Centuries of Sound on Cambridge 105 Radio – Episode 5 (1894-1895)

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James and Sean continue their voyage into the distant history of sound recording. This time we cover the years 1894 and 1895, a time of popular unrest, great literature, and a burgeoning wax cylinder market, with at least two songs bound to be familiar to listeners in 2018. Also, as ever, plenty of Americans with moustaches, middle initials and banjos.

 

1894 in Art

Stanisław Wyspiański - Planty o swicie

Stanisław Wyspiański – Planty o swicie

Georges Lemmen - The Two Sisters

Georges Lemmen – The Two Sisters

Theodoor Verstraete - Spring in Schoore (Zeeland)

Theodoor Verstraete – Spring in Schoore (Zeeland)

William Merritt Chase - Idle Hours

William Merritt Chase – Idle Hours

John William Godward - A Priestess

John William Godward – A Priestess

Henri Matisse - Woman Reading

Henri Matisse – Woman Reading

George Hendrik Breitner - Meisje in witte kimono (Geesje Kwak)

George Hendrik Breitner – Meisje in witte kimono (Geesje Kwak)

Gustave Caillebotte – The garden of the Petit Gennevilliers in winter

Gustave Caillebotte – The garden of the Petit Gennevilliers in winter

Jacek Malczewski - Melancholia

Jacek Malczewski – Melancholia

Paul Cézanne – Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier

Paul Cézanne – Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier

George Bernard Shaw – Arms and the Man

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“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.

George Bernard Shaw – Arms and the Man (paperback)
George Bernard Shaw – Arms and the Man (full text at archive.org)
George Bernard Shaw – Arms and the Man (free audio production at Librivox)

And here is the first part of a fuzzy rip of a Masterpiece Theatre style production, featuring a young Helena Bonham Carter

Victorian Pharmacy

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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.

Here is episode one:

And here is the series on DVD

Under the Austin Arcs

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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.

Over at the excellent 99% Invisible podcast there is an episode about the introduction of arc lighting to Austin, Texas in 1894:

“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.”

Rudyard Kipling and The Jungle Book

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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.)

Rudyard Kipling – The Jungle Book
Rudyard Kipling – The Jungle Book (full text)
Rudyard Kipling – The Jungle Book (free audiobook at Librivox)
In Our Time podcast on Rudyard Kipling