Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Professor Teaches Esperanto at Start of Peripatetic Career

Esperanto: It's all the rage!
The Salt Lake Herald devoted an entire column to Esperanto in its October 8, 1906 edition,[1] noting that the language “is all the rage just now with linguists and students of ethnology the world over.” I’m not sure why it would be the rage with students of ethnology[2] (or even that it were), though it certainly garnered a lot of interest among linguists and other sorts of language experts. Their article cited two professors, with apparently nothing in common but Esperanto. In the early period, Esperanto did have a great deal of popularity among academics.

The article starts by mentioning that, George Wise, a University of Utah professor would be leading a group in the study of Esperanto. After a lengthy description of Esperanto, a sample, and a translation, we get to another professor, George Macloskie of Princeton University.[3] I’ll excerpt that too, since it makes a surprising (and inaccurate) claim.

But onward to our first professor, George Wise. This is how the Salt Lake Herald article begins:
Salt Lake Club to Investigate Esperanto, the Universal Language.
Salt Lake is to have a class in the study of Esperanto, the proposed universal language whose advocates are claiming so much for its practicability and adaptability all over the world. The Monday Night club, which has been taking miscellaneous studies for some time past, has taken a step, under the direction of Professor George C. Wise, professor of languages at the University of Utah, toward beginning the study. Hereafter a part of each meeting will be devoted to the study and practice of the langue, and if half that its advocates claim for it is true it will take only a few weeks to become proficient in it.

Esperanto is all the rage just now with linguists and students of ethnology the world over. It is indeed to the world over that it apples, for it, like the dead and gone Volapuk, is designed to become a medium of communication between the educated peoples of various tongues. Unlike Volapuk, it is established on the basis principas from which the leading languages of the earth are derived, and is easy to learn and to spell, while Volapuk presented difficulties in both ways.
So who was Professor George C. Wise? While many of the early advocates of Esperanto were professors of some note, Wise was at this point, just at the start of his career. He was born in 1878 in Iowa, the son of a photographer. In 1906, he was 28 years old, and probably hadn’t been teaching at the University of Utah for all that long. Nor did he stay in Utah long.

It is clear that he was not a happy member of the University of Utah faculty. This came out in an inquiry about the University of Utah, taken by the American Association of University Professors. Professor Wise’s departure from Utah was found to be due to matters wholly unrelated to his duties as a professor. The president of the university, Joseph T. Kingsbury, had dismissed four faculty members, and removed one professor of being chair of his department. In response, seventeen members of the faculty resigned. The report quotes Kingsbury in his letter to the regents:
2d. Associate Professor George C. Wise. I cannot recommend Prof. George C. Wise for re-employment in the University for reasons as follows: I am convinced that Professor Wise has spoken in a depreciatory way about the University before his classes, and that he has also spoken in a very uncomplimentary way about the administration.[4]
The report makes it clear that there was no tenure at the University of Utah at the time, with “all appointment to the Faculty of the University are for the term of one year and, in accordance with the following section of the Compiled Laws of Utah, may be terminated at the will of the Board of Regents even before the expiration of that term.” The American Association of University Professors, though noting the right of the regents to end any employment, felt that the dismissals were inappropriate.

Professor Wise’s criticisms of the university seem to have been that he felt that Germanic and Romance languages ought to be separate departments, and that the number of faculty hired should take into account the number of students to be taught. Wikipedia notes that all four professors who were fired were non-Mormons, as was the professor who was demoted from being chair. Kingsbury had told the regents that either the professors would have to go or he would. In the end, he resigned as president.

Professor Wise’s clash with his university over academic freedom was no harbinger of steady employment as a professor. By 1920, he was living in Muscatine, Iowa. The Census lists his occupation as “professor.” Ten years later, in 1930, he’s living in Alma, Michigan, and though his occupation is identified as “instructor,” it’s probably a safe assumption that he was continuing as a professor of languages (which ones, I’m not sure).

With another decade, came another move. In 1940 (the last census which has been released to the public), he is the dean of a private college, and he’s living in Tabor, Iowa. Clearly, his intention was to be a professor in a school in Iowa, since every other decade he’s doing that. Of course, the Census gives only a once-in-ten-years snapshot; for all know, he could have have changed academic jobs every five years. He certainly does not seem to have made any great impact on scholarship. Tabor probably didn’t work out. Wikipedia notes that Tabor College closed in 1927, but tried (unsuccessfully) to re-open in the early 40s.

He seems to have finally returned to Muscatine and tried a different trade. A 2954 Muscatine city directory less him as Reverend George C. Wise. By then, his experiences with Esperanto in Salt Lake were probably long forgotten. He seems to have made no mark on the Esperanto movement.

Update: The Salt Lake Herald followed up by reporting on the Esperanto lessons, writing on October 21, 1906:
Monday Night Club.
The last meeting of the Monday Night club was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Alter and Mrs. Emma Bledsoe. Mrs. Charles C. Spooner read a paper on "Balkan Tangles," giving a sketch of the struggles and changes in the Balkan peninsula from the earliest known times to the current day. A study of the conditions of today under Turkish rule followed. The topic was illustrated with some half dozen maps, drawn by the writer. After the usual discussion the members began the study of Esperanto under the leadership of Professor G. C. Wise.

I was going to focus only on Professor Wise, since a little digging showed there was a bit of a story there. But the end of the article quotes Professor George Macloskie of Princeton University. He was a graybeard at the time. Macloskie, in his later years, did much to promote Esperanto, including his articles on the subject for Harper’s Weekly. Subsequently, he would go on to criticize Ido in the pages of the Washington Herald. The obituary for Macloskie in the February 20, 1920 issue of Science notes that he was born in 1834, so when he wrote for Harper’s Weekly in 1906, he was about 72 years old. The end of the Salt Lake Herald article quotes from Macloskie’s Harper’s essay, “The Strength of Esperanto.”
Speaking of Dr. Zamenhof, Professor Macloskie says: “He is a Roman Catholic gentleman and devout spirit, simplicity of heart, and a brother to all men who love the Savior.”
Zamenhof was Jewish (though it gets complex from there). It would have been nice had the Herald somehow misquoted Macloskie, but I tracked down the issue of Harper’s. Yeah, he really said that. I have no idea how Macloskie (who probably knew Zamenhof) came to the misconception that Zamenhof was Catholic. One of Zamenhof’s many projects was homaranismo, a world religion based on the teachings of Rabbi Hillel, but shorn of the ritual requirements of Judaism.[5]

Macloskie does quote from a letter Zamenhof wrote to the Christian Endeavor Society. Zamenhof seems to have adopted the Society’s language in order to communicate with them. The quoted passage begins “Christ desires that all men should love one another.” If I were trying to persuade Christians, I wouldn’t slip in the qualification that “Christianity purports that…” Zamenhof clearly had no qualms about sitting through Christian worship services in order to promote the greater cause of Esperanto. But was Zamenhof a Christian? Certainly not.

  1. No, I’m not typing it all out.  ↩
  2. That is, the study of ethnic groups.  ↩
  3. Spelled “MacCloskie” in the article.  ↩
  4. The entire report (or as much as you like) can be read here  ↩
  5. In other words, he’d fit in nicely in a Reform or Reconstructionist synagogue, and maybe being a little closer to Reconstructionism. In either case, he’d probably be happier if the prayers were in Esperanto.  ↩

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