New Look at the de Tepencz “Signature”

July 14, 2013

An indisputable truth of historical research is that any conclusions drawn from the source material is inevitably shaped by subjective reasoning. This is why every researcher should always go back to the source to form their own opinion. Luckily we live in an age when a wealth of source material magically appears on our computer screens, only a click or two away… but far from all of it. The Voynich papers at the Beinecke library at Yale have not yet been digitized, and only have a cursory description at the website. Much of the current understanding of the provenance of the ms. is based on these papers, so I wanted to see them in person. This last June, I was able to spend almost two full days looking through them. And, also as expected, my impression was very different from that of others.

I will soon write up my findings, and opinions on them, in what will possibly be three or four blog posts. But as also often happens when searching for information in archives, you find more than you were looking for. In this case, I found two images of the f1r “signature” of Jacobus de Tepencz, which I thought I had not seen before. Although I am no expert on the signature, I felt I had enough of an understanding of it, and the stories and controversies around it, to believe these images were of importance. So I took a couple of pictures of them, and sent them to Jan Hurych- who wrote several articles about the VMs signature- and is also someone whose opinion I respect and admire. He affirmed my suspicion that these images may be previously unpublished, and possibly of importance to Voynich research. That was enough for me, and I told him I would write them up.

f1r Before Chemical Treatment

f1r Before Chemical Treatment

The first image, shown above (click on image for full size), first appeared to be a below average image of the familiar first page of the Voynich Manuscript, f1r. But the penciled note on the photo reads, “To be kept- Rotograph without autograph before it was chemically restored”. This is what caught my attention, because the “chemical treatment” of the signature- why and when it was done by Voynich- has been a long running controversy. For one thing, it has been surmised that Voynich treated this area to see IF there was a signature. Another claim was  that he “accidentally” spilled photo developer on it, revealing the unseen signature.

However, as you will see in the full size version of my photograph of the “Rotograph”, the signature is  at least partly visible. It is even more prevalent on the original, as I only shot this with a hand held camera under room and window light. In fact, almost all the letters are visible. So that begs the question, “Why?” would Wilfred apply chemicals to this? One clue may be in the penciled note, which I believe is by Anne Nill: Perhaps “chemically restored” then means that Wilfred was trying to “enhance” the signature.

Another issue is that it has been claimed the signature was originally “erased”. Perhaps erasure was attempted, and caused the signature to be in the lightened state seen above- but still, it is there, and visible, so it was not at least, totally erased.

As I said, I asked Jan Hurych for his opinion on this. He responded,

“The signature is apparently genuine and was not fabricated by Voynich. How could Voynich overlook it originally I do not know.  But considering he claimed he even  “originally overlooked the Marci’s letter” :-), everything is possible. Neither Baresch nor Marci mentioned the signature or the erasure in their letters, after all. As we can see, the original erasure leaves only light imprint of the signature but no other traces of the erasure itself.”

I agree with Jan that this find begs the question, “How could Voynich overlook it originally”, and also that it is possible that one interpretation is that it original- that is, not forged. I feel another interpretation of Wilfred’s claiming to having overlooked it is that it is forged, too, and that he or someone added it to give the mysterious manuscript needed and missing provenance. Also, it is important to remember that Voynich did not share this Rotograph, nor any description of it, as seen. It sat, hidden, in his papers, until his death. Why? There is no way to know of course.

Another consideration is that even if this signature was erased at some point, it is visible: so why didn’t Baresch, Marci, or Kinner mention it? That had not occurred to me, and yet is a very important point. I would add that the 1666 Marci letter is all about the possible provenance of the Voynich, and so it seems it would have been of great importance to mention the faded (if it was at the time, faded, or partly erased), but visible, signature. Yet, he did not.

Jan also wrote,

“Why Voynich had to use the chemicals on the original is still a mystery. True, it may have enhanced the signature but that could have been done on the copy or even by using colored filters or the negative as I did.  The longtime result of that chemical treatment  is that  the signature is now  less visible than it was right after the treatment. It is even less understandable since Voynich was originally a chemist.”

Absolutely. When one considers that from the very start, this was obviously a rare and dazzling manuscript find, combined with this untreated Rotograph image which shows the signature was readable, why would he risk smearing chemicals all over the first page? OK, I didn’t claim this image would solve the issues surrounding the signature, but I do think it alters the landscape a bit.

Pretty Crisp Looking, No?

Pretty Crisp Looking, No?

The second image, shown above, veritably leapt off the table at me when I uncovered it. I thought I had never seen such a good, crisp “signature” of our friend Tepencz, and Jan concurred, and feels this image,

“…shows the signature quite clearly…  …there are also some traces of liquid there, maybe it is the oldest picture “after treatment”. There were probably several chemicals used subsequently (as can be judged by contemporary colored scan)  and probably several  experiments were made directly on the original. That would explain the extensive damage we can see today. The chemicals are apparently still working, activated probably by light and other factors”.

Jan also helpfully provided a negative of the above signature, which helps to reveal further details:

Negative, prepared by Jan Hurych

Very striking, I think most Voynich researchers will agree. But what it all means, if anything, will be seen. As Jan says,

It looks like the whole signature business is only a superficial problem, however it is not. It is a VERY important problem. True, Horczicky himself did not add anything to the VM story, we even do not know if he ever tried to solve it. However his name was for Voynich the MISSING LINK between Baresh (or Marci) and Rudolph II (and from him to Bacon). Originally, Voynich claimed the writing was the dedication to Horczicky by Rudolph – he was of course only following Mnishowsky’s rumor, passed on by Marci. Now we know the writing is not in Rudolph’s hand and that Bacon is not the author (carbon dating). As far as we know now, Rudolph might not even have the VM at all, Horczicky could have got it elsewhere. As for Dee, he was first brought in the game by Voynich himself.

So we are stuck with Horczicky being the first directly proven owner of the VM. His name “Tepenec” gives us the temporary location of the VM (Prague) and the earliest date he possibly got it – his nobilization (1608), provided he wrote  that immediately afterwards  :-). It is actually the earliest date of the VM which is really DIRECTLY documented (by such signature). Then again, if it is not in his hand it could have been written there in any time later by anybody.
If however the signature is a hoax, we are left only with the letter by Baresch (1639, or 1637 if we consider the first, now lost letter) and we do not know where HE got it. There would be rather difficult to go then  further back in time, the way back to the author.

And so it is, we have a very small fire, with very little fuel- and perhaps each little twig of information will cause it to swell up a bit, and help in some small way to further illuminate this very intractable mystery.

Newbold’s “Nebula”

May 31, 2013

Anyone who has an interest in the history of Voynich is well aware of the unfortunate and disastrous attempts of William Romaine Newbold to solve its mysteries. Although an earnest and intelligent man, he could probably be considered the first to fall victim to the vast, nebulous, nature of the problem, in which one can often see any solution their individual proclivities lead them to.

But nebulous is a bit of an appropriate and even punny adjective, in Newbold’s case, as his most famous error was in believing that Roger Bacon not only wrote the Voynich, but possessed optical equipment which allowed him the ability to discern the spiral structure of the Andromeda Galaxy… or “Nebula”, in his time. I won’t here deal with the many other facets of Newbold’s infamous claims, not the least of which was the belief that each character was made up of microscopic segments, which were therefore coded information; or the resulting long strings of subjective results from those segments, which became immense anagrams which would and did yield infinite and diverse results.

What interests me are the Andromeda suggestions. It barely requires a detailed explanation as to why he was wrong, but very simply, the detail necessary to see the spiral nature of the Andromeda was not possible until the telescopes of the latter part of the 19th century allowed it. But if you are interested in a good dissection of the reasons why, read Norman Sperling’s excellent blog post on the subject, “Voynich: Spiraling into Folly”. As Sperling writes in his very first sentence, “William R. Newbold’s 1921 contention that the spiral graphic in folio 68r represents a spiral nebula is wild bunk.”

First Photograph of Andromeda Galaxy

Isaac Robert’s 1899 Photo of the Andromeda Galaxy

Above is the first picture of the Andromeda Galaxy, taken by Isaac Roberts, in 1895. As he described it in his 1899 book, “Photographs of Stars, Star-Clusters and Nebulæ”,

“That the nebula is a left-hand spiral, and not annular as I at first suspected, cannot now be questioned; for the convolutions can be traced up to the nucleus which resembles a small bright star at the center of the dense surrounding nebulosity; but notwithstanding its density the divisions between the convolutions are plainly visible on negatives which have a proper degree of exposure.”

Compare the Roberts photograph, and description, above, with the f68r image from the Voynich, below. Also note that the Voynich image spirals to the right, not the left, as the Andromeda does:

Well it is "Spiral", Anyway

Well it is “Spiral”, Anyway

So then Newbold showed the f68r spiral image (above) to one “Eric Doolittle of our Flower Observatory”, who (according to the Newbold/Kent book, “The Cipher of Roger Bacon”, told Newbold,

“…that in his opinion it unquestionably represented a nebula, and that the man who drew it must have had a telescope”.

This alone seems to have led Newbold to one of his purely speculative “decipherments” of the center of f68r’s spiral illustration. However note that Doolittle did not say which spiral nebula, and bear that in mind when considering that some spiral nebulas known, and photographed by that time, were actually seen as a circular shape… as f68r’s illustration shows… and not as an oval, due to an angle to the viewer, as the Andromeda does (see below, “Isaac Roberts M51 & M100 ‘Comæ'”). So we can’t really draw Doolittle into the web of error, considering this, nor knowing how the illustration was presented to him in the first place. However, Newbold takes the Nebula hint, runs with it, and translates the Voynichese at the center of the spiral,

“The legend is extremely difficult to decipher, but my first attempt gave the location of the object as between ‘the navel of Pegasus, the girdle of Andromeda, and the head of Cassiopea,’ and stated that it was seen in a concave mirror. The great Nebula of Andromeda lies within the triangle determined by these three points; it is there fore presumable the object which Bacon saw.”

And here, too, we see Newbold substituting Dolittle’s “telescope” with a “concave mirror”. I see in this a disingenuous, unscientific manipulation of the purely subjective results of Newbold’s, to reflect what he must have suspected: Telescopes were out of the question for Roger Bacon, but there were historic hints of concave mirrors being used in this capacity, at a very early date.

