Friday, February 26, 2016

Mr. Privat Goes to Washington

Li iris al Vaŝingtono
One of the early great celebrities of the Esperanto movement was a young man from Switzerland. You cannot fault Edmond Privat for a lack of fervor: he walked to the first Esperanto Congress, from Geneva to Boulogne-sur-Mer.[1] at the age of fifteen (the conference ended shortly before his sixteenth birthday). By 1907, he was actively promoting the Esperanto movement and had become a prominent Esperantist, and had been sent to the United States to promote the language. In late 1907 (check the link), the New York Sun dubbed Mr. Privat “the principal commercial traveller for the original manufacturer of Esperanto.”

Privat began his visit to the United States in New York, but in February 1908, he came to Washington, D.C. At the time that he was there, the national organization was the American Esperanto Association, headquartered in Boston. It was later that year that they would be supplanted by the Esperanto Association of North America.[2] In February 1908, D.C. wasn’t the center of the Esperanto movement in the United States,[3] but it had been national capital for a good long time. And who knew? Maybe Mr. Privat could get President Roosevelt interested in Esperanto.

On February 26, 1908, both the Washington Times and Evening Star [4] covered Edmond Privat’s impending arrival, which is amazing, because it seems clear that there could be a substantial gathering of Esperantists in the United States and no one would pay any attention. The Times gave a substantial write-up on Privat’s coming arrival, while the Star only gave a short notice.
Envoy of Europe’s Brains
Comes to Teach Americans

How to Speak Esperanto
On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined!

On the eastern horizon there looms high the figure of one who would reform the world. The broom that sweeps exceeding clean is in his hand. He is but eighteen year of age. And yet he is hailed as a hero.[5]

His name is Edmond Privat, and he comes to Washington to teach the people Esperanto, which reduced to the vernacular, means a language that shall be universal and intelligible to all.[6] He is from Geneva, the home of great reformers,[7] and at present he is a long way from home. He will speak three times in the Capital of the United States, March 2, 3, and 4, at the Y. M. C. A., the Library of Congress, and the Public Library.

Esperanto of Odd Appearance. [8]
His coming is a great event. he is full of enthusiasm, knowledge, and youth. The “universal language,” which he hopes will do away with French, German, English, and all other tongues in international discourse,[9] is a hard one. It looks like a chicken pot pie trimmed with fish hooks. It sounds like a milk wagon rattling over cobble stones at 4 a. m. It’s suffixes are screams for help, and its prefixes go off like a fire alarm.[10]

But so long as Edmond Privat is on the job no on e need fear. Already “he is an international figure,” and, while here, he will call on the President of the United States.[11]

Edmond’s Warning.
Read the following announcement that has been sent out regarding his coming to Washington:

“Mr. Edmond Privat, the eminent Esperantist of Geneva, will demonstrate to Washington the marvelous capabilities of Esperanto, March 2–4.

“At the Y. M. C. A. Hall, 8 p. m., March 2.[12]

“At the Library of Congress, 2:30 o’clock p. m., March 3.

“At Public Library, 8 p. m., March 4.

“He will speak in English and Esperanto.

Envoy of Europe’s Brains.
“Mr. Privat is the envoy of Europe to America, a teacher, orator, and propagandeur[13] of Esperanto. He is the proprietor of a successful Esperanto newspaper for young people, secretary of the International Esperanto Congress, director of the International Institute of Esperanto at Geneva, and the foremost Esperantist of the world, next to Dr. Zamenhof,[14] the author the language. He has already visited the principal Eastern cities and colleges, and has converted many eminent scholars and teachers to the new language.

“This remarkable youth is but eighteen year of age, barely out of high school, and is already an international character. It has been announced that he will visit the President Monday, March 2, and attempt to gain the adherence of the first gentleman of America to the international idiom that has grown to such proportions that it is used in every nation of the earth for all purposes to which language may be applied.

“Mr Privat’s visit is at the instance of the flourishing Society of Washington Esperantists, and it is expected that his ability and eloquence will bring a large number of earnest students into the society and to the support of the ‘Green Star,’ the emblem of Esperanto”
Half the article, from the line “Mr. Edmond Privat, the eminent Esperantist of Geneva” is pure press release. Starts off sarcastically with a fanciful and wildly inaccurate portrait of Esperanto. Let’s be serious: “chicken pot pie trimmed with fish hooks”? I have never heard “a milk wagon rattling over cobblestones at 4 a.m.,” but I suspect that it sounds nothing like “Saluton! Kiel vi fartas? Kia granda plezuro renkonti vin!”[15]

The Evening Star article was briefer, repeats much the same information (probably from the same press release), but includes a few additional items, though none of them are news to people who know just the broad strokes of the early Esperanto movement.

