In Clarence's Time - Pietro Zeni, the tenor sponsored by Bicknell

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

pietrozeniI had never seen details of the singer whom Clarence sponsored. I stumbled across this article in by accident...

"Un giorno del 1888 lo studioso inglese Clarence Bicknell sente per caso il giovane cantare, mentre è impegnato nel cantiere di lavoro; colpito dalla bellezza della voce dello Zeni, Bicknell lo fa studiare, a proprie spese, da privatista a Milano ove si diploma a pieni voti presso il Conservatorio. Il giovane tenore Pietro Zeni debutta con successo alla Scala e inizia una brillante carriera che lo porterà a calcare i palcoscenici dei più importanti e celebri teatri d'Italia e all'estero, in particolare in Spagna e in America, con Caruso e grande come Caruso."

which I translate as...

"One day in 1888, the English scholar Clarence Bicknell overheard the young man singing, while engaged in the work site (for the tunnels of the Pisa-Genova-Ventimiglia railway); struck by the beauty of the Zeni's voice, Bicknell helped him with his expenses for private tuition in Milan  where he went on to graduate with honors from the Conservatory. The young tenor Peter Zeni made a successful debut at La Scala and started a brilliant career that led him to tread the boards of the most important and famous theatres in Italy and abroad, particularly in Spain and America, with Caruso - and as great as Caruso."

Zeni was 18 when discovered. Imagine him wielding a pickaxe at full song!!!   I thought of Zeni today because I came across his page in The Book of Guests at the Casa Fontanalba in Esperanto, the small illustrated album where Clarence writes a few words in Esperanto about the people (and dogs) in his life. Clarence's dedication for Pietro Zeni reads...

"Pietro Zeni de Bordighera, iris al Milano, kie li studis musikon, kaj poste dum multaj jaroj Kantis, Kiel tenoro, en la cefurboj Italaj, ankaw en Hispanujo, Portogalujo, Rusujo k.t.p. sed, post bonega sed tro mallonga kariero, pro malsano de la kordoj gorguj, li devigis forlasi siari profesion."

which translates as

"Pietro Zeni of Bordighera, went to Milan, where he studied music, and then for many years sang, as a tenor, in the Italian capitals, yet it also in Spain, Portugal, Russia and so on but, after a great but too short career, due to illness of the vocal chords, he was forced to leave his profession."


4th January 2017

Andrew Sly writes on Facebook where I posted this article...

Andrew Sly "Here is a "cleaned up" version of the Esperanto transcription: "Pietro Zeni de Bordighera, iris al Milano, kie li studis muzikon, kaj poste dum multaj jaroj kantis, kiel tenoro, en la ĉefurboj Italaj, ankaŭ en Hispanujo, Portugalujo, Rusujo k.t.p. sed, post bonega sed tro mallonga kariero, pro malsano de la kordoj gorĝaj, li devigis forlasi sian profesion.""

Clarence Bicknell Association
I replied...
Clarence Bicknell Association Andrew, thank you. The Esperanto words given by me in the posting of 3rd January were taken letter-for-letter from Clarence's hand-writing in his Book of Guests. So any errors are errors in Clarence's grasp of Esperanto. An imperfect science at the time? Or maybe Clarence was still learning.
Valerie Lester writes...
"Yes, I did know about Zeni and have quite a lot of information about him. He was actually a bricklayer, so I think he was more likely to have been wielding a trowel than a pickaxe!!! But I didn’t know he had problems with his vocal cords later on. So great that you have that Book of Guests and can read Espeanto!"
Marcus Bicknell 4th January 2017

In Clarence's Time - Esperanto as a means to universal understanding

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

clarence c1905 esperanto starIt seems sad to read in Olga Kerziouk’s European Studies blog on the British Library website and in Ulrich Lins’ book Dangerous Language that from the earliest days of Esperanto, governments were quick to see potential dangers to their authority in the message spread by Esperanto. For Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918), Esperanto was a universal language which was not only an expression of peace but also a mean to furthering peace. Imagine the torment he suffered when the world went to war in 1914… he died in the mountains above Bordighera on the Italian-French border in 1918, in the last weeks of the war.

At Olga's invitation I wrote an article for her blog about European Studies on the British Library web site. It summarises Clarence's dedication to Esperanto late in his life and the extent to which he worked on the universal language as a way of improving the chances of human understanding subjugating man’s addiction to war. The photo, right, from the Bicknell Family Collection in my stewardship and never published before, Clarence is wearing his Esperanto badge on his lapel, probably 1906 to 1910. Is he also wearing his "not so optimistic face"? Was he already thinking of the need to promote Esperanto as a means of avoiding war?

Download the article here.

In Clarence's Time - Praise for Clarence Bicknell's techniques

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Here is some unsolicited praise, from an expert, of Clarence Bicknell's techniques in taxonomy and classifcation of the rock engravings round the Mont Bego. In her article Cartography in the Prehistoric Period in the Old World: Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, Catherine Delano Smith shows her appreciation of Clarence Bicknell’s classification techniques. She discusses the way in which rock engravings are interpreted by archaeologist and other researchers, and criticises their “unsystematic approach” such as ignoring the “contemporaneity, scale, or appropriate geometry”. Her most telling indictment of typical archaeologists is “What fits is included; what does not fit is conveniently disregarded”. She goes on to praise Bicknell’s taxonomical and empirical approach in words which complement and strengthen the praise of Bicknell’s techniques by Christopher Chippindale, the Bicknell specialist from Cambridge University.

