. 1937)
Ahmad Shah Qajar, Shah of Persia (d. 1930)
Isidor Isaac Rabi, American physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1988)
Erich Maria Remarque, German writer (d. 1970)
Paul Robeson, American actor, singer and political activist (d. 1976)
Randolph Scott, American film actor (d. 1987)
William James Sidis, American mathematician (d. 1944)
Preston Sturges, American director and writer (d. 1959)
Shinichi Suzuki, Japanese musician and educator (d. 1998)
Leó Szilárd, Hungarian-American physicist (d. 1964)
Zheng Zhenduo, Chinese author and translator (d. 1958)
Zhou Enlai, Premier of the People’s Republic of China (d. 1976)
Fritz Zwicky, Swiss physicist and astronomer (d. 1974)


Lewis Carroll, British writer, mathematician (Alice in Wonderland) (b. 1832)
Charles Pelham Villiers, longest-serving MP in the British House of Commons (b. 1802)
Andrei Alexandrovich Popov, Russian admiral (b. 1821)
George Müller, Prussian evangelist and founder of the Ashley Down orphanage (b. 1805)
Henry Bessemer, British engineer and inventor (b. 1813)
Aubrey Beardsley, British artist (b. 1872)
Matilda Joslyn Gage, American feminist (b. 1826)
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Indian university founder (b. 1817)
Gustave Moreau, French painter (b. 1826)
William Ewart Gladstone, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (b. 1809)
Ferdinand Cohn, German biologist, bacteriologist and microbiologist (b. 1828)
Siegfried Marcus, Austrian automobile pioneer (b. 1831)
Richard Pankhurst, English lawyer, radical and supporter of women’s rights (b. 1834)
Otto von Bismarck, German statesman (b. 1815)
Eugène Boudin, French painter (b. 1824)
Sarah Emma Edmonds, Canadian nurse and spy (b. 1841)
Stéphane Mallarmé, French poet (b. 1842)
Empress Elisabeth of Austria, empress consort of Austria, queen consort of Hungary (assassinated) (b. 1837)
Ramón Emeterio Betances, Puerto Rican politician, medical doctor and diplomat (b. 1827)
George Grey, 11th Premier of New Zealand (b. 1812)
Theodor Fontane, German writer (b. 1819)
Tan Sitong, Chinese revolutionary (executed) (b. 1865)
Louise of Hesse-Kassel, German princess, Queen Consort of Christian IX of Denmark (b. 1817)
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, French painter (b. 1824)
Sir John Fowler, British civil engineer (b. 1817)
Charbel Makhluf, Lebanese monk (b. 1828)
Exit mobile version