Him Indoors is trying to persuade me that what we really need to make us happy in our declining years is the expenditure of large amounts of money in order to recondition his piano, made by the great firm of Bechstein in 1876, and last overhauled about fifty years ago. The piano had fifteen minutes of fame as a cover star many years ago (see below), but has, by and large, led a quiet life. Now, it appears, various treatments, uplifts, transplants, buffs and polishes, and, for all I know, Botox, are required to see it through another half century.
Hoping that I might be beguiled, Him sent me an embryonic list of things that happened in 1876, viz.:
The grey squirrel was introduced to England at Henbury Park, Cheshire.
The following books were published:
Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot (a pseudonym)
The Hunting of the Snark, by Lewis Carroll (another pseudonym)
The Prime Minister (the fifth Palliser novel), by Anthony Trollope (not a pseudonym, but a friend of George Eliot)
(And he could have added The Hand of Ethelberta, by Thomas Hardy, as well as many others that have stood the test of time less well.)
None of these seems to me to be a good and compelling reason for plundering the cache under the mattress – least of all the squirrels, which regularly cost me another fortune in ‘wasted’ bird food (don’t utter the phrase ‘squirrel-proof feeder’ in my presence), AND eat my hazel nuts before they are even ripe. But I couldn’t fail to rise to the challenge of seeking out other notable and interesting events which occurred in the 39th year of Queen Victoria’s reign.
Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone: interestingly, he took out a patent on it three days before he asked Mr Watson to come into the room.
The Royal Titles Act gave Queen Victoria the title of Empress of India. (She was enormously disappointed that she never visited her possession, but did take Urdu lessons from Abdul Karim, known as the Munshi, or teacher, who was hugely unpopular with her court.)
The first season of the Bayreuth Festival (Richard Wagner, prop.) took place, with the first consecutive performance of all four operas of the Ring cycle.
War in the Balkans: the Bulgarian atrocities, condemned in Parliament by Gladstone, led to Serbia and Montenegro (with Russian support) declaring war on Turkey. (This led to the Russo-Turkish war of 1877–8, and the coining of the expression ‘jingoism’, from the music-hall song: ‘We don’t want to fight but by Jingo if we do / We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too. / We’ve fought the Bear before, and while we’re Britons true, / The Russians shall not have Constantinople.’ Britain did not in fact get militarily involved.)
Brahms’ 1st Symphony was premiered in Karlsruhe. He had begun it in 1862, but was apparently daunted by the towering example of Beethoven.
Heinrich Schliemann began his excavations at Mycenae, in the course of which he ‘looked upon the face of Agamemnon’.
And of course it was the centenary of the founding of the United States of America.
Among notable births in 1876:
12 January: Jack London, author.
15 February: E.H. [‘Chinese’] Wilson, botanist and plant hunter.
16 February: G.M. Trevelyan, historian.
2 March: Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII.
14 April: Sir Cecil Chubb, who bought Stonehenge and then presented it to the nation.
22 June: Gwen John, painter.
7 August: Margaretha MacLeod, alias Mata Hari, alleged spy.
25 August: Eglantyne Jebb, founder of the Save the Children Fund.
15 September: Bruno Walter, conductor.
23 November: Manuel de Falla, composer.
29 December: Pablo Casals, cellist.
Among notable deaths:
19 April: Sir William Wilde, surgeon, antiquarian and father of the more famous Oscar.
8 May: Truganini, the last Tasmanian Aborigine.
8 June: George Sand, writer.
13 June: G. W. Thornbury, art critic and author.
25 June: George Armstrong Custer, at the Little Big Horn, along with a large number of his troops.
27 June: Harriet Martineau, writer.
1 July: Mikhail Bakunin, anarchist.
2 August: Wild Bill Hickok, outlaw and gunslinger of the Old West (murdered while holding the ‘Dead man’s hand’ of cards).
24 November: Maria Francesca Rossetti, Dante scholar and Anglican nun.
29 December: Titus Salt, inventor of ‘alpaca’ cloth and philanthropist.
And at some point in the course of the year, at Mr Bechstein’s workshop (founded in Berlin in 1853), workmen started putting together the seasoned wood, cast-iron frame, strings, dampers, pegs, pedals and keys of no. 8920.
It was the fourth last to be made in 1876: a Christmas present?