My three page article shows the excerpts from her paper... download here.

Happy New Year!  from Marcus

NEWS - the biography of Clarence - 2016 was a year of progress

Written by Valerie Lester on .

Valerie Lester, Clarence's biographer, writes this wonderful year-end letter which I think all those interested in Clarence Bicknell and the upcoming biography would want to read.

Dear Friends,

As usual at this time of year, I give thanks for my great circle of friends, and I send you warmest wishes for Christmas and great happiness in the New Year.

My year has been much taken up with writing the Clarence Bicknell biography — wonderfully interesting work. Having Team Bicknell help me with the research, and my cousins Marcus and Susie Bicknell egging me on, I have not been condemned to the lonely life of the average biographer (myself included, in the past). I’m having a grand time.

In September, Bodoni interfered with the Bicknell flow when I had to give five talks about Bodoni in the space of two weeks, in places as various as the Caxton Club in Chicago, the rare book division at Columbia, and the Library of Congress. There’s a webcast of the talk at the Library of Congress if you happen to have a free hour, when the weather outside is frightful, to listen to my droning . . .

andy and jasperMy family is thriving. My daughter Alison, her husband Andy, and their dog Jasper moved from Singapore to England in June, since when Alison has been sewing jackets for Jasper. After spending his life in Singapore, he’s feels the cold. Here he is, color-coordinated with Andy.

Alison’s kids are both in New York, Kiri finishing at NYU and Linus on a gap year, working on his music and an internship with Vice Media, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. Alison's new book, Yuki Means Happiness, is coming out in England in the summer, and she has another in the works.

My son Toby is a freelance editor with tons of work. He also teaches an editing course at Boston college. His wife Catherine still works at the Harvard Law School, which in my unbiased opinion, is lucky to have her. Emma, their eldest, has taken well to Cornell, while Kate and Sage lead busy lives in Belmont. Here’s Sage showing off her tonsils, with her sisters on either side of her, and Kiri with her boyfriend Daniel in the back row.

That’s enough of family matters . . . Now let’s get back to Clarence Bicknell. (I’m nothing if not obsessive.) Last Saturday I went to a choral concert whose central theme was the animals we associate with Christmas, the donkey being chief among them. I was delighted about this since donkeys were already much on my mind because of the frequency with which they show up in Clarence Bicknell’s diary of his Cooks’ tour to Egypt, written and illustrated between 4 December 1889 and 30 January 1890.

Apart from the steamer in which he traveled up the Nile, donkeys were the principal means of transport. Here he describes his first ride of the trip:

donkeys cairo“At 9 with a dragoman we all started on donkeys, such strong good little donkeys! But mine set off galloping, I couldn’t stop him, my stirrup broke and I thought every moment I would be pitched over his head or tumble off, but I clung on like grim death and survived.”

He had better luck on the donkey he rode to Karnak:

“We started for Karnak along an excellent road, and on truly noble donkeys. I felt as safe on mine as on a granite sphinx; he never stumbled, walked at a marvelous pace, was No. 11 and called George Washington.”

Even on Christmas day, the last day in Cairo before the group embarked  for the voyage up the Nile, Clarence rode a donkey: "After a grand Xmas luncheon beginning with mince pies, we all took donkeys & went out to our favourite tombs of the Khalifs & across the desert to the Red mountains, which we ascended for the magnificent view; the day was simply perfect, with the clouds casting deep purple shadows over the sand, the city bathed in light. A long Xmas dinner finished up the day, and nearly finished us up also.”

luxor moonlightWhat has struck me most forcibly about Clarence in reading his diary is his open mind towards the religions of others. Originally an Anglo-Catholic priest, he began to question his faith, and eventually turned away from organized religion, even as he maintained a great interest in the varieties of religious experience. Here he reflects on the coming New Year:

"It is the last day of the year. May the cold winds go with it, & the new year bring us pleasanter weather. Yes, and to others as well as ourselves many other & better things. The last day of the year brings many thoughts with it, and more than ever here one keeps wondering over the story of the byegone years & centuries & ages, & thinking of the lives of the early Egyptian architects & sculptors & painters, suddenly coming out the the unknown, with all their developed powers & then of the Israelites in Egypt, and many another race who sailed he Nile & lived on its banks. And then the suppression by force of the religion of the country by Christian emperors, and the desert peoples with the monks & ascetics, soon to be swept away by Islam. What changes have taken place here in those 6000 years & now one rushes quickly by in a steamer & passes ruined cities and empty caves, and abandoned churches & decaying mosques & wonders what will come next? A better religion? Who can say?”

How wonderfully apt his words are today! I join with Clarence in wishing you all “pleasanter weather” in a world where tolerance and compassion can regain their foothold.

Peace and love to you all.

from Valerie Lester

writing from Hingham, MA., near Boston, USA

In Clarence's Time - Ellen Willmott at the Boccanegra Gardens

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

ellen willmott photoellen willmott borderCarolyn Hanbury (who lives at the top of the Hanbury Gardens at la Mortola near Ventimiglia) and Ursula Salghetti Drioli Piacenza (whose Boccanegra house and gardens are in Ventimiglia, nearby) informed Susie and Marcus Bicknell about a collection of letters from Clarence Bicknell to Ellen Willmott (photo, right) who created the Boccanegra gardens. The 20 letters are found in the archive of Berkeley Castle near Stroud in Gloucestershire ( On 30 November 2016, Susie Bicknell travelled to Berkeley Castle and was able to examine the letters and photograph all of them. We have transcribed some of the more interesting ones, most of them being about seed, bulbs and plants which Clarence could supply to Ellen Willmott.