Look again at the f68r “spiral” in question. And below we see Isaac Roberts’ image of Nebulæ M51 and M100 “Comæ”, taken in the 1890’s. Comæ appears in his 1899 book. I feel these help to exonerate Doolittle to some extent, and further mire Newbold in a fog of questionable judgement. For I would have to say that if I saw the below photographs, and the above Voynich illustration, I would certainly have wondered, as Doolittle did, if there was a connection. At the very least I am certain that I would not have jumped to the oval-appearing Andromeda, as Newbold did, as it never appeared to me a good match. I also note they are right spirals, as f68r’s illustration is:

isaac roberts m51 and m100

I have of course, as others have, wondered if Romaine Newbold was a victim of an overabundance of imagination, which drove his wild speculations to their obviously incorrect conclusions. But at the same time I felt this may point at Voynich, and possibly others, having fed the poor man just enough Roger Bacon “winks and nods” to send him off the cliffs of self-delusion. Anyone who did study Bacon would soon become aware of his possible use of optics and code, which would have caused Newbold to pick them up with relish- well, we know he did- but then he charged off at light-speed down a road Voynich never intended, or imagined. But perhaps all Voynich really wanted was…

… for Newbold to simply see a few microscopes instead of “jars”, a couple of diatoms and such, and maybe, M51 from Isaac Roberts’ book. If this is the case, I would imagine Voynich’s great frustration. Rather than being handed the desired reasonable, and yet exciting, Roger Bacon attribution, Newbold instead managed to taint the image of the Cipher Manuscript, along with his own reputation, and even, a little bit, the name of Roger Bacon himself… and thereby destroy any chance Wilfred Voynich would sell this manuscript in his lifetime.

UPDATE, 6/11/14: Elitsa Velinska has found a really striking similarity to the f68r spiral, in Nicole Oresme’s, “Traité de la sphère”, BNF Français 565. It has the stars, the T/O center, and the “frills” around the edges, that the Voynich spiral all have. All that is missing are the spirals, really. This find, in my opinion, is so good that it alters my speculative reasoning as to the original purpose of the illustration in the Voynich manuscript: I don’t believe it would have been put there AS a nebula, to fool anyone… but probably was influence by the image of Orseme in some way, directly or indirectly. Of course, Newbold’s opinion on it, while wrong, still has certain implications and possible causes, some of which still stand, as stated above.

You can see Elitsa’s images and comments on her blog post, here:

UPDATE, 9/30/14: After much recent discussion about this image, which began when Robert Teague noted a very close alignment of the Oresme illustration with the f68r Voynich one, I’ve come to realize that the original possibility still stands: That perhaps the artist of f68r was a forger, and was intending to imply that this was a spiral galaxy… and that this was the original intention after all.

Of course that is purely speculative, and there is no way to prove it. It may certainly be wrong. But considering that these spirals, as attached to the Oresme-type illustration, are not found elsewhere so attached, nor is there any good reason for them to exist there (none at all, offered, as of this writing), in the first place, I have reconsidered, and think it possible that this “addition” could have been for this reason… and that Newbold simply “mucked it up” by going to Andromeda instead of M51 or M100. That is, that the f68r illustration is a false attempt to look like a 13th or 17th century astronomer’s version of a nebula, as seen and understood by an early 20th century forger, who was trying to imply the use of advanced optics by the author of the Voynich Manuscript.

The Green Microscope

May 18, 2013

When I first proposed my Voynich/Optical theories years ago, one of the most common criticisms of it was that some of the microscope illustrations I used as comparisons were from dates later than the time of my theory. This is true, and I did acknowledge it. Of course I would, and can, still use them, as the descriptions of 1610/20 optical devices, and even earlier ones in some cases, do show that later 17th century optical instruments do have many of the features of the earlier, often lost and not illustrated, devices.

Nonetheless, the problem did have an effect on the way I looked at this, but not necessarily the way the critics intended. They used this point to claim that the Voynich cylinders could not be microscopes, but at the same time, they were dismissing the fact that their observation also implies that if they were the microscopes they did agree they resembled, then the Voynich was newer than they, or even I, suggested. In effect they were ignoring an important implication, a possibility opened up by the very observation they were making.

This is even more apparent when you consider that at least three of the newer microscope illustrations I was comparing to the Voynich cylinders were such a good match, that they could arguably be the actual source of the Voynich illustration. The two most notable are the “Green Microscope”,  and of the ones in the Spanish engraving , both very similar to cylinders on the f101v pages. So if you take the critic’s point at face value, that the devices look “too new”, then one is open to any age for the Voynich between 1404 and 1912, when Wilfred said he found it.

Considering these points, and when I began to seriously consider the Voynich Manuscript may be a 19th century fake, I of course revisited many of my old ideas in a new light.

Microscope Comparsion 1

Here is the Green Microscope compared to an f101v cylinder. You can see that the coloration, proportion, the recessed top, the placement of the change in diameter, and the inclusion (if not the accurate representation) of decoration, show that the green microscope and this Voynich cylinder are strikingly similar. Even the green of the vellum covering, and the brown where the wooden portions of the microscope are bare, are seemingly represented. I think it can be said that if a person saw the actual microscope, and had the appropriate inks, pens and brushes, any resulting drawing would not be much different than the Voynich illustration.

But in order for the Green Microscope to appear in an early 20th century forged manuscript, it would have to be reasonable to expect that the suspected forger would have seen it. And they probably would have had to have seen the actual device, and not a picture in a book, because color photographs in books were very uncommon before 1912. I have not seen this one, in any case, in all the microscope books I have found, either in black and white or color, photographed or illustrated. So for the real Green Microscope to be the model, it would have to be reasonable that Wilfred Voynich could have seen it. I went back to the website of the Museo Galileo, the museum which has the microscope, to see if this made sense.

The Museo Galileo, it turns out, is in Florence, Italy. They have owned the Green Microscope since the early 18th century, as it is listed as a “Vincenzo Viviani” bequest. He died in 1703, so they have had it since about then. The museum does not apparently know the actual age or maker of this microscope… and it is listed as a “microscope part”, as they assume it is a “part of the body tube” of one… but they do speculate that it originates from the “late 17th century”. It was a practice at the time, on some microscopes, to have the central section of the device removable, in order to use it as a “field microscope”. Some were even made this way from the beginning, with no stand, to carry into the environment and study things in the field.

The location of the museum in Florence was encouraging start, because in the early 20th century, Wilfred Voynich was also in Florence. He had purchased, in 1908, the great Libraria Franceschini, on 110 Via Ghibellina. And this vast book emporium, containing over half a million manuscripts, incunabula, pamphlets, maps, and who-knows-what, has often been suspected as a possible, real, source of the Voynich… even as the place Wilfred may have unearthed the little pile of unused ancient vellum he might have used to forge his famous cipher manuscript. Voynich, and the Green Microscope, and a vast archive of vellum were all in the same city, at the same time!

But how close were they? The scientific instruments of the Museo Galileo were moved to the present location… only 1,900 feet from Voynich’s shop, as it turns out… in 1930. I needed to find out where it was before that, between 1908 and 1912, when Voynich was still there, and before he announced the manuscript. So I wrote to the Museo, and was told by a retired director,

“The Viviani collection was housed before at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. Then, in the second half of 19th century, it was given to the Museo di Antichi Strumenti (Museum of Ancient Instruments), located inside the today Museo “La Specola”.”

So La Specola was the home of the green microscope during the time of Voynich’s presence in Florence. And it was, and is, the location of the Trubuna De Galileo, a magnificent alcove with a statue of Galileo, a series of friezes with important scenes from his life, and surrounded by rooms which contained the collections of antique scientific instruments of the Viviani collection, and others. And it turned out that that collection was at  4 Via Georgio La Pira, a mere 1.3 kilometer, 15 minute walk from the doors of Voynich’s Libraria. The Green Microscope was 15 minutes from the man who “found” the Voynich Manuscript, which contains an image which virtually reflects the very same device.

A Short Walk

A Very Short and Pleasant Walk

But the fact he very well could have seen the Green Microscope has another implication, for those who consider the Voynich Manuscript is real: If Wilfred had thought he had found a precious “Roger Bacon” manuscript, he would have also known Bacon was believed to have possessed and used sophisticated optical devices…

Tribuna Di Galileo

Tribuna Di Galileo

… so then why did Voynich not see, and note, the similarity between one of the drawings, and the Green Microscope, himself? Because he could not point to it, any more that he could point directly to the Baresch letter, or any other possible sources for a fake… if he forged the Voynich Manuscript. Well, unless you want to theorize that he the man had very poor observational skills, or worse, that he was never tempted, at least once in 5 years, to take what must be a fantastic stroll through the streets of one of the world’s most beautiful cities, to the greatest collection of rare and important scientific instruments in the world.

Anne Nill Speaks

January 16, 2013

Back in 2008 I had the opportunity to research the Voynich collection at New York’s Grolier Club. My daughter and I made several interesting discoveries, including Ethel’s personal notebook of plant identities. This find implied that she was quite convinced of the Voynich Manuscript’s authenticity, which had been a question in some quarters. Some of the correspondence in the collection colored out some smaller aspects of the Voynich business, but there really was nothing groundbreaking in nature. Of course I was only able to look through two of the boxes (#6 & #8), and really did not have the time I needed to explore even those to the extent I would have liked. And ever since then, I wanted a chance to look in box #5, which contains much correspondence between Anne Nill, Wilfred and Ethel’s business manager, and  Herbert Garland, the manager of the Voynich London office.

