the unreadable voynich manuscript

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THE UNREADABLE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT Welcome to the “ugly duckling” of manuscripts, lodged in the Beineke Rare Book Collection at Yale University. Part botanical or herbal, part unknown writing, the manuscript was discovered (or created) in 1912 by Wilfred Voynich, a London book dealer who emigrated from Poland around 1890. Voynich thought this was a cipher manuscript written perhaps by Roger Bacon and present at the Prague court of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in the seventeenth century. Or maybe it was a forgery created by Voynich himself. Thanks to the Internet, this is your chance to research and explore this manuscript deemed unreadable by legions of linguists, historians, cryptographers and Voynich addicts. The available resources on the Voynich Manuscript are numerous and you have a remarkable opportunity to form your own conclusions. But the journey itself will be a fascinating mix of detective story, art history, botany, cryptography and just plain fun. Enjoy the ride. Robert C. Williams is a retired Russian historian who has taught courses on espionage, the philosophy of history and codebreaking. Mary D’Imperio. The Voynich Manuscript. An Elegant Enigma (Washington DC: U.S. National Security Agency, 1978) is the best single source, available online. 1. THE MANUSCRIPT. Size: 23 x 16 cm (9 x 6.5 inches), 5 cm (2 in.) thick. Material: parchment made of calf skin. Numbered folios: 116, 14 probably lost. Ink: iron gall, typical medieval. Text: unique script in 24-6 alphabetic characters. Unreadable to date. Forensics: Austrian or Northern Italian, first half of 14 th century (radiocarbon dating) Herbal and botanical section, about half the MS.

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THE UNREADABLE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT
Welcome to the “ugly duckling” of manuscripts, lodged in the Beineke Rare Book Collection at
Yale University. Part botanical or herbal, part unknown writing, the manuscript was discovered
(or created) in 1912 by Wilfred Voynich, a London book dealer who emigrated from Poland
around 1890. Voynich thought this was a cipher manuscript written perhaps by Roger Bacon and
present at the Prague court of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in the seventeenth century. Or
maybe it was a forgery created by Voynich himself. Thanks to the Internet, this is your chance to
research and explore this manuscript deemed unreadable by legions of linguists, historians,
cryptographers and Voynich addicts. The available resources on the Voynich Manuscript are
numerous and you have a remarkable opportunity to form your own conclusions. But the journey
itself will be a fascinating mix of detective story, art history, botany, cryptography and just plain
fun. Enjoy the ride.
Robert C. Williams is a retired Russian historian who has taught courses on espionage, the
philosophy of history and codebreaking.
Mary D’Imperio. The Voynich Manuscript. An Elegant Enigma (Washington DC: U.S. National
Security Agency, 1978) is the best single source, available online.
1. THE MANUSCRIPT.
Size: 23 x 16 cm (9 x 6.5 inches), 5 cm (2 in.) thick.
Material: parchment made of calf skin.
Numbered folios: 116, 14 probably lost.
Ink: iron gall, typical medieval.
Text: unique script in 24-6 alphabetic characters. Unreadable to date.
Forensics: Austrian or Northern Italian, first half of 14th century (radiocarbon dating)
Herbal and botanical section, about half the MS.
Astronomical section: sun, moon, stars
Astrological section: signs of the Zodiac out of order (Pisces to Sagittarius, Capricorn and
Aquarius missing); symbols surrounded by 30 small, mostly nude, female figures;
Cosmological section: connecting circles, buildings,
Biological section: female figures with pipes and vessels, medicinal baths and clouds
Pharmaceutical section: containers, small herbal drawings
Recipes section: 12 unillustrated folios with text; drawings of stars with 7 or 8 points and
tails;
MODERN SOURCES AVAILABLE TO VOYNICH IN 1912:
Henry Carrington Bolton (1843-1903), The Follies of Science at the Court of Rudolf II
(Milwaukee, WI: Pharmaceutical Review Publishing Co., 1904). American chemist,
historian, bibliophile. PhD Gottingen 1866.1874 taught at Women’s Medical College of
NY Infirmary. 1877 Professor of Chemistry at Trinity College. Owned the best collection
of old chemistry books in the U.S. A favorite book of Voynich, one of his major sources
regarding science and medicine at Rudolf’s court. Bolton died 1903.
