In the August 19, 1665 letter from Johannes Marcus Marci to Athanasius Kircher (claimed to have been found by Wilfrid M. Voynich in the famous “Voynich Manuscript”), Marci relates the rumor that he had heard about the authorship and previous ownership of the work. Although I contend that there are many reasonable concerns about the authenticity of the letter itself: its contents, and its back-story by Voynich… I wanted to focus on this one aspect, the rumor, in this post (well, I will also add some points about the De Tepencz signature, which coincide with these observations).
Here is the story in the letter:
“Doctor Raphael, the Czech language tutor of King Ferdinand III as they both then were, once told me that the said book belonged to Emperor Rudolph and that he presented 600 ducats to the messenger who brought him the book. He, Raphael, thought that the author was Roger Bacon the Englishman. I suspend my judgement on the matter.” [Philip Neal translation].
On his site, Rene Zandbergen elaborates on the players, and the timing of this quote:
“The source of the acquisition by Rudolf is Dr. Raphael Mnišovský, once teacher to the young Ferdinand III, who later also was emperor of the holy roman empire. Mnišovský died in 1644, so this piece of information was more than 20 years old when Marci wrote his letter to Kircher. Furthermore, Mnišovský was referring back to events that took place at least 55 years before Marci’s letter, possibly even significantly longer. There are, however, reasons to believe that both men would remember the essential details correctly. Mnišovský was long interested in the manuscripts of Rudolf and the Voynich MS was something that deeply interested Marci since many decades. Still, it is certainly possible that the amount of 600 ducats is not based on fact, but possibly an exaggeration to interest Kircher”.
Now consider this against the timeline of all the letters of inquiry to Kircher which relate to the manuscript: Beginning with the (now lost but loosely described) 1636/37 letter, and the surviving 1639 letter, of Barschius to Kircher, we know that Barschius, Marci, and later, Kinner, were greatly interested in having Kircher identify the language, characters, illustrations and meaning of the book “uselessly taking up space” in Barschius’s library. It is conceivable that at the time he wrote his first two letters, Barschius did not know of the Roger Bacon/Rudolf II/600 ducats rumors, and so, did not include them. But I contend he most certainly would have included the rumors, had he known of them, as they would have certainly been deemed very helpful to Kircher in solving his riddle.
I will also point out here that Barschius made no mention of the De Tepencz “signature”, in the letter which survived. This should have been visible… as it was pre-1919 still visible… and it also would have been of great importance to the identification of the manuscript.
Now moving ahead to 1640, look at Marcus Marci’s letter to Kircher,
“The Sph*nx will understand from the attached sheet what my friend Mr Georg Barschius wanted to have written by me. Though he is undoubtedly a man of the highest quality and greatly skilled in chemical matters, he has not in fact achieved the real goal he longs for. He seeks it for the sake not of money but of medicine. [Philip Neal translation]”.
In this, we see that Marci has now taken up the cause of goading Kircher to solve the mystery of the Barschius (Voynich?) manuscript. However, he again does not mention the Roger Bacon/Rudolf II/600 ducats rumors to Kircher. This makes no sense, unless one wants to assume that Marci had not yet been told these rumors, by Mnišovský. The doctor was to live another four or so years, and perhaps only told Marci some time later, up to his death in 1644.
But Marci again does not write of the De Tepencz signature, which is inexplicable. Kircher had not yet seen the manuscript, and so anyone would consider this a valuable clue that Kircher should know.
A year later, in Marci’s 1641 letter to Kircher, Barschius is mentioned in passing, but the mysterious manuscript is not mentioned at all. No “rumors” mentioned, either, nor “signature”.
In fact, Marci does not again write of the Barschius Manuscript until the 1665 letter that Voynich claims to have found. But we know he would have heard the rumors at least by Dr. Raphael Mnišovský’s death in 1644. So why, on finding out the rumor, did Marci not immediately write Kircher and tell him? This very valuable information, so even if heard between 1641 and 1644, it should have… probably would have… been told to Kircher, to help him solve the riddle. It makes no logical sense that this was not shared. The most likely explanation is that this 1665 letter is a forgery, made up to add a valuable authorship and believable provenance to the manuscript.
Countering my suspicions, it has been recently (May, 2014) suggested on the Voynich-net mailing list, that the 1665 letter would have been “more convincing” as a forgery if the information in it was not stated as a rumor, but more directly. Meaning, if a hypothetical forger would have been more specific in their description of the authorship and provenance, perhaps description, while they had the chance, they would have done a better job of cementing the authenticity of the manuscript.
But this could not be done, and the chief reason is readily apparent: While sharing the Roger Bacon/Rudolf II/600 ducats rumors so late is somewhat damning to the authenticity of the 1665 Marci/Kircher letter, any direct claim of authorship and ownership, as fact, when not related earlier, would have been completely illogical, and revealed the letter as a fake. It would not be done if real, and could not be done, as a fake.
So told as a rumor only, years after Marci knew it, was the only way to even barely insulate the fact that this important news was held back so long. Stating it as rumor was the only way to get away with it at all. And it has worked, so far. But looking at it more closely, against the known timeline of letters: inclusion in this letter to Kircher, this useful and valuable information so late- casts serious doubts on the letter’s authenticity.