Monday, May 4, 2015

The Sun Casts a Sunbeam on Esperanto

Did all Sun articles cast sunbeams?
The May 4, 1901 article in the New York Sun was not the first time that the newspaper had written about the language, they had managed that in January 1891, but given the passage of a decade without any further reference to Esperanto, they can be excused for writing about it as if none of their readers would have had cause to have heard of it beforehand. Esperanto was fairly unknown in the United States in 1901, although it was beginning to enter the American consciousness.

The Adresaro de la Esperantistoj covering January 1900 to January 1901 lists just two Esperantists in the United States. That particular series (XXI) is the first to make a list of editions by country, making the Americans quick and easy to find. They were Edward L. Steckel of Doylestown, Pennsylvania (#5146) and Frederic L. Savageau of 1337 East Fourteenth Ave, Denver, Colorado, who is described as a student (#5496). 1901 saw the addition of three more Esperantists to the subsequent Adresaro. Unfortunately, few of the prior are available online (I have this fantasy of buying reprints of the series and then using that as the information for a database to create a better picture of the early Esperanto movement). Of those that are available, we see Salomon Goldfeder, 124 Pitt Street, New York (#3775) and Alex. Duff (tie maker, the Esperanto is kravatisto), 304 E. 98 street (#4505). Out of these three editions, I’ve found five Americans, while the same volumes have a variety of European cities with more than five new Esperantists.

At the time the Sun printed the article, Esperanto was pretty much unknown in the United States.
“Esperanto” is a pretty word, sonorous and musical, but is meaning is a mystery for many. Let us cast a sunbeam upon it. Now it appears in the form of the name of the latest candidate for the all-embracing honor of a universal language. It starts with a boom, but it has a hard road to travel, if we are to judge by its predecessors; and there were no fewer than 150 of them during the last century. They were all turned down, including Volapük, which made the most respectable effort.

Esperanto is the invention of a Russian doctor, Prof. Zamenhof of Warsaw. Max Müller, Ernest Naville, Leo Tolstoi and many others are or have been loud in their praises of it. Its extreme simplicity astonishes the philologists. Tolstoi said he learned to read it after to hours’ study. M. Ch. Méray, the professor of mathematics in the faculty of sciences of Dijon, has high hopes for the future of Esperanto. In a letter to the Paris Academy of Sciences, he expresses his admiration for its logical and wonderfully ingenious construction, and its aptitude to recapture, with incomparable superiority, the place which Latin held adoring so many years for the learned of different nationalities.

There are no grammatical difficulties in Esperanto. In all it has but sixteen rules, unburdened with exceptions, and seventeen grammatical terminations, so plain and simple that they fix themselves securely in the memory after very brief application. There is no trouble with its orthography. Each sound is noted; each letter is pronounced. It covers all subjects, according to M. Méray, who put it to several severe tests. The Academy of Sciences is occupying itself with this new-made language and it will soon be bought to the action of the International Association of Academies to be approved or damned as the case may be.

Meanwhile, we take off our hat to Dr. Zamenhof and trust that the day may not be distant when, dropping the diplomatic language for a moment in a desire for an agreeable change, our statement abroad may be able to say, “Parlons esperanto.”
Some of the names mentioned by the Sun need a little explanation. I’ll skip past Dr. Zamenhof and Tolstoy (probably the most famous Russian writer), Max Müller was the German philologist (and who used the shortened form of his middle name as part of his family name to distinguish himself from other with the fairly common family name of Müller). That leaves Ernest Naville, a Swiss theologian and Esperantist, and Charles Méray, a French mathematician and also an Esperantist. (Odd Wikipedia note: there is a stub entry for Méray in the English-language Wikipedia, but no entry for Naville, even though he seems to have been a fairly prominent theologian of the era).

The International Association of Academies was, according to Wikipedia, an attempt to link together the world’s scholarly societies. It was established in 1899 and disbanded in 1913, although the International Council for Science is a successor organization. According to Walter John Clark in *International Language: Past, Present and Future; with Specimens of Esperanto and Grammar (1907), the IAA took up the question in its 1901 meeting, returned to in its next meeting (1904), and (presumably as Clark was writing his book) dropped the subject of an international language in 1907.
The Association decided, for formal reasons, that the question did not fall within its competence.
Once the Association dropped the matter, the question was taken up by the Delegation for the Adoption of an International Language. At the time Clark was writing, the October decision of the Delegation was clearly in the future, as he noted that “Esperanto has no serious rival,” however, the Delegation provided that rival with the Ido reforms.

Despite the Sun’s 1901 prediction, the International Association of Academies would neither approve nor damn Esperanto. They would dither and then punt.
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