Key figure was Jacob Horcicky (Sinapius) (1575-1622), director of the imperial gardens
for Rudolf and his pharmacist. His name and title appear on page 1 of the Voynich MS.
Could have been added later.
Charlotte Fell Smith (1851-1937), John Dee (1527-1608), London, 1909. First bio of Dee
in 300 years, QE’s conjurer, horoscope maker, alchemist, “science adviser.”
Agnes Arber (1879-1960), Herbals. Their Origin and Evolution. Cambridge, England,
Balfour Laboratory, first edition, 1912. Plates, figures, books, drawings. Author was a
well-known botanist, born in London, lived in Cambridge. Elected a fellow of the Royal
Society in 1946.
2. PROVENANCE?
Roger Bacon (1214-94), medieval scientist and philosopher, author of MS? Voynich
claimed he was. 1912-14 celebrated the 700th anniversary (or so) of Bacon’s birth.
John Dee, English alchemist and soothsayer to Elizabeth I, numbers in upper left corner
of MS pages appear to be in his handwriting. Did he ever own the MS? Did Dee
sell the MS to Rudolf II during his 1583-6 visit to Poland and Prague?
Edward Kelley, colleague of Dee, had an ear cut off for forgery, skryer, con man.
Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia (1552-1612), Holy Roman Emperor, Prague.
Jacobus de Tepenecz (1575-1622), physician to Rudolf II.
Georg Baresch (1585-1662), alchemist.
Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), Jesuit scholar and cryptographer in Rome.
Allegedly Kircher in 1666 received a copy of the VMS from Johannes Marcus
Marci to decipher. Letter dated Prague, 19 Aug 1665 by Johannes Marcus Marci
to his friend Athanasius Kircher (1602-80) saying he inherited the (a?) book
from another friend and is sending it to Kircher because no one else can read it.
Marci taught medicine at Charles University in Prague. Kircher died in 1680,
bequeathing his library and archive to the Jesuit Collegium Romanum in Rome.
Jakub Horcicky (1575-1622) (Sinapius) (signature on first folio); educated by Jesuits and
knew herbal pharmacy; taught in Prague; herbalist for HRE emperors;
1666-1912 Whereabouts unknown. Did the MS exist at all?
Wilfred Voynich (1865-1930), Polish nationalist and book dealer, arrived London 1890.
Discovered MS in Rome 1912, or created it himself. Ran bookstores in London
after 1898, also Vienna, Paris, Cracow. Acquired huge collection of books and
manuscripts for his Florence IT bookstore in 1908.
1873 The Jesuits of Rome suppressed by the Italian government. Collegium
Romanum library and archive confiscated and converted into a National Library.
Many books contain slips of paper with name of the Jesuit superior general,
Pierre-Jean Beckx (1795-1887), thus treated as his private library and not
confiscated. After 1903, Jesuits sell collection to the Vatican. Many items end up
in the Villa Mondragone near Frascati south of Rome. Closed as a college in
1953. Jesuits sold it to the University of Rome in 1981.
1887 Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof (1859-1917), a Pole, invented Esperanto, an
international language. Published Lingvo Internacia book. Doctor and
opthamologist. First Esperanto conference held in Bologna in 1905.
Wilfred Voynich: London bookdealer purchased MS in 1911 or 1912 from the
Villa Mondragone south of Rome through Joseph Strickland, English Jesuit from
Malta (1864-1917). Jesuits used the Villa as their HQ since 1865. Voynich is
evasive, says he got the MS from a “castle in Austria.”
Ethel Boole Voynich (1864-1960), novelist and socialist activist, lived with
Voynich after 1892, married 1902. Owned MS after 1930.
1961 Hans Kraus (1907-88), book dealer, purchases from estate of Ethel Boole
Voynich (d.1960) and her companion Anne Nill for $24,500.
1969 Kraus donates the VM to Yale University. Beineke Rare Book Library.
MS 408.
