Harold Bolingbroke Mudie was born on the 30th of January 1880, the only child of Alfred and Ann Mudie. His father was a member of the company Mudie's Library, whilst his mother, prior to her marriage back when she was Ann Bolingbroke, was an accomplished singer. The young Harold was educated in a private school in Handsworth, near Birmingham, and then for several years in Folkestone. In order to have him back in the family home he later studied at University College School in London, before gaining a scholarship to London University.
He didn't graduate because whilst he was still a student he received a job offer from C. J. Whittington and Co., a famous firm of stockbrokers. He accepted, and so began his life as a trader. He was successful in the role and so, in 1905, set up business for himself, being joined by R. C. Tragett in 1906. So successful was he, in fact, that prior to the break-out of war in Europe he had intended to retire, still in his thirties, and dedicate his life to promoting Esperanto in all corners of the world. His collection of postcards, tickets and photos from places as varied as Montenegro, Spain, Sweden and Romania in the first decade of the twentieth century tells the story that he was already very good at this prior to retirement. Present with him is his ubiquitous Esperanto flag. He had become the world's first Esperanto tourist.
Esperanto in Britain
Mudie was already familiar with several languages at the point he first encountered Esperanto in October 1902, courtesy of W. T. Stead's Review of Reviews. He was one of the founders of the London Esperanto Club in January 1903, having been one of the five people who had regularly convened at Dr J. C. O'Connor's house in London for lessons. By April, he had become the London Club's secretary. This was but the start of his formal involvement with Esperanto.
Around this time Stead asked Mudie to launch a magazine in Esperanto. Not only to launch it, but to be its sole editor: "I'm thinking about a committee of one, and you're that one." Mudie wasn't sure about whether to take on the role because of the financial risk, but Stead resolved that problem by proposing to underwrite it, and in a meeting of the London Club on the 20th of July 1903, the decision was taken to create a new magazine which Stead would back for a year. Thus was born in November 1903 The Esperantist, a 16-page monthly magazine, the first related to Esperanto in Britain. It's worth bearing in mind that Mudie was only 23 at this time and had been learning Esperanto for about a year!
At the end of the first year, Mudie was able to report to Stead that the magazine had been a success not only with regards to content but also on the financial level, returning a profit. Stead was amazed: "I've been an underwriter on many occasions, but this is the first when I haven't had to pay out any money." Mudie edited The Esperantist for 26 issues, before it merged with The British Esperantist, the magazine of the subsequently formed British Esperanto Association, in January 1906, Mudie becoming one of the members of its editorial committee. Over 100 years and nearly 1,000 issues later, it's still with us.
Expanding his horizons
Mudie was among the pioneers in 1904, too. Most people with a bit of knowledge of Esperanto will know that the first International Esperantist Congress (which would go to be better known as Universalaj Kongresoj) took place in Boulogne-sur-mer in 1905. What they don't tend to know is that this wasn't the first such meeting; in August one year earlier a group of Esperantists primarily from Britain and France met in Dover and Calais, and it was the success of this event which caused Alfred Michaux, also in attendance, to invite everybody to Boulogne. Mudie, of course, was there too. Théophile Cart, in his speech at the event, described "the editor of The Esperantist" as "a tall, blond-haired young man, with large glasses and a clean-shaven face, and speaking with a sweet, soft voice and a touch of an English accent, so nice in Esperanto when it isn't strong". Paul Boulet also took note of Mudie's presence; he had the job of organising a theatre production of Edziĝo Kontraŭvola, a translation of Molière's Le Mariage Forcé and he was doing so under some pressure. Following a dispute with Victor Dufeutrel, the translator, he only received the manuscript fifteen days before the congress and had to assemble the cast in a hurry. Mudie was the last to arrive at the rehearsal on the Saturday, having promised Boulet the night before that he'd learned everything.
