I will begin this article with a few paragraphs from Jules Verne's unfinished novel Voyage of Discovery which I discussed in the previous article. The translation is my own and has been derived from Istvan Ertl's Esperanto translation of the French original. I think that, just a look at the few sentences which follow will cause a few pangs of regret that Verne did not live long enough to complete this work. Who knows how much additional interest in Esperanto could have been generated if a completed version had been published before 1914.
"When the Minister gave his permission for Messrs Isidore Papeleu and Joseph Denizart to investigate the country from the political perspective he extended the same favour to Nicolas Vanof, a member of the Touring Club and a delegate of the Esperantist Conference."
[Translators Note. The first international conference did not take place until six months after Jules Verne died. The Touring Club, a famous contemporary organization to promote tourism and travel, published a series of articles about Esperanto in their official journal. They appeared in 1900 and 1901 and also, from April 1901, courses in Esperanto were conducted at the Touring Clubs headquarters. It was at one of these courses that Theophile Cart, who inspired the formation of the Amiens Esperanto Club two years later, himself learned the language.]
"Nicolas Vanov was a 30-year old Russian, a pleasant, charming and spontaneous individual, also an incandescent propagandist of the Esperanto language. It is scarcely conceivable how fervently this -one might say- apostle dedicated himself to the work of Dr Zamenhof. He was a great help in making it know among the Slavic people, and tirelessly competed with Cart, De Beaufront, Delfour and other adepts of this language, destined to facilitate contact between the inhabitants of the Old and New Worlds. As is generally know, Esperanto penetrated the vast regions of Central Africa several years ago, with great advantages for civilization and commerce."
After this, the reader is presented with an example of the Vanof spoke to his audience when giving a lecture on Esperanto.
"No, ladies and gentlemen, we are not talking about a language like Volapuk which will disappear after fruitless attempts to get it accepted. Esperanto cannot be compared to Volapuk! The work of Dr. Johann Schleyer was unsuitable from its birth. It needed a philologist to give to the world a new idiom which would be accessible to everyone, and the doctor was only a polyglot. His modification of the most common roots was simply capricious, and he was so careless in the way he created grammatical endings that when the endings were attached to the roots, quite illogically, they both became immediately unrecognizable."
(A brief discussion of the early success of the Volapuk movement can be found here:
Vanof then provides some illustrative examples of Volapuk's flaws, and states that Esperanto, because of its more "natural" formation, is now spoken in many countries. He gives a long list of European nations and then continues:
"And as you can imagine, Esperanto, without any difficulty, has also crossed the seas. Travel to America, Africa or Oceania and you will find Esperantists everywhere who will be able to understand you when you speak the language. Esperanto is the surest and the speediest vehicle of civilization."
After Vanof's long speech, Jules Verne, as he does in other novels, takes up the theme of Esperanto himslef and writes a typical didactic passage. Whatever scientific subject
happens to crop up in his stories, Verne was always very good at setting out, clearly and succinctly, some
basic facts about it. It seems to me that he had a real gift for providing his reader with new information in a way which added to
rather than detracted from the entertainment value of his works.
Verne wrote: "It is worthwhile noting that Esperanto is a simple, flexible, pleasant-sounding language which is equally well-suited to elegant prose and lyrical poetry. It is capable of expressing the whole of human thought, not excluding the finest sentiments of the spirit. Furthermore, it is the ideal international language because of the nature of its constituent parts."
Verne then explains how, to create a language which anyone in the world could pronounce easily, Zamenhof carefully balanced both phonetic and graphical qualities when selecting the roots of Esperanto's vocabulary from other languages. This approach of Zamenhof, which I have elsewhere described as the approach of an artist, rather than a scientist, is not (I think) well-known even among Esperantists of long-standing and I was quite surprised to see it mentioned by Verne. I was also surprised at this reference:
"...the brilliant idea of Dr Zamenhof, the realisation of which was celebrated on the 5th of December 1878."
Now if you have read this Topic from the beginning, you will be aware that the first book of Esperanto was not published until July 1887. But on the 17th of December 1878, (not the 5th as Verne wrote), a party was held for the young Zamenhof, whose 19th birthday had been on the 15th of December. And at this party some of his school friends made short speeches and sang a song in an early prototype of Zamenhof's international language.
There is no doubt about it! When it came to Esperanto, as seems to be the case in all other subjects he wrote about, Verne really knew his stuff!
What a pity that he never finished this novel. With Verne's death in 1905, Esperanto lost an influential and persuasive advocate who might have made the language much more widely known than it is today.
More about Esperanto and Science Fiction in the next Topic article.