3. WHO WAS WILFRFED VOYNICH?
Born 31 Oct 1865, son of Leonard Wojnicz, Polish civil servant in Telse, now in
Lithuania. Wilfred studied pharmacy at U. Moscow and became involved with
anarchists/populist revolutionaries. Arrested 1885. Two years in prison, then sent to
exile near Irkutsk, Siberia. He escaped June 1890 and appeared in London on October 5.
Involved with Friends of Russian Freedom (RSRF) and other revolutionaries. Meets
future wife Ethel Lilian Boole (1864-1960). Involved with Polish Socialist Party and
becomes a rare books dealer in 1895. Lifelong friend of Josef Pilsudski, the first president
of independent Poland after 1918.
1881 Ignacy Hryniewiecki, a Polish member of the People’s Will terrorist group, throws the
bomb that kills Tsar Alexander II on March 13.
1882 Free Russia begins publication in London by Stepniak.
1887 March 13 attempt fails to kill Tsar Alexander III. Bronislaw and Josef Pilsudski exiled to
Siberia for role in bomb making.
1890 J.Pilsudski moves to Tunka Valley in Sayan Mountains near Mongolia, met Voynich in
exile.
1892 Voynich begins living with Ethel Boole, who is listed on the masthead of Free Russia as
“Mrs. Wilifred Voynich.” William Melville of Scotland Yard arranges a fake bomb plot
(the Walsall Plot) by anarchists.
1893 Felix Volkhovsky writes Nikolai Chaikovsky of SFRF: Voynich is “greedy and envious
and unconsciously strives to fill the whole world with himself… All conspiratorial
committee and a considerable part of overt communications are in his hands. I insist that
Voynich be put in his place.”
1894 Voynich sets up Booksellers Union (Soiuz Knigonosh) as adjunct to the Friends of
Russia Fund. Audience of emigres: Poles, Jews, Armenians, Russians. Bookselling as a
revolutionary activity for distribution. Founds League of Book carriers to smuggle illegal
literature into Russia. Becomes an antique bookseller as cover. Also forged passports for
Proletarii magazine and used ciphers and invisible inks in revolutionary letters.
1896 Pilsudski arrives in London, joins PPS circle. Lives in Leytonstone, London 5 months
with Boleslaw Jedrzejowski. Attends PPS congress in Paris.
1897 Opens bookstore London. Supporter is Richard Garnett (1835-1906), keeper of printed
books, British Museum. Voynich sells rare books to BM, 3,800 over next thirty years.
1898 Voynich publishes his first book list catalogue. Meets Erla Hittle Rodakiewicz (1873-
1965) in Florence, Italy. She becomes a close friend and receives advanced degrees from
Cornell, Leipzig and Heidelberg. Specialist on Renaissance humanism, fifteenth-century
Latin, and illuminated MSS.
1900 Bookstore moved to 2 Soho Square. Pilsudski arrested in Vilno, jailed in Warsaw Citadel,
escapes to Cracow, then London.
1901 Josef Pilsudski returns to London, sets up PPS (Polish Socialist Party) operation against
Russian government. Brother Bronislav lives in Sakhalin Island, Japan, in exile, studying
the Ainu people as an ethnographer.
1902 V. provides BM with 158 books from 16-17th centuries: incunabula, herbals, devotionals,
texts “discovered in different monastic libraries.” Marries Ethel Boole on September 6 in
South Bloomsbury at the Civil Parish of St. Giles registrar’s office. Lists himself as an
“analytical chemist,” despite running a bookshop in Soho for ten years. Pilsudski returns
to Cracow, Poland, lives there until 1914.
1904 Voynich becomes naturalized British citizen on April 25.
1904-5 PPS seeks aid from Japanese during R-J War. Voynich sympathetic. Pilsudski and
Titus Fillipowicz (1873-1953) contact Japanese ambassador Hayashi in London, seek
financial and military support in Tokyo for a Polish Legion. They travel to Japan via the
U.S. (NYC, Chicago, San Francisco). Titus edits illegal Gornik (The Miner) for the PPS.
They return to London via Canada.
PPS communicates in codes and ciphers, using pseudonyms. Pilsudski is “Mieczyslaw”
and Fillipowicz is “Karski.”
Voynich bookstores in London, Paris, Vienna, Florence, Warsaw serve as drops for
Polish revolutionaries smuggling illegal literature into Poland.
