Monday, February 23, 2015

Esperanto and the Bull Moose

Theodore Roosevelt
(from a 1902 stereo card)
There is a page in Wikibooks, under the category US History that describes Theodore Roosevelt as an Esperanto speaker, but I have not been able to discover any sort of confirmation for that assertion. In 1907, the press made the claim that Roosevelt’s vice president, Charles W. Fairbanks had taken up Esperanto, but again, this seems difficult to confirm.

There was a strong Esperanto movement in Washington, D.C. during the Roosevelt administration, and although he left office in 1909, more than a year before the Washington Universala Kongreso, if Roosevelt read the Washington newspapers, he would have seen plenty of references to Esperanto. Indeed, if the President read the Evening Star, he would have seen his name linked to that of Dr. Zamenhof.

During this same time, Edmond Privat was spending time in the United States promoting Esperanto, and on February 23, 1908, the Washington Herald ran a long piece on Privat and his plans to meet with President Roosevelt as part of Privat’s activities promoting Esperanto in the United States. The article is too long to quote in full, but it can be found here.
President’s Attention Will Be Called to Language.

Young Swiss is Missionary.

M. Privat to Call At White House Soon—Will Instruct President in the Use of the International Tongue—Esperantists Hope to Make Him Champion of the Cause.
President Roosevelt is to be asked to voice his approval of the proposed “world language,” Esperanto—to stimulate the study of it by a formal indorsement, such as he gave to the “simplified spelling” movement.
One paragraph in and Esperanto is already doomed. Roosevelt endorsed simplified spelling and even told the Government Printing Office to use it. The press ridiculed Roosevelt for it and the GPO ignored the Presidential order. Getting Roosevelt to promote Esperanto wasn’t going to guarantee any sort of success.
Because the Chief Executive has signified his willingness to become acquainted with the principles of the “international tongue,” high hopes are held by the Esperantists that he will be brought to see its utility and the power to bind the world in brotherhood which they feel it posses, says the Philadelphia Record.

One week from to-morrow—on March 2—the President will meet one of the leaders of the Esperanto army, who will attempt to familiarize him with the rules for its employment—and its initiatory lesson, it is believed, will decide whether or not Mr. Roosevelt will come forth in the role of an Esperantist.

The task of proselytizing the President has fallen to the lot of a youthful native of Switzerland, Edmond Privat. Although he is only eighteen years of age, he is rated as the foremost among teachers of Esperanto—his mastery of the language making him the idol of all who speak or write it.
There seems to be some doubt as to whether the meeting went off. Amerika Esperantisto, as I previously noted stated the Privat met with both Roosevelt and Fairbanks. But, on the other hand, the Washington Herald said on date that Roosevelt was busy when Privat came to the White House. But the Washington Post did state (on March 3, 1908) that “Mr. Privat was presented by Leo Vogel, Minister of Switzerland.”

The rumors had it that the meeting must have been something of a success, as a March 6, 1908 item in the Washington Herald stated:
The report that the President is about to take up the study of Esperanto is interesting. Does he think his last message about exhausted the possibilities in old reliable English?
A comic piece (also in the Herald) on March 8 made the claim that Roosevelt was studying Esperanto, and on March 14,
“Esperanto is a very smooth language containing no harsh or explosive words,” says the Kansas City Journal. Then, of course, it is a mistake about the President studying it.
Despite some searching, I have not found anything that lends credence to the idea that Theodore Roosevelt spoke Esperanto. There is a reference to Esperanto in the satirical Teddy in Darkest Africa; or, The Daring Exploits of Bwana-Tumbo, An Exciting Narrative of Thrilling Adventures, and a Song to Nature, by Dr. Coggs (the pseudonym of Ovidio Giberga). Mr. Giberga is probably the gentleman who graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1885. He would have been about forty-seven when the following was published:
“It ain’t my fault, Teddy. To keep busy we might learn the Esperanto.”
“Oh, stuff!” exclaimed Teddy. “After I saw that my phonetic spelling did not take, I prognosticated the Esperanto’s and the Volapuk’s future. Latin woudl be better. Years back it was learned all over the civilized world. When a philosopher or a scientist wanted the whole world to read his works, he wrote them in Latin.”
The introduction to the book makes it clear that nothing in it is to be taken seriously. So it’s no proof that Roosevelt learned Esperanto. Although Privat did say,
“If there ever is to be a universal language, Esperanto undoubtably is the one, and I hope that I shall be able to convince President Roosevelt of that fact.”
Finally, a bit about English and Esperanto. In English the word moose (as in Roosevelt’s self-description as a “bull moose”), is an Algonquian word, referring to the North American elk. There’s not a species difference, it’s all Alces alces, hence the Esperanto “alko.” The species that gets called an elk in the United States is Cervus canadensis, which is literally “Canadian deer,” so in Esperanto, it’s a “cervo.” So, Theodore Roosevelt, the “Bull Moose” is a Viralko.

And a picture note: The image at the top of the post is taken from a 1902 Keystone stereo card (remember, I like 3D). After scanning it, I decided to merge the left and right images as an anaglyph image.

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