Friday, July 17, 2015

Khayyam and Esperanto

A very rare book
I love old books. I could easily be blogging about my love of poking around used bookstores, sometimes coming home with piles of old things. I love old books. Every once in a while, you find something that’s a bit of a rarity, but the book that was described in the New York Times on July 17, 1909 was a true rarity: it was produced in an edition of twenty-copies. That’s all.

The book in question is an Esperanto translation of the Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyám based on the translation by Edward FitzGerald. My searching lead me to a bibliography of the Rubáiyat, which lists the first Esperanto translation as coming in 1915 (which was the product of John Pollen, the head of Esperanto Association of Britain). But Pollen’s 1915 translation of of Khayyám can’t the be subject of a 1909 bookstore ad. I mean, advance copies are one thing, but what bookstore can get a book six years before it’s printed?

Clearly, when Ambrose George Potter wrote his bibliography, he missed at least one (happens to the best). Williams’ Book Store of Worcester, Massachusetts was offering someone else’s translation. But whose?

Here’s the end of the ad from the New York Times:
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated into Esperanto, only edition ever made, limited to 25 copies, special paper, beautiful leather binding; only one copy to offer. No Omar collection is complete without this unrivaled edition. $15.00. Williams’ Book Store, 533 Main St., Worcester, Mass.
In one way, I didn’t have to look far, in another way, I did. The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin has a copy of the 1909 Rubáiyat, which they attribute to the pioneering Esperantist, William E. Baff, who at that time, lived in Worcester, Massachusetts. Mr. Baff likely had twenty-five copies produced at his expense and sought to have Williams’ Book Store sell one of them.

Buff later moved to Washington, D.C. and was active in the Esperanto movement there. He finally moved to Los Angeles and was also active in the Esperanto movement there.

Unfortunately, the Ransom Center hasn’t made a scan of their copy of Baff’s translation available. However, they did include a photo of the title page in an online exhibit. William E. Baff, pioneer Esperanto translator of Omar Khayyam.

Update: A reader has pointed out to me that the title page of the book (which I used as illustration) misspells "Esperanto" twice. The poem is described as "traduko en Esperato," and then later, Baff is described as having received a diploma from the "Brita Esperato Asocio." Oops. (Ah, the benefits of online publication: I quietly correct my typos.)
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