Anne Nill

Anne Nill, from 1924 Christian Science Monitor Article

Since 2008, it had been suggested to me that box 5 might be important in giving us insight into the provenance of the Voynich Ms., because it was thought that if Anne Nill knew something about this, she may have revealed it to Garland. I was given permission in the summer of 2012 to examine these letters, and went down on July 24. Again, I could not say that the letters altered the Voynich landscape to any great degree, but there were some interesting revelations. Most importantly there was a shift in my understanding of the place and value the Voynich manuscript had to Wilfred, Ethel, Anne and Herbert. It was not simply one of their properties, nor even simply the one which was most potentially valuable. It went beyond that. It seems the Voynich, or “Bacon Ms.”, had become in a way the identity of the firm, and even a part of their own identity. They all seemed to place a great deal of hope, through troubled times, that they would survive a fate of destitution and obscurity, when and if they could properly validate the precious possession. I think that this attitude, this hope, may have even caused them to lose focus on the business as whole. The book business itself was a house of cards tenuously built around the Voynich ms., which was almost preserved despite it being a burden, while fostering the belief that the mysterious cipher manuscript would come to their rescue, and pay off all debts, and secure their future… but only if they only could resolve its true author, and purpose. At the same time it was clear that they felt themselves protectors of it, not only for this potential monetary value, but also for the intrinsic, romantic value. It was their treasure, and it was their legacy.

The Nill/Garland letters cover a period between about 1928 and 1935, and include copies of Ms. Nill’s letters to Garland, and many of his letters to her. The two became friends over the years, and it is easy to see their relationship change and develop over that time. It went from a connection of business associates who have a sort of camaraderie, and into a more personal one, in which the share their views of family, life, politics, the Great Depression, personal hopes, successes and failures, illness, and death. It seems that the decline in the book trade, the death of Wilfred in 1930, and the aging, illnesses and injuries of Ethel Voynich and Mrs. Garland, all led Anne and Herbert into closer terms. As the years wore on, they had a sort of emotional huddle “across the pond”, through the dozens of letters, where they could commiserate on a personal level, but also plan their way out of an increasingly hopeless business situation. Rare books were not selling in the depression, of course. But even by 1928, before the Stock Market Crash, Anne reveals, Voynich had already borrowed $8,500 to keep the business afloat. And after he died, after the Crash, and the book trade began to diminish along with everything else, it was up to Anne to figure out the best way to market and sell the stock, pay the rents on the offices, retain the reputation of the Voynich legacy, pay estate and sales taxes, and at the same time, care for her dear friend, Ethel. She lamented that she worked “every day and Sunday”, and late into the night to fulfill her responsibilities as she saw them. And she handled her lot in life with dignity, intelligence, grace and humor.

During the Depression, Anne related that she needed to sell a baseline of $1,000 of books a month to keep the Voynich business afloat, and meet the needs of the household. She was not always able to do this. In the very letter in which she describes the death of  Wilfred- in a very touching and personal way – she goes on,

“Now about business, since life is such a jumble that we must think of accounts when faced with death… …Of course I haven’t had time to try to raise cash this week but I shall take up this burden next week to see what I can do. Just now there is some $3000 in the bank (of which I propose to send you at least £200 for rent and office expenses) but I shall not be able to touch it until the will has been probated.”

However, less than a year later, it the estate taxes were demanded, and they amounted to $3,400. She then told Garland that she could only pay $2,000 toward those taxes, as she needed the other money in the account to pay expenses, and would have to owe the remaining $1,400 to the State at 12% interest. And book sales continued to decrease, and bills piled up.

And so it went, month after month, year after year. It was a rough time, and there was always talk of closing both offices, and the business. But apparently Ethel wanted to continue it, and had high hopes. Anne tried to meet those hopes, to no avail. There was often talk of closing the London office, and the possible termination of Garland. At first it looked as though that would happen soon after Wilfred’s death. But within a short time, Anne and Ethel came to the decision the London office, and Garland, could stay in business, and help to sell off the London stock, if not simply continue indefinitely as a going concern. Anne was able to offer several batches of books from the US, and London, through Sotheby’s auction house in London, which helped. It seems that like Wilfred before, Anne too, now had misgivings about the New York book auctions ability to get a fair price, or even describe the books properly. Anne did her best, and was proactive in representing the stock. She often suggested titles to collectors, both new, and previous customers. So she quickly and by necessity evolved from an office manager into a book dealer herself, and even made attempts to replenish the stock… although with meager assets, and multiple duties and concerns, this was very difficult for her. But because of all the hurdles they faced, and the income from the auction and private sales was often disappointing (never even reaching the level of their daily needs), Anne was never able to accumulate the nest egg she had hoped.

But there was the promise that they may have a way out of this dismal spiral, and it lay in two treasures they still possessed. Throughout these difficult years, Anne and Ethel held out hope that two books in their collection might be sold, and save the business and all of them. These were referred to as the “Bacon” and the “Valturius”. Of course the “Bacon”, which was often also referred to as the “cipher mss.”, was the Voynich Ms.. The Valturius was one of WMV’s great finds… a manuscript copy, on vellum, of De re Militari, by Robertus Valturius (interestingly, Voynich concurrently owned a second copy of this book, which neither Anne nor Wilfred seemed to ever actively promote. In fact, it seems to be somewhat of a secret, outside of a brief, later mention in the DiRicci catalog of 1937). As I understand it, the printed versions, with woodcut illustrations, are and were quite rare and valuable. Having an actual manuscript copy of this book was therefore quite a potential asset for Voynich. Up until his death, he held hope that he might get as much as $100,000. However, after he was gone, Anne and Ethel apparently only had it insured for £7,800. This modest number seems to be to save on their insurance premium, as the Voynich they only had insured for £4,000. But still, “The Bacon” and the “Valturius” were the engines of hope for Voynich and Ethel, and after Wilfred was gone, the only real hope for Anne Nill that she might save the company, herself, and Ethel from poverty. Of course they never sold while Ethel was alive. And as we also now know, Anne eventually inherited the Voynich, and sold it for a mere $15,000, not long before her death. The “Voynich Valturius’s” were eventually sold by Kraus to Lessing J. Rosenwald, and then bequeathed by him to the Library of Congress, where they both reside today.

And to her credit, and yet sadly, it seems Anne put her own dreams on hold for all these years. She never married, and seems to have had a somewhat troubled life. It is clear that her responsibilities to the Voynich concern, and to Ethel, were a great part of the cause of this, as much as the time she lived in.  It was ironic that Wilfred’s will stipulated some substantial inheritance for her, but that Anne would not collect, for that would mean a further hardship for Ethel. Anne wrote,

“As for me, Mr. Voynich has made a more than generous provision, which I feel that I can accept only if Bacon and Valturius go through. But like you I have always felt that Valturius will not bring $100,000 nor anything like it. If they go through it means it would be possible for me to continue the business in some way if I care to, and perhaps this is what he wanted, but at present I see nothing clearly. There is such a void. However there is no need to go into anything of this nature just yet and all I know is that Mrs. Voynich and I will be in harmony and that is important”.

Friendship and trust and duty came first for this woman, and she stuck those principles through the increasingly turbulent times of the Great Depression. It was her character which held it together for her, Ethel, and to the end of the employment and after, for Herbert Garland, her friend.

The letters relate these difficulties, but also the small triumphs- such as Ethel wishing for a piano, which they could not afford- and having a friend fortuitously mentioning they were moving without theirs, and so Ethel and Anne got it for the $12 moving fee. Anne was happy that Ethel had the piano to play, although she felt it was out of place in the apartment, and too large. But it was surprising to me the importance both women placed on the Voynich Ms., and the interest they had. As I mentioned, in my last visit to the Grolier I learned the extent that Ethel delved into the mystery, in the form of her personal notebook of plant identifications. But it went beyond this, as box 5 now reveals. The interest was deep, and shared by both women. It was bred of from concern for the value of the manuscript, which they felt relied on preservation of the “Bacon attribution”, but their fascination was also one of the romance and mystery of it, just as much as it has held for hundreds or thousands of others over the centuries. They were hooked on it, just as so many have been since, and still are.

Anne requested a copy of a book on Roger Bacon from Garland (and made a point that that book, for 8 shillings, and the copy of The Gadfly which he procured, would not be billed to the business). She mentioned finding “parallels” with Bacon’s work in the Voynich. And meanwhile, Ethel consulted with botanists from all over the world, to help her with her plant identities. Anne mentioned that Ethel found comfort in this work, and spent hours with the Photostats spread on a table before her. And reference to her hope that the various members of what she termed the “Voynich team” of experts… among them Manly, Garrett, and Thompson… would determine that this was, in fact, a Roger Bacon work. On June 20, 1930, she writes,

“Professor Manly called this week, on his way back from London to Chicago. Mrs. Voynich came for the occasion and we had an interesting two hours. Do get her to tell you all about it and what he thinks of the Ms. and Carton, etc. etc. Of course he continues not to believe in Professor Newbold’s work, but he does believe that the Ms. is of great importance. He seems to have discussed it with everyone in Europe, including Bernard Behrenson (who, he says, is very much interested in it). he also discussed it with Little, who, he says, considers it is an important Ms.”.

And Manly, though he did of course later discredit Newbold’s work, continued to have a relationship with Ethel and Anne, and let them know in advance of his work and interest relating to it. This work on the part of Manly, with the Voynich Ms., had a direct effect on the decision to keep the business open through 1931 and 1932. About his 1931 review of the Kent-Newbold book in Speculum,

“[Manly] sent us both copies of this “offprint” of the review, which he said he was sending to various scholars, in the hope of reviving an interest in the MS. Amond others he said he had sent it to Steele, Kenyon and Flower. He appears to be doing what he can. He asked for a list of those to whom we would like it sent. This is one of the reasons we feel that the office should continue at least this winter. It may be impossible to do anything, if business continues to be bad, but we have the feeling that Manly (and perhaps Bishop and Thompson) will do what they can this winter, making use of the “Speculum” article. If nothing happens then, it looks like an indefinite delay.”

There second hope, the “Valturius”, figured in also. Anne continued,

“Another reason for continuing the office for the winter [1931/32] is the Valturius. We want to try to work up an interest in N.Y.P.L. [New York Public Library] quarters if possible. This is, of course, a bare possibility. Years ago Mr. Kane would not have listened to a suggestion that it be considered for the Spencer Collection, and he may not now, but I have at last got him to the point that he has asked to borrow the Hutton book upon his return to town this autumn. If one can once get him interested in Malatesta’s life one would be able to risk showing him the MS, even though it is mostly on paper, which he will be sure to note as being against it. I do not see how Mr. Garrett can contemplate its purchase in anything like the near future, as his fortune, as I have said before, is bound up with the railroads, and railroad news continues to be as bad as possible.”