Ursula has provided some useful comments and corrections and has approved our publishing it. Susie's assessment of the letters is now a paper on the downloads page of our web site and you can download it directly at

A spreadsheet of a list of the letters with details, or copies of the photos of each, are available on demand.

Update 19 September 2017 Marcus Bicknell

One of our researchers, Graham Avery, found 680 letters in Geneva, Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques, Switzerland, from Clarence Bicknell to the eminent botanist Emile Burnat. I sent to Ursula on 18 September 2017 a new transcript of some of them which sheds light on Bicknell's connection with her garden, the Boccanegra:

"8 Decembre 1912 Bordighera (from Clarence Bicknell to Emile Burnat)
Cher Monsieur, encore une lettre! Melle Willmott, la renommée jardinière Anglaise, qui a je crois le plus merveilleux jardin en Angleterre, et qui a une connaissance extraordinaire des plantes m’a prêté les épreuves de l’introduction de son grand œuvre The Genus Rosa écrit par elle et M. Baker. Elle m’a demandé si je trouve quelque chose à ajouter ou corriger. Je trouve cette introduction bien intéressante, et j’en ai appris beaucoup..."   etc
Ursula was delighted and replied to me 18 Sept 2017
"Thank you very much for let me know about the correspondence between Bicknell and Burnat; the letter of 12 December 1912 gave me great joy:  Clarence Bicknell did visit Boccanegra with Ellen Willmott. This is what I wanted to know from many years, and also the time of the visit shows that Ellen Willmott stayed at Boccanegra also in winter."

News - screening in Florence

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

florenceClarence in Florence! The word is spreading. The British Institute of Florence will screen The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell at a special event there on Wednesday 10 May 2017 at 17.00. A talk will be given by Graham Avery, vice-chairman of the Clarence Bicknell Association, with questions and answers afterwards. Susie and I hope to be there. Please pass this along to all your friends in the area, even if they have not heard of Clarence.
If you have cultural contacts in other parts of the world please encourage them to organise a screening too.

News - 38 unseen watercolours by Clarence Bicknell

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

img 1211c mosque 19dec1889img 1284c finalmarinaimg 1247 breglio 1882

I completed on 7 November 2016 photographing and cataloguing the large watercolours by Clarence which I had not looked at since 2010. There are 38 watercolours of excellent quality, many of them identified with place and date, of sizes between 200x300mm and 300x400mm. I have photographed each of them on my Canon EOS 5D MkII at 21 megapixels, edited each and catalogued them individually (numbers 140-177). A table of the catalogue entries (shortened) is below and 3 sample pictures are above (a mosque in Cairo, Finalmarina on the Ligurian coast and the village which is now Breil-sur-Roya).

Among the 38 are two pictures done in 1917 in a new technique - Sanguine Pastel - recounted by my uncle Peter Bicknell in his short account of Clarence's life, which Clarence experimented with at the end of his life.

These 38 watercolours are different from the small watercolours in the 6x4 inch sketch pads which have been known from the family collection for a long time, so this article is about new material underpinning what we know about Clarence. One of the more interested readers here is Valerie Lester who is writing the biography of Clarence Bicknell.

6 further high quality watercolours, five of mountains in Norway and one in Scotland, are judged by me to be by my grandmother Phillis Bicknell née Lovibond, not by Clarence. They are photographed and I will ask Susie, Valerie and other visitors here their confirmation (or not) of my assessment.

There are also 22 rough watercolours by Clarence, 700x500mm, of flowers, each with their name, presumably for teaching botany. They are of poor quality so I have not photographed them and they are catalogued just with one catalogue number, 178.

I have updated the detailed chronology where a date is given and the master catalogue. Both are available from me to scholars and researchers on demand (both in tabs on one spreadsheet), passworded, as they are not available to the public on the website.

The table below shows the date, country, subject and catalogue number of each watercolour:

1880 Italy Finalmarina 173
1880 Italy Finalmarina tunnel 175
1880 Italy Finalmarina town steps 176
1882 Italy Breil-sur-Roya 159
1889 Egypt Mosque in Egypt 143
1889 Egypt Sphinx in Egypt 144
1889 Egypt Cairo city view 145
1889 Egypt Mosque in Cairo 146
1900 Italy Bordighera rocks 155
1902 Italy Val Casterino 170
1903 Italy Safira Macugnaga 166
1903 Italy Val Casterino 171
1904 Italy Cortina d'Ampezzo 142
1904 Italy Cortina d'Ampezzo 157
1904 Italy Cortina d'Ampezzo 169
1905 Italy San Biagio chapel 164
1905 Italy Boschi di Tenda 167
1906 Italy Val Sasso 154
1906 Italy Val Casterino 165
1908 Italy Cima Berry 174
1909 Italy Vallecrosia 156
1910 Italy Val Borghetto 177
1913 Italy Val Casterino 160
1914 Italy Val Casterino 149
1915 Italy Monte Caggio 162
1915 Italy Orchard 163
1916 Italy Val Casterino 147
1916 Italy Val Casterino 148
1916 Italy Val Casterino 150
1917 Italy Val Casterino 140
1917 Italy Val Casterino 141
undated Italy Val Roya 151
undated Italy Val Casterino 152
undated Italy Lake and mountains 153
undated Italy S Giacomo 158
undated Italy Camporosso 161
undated Italy Val Castegno 168
undated Italy Val Nervia 172

In Clarence's Time - Edward Lear in San Remo

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

edward lear and fossEdward Lear (1812-1888) was not an exact contemporary of Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918) but he was comparable to Clarence; a skilled artist, a bachelor, he settled on Riviera and had that Victorian parlour humour. Lear is fashionable with biographers at the moment; David Attenborough has just published his book “The Natural History of Edward Lear” (Oct 2016), saying how there was so much more to him than nonsense verse.

