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Most Mysterious Book in the World June 18th, 1918

on Jun 18th, 2009
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The Voynich Manuscript - Most Mysterious Book in the World

The Voynich Manuscript - Most Mysterious Book in the World

Most Mysterious Book in the World
San Antonio Light June 18th, 1918 pg.10 col.6

One or the most mysterious books in the world is now in New York City. Written on thick parchment with numerous illustrations its authorship is attributed to Roger Bacon, the great scientist of the Thirteenth Century, says Natalle De Borgory in the New York World.

It is in cipher, and there are many conjectures as to its contents for the pictures vary from the studies of plants to those of microscopic cellular structures and the effect of the stars upon women and the great mysteries of birth. Scientists in Washington and in several of the western universities now are busily working upon deciphering the text, for they all think it hides theories of evolution and details of the construction of plants which we have only discovered within the last hundred years.

The name of Roger Bacon has been surrounded in England by legendary tales of black magic and witchcraft. There are songs about him, and he has always been a figure of mystery even to his modern interpreters. “Friar Wizard,” as he was called, knew too much for his age. He wrote extensive studies on the construction of telescopes. The first mention of gunpowder is found in his books, and it was he who suggested its use for purposes of warfare. He was feared five hundred years ago, and consequently persecuted. Although he was a member of the Franciscan Order, there were grave suspicions that he was a heretic, and he was placed under supervision for ten years, which time he spent in spent in great misery and suffering in Paris. But he worked persistently on scientific research and on languages, the two subjects to which he was devoting his life.

Thrown into prison for fourteen yours, he died in 1294, noted but feared, a link between this world and the great unknown, where devils and witches reigned, where the fate of man was planned and all metals could be turned into gold.

Kings Owned the Ms.
It is owing to these known facts of Roger Bacon’s life that there is little doubt the parchment manuscript in cipher is the work of his hands and brain. He dared not write all he knew, though Pope Clement IV did order him to write a number of books which task he accomplished in Latin. These have been translated and published, but there was always the conviction that much of his work had not reached us.

It was chance that led to the discovery of this mysterious manuscript, now in the possession of a collector, Wilfred De Voynich, on the flyleaf of which there is a statement dating from the Seventeenth Century to the effect that Roger Bacon was the author. Moreover, there were only two scientists who could have written two [sic] Bacon and Albertus Magnus, a man in high standing, courted by royalty, whose writings were sought by all, and who would have no need of hiding his thoughts in cipher.

For the first time since its existence this manuscript is in private hands, after having passed through several royal collections and many years of complete oblivion. The numerous legends around the name of Roger Bacon led Emperor Rudolph, founder of the Hapsburg dynasty, to buy the manuscript in 1291 for the faculous [sic] sum of six hundred ducats. Nothing more is known of its history until the Seventeenth Century, when Ferdinand III, King of Bohemia, appears as its owner. The first known attempt at reading it is then recorded. Atanasius, noted astronomer and philosopher of that period, is said to have translated the beginning of the book, the study of ciphers being one of his achievements. It was Atanasius who established the famous astronomical observatory in Peking, China, and wrote many books on the Chinese.

The book has been traced through to the collection of the Duke of Malatesta and the Dulce of Parma, and then its fate again sinks into oblivion. Mr. De Voynich was gathering material for a book, when he came across the mention of this manuscript as forming a part of the rolay [royal?] collection, carefully hidden after the French revolution and forgotten. It took time and patience to locate this collection, but when he found it the books more than compensated for the labor. The manuscript in cipher was but one of the treasures found.

The Zodiacs Puzzle.
The beginning of the manuscript shows numerous pictures of plants, roughly drawn and crudely colored the apparent work of a scientist making notes for his own observation, and not that of an artist drawing for the public. On every page of drawing stands the text, written in a small and neat hand. Then the character of the illustration changes, and there follows a section of incomprehensible figures with zodiacs, all colored with explanatory notes written in the some baffling cipher. A large part of the book is devoted to an apparent study of the zodiac and of its effect on birth. Tiny figures of women stand in blue swimming pools, with quaint connecting links between them, all daintily but rudely drawn, with colored stars watching over their fates. The book again reverts to the study of plants, concentrating only on the roots, of which al [sic] forms and varieties are drawn. And through all these changes and shifts of subject matter runs the text in fine and neat handwriting, even more tantalizing because of its legibility. The manuscript ends with solid text and tailed stars along the margins, differently colored and variously placed.

It is because of the variety and interest of the subject matter in itself that scientists of the United States are giving so much thought to it. “I would sacrifice one of our buildings to own this manuscript,” said the president of one of the big universities to Mr. De Voynich.

The price set on the book is very high – a fortune in fact, which its present owner paid gladly. The parchment on which it is written is poor and thick, with a plain soft parchment cover, old and dirty. But when it is remembered that the book may have been written seven hundred years ago, the brightness of the colors in the pictures and the clearness of the writing brings home the fact that men of those days did real work in a real way. Perhaps the message hidden by Roger Bacon, behind the veil of a cipher because the men and women of his time would have misunderstood it may open new horizons to our generation. There is nothing new in the world. The Chinese had matches four thousand years ago, and Roman matrons invaded the senate chamber shouting for votes before Christianity had dawned. It may be that Roger Bacon knew many things we are only beginning to rediscover.

The manuscript is currently housed as MS 408 in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.  Click here for high resolution scans of the manuscript pages.

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