What good are treasures such as these, if there is no one to buy them? As for the interested in “Malatesta”, this refers to Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, 1417 to 1468, the nobleman who commissioned the Valturius. Anne was doing her part as salesperson, a role she had been thrust into.


I was struck with the familiar nature of the response to this problem, by these people, and by the people they shared it with. It was familiar not only in all the many stories we can read about from the past- from the very first letters by Marci, in the 17th century, and the time spent after these letters, by Friedman, and all the many other experts and not, in the decades since- but also in posts I see today, on the Voynich Net, and around the web, in blogs and forums and personal emails and articles. The questions really have not changed, the approach and attitudes toward the mystery are much the same, and the hopes and dreams for seeing an answer were shared long before any of us knew of it. Anne herself had her own theories about the manuscript, which were related in a letter to Garland- but for some reason she chose not to share them with posterity, replacing the letter which outlined them, in 1936, with a note, listing the letter’s contents, among them, “C) me my work on cipher ms.” But there are references to her own ideas, and other’s, sometimes referenced in a way to make it difficult for me to know the source, or if she is referencing the cipher ms. or the Valturius… It seems she thought Bellini would be attributable to one or the other (I later learned that Wilfred hoped the “boy sketch” in his better Valturius might be a lost Bellini). But the quest was a frequent topic, as it was in this passage,

“I could go on and on about one thing and another, but I must not bore you too much. However I do want to tell you about the latest development with regard to the cipher manuscript. Mrs. Voynich has been working at the Morgan Library, and Miss Greene continues to be most friendly and helpful. A short time ago she volunteered the opinion that she did not think any scholar in this country would be able to help us with the problem and asked why we did not try Germany for example. She mentioned the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg at Hamburg (see Minerva if interested) which, according to her, is a perfectly amazing hotbed of learning. She seemed to feel that if they cannot help us no-one can. Of course that doesn’t follow. Well, the upshot of it was that a certain Dr. Erwin Panofsky of that institute is at present in New York and Miss Greene suggested that she bring him and Mrs. Voynich together- very decent of her don’t you think. So Mrs. Voynich met him at the Morgan Library where she showed him the photostats (note that they are negatives and now in poor condition, having greatly faded in some parts). He became intensely interested and seemed to think the MS. early, perhaps as early as the 13th century. He asked to see the original, which we showed to him last Friday [they must have taken him to the safe deposit box]. His first impression was that it was early, but as he came to the female figures (in conjunction with the colors used in the manuscript) he came to the conclusion that it could not be earlier than the 15th century! The more I think of it (always making allowance for my slender knowledge of art) the more I think that his contention is sound. I cannot think of a single early MS. or painting which contains such “shapely” female figures as those in the MS. Furthermore he is convinced that the MS. is Spanish (or something southern near Spain) and shows strong Arabic and Jewish influences. He thinks there is some influence of the Kabbala in it.!!!!! Well, all that would make it interesting, anyway. You know both Professor Thompson and Professor Manly have been suggesting Spanish for some time (thought there might be something Lullian in it). Early 15th century would make it too late for Lull, but it might easily have something Lullian in it. Dr. Panofsky examined the two more or less visible sentences (one on the key page and one on page 17 [r]) which are apparently not in cipher and seemed to think they were Spanish rather than Latin (or rather something that had to do with Spanish). I am inclined to think he is right. He also noticed, what I am pleased to say I had noticed before, that the names of the months written in the plates of the signs of the Zodiac, and undoubtedly by a later hand, seem to suggest Spanish. For example April is written “Abril”. October is “Octembre” (or Octember I forget which), which certainly suggest some form of Spanish, rather than Latin or French or Italian. The upshot of it is that we have  given him a whole set of photostats for his institute, as he wants two men there to work on it. One of them (I thiink Professor Salomon or Liebeschutz) it seems identified some remarkable Vatican manuscript (written in a senseless sort of Latin if I remember rightly) which had defied scholars for a long time. Perhaps they will not react to it as he seems to think they will, but if they do, we have achieved at least one of the things Mr. Voynich wanted- it was just this method of attack, in an institute, that he always hoped for and didn’t think was possible to secure for it unless the MS. was sold to an Institution. It now looks as if it might be possible to start some work of this sort on it even if we cannot sell the MS. at this time.”

As it turns out, and long after the date of the last letter in this collection, she struck a deal with her later employer, H.P. Kraus. He reveals in this autobiography that he gave Ms. Nill $15,000 toward the manuscript (which she had inherited from Ethel), and offered it for sale for $160,000. He says that he came up with this number because that is what Wilfred asked before WWI. Kraus was going to split the amount with Nill, but did not sell it before her death. It is a tribute to him, and his respect for Anne, that rather than continue to try selling the Voynich Ms. after she died, he donated it to the Beinecke.

The Grolier Club Reading Room

The Grolier Club Reading Room

What strikes me most in the Nill/Garland letters is that one might have trouble seeing any difference in the excitement, the type of varied conclusions and guesses, the hope and sense of an imminent solution to the problem, that we find in all the Voynich attempts in eight decades since Anne Nill wrote her words. And I’ve no doubt that similar thoughts will still be written on the Voynich, just like Nill had, and all the thousands of others have, for centuries to come, should it still not be solved. But I also get a melancholy feeling for the life of Anne Nill, and the person she was. She held admirable standards for herself, and held her head high during the most difficult times, never abandoning the responsibilities thrust on her, and doing her best, with few complaints, to the very end. She was an important “keeper” of the Voynich, and we owe her a debt for that, as she never gave up hope. And it was that hope, at great personal cost to her, that saw the manuscript through the storm of the depression, to the safe home it has today.

The Voynich in 1905?

August 19, 2012

Update, June 18, 2013: Rene Zandbergen had suggested that I check the Voynich archives at the Beinecke Library, to see if there were any letters by or about Charles Singer. I finally had an opportunity to do this, and found the below letter. It is from Singer, to Manly, dated May 11, 1931. Manly then forwarded it to Anne Nill and Ethel Voynich:

Dear Professor Manly,

There appears to be some misunderstanding in America about my views on the Voynich MS.  I have never written anything about it, and any remarks I may have made in conversation represented only impressions of a long past event. From what you tell me, it is obvious that the MS that I remember seeing in Germany many years ago could not have been that of Mr. Voynich.

Though I did not know Mr. Voynich personally, I have heard the highest reports of his integrity as a man and as a dealer from those who knew him well, and I should be very sorry to be thought to reflect on his memory in anything whatever.

Yours very sincerely, Charles Singer

So this clears up the matter. It was a simple misunderstanding all around. The trouble for me was that the Voynich collections are split between the Beinecke and the Grolier Club, and so the question was left hanging by seeing only the one.

Ethel was very pleased with the revelation, and thanked Singer for clearing up the question with a hand-written letter by May 26th:

Professor Manly has forwarded to me your very kind letter, the generous spirit of which I deeply appreciate.

You will, I am sure, understand my having felt anxious that any accidental confusion of my husband’s MS. with some other one should be cleared up, in order to prevent the possibility of any distressing misunderstandings later. Your letter has been a great relief to my mind, and I beg you to accept my thanks for it.

Believe me,

Sincerely yours, E.L. Voynich.

Although the question is now settled… Charles Singer never saw the Voynich before 1912, and actually only saw copies, years later… I will leave the blog post up (for the time being, at least), for general interest.


I’ve not yet finished writing up my reflections on the Anne Nill and Herbert Garland letters in the Grolier Voynich collection, but before I did,  I’ve been anxious to relate a very interesting story which I discovered in that correspondence. I investigated this story… a rumor really… as far as I could, here in New York State, and on the internet, but if it can be taken any further it will have to be by someone in Europe. Even so, it will probably turn out to be a dead end, whether true or not, and never be resolved. But the implications of the rumor are important enough to explore as far as possible, in my opinion.

The first mention of this issue is in Anne’s letter to Garland dated July 18th, 1930. She admits the letter is “full of odds and ends”, and proceeds to discuss various issues such as insurance payments, money owed to different people, and so on. One person they owe to is Joseph Baer of Frankfurt, a very well known rare book dealer. She hopes that the account is paid up, so that she can ask a few questions about the following incident:

“This morning Professor Thompson of the University of Chicago called to say that Singer, who has been lecturing all over the United States, was in Chicago where he, Prof. Thompson, met him and discussed the cipher MS. with him. he has circulated all over the U.S. the story that it is a 16th century – a Paracelsan kind of MS. At this point I remarked to Professor Thompson that I thought it was amazing that a person who posed as a scholar could make such statements about a MS. he had never seen. ‘That is just why I came to see you,’ said Professor Thompson, ‘he claims he has seen it – that 20 or 25 years ago Baer of Frankfurt showed it to him and told him it came from Prague.’ That, apparently, is the origin of Singer’s Paracelsan theory.”

Of course that is a fairly stunning rumor. It is also, in my opinion, a pretty solid one, and worth looking into. Consider that Thompson thought it was important enough to make a special visit to Nill, and Nill was interested enough to try and figure out if it was true. The 1930 date of the letter, and the fact that Thompson was previously in Chicago, means that Singer claimed Baer had the Voynich as early as 1905 to 1910. Even if Voynich had loaned it to him, this predates the 1912 “ancient castle in Southern Europe” and “Villa Mondragone” claims by at least two years, and as much as seven. But why would Voynich lend it to Baer in the first place? In the years Voynich owned it, he was very careful to whom he allowed access to the images of it. To leave it in Frankfurt, in the hands of a competitor, seems unlikely. Or did he actually get it from Baer? If so, where did Baer get it?

