Saturday, March 21, 2015

Unitarian Minister Enquires about Esperanto

Did the minister speak Esperanto?
The Independent was a progressive magazine, much like the more famous Harper’s Weekly (which it eventually merged with). It was initially published in New York, but later moved to Boston. Early on, it seemed quite supportive of Esperanto, including publishing an article by Dr. Zamenhof in 1904 and an article about Esperanto in 1906. These were both cited in response to a letter in their issue of March 21, 1907, which was appended to a list of seventeen recommended books on or in Esperanto for those interested in the langauge.

Sadly, the Independent did not continue in its support of Esperanto. During the Ido schism, it came solidly down on the side of Ido and for the worst possible reason.[1] Even then, in 1912, they described their interest as “scant.” Still, their scant interest had been enough to publish a few pages on the subject.

Christopher Ruess’s letter is longer than what I have quoted below, but the second paragraph is devoted to thanking the Independent for their list of books on socialism, and the third hopes that their subscribers will grow to half a million.
My wife and I look forward to every number of The Independent. It is independent, but it is also tolerant of old ideas and sympathetic toward new thoughts. We are hoping you may, before long, do more for those of your subscribers who are interested in Esperanto. Could you not publish an article in Esperanto, about Esperanto, by Dr. Zamenhof, the originator of the language? [We did this three years ago. See above.]
His wife did.
Actually, they didn’t. The article by Dr. Zamenhof in their August 11, 1904 issue is in English (which means some English-speaking Esperantist translated it). They describe it as “the first article published in America by the inventor of the language.” In 1906, they published “What Is Esperanto?” by G. A. England. Both of these articles contain some Esperanto, but neither could be said to be “in Esperanto.”

The implication here is that the readers of the Independent might actually be able to read articles written in Esperanto, which in 1907 was still a dicey proposition. Can we assume that Ruess could read Esperanto? It actually seems likely.

Christopher Ruess, the author of the letter, was a Unitarian minister (though at the time the letter was published, he had stepped down temporarily from the ministry). Over the years, he would hold a variety of jobs, including probation officer and salesman. He graduated from Harvard University, and a Los Angeles Herald article from 1905 notes that he preached a sermon on his wedding day.

His wife was Stella Knight Ruess. She does not list any profession on the census, but she was a poet and printmaker. She was also, according to L’Espérantiste, the newsletter of the French Esperanto organization, the Société Française Pour la Propagation de l’Espéranto, the secretary of the San Francisco Esperanto group. They wrote in their October 1907 issue:
La du finpunktoj de la fama Central Pacific Railway estas akiritaj, ĉar la gravega New-York Esperanta Societo kontraŭstarasla grupo vere pli malgrava de San-Francisco, kies la sekretariino estas Mrs Stella K. Ruess, 1255, 9 th Avenue, Sunset.

[The two endpoints of the famous Central Pacific Railway are obtained, because the important New-York Esperanto Society counterpoises the most modest one of San Francisco, whose secretary is Mrs. Stella K. Ruess, 1255 9th Avenue, Sunset.]
L’Espérantiste appeared in both French and Esperanto. Those more familiar than I with San Francisco might have noted that “Sunset” is the name of the district.

Apart from this one reference in a French Esperanto magazine, Mrs. Ruess does not seem to have made much of an impact on the Esperanto movement. Still, it is possible that she could have gone from “interested in Esperanto” in March to secretary of an Esperanto group in October, even with a small child in the house. One could learn the language that quickly, and there have (alas) been Esperanto groups in which members show a passion for the language that does not extend to the point of actually learning it.

The family is known for one other thing. They had two children, Waldo (born 1910) and Everett (born 1914). Everett Ruess also became a poet and artist (like his mother), but he vanished while hiking in Utah in 1934.

  1. Yup. That reason. I wanted something cheerier when that came to my attention, but I’ll get to it.  ↩

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  1. It took me a few seconds to figure out what you meant by "that" reason. Ooohhh, well. I heard that was a problem that Zamenhof played down, but I thought it was a whispered insult not something a newspaper would stoop to.

    1. Unfortunately, I've seen sufficient evidence that it wasn't just something of whispers.


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