Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Professional Esperantist

He wasn't actually looking at
Esperanto, but was getting others to.
The early Esperanto movement had its share of celebrities, people who tended to get mentioned whenever the subject of Esperanto was brought up, or whose connection to Esperanto was mentioned whenever attention was being turned to them specifically. Chief among these was Dr. Zamenhof himself, but in the United States, the same was true of the Stoner family, and every time Mrs. Stoner’s educational theories were discussed in print, readers would be reminded of her connection to the Esperanto movement.

But Zamenhof didn’t make money from the Esperanto movement (it actually was a drain on his resources) and Mrs. Stoner’s interest in Esperanto seemed to be largely based on self promotion.[1] One celebrity’s fame came from his promotion of Esperanto, and in traveling around promoting Esperanto, Edmond Privat was one of the early professional Esperantists, and preeminent among them.

The New York Sun dubbed Mr. Privat “a missionary of Esperanto,” in a long article on November 26, 1907. This is one case where I’m doing no research; if you want to know about the life of Edmond Privat, look him up on Wikipedia. Sed vi certas devi legi ĝin esperante. He’s not one of my undocumented early American Esperantists. We’re talking the author the great Esperanto classic, Vivo de Zamenhof. In 1907, Privat was already famous for activity in Esperanto.

The article is a little too long to quote in full, so instead I’ll provide some excerpts and comment on them. The entire article can be read on the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America website. (Now I don’t have to type out nearly an entire column of print.)
Young Mr. Edmond Privat is here Esperantnoing. He arrived a little over a week ago from Europe, and his luggage consisted of many pieces of the propaganda which he is about to distribute wherever he find soil in which it seems likely to take root and sprout. Young Mr. Privat, in short, is going to Esperanto all the way from Boston to Chicago and back again.

Mr. Privat is really the principal commercial traveller for the original manufacturer of Esperanto. Almost everybody knows that Dr. Zamenhof made the language just for fun and without the assistance to speak of from anybody. Mr. Privat has been traveling for the house of Zamenhof in Europe for some time, and at the Cambridge, England, Esperanto convention last August the Russian oculist who invented the language suggested that America offered a fertile field for the efforts of Mr. Privat. Consequently he is here.
Young Mr. Privat was eighteen years old when this article saw print in 1907. Not bad for a teenager. It’s not quite accurate that Dr. Zamenhof created Esperanto “just for fun.” Like most language creators of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Dr. Zamenhof felt that his language would help bring peace to the world.[2] Dr. Zamenhof also had the financial assistance of Sender Silbernik, his father-in-law, in publishing the Unua Libro.[3]

As part of his visit to New York, Privat
Adressed the New York Esperanto Society—in Esperanto of course—and from his account of it most of the members present seemed to understand what he was talking about. Dr. Max Talmey is the head local Esperantoer and Mr. Privat says he speaks the language very well. Dr. Talmey, like Dr. Zamenhof, is an oculist.
The word “oculist” gets thrown about a lot in discussion of Esperanto. My dictionary warns me that the word is “dated,” which is probably a way station to “obsolete” or “archaic.” Dr. Zamenhof today would probably be called an ophthalmologist, not just fitting glasses, but also dealing with diseases of the eye.[4] The “Esperantist” had already been coined by 1907, so it isn’t clear why the Sun might think that “Esperantoer” is appropriate or acceptable.

After discussing Mr. Privat’s English skills, the learning of Esperanto, and its growing technical vocabulary (I would love to share all of these, but I must summarize), the article moves on to poetry.
As for poetry, the youthful missionary[5] was certain that Esperanto lent itself to the branch of literature splendidly. To prove it he read after some urging, but not too much,[6] a poem he had lately written himself. It has not yet found its way into print, but Mr. Privat says that it will soon be seen in the American Esperanto Journal. This publication was naturally founded in Boston, but it is soon coming to New York. Everything does.
The American Esperanto Journal was the official publication of the American Esperanto Association. Its rival was the Amerika Esperantisto published by Arthur Baker out of Oklahoma. When the American Esperanto Association was dissolved in favor of the Esperanto Association for North America, the American Esperanto Journal merged with Amerika Esperantisto, retaining Mr. Baker as editor and keeping the title of his magazine. Mr. Baker eventually left being editor of Amerika Esperantisto, and his departure seems to have been motivated by the search for better compensation. The American Esperanto Journal was published in New York in its final year, before being absorbed by the Amerika Esperantisto.
Mr. Privat’s auditor knew nothing of Esperanto, but he was interested in poetry and he listened closely to the verse. He heard words that sounded like “laguna.” His wits thus sharpened by curiosity, it was not long before he thought he detected the word “gondola.” “Ha, ha!” said he to himself. “It’s a boat on a lake.” And putting his nose to the trail he ran on with joyful yelps.

