Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mr. Brewster’s Esperanto Party

E. V. Brewster
A real family man.
He had four of them.
When the New York Sun first wrote about the Esperanto party in Brooklyn, the newspaper stated that gathering would take place “at the home of Mrs. Brewster,” on April 29, 1905. But what about Mr. Brewster? And what about that plan to charge a penny for every failure to speak Esperanto after two hours of practice with an Esperanto grammar? How many pennies were expended in the cause? Happily, the Sun did a follow-up article on the Esperanto gathering.

The subsequent article makes it clear that Mr. Brewster was involved as well. It wasn’t just that it was happening “at the home of Mrs. Brewster,” but that it was Mr. Brewster’s home as well[1] and that Mr. Brewster seems to have been the actual instigator of the event, as he was president of the organization presenting the event. The article also makes it clear that this was not a gathering of Brooklyn esperantists, but instead a group that was curious about the new language. Brooklyn would later be home to plenty of Esperanto speakers, and at least one proponent of Ido.

That Ido proponent, William J. Phoebus, did not live far from the Brewsters, and as late as 1908, he was a proponent of Esperanto. However, there’s no indication that the was at the meeting. The only people mentioned in the Sun’s article of April 30, 1905 are Mr. Brewster and Mr. Matchett.
He Touches Lightly on Volapuk, but Has Boundless Faith in the New Language.
There was an Esperanto meeting of the Allied Arts Association of Brooklyn last night at the home of E. V. Brewster, 131 Rutland road, Flatbush. It was said by the members to be of deep significance, as it is the first of a series whose object is to bring into universal use the proposed international language, Esperanto.

The Allied Arts Association is a Flatbush organization. It is, as its motto states
A club whose members when they meet
Recite, discuss, read, sing and eat;
Its purpose, neither slight nor vain;
To charm, instruct and entertain.
“The scientist, the musician, the artist, the litterateur,” say the circulars, “all are alike welcome. Intellectuality and sociability go hand in hand.” 
Eugene V. Brewster is the president. He was of Princeton, ’93, but he lived a long time in Flatbush. The bi-weekly meetings of the club, in accordance with its aims are devoted to most everything from sociability to a lecture on Isben. Last night it took the form of a lecture on Esperanto, by C. H. Matchett, who was the candidate for President on the Socialist-Labor party in 1896.[2]

Before Mr. Matchett began his explanation of Esperanto Mr. Brewster explained that he had ordered 200 copies of an Esperanto grammar and had intended to send a copy to each member so that the language would be learned and spoken last night. There is to be a fine of a cent for each lapse into English and members were recommended to bring plenty of cents. There was a sign of relief when he said that the books had not come in time for that part of the program.

Mr. Matchett touched lightly on the fate of Volapük.
“Esperanto is bound to be the universal language,” said he. “My object is now to initiate a movement to start a propaganda for it in this country. In Boston I started a club and afterward organized the American Esperanto Association. I have no doubt that the movement will spread over the country.”

He then recited to an accompaniment of weird bass chords on the piano the first six lines of Hamlet’s soliloquy in the new language.
Ĉu esti aŭ ne esti, — tiel staras,
Nun la demando : ĉu pli noble estas:
Elporti ĉiujn batojn, ĉiujn sagojn,
De la kolera sorto, aŭ sin armi
Kontraŭ la tuta maro da mizerioj
Kaj per la kontraŭstaro ilin fini?
While the Sun did provide the umlaut in Volapük, it converted the ĉ’s and ŭ’s of this passage to c and u. A couple lines were so garbled in the text, that it was easier just to find Hamleto on Google Books. Google also offered up Esperanto versions of Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and As You Like It, however, Julio Cezaro was published in 1906, Makbeto in 1908 (both by Daniel Henry Lambert, and Kiel Plaĉas al Vi 1909 by Dr. Ivy Kellerman). In 1905, the only Shakespeare quotable in Esperanto was Zamenhof’s 1894 translation of Hamlet.

No booklets, so no one (except Mr. Matchett, of course) could have been talking in Esperanto. The poor man wouldn’t have had anyone to talk to either (unless Mr. Phoebus was there).

I touched on Mr. Brewster’s later history in the earlier post. The one-page profile of him in The Successful American of September 1902 describes him as “a brilliant lawyer, a prolific writer and able campaign orator.” Two years before the meeting, he he had written What to Do with the Trusts, but that was one of many titles to his name, including The Art of Judging a Play and Ten Essentials for Successful Pictures, both of which seem appropriate for the man who invented the motion-picture fan magazine (although they were published in 1933, long after he had lost control of the magazine).

The Motion Picture Story Magazine got its start in 1911, or two years before Mr. Brewster divorced the first Mrs. Brewster. He made a fortune at it, which he lost in his second divorce.

One last bit of history for Mr. Brewster. The entry in the Woman’s Who’s Who notes Emilie Brewster’s religion as Christian Scientist. His entry in the 1903–5 Who’s Who in America doesn’t list any religion (it does note that he was a direct descendant of William Brewster of the Mayflower). In 1919, Brewster wrote What’s What in America (the title page lists him as the editor of Motion Picture Magazine, Motion Picture Classic and Shadowland). The second chapter of the book is on Christian Science and it’s clear from its opening paragraph that Brewster has no intention of making friends with Christian Scientists:
In order thoroughly to understand Christian Science, it is necessary to understand Mary Baker Eddy. Hence, I have found it necessary, reluctantly, to give a brief account of some of the important events of her life. Should these events show her to be a mercenary, selfish woman, it would tend to explain a great deal that she and her followers have failed to explain.
Ouch. In the introduction to the book, he notes that “it is also interesting to note how many Americans follow a chosen leader like so many sheep.” Happily, though What’s What in America covers phrenology, dreams, superstitions, ghosts, and even beards, it has no entry for Esperanto.

Yet you would think that Mr. Brewster would be a little miffed at someone for the $10 in Esperanto grammars that did not arrive in time to be distributed to the members of the Allied Arts Association of Brooklyn in time for the members to have two hours with the book before the meeting, or even to peruse during the meeting. What did Mr. Brewster do with 200 Esperanto grammars?

  1. For a while at least. The succession of Mrs. Brewsters (Emilie was the first of four), lead to a series of changes of residence. Eugene Brewster was married in 1893, divorced in 1913, married in 1916, divorced in 1923, married in 3926, divorced in 1931, married in 1935, at his death in 1939 was probably wondering if he could trade his wife in for a younger model.
  2. Mr. Matchett didn’t gain a single electoral vote.  ↩

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