Monday, October 6, 2014

Esperanto in 1907

On Sunday, October 6, 1907, the San Francisco Call ran a full-page article under the title “Surprising Activity of Esperantists in America.” My usual practice has been to quote articles in part or full, but not to link to the actual pages on the Chronicling America website. However, since the article is so long and so full of interesting things, I will provide a link to the page, and I encourage you to go and read the whole thing if you are interested (as I am) in the early history of Esperanto.

I’m going to hit on some of the highlights of the article, noting things that caught my interest. Sadly, it’s hard to imagine a major metropolitan newspaper devoting a full page to Esperanto in 2014. I suspect that even if a Universala Kongreso were held in the United States (which looks unlikely), the newspaper in that city would probably give it scant attention.[1] The Call was doing this some time after the 1907 Universala Kongreso, which happened far away from San Francisco. At the time, there was probably not even an inkling of holding the Kongreso in San Francisco.[2]

The article makes an error. There are two dates which many Esperanto speakers make special note of. One is December 15, the anniversary of Zamenhof’s birth, called “Zamenhof-tago” (Zamenhof Day) and July 26, which was the day on which the Unua Libro was published. The Call makes a crucial typographical error and states that “Dr. Zamenhof regards December 5, 1878, as the birthday of his new language.” This is incorrect. They moved things up by 10 days.

The Call is referring to Zamenhof revealing his Lingwe uniwersala to his friends on his nineteenth birthday, on December 15, 1878. Ludovick’s father destroyed of this work, but Ludovick used this as a basis for his Internacia Lingvo of 1887, that is to say, Esperanto.

There is also a bit of irony in the article.
The man who received the greatest ovation at the congress, however, excepting, of course, Dr. Zamenhof, was the generous Marquis de Beaufront., the Frenchman who pushed the movement in France when it was in danger of total extinction; the man who, after working fifteen years upon a universal language of his own, recognized that Dr. Zamenhof’s system was better. Abandoning his own and casting away with it his private ambitions, the Marquis got behind Dr. Zamenhof’s language and worked whole heartedly for it. For this splendid sacrifice M. de Beaufront will always hold an honored place in the Esperanto world.
That “always” had another year left on it. The man who was applauded at the 1907 congress in Cambridge, England, was reviled at the 1909 congress (in Barcelona). This was the Universala Kongreso when the supporters of Ido attempted (unsuccessfully) to convince to Esperanto movement to adopt the reforms proposed by the creators of Ido. De Beaufront (who, as I’ve noted before, wasn’t actually a Marquis) did some wonderful things for the Esperanto movement in its early days, but subsequently became known only for his break with the movement.

The article also makes mention of the American Esperanto Association, which was formed in Boston in March 1905, preceding the better known Esperanto Association of North America, which would form at the Chautauqua meeting in 1909. The Call wrote that
The national society, or the American Esperanto association, as it is now known, was formed on March 16 of the same year at the home of Mr. Matchett, who organized the first society. The members of the two societies already in existence and other Esperantists residing in Everett, Medford, Brighton[3] and neighboring towns succeeded by united effort in placing the national association upon a permanent basis. They were soon joined by Esperantists and Esperanto clubs in other states.
It’s still a mystery to me why a new national organization formed in 1908. What was wrong with the old one? Even if they wanted new officers and a new structure, why not just continue with the 1905 organization? In the end, it seemed almost like a hostile takeover of the Esperanto movement, pushing the Boston crowd out in favor of those connected with publishing in New York.

The Call also notes that the New York society had to deal with those people who were “faddists,” who wanted to be able to say that they were Esperantists without going through the trouble to actually learn the language. Let that sink in for a moment, the thought that Esperanto was seen as such a marker of social status that people were willing to lie about their commitment to Esperanto. The Call notes that the New York group had to institute qualifying exams, quoting Dr. William Gray Nowell, the first president of the first national organization:
“They [the organizers of the New York group] worked for months trying to bring together a sufficient number of people who were willing to take up the new language. At first many joined for the purpose of saying they were Esperantists. As the charter member of the society did not desire faddists and curiosity seekers in the club, they added the following amendments to the constitution:

“’Every applicant for membership shall be required to pass an examination showing that he has a good knowledge of Esperanto grammar. Such examination shall be passed not later than six weeks after his admission to the society meetings. Not later than four weeks after the first examination he shall be required to pass a second examination showing that he is able to read intelligently Esperanto texts and to translate Esperanto sentences from his native language.’ “The adoption of thee amendments has resulted in only earnest workers become workers of the New York society.”
Finally, the article includes a list that is somewhat dull reading but comprises a large number of prominent American Esperantists of the early period. We have the usual suspects: Dr. Ivy Kellerman Reed, Mrs. Winifred Sackville Stone, and Dr. D.O.S. Lowell. It would take some time to identify them all, as it includes many lesser-known Esperantists. Many of the Esperantists listed are professors at various universities.

The article concludes with a short description of Esperanto, noting that
Dr. Zamenhof so simplified Esperanto that an ordinarily well educated man can use it in spoken or written form quite fluently in a few weeks and become a master of it in three to six months. To learn, say, French as well would take two to four years.

  1. Then again, when I’ve tagged along to cities with American Chemical Society meetings, the papers have no information about this, even though the conventions are many times larger than even the largest of the Esperanto congresses.  ↩
  2. It was held there eight years later, during WWI. It is the smallest Kongreso on record.  ↩
  3. All suburbs of Boston.  ↩

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