Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Rosebush in Esperanto

La virino kaj
la rozujo
Mabel Wagnalls is one of those writers who are famous in their own era, but are later forgotten. Literary history is filled with these, and her story The Rose-Bush of a Thousand Years is a cute enough (though sentimental) tale of the miraculous redemption of a “fallen” woman, but Wagnalls didn’t create any significant body of work. A little searching for biographical details shows that she was pianist who occasionally wrote stories. It is probably because Ms. Wagnalls was a pianist that her stories attracted the attention of Edward S. Payson.

Payson, the president of the Esperanto Association of North American (not the “American Esperanto Society,” as named in the Richmond Times-Dispatch) was also a piano manufacturer. In his spare time, he raised horses and wrote in Esperanto, producing both original works and translations. He produced two original works (although one was not published until 1988, more than fifty years after his death), and ten translations, three of which are translations of Wagnall’s work.

Various sources call The Rose Bush of a Thousand Years a novel, but really it’s a novella. It’s a lengthy short story, and probably the most famous (relatively speaking) of Wagnall’s works. It is the only one of her stories to make it to the screen (both during the silent-movie era), one in 1918 and the remake in 1924.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported the following on June 6, 1920:
Mabel Wagnalls’ widely-read story, “The Rose-Bush of a Thousand Years,” which has already gone through three big editions, and has been translated into Esperanto and published in book form by its translator, Edward S. Payson, president of the American Esperanto Society. The distiction of appearing in Esperanto (a language more widely used and better known in the far countries, such as China, India, Hawaii, etc., than in our own country) is unusual. But “unusual” is a term that applies to the entire history of this story. Its initial appearance was in “Snappy Stories.” It was later copied in “Current Opinion;” double-starred in “O’Brien’s Best Short Stories of 1916,” then selected by Madame Nazimova for her first picture-play with the Metro Company. Under the title “Revelation,” as enacted by Madame Nazimova, it achieved a wide popularity. Since appearing in book form it has been termed a classic by more than one famous critic, and has even been used as a text for sermons.
I would venture that The Rose-Bush of a Thousand Years is not a classic of early-twentieth century literature. It’s not a terrible work, but it doesn’t strike me as any great piece of writing. The history of the work does make the book publication seem something other than a piece of vanity, since it was published by Funk & Wagnalls. It wasn’t mere coincidence that she shared a name with her publisher; her father was one of the founders of the firm.

Ms. Wagnalls was not, as far as I can determine, an Esperantist, but the translator, Edward S. Payson, was a notable Esperantist. In October 1911, he became president of the New England Esperanto Association, and from there, was elected president of the Esperanto Association of North America in 1918, a position he still held in 1920, and would relinquish in 1921 to Charles F. Bardorf. I really should make a clear list of the officers, by year of the EANA. Here’s a start:
1908–1910 George Harvey
1910–1912 John Barrett
1912–1913 H. W. Fisher
1913–1916 J. D. Hailman
1916–1918 W. H. Yemans
1918–1921 Edward S. Payson
1921– Charles F. Bardorf (S-ro Bardorf’s presidency puts him beyond the limits of public domain documents)
Edward S. Payson was the sixth president of the EANA (and the fourth Esperantist to hold the position). Like his predecessor, he had been involved in the Esperanto movement for years. When I saw the name of his translation of The Rose-Bush of a Thousand Years, I did a bit of a double-take. The Richmond Times-Dispatch didn’t give it, but it was advertised in Amerika Esperantisto as “La Rozujo Ĉiumiljara,” which just seemed wrong. Turns out the only part I can criticize is ĉiumiljara, “every thousand years.”

The title of Wagnall’s story doesn’t refer to a rosebush that blooms every thousand years, but rather a thousand-year-old rosebush, specifically the rosebush which grows against the wall of Hildesheim Cathedral, which Wikipedia notes is more likely (now) 700 years old. Perhaps Payson should have said “de mil jaroj” or “miljara.” It turns out that rozujo is unimpeachable.

If, prior to today, you asked me translate rosebush, I would have gone for “rozarbusto,” and I’d be not wholly correct. Among the many uses of the affective -uj- is “a plant that bears [the root word],” probably taken on the model of the French ier ending with the same sense (fraise strawberry, fraisier strawberry bush, framboise raspberry, framboisier raspberry bush, poire pear, poirier pear tree, pomme apple, pommier apple tree, rose rose, rosier rose bush—in Esperanto these are frago/fragujo, frambo/frambujo, piro/pirujo, pomo/pomujo, and rozo/rozujo). The only problem with this is that -uj- generally means “a container” (and so was generalized to country names). A comment in Lingvo Internacia points to a problem with this, pointing out that kafujo could be taken to mean either a coffee bush or a coffee pot.

Alas, none of the holders of Payson’s translation of The Rose-Bush of a Thousand Years have made it available online. However, his Blanche, La Virgulino de Lille is. Payson was born in 1842 in Groton, Massachusetts, and died in 1932. Initially, he sang opera (baritone), then went into piano manufacturing.
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