Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Esperantists — The Kaiser’s Fools

Professor Albert Schinz
Thought Esperanto
a German plot
So claimed a letter in the New York Sun on December 2, 1916. The Germans had been putting out war dispatches in Esperanto, which some Esperantists viewed as a real success for Esperanto. Albert Schinz, of Northampton, Massachusetts didn’t see it that way.

Just as in 1908, when Esperantists felt that the use of Esperanto by Moresnet would taint Esperanto with regional politics, Professor Schinz felt that the Germans were propagandizing the Esperanto movement. Yes, “Professor Schinz.” It took a small amount of work to determine that Albert Schinz was a professor of French at Smith College when he wrote the letter. He was a fairly prolific scholar with many books and articles to his credit.

If it not clear if he was an Esperantist, however, he does note that he knew Esperantists, and he wrote an article in the January 1906 Atlantic Monthly describing and sympathetic of Esperanto. In the Atlantic article, he states that he is not an Esperantist, yet did say he managed to write a short letter to De Beaufront after an hour of study. Yet, in the December 1916 Amerika Esperantist, there’s a short article on Professor Schinz’s letter, noting that Schinz is responding to a letter by Creston Coigne, which had appeared in the November 25 Sun.[1] The Esperantists at this point, seem to have no idea who the man is, referring to him as "one Albert Schinz."
Coigne had written about his correspondence with both French and German soldiers. At this point, the United States had yet to join the war, so it probably didn’t matter with whom Coigne corresponded. But Professor Schinz took a different view.
Suspicion Among the Allies That It is Promoting Pan-Geramanism.
To the Editor of The SunSir: You published recently a letter speaking of the progress of Esperanto since the war. The situation may be viewed from another angle, more concretely. Let it be known that the Esperanto movement is not favorably looked upon in the allied countries since the war, the reason being that the Germans are making use of it for propaganda purposes.

In the first place they have published in Esperanto the “German side” of the war because they know that language is extensively used in Russia, and thus they used it by telling their story to render the war unpopular among the Czar’s subjects.

In the second place—this is what the French say and apparently they are right—ever since the Germans understood that they were not going to win the war and that they could not impose German as a world language, they have favored Esperanto as much as they could to offset the plans of the Allies, who were preparing to take up the famous plan of Chapelier, which plan had the warm support of the famous linguist just dead, Michel Breal.[2] The “Projet Chapelier,” one remembers, was to have French a required language in all schools of English speaking nations, and English as a required language in all schools of French speaking nations, thus practically forcing upon the world at large French and English as international languages, and eliminating German or its provisional substitute, Esperanto.

Of course the Germans, as usual, have been acting on the assumption that all except themselves were fools, and that nobody could see their game. There is no doubt, however, that if Esperanto is made to serve that purpose and made to be an instrument for Pan-Germanism, its fate is doomed for a long time to come.

How the Germans could, however, be lured to false expectations I was able to understand after a conversation I had in London last summer with an influential Esperantist. This man, being an ardent pacifist, on religious principles, kept up a correspondence with the foes of his country by dishonest means, whether on religious principles also he did not say, to foster the cause of Esperanto, which is evidently his chief interest in life.
Albert Schinz
Northampton, Mass., November 27.
Here we have the usual French fears about Esperanto: it’s going to supplant French as the international language. The French had something of an uncomfortable relationship with Esperanto. On the one hand, in first few decades of the twentieth century, Esperanto was very popular in France. On the other (and maybe because of it), there was a good deal of official hostility to Esperanto, including that it was banned from public schools in France in 1922.

The 1906 New International Yearbook suggested that the Germans were going to be sneaky about it. They would use Esperanto to defeat French and English, and then (those swine!) would force German in.
If the Allies learn Esperanto, the Germans will soon come to favor Esperanto vigorously in order to kill French and English as international languages; and, later, when they have used Esperanto to kill French and English, they will substitute German for Esperanto.
I think that sentence could only be improved if the writer had worked in the phrase “kill French and English” a few more times. Got it: Esperanto is dangerous stuff, part of an insidious plan to get us all to speak German! Das ist böse! The Germans probably weren’t being that cunning, no matter what Professor Schinz thought. However, he does seem to have soaked up some of the antipathy the French intellectuals had toward Esperanto (which had been the darling cause of the French intellectuals of a decade before).

It is amusing that he readily accepts the French line on this issue, while completely disregarding the views of Esperantists and Germans. You can trust the French on this one, right? They certainly have everyone's interests at hand, and are acting practically selflessly.

This is the first time I've stumbled on the Chapelier Plan, although I was able to find more references to it. When Schinz was writing, the plan was at least ten years old. At some point it must have been officially abandoned, though there doesn't seem to have been any progress on it from 1906 to 1916, which should have given Professor Schinz something to think about.

Schinz also seemed to be ready to go to war against Germany already, castigating his London friend for corresponding with German Esperantists. England had probably cut off communications with Germany, so he was probably getting letters through by sending them through neutral parties; that’s my guess of his “dishonest means,” as Schinz put it. Even if he had some connection with Esperanto, Schinz at that point puts scorning a member of an enemy nation higher than trying to foster international peace and understanding through Esperanto.

This story continues here.

  1. The item in Amerika Esperantisto states that the letter appeared on the 27th, but I’ve double-checked the issue. It was the 25th.  ↩
  2. Michel Bréal, French linguist. I have been unable to locate Chapelier, though I have confirmed that his name means “hatter.”  ↩

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