The Duty Of Every Intellectual Man And Woman To Learn Esperanto (1909)

Continuing on from yesterdays post, I have been sharing articles from The North American Review about Esperanto from 1906-9. These offer a fascinating insight into the movement in its early days and the hopes and dreams of its early advocates. Let’s continue this walk through history. At the end of 1907, an article The Progress of Esperanto, gave an update on the state of the movement. It is interesting to note what a strong emphasis the early movement put on promoting peace, something which would be seen as hopelessly naive today. Yet there is something charming in its own way about the idealism of Esperantists coming to a congress “to affirm their dedication to the cause of peace on earth, and the federation of man.” The writer delights in how 1,400 delgates speaking 25 seperate languages were able to easily communicate as equals thanks to Esperanto. He does somewhat lose the run of himself, such as when describing Zamenhof as “that almost Christ-like figure” (steady on now). There is such excitement in his writing as he marvels over the wonders of “Esperanto-land” and how “The American and the Spaniard conversing in this neutral language realized that the objects and strivings of humanity are much the same in Spain as in America”. There was a genuine fear among many people that Esperanto simply wouldn’t work in practice, that it would be lacking as a language. But the author proudly concludes “Thus, we clearly see that Esperanto is a rich and vital language in which men can convey all manner of ideas delivered upon every conceivable topic, in which they can perform plays and sing songs, by which they can govern all the routine of their lives.”

The whole of the Editors Diary Aug 1907 is dedicated to the Congress and ranks Esperanto as one of the greatest human inventions (these early Esperantists were seriously enthusiastic). Also at the Cambridge Esperanto Congress (which was the 3rd Congress) was the infamous Marquis Louis de Beaufront, who wrote his Impressions of the Esperanto Congress at Cambridge. Reading it, you would suppose that Beaufront was a passionate Esperantist, he even writes that he is convinced of the “certainty of ultimate victory [of Esperanto] within a relatively short time.” (Finavenkismo was all the rage at the time). He praises the growth of the Congresses and the improvement in the level of Esperanto spoken and claims that there were representatives of thirty languages, not 25 mentioned above. He declares that he “believe that Esperanto will do away with many misunderstandings, will prevent much hatred, and will scatter the seeds of goodness, of tolerance and of love.” Ironically, at the same time as he was writing these words (October 1907) the Delegation for the Adoption of an International Auxiliary Language published what would become the Ido language, which Beaufront had worked in secret to create (while on the surface representing Esperanto), for which he was cast as the Judas of the Esperanto movement. Perhaps he thought these reforms would be accepted and there would be no need for a new language, otherwise it is hard to explain his behaviour.

It is necessary to take a moment to discuss Ido (a topic so controversial that it is usually avoided). The language was launched in October 1907 as a reform to Esperanto, which when these were rejected, split away to form its own language (the full story deserves a post in itself so I won’t go into details). The strange thing is that the North American Review makes almost no mention of Ido. It is strange to ignore such a major split in the movement, even more so because the editor, Col. George Harvey, was on the delegation that endorsed Ido. Harvey in fact became an Idist, which makes it all the more bizarre that there is not a single mention of the language in his journal. Not a whisper of criticism is printed about Esperanto or any suggestions for improvement, instead positive articles about Esperanto continue to be printed throughout 1908 and 1909 (when even a regular Esperanto column is developed). I simply can’t understand why a prominent Idist would never print anything about the language he presumably thinks is best while continuing to print articles praising a language he presumably thinks is flawed.