Another important implication to this is that Anne Nill was writing this during the “castle in Southern Europe origin” timeframe, but nevertheless was ready to distrust her recently deceased employer, mentor and friend’s word on that claimed provenance enough to have her ears perk up, and want to investigate, when Thomson dropped this in her lap. And further, years later when she gave information to Ricci for his catalog… and she and Ethel substituted “Villa Mondragone” for “ancient castle in Southern Europe”, there was no mention of this old Frankfurt/Baer rumor. This, although (as you will see) she seemed somewhat unsatisfied with the results of her investigation. But she did try to get to the bottom of it, so even Nill thought the provenance Wilfred offered was something to question. She continued,

“So what I want to do, as soon as we get Baer’s account settled, if there is still something owing on it, is to write him a nice tactful friendly letter and try to get out of him what MS. they actually did have, from Prague, of a Paracelsan nature, which might have been shown to Singer 20 or 25 years ago. Thompson pointed out that in the 16tch century MSS. were not written on vellum, and that it was much more likely that our MS. might turn out to be by Raymond Lully, which, he said, more or less made Singer sit up. “Why, I never thought of that.” said S. The Crummers saw Singer in California, so I expect to get the real “low-down” on him when I see them.”

For some reason or another, it turned out that the “Crummers” were not able to enlighten Anne on the Singer issue. But it also seems that Anne was attempting to reason away the Singer claim, by assuming that the manuscript could not have been the beloved “Bacon”, but some other. This seems to be a bit of rationalization on her part, as Thomspon was quite clear that Singer was lecturing on the Voynich, and both Thompson and Nill were quite sure Singer had not seen it, or copies of it, while in the possession of the Voynichs. The only choices were that Singer had seen another manuscript he confused with the Voynich, or that he was telling the truth, and saw it in the possession of Baer, 1905 to 1910.

But what of this Singer? What do we know, he knew, of the Voynich? This is almost certainly the same Charles Joseph Singer (1876-1960) who lectured, wrote and theorized on the Voynich Ms. He is quoted in Mary D’Imperio’s “The Voynich Manuscript- An Elegant Enigma” from two letters he wrote in 1957. One, to Tiltman in November 1957, mentions the Paracelsian ideas, “My own feeling- again somewhat vague- about the little figures of nude men and women in the organs of the body is that they are somehow connected with the ‘archaei’ of the Paracelsan or Spagyric School. This would fit in well with my suggestion about John Dee and Bohemia.”

So again, or still, in 1957, Singer is thinking “Prague” and “Paracelsus”. Again, we have choices in determining the implications of this. Either Singer really did see the Voynich in the possession of Baer pre-1910, and continued to believe as he did from the start these points; or that he was mistaken, and saw another manuscript with Baer (as Nill seemed to hope), which just happened to give him the same exact impression as the later, now revealed as the correct, Voynich Ms. did! For he must have, by 1957, seen images from the actual Voynich. I think that Dr. Singer held to the same views as expressed to Thompson in 1930, and in his lectures at that time, all the way op to 1957, is a strong indication that he did see the actual Voynich Manuscript pre-1910.

Anne Nill seems to have settled whatever account they owed Baer fairly quickly, for by October 21st, 1930, she was able to report to Garland,

“Yesterday I had a reply from Baer to my letter on the subject which says, ‘As to the question you are asking us, we cannot remember that we had any Paracelsan manuscript and we cannot find in the cards of books we sold, any reference to such a manuscript.’ That seems to take care of the matter unless Baer prefers to stay out of the matter so as not to offend a possible client. I referred (perhaps unwisely as I know [sp?] think) to the fact that it was Singer of Oxford who said that Baer and Co. had the Paracelsan MS. from Prague 25 years ago, and that he has stated that that is our Cipher Ms. Well, anyway, I wrote a tactful letter and perhaps it is just as well that the fact is on record in Germany, for Sudhoff also said it might be Paracelsan and he (he is not a paleographer) may have had a fixed opinion about it before he looked at the MS. last autumn, for, as you know, he and Singer have collaborated on something or other (at least I seem to remember that they have.”

Again I see in that a sense that Anne was hoping for some “wiggle room”, and wishing that the rumor was not true. Her reasoning, however, seems slim to me. She is again hoping that Singer may have come to his conclusions not from seeing the Voynich by 1910, in Germany, but by having discussions with others, at a later date. The only way this could be would be to call Singer a liar, however, which she only indirectly implies. Singer would have had to make up the story, to Thompson, and to have been publicly discussing the “cipher ms.” under false pretenses. I do not believe this is so, from what I read of Charles Singer… that is, I believe he and Thompson were correct and truthful.

And, at the same time, she seems to question Baer’s credibility… insinuating he was lying to her, in order “not to offend a possible client”. From what I have been reading about the internal practices of the rare book trade at this time, with the fudging of provenance, the shill bidding, the manipulations of prices at auction, the forgeries and deceptions… I would not consider, as even Anne Nill apparently did not, a small lie about owning this manuscript- the Voynich- as so unusual on the part of Baer. And if so, who was this “possible client”? Was Nill thinking, as I did when I read that line, of Wilfred himself? So it was Baer’s word against Singer’s, at that point, and really, it still is.

As it stands, I see this rumor as fairly credible. Really the only way to dismiss it would be to prove, as Nill tried, that Singer saw a different manuscript with Baer, and this carried him through the years until he saw the actual Voynich, and he either happened to think the same things about both… an unbelievable coincidence, really… or that he did not want to destroy his credibility, and so when he finally saw the “correct manuscript” he simply applied his previous theory to it.

I doubt both of those possibilities. I think there is something to this. But what can I do? For one thing, it turned out that I had access to the Baer catalogs from the first volume, in 1899, through his last, in the 1920’s, thanks to the New York Public Library. They are available from off-site storage by previous arrangement, so of course I arranged it… and saw them on Friday, August 17, 2012. I spent a good four hours poring through every page, from 1899 until well into 1914. Of course I did not expect to see the Voynich itself listed here, although I admit I did wonder at that happening. Perhaps, I thought, there was some mention of it under a different description, or some other ms. which Singer could have mistaken for it. But of course since the Voynich concern must have had these catalogs, I would imagine Anne Nill did exactly the same thing as I did last Friday. Nonetheless, it had to be done, so I did it. One interesting manuscript I did see was in his 1899 catalog, volume 2-3, page 20… which describes (thanks to Ernest Lillie for his translation help, which I did my best to further clarify),

“Interesting Manuscript, Italian labor. It contains plant and animal-illustrations, drawing executed in quill a watercolor, in alphabetical arrangement with notes Latin names. The drawing is very careful, very lifelike, but it something stilisirt [?]. We have before us the factory of an artist who was considered perhaps the surnames of the involuntary nature of symmetry of the drawing. The plant are represented on most rich, the codex contains about 480 plant illustrations, mostly the entire height of the leaves. . take between about 85 beasts are depicted. The whole work is a scientific purpose to note everywhere but make stops at the joy on the Visual artist and by invent stories, and where it may concern, he takes action in the miniatures. so with Cerasia he paints a cherry on which are two men that the Cherries a young woman with flowing blond hair throw in the dress pulled up. balsamus is in a high wall surrounded by a courtyard to keep before his gate two armed guard, and a third is on his shield, and falls asleep. is followed by a wildlife arc protect. Terebintus the tree, “ex quo nascitur Terbentina” is a man depicted in a barrel of turpentine absorbs etc., the costum points for Italy, the architecture has that broken down windows in the style of high Gothic, of the 14-hundreds.”

Clearly not the Voynich, but whether or not this interesting manuscript was similar enough to confuse Singer, is something we might consider. I would also be very interested in seeing this work, should anyone recognize it from this description. There was nothing else even remotely close to the Voynich that I could see in these catalogs.

I also looked for a Paracelsan Ms., which Baer clearly said he never owned or sold. And Baer did own and offer several copies of Paracelsus, although no manuscripts that I could find. So I think the catalog angle has been explored well enough to close that door. But that does not mean that this is a dead end. Far from it, as I still feel that the rumor has enough credence to warrant further investigation. Should anyone reading this agree with me, and I truly hope they do, perhaps they could look for any possible collections of Joseph Baer and his enterprise, perhaps in Frankfurt, for evidence in private letters and papers, of our “cipher ms.”. Similarly, the papers of Dr. Charles Singer ought to be examined, if they are available, for any mention of the Voynich pre-1910. I think these are worthy missions, considering the tremendous implications of the 1905 Frankfurt rumor to the field of Voynich research.

The First Voynich Photocopies?

August 15, 2012

Comparison Notes- Original Ms. Photostats/Modern Images

I became aware of the possibility that the New York Public Library had the original Photostats Wilfred Voynich made of his “Bacon Manuscript”, while reading the letters of Anne Nill on July 24th, 2012. She mentioned them starting about 1930, and how she and Ethel would send people to the NYPL to see the manuscript in this copy form, rather than over-handling the original- which they kept in a safe deposit box. Even so, they restricted the access to these copies, only allowing those who they felt might help them cement the attribution to Roger Bacon, or otherwise decipher the script or solve the mystery. They even discussed retrieving them from the library at one point, but then, a few years later, Nill further related that they decided to let the library keep them.

But they do not appear in the library’s catalogs today. It was through my request to the manuscript department that the library sought them out from their archives. It seems they have been somewhat forgotten by the outside Voynich community, although of course the library was quite aware they were there. It does not seem they have been examined in years, if not decades.

This set seems to be the very first set of photostats, or at least one of the earliest, made of the manuscript. Wilfred came to the USA at the outbreak of WWI, and set up shop here soon after. He was very interested in having the images available to researchers, and seems to have made this set by the late teens or early 20’s. They are unfortunately not dated. But included within the box they are in is a set of some pages from Voynich’s copy of Valturius’s “De Ri Militari”, and the head of the archives included a letter saying he prepared those copies in November of 1929. Perhaps these photostats of the Voynich Manuscript was prepared at that time, too, but I doubt it, as Newbold and others had seen photocopies by the early 20’s. I can’t say for certain without comparing these to Newbold’s set in Pennsylvania, but I would imagine these date to the time of his at least, and he already wrote of the Voynich by 1921.

Below are various observations I made while carefully comparing each and every page with the current, modern, JPEGs and SIDs offered by the Beinecke.

