Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Arthur Baker Speaks…Eventually

Arthur Baker
Life of the party.
One of the attractions of covering this news item is that the article comes with a photograph of Mr. Baker, the first I’ve come across. I haven’t noticed any in the issues of Amerika Esperantisto during his period as editor, even when he was including photographs of prominent Esperantists, of which he was certainly one (I suppose modesty forbade). In addition to editing the magazine, selling copies of his American Esperanto Book, and distributing brochures, he gave talks. He had been doing this for some years, since he spoke in New York in 1908, prior to Sehohr Rhodes singing in Esperanto.

In the days preceding his talk in Salt Lake City, the Salt Lake Tribune initially described him as “a well-known journalist of Chicago,”[1] but a notice (probably written by the Salt Lake Esperanto group) that appeared in both the Tribune and the Salt Lake Herald on February 10, 1910, described him as “a well-known humorist and entertainer of Chicago.” Perhaps there is more to be found, but what I’ve seen indicates that Mr. Baker’s two main subjects were Esperanto and socialism. He just doesn’t seem the type to be delivering a comic lecture.

Baker’s best-known book (in that it is known among Esperantists) is his American Esperanto Book,[2] which he initially sold at a discount to those taking a year’s subscription to his magazine, Amerika Esperantisto.[3] Additionally, he created the first Esperanto translation of The Communist Manifesto[4] (working from the authorized English translation, not directly from the German, alas), and was the author of How We Are Gouged: A Few Remarks. This does not inspire confidence in the description of him as a “humorist and entertainer.”

The lecture did not go off without a hitch. Mr. Baker was scheduled to give a free lecture at 8 p.m. in the Commercial Club Building. He didn’t make it. The Salt Lake Herald-Republican reported on February 11, 1910:
BECAUSE of delayed train service, Arthur Baker, Esperanto lecturer and editor was unable to fulfill his engagement to speak to the Esperanto group last evening. He will be heard this evening at 8 o’clock in room 232, Commercial club building.
But what did those who had dutifully assembled for the lecture do? There was a substitute speaker. The Salt Lake Tribune reported

In the absence of Arthur Baker, lecturer on Esperanto, who was to have lectured on “The International Language” at room 232, Commercial Club building, Thursday night, John M. Work of Des Moines, Ia., delivered a brief address of the subject.

Mr. Baker was delayed in Idaho, but he will deliver his lecture tonight at the address given.
What an amazing coincidence! John M. Work, the prominent socialist, who had proposed (in 1909) that the Socialist Party adopt Esperanto as it working language just happened to be on hand and was able to substitute for his fellow socialist. Was Work meeting with Baker and other socialists in Salt Lake?

The Deseret Evening News covering the upcoming lecture in its February 11, 1910 edition, and gave us a picture of Mr. Baker.

Arthur Baker to Appear at Commercial Club Building This Evening.
Arthur Baker, the Esperanto propagandist from Chicago, arrived in Salt Lake City this morning from Idaho Falls, having been delayed by late trains. He was to have lectured here last night but the lecture was postponed and will be given tonight at room 232 Commercial club building.

Mr. Baker, who is the leading spirit of the international auxiliary language movement, is en route eastward having lectured in San Francisco, Stanford University, Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, Boise and other towns.

The Idaho Statesman says of his appearance in Boise last week: “He gave a brilliant lecture that was at once illuminative, entertaining, and inspiring. It was sprinkled with bursts of wit and humor that kept the audience jolly, and was far out of the usual run of public functions of the kind.”

At Albion, Idaho, Mr. Baker’s lecture was followed by the organization of an Esperanto class in the state normal school and it is expected that the language will become part of the regular course for teachers.

The lecture tonight at 232 Commercial club is free.
Busy man. It was a wonder that he had time to edit the magazine (though Ivy Kellerman Reed would soon take over some of those duties). It seems odd to call Baker “the leading spirit of the international auxiliary language movement,” given that he was not a leader of the Esperanto Association of North America and certainly not of the international movement. Wouldn’t that honor go to Zamenhof?

My guess is that the establishment of an Esperanto course at the teachers’ college was a short-lived thing. Enthusiasm for Esperanto tended to have these short bursts, after which everyone would sort of forget how it was going to be the thing of the future.

  1. Salt Lake Tribune, February 6, 1910.  ↩
  2. Both this and Elements of Esperanto can be found on Google Books.  ↩
  3. The price for the book or a year of the magazine was $1, but you could have both for $1.50.  ↩
  4. I told you he was a socialist.  ↩

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