For our own experience in the eigthteenth century has taught us that universality is a mixed blessing, perhaps a curse in disguise. As everything must be sacrificed to perspicuity and simplicity, there is a danger of enfeebling the language, of making it colorless. It breeds self-satisfaction, and, by making the study of other languages less useful, it favors ignorance and one-sidedness. For many years, the French smiled contemptuously at whatever was not French. They are at present reacting almost too vigorously against that tendency; let us hope that England and America will escape both these dangers. The assumption of superiority on the part of one language and therefore of one race, of one or two nations, causes jealousy, diffidence, hatred. France had to pay a heavy price for her once exalted position. She had to convince the world that she was not in any way a menace before sympathy would flow back to her.
The present situation, with the curse of Babel still on our heads, is not, of course, incompatible with progress, national and international. With the diffusion of the study of modern languages, with the multiplication of translations—some famous works have appeared simultaneously in eleven tongues—with the growing international vocabulary of science, commerce and pleasure, the world feels more and more its essential unity. We can live and prosper without an international language; but, in the same way, we could have lived and prospered without the printing press, the railroads and the telegraph.
The problem remains with us, baffling and entrancing. We all realize what a progress it would mean if all conventions, societies, publications of world-wide scope, would adopt one world-wide language; if not diplomatists, scientists and scholars alone, but the business man, the social worker, the missionary, even the common laborer, had a simple, universal means of intercommunication.
We have attempted to show that through neither conquest, natural development or international agreement had any living language a serious chance of being accepted as international. But is there no other solution? Are we not substituting, in every domain, order for chaos, science for tradition, the organizing will of man for the blind arrangements of fate? Is it beyond the capacity of our scholars to select or in the last resort to devise, a perfectly neutral tongue? If French or English will not do, why not try Esperanto?