Monday, August 4, 2014

Esperanto’s Savior?

Savior or traitor?
The August 4, 1907 New York Sun had a lengthy piece on Esperanto (almost two columns), and I won’t be quoting it in full here (maybe another time, because it is a valuable early document in the press). Instead, I’m going to focus on just the first six paragraphs.

I don’t believe that everything in the article “Pioneers of Esperanto” is accurate, because already in the first six paragraphs, there are problems. The opening of the article largely focusses not on Ludovik Zamehhof and the creation of Esperanto, but instead on Marquis Louis de Beaufront, the early Esperanto advocate, who soon after this article was published would introduce his “revised Esperanto” project, Ido.

The Sun describes de Beaufront as someone who has to be taken in “almost equal regard” as Zamenhof himself. Since the article was published, 107 have gone past, and we can look at de Beaufront somewhat differently. One thing that has become clear was the he was a great self-promoter and self-mythologizer.

Here’s what the Sun had to say about him:
In every movement there has always been in addition to the initiator at least one other personality that has stood out as an object of almost equal regard. Esperanto, which is beginning to be taken seriously in this country—but only beginning to be—furnishes and example in point.

Dr. Zamenhof is the inventor of this universal language, but now that he has started it on its way he elects to draw himself into the background and watch its course. While nominally the editor of an Esperanto magazine, La Revue, published in Pairs, he is so only at long range, for he has returned to his practice in Warsaw, Poland, where he follows the profession of ocultist. blank
Naturally, he is busy with Esperanto matters, but he does not sacrifice his medical work to them. This course leaves the rostrum vacant for the one who can take and fill it. Fortunately for Esperanto, it is filled very acceptably.

Louis de Beaufront, a professor of languages at Louviers, France, had just published in 1888 an original universal language which he had named Adjuvanto when he heard of Esperanto. He took up the brochure, which Dr. Zamenhof had managed to get printed after much trouble, with some natural hostility, and read it through. To his dismay Esperanto seemed to him as far superior to Adjuvanto as the latter was, in the opinion of its inventor, to Volapük.

He could not disguise the fiat, look at is as he would. For some days he compared the two systems. Then his mind was made up. He deposited his own book in the wastebasket, took up Esperanto with enthusiasm, and gave a display of self-denial by laboring thenceforward in its behalf.

At the time Volapük had given up the ghost and the world was directing a frigid shoulder to the idea of universal language. For then long years he battled unceasingly, and with apparently no results except a ridicule which was as exasperating as it was polite.

Occasionally he was helped by friends, among them René Lemaire, who is said to have practically sacrificed his health to the cause, but it was a barren decade. Finally in 1898, De Beaufront founded the monthly gazette, L’Espérantiste, and the French Society for the Propagation of Esperanto, he also published pamphlets and textbooks, and then began to perceive some sprouts shooting.

The French people took up Esperanto, one by one, and they are now the most enthusiastic adherents of it. Paris is commercially the headquarters of the language and in that city are published far and away the best of the magazines devoted to it. So deeply is it entrenched there that it seems unlikely that it can ever die out. A boy of 13 has made a public speech in Esperanto. And Esperanto is not easy for Frenchmen to pronounce either.
I have found no evidence that de Beaufront was a professor. Of course, I’ve seen ample evidence that newspapers tended to slap the title professor on anyone who gave any sort of course. Further, none of the histories I have read have suggested that de Beaufront was a professor of any actual sort. Esperanto publications from the beginning of the twentieth century do not make any reference to de Beaufront being professor. On the other hand, 1933 Encikopedio de Esperanto listed him as a professor, though as Roland Jossinet pointed out in a 1998 article in Franca Esperantisto, the ultimate source for that information comes from the Ido magazine Progreso, and the biographical sketch seems to have been written by de Beaufront himself. He also styled himself a Marquis. We know that's not true.

The writer of the Sun is a bit unclear on the history of Adjuvanto, claiming that it was published in 1888 and then subsequently discarded. de Beaufront’s claim (for what it’s worth) was that he had left the manuscript with a notary, but it was subsequently lost. Once again, this story has been viewed with suspicion for years.

In January 1909, Arthur Baker wrote in the Amerika Esperantisto that de Beaufront
permitted it to become known that he had prepared manuscripts of a language of his own, called Adjuvanto, and was about to publish it when he learned of Esperanto. Then, deciding it was superior to his own, he put away his ambitions and unselfishly fell to work for Esperanto. One story used to say he burned his manuscripts. Another, that he had deposited them with a notary, to be opened only after his death. It was a nice little story, and made us love the Marquis and harmed nobody—except those who believed it.
He did publish pamphlets and textbooks, and I’ve looked at some of these (though it’s always strange, knowing what was to come). Baker also notes that, ironically, de Beaufront was an opponent of any changes to Esperanto, or at least changes not proposed by him. According to Baker, in 1894 de Beaufront said:
"I call the question of changes ‘accursed’ because, first, it has stopped our process for more than a year; second, it places in mortal danger the existence itself of the language. It stopped the progress, because nobody wanted to publish a new work in the language for fear of the new dialect; one hesitated to push the subscription list of our gazette, not wishing to show the new adepts the present dispute; they have not even tried to make new Esperantists.
The translation is Baker’s.

As the Sun was lionizing de Beaufront as the Great Hope of Esperanto, de Beaufront is counting the days until Ido is anonymously released to the committee which had been convened to propose a single international language, and leaders of which had been its creators.

So much for that “display of self-denial.”
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