Friday, July 3, 2015

Esperanto at the 1904 World’s Fair

It's a nice column head.
There seemed to be a running association between Esperanto and the World’s Fair, just one of those newfangled things of the twentieth century. You know, electricity, ice cream cones, Esperanto. It’s really something more minor than would be indicate by the article in the New-York Tribune on July 3, 1904. It’s not like there was a concurrent Esperanto congress (that would happen in 1915), or even a discussion of the choice of an international language (which had occurred without result in 1900) and it’s likely that many of the people who attended the Louisiana Purchase Exposition had no idea of the presence of Esperanto, as it seems much more limited than the Tribune indicated.

The Fair had stared on April 30, 1904, so it was in full swing by the time the Tribune reported on it. The Tribune also covers the spread of Esperanto to that point. In 1904, the number of Esperanto clubs in the United States was a solid zero; no one would form one for more than a year. However, the Tribune notes that both the Harvard University library and Boston Public Library already had books about and in Esperanto as early as 1904 (a time when every single book and pamphlet published in or about Esperanto would have been a short shelf).

The Tribune report is the top in a column titled “Gleanings,” of which this is also the longest of the four items. The third is a statement that “stringent regulations against flirting have recently been put in force at an English art school,” although the actual school that put forth this futile regulation is not named.
Visitors to St. Louis will have a chance to become acquainted, among other things, with Esperanto, the latest international language. Esperanto has risen out of the ashes of Volapük, and, to due by the enthusiasm which learned societies abroad are showing in its development and adoption, it may prove to be that universal language for which men have so long been seeking. Volapük was a failure, but the inventors and promoters of Esperanto believe that in their new artificial language they have found a medium that international congresses will be glad to adopt. Already London has a journal devoted to Esperanto—“The Esperantist”—and similar journals are published in Malta, in Spain, in Bulgaria, in Mexico and in Berlin. There are books about Esperanto and books written in it in both the Harvard University and Boston Public libraries. Homer, Shakespeare, Russian and French works have been translated into it. Esperanto was invented about twenty years ago by Dr. Zamenhof, a Russian, but it is only of late that it has been widely circulated, and at present the French seem to be its most ardent advocates. At the University of Dijon public courses in the language have been offered, and there are said to be over a score of Esperanto clubs in as many different cities of France. Nuremberg has an Esperanto club, which is none other than the former Volapük Club converted to the new language. There are several persons in London who now offer to give free lessons in Esperanto, while, for the person who can speak it, a star shaped badge to wear in travelling, can be had for only ninepence. Among its adherents is Tolstoi, who says he was able to read Esperanto after an hour or two of study of the grammar and vocabulary, and he asks all educated men to spend the few hours necessary to learn it sufficiently for reading purposes.
Not to criticize Leo Tolstoy, but when he encountered Esperanto, there were fewer than a thousand roots in the language. Every word could be written out in a small brochure (while I have the latest edition of Plena Ilustrita Vortaro, runs to more than 1,250 pages; more than a page for every word of Esperanto in 1877).

Also, it’s clear that this “gleaning” has a decidedly British cast to it, not just from the reference to a Esperanto magazine published in London (which is balanced by others), but that the cost of an Esperanto badge is ninepence, which isn’t the usual way of pricing things in Manhattan.

A slightly later letter to the New York Times from England, noted that Esperanto exhibit was part of the “French Section of Social Economy, Group 138, (General Progress of the Social Movement.)” John Ellis (the letter writer), when on to say:
The exhibit is but an incomplete evidence of the strength of the Esperanto movement, as it was hurriedly put together by the Parisian Groupe of the French Esperanto Society, without any reward but that of serving their fellow-men throughout the world.
The presence of Esperanto at the 1904 World’s Fair was only an exhibit within a country’s many exhibits. There was no Esperanto pavilion, no gathering of the Esperanto speakers of the world (the first Universala Kongreso wouldn’t come until 1905). Still, maybe some visitor to the 1904 World’s Fair came away with a determination to learn Esperanto.
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1 comment:

  1. By 1904 publishing materials in Esperanto had picked up decently. I think that more than just a "short shelf" could have been possible. (With the right budget and effort to acquire the books, that is.)


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