Thursday, March 26, 2015

An Army of Esperantists

An army for peace
That’s at least the claim made by one J. O. McShane in a letter to the New York Sun. Mr. (I assume) McShane was seeking to rebut the views that were expressed by Professor Leo Wiener in the the editorial that appeared in the March 24, 1907 issue. It’s not clear who McShane was. The only J. O. McShane that I’ve found in public records for New York of the time would have been a nine-year-old when the letter was published, and it just doesn’t seem to be the work of a small child.

The only McShane mentioned in Amerika Esperantisto is a V. A. McShane, of Allegheny, Pennsylvania. The actual identity of this valiant defender of Esperanto will have to remain obscured to history for now. The thought occurs however, that whatever Professor Wiener’s objections to Esperanto were, would there be any particular reason to view a professor of Slavic languages as an expert whether Esperanto were a credible candidate for an auxiliary language. It would be nice to know what expertise McShane brought to this.

This is the rebuttal, published in the Sun on March 26, 1907:

The Language of Hope.
To the Editor of the SunSir: Permit me to object to the accuracy of the views of Prof. Wiener embodied in your editorial on Esperanto in to-day’s issue. No language is simpler than Esperanto. It is not as difficult to conquer as stenography, which every schoolgirl can readily learn and practice. You call it (I fear unsympathetically) the language of hope. Call it also the language of utility. In the same issue of The Sun is a notice of the first forthcoming meeting of the national arbitration and peace congress ever held in America, and incidentally it is mentioned there that Mr. Hamilton Holt is chairman of the press committee. Is is not a coincidence that the very last number of the periodical published by Mr. Holt contains announcements of seventeen books printed in Esperanto and obtainable in this country? Would it be strange if the proceedings of future congresses should be conducted in Esperanto?

The difficulties which Prof. Wiener enumerates in the pronunciation of Esperanto by peoples of various European countries would exist in greater degree in any other language, consequently his criticism on this point is captious. The fact is that the rule for pronunciation of Esperanto is arbitrary and therefore inflexible—“No silent letters; accent on the penult.”

Please do not encourage any one to ridicule Esperanto, because you may dissuade worthy persons from learning it. Do not liken it to the defunct Volapük, and do not regard it as a fad. The army of Esperantists is growing amazingly.
New York, March 24.
J. O. McShane.
Hamilton Holt was (as Wikipedia notes) the publisher of The Independent, which did support Esperanto early on, though not as fervently as The North American Review (The Independent would later go on to prefer Ido, for all the wrong reasons[1]). The list of seventeen books was the list that preceded the letter by Christopher Ruess. Though it might not be strange, as McShane suggested, that future peace congresses be conducted in Esperanto, the idea of doing this in Esperanto seems to have been only outlasted by the idea of peace congresses.

McShane’s “army of Esperantists,” never materialized. While Esperanto did show growth up to the World War I (which, at the time of McShane’s letter, just just over seven years in the future), but the two world wars had actual armies (with weaponry of the sort that kills people), and while the army of Esperantists never did actual battle, they did manage to fall before the troops.

  1. I’ve hinted at this before: it was because Zamenhof was Jewish and Ostwald wasn’t. Yeah, they put that in print. I’m not sure if Holt was still publisher at that time.  ↩

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