Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mr. Baker’s Brochure and An Esperantist Responds

Why would Arthur Baker ask
for stamps and then just
mail them back?
On December 5, 1910, the Los Angeles Herald ran a letter from O. H. Mayer, a prominent Idoist, promoting a brochure about Ido, must as Arthur Baker had been promoting a brochure on Esperanto. This brought two responses from readers of the Herald, one telling us what happened when he wrote to Arthur Baker for the free Esperanto brochure, and the other attempting to rebut the claims made by O. H. Mayer.

Baker was in Esperanto for the cash, and seemed resentful of competition from other Esperantist concerns.[1] For him, the whole point of the brochure Elements of Esperanto was to get people to buy his book, The American Esperanto Book, subscribe to his magazine, Amerika Esperantisto, or both. The proffered free brochure (available for stamps for reply) was a sixteen-pages long, and largely drawn from Zamenhof’s Unua Libro. Today it can be read without having to send stamps to anyone, since Google Books has made a copy of Elements of Esperanto readily available. Elements of Esperanto concludes with an advertisement for The American Esperanto Book.

Baker’s letter advertising his brochure had appeared (among other places) in the September 22, 1910 Los Angeles Herald. Since this is the letter the O. H. Mayer is responding to, I’m a little overdue in quoting it.
Editor Herald: Doubtless you have long ago formed your opinion as to the merits of Esperanto, the international language. I hope that it is favorable; but as there is much irresponsible criticism of Esperanto, especially on occasion of the recent international convention in Washington, I want to offer an opportunity for every thinker to judge for himself. I have prepared 100,000 brief grammars of the language in pamphlet form, and will send one free to any person who is sufficiently interested to ask for it, enclosing stamp for reply. I think i really due to this great movement for an international auxiliary language that now embraces fifty nations in its scope, that you publish this letter that your readers may have the opportunity of judging for themselves.
Editor Amerika Esperantisto.
700 East Fortieth street, Chicago, Ill.
N. P. Blanco, of Los Angeles, California, sent in the stamps, but he was not a happy customer of Mr. Baker’s American Esperantist Company, and was the first letter in the Herald’s Public Letter Box column of December 7, 1910.
Editor Herald: Reading in your paper that one Arthur Baker of Chicago, upon the receipt of sufficient stamps would mail a small slip or treatise on Esperanto, I sent him the stamps and after a month’s delay received a request to inclose $1.50 for his book and his magazine for one year. He must be engaged in stamp collection, as he did not return my stamps.

That is somewhat after the manner of those so-called medical concerns that send a sample free treatment and follow it up in the next mail with a package of goods and a good-sized bill for the same.
Sawtwelle, Cal.

Baker made it quite clear that the stamps were for the purpose of his mailing the brochure, although Blanco did not seem to receive this, just the offer for the book and magazine (Baker priced each of these at $1 separately, and $1.50 if you bought both). You got a good-sized book for your dollar, at 137 pages. It is not clear why Baker did not send Blanco one of the 100,000 copies of Elements of Esperanto.

The second letter in the Herald’s Public Letter Box came under a pseudonym. It’s not at all clear who “Unamondo” was or if the Herald even got the pseudonym right. “Unamondo” doesn’t mean anything in Esperanto. “One world” would be “Unumondo.” Unamondo (I won’t attempt to correct the name) provides the Esperantist side to the Ido schism.

Editor Herald: Today’s letter box contains a letter signed O. H. Mayer, claiming that because the Esperanto congress at Washington was only attended by some few hundred delegates therefore its numerical following cannot be very “strong,” and he claims attention in “fairness” to another international language. Now on the first part he might as well claim that the United States congress or the British parliament cannot amount to much, seeing as they number only a few hundred representatives. Those Esperanto delegates came from all over the world and were the representatives of vast numbers.