This inexplicable silence extended to the coverage of the Fourth Congress in Dresden. After all, at the congress there were still some who hoped for the Ido reforms to be accepted, it wasn’t until this failed to happen that the split became permanent. This makes the Dresden Congress one of the most important and controversial congresses, but you wouldn’t know that from reading The North American Review. Ignoring the Ido schism would be like describing Sinn Féin in 1922 without mentioning the Treaty or American politics in 1861 without mentioning slavery. Instead the Editors Diary Aug 1907 begins by describing the Congress as a time when “the Esperantists of the world will again unite in Congress to celebrate another year’s progress of Esperanto” (apparently without any trace of irony). The article contains the hope that the Frenchmen traveling to the German Congress will help alleviate tensions between their nations (if only so, the two nations would slaughter millions in the horror of World War One, which was six years away).

A more detailed report of The Dresden Esperanto Congress also strikes an incredible positive tone (was there really no divisive debate or was it simply swept under the rug?). Esperanto is compared to the printing press or the telegraph in greatly increases humanity’s ability to communicate and understand one another. There are the usual boasts of how easy it is to learn, its neutrality and how it brings people together. Special mention is given of bible translators (times and priorities truly were different then). The Congress is notable for having three thousand people attend (according to the article) and for the creation of the Language Academy and the Universal Esperanto Association, both still in existence and both still the main pillars of the language. There is a description of the usual Congress activities such as talks and excursions where they were met by the “maidens” of a local city. In another piece of unfortunate foreshadowing (there have been quite a few) the author mentions the Red Cross and how useful Esperanto would be to them. Sure enough, during WW1, an Esperanto ambulance tended the wounded in France.

The Dresden Congress was presumably the cause for the next article on Esperanto In Germany. In the early day, the Esperanto movement was strongest in France and Germany and the oldest Esperanto club is in Nuremburg (two of my friends are helping to keep it active). An Esperanto club was set up in Kiel (How?) (Please excuse this terrible Esperanto pun). However it is noted that “the German press has until recently been rather unfriendly to the movement. The press either attempted to kill it with silence or indulged in cheap witticisms at its expense.” The media not taking Esperanto seriously? Who ever heard of such a thing? Thankfully we have progressed since those primitive days. Warnings are given about German chauvinistic nationalism (foreshadowing!), but on the whole the report positively reports businesses advertising that they use Esperanto and schools experimenting in teaching it.

The Editors Diary Nov 1908 addresses the thousand members of its Esperanto club to inform that the Editor, Col George Harvey has been elected President of the newly formed Esperanto Association of North America (which would be the national Esperanto group for the next fifty years until its President went on an anti-Communist purge and the association was suspended. That’s a story I’d like to hear more of). This confuses me even further. Surely an Idist would not be elected President of an Esperanto association? Did Harvey maybe switch allegiances after this point? But he was a member of the original delegation that suggested Ido in the first place. Perhaps he was on the fence and hoping that reform could happen without a split and only fully joined Ido in 1910. At least that’s the only explanation I can think of, he never gives any explanation (if he wanted reform why not use his journal to push for it or even mention that it was an issue?).

Far from moving away from Esperanto, in 1909, The North American Review became an even stronger supporter and began running a regular Esperanto column. The first one, Esperanto Notes Jan 1909 is effectively a notice board of the Esperanto movement, noting that there are 1.327 Esperanto clubs as of March 1908. It also notes that many printing presses were now providing Esperanto typefont (countering a major Ido criticism). Interesting halfway through this blog, I found a second Esperanto note in the same issue Esperanto Notes January 1909, which contains a small reference to Ido. “Every now and then various persons impose upon the easily persuaded newspapers the “news” that Esperanto is dead, and that some such tongues as Elo, or Ido, or whatever they may be, are the true successors of Esperanto. Every great movement is beset by similar small parasitic growths, and we simply beg to warn the reader to pay no attention to them.” Well, if I was confused before, I am even more so now. It is unclear who was writing the Esperanto Notes but they presumably had the Editors approval. If Harvey was an Idist, then why would he let Ido be called parasitic? If he was not, then what was he doing on the Delegation?