Mudie participated in the second international congress, this time for twice as many people with 1200 in attendance, in Geneva, which served as a taster for his biggest contribution up to this date; the third congress was coming to Britain in 1907 and Mudie, alongside Dr George Cunningham, a dentist, and Colonel John Pollen, president of the British Esperanto Association, was one of the Trio por la Tria. In practice Mudie was the main organiser and was much lauded for his very effective organisation, including finding homes for foreign visitors with British Esperantists, and setting out tables so that people weren't sitting among their compatriots and would be compelled to speak in Esperanto.
In 1908 the Esperanto world was recovering from a schism which saw as many as one quarter of its leaders (though relatively few of the rank and file) leave the movement in preference for an alternative language which was nothing more than reformed Esperanto and which proved to be a short-term phenomenon. Led by the young Swiss Hector Hodler, a group of Esperantists set up the Universala Esperanto-Association, the World Esperanto Association. They invited Mudie to become its first president, a position he held until his death, concurrently with the presidency of the British Esperanto Association, which he took over from John Pollen in 1912.
When Ludoviko Zamenhof received news from the publishers Hachette that they were no longer interested in releasing the chapters of the Bible, he finally arranged a cancellation of the contract which had caused him so much misery. In something of a depression he turned himself to Mudie for help, writing to him that he was now spending all of his free time on the "seriously important" job of translating the Old Testament and requesting Mudie's assistance to find somebody to publish it when it was completed. With a financial contribution from the sisters Priscilla (a member of the International Peace Bureau and four times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize) and Algerina Peckover, Mudie arranged for the British Bible Society to publish it, although neither he nor Zamenhof lived long enough to see it when it finally appeared in 1926.
At a time when Europe was mobilising for war, Mudie was in Paris on August the 14th 1914 for the opening day of what was set to be the tenth World Congress, held at the Gaumont Theatre. Other Esperantists, including Dr Zamenhof, had been unable to make it, turned back at the borders. Mudie reflected with his colleagues that no war would take place and arranged to meet them the following day to see what could be done to run the congress. We know, of course, that he was wrong and that industrialised slaughter was about to be unleashed not far from where he stood. And this conflict would take Mudie's life.
A premature death
When war broke out Mudie immediately moved to serve, amongst other roles conveying horses to the Belgian government. The Director of Remounts described Mudie's report on transporting horses as "a gem in its way" and as such "he was given a commission at the earliest opportunity". And so it was that Captain Harold Bolingbroke Mudie was present around Forges-les-Eaux near Rouen, France on the night of January the 6th 1916, having set up the Advanced Remount Depot there. At about 21:00 Mudie, travelling with Lieutenant-Colonel Petre, reached a level crossing. They woke the sleeping guard to get his to raise the gate. They were unaware that the express train was running an hour late and was approaching them as they moved proceeded. The train sheared straight through the car, killing Mudie and the driver, Mr Augrand, instantly. And with that, a war which would take millions of young lives pointlessly took that of the chief motor of Esperanto in Britain and one of the foremost Esperantists in the world, a tragic accident that robbed his parents of their only son, forever tearing apart that domestic unit which Mudie's holiday book indicates they referred to amongst themselves as "the trio".
Word reached Britain very fast of the death of the national association's president. Subscribers to Esperanto Monthly were first to read about it. The fact that it happened early in January meant that it was possible to feature it in February's British Esperantist. The British Esperanto Association expressed its condolences to Mudie's parents and arranged for a memorial service to take place at Harecourt Church, St Paul's Road, Canonbury, London on 15:15 on February the 13th. It also established a memorial fund which raised, by 1918, £287, equivalent to £11,500 today if adjusting for inflation, and published a memorial booklet ""H.B.M." An Appreciation, which was written in both English and Esperanto and included a photo and Rupert Brooks' poem The Soldier. Fittingly, considering that Mudie was the son of a librarian specialist and was the most prodigious producer of written Esperanto in Britain in his early days, the BEA launched the book series Libraro Bolingbroke-Mudie. The first and only book published in it was Edmond Privat's Vivo de Zamenhof.
Harold Bolingbroke Mudie lies in Forges-les-Eaux alongside four of his compatriots. His tombstone bears the inscription that he was the president of the BEA and UEA, and features the wording filantropo. Indeed he was.