F1r- The chemical stains may be there, but they are faint and less apparent than on the JPG and SID. The “Signature” is moderately visible anyway. “E” at the end of “Tepence” seems to be a capital, or at least have a lower loop not presently visible. Other than that, it looks the same as we see today, if not a bit darker. Being small on this copy, and not having a means of enlarging it, it is hard to compare to what we have now.
Strings visible in binding, attached at top. Some sort of spine leather folded back.
The letter “column” down right side appears darker on the photostats than now seen.

F10v- tear on 9v is visible to exactly the same extent in the original photostats, as it is in the modern SID. This implies the state of the binding close to that of 80 years ago. However, more of f16r… the “1”, appears behind the shot of f11r in the modern JPG.

F13r- In this shot, there is inserted a blank scrap of paper behind it. In pencil notation is, “No page 12”.

Note: After this point, the maker of the PHOTOSTATS’s seems to have continued to insert paper behind the page, to avoid photographing the edges of ensuing pages beyond them. Not on all, but on many copies.

F14v & F15r- stains are apparent on the PHOTOSTATS, at the top of the pages, as they are on the modern SIDs. I did not find any stain on the modern copies that was not on these early photostats … that is, it does not seem to have suffered any staining since these photos were taken.

F17r- The “floral” image which overlaps the number 17 is surprisingly darker on the PHOTOSTATS. It appears to have faded quite a bit. The lines seem thinner now, too. The stain around it is also darker on the PHOTOSTATS. Why? The different photographic process can account for some difference in contrast, but the information does not seem to be there, anymore, whatever the method used. More importantly, the marginalia at the top of the page is much clearer on the PHOTOSTATS- for instance, although smaller than can be made by enlarging the SID, the “aw” at the end is dark, sharp, and clear. The “gallows” in the second to last word is light, but still darker than the SID, and more obvious. The marginalia letters have clearly faded, also, and under the stain most of all.

F38v- The “smudge” or stain on this page, which appears at near the top, and to the left of the plant, seems to be characters on the photostats, while too faded to discern on the modern SID. It seems to be “4an”

F40r- similar to the above case, the small smudge seen between the two lower right roots on the SID, is much darker, and appears to be either a cross, or a “4” voynichese character.

F58v- A penciled note, “f65 follows 58”- which it does, of course.

F67r- Smudge to the right of the page number “67” is darker and clearer on the PHOTOSTATS, and appears to be “67” with another small character after it (an “e”?), and all crossed out with one line. On the SID, this is illegible.

F67r3- wheel is “cut off” shorter on the JPG and SID. The photostats shows several words, and more of the wheel, that the modern versions do not. Whether this is due to a fold in the newer shots, or if a strip of the page became detached and went missing since the photostats were taken, I cannot tell without seeing the original. I’ve drawn the few words visible, if anyone is interested in seeing them.

F72v3- on the SID and JPG, the left side of the “lion zodiac” is not shown, whereas it is clearly photographed on the photostats. The flap was held back by a paperclip… does this flap still exist, or have modern copiers simply failed to unfold it? It shows that circle to the outer ring, and clearly shows four more women with stars, along with associated writing.

F73v- pencil notation, “75 follows 73”, which it does.

85v1- The PHOTOSTATS shows a paper behind the right side of this, as though it is detached on this edge- my understanding was that this is now attached/bound along this edge. I can’t make out why the difference… a fold? I do not know the actual construction well enough to equate the two possibles.

Note: The PHOTOSTATSs are separated here with a cardboard sheet, and the ensuing four pages are on one sheet, then the entire rosettes pages are on two more.

The Rosettes pages: Very nice, surprisingly clear copy. Those privy to examine these photostats pages really were not at much of a loss. The sharpness and clarity of them is really on par with the SIDs, and actually surpasses them in some ways. The rosettes are a good example… the recent “volcano” image from Beinecke is seen here, almost in its entirety. The second “tower in hole” tower foundation is likewise here, whereas it was only recently seen again in the very newest image released.

F90r- pencil note, “p 93 follows p 90”, which it does.
F93r- pencil note, “p 93 follows 90”, ditto.
F94v foldout- The first two sheets are pencil labeled, “95 1 + 2”.
F95v- penciled note, “p 99 follows 96”, which it does.

101v2- this is labeled “101 4” on the photostats. There also happens to be a note, “Room 319” penciled on this- perhaps the NYPL room this was originally kept, or produced?

F103r- The “blur” in the lower right corner of the modern SID seems to be more distinct in the PHOTOSTATS, and appears to be several voynichese characters, including an “8”… but these are hard to make out.

F107v through f111r, have penciled notes, “p. 111 follows 108”, which they do.

Further notes: Box marked with printed, bright orange label, “RESTRICTED. DO NOT SERVE TO READERS”. It looks fairly modern, although the box is old. On the paper wrapping, in magic marker, is “VOYNICH- Roger Bacon Ms.”, twice, then in thick pencil:
“Voynich Ms. of Roger Bacon- Restricted” (“Restricted” underlined twice).

Summary: There is nothing of great surprise, and no missing pages found, in this very early… possibly the earliest… set of photostats of the Voynich Ms. Well, perhaps if the unseen part of f67r3 (see above) is really missing now, then that is one portion that was preserved by these copies. But what is actually most surprising to me is that at this early date, there was this set of images which were so clear and complete. They are far better than what we had only a few years ago, before the JPGs and SIDs. I’m not sure where the images in D’Imperio’s book, and various articles, came from… but if they were from this master set, then whoever made the copies  from them did a very poor job. They are even better than the B&W later offered by the Beinecke.

But also of note is just how little, if at all, the manuscript has changed in 80 years… almost one-third more of its life has been added, and it has been handled far more in this time, probably, than in its missing 300 or so years in between Marci and Voynich. And if the few seemingly faded characters can be accounted for by differences in the photo process, or even by application of chemicals, or undue handling in those places, then the manuscript has held up well under all its modern scrutiny.

But still, despite being so close to today’s condition, there are small differences. There are possibly more differences which I did not notice, in fact there must be. For that reason these photostats become of interest in their own right. They were once simply a tool to avoid handling the original, but now they freeze in time the manuscript as it was first seen in modern times. I’m certain many researchers will find different areas to compare, and in more detail, than I have in my 5 hour overview.

Another consideration is that there is some damage to the photostats themselves, due to the photochemicals used… some sepia and stains, possibly from the fixer. They are on paper, which I am not sure is of archival quality, and wrapped in brown paper, which also cannot be good. Perhaps the NYPL would consider investing in some good microfilm or digital copies of these photostats,  so that they can be better preserved as they are. This would also allow them to be made more widely available, and possibly for download. They have a great value as a landmark in the life of the Voynich- a literal snapshot of what many who first wrote about the Voynich actually saw when they came to their conclusions.

Rich SantaColoma, August, 2012.

The Antikythera Mechanism of Manuscripts

May 27, 2012

As I came away from the recent Voynich 100 Conference at the Villa Mondragone in Frascati, Italy, I found myself thinking of some old problems in new ways. Probably most useful to organizing my thoughts was my interview by Lisa Jackson and Bob Aschmann , the Sunday after the conference. Being asked some old and new questions, so soon after meeting and discussing everything Voynich under the sun, allowed me to organize my thoughts in some new and different ways. It was a sort of Voynich-therapy session.

One question was why the Voynich has not been solved. I mean, in extremely simple terms, one might say, “Because it is really, really, hard”. But the question is, what makes it different than other hard problems? Why have the usual tools of scholarship been unable to crack this one? Or, unable to define it at the very least, if one accepts that reading it is not the paramount problem? I mean, we don’t even know what it is. Well, there are those who will tell you they do know what it is, and what it is not, of course, usually adding the “unusual” disclaimer before the suggestion. But really, no one is satisfied, or this would be over. So why don’t we at least know what it is, with certainty?

In the interview, my answer to the question “why?”was, “because I believe the Voynich resides outside of existing scholarship”.

Unique: Like the Voynich?

Scholarship does not experiment, it does not imagine. It only compares, contrasts, and catalogs. In almost all cases, this works, because almost all of the world, and all of the knowledge within it, exists somewhere in known scholarship. But perhaps, not in the case of the Voynich- and this would then explain the loss of scholarship to explain it. “What the Voynich really is” is not in there, and so, scholarship cannot solve it. It certainly has not, and perhaps will not, ever.

I’ve often wondered why mainstream scholars have rejected various concepts I have proposed, and rejected some seemingly (to me) reasonable, common sense proposals of others. I could not understand why optics and fantasy were lumped in with aliens and crop circles. And then, at the same time, those same scholars have accepted some other, seemingly (to me) bizarre concepts… which I will not relate, here. But I could not equate the two seemingly disparate judgments. Now, I think I have a clue as to why. I think my inability to understand this effect, this “disconnect” as I see it, was in my looking at all the ideas suggested for the Voynich, all the theories, on a sliding, empirical scale of “normal” to “bizarre”, while at the same time, failing to see one important, divisive, distinction: Ideas accepted by scholars and scholarship, no matter how outrageous, are assembled from examples from existing scholarship; rejected ideas always exist outside of accepted scholarship. And “outside of scholarship” to a dedicated scholar, simply means it cannot be. Without a category or existing example to compare it to, scholarship believes an idea to be impossible.

Well, I can compare to various concepts within scholarship, but not to existing examples, and certainly as a whole, my ideas do not fit in any existing category. I suspect optics, for instance, and it is rightly pointed out there is no other 1610-1620 optical manuscript, or even a place for one. I see old vellum use, post C14, and I’m told the scholarship does not allow it, as such a situation is rare, or unknown. There is not yet a category for works on old vellum, and when examples are found, scholarship tends to digest them as errors, or unimportant anomalies. “Purple Cows”, so to speak. And when I see a manuscript created as an artifact of scientific, utopian, fiction, as a sort of “living Book M”… it is correctly pointed out I can’t find another actual work to compare it to. Again, there is no category for such a document, as no such work is known to exist; they are only described in fiction. And when I show other works which were created to look like older texts, such as the Chittenden manuscript, it is pointed out, accurately, that they exist in their own category, which my specific case does not fit. And of course, scholarship will not create a category for what I suspect the Voynich is, “An Artifact Born of Scientific Utopian Literature”, until it is proven. I understand that. And therefore it is a vicious circle, a “Catch 22”, for my theories and proposals.

