Saturday, July 26, 2014

For and Against Esperanto in the Sun

Dr. Henri Vallienne.
The New York Sun probably wasn’t aware that it was Esperanto Day when Henri Vallienne’s dialog Por kaj Kontraŭ Esperanto came to their attention. On July 26, 1908, Esperanto was just twenty-one years old. The second Universala Kongreso was some weeks away (the tradition of holding it to coincide with Esperanto Day clearly hadn’t begun, as the 1908 Dresden convention started on the 15th of August, 1908). For that matter, while they called Dr. Vallienne’s book “a recent publication,” it was a product of 1906.

According to the Esperanto Wikipedia, Henri Vallienne was a French physician and Esperantist. He wrote both original works and translations.

The article is too long to transcribe here (I realize my blog isn’t going to run out of room, but at a column and a half, it’s more typing of someone else’s words than I’m up for today). Instead, I’ll quote such sections and comment on them as I go.
French Writer Compares Them in Dialogue Form.
A Recent Publication to Show the Superiority of the Newly Invented Universal Language—What a Railroad Accident Looks Like When It Hits Dog Latin.
How did a railroad accident get into this? That was Vallienne’s background for the dialog. The Sun provided a helpful summary:
A well known French Esperantist, Dr. Vallienne, has published a dialogue, supposed to be carried on by two ingenuous young men named Henriko and Aleksandro, who discuss the international language, the former being its champion and the latter a sceptic. As in most dialogues of a Socratic order, the participants are exceedingly polite and each waits patiently to the end of the other’s paragraph. This is an agreeable condition which does not usually obtain in real life, but Dr. Vallienne’s “Por kaj Kontrau Esperanto” is not a drama.

The opening shows Henriko alone in his study. He is reading the Internacia Scienca Revuo, an Esperanto monthly, and on his table there is a collection of Esperanto books. A knock is heard. “Enter,” says Henriko; and and on seeing the visitor, “Aleksandro!” he exclaims, “what happy wind blew you hither?”

“A railroad accident,” says Aleksandro, and he proceeds to explain it with a precision of detail that tells the reader immediately how important to the plot it all is, though it may not seem so.
The “dog Latin” comes in much later, after a lengthy extract (translated into English) from the book. Note that the Esperanto advocate (the "good guy") gets the author's name. After Henriko dismisses a number of Aleksandro’s objections, Aleksandro suggests Latin.
“A very easy language,” smiles Henriko satirically, “and so suitable for these modern times.”

Aleksandro contents that it may be learned like anything else. “You were the best Latin scholar at college, I remember,” says Henriko, “but there is much that neither you no any one else can translate into Latin. You couldn’t keep up a Latin conversation for five minutes.”
Aleksandro then goes to to show that he can cast his account of the railroad problem into Latin after a half hour's work. I wonder how long it took Vallienne.
Henriko reads it carefully. “Would Cicero understand this?” he asks.

“He would not,” says Aleksandro, “for he would have no experience of the things described.”

“Would the most scholarly Latinist of the twentieth century understand it?”

“But it seems to me——”

“Don’t get angry,” soothes Henriko. "But really, now, how many scholars would know that signa fulminei instrumenti means ‘telegraph,’ and that tractarius motator is ‘locomotive,’ and that ‘piston’ is meant by ambulatilis fundulus, and that commeatus conveniens expresses that train you ought to have caught but didn’t?
I think by this time, the Catholic Church was already figuring out how to put such things into Latin. Henriko goes on to show the superiority of Esperanto by quoting Vallienne’s own translation of Virgil’s Aeneid (the Sun uses Æneid). This is the only Esperanto in the entire piece, and so I feel obligated to quote it:
Armojn mi kantas kaj viron, unua el bordoj Trojanaj
Kiu elvenis, fatale puŝita, kaj ĝis Lavinujo,
Lando Itala, longtempe tra tero kaj moaro vagadis,
Dio de volo; ĉar lin persekutis Junona kolero.
Grandajn batalojn li ankaŭ suferis, dum urbon konstruis,
Kaj al Latujo alportis diaĵojn: el kie latina
Raso, kaj Albaj prapatroj kaj altaj de Romo muregoj.
The text explains that they have used the convention of substituting a following h for the circumflex; I put in the correct letters as I typed, having access to characters that the compositors at the Sun wouldn't have dreamed of in 1908. Aleksandro isn’t convinced by Virgil though.
It is easy to be seen that Aleksandro is a stubborn young gentleman, and whether Henriko finally brings him around or not is left to the imagination of the reader, for the sketch ends with a long discursive essay by Henriko on the changes Latin underwent after the fall of the Roman Empire. Perhaps Aleksandro was obliged to catch his “commeatus conveniens” and, unconvinced, leave Henriko still talking.

But it is equally easy to be seen that Aleksandro ought to have become an ardent Esperantist on the spot, for the dialogue is written in Esperanto, and the reader to understand it must be an Esperantist.
This doesn't look like Esperanto to me
This raises a question that isn’t “Why did Dr. Vallienne write his dialog in Esperanto?” Who at the Sun knew Esperanto well enough to translate huge chunks of this pamphlet and yet still slammed it?

The writer needn’t have worried about Dr. Vallienne writing his dialog in Esperanto. The publishers, the Presa Esperantisto Societo of Paris, actually produced two versions. In the French version, the characters are called Henri and Alexandre. It begins like this:
HENRI, dans son cabinet de travail, est occupé à lire la « Internacia Scienca Revuo ». Sur le bureau se voit toute la collection des livres espérantistes. On frappe à la porte. — Entrez.
And so forth. And the Presa Esperantisto Societo clearly was more interested in selling the French edition than the Esperanto one. In their catalog, they list the price of Pour et contre l’Esperanto as 15 centimes each, or a stack of 100 for 10 francs. The Esperanto edition is 30 centimes for just one copy, with no volume deal for 100.
Get a hundred! Give them to all your friends!

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1 comment:

  1. Brave, interesa. Inter Francanoj kaj Esperanto strango estas la amo.


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