To provide you with some context about Edward Lear on the Riviera, we have the pleasure of publishing here, for the first time, an article about Edward Lear by Michael Nelson, author and Riviera expert. This piece started off as a presentation with the images on slides.

Download Michael Nelson's article here.


Michael Nelson was General Manager of Reuters (, the international news organisation having joined them as a journalist in 1952. Since he retired from Reuters in 1989 he has written four books - War of the Black Heavens: The Battles of Western Broadcasting in the Cold War (Syracuse University Press and Brasseys, London, 1997); Queen Victoria and the Discovery of the Riviera, (I.B. Tauris, 2001); Americans and the Making of the Riviera (McFarland, 2007) and Castro and Stockmaster: A Life in Reuters (Matador, 2011). Michael, who lives in Notting Hill, London, and Opio, France, is married to the former Helga den Ouden and they have two sons and one daughter. Contact via

In Clarence's Time - postcard to Francesco Ferraironi

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

ventugol postcard p1010821ventugol postcard p1010825ventugol postcard p1010826ventugol postcard p1010827

Nicolas Ventugol was so kind as to send us photos of an old postcard written by Clarence Bicknell in 1913 which he had purchased at Tende. Thank you Nicolas...

ventugol triora-ferraironi-1914Graham Avery writes:  In this postcard of 1913 from Casterino, Clarence Bicknell thanks Padre Francesco Ferraironi for sending him a copy of  'La Storia del Santuario di Loreto' (The History of the Sanctuary of Loreto) and says that when he returns to Bordighera he will make a donation to help the publication of 'Cenni Storici' (Historical Notes). An internet search suggests that Francesco Ferraironi was a priest at or near the mountain village of Triora in Liguria, and later in Rome. He published a number of books on local history including in 1913 'Triora e il suo Santuario di Loreto' (Triora and its Sanctuary of Loreto) and in 1914 'Cenni storici sopra Triora' (Historical Notes on Triora).

We show the an image of the cover of the first of these two books, the one he sent to Clarence: presumably because of their mutual interest in the local history of Liguria.

In Clarence's Time - Esperanto, the Great War and the film

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

1907-lingva-komitatoAmong the plaudits and detailed comments about our new film "The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell", many were from specialists asking for more coverage of one of his interests or another. The Esperantists have been among the most vocal. This fascinating letter from Anna Lowenstein who saw the film is of interest to readers of this blog and I reproduce it (and my reply) here.

Photo right "1907-lingva-komitato".
Is this the Bordighera Esperanto group?

From: "lowenstein, anna" <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Date: Thu, 20 Oct 2016 12:05:51 +0100
Subject: Clarence Bicknell and Esperanto
Dear Marcus,

I enjoyed the film, which was beautiful to look at and also to listen to. It ended rather suddenly in 1918, which made me wonder what had happened during the important preceding four years.

I was disappointed however that so little was said about Bicknell's interest in Esperanto, which must have been far more important to him than was suggested in the film. People who are involved in Esperanto usually get very, very involved and very enthusiastic, and this must certainly have been the case for Clarence Bicknell who travelled to Boulogne for the first World Congress, founded the Esperanto groups of Milan and Bordighera, wrote and translated poetry, and financed various Esperanto initiatives. He also collaborated with a Czech woman called Rosa Junck who was co-founder of the Esperanto group in Milan, and later came to live in Bordighera.

I think it is most probable that during this period of his life Esperanto would have been a consuming passion, at the same level as his interest in the local flora and rock engravings. I hope that Valerie Lester will give due attention to this aspect of his life and activities in her biography. Information on him should be available in the library at UEA in Rotterdam, for instance it would be easy to find publications in which his poems appeared, information about his participation in the early congresses etc. The Esperanto Association of Britain also has an excellent library at its headquarters in Barlaston near Stoke-on-Trent.

It would not be difficult to add a voice-over to the film in Esperanto, and this certainly means that Esperanto speakers would listen to the film - in fact you might well find this was your largest and most interested audience. But they will expect to hear a great deal more about his Esperanto activities, since he played an important role particularly in the Italian Esperanto movement.

Best wishes,
-- Anna Lowenstein


My reply of today reads...

Dear Anna

We were so pleased to see you at the projection last week and I thank you for this email. We were so pleased that many people told us or have written that the film makes one wish for more information about Bicknell, which justifies our contention that there is material for a full-scale documentary. I use "full-scale" because it could be one hour or two hours, depending on the broadcasters' appetites. Unsurprisingly, different people want more coverage of different topics. The botanist and the archaeologists have been vocal. Many thought we had abridged his pre-Bordighera life too much. And the Esperantists certainly felt short-changed...a couple of earthenware umbrella pots and a sentence of narration. I apologise!

