positing a pre-Rudolfine history 2 – the others

Mnishovky’s assertions, if proven, would follow the manuscript’s history as far as twelfth-century England and a Franciscan scholar-monk named Roger Bacon.

fireworks 4

His reputation was such that had Baresch sent his copied extracts to Kircher saying the book was once Roger’s, he would surely have received an enthusiastic response – which he didn’t.

The parchment’s date means that Bacon can’t have written the copy we have, but it is still possible that what we have is a copy of one that Bacon had owned.  Trouble is, as we saw, in 12thC England written pages just  weren’t made to look like the Voynich manuscript. Here’s a section from a manuscript of 1267, describing how he had seen some children’s toys brought from elsewhere. They were fire-crackers of some kind, and must have come from a region far towards the east, brought by a person able to explain what the mixture contained.

ms Roger Bacon's Opus Majus 1267

I haven’t seen  Bacon’s own handwriting. His finished books are written by professional scribes.

But as you see, the Voynich doesn’t look much like a western manuscript of that time – or any time before the early fifteenth century when it was made.  If it did look like a typical medieval English manuscript, or typically any major style, then surely Yale would have noticed, since its libraries contain both the Voynich manuscript and the brilliant  Shøyen collection of ancient and medieval writings from around the world.

I’d repeat the fact that nether Kircher, nor Marci, nor Baresh nor anyone else but Mnishovsky  ever seriously proposes or maintains that the manuscript was written by Bacon.

On the topic of legends – the idea that the Vms  “must have been” taken from Rudolf’s library, or given by Rudolf to Jakub Hořčický are the product of an author’s historical imagination, not deductions from historical evidence.  Just as likely is that Hořčický inherited it or bought it as that he had  been given it by anyone.

In his letter of 1639, Baresch describes a ‘virum bonum’ who is said, hypothetically, to have brought information back from oriental places, having gained it from works,  monuments and active practitioners of medicine.  Interestingly, Baresch envisages, not a man with a notebook but one who collected and then brought back the material, which then he copies into manuscript form:

… Regiones orientis adijsse, ibique thesauros Artis medicae Aegyptiacos, partim ex monumentis librorum, tum etiam ex conversatione cum peritis artis adeptos, indeque reportatos, talibus notis in libro eo defodisse.

He would have acquired the treasures of Egyptian medicine partly from the written literature and also from associating with experts in the art, brought them back with him and buried them in this book in the same script.

Later, Marci’s reference to the  ‘schedata‘  which Baresch ‘had wanted’ copied may mean that Marci declined to copy it, and instead showed Kircher the original.  But neither Baresch nor Marci is likely to have torn from the text itself a single strip – schedata.

While I’m thinking of it – Rene Zandbergen tells me that some time ago he and a colleague wrote a book, and in it came to the same view as I’ve done about the question of Baresch’s supposed  ‘first letter’ from Baresch, that is, that no such letter may have been written by him.


This manuscript’s line of transmission from Jacub Hořčický, though Marci (presumably via Baresch) reveals a constant quality when the ‘Rudolf’ myth is removed from it.

In every case, the person inheriting is educated to the level where they might soon join the Society of Jesus;  at the highest level of their education, each changes his mind and instead decides to concentrate on medicine and chemistry.

Each then remains within the circle of friends and acquaintances of the order,  maintaining friendships with former professors or students – sometimes lifelong friendships.

Marci is the last in that  sequence because he passes the manuscript directly to Kircher.  Thereafter it remains the common possession of the order and its members. This is so because individual Jesuits have no private property, though in the late nineteenth century, and to preserve their threatened library,  individual Jesuits added their names to certain manuscripts –  the Voynich manuscript among them.  Even in selling some to meet some urgent needs, the priests were careful always to distinguish between ownership and guardianship.

Some among Marci’s  religious friends found unacceptable that philosophy which seems to have been inseparable from the practice of chemical pharmacy, as Marci had learned it and (necessarily) not from the Voynich manuscript.  This difference seems not to have caused any rift.

Sections of Marci’s Philosophia restituta are clear enough on this point. Translations from the Latin (as ever) by Philip Neal.

Here, Marci is commenting on uses curiously complex forms which  Marci used in passing on what Mnishovsky said. (note that  not even Mnishovsky can avoid linking the manuscript to some member of the religious orders).

Neal’s first note  discusses the Latin phrasing an should also be read in this connection. But  Marci wrote:

D. Doctor Raphael Ferdinandi tertij Regis tum Boemiae in lingua boemica instructor dictum librum fuisse Rudolphi Imperatoris, pro quo ipse latori qui librum attulisset 600 ducatos praesentarit, authorem uero ipsum pu tabat esse Rogerium Bacconem Anglum.  ego judicium meum hic suspendo. tu uero quid nobis hic sentiendum defini, cujus fauori et gratiae me totum commendo maneoque.

Neal translating:

Doctor Raphael, the Czech language tutor of King Ferdinand III as they both* then were, once told me that the said book belonged to Emperor Rudolph and that he presented 600 ducats to the messenger who brought him the book. He, Raphael, thought that the author was Roger Bacon the Englishman. I suspend my judgement on the matter.

In fact, now I that I re-read Neal’s  commentary,  I see that I  needn’t laboured so much to establish a case for ‘non-Rudolfine’ transmission. Neal’s  note had already made the critical points.

Tracking backwards from Marci, a certain pattern emerges in the lives and characters of those who had been given the book before 1665/6.

to be continued.


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