Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Esperanto in Yorkshire

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Would the readers of the San Francisco Call on February 25, 1906, had access to a gazetteer or similar reference work that would have told them that the grandly named Keighly Municipal Technical Institute was a trade school in Yorkshire? The article does not make that clear, and so California readers of the era might have found this a grander accomplishment than it really was. Still, once again, better than the American Esperanto movement accomplished in Washington, D.C. (despite repeated tries) or in Connecticut.

And Esperanto in Yorkshire of 1906 allows me to return to my Downton Abbey fantasy that, prior to the series, Lady Edith Crawley took up Esperanto, undoubtably subjecting her to merciless teasing from her sister Mary. Would Lord Grantham found himself contemplating instructing Carson that all letters to Lady Edith from foreign addresses, especially those where the envelope was addressed in green ink, be directed to him instead? I doubt that some future plot point will turn on Lady Edith getting Lady Mary out of a jam by summoning her half-forgotten Esperanto. However, I remain convinced that a neglected copy of the Fundamenta Krestomatio de Esperanto is somewhere on a shelf at Downton Abbey.

The item about Esperanto is tucked at the bottom of a longer article, with the title “Woman Without Soul He Says,” on the suicide of the Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger. Wikipedia notes that “today, Weininger is viewed as misogynistic and antisemitic by some in academic circles,” but in 1906, less than three years after his death, the Call wrote:
Born a Jew, Weininger turned Protestant and soon became an uncompromising Jew-baiter, a Wagner-worshiper and Chopin-despiser, as well as a woman-abhorrer.
While the word “antisemitic” does not appear in the article in the Call, in the last paragraph on Weininger, he is described as “this misogynist of 21.” From there, the article goes on to the news that the tenth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica will be printed in the United States for the first time, with the justification that “the American sales greatly exceed those made” in the United Kingdom. And, in the final paragraph, Esperanto.
English devotees of Esperanto who cherish the hope that it is destined to become the universal language of civilized mankind are greatly elated over its recognition by the Board of Education. The board has promised a grant to the Esperanto class at Keighly Municipal Technical Institute. Mr. Saxaeur, the general secretary of the British Esperanto Association, tells me that similar grants are sure to be made in the near future to other schools whose students are eager to master the polyglot tongue. Thus far the London County Council has refused to sanction its introduction in the elementary schools under its control, but it is expected that opposition will not long continue. Esperanto is making great headway in Japan. One class there, conducted by a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, has 433 pupils, of whom 350 are Japanese.
It’s not clear who was the London correspondent of the San Francisco Call, however the identity of the general secretary of the British Esperanto Society is clear. Hermann Sexauer was a German Esperantist who later emigrated to the United States (the Call misspelled his name).

As I noted at the top, the Keighly Municipal Technical Institute was a trade school, and although in a 1902 report on “Trade and Technical Education,” the United States Bureau of Labor did note of the school that “commercial classes provide instruction in Latin, French, German, bookkeeping, shorthand, and general commercial subjects,” other topics covered were “woodworking and the building trades,” “carpentry and joinery,” “brickwork and masonry,” and “plumbing.” It’s clear that graduates of the Institute might get employed in Lord Grantham’s plans to renovate cottages in the village, but the people doing this won’t be coming in the front door of Downton Abbey, even if they passed the Esperanto course with flying colors.

I can hear Lord Grantham snapping at his daughter. “Yes, Edith, I’m quite certain that many people speak Esperanto, but not the sort of people with whom my daughter should be associating herself.”
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