You'd be interested to know that Dr Daniela Gandolfi, director of the Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri which owns the Museo Bicknell, proposed a much more significant Esperanto section as follows:

Narrator: Clarence Bicknell was a pioneer of Esperanto, the universal language invented to encourage international understanding: the word ‘Esperanto’ means ‘hopeful’. He went to Esperanto conventions round Europe, and organised one at his museum in Bordighera. . His Casa Fontanalba had proverbs in Esperanto on the shutters and over the doors. 

Text suggested by Daniela Gandolfi: Clarence Bicknell had become part of the Esperanto movement in 1897, and in 1905 he participated at the first World Congress of Esperanto in Boulogne-sur-mer, where he was elected, along with Rosa Junck, in the top six "Italian" in " Lingva Komitato ". The Italian Federation of Esperanto was founded in Florence March 21, 1910 and the same year, on October 25, Clarence Bicknell formed at the Museum Bicknell the Esperanto group "Antauen". 

Then of course the financial and time requirements chipped in and we had to cut swathes throughout the film. There again, this bodes well for a longer documentary.

So I agree with you that Esperanto was a consuming passion for Bicknell and took up a lot of his time, except maybe in the summer when, in the same 15 year period, he was up in the mountains at the Casa Fontanalba or on the rocks. The language was part of his pacifist, altruist and universalist philosophy and for many years Esperanto was his most important and most practical outlet. His pacifism leads me to comment on your mentioning the World War I years; he writes very little about his feelings. The most significant quotes in the research on our website are in letters to the archaeologist Cartailhac (use the little search box top right to bring these up).

32. - De Clarence Bicknell à Emile Cartailhac     Lettre de quatre pages, en français.
/ Val Casterino. S. Dalmazzo di Tenda. 20 Août 1917

Cher Monsieur, cher Professeur et cher allié,
Votre belle lettre du 14 Août, reçu hier soir, quoi que bien triste et pleine de tristes nouvelles, m’a fait le plus grand plaisir, parceque depuis longtemps je ne savais rien de vous, et nos amis chaque jour disparaissent. Je viens de perdre un cher frère 38 (fin de juin) le dernier de 4 frères, et à présent je reste  le dernier de ma famille. J’espèrais tant, comme lui, qu’il arriverait à voir la fin de la guerre - mais non - et à présent à cause de la défection de la Russie , la guerre se prolongera beaucoup, et je crains que moi aussi ne verrai pas le triomphe de la justice et de la liberté - C’est bien terrible, mais c’est très glorieux ce temps. Nous perdons nos chers parents et amis, mais jamais il n’y avait tant de sympathie et d’amitié entre les nations. Depuis 4 ans je nai pas vu ma patrie, et à présent je ne puis pas y aller. On ne donne pas la permission de quitter l’Italie, et même passer la frontière pour passer quelques heures à Menton ou Nice est très difficile. Il faut aller à S. Remo au sous prefet, puis visiter le consul à Vintimille, etc. etc. et puis si on arrive en France, on perd toute la journée pour avoir la permission de retourner

Even in the Baroness von Taube letters ( there is not a lot about his feelings as war approached. I have copied Valerie Lester on this email because she is nearing the end of her first run at writing the biography of Bicknell and she might already have some new source material on this. Bicknell spent time with the Italian soldiers camped at Casterino. He had a brother and two nephews killed in the trenches. But I think he stayed studiously (and with great sorrow) "out of it".

Thinking of the biography, do feel free to feed to us any new information about Bicknell's Esperanto activities. Much of what we know is on our website at > Esperanto and in the blog at >News & Views.

We are on course to make an Esperanto voice over of "The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell" in the next 6 weeks (although it's a secret as I have not yet asked Rémy if he would do it!). Humphrey Tonkin and Michela Lipari are coordinating the voices and the recordings; if you would like to be one of the voices do please get in touch with them. It will not be possible to change the video component but it is not impossible that we could increase the amount of narration about Esperanto in the Esperanto version if there is a clear indication where the extra narration goes in the film. I'm thinking aloud here and have not discussed this with Humphrey and Michela.Your input is much valued and I have put this exchange on the blog (but can take it off if you prefer!)

Please spread the word about the film. The film has now been released on the internet, free of charge and in high definition. Arm yourself with a big computer screen, nice speakers, a drink of your choice and 18 minutes to have a fascinating cinematographic experience…  and linked from the home page of If you prefer YouTube then try (making sure you get the HD version: the configuration icon – a cogwheel – 3rd from the right at the bottom of the screen, should be tagged with a red HD symbol. 

Warmest regards and thanks

Marcus Bicknell

Event - PROIEZIONE IN PRIMA ASSOLUTA - Giovedì 29 settembre 2016

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

bicknell poster2mb gd1 genoa2016 c


Le Meraviglie di Clarence Bicknell

Giovedì 29 settembre 2016 alle ore 17  (ingresso libero fino ad esaurimento posti)

Museo Civico di Storia Naturale “G. Doria”,  Via Brigata Liguria 9 - Genova

In Clarence's Time - Moggridge and Moggridge

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

moggridge brothersIn researching the life of Clarence Bicknell we see the references to Moggridge the archaeologist and Moggridge the botanist, both relevant to Bicknell’s interests. Graham Avery and Marcus Bicknell aided Valerie Browne Lester, Bicknell’s biographer, in recording the salient facts about the two experts. This note gives the findings and records available genealogical information.