The note also contains word of the first Esperanto novel, a proper sized book of 447 pages, entitled Ĉu Li? The city of Moreseneto is also discussed as it lay on the border of Germany, France and Belgium, leading some to call for it to become a neutral city with Esperanto as its language. The Review calls this idea “absurd” arguing that Esperanto doesn’t have territory and shouldn’t belong to any one place, but rather to the whole world. Another interesting article was published in that January issue, this one by Zamenhof himself. It is an extract from Zamenhof’s translation from the Bible and is supposedly part of a series, though this is the only one I could find. What is most striking is that La Sentencoj De Salomono (Proverbs of Solomon) is entirely in Esperanto. There is no English translation or notes. Perhaps it was assumed that enough people had a copy of the Bible that they could look up the English translation if they wanted or perhaps there was a large enough Esperanto readership. Either way it is an enormous step forward for a major English language magazine to publish an article entirely in Esperanto.

In the Esperanto Notes Feb 1909 it is reported that the Pan-American Scientific Congress endorsed Esperanto calling it a “human blessing”. The Esperanto Notes March 1909 re-affirms its commitment to Esperanto: “We take pleasure in emphasizing the fact that this Review continues to be a staunch supporter of Esperanto. Questions on this head are frequently addressed to us, we know not why.” Were they really surprised that people asked them why they supported Esperanto? They were one of the few English language journals to do so, so it was hardly mainstream. The note details the continuing growth of the Esperanto movement with more and more groups being set up. The Printers Co-Operative (of Paris), The International Federation of Dentists and the International Association of Spiritualists all endorsed Esperanto.

The Editors Diary March 1909 was delighted to report (apparantly without irony) that a delegate to the Esperanto Congress on behalf of the War Department was very supportive of the language. I have no idea why the War Department did this as one of the main themes of the Congress was peace and understanding. The emphasis seems to be more on the Red Cross adapting the language (which would be quite appropriate for it). The article errenously claims that the Fifth International Congress will take place in Chautauqua, it actually took place in Barcelona, Spain, Chautauqua was host to the first American Congress. The Surgeon-General of the military was also supportive of Esperanto.

Upon meeting an Esperantist, the first thing they will inevitably tell you is how quick and easy it is to learn. The Esperanto Notes April 1909 gives an example of someone being turned from skeptic to supporter to speaker in no time at all. The writer didn’t like Esperanto until he came across a pamphlet in it. After buying a textbook (for only a few pennies!), it learned the grammar after only an hour and a half (that is actually plausible, the grammar is designed to be as simple as possible) just by studying while traveling to and from work. Within 48 hours of beginning his study he had translated the pamphlet, within 10 days he was reading out loud in English an Esperanto novel and after three weeks he had written a 20 page article that was published in an Esperanto medical journal and all with less than an hour of study a day (this person must have a gift for languages).

The Esperanto Notes May 1909 looked forward to the upcoming Congresses in Barcelona and Washington and provided some information in Esperanto. As I mentioned above, this is a pretty big deal in an English language journal in America. Especially as this seems to indicate the beginning of a trend of publishing not only about Esperanto but also in Esperanto. The article itself gives details of the Barcelona Congress such as fees, accommodation, the difficulty of sending money to Spain and the hope that the Barcelona Council will pay for the Congress Book as every member (regardless of political opinion) is supportive of Esperanto. The Esperanto Notes July 1909 is a little odd in that it contains Zamenhof’s speech from the Dresden Congress which happened almost a year before, yet apparently, they only just received it. It is also entirely in the original Esperanto. The preamble makes a dig at Ido by criticising “The unimportant splutter created by malcontents who have some other language to advocate” by delivering Zamenhof’s concluding words. In it he asks his listeners to look to the future, remember that Esperanto is no one person’s property and that a Language Committee will protect the language from anarchy and no one person has the right to change Esperanto.