I made a PowerPoint slide for the very end of my Voynich 100 presentation, which I erased the morning of the Conference. I have since been sorry I removed it. At the time I wanted to limit my presentation to three basic concepts. The erased slide was presenting a fourth, although a simple one, and entitled, “The Antikythera Mechanism of Manuscripts?” The Antikythera Mechanism is a Greek device, a highly complex, geared mechanical astronomical computer, now dated to the first century BCE. Before it was found, it was not known that the Greeks, or any culture for that matter, would be remotely capable of building such a thing in its time… and actually, incapable for at least another 1800 years. The entire scholarship of the Greeks, of science and proto-science, and of astronomy, and gear mechanics, did not have a category for such a device. When found, it existed outside of known scholarship.

It has occurred to me, that if the Antikythera Mechanism were dropped into the lap of existing scholarship like a hot potato, without the shipwreck it was found on, scholarship would have failed to properly identify it. We would have been told that it was probably a highly advanced 19th century device. This, because there was no category, when found, for a first century BCE, complex, geared mechanical astronomical computer. In fact, scholarship created that category only grudgingly, as many at the time of its discovery believed the device must have fallen on the BCE wreck much later. And I will point out that the Antikythera mechanism is the only device in the very category made for it. It is stunningly, brazenly, truly: one of a kind.

Unique: Like the Antikythera Mechanism?

It may be pointed out that the shipwreck, on which the Antikythera Mechanism was found, does in fact date the device. And this means that existing scholarship, in the form of marine archeology, has worked in that respect. And further, it might be suggested that there is an analogy between the shipwreck and the Voynich C14 dating… and claim, again, that scholarship, with the acceptance and knowledge of carbon dating and dendrochronology, has worked in our case. But I might counter that both the errors I, and others, have found in the assumptions of “use of old vellum practices”, do easily allow that that the Voynich could have been made on old vellum, that the current provenance and ink tests on the Voynich do not disallow this, and lastly, that to ignore the striking resemblance of many Voynich cylinders to early microscopes, is, in effect, ignoring the scholarship of early microscopes, and failing to use it as a comparison.

And ‘round and ‘round we go, again. I can find, within existing scholarship, exceptions to the arguments against my theory. But without a category to place the Voynich in, as I envision it, or actual examples of what I propose it is, those exceptions will not be allowed by scholarship.

So what is there to do, as I pursue this? Of course I will continue to use known scholarship for research. Although I feel it has not managed to give an answer, nor accepted mine, so far, I do hope that I may find some other such artifact as I suspect the Voynich to be, mis-categorized, or not as yet categorized. Perhaps there is some book, object, or device, or description of same, which also sprang from the same influences I suspect influenced the creation of the Voynich. And if so, maybe it will turn out it is not alone in its own box, as the Antikythera Mechanism certainly is. But meanwhile, while looking for that example, or waiting and hoping for a translation which puts the question to rest, I will look at the Voynich in the category I have created for it. Perhaps my new category will never be accepted, and no other examples ever be found, and perhaps the Voynich will never be proven to be what I suspect it is. And it may very well not be that thing, of course. But I still am not satisfied with anything on the list of proposals that existing scholarship will accept, or has proposed, so I must continue to look elsewhere.

A Volcano in the Voynich?

April 21, 2012

The best way find answers to a tough problem is to ask the right questions, and the right ones are usually new ones. Asking the same old questions, over and over, will get one nowhere, because they usually produce the same answers. In the case of the Voynich, there must be thousands, if not millions, of good questions that have so far gone unasked. In the answers to those questions may be the golden nuggets which bring us closer to the answers we hope for.

About a year ago, Tim Tattrie asked one of those good questions, and got a very interesting, and potentially valuable, answer. He was peering at the Rosettes foldout, as thousands had before him. But Tim wondered what the rest of the mountain, the one in the upper right rosette, might be. He did not assume what it was, he wanted to know. So he wrote the Beinecke staff, and asked them if they would open the fold a bit, and take a picture. Graham Sherriff of the Yale staff quickly sent him the picture. At the time he was told that the new pictures would be included in the online database, but a year or more went by, and they did not get around to it. So Tim asked me to announce the find, as he felt it might be of value and interest to others. I agree.

Under the Rosettes Fold

As you can see, much was revealed “under the fold” of this area. Not only did the mountain reveal that it may, in fact, be a volcano, but also, the ramp like area leading up from the walled-city now shows a few more buildings. I wish I had this when I made my 3D rosettes… and in fact I may add the “volcano”, and found buildings, in a new version.

Is this a Volcano?

Well of course this may not be a volcano. Tim is pragmatic about it, and does not commit to that as an absolute identity. I don’t either, as it could be many things. The Voynich does have various pipes which also seem to “spew” various substances. Are they, and this, meant to be gas? Air? Water? The quintessence? Perhaps this is meant to be a natural fountain, or Artesian well. And the effluent is not red or “fiery” in any way… it is blue, like water. But I have to say that it looks a lot like a volcano to me. One could also assume that this is not meant to be a mountain at all, and that is lies flat, like a drain and so on. I don’t think so. It is illustrated much like the other heights of the rosettes page, and the intent seems to be implying a hill or mountain. The reader is welcome to disagree, of course.

What is that effluent, then?

Of course like many new discoveries in the Voynich, answered by these new questions, this one raises even newer questions. That is all good, I think. And also, when we see this new information, we might have a sense that it tells us something important, in its own right… but frustratingly, we are not sure “what” it is that it tells us! For me, I will not miss the opportunity to point out a couple of implications. For one thing, I note that there have been several real places suggested for the upper right rosette. One of these has been Milan. I think that the discovery of this spewing mountain, probably a volcano, might warrant a re-consideration of most of of the previous speculation of this rosette as various places. If one is going to think of the rosettes as a real place at all, in fact… an idea I wholeheartedly reject, as I think it is a fantasy land.. but if they are going to look at the castles, walkways and towers as real, then one must now look for a place which includes a spewing mountain, or volcano. And if one looks for such a fountain, it better be on a towering mount. And good luck with that.

Kircher's Volcano from "Mundus Suberraneus"

But what might be valuable is to look at the history of volcanology, and also, how volcanoes have been perceived in mythology and fiction. Knowing what volcanoes meant to people, at different times in history, and how they have been illustrated, and for what purpose, will all be potentially valuable to understanding the Rosettes in a new light. I personally feel that Tim Tattrie’s find is a very important one, not only for the actual illustration which was uncovered in this one case, but for what it tells us we must do in the future… that we can’t keep asking the same old questions, but we have to try to look for new questions, asked in new ways. I am certain that many other surprises await us if we do.

Proof of Concept

March 9, 2012

A proof of concept is an example of a similar situation to the one you are theorizing, which shows that some element of that theory may be possible. It does not actually prove the theory. It does not really advance the theory itself. What it does is rebut, to varying degree, the opposition or complaint that your theory cannot be possible. To what level it then shows the plausibility of the theory is a matter of conjecture, not really quantifiable, and subject to many factors… some highly subjective. But a proof of concept is still very valuable, as it moves a theory into the realm of possibility. I have a list of various proofs of concept for my optical and New Atlantis theories, which address many complaints about that theory. But I recently came across a new, and very important example, which addresses several of the most common and widespread negatives, as voiced by those who do not think the theory likely, or even, possible.

Here is a list of some of the objections to my theory, which are all addressed by this recent find of mine:

  1. No one would make a book to look hundreds of years older than it was.
  2. Vellum was too expensive to use for all but the most important, and real, reasons.
  3. The skill and time it would take to make a large vellum book would mean it was done only by dedicated scribes.
  4. Blank vellum has always been very rare, and the later past it’s heyday, the rarer.

And then I found the Chittenden book. Ironically, I was not even looking for it, I was looking at another book in the Lucius Chittenden collection in the University of Vermont.

Lucius Eugene Chittenden was born on May 24, 1824, in Williston Vermont. He became a lawyer, a historian, peace advocate, abolitionist, banker, US Treasury official, friend of Abraham Lincoln… and a prolific book collector and lover. He took at least two trips to Europe, no casual feat in the 19th century. I first came across the man’s collection because he happened to own a manuscript which I consider very similar to the Voynich. This “Italian Herbal” (see link), is attributed to the late 15th century, and written in two hands. The general style, coloring, and the habit of writing around the herbal drawings, I find strikingly close to the Voynich. As an interesting aside of the “C14 tail wagging the dog”, this very similar herbal is often sidestepped AS an example in Voynich research, as it is “too late”. But it was this paragraph, in the bio of Mr. Chittenden, that jumped out at me,

 “One of the more fascinating books in the collection is his own translation of Les Singularitez de la France Antarctique by Thevet (Paris, 1558).  “The volume is Chittenden’s work completely except for the fine morocco binding.  Done on 100 leaves of vellum in Chittenden’s distinctive hand printing, with multi-colored initials, full page line drawings in ink, and marginal figures of soldiers, birds, and animals. . . (Buechler, pp. 45).”

And that is the book from which I have excerpted the samples in this post. They do not appear anywhere else on the internet, nor, apparently, are they reproduced in any book. And then, I would like to point out, this example would not be a subject of any study, in any university, and would be unfamiliar to any expert who was consulted on the subject of “books on vellum made to look older than they were”. It is part of what I have been learning is a new discipline, pretty much undocumented, and which stands alone. I only suspected, when I began looking, that such a category of book must exist, although I have been, and still am told, that it would not, and cannot, exist: An illustrated, colored manuscript made as recreation/adaptation of an older work, on vellum, made to look much older than it is.

(shhh! This does not exist.)

