Alongside Richard Wagner, Verdi was the preeminent composer of operas in his era, with works such as “Aida”, “Il Trovatore” and “La Traviata” to his credit. He was also famed for the “Messa da Requiem”, an oratorio he wrote in tribute to his friend Alessandro Manzoni. Verdi loved the works of Shakespeare, and several of his operas were adaptations of the Bard’s plays.
Verdi is known to have been active in the cause of Italian unification, although he was horrified by the assassination of King Umberto I in 1900. The composer suffered a stroke on January 21, 1901, and clung to life for another six days before dying. His funeral remains the single largest public event in Italian history, and his friend Arturo Toscanini conducted the massed orchestra of musicians from throughout Europe who came to pay tribute to Verdi at it.
THe Boxer Rebellion was a four year long uprising by native Chinese who fought against Japanese and European imperialism. The very name of the event is a textbook example of such imperialism: how dare the ungrateful peasantry of China reject the gifts of conquest, opium, economic disruption and famine that the Great Powers of the world had chosen to inflict upon them? An Eight Nation Alliance consisting of the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France, Germany and Italy set out to teach them the error of their ways.
Not that the Boxers were without their faults too – there were massacres of Christian missionaries and Chinese Christians, with an estimated 100,000 civilians killed by the rebels. (Another 5000 civilians were killed by the Alliance.) There is no record of how many Bozers were slain, but approximately 2000 Chinese soldiers and 1000 Alliance soldiers were killed in the fighting, before the Eight Nation Alliance forced China to sign a humiliating peace accord on September 7, 1901. The Boxer Protocol’s terms included the execution of government officials who had supported the Boxers, an indemnity payment so great that it exceeded China’s total annual tax income and the requirement for China to pay for the occupying garrisons of its conquerors.
Booker T. Washington was one of the greatest politcal leaders of black Americans in the post-Civil War era. Despite not actually having the vote himself, he was a consumate politician. One biographer describes him as having “advised, networked, cut deals, made threats, pressured, punished enemies, rewarded friends, greased palms, manipulated the media, signed autographs, read minds with the skill of a master psychologist, strategized, raised money, always knew where the camera was pointing, traveled with an entourage, waved the flag with patriotic speeches, and claimed to have no interest in partisan politics.”
In 1901, he was accorded a signal honour when he was invited to dine at the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the very first black leaders to be recognised in this manner. This was a highly controversial decision at the time, and occasioned some truly terrifying displays of racism, notably that of Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina, who said that “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place again.” His sentiments were, unfortunately, not uncommon. Washington would continue his struggle until his death in 1915.
William McKinley was neither the first nor the last United States President to be assassinated while in office. But he was perhaps the most kindly. When he was shot, his first thought was that whoever told his wife do so gently; his second, that the mob be prevented from killing his attacker.
The attacker in question was Leon Czolgosz, a man who had turned to anarchist thought after witnessing the brutral strike-breaking practices of his era. Ironically, he was an outcast among other anarchists, who found his talk of violent action and general fanaticism disturbing – some even suspected him of being an agent provocateur.
Czolgosz was arrested, refused to cooperate with his own defence, and was convicted and executed. McKinley died from the wounds Czolgosz had inflicted. He was succeeded as President by Theodoore Roosevelt.
White House Blues – Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers
One of the most famous monarchs of all time, yet often seen as little more than a figurehead used by the revolving cast of Prime Ministers and other government officials, Victoria gave her name to her era, an era characterised by colonialism and industrialisation.
She reigned as Queen longer than any other British Monarch, ruling for an astonishing 63 years and seven months. She was also the first known haemophiliac in the British Royal Family, and spent the last 40 years of her life grieving for her dead husband.
Victoria — The Kinks
Queen Victoria — Leonard Cohen