Now as to the “fairness.” What fairness (or sense either) is there in stealing Dr. Zamenhof’s wonderful invention, making a few arbitrary changes and transpositions and then coming out with a “new” and “improved” international language. Why the only excuse for a universal language is unification. What impudent nonsense is it then to pirate the one language—change it around a bit—and then defeat the very basic object by making two—and three—and even more—for “Ido” has been followed by “Antido” and others—all piracies from Esperanto—and of course, claiming to be improvements thereon. They are not improvements—they are piracies with a few arbitrary variations; but even if they had succeeded in one or two points in bettering the present language Esperanto, is it not a reductio ad absurdum to try to induce division and conflict and variety and confusion, where unity and peace and the facility of complete uniformity are the all-in-all. Fortunately, Esperanto is now assured its options, but it is a pity and a shame that people seeking the boon of unity in language should be perplexed and confused by the claims of half a dozen pirated versions.
Los Angeles, Cal.

In defense of the Idoists, I think their aims were pure. Certainly, the accented letters in Esperanto (ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, and ŭ) caused problems for typesetters; it wasn’t all that long ago that certain operating systems and web services had problems with them as well.[2] Their goal wasn’t to smash Esperanto, but that they felt that certain aspects of the language were hindering its widespread adoption.

On the other hand, their method was akin to your neighbor coming in and telling you what you needed to do in order to achieve your goals, starting out by tossing out your clothing and suggesting a new diet. Like your busybody neighbor, the Delegation for an International Auxiliary Language didn’t have any pull outside of its own meeting rooms, borrowed for the purpose from the Collège de France. No learned society had to adopt Esperanto, the “reformed” Esperanto of the Delegation, or any other suggested auxiliary language. In that respect, it’s hard to see the Delegation as anything other than an attempt to hijack the Esperanto movement.

But the Esperanto movement hadn’t agreed to go along with the decision of the Delegation. The Delegation had the self-appointed task of choosing the best choice for an international auxiliary language, and couldn’t compel anyone to do anything with it. Even if Zamenhof himself had announced that henceforth he would be following the reforms of the Delegation (although, sad to say, one of the aims of the Delegation seems to have been to de-Zamenhof Esperanto as part of a general de-Judaizing of the language), no one would have been obligated to follow la kara Majstro[3] It’s been estimated that in the Ido schism, most of the losses came from the leadership, while the rank and file didn’t want to learn all over again.

The Esperanto Wikipedia page on Esperantidoj lists about fifty languages which were created as improvements to Esperanto, though it does include the never-seen Adjuvanto of De Beaufront and Adjuvilo, which was created to mock and breed dissent in the Ido movement (Adjuvilo seems to be that rare planned language that even its creator declined to learn). From time to time, people in Esperanto groups will announce further attempts to reform Esperanto. These are met with about the same enthusiasm you might generate if you started telling all your friends on Facebook that they need to start writing English with your revisions to the conjugation of verbs.

Go on, try it. I dare you. I double dare you. I’d suggest going for one of two reforms. Since there’s so little difference between the singular and plural forms of verbs, why not have a single verb form. I go, he go, we go, they go. That’s what the Idoists were up against and it seems strange that they didn’t see it.

That only leaves us the mystery of why Arthur Baker didn’t send N. P. Blanco the promised pamphlet.

  1. He wasn’t alone on this. I found on Google Books an early Esperantist magazine, La Simbolo, whose creator complained that the magazine wasn’t as lucrative as he expected.  ↩
  2. I think Yahoo Groups now supports the Esperanto characters, but ten years ago it did not, meaning that every message that used them got garbled.  ↩
  3. The dear Master. On a side note, Esperantists today make a jocular reference to Zamehof as “Onklo Zam” (Uncle Zam’).  ↩

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1 comment:

  1. I don't care if my wheels are comin' off
    Long as I've got my plastic Zamenhof
    Sittin' on the dashboard of my caaar!
    He comes in colors green and pleasant,
    Shines in the dark, he's iridescent. . .

    I must say that my guess is that the intro pamphlet simply got lost in the mail. And I must further say that the American Esperanto Book was a very good beginning textbook. I found a used copy of the 1908 second edition in Seattle in 1970, learned the sixteen rules on the busride home, and six months or so later when I met my first live Esperanto-speaker I was immediately able to participate in the conversation.


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