The Esperanto Notes August 1909 again is almost entirely in Esperanto, with only a small introduction in English, informing people that this is a letter of welcome from the organizers of the Barcelona Congress. The Editor must have liked it, as it was reprinted in the following September issue Esperanto Notes September 1909. The report on the Esperanto Congress At Barcelona is more formal than previous reports, which could be due to the author or a maturing of the movement. He begins by noting that the structure of the movement changed in order to give the Congresses more power and decision making. He actually discusses the business agenda of the Congress rather than writing of World Peace and International Brotherhood like previous writers (I’ll let the readers decide if that is an improvement). He describes the formation of an International Esperanto Council to which national organisations would elect one councilor for every thousand members. The writer notes that this will be the first global legislative body with one language, a “federation of the world” (Conspiracy theorists, start your engines!). As far as I can tell, nothing came of this idea.

Esperanto apparantly also was used during the International Medical Congress in “Budapesth” and the International Scientific Association was working on a technical dictionary of Esperanto. The Barcelona Congress received offical recognition from the King of Spain as well as the government of America, Belgium, Norway and Japan.Zamenhof and the organisers were paraded through the streets, lead by Spanish cavalrymen to the parliament where the Speaker greeted them. It is noted that there was a lot of tension between the Catalonians and the Castilians (as he calls them), part of which the writer blames on the enforced use of Spanish and the suppression of Catalan. A royal welcome had been planned for Zamenhof, but it was feared that any demostration might provoke a riot (Different times, different times). He warmly writes of how natural many Esperantists were and how they could speak off the cuff with as much fluency as if it was their native tongue. A detailed mock battle scene was composed to demonstrate the potential of an Esperanto Red Cross. Hope was expressed that scientific reviews could be convinced to print summaries in Esperanto. In a veiled reference to Ido, “During the entire congress no mention was made of any of the so-called “reforms.” The possibility of any revolutionary changes in the language, which heretofore has been given by some as an excuse for not learning Esperanto, is no longer to be considered”. He ends by writing “would seem almost a duty for every intellectual man and woman to look into and aid in speedily establishing upon a firm basis the International Language, Esperanto.” (This is where, with a slight edit, I got the title of this article.)

The last publication, Esperanto Notes December 1909 looks forward to the next Congress which would be the first held in America. Washington is declared the perfect city for it and notes are published in Esperanto about the movement.

Then all of a sudden, it stops. Without any warning, all the Esperanto articles cease. To this day, not a single article (that I can find) has been written about Esperanto since 1909. No note or explanation is given for the change nor can I think of one. There was no wind down of articles, if anything they were increasing and there was the addition of a regular column about Esperanto which was as often in Esperanto as in English. Col Harvey remained the Editor, so perhaps he changed his view and became an Idist? But why at the start of 1910, more than two years after the creation of the language? Why change without any warning and all indications that he was content with Esperanto? The Review had regularly stated that the need for an international language was an extremely important one, so if he preferred Ido over Esperanto, why not promote Ido? Why go silent, especially just before America hosted its own Congress which caused a surge of interest in Esperanto? Its a mystery I cannot solve.

Update: John Dumas may have solved the mystery. On his blog he has a post where he writes that the early Esperanto movement believed it was necessary to have famous people to lead the movement, even if they didn’t speak Esperanto, so it was on this basis that George Harvey was elected President of the EANA. John suspects that George Harvey was neither an Esperantist nor an Idist (Vikipedio is the only place that claims he was) but merely jumped on the Esperanto bandwagon to sell more copies of his magazine. John’s post has more details (he has been doing some fascinating research on the early Esperanto movement which inspired these articles, so his blog is well worth following).


Filed under Esperanto

2 responses to “The Duty Of Every Intellectual Man And Woman To Learn Esperanto (1909)

  1. The short answer is probably “money.” From the point of view of George Harvey, it was a question of “ask not what you can do for Esperanto, ask what Esperanto can do for you,” and he seems to have concluded “not enough.”

    I’ve written on it at greater length here

  2. Thank you for sharing some of those interesting slices of Esperanto history.

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