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

Skribita de 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" <Tiu ĉi retpoŝtadreso estas protektata kontraŭ spamrobotoj. Vi devas ebligi Ĝavaskripton por vidi ĝin.;
To: Tiu ĉi retpoŝtadreso estas protektata kontraŭ spamrobotoj. Vi devas ebligi Ĝavaskripton por vidi ĝin.
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

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