Pretty soon he came across of thought he did, a word that closely resembled “palazzo,” if there is such a word, and not long after that a bisyllable that sounded like “flutoi.”

“Hold!” said he, when the poet had finished. “Let me have a guess. I think you were reading something about somebody who was in a boat that was floating about some water near an place and he was playing some kind of a musical instrument, probably a flute.”

Mr. Privat alleged that it was quite wonderful. It only showed how easy it was to learn Esperanto.
Who was this person who listened to Mr. Privat recite poetry in Esperanto, if it weren’t the author of the article in the Sun? And what were those words? Probably laguno (laguna), gondolo (gondola), palaco (palace, pronounced “palatso”), and flutoj (flutes). There was more than one flute, mister.

We get a hint of Mr. Privat’s English skills at the end of the article. Earlier on, it’s said that
The young missionary began to learn English only four months ago, and though his accent would still attract attention even in Manhattan, he already has a working knowledge of the language that will vastly increase his value to the Esperanto house of Zamenhof.
This is how his speech is recorded:
“But,” he said, “I say not to try to write poetries in Esperanto the first thing. I know Esperanto for five years now, but I never write poetries in that language until four years ago. Some people, they want to try to write poetries the very first night they know Esperanto.”
Clearly no native speaker and his use of “poetries” is surprising, since both Esperanto and his native French have a word related to “poem” (poemo in Esperanto and poème in French). I have certainly noted that beginning Esperantist who would be stumped if asked to translate a banal phrase like, “I put the sheets in the laundry, because they were dirty”[7] feel they have enough Esperanto to write poems.

Although Edmond Privat would be active in the Esperanto movement for the rest of his life, and make significant contributions to not only the movement, but to Esperanto literature as well, America was not a great success for the Esperanto movement. The leaders in the early period considered American activity to be of great importance and they were probably right. If Esperanto had succeeded in the United States, there might have been a push to make its use international.

While the hopes for an Esperanto congress in the United States did not take long to fulfill, it was not much of a success. And that continued to be the story for Esperanto in the United States.

  1. Although the Stoners were at the 1908 Esperanto Congress in Chautauqua, New York, they were not at the 1910 Universala Kongreso in Washington, D.C. It’s my gut feeling that as the Esperanto movement provided few opportunities for Stoner to promote herself, she quietly and gradually withdrew from the movement. I have yet to actually track this on a timeline. There is a wealth of articles on the Stoners, but only the early ones document actual activity in the Esperanto movement.  ↩
  2. Fr. Johann Martin Schlyer did him one better, as he claimed that God had told him in a dream to create Volapük. In not learning Volapük, maybe we’re all traitors to God. I’ll take that chance.  ↩
  3. One of the early American Esperantists was Joseph Silbernik, who seems a likely relative, although not incredibly close, as Klara Zamenhof was from Kaunas, Lithuania, while Joseph Silbernik lived about 150 miles away in Bialystok, Poland (the home of Dr. Zamenhof). Were the Bialystok Silberniks the link to the ones in Kaunus? [Update: He was Klara's brother.]  ↩
  4. On a completely irrelevant point, Oscar Wilde’s father, Sir William Wilde was in this profession as well. If Oscar Wilde (died 1900) heard of Esperanto, which is possible, since he moved to Paris not long after the 1898 founding of the Société Pour la Propagation de l’Espéranto. However, study of a (literally) new language is not a likely activity for Wilde’s last two years of life.  ↩
  5. We get it. We know he’s eighteen.  ↩
  6. We get it. Poets love to read their work.  ↩
  7. Mi metis la littukojn en la lesivejo, ĉar ili estis malpuraj. There. Now I suppose you can write Esperanto poetry.  ↩

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