Graham Avery, Marcus Bicknell, August 2016 – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

There were two relevant Moggridges, who are easily confused:

Father. Matthew Moggridge (1803-82): archaeologist. His paper entitled The Meraviglie was presented to The International Congress of Prehistoric Archaeology whose Third Session opened in Norwich on 20 August 1868 and closed in London on 28 August; the papers were published in London in 1869. The title of the author is given as ‘M. Moggridge Esq. F.G.S. [Fellow of the Geological Society of London] (Member of the Italian Alpine Club)’. In the first sentence he mentions that he had been in the Meraviglie region ‘for the previous six winters’.  Moggridge’s work on these rock engravings pre-dated, and informed, Bicknell’s work  . Matthew was father of J. T. Moggridge, whom he accompanied to Mentone.

moggridge drawingSon. John Traherne Moggridge (1842-1874): an entomologist, botanist and botanical artist, son of M. Moggridge. He wintered in Mentone, and his Flora of Menton published in 1864 was mentioned by Clarence in the Preface of his book Flowering plants and ferns of the Riviera in 1885. When John became too ill to collect specimens his father did so for him. The son writes   “Well-directed research in any definite direction must afford happy employment for the invalid, and tend towards the advancement of knowledge… In the first place, my father was indefatigable in procuring subjects for my pencil, his knowledge of plants and great powers of endurance making him as able a collector as ever searched jungle or climbed Alp.”

J.T. Moggridge’s work pre-dated and informed Bicknell’s botanical work. In 1885 Clarence Bicknell published a selection of his paintings in the book Flowering plants and ferns of the Riviera, splendidly illustrated with 82 coloured plates and accompanying notes on 280 species.  He explained in the Preface that he was inspired by the British botanist J.T. Moggridge who, in a Flora of Menton, a town just across the border from Bordighera, published in London in 1864, had encouraged others to follow his example in publishing illustrations of the local flora.

The photograph at the top right shows John Traherne Moggridge (left) with his younger brother Matthew Weston Moggridge in 1853. This Matthew should also not be confused with his father Matthew.

 You can download this article and supporting documents in one pdf document here.


News - Death of Paul Gubbins, Esperanto expert

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

gubboI am sad to relay to friends of Clarence Bicknell the news of the sudden death of Dr Paul Gubbins, Staffordshire University media law expert and Esperanto-lover on Saturday 7th August 2016.

Paul wrote material for this web site on the contribution Bicknell made to Esperanto and was an enthusiastic supporter of the efforts we have been making to keep the universal language as part of our present appreciation of Bicknell's life and work. Some of our website is translated into Esperanto (click the green Esperanto flag at the top left of the page) and we had hoped that Paul and friends would complete the translation. I had also solicited his skills and energies to make an Esperanto version of Rémy Masséglia's film There is No God But Nature - Clarence Bicknell. These projects, by the hand of Paul, will remain dreams. Our condolences to his family and friends.

Here are the pages where you can find Paul's contributions to the Clarence Bicknell website:

You can read more details at...

News - Edward Berry on Bicknell's death

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Clarence-engravings-2 mediumDiscovery by Graham Avery of new material on Clarence’s life - and his last days           

In June 2014 Graham Avery found in Geneva’s Botanical Garden an extraordinary archive of letters and postcards sent by Clarence Bicknell to his friend the Swiss botanist Emile Burnat. In this collection of about 690 letters and postcards, sent over a period of 30 years, Clarence writes not only about botany but about his ideas and activities in many other fields.

On his visit to the archive in 2014 Graham made a first selection of the correspondence, which he published as ‘Cher Monsieur - Clarence Bicknell’s correspondence with Emile Burnat 1886-1917’. You can find it on our website at

In August 2016 Graham completed his exploration of the archive in Geneva, where he found a wealth of new information. The themes covered in the correspondence include Clarence’s comments on life, death, religion, art, opera, prehistoric rock engravings, mountains, Esperanto, the politics of the Great War, bicycles, automobiles, Swiss beer, and much else. Graham plans to edit and publish this on our website.

Meanwhile we can already publish a transcript of one of the letters found by Graham and you can download it here. It was written on 24 July 1918 by Clarence’s nephew Edward Berry to Emile Burnat, to inform him of Clarence’s death. This is a valuable find – it’s the earliest account that we have of Clarence’s last days and hours. Edward Berry knew Emile Burnat and his family, including his son Jean, personally. He writes to them in French (translated by Graham) that in the afternoon of 17 July, at his mountain home Casa Fontanalba, Clarence Bicknell...

‘...went to rest on a chaise longue on the terrace, in full view of the mountains, and a quarter of an hour later he expired without pain. One couldn’t imagine a better death for him’.

In Clarence's Time - the Baroness von Taube letters

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

von taube letters nhm boxResearch note by Susie and Marcus Bicknell, 25 August 2016

Download this article in pdf form here

Clarence Bicknell did not keep many of the letters he received  from friends or researchers in his network. But in some cases the letters he wrote were kept by the recipient. This is the case with his letters to the Baroness Helene von Taube from 1909 to 1914. Quotes from these letters were used by Christopher Chippindale in his academic papers in the 1980s; the letters give insights into Bicknell’s personality and opinions which are hard to glean elsewhere. Therefore, in support of Valerie Lester’s research for her forthcoming biography of Clarence Bicknell, Susie and Marcus Bicknell located this collection of letters, studied, photographed and logged them.

