Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Zamenhof Announces Travel to America

Doktoro Esperanto
[Note: I’ve decided to revise this one a year after writing it. I’ve kept the original link, which was based on the old title, “1910: Zamenhof to Arrive in Washington.” I had written this one up quickly, transcribing only part of the original article; now you get the whole thing. I’ve also added to the context.]

Erroneously dubbing him “Prof. Zamenhof,” the Washington Times of June 10, 1910, announced that Dr. L. L. Zamenhof would be coming Washington D.C. for the Sixth World Esperanto Congress, the first to be held out of Europe. Zamenhof was a physician, specializing in diseases of the eye; he was not a professor. Then, as now, the United States was that unobtainable prize for the Esperanto movement. Zamenhof himself referred to the importance of the 1910 Congress would be for the movement, undoubtably expecting it to promote Esperanto in the United States.

Then again, the recipient of the letter is somewhat doubly misnamed, since the “Dr. Reid” of the article is Edwin C. Reed, the secretary of the Esperanto Association of North America (and not, as the Times would have it, “the North American Esperanto Society”). I have to assume that the press wasn’t particularly sloppy with the Esperanto movement, and probably lots of small organizations got their names garbled. I never see any corrections for these, where they note that “due to an editing error, the name of Edwin C. Reed and his organization, the Esperanto Association of North America, were erroneously reported.”

There was a lot of press attention given to Esperanto in 1910, part of a real surge of interest in Esperanto that started in the United States about 1906, and continued until World War I. The prospect of the speakers of this “new language” gathering in the United States for the first time, also received a lot of attention. (More than a century later, a world Esperanto meeting in the United States would likely have difficulty getting coverage outside—or perhaps even within—its host city.)

The letter, as published in this article from the June 10, 1910 Washington Times, is a fairly early sample of Esperanto in the American press. I’ve provided the accents that the Times dropped.
Prof. Zamenhof to Attend Congress of Universal Language Devotees.

Russian Communicates With Capital Correspondent
by Means of System Invented by Himself.
L. L. Zamenhof, of Warsaw, founder of the universal language, Esperanto, is coming to Washington to attend the sixth International Esperanto Congress. This message of good cheer to the American leaders of the movement was received today by Dr. Edwin C. Reid, general secretary of the North American Esperanto Society, who is in active charge of the preliminary work for the coming meeting.

The letter from Prof. Zamenhof to Dr. Reid is written in Esperanto, and is a good illustration of the value of the new language in allowing a foreigner to send a message to an American, the founder of the language being a Russian.

Message In Esperanto.
The message to the Esperantist is as follows:

“Varsovia, 26, V, 10.
“Kara Sinjoro—Kun plezuro mi vidis el via letero, ke la preparado de la kongreso bone prosperas. Koncerne min, mi povas diri as vi, ke—se ne okazos io neantaŭvidebla—mi certe venos. Kvankam la vojaga kosto estas nun sufiĉe granda, tamen mi opinias ke la Amerika kongreso estos tiel grava por nia afero, ke ĉiu esperantantiso, kiu nur havas ian eĉ plej malgrandan eblon nepre devas veni.
“Ĝis baldaŭa revido,

American Congress Important.
All of this being put in plain English means the following:
“Warsaw, 26, 5, 10.
“Dear Sir—With pleasure I saw from your letter that the preparations of the congress are prospering well. Concerning myself, I can say to you that—if something unforeseen does not occur—I shall certainly come. Although the cost of the voyage is pretty large, yet I think that the American congress will be so important for our movement that each Esperantist who has even the slightest ability unquestionably ought to come.
“Until an early sight of you,
“Yours, L. L. ZAMENHOF”

Dr. Reid has also received a letter from the secretary of William T. Stead, in which he is told that unless his present plans are changed at the last moment, Mr. Stead will come to Washington, and will be one of the leaders in the sessions of the congress.
The translation of Zamenhof’s letter was likely provided by Reed himself. He was probably the source for all the information in the article, which makes it all the stranger that the article gets his name wrong. The letter seems to have taken about two weeks to get from Warsaw to Washington, as it was written on May 26, 1910 (I like Zamenhof’s use of the Roman numeral for the month). I’ve noted previously that after some searching, I discovered that Reed did attend Harvard Medical School, but left there without a degree. So in addition to getting the spelling of his last name wrong, the Times awards him a degree he didn’t have.

William T. Stead, mentioned at the end of the article was the publisher of The Review of Reviews. Like George Harvey of The North American Review, Stead supported Esperanto in his magazine, but unlike Harvey, Stead was an enthusiastic and capable Esperanto speaker. The Esperanto Wikipedia notes that Stead’s secretary was Eliza Ann Lawrence, and that she was herself an important figure in the British Esperanto movement. (She was herself the compiler of A First Reader in Esperanto. )

The book given to conference attendees, the Libro de la Sesa Internacia Kongreso de Esperanto makes no mention of Stead or Lawrence among those leading sessions, and the press makes no mention of famous British journalist showing up in Washington, D.C. Stead might have planned to attend the conference, but his plans must have changed.

Unfortunately, “each Esperantist who has even the slightest ability” did not follow Dr. Zamenhof’s lead, as they were conspicuously absent from the convention. There were clearly thousands of Esperantists in the United States in 1910, but that’s a much larger region than Europe, so they were a good deal more spread out. For whatever reason the EANA never seemed to build a lot of enthusiasm for the congress, and only 272 residents of the United States attended (and a quarter of those were from Maryland and D.C.).

On June 10, 1910, all that was known was that the Zamenhofs were planning to attend. In another post, I wrote about my difficulties in finding a picture of Joseph Silbernik, Klara Zamenhof’s brother and so brother-in-law to creator of Esperanto. Today, I went past an photo I know I had scrolled past before, one of three people at the 1910 Universala Kongreso: Silbernik, his sister, and his brother-in-law.
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