Mr. Henry L. Thomas, translator of the state department in Washington, is visiting his brother, Mr. John Thomas,
general superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad company, at his home on Locust avenue, Allegheny, says The Pittsburgh Chronicle.
Mr. Thomas has had quite a varied experience, and now, after traveling over a greater part of the globe and devoting a large
portion of his life to the study of languages, is one of the most widely-posted and cultured gentleman it is one's good fortune to meet.
For sixteen years he has been connected with the state department, and in that time has kept up his study of languages till
to-day he can speak fluently some eight or nine, and is able to make himself understood in as many more.
When a boy he took but little interest in the study of languages, but starting out in life as a printer he found his first start,
and used to employ himself all his leisure hours with pouring over the grammar of some foreign tongue. Along in the "fifties" he started on his travels,
and was professor in a college in one of the West India islands for several years. He became tired of this kind
of life, however, and during the "sixties" returned to this country. In 1866 he was appointed translator in the
state department by Mr. Hamilton Fish, then secretary of state. He has served constantly ever since during all the changes of administrations.
To a representative of this paper he said last night: "My duties are sometimes very light, and sometimes very arduous. It is hard to average
the work, as some days there will be a rush of matter, and on others but little. My duties are confined largely to official
correspondence, though often letters addressed to the president or some of the cabinet officers are handed to me for translation.
Most of the countries represented at our courts use their own language or French in their diplomatic correspondence. Some, however,
"Austria, for instance, used its own language up till about six years ago, when it changed, and now all its official correspondence
is carried on in English. Italy and some of the other European countries use French. So did Germany until the antipathy between her and France
became so bitter. Since then her correspondence has been in pure, hard German. The South American countries all use Spanish, and their official
correspondence must all be translated."
"In what language are the treaties written?"
"In the language of the country with which the treaty is made and in English. Some of the old treaties have been rather loosely translated, though
there have been no serious errors. Once in a while I have to go back to the old correspondence and treaties of years ago. In this way I can see
how the translations were made. Some times since I had to go back thirty years to the official correspondence between this country and the
Argentine Confederation. A great many references were made in the correspondence to those old days."
"Does the department ever receive personal letters?"
"Yes, quite often, and from all over the world. Every president who has occupied the white house since I have been in Washington has
received more or less letters containing advice or begging for something. Subjects of other countries often write and tell
the president how he should act. Many of the foreign letters come from Germany asking the president to send the writer a passage ticket
across the ocean, as he wishes to become a citizen of this country. Another man wrote from Holland the other day advising President
Cleveland to pay off the confederate bonds.
"But a puzzler was received some months ago from Samoa. No one could read it, and we had about given it up when an English translation
was discovered. It was pretty fair English, too. I have to make an abstract of tyhe letter, which are sent to the persons to whom they
were directed. Some of them are answered and some are not. We get a good many letters from Germans living in this country.
They are mostly filled with grievances of some kind. During President Arthur's administration an old German out west wrote to him
asking the president to pay off a mortgage on his farm. He had got into difficulty, so he said, though no fault of his own, and he wanted
it fixed up. The second letter was filled with threats, and the third was filled with abuse. After President Cleveland ws inaugurated
he wrote to him, but since no attention was paid to it he has stopped.
"During President Hayes' administration he received a letter written in Hebrew. It was in poetry, and I made a loose rhyming
translation. I can only remember the first verse. It ran like this:
Ring out the sounds of joyous mirth,
Up and down throughout the earth,
For the man who's pure of hand
Has chosen been to rule the land.
"During Gen. Grant's administration some funny letters were received. One of them was from a German woman who claimed that her neighbor
threw slop over her back yard and she wanted it stopped. The slop-throwing may be going on yet for all I know.
There are so many incidents of this kind that I forget all of them. But the letters come from everywhere.
One came from Palestine the other day written in Hebrew. The Turkish language stumps all of us, though. But fortunately
an English translation accompanies it."