Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mr. Barrett Believes

Believed in Esperanto.
Didn't speak it.
But he believed!
It seems clear to me why George Harvey took command of the Esperanto movement in 1908 (it also seems clear to that his leadership might not have been the best thing for the movement). To put it simply: Harvey had spent a year promoting Esperanto in his magazine, The North American Review. I suspect that his editor, Henry James Forman, had convinced him that wealth and power came with Esperanto. It’s not clear to me why John Barrett of the Bureau of American Republics agreed to become the second president of the Esperanto Association of North America.

Did John Barrett believe that there would be some benefit to him as a diplomat once everyone else switched to using Esperanto in an international context? It would have to be everyone else, since Barrett didn’t learn Esperanto, nor did he use his position as director of the Bureau of American Republics to push Esperanto in a diplomatic context. “We’re having an international conference. All delegates are asked to provide their statements in Esperanto.”

On May 24, 1910, with the Washington, D.C. Universala Kongresso coming, the Washington Times ran the following:

Believes Congress In Washington Will Stimulate Study of Language.
That the International Esperanto Congress, to be held in Washington, August 14 to 26, inclusive, will result in the study of Esperanto being taken up rapidly in the principal colleges and universities throughout the United States is the belief of John Barrett, director of the Bureau of American Republics.

In an interview today Mr. Barrett gave as his conviction that the widespread demand for the study of Esperanto in this country, following the congress will be so pronounced, that the language will take its lace side by side with that of tother tongues taught to the principal education institutions.

Said Mr. Barrett:

“I am convinced that the time is at hand for the general introduction of Esperanto into the curriculums of our colleges and universities. In Europe the language has advanced more rapidly than it has in this country, for the reason that there are more conflicting languages abroad. It has, therefore, had more of an opportunity to demonstrate its utility. 
“With the completion of the Panama canal, the bringing together of the nations into closer trade relations, and the constantly increasing tendency on the part of Americans to visit abroad, the useful ends which Esperanto as an auxiliary language can be made to serve will become more and more apparent in this country.” 
Mr. Barrett is president of the Esperanto Association of North America. He probably will preside over the international congress during its sessions in Washington.

Did Mr. Barrett sincerely believe that the Esperanto congress would lead to interest in Esperanto at the colleges and universities of the United States? Is this even credible? Let’s be honest: if a philanthropist offered to pick up the entire cost of having a professor of Esperantic studies at a university (let’s say be sweetening the deal by a multi-billion-dollar gift that they could use as they saw fit), there would still be the problem of finding students that were interested in following this line of study. If such students existed, what do they do with their degree? These were the sort of serious questions that weren’t being asked.

Barrett’s view that completion of the Panama canal or increased American tourism would lead to an increase of interest in Esperanto also seems somewhat naïve. Maybe if those early-twentieth-century Americans abroad found hotel after hotel where the innkeepers spoke the local language and Esperanto, it might have convinced them that Esperanto was worth learning. “My goodness, the staff at our our Paris hotel, our Berlin hotel, and our Rome hotel all spoke Esperanto.” Even with the greater support for Esperanto in Europe, it never seemed to reach that point either.

Was Mr. Barrett convinced by the statements he was making?

Finally, the Times had a weak expectation that the president of the EANA would preside over the congress. Why wouldn’t he, right? But instead of saying that Barrett would preside, they give “will probably.” In the end, he offered his apologies to the Esperantists, and stayed away from the Universala Kongreso. It’s my belief, he never learned any Esperanto.
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