Public Addresses to Be Made on New Language.
Mr. Edmond Privat of Geneva, Switzerland, will visit Washington March 2–4, and has arranged for various public addresses on Esperanto, the international language, in which he is an adept. Mr. Privat is an earnest propagandist[16] of the new language. He will visit the President and other eminent officials during his visit, and invite their attention and interest.

Mr. Privat is a youth of eighteen years, but an accomplished orator. He will speak on Esperanto at Y. M. C. A. Hall, 1736 G street, March 2, at 8 p.m.;[17] at the Library of Congress, March 3, at 2:30 p.m.; at the Public Library, 8 p.m., March 4.

He is the editor of an Esperanto journal for young people, founded by him in March, 1903; is president of the Lingva Komitato of Geneva, and has borne a prominent part in the successful Esperanto congresses held at Boulogne, Geneva, and Cambridge, England, in 1905, 1906 and 1907.[18]
Private was pretty accomplished in 1908 and he would go on to be active in the Esperanto movement for the rest of his life, including twenty-four years as president of the Universala Esperanto-Asocio[19] (Wikipedia tantalizingly that Privat “resigned after a scandal,” but provides no details[20]).

Sadly, despite Privat’s accomplishments, one that does not end up on this list would be “spearheading a vibrant Esperanto movement in the United States, leading to the world-wide adoption of Esperanto as an auxiliary language,” but maybe that would have required a superhuman effort to pull off an ending reminiscent of a Frank Capra movie. We don’t get an ending in which Edmond Privat ended his three days in Washington in glory. There was no Presidential proclamation making Esperanto the new language of the American diplomatic corps, no government support for Esperanto at all. For all the advance notice, President Roosevelt was busy when Privat arrived.

Mr. Privat went to Washington, but only as an esteemed visitor, not as its conqueror.

  1. Wikipedia says that he walked 600 km get to the conference, and the distance between the two places is approximately that, if you draw a straight line between them. Google Maps gives the shortest (but not fastest) route as 802 km. It’s safe to say that Mr. Privat took an awfully long walk.
  2. I need to get to this at some point. I’ve determined that by the time of the 1908 Esperanto congress in Chautauqua, New York (where EANA was formed), the AEA was clearly in organizational trouble.
  3. And would be for only about five years, 1908–1913.
  4. But not the Washington Post.
  5. I’m not sure if this is meant to be taken seriously, or if the Times was being snarky.
  6. Not really. You have to study it before it becomes intelligible. The point is that it takes much less work to get to intelligibility than one would need to apply to a natural language.
  7. Probably a reference to John Calvin, and the importance of Switzerland in the Protestant Reformation.
  8. That’s what you say, Washington Times. I do not agree.
  9. The last three words are important. “In international discourse.” The goal of Esperanto has never been to stop people from talking English, just to give people are not native English speakers a better tool than broken English in which to communicate.
  10. The Times reporter was clearly not impressed with Esperanto.
  11. Ah, those halcyon days in which a Swiss teenager could simply “call on the President of the United States.” Today, I suspect a similar request would go unanswered. If I were going to D.C. and asked my congressional representative to put in a good word for meeting with the President to discuss Esperanto, I doubt I’d get anything more than a form letter of generic refusal. The item below this article does list among “Today’s Callers at White House” “Party of boy tourists from Suffolk county, N. Y.”
  12. This particular convention for the use of quotation marks, with each new line introduced by left double quotation marks (“) with no right double quotation mark (”) seems to have been on the way out by 1908. Now we would just put the whole long quotation (the rest of the article, apart from the next subhead, is quoting from Privat’s press release) between opening and closing quotation marks, indent the whole thing (they did that too, then, though the columns of the Times are fairly narrow), or probably just quote the thing and not admit that half the article is taken from a press release.
  13. “Propagandeur” isn’t a word in English. “Propagandist” has been in the English language since 1797. The Oxford American Dictionary supplied as an application for the Mac marks all words related to propaganda as “chiefly derogatory.” Wikipedia notes that prior to the twentieth century the term was neutral, referring to “information in favor of any given cause.”
  14. Textual note: “Zamentof” in the original. Probably just a typesetting error. Likewise, “eighteen” is later rendered “eightenn.”
  15. Hello! How are you? What a great pleasure to meet you!
  16. Unlike the Times the Star got the word right.
  17. Note that the Times put a space in the middle of “p. m.,” while the Star uses “p.m.”
  18. Inconsistent use of the serial comma (the comma used after each item in a series, except the last). So we get “Boulogne, Geneva, and Cambridge” but “1905, 1906 and 1907.” Don’t just be consistent: use the serial comma.
  19. World Esperanto Association.
  20. I know that there was a schism in the Esperanto movement in 1936, and that the WWII era was hard on the Esperanto movement, but as for the actual “scandal,” I’m not sure.
[Wow! That's a pile of stuff sent to footnote-land!]

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