So why did Chittenden make this work? I suppose we could easily deduce he loved the original, and wanted to produce his own copy. But he then took the time to translate it into English (it is a wonderful read, by the way, and ought to be published in it’s entirety). But while making this work, he chose to make it on vellum. He did so, I would again presume, to make it look old, like the original. And where did one find 100 sheets of unused vellum, in 1868? My previous research shows that blank vellum must have always been available, and I know it is, even today, so I am not too surprised at this. Perhaps he got it on one of his jaunts to Europe, or maybe he found an old stock in the United States. But there it is, he found it. And likewise, he found time to make it. This was a very busy man, by any standard. So rather than him needing to dedicate years or decades to producing it, he managed to serve Lincoln, the Treasury, his family, write several important histories about the civil war, slavery and politics in general… and, on the side, write and illustrate a 200 page copy of a 300 plus year old book, and on vellum at that.

So what does this mean to my theories? Well it does not of course prove anything directly. But what it does is show that several of the concepts which are necessary to accept the possibility of the theory, were actually used, historically, by others. Of course this one example is from a later time than I suspect the Voynich was created, by 268 years. And we do not know when this vellum was made… although I would love to see a C14 dating of it… and so it does not support my contention that old vellum may have been used for the Voynich. But I have other examples that do that. What is most telling is that Chittenden wanted to make a book look 300 years older than it actually was, while I only suspect about 150 to 200 years for the Voynich.

My other “proofs of concept” have been outlined in other posts on this blog: The Chymical Wedding is a fictional book made in my time frame, and in cipher, and meant to look like an older work; then there are my examples of blank vellum lying around, historically, ready for use, and even, used for centuries (reinforced, again, by this new example); the low cost of vellum, historically; the use of fake books as props and art forms, from the late 16th century, to today… and now I add the Chittenden book, which is a perfect, real example of a book lover finding enough blank vellum to letter and illustrate his own copy of a 300 year old book. No doubt there will be objections… of course I am quite aware of them, myself, in that I realize what this shows and what it does not. But at this point, for anyone to postulate that the Voynich “cannot be” made when and for what reasons I suspect it is, or even, that it is “unlikely” that this is so, really has the burden of proof from their perspective, not mine.

Prospero, who art thou?

November 21, 2011

It is popular to run to the historical visage of the famous physician, astrologer, and scrier, John Dee, as a probable influence whenever the stereotype of the bearded, crystal gazing, and be-robed wizard appears in literature or mythology. Dee has been suggested for Soloman of Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, Prospero of the Tempest, Faust of the Faust legends, and many other similar wizard-like personages over the centuries. And there is no doubt he has been the major influence on the archetype mage/wizard/alchemist/necromancer… but is it always correct to look only to him as the sole source?

John Dee: The (almost) Universal Mage Icon

John Dee has been suggested as an inspiration for the character of Soloman, the leader of the fictional scientific utopia of Bensalem, in The New Atlantis. But Rosalie Colie, in her 1955 article, Cornelis Drebbel and Solomon de Caus: Two Jacobean Models for Salomon’s House (Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 3, May, 1955), bypassed Dee. Instead she suggested that the Soloman of Bacon’s utopia could have been partially inspired by Cornelis Drebbel, the alchemist and inventor, and his contemporary, Solomon De Caus. This may be correct in part, for the reasons she has given. Mostly her argument is based on the inventions and experiments described in Bensalem, and in that she does have a point. But rather than the model for the leader of New Atlantis, I personally think that Drebbel is more likely the model for the character who relates the story, who visits the island with his fellow shipwrecked crewmates. I feel this way for several reasons. First of all, back to reality: Drebbel was invited to Rudolf II’s court to present the Emperor with one of his perpetual motion clocks, which were the rage of Europe at the time. While there, Drebbel became Rudolf’s chief alchemist, and also, purportedly, the manager and creator of the royal fireworks displays. In 1612, after Rudolf’s brother Matthias usurped Rudolf, Drebbel was briefly jailed, and almost executed. It was with a promise of return, in a letter from King James, that Drebbel was allowed to return safely to London… along with, significantly, a bounty of 1,000 ducats.

Cornelis Drebbel: The (sometimes) Mage Icon

Now it would be expected that this near fatal sojourn of Drebbel’s would be familiar to Bacon… and right around the time that Bacon was apparently formulating the concept of New Atlantis. In fact, the two men had rooms at Eltham Palace, Drebbel for his experiments in perpetual motion and hydraulics and artificial cooling; Bacon for… well don’t we wish we knew, exactly? But it is reported he “had rooms” there, and so would have been familiar with Drebbel and his experiments. But we don’t have to guess, as Bacon did write of several of these… that is, the cooling experiments, and underwater boats. And, of course, as Colie points out, many of these inventions appear in The New Atlantis. In any case, there is a parallel between the protagonist/relater of the New Atlantis story and Drebbel. Both men went away and visited a place where science and experiments were funded by the state. And both came back to report on their experiences there, and both received a bounty from the state on their leaving… Drebbel, as I said, 1,000 ducats, and the New Atlantis narrator, 2,000 ducats.

Rudolf II The (never chosen) Mage Icon

But then if not Drebbel or DeCaus, who would Soloman, the leader and founder of Bensalem, be modeled on? I feel he is more probably based on Rudolf II than John Dee, or Drebbel or De Caus. Like Rudolf, Soloman spent the fortunes of the nation on the pursuit of knowledge, and collected and honored those who achieved great things. The author of the work, Francis Bacon, was promoting the idea that the state should fund scientific experiment, for the ultimate good of its citizens. Rudolf, for all his inconsistency and unpredictability, and his very short reign, was trying to do just this… to collect and use all the scientific and artistic knowledge of the world, to solve problems and improve the state of humanity. Well, that and  to make gold from lead, to fund his armies, and so protect his interests  and position.  Drebbel was more an experimenter in such a system, he was not a leader. Rudolf II was more the model and hope for, I think, a new beginning of state-run scientific funding and experimentation, and I believe he is the true model for Bacon’s Soloman.
Also worthy of mention, with some parallel to the concepts of New Atlantis, is the experience of Tycho Brahe. He was given the island of Hven by the Swedish government, so that he could pursue his experiments in astronomy. This was purportedly at a greater cost to the nation, a full 7% of the national budget, than any previous or later funding of a scientific project. So in this story, we have an island, a scientist, and scientific funding… no doubt this was of great interest, and possible influence, to Bacon, in writing of his similar concepts in his Utopia. And interestingly, Brahe was later welcomed into the court of Rudolf II, pet moose and all. So we might suspect a cross influence on the history of Brahe, to the story of The New Atlantis, even if I am correct and Rudolf was the model for Soloman.
As for Faust, I can’t disagree with an attribution, in part, to Dee. There was an actual Dr. Faust, which historians do believe was a partial basis for the character, while assuming that many of Dee’s attributes filled out the fictional character. Faust plied his magic, but did not run a state, he was not a leader. Faust uses his powers for purely selfish ends. In the Marlowe version, Faust summons two magicians, Valdes and Cornelius, whose names are somewhat reminiscent of Basil Valentine, and Cornelius Drebbel. But I do not know if this has ever been an issue with scholars of Marlowe, and so it is idle musing on my part. At least, again, with his books and magic, the character of Faust is certainly reminiscent of John Dee, and not of Rudolf at all.

Faust! Watch out! He does not play fair!

Drebbel is the accepted influence for the alchemist Subtle of Ben Johnson’s “The Alchemist”. And Johnson had some interest in Drebbel’s work, we know, as he mentions his perpetual machine in another play. The Subtle character has his magic, and his books, but he is more of a charlatan than a respected purveyor of the “Arts”. From what I understand of Drebbel’s reputation at times, he may have owned a bit of a similar, negative reputation. But at least in this instance, the wizard of choice is Drebbel, and not John Dee.

Sir John Geilgud as Prospero... with prop book

Finally, the character of Prospero, the magical “Right Duke of Milan”, is usually attributed to John Dee, and sometimes, in part, to Drebbel. And of course it would be hard to argue with Prospero being slightly autobiographical to Shakespeare, as many surmise. But I see other parallels which point again, for me, to Rudolf II. Prospero, like Rudolf, is a leader of his realm, while a Dee or Drebbel were really servants to the crown, merely participants in the society. I wouldn’t insult the memories of either man with a comparison to either Ariel or Caliban. But like those two characters, they served, and did not lead. It is true that Prospero not only gives orders to his magical assistants, but also uses the “dark arts”, himself. But this alone should not label him “Dee”, as the same could be said of Rudolf, who had a great interest in the alchemic arts, and dabbled in his own experiments, and wandered about in a long robe covered with mystical symbols. Rudolf was somewhat “Dee-like” in his own right.
Of greater interest, and possibly the trump card to my Prospero-is-Rudolf argument, is that Prospero was usurped by his brother, just as Rudolf was usurped by his brother, Matthias. Both men were nobles, who were unjustly thrown from power, and both, by their brothers. Of course the real story of Rudolf II ends there, in tragedy, while the story of Prospero begins 12 years earlier, in tragedy, and ends in triumph. But I don’t think that this coincidence should be ignored, especially considering the others I have noted. In addition, the timing of the play fits precisely… it was first performed in 1611, the same year that Rudolf was forced from power. Seen in this light, the play could be seen as a hopeful, fantastic and imaginative dream, in which Rudolf, as Prospero, regains his throne from his brother.
Unfortunately Rudolf died before the next known performance of the Tempest, which was at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick of the Palatine. But this event also points to Rudolf as Prospero, because Frederick was groomed for, and tragically placed in, the very position Rudolf lost… Holy Roman Emperor… only a few years later. In a sense, if Rudolf failed to attain the retribution which Shakespeare may have imagined in the likeness of Prospero, Frederick succeeded… if all too briefly. The Winter King lost his lands, and the title, in the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. But perhaps the running of this play at the wedding had a hopeful political message for the young couple, and for anyone who knew it was performed there, if I am correct.

Frederick V Elector Palatine & Princess Elizabeth: "Starcrossed" does not come close to describing what happened next.

The historical and contemporary concept of the bearded mage certainly has much to owe to John Dee, but it would be unfair to exclude the powerful influences and contributions to the “wizard lore” that Rudolf II and Cornelis Drebbel made, especially when considering the context at which such wizards were written into literature. All our Prosperos were not, and are not, John Dee. Perhaps not even the original Prospero, the Rightful Duke of Milan… or, should that be of Austria-Hungary?