from an account by an Italian lady named Andrea Del Centina of the Astonishing re-Discoverie of a Treatise Mathematikal, believed lost, which had been written by ye notable Niels Henrik Abel, for whose Regard the loss was much lamented in thee worlde Mathematikal, but the which being sought most Diligently was Amazingly Recovered by the said Andrea Centina, which tale is also related therewith, together with these True Events which I shall give concerning the Death of the Count Guglielmo.*
In 1868 Libri felt his life was coming to an end and decided to go back to his birthplace Florence. As he intended to continue in doing research, to write and publish, he brought with him what remained of his library and lots of documents, autograph letters, scientific and historic manuscripts some of them dating from his early youth. Libri left London in June 1868 but settled down in Florence only in December, after a long tormented journey due to his poor health.
Libri died in Fiesole, a small town on the hills surrounding Florence, in September of the following year. In his final testament of August 17,1869, Libri made his second wife, Hélène De La Motte, the unique heiress [i.e. sole beneficiary – D] and named three executors who were charged with precise tasks:
The executors to this testament are requested to be Mr. Guglielmo Libri, Mr. Tito Del Rosso and Count Giacomo Manzoni. The latter is especially asked to advise the other two in order that the books and the manuscript sheets which constitute the larger part of my small inheritance will fetch the best price possible.
Before signing his testament, Libri decided to let Count Manzoni take care of the whole mass of books, manuscripts and documents he had taken to Florence. In a letter of July 22. 1869, Count Manzoni wrote to his friend Silvestro Gherardi:
It is a question of the manuscript which had been left to my responsibility but which are now of mine on the condition that by selling them Libri has the benefit of the higher price.
In the same letter Manzoni also suggested that Prince B. Boncompagni should buy the unique copies made by Arbogast of certain manuscripts of Euler, Fermat and d’Alembert, which had originally belonged to Libri. A great quantity of Libri’s documents were sold, at a low price, against the provisions of his will, by his namesake cousin to cover the burial expenses (see [Candido 1942, p. 842]).
Part of them were luckily bought by Giuseppe Palagi and later sold to the Province of Florence in 1872. Presently, all this material constitutes the Fondo Palagi-Libri of the Biblioteca Morenia…
In 1876 Manzoni sold to Prince Boncompagni some of the most important manuscripts left by Libri, including the copies by Arbogast. (One has to say, however, that in the catalogue of Boncompagni’s library one can also find other documents which belonged to Libri). The remaining part of Libri’s inheritance was preserved by Manzoni himself. When the latter died, his library was sold by auction in Rome but in the fourth volume of the sale catalogue, the one of the manuscripts, only one manuscript which previously belong to Libri is listed [Tenneroni 1894].
In 1959 the Moreniana Library was enriched with a new deposition, constituted of letters, booklets, scientific manuscripts and other documents of about 20,000 sheets. A first description of this was done by Arrighi [Arrighi 1983] and, for its content, it has been named Nuovo Fondo Libri. This stock, acquired by the Province of Florence from a Florentine antiquarian, belonged with all probability to Manzoni. This fact is evidenced by the discovery, among the documents of the deposition of a sheet headed Municipio di Lugo (i.e. Manzoni’s birthplace). This sheet, which concerns the meeting of the town council of January 14,1879, has the following handwritten note on the back:
Manuscripts of Prof. Guglielmo Libri. They are mainly mathematical in character. To put them in order would require the time that I do not have and I will never have.6
This note, written by Count Manzoni after his sale to Boncompagni in 1876, proves that he gave little importance to this part of Libri’s documents. Hence, I think that the Nuovo Fondo Libri is composed of the remaining part of the great quantity of letters, autographs, manuscripts that Libri left to Manzoni, after all the sales and mutilations suffered during 90 years. I do not know how this material arrived in the hands of the antiquarian.
While searching for the still missing pages of Abel’s manuscript, I had hoped to discover them in this deposition. A meticulous inspection, sheet by sheet, of the content of certain boxes constituting the Nuovo Fondo Libri, chosen on the basis of the temporary catalogue, has been fruitful: on July 6, 2000 with great astonishment and much emotion, I found the eight missing pages written by the hand of Abel, so ending more than a century and a half of investigations. These pages are well preserved, much better than those found by Brun, and perfectly readable.
from: Andrea Del Centina, ‘The manuscript of Abel’s Parisian memoir found in its entirety’, Historia Mathematica 29 (2002) 65-69.
I have corrected a few minor typing errors which occur in the pdf version. Provenance lists for libraries of Oxford include some gained from Manzoni and from Voynich. -D