St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Why the Devil?

Last weekend I had a blast at the Vintage Paper Fair in San Francisco. These guys fill a hall with merchants selling old paper artifacts like posters, letters, photographs and especially postcards. The array of postcards on offer was so bewildering it was hard to know where to look, but one gent had a very interesting selection and I picked up a few gems from him. I’m posting them here because they’re well worth a look-see. I especially love the aesthetic of the “Remorse” postcard, what with the cute little demons and the use of black/red ink.

It is no time for mirth and laughter, The cold, gray dawn of the morning after
Why the Devil Don't You Write
Why the Devil Don’t You Write

In the past year Esperanto has become something of a hobby for me. Although I’m hardly fluent, with a bit of time I can pretty much read and write what I like. You can imagine my delight when I found the same gent selling Devil postcards also had an Esperanto range. Several of these were picture postcards, but only two had any significant amount of Esperanto writing.

It was a real thrill to translate both these postcards, which are nearly 100 years old. But in addition to being fun, these cards reveal some very interesting information about the way Esperanto was being used in its earlier years. It must have been adopted quite quickly judging by the way people used it for casual correspondence a mere few decades later. The first postcard is from one friend to another in what was then Austria-Hungary. The other is from a son writing to his own mother in what was then Czechoslovakia. Both cards were intended for the same person, Berta Keyzlarová, so she was obviously an enthusiast whose letters were kept after she died. What gets me is that she corresponded with her very own family in Esperanto, preferring it over her own language. I wonder if they spoke Esperanto too?

Berta Keyzlarová as Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová, 1930
Berta Keyzlarová as Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová, 1930

A bit of poking around turns up some interesting info on Keyzlarová, not to mention a photograph of the woman herself. She was an actress, director and teacher in the town of Červený Kostelec. In the picture on the left she is shown playing the title role in Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová. Her online biographical blurb does not mention Esperanto, but one postcard names her as a “subdelegate” of the U.E.A.(Universala Esperanto-Asocio, the World Esperanto Association). From what we know of her acting career, her involvement with the U.E.A. and her interest in literature (see the 1914 postcard), Keyzlarová must have been quite the idealist and patron of the arts.

Postcard to Berta Keyzlarová, 14 February 1914, front
Postcard to Berta Keyzlarová, 14 February 1914, back


Mia kara,

hieraŭ mi volis skribi al vi pli longan leteron, sed mi lasis ĝin kaj sendas nur tiun-ĉi signon de mia vivado! Multajn novaĵajn por vi — sed ĉion buŝe, ne vere!? - Hieraŭ mi parolis kun s o Titlik (profesoro??), kies paroladon mi ĉeestis. Bedaŭrinde, ke lia voĉo estas tre, tre eluzita, malmulte aŭdebla.

Pri io mi petas: konservu multe da mono, por ke vi povu subteni nur en la helpo al unu malriĉa kaj vere kompatinda persono, kiu estas devigata vendi sian ampleksan, (propran) bibliotekon! Mi, bedaŭrinde, ne povas absolute aĉeti librojn en sumo da 10 - 20 kronoj; sed vi estas kvan.1 (eble pli!), do la afero estos ebla?

Je revido dan.2 paskoj!

Via Yupichova.3

14 February 1914

My dear,

Yesterday I wanted to write you a longer letter, but I left it and am only sending this sign that I’m still alive! Many new things for you — but everything by mouth, no!? - Yesterday I spoke with Mr. Titlik (professor??), whose speech I attended. Unfortunately, his voice is very, very worn, not audible much.

I have a request about something: save a lot of money, so that you can support me in helping one penniless and truly poor person, who is compelled to sell his extensive, (his own) library! I, unfortunately, can’t absolutely buy books in a sum of 10 - 20 kronen; but you are though (possibly more!), so will the matter be possible?

Until we see each other again, thanks for Passover!

Yours, Yupichova.

Postcard to Berta Keyzlarová, 8 November 1923, front
Postcard to Berta Keyzlarová, 8 November 1923, back

M. B. 8/XI. 23

Kara panjo!

Ne miru mi petas, ke mi sendas nur karton, sed respondi tiun solan demandon, frazon de mia letero, al kiu vi kompreneble ne komprenis, signifas skribi multenhavan klarigon, por kiu al Joȓjo nuntempe ne restas tiom da tempo; panjo pardonos, ĉar mi preparas ĉion por sabata forveturo ev4. Mi ankoraŭ ne scias, se mi veturos (se mia financstato iom pli boniĝos) sed ni sopiru, ke jes. Vi panjo forveturu el Kostelec 11.21, kaj veturu ĝis al Ml. Boleslav (alvet. 16.03) (bileton aĉetu direkte ĝis Lípa) kie mi ĉiukaze, eĉ se mi ne veturos, atendos vin, ĉar mi ankaŭ multe ĝojas je revido kun vi. Al Lípa vi alveturos 18.37.

Via Joĉjo.

M. B. 8 November 1923

Dear mom!

Please don’t wonder that I am only sending a card, but answering that sole question, a sentence from my letter, which of course you didn’t understand, means writing a dense explanation, for which Joȓjo currently doesn’t have that much time; you will forgive me, mom, because I am preparing everything for Saturday’s departure. I still don’t know if I will go (if my finances improve somewhat more) but let’s pray that I will. You, mom, leave Kostelec at 11:21, and travel until you reach Mladá Boleslav (arriving at 16:03) (buy a ticket directly to Lípa) where I will wait for you in any case, even if I won’t be travelling, because I am also very glad to see you again. You will arrive at Lípa at 18:37.

Yours, Joĉjo.


  1. I have to confess some words were difficult to read. I have taken my best guess, but any corrections or better readings are welcome. 

  2. Uncertain reading. 

  3. Uncertain reading. 

  4. Uncertain reading.