The collection of some 400 letters is unloved and uncatalogued. It is bundled into a folio file box. The letters were given in 1931 to the Natural History Museum by the Baroness’s son, Baron Otto von Taube, after a brief exchange of letters (as part of the collection) with the museum’s secretary G.F. Herbert Smith. Of interest to the Clarence Bicknell researchers were copies of the photo of the Esperanto group of Bordighera (“Antauen”) and negatives of this photo which could possibly be original negatives. However it is not known if the Baroness is in thevon taube letter sample 2 photo (the noble lady on Bicknell’s left in the photo is Rosa Junck) nor how active she was in supporting Bicknell in the universal language and the annual congresses.

Clarence Bicknell’s friend Baroness Helene von Taube was the wife of Baron Otto von Taube (1833-1911), a landlord. The von Taube family is of Danish, Estonian and German descent and has a long history. She refers in letters to her husband’s long illness and his eventual death in 1911; the Baron is buried in Testaccio Cemetery in  Rome from which city many of the Baroness’s letters to Bicknell are written. Helene von Taube’s mother was the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, a publicist and editor. Her father was Count Alexander Friedrich Lebrecht Michael Arthur Nikolaus von Keyserling, a Baltic German geologist and palaeontologist, and politician. In his letter to the Natural History Museum in 1931, her son calls his grandfather a naturalist, which gives some background to Helene’s interest in Bicknell’s botany. Helene wrote her father’s life story  published in 1902.

Her son gives Helene’s death as 1st December 1930. The gift of the letters to the NHM was in 1931. The son signs himself Baron O. v. Taube, Dr. jur. el phil. but he could be the art historian, poet and novelist (1879-1973) referred to on several web sites.Bicknell most likely met the Baroness in Bordighera in about 1909 when she came to stay in one of the great spa hotels, often the Hôtel des Iles Britanniques. Much of the correspondence is about botany, so we imagine that the Baroness made contact with Bicknell and asked his advice on plants she might have collected. Behind the botanical exchanges lies the growth of a friendship of respect and sympathy.

Susie and Marcus Bicknell’s logging of the material is in three parts
1.    This summary of the collection and excerpts from some of the letters
2.    The photographs of each letter which are available on request, sample above. In most cases the envelope is photographed as well, sample below.
3.    An Excel spreadsheet listing every photo, showing the date, provenance and destination. Note that the letters are not numbered or catalogued by the Natural History Museum so the number used here are the photograph numbers. Download the Excel spreadsheet here. The collection also includes some greetings cards made by Clarence (or possibly by his niece Linda).

Download this article in pdf form here


Sample extracts from the letters (date order)

788/789 Feb 1909 Visiting card “I shall very pleased to tell you at any time what little I know about flora and show you my herbaria and drawings”

779 1st Jan 1910 “Here are the two Daisy Books containing all the best things and also much rubbish.”

780    Probably 1910.         “But I shall not be able to tell you the name of the Ceylon plant. I know the leaf insect by sight. I saw very many in Ceylon and at the botanical garden they were breeding them in cages” “I find my sister  very well; she looks younger and more beautiful, and is much as she was some years before her paralytic stroke. She is 78.   …   You will be sorry to hear that by the doctor’s advice Mrs Ray  was sent suddenly home. She is very much worse and no operation is possible and I fear she will not live long. She has had a long life of suffering but I am very pleased for her good daughter and loving sons. … She is in a nursing home in London.”

0965    Probably 1910 according to von Taube note, letter on small card undated
“Dear Baroness. I have 2 guests today (the Prof. did not come yesterday but comes today) but they will leave in the afternoon, and I could see you pm (but only for a few minutes) before dinner. I say a few minutes because I give an Esperanto lesson to 4 people at 5.30. I am glad that you will come again to lunch. Next time we will make proper preparation. Yours sincerely, C. Bicknell.

0882    6 July 1910         Letter Casterino to Wildbad Gastein, Austria,
“I am very sorry to hear of your back troubles. Four weeks ago I was taken ill and could not move for 3 weeks. I had an illness called herpes in English, something caused by inflammation of the sheaths of the nerves in the head and neck. I could not sleep at all on account of the pain for a long time: then followed some breakdown in stomach which quite finished me off, and I became very weak. When they allowed me I came up here on a mule with my niece Margaret Berry and I am now rapidly feeling better, but the Doctor will not let me go uphill or do anything [3 words indistinguishable]. However I can sleep and eat and walk about the gardens and pull up weeds but alas I may not go up higher to see all the gentians and anemones and the rhododendrons and other lovely flowers. So I have to send Luigi and I draw and read at home; but I hope soon to be allowed to take more exercise and work at the rock engravings. I have 2 Bordighera friends with me and when they go down my nephew and wife  will come for 3 weeks as they cannot trust me take care of myself! … My niece Mrs Ray is slowly dying and in great pain. Her sailor son wrote me a very nice letter. He is very sad. He said “She has always been the best and sweetest mother”.

0891     30 July 1910        Letter Casterino to Davos
“We had three batteries of artillery here for nearly 3 weeks, and the soldiers chopped the lines, trampled down our garden, and have left the meadows near covered with paper, rags, tins and messes. Soldiers as individuals are very nice, but collectively they are an abomination.” Some soldiers, possible privates, signed the Casa Fontanalba visitors’ book on 29 July 1910 – normally reserved for someone who had stayed a night – “Soldati Dott. Guildo” spelling uncertain.

