Sunday, May 10, 2015

Words from an Early Esperantist

He wrote the book on
Esperanto. Well, okay,
he translated it.
There is nothing that would be news to an Esperantist in Richard Geoghegan’s essay about Esperanto in the May 10, 1912 San Juan Islander of Friday Harbor, Washington. He gave the principles of the language and a little history. He gives nothing of his own personal history in Esperanto, although an accompanying article does note one bit of Geoghegan’s history as an Esperantist, though it gets it wrong.

According to the San Juan Islander, “the first translation of any of Dr. Zamenhof’s work into English was made by Mr. Richard H. Geoghegan.” Yeah, that’s not true. There was an earlier translation by Julian Steinhaus, but (as Wikipedia notes), Steinhaus wrote in poor English and Geoghegan made a fresh translation. The San Juan Islander does not mention that Geoghegan was the first president of the (by that time already defunct) American Esperanto Association. The item goes on to note other early Esperanto speakers in the United States, and that’s what I’m going to focus on.

Geoghegan’s essay is about a column-and-a-half long, or in other words, too long to retype, especially as it contains no information you wouldn’t find in the Esperanto entry at Wikipedia. It begins:
By Richard H. Geoghegan, Fairbanks, Alaska
A language, simpler and more perfect than any existing tone, by means of which people of all nationalities might reality communicate with another, has been the dream of scientific men for centuries and numberless attempts have been made to devise such a form of speech.

In the year 1887, Louis Zamenhoff, a physician residing at Warsaw, Poland, presented to the world the result of his studies along this line wherein, profiting from the labors of his predecessors and avoiding, as far as might be, the errors into which they had failed, he strove to combine scientific accuracy with the utmost practical simplicity. Dr. Zamenhoff styled his scheme “la lingo internacia” (the international language), but it has since become universally known by the shorter name “Esperanto.” After an existence of over a quarter of a century, during which it has been subjected to innumerable attacks from the supporters of rival systems and has undergone the severest criticism, Esperanto has, by its intrinsic merits and proven capacity to meet any and all demands made upon it as a medium of communication, attained a permanent place among the great achievements of our time.
Geoghegan’s piece continues, very laudatory, but nothing new. After the article the following is appended:
As a matter of local interest it may be added that the first translation of any of Dr. Zamenhof’s works into English was made by Mr. Richard H. Geoghegan, formerly of Eastsound, and published in Europe in the year 1888. Mr. Geoghegan became interested in the wonderful possibilities of Esperanto while a scholar at the University of Oxford, England, a year prior to that time.

The first Esperanto book published in America was a grammar by the late Mr. Henry Phillips, secretary of the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, which appeared in 1889. Rev. Edward Steckel, of Doylestown, Pa., is probably the oldest American Esperantist, for he was studying the language as far back as 1889, and in our own state we believe Judge Marion Edwards, of Seattle, can claim the honor of being the pioneer Esperantist, for we know that he was an adept in the language so far back as 1891.
Four early Esperantists, though Phillips had died shortly after learning Esperanto (he suffered kidney problems throughout his life; Esperanto cannot be blamed for his early demise). When the San Juan Islander wrote, the other three were still alive.

Edward Steckel had added his name to the list of Esperanto speakers in 1900, though according to the San Juan Islander, by that time, he had already been studying Esperanto for a decade. “Oldest,” as used by the Islander has to be taken as “of longest duration,” since Steckel was forty-one years old. The Census lists his occupation as “none”; on an 1895 passport application (signed by his father), he lists his occupation as “gentleman.” Steckel’s initial Esperantist number was #1472 (in the second series of people who had learned Esperanto), but later he re-listed and had an Esperantist number of #5416. Mr. Steckel might have managed to become the oldest American Esperantist, as he died in 1967, which would mean he was ninety-six at the time.

The were two men named Marion Edwards living in Seattle in about 1912. The older Marion Edwards was an attorney, still at a law firm in 1910, while the younger Marion Edwards was a truck driver. It’s easy to guess which one likely got the judgeship. Also, not an old man at the time. He was born in 1873 (making him even younger than Edward Steckel), and so just about thirty-nine years old when the San Juan Islander was writing about him. He must not have stayed a judge for long, since by 1920, he’s again in a law firm. It’s not clear when he died, as several men named Marion Edwards seemed to be simultaneously active in Seattle.

All three names were brought together previously in La Esperantisto, in a list of subscribers to the magazine. The entries 560–564 are all Americans, starting with Joseph Silbernik, who is followed by H. D. Justi of Philadelphia, then R. Geoghegan, Mari0n Edwards, and Edward L. Steckel. Edwards does not seem to come up on the lists of people who had learned Esperanto, though not every Esperantist shows up on those either (noticeably absent from the first [unnumbered] list of the first one thousand Esperantists are the names Zamenhof and Silbernik).

Despite being pioneers of Esperanto, Geoghegan’s work as a linguist in Alaska seems to have limited his activity in Esperanto. And while Steckedl and Edwards were in the continental United States, they seemed to have made even less of a contribution to the Esperanto movement, despite their very early entry.
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