0977 Letter Bordighera to Rome     31 March 1912        “…Padre Giacomo  was brought back in an automobile a week ago and I have been to see him. He is better but I do not know if he will recover. We are in a great fix as he will not make his will and the houses which were bought for the Asilo are in his name. I believe that he has written that he hopes the comitals  will carry on the work but that is not a will which the law will accept, and they will go to his sister. If he leaves them to me or any other individual, succession death duties must be paid, and the difficulty will be as great as before. Apparently the only thing to be done is to leave the house to the Congregazione di Carità   which he hates, and I too because it does nothing. But we must hope that the committee will be able to raise sufficient funds to start the thing, though that is very doubtful, for after all the appeals sent to everybody in Bordighera only 200 francs has been given. And now we have to pay 180 frs. hospital expenses and 250-300 frs. to the surgeon. And will the Bordigotti, who are supposed to be so devoted to Padre Giacomo and so glad to have him back, give a sou towards these – all this not very encouraging.” Getting lazy about plant collecting as such hard work. Likes Luigi with him, but hosts don't always welcome him. Views on labour and capital.

997     Probably spring 1912    “The more I think about Lourdes and the trend of modern church teaching, the less I like them. Their multiplied devotional pilgrimages, excitement of miracles, never sufficient cult of the Madonna – what have they to do with the religion of the heart and the welfare of the people and the increase of interest in the poor and suffering. I think that myriade contradictions in the very healthy, and in the advertising at Lourdes very bad. “

1015 to 1018    4 June 1912   “I shall finish typewriting my new pamphlet about the rocks which I have already written once but which needs much alternation and correction. I do not feel sure if it is wise to publish this or not, as I have little (??) more to say, but I (and Luigi too) feel that after 11 years of continuous exploration a last word ought to be said, and that it is only fair to ourselves to say how hard we have worked.  So we are busy packing (to go to Casterino) …..and begin the life of a savage in the wilds, but the wild life is very pleasant, and one quickly reverts (at least I do) to an ancestral simian (?) type.”

1032    6 October 1912        “It is strange how I have been gradually losing my love for gardens in comparison to the country.  Any field of flowers or common hedge interests me more than the best garden with all sorts of wonderful plants”  (Ruskin thought the same!! SB)

1030    Probably 1912        “Perhaps I should come to Rome one day.  I cannot stand all the long winter here. I am so sick of all the ordinary tea party, church-going people who are so conventional and such gossips and have so little of an international spirit”

834.     Probably 1913        On leaving and packing up Casterino, not quite legible  “….my beloved mountain cottage and the free life that I so enjoy.  I dread the winter season”

0866 0867    28 February 1913     Postcard Bordighera to Rome,
“I shall miss my dear old Giacomo very much. 34 years is a long time and he was always faithful and true – I think of the Engish words of the gospel “Well done good and faithful servant”. I am truly grateful to anyone who understands, but there are many of those that knew him well and always saw him here, who think it is not worth while troubling about only a servant”

0861     13 March 1913         Postcard (photo of Bordighera Esperanto Group) sent from Bordighera arrived Firenze 14th March.  “I am glad you will be here for the bazaar on the 29th”0860     22 March 1913         Postcard from Bordighera addressed to her at Nervi (Genoa)
 “A happy Easter to you.   I go to Valescure   today but return on Tuesday. My niece Nora will leave me on Thursday and on the 30th a nephew and wife will arrive.

833     28 Oct 1913 ?         Postcard of Tende. Dinner Party with 2 old men, one cook, Maddelena's dad, Mercedes, Luigi; all ate together: "the family" CB says


Susie and Marcus Bicknell
25 August 2016
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In Clarence's Time - Left Brain, Right Brain

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Did Clarence Bicknell's escape from the liturgy of the church free Clarence's right brain to work more effectively with his left brain?

Marcus Bicknell assesses the science of the two parts of the brain and puts Clarence's personality and skills in context.

Clarence's brain was in turmoil as he came to the end of his time in the church, as shown by the "Dearest Friend" letter which is reproduced in the accompanying download. On the 14th of May 1879 his Bordighera congregation rose up in protest at his writing and presenting a prayer for St Ampelio, i.e. promoting Catholicism in a protestant church. Bicknell immediately tore off his dog collar and disappeared for about six months, presumably to re-establish his faith… in something. The seeds of his deception in the church had led on that May day to a moment of revelation in his life, that flowers, sun, mountains and all of nature are just as meaningful as God, or more so. Rémy Masséglia, the director of the 2016 mini-documentary on Clarence Bicknell, adopted the film title “There is no God but Nature – Clarence Bicknell” and depicted his leaving the church by a bold scene in which a cassocked Bicknell pushes open the doors from the inside of the gloomy Bordighera Anglican church and emerges in a white linen suite into the flora and heat of the Riviera.Left Vs Right Brain

Was Clarence right-brained or left-brained? Is this phenomenom real? What conflicts exist between the two sides of the brain?

Jyl Lytle says “Those whom society deems to be geniuses have the ability to use logical left brain thinking in conjunction with the power of the creative right mind.” I am not saying Clarence was a genius, but the way in which his cartesian left brain mastered, and cooperated with, his creative right brain, through his fascinating life could have been a reason he was so successful in his non-religious undertakings.

Download the full pdf version of the paper here.

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