1905 Voynich sells forgery, the “Columbus Miniature” to BM for 75 pounds, miniature
showing Cortes landing in Mexico in 1519.
1908 Voynich purchases Libreria Franceschini bookstore in Florence IT, Palazzo Borghese
managed by Tytus Fillipowicz (1873-1953) and his wife Wanda, anti-Russian Polish
revolutionaries. Escaped Warsaw Citadel 1905 and visited Japan with Pilsudski in 1904.
TF a socialist coal miner and PPS member, later Polish ambassador to the U.S. 1929-32.
Close friend of Pilsudski.
Libreria Franshceschini bookstore, Florence
Pilsudski and Fillipowicz’s organize robbery of Russian mail train in Bezdany, Poland, in
September 1908. This “ex” (expropriation) nets millions of rubles in banknotes and
bonds.
1909 Soho bookstore moved to 68 Shaftsbury Avenue. Manager E.Millicent Sowerby (1883-
1977) who specialized in medieval languages at Cambridge. She purchased rare books
for Voynich. Sowerby worked for British intelligence during WWI in Paris, worked for
Sotheby’s in London cataloguing rare books, then moved to the U.S. in1923. Here she
worked for the NY Public Library, then for Rosenbach Company, booksellers, in
Philadelphia. She worked for the Library of Congress from 1942 to 1959 as a cataloguer.
The Voynich bookstore is also a shelter for Polish revolutionary emigres.
1910 Joseph Irving Davis (1889-1967), a London art dealer, sets up his own bookstore, Davis
& Orioli Ltd. With his father Irving and Giuseppe Orioli, who opened their own
bookstore in Florence in 1911. Orioli is a Spanish friend of Voynich, came to London
from Italy in 1908 and then set up shop with Davis. Idea was to sell second-hand books to
wealthy Americans for hundreds of time their value. Voyniches move to Chiswick.
Exhibit in London of Japanese and Ainu art. Bronislaw Pilsudski involved.
1912 Voynich buys the VM and thirty other MSS from the Jesuits at the Villa Mondragone.
Ethel and Wilfred Voynich spend several months at the hydropathic hotel and spa in
Peebles, Scotland. The Peebles Hydropathic Institute was founded in 1878, 22 miles
from Edinburgh. The spa burned down in 1905 but was rebuilt two years later. Included
Turkish Sulphur baths and other water cures. Ethel found the spa to be “noisy, rowdy,
snobbish and generally detestable,” but admitted that “the treatment seems to be really
doing Wilfred good.” Peebles specialized in gardens of plants used to make gin: juniper,
coriander (cilantro) and angelica. Guests made up their own gin recipe using ten to
twenty botanicals. Voynich is in poor health, going blind. Voyniches move to
Richmond.
1913 Joseph Irving Davis and Orioli move bookstore from Florence to London, Davis is sole
proprietor, Orioli stays in Florence. Orioli later described Voynich as “a Polish Jew, a
bent kind of creature and getting on for sixty” with a well-kept bookshop on Shaftsbury
Ave. in London. Voynich advised Orioli to become a bookseller and “always keep the
price as high as possible if you ever have a book to sell.”
1914 War breaks out. Voynich closes his Vienna bookstore at Peter Jordangasse 27 and moves
to the U.S. during the war. Sails from Liverpool to NYC on the Lusitania November 27.
Celebration of Roger Bacon’s 700th anniversary of birth. Probably involved with famous
Polish pianist Paderewski who lives in US and owns a ranch in California.
1915 Voynich exhibits his MS at the Chicago Art Institute Oct 7 – Nov 3. “Manuscripts and
Books, Wilfred M. Voynich Collection, London.” Organized by Frank Gunsaulus (1856-
1921), a trustee of the Institute and client of Voynich. Book collector and church pastor.
Bought books from Voynich and donated to Northwestern U. Voynich exhibit also
travels to Detroit and Ann Arbor. Publicity says “includes a work by Roger Bacon in
cipher to which the key has never been discovered.” “From the hand of Roger Bacon on
rough parchment of the 13th century embellished by the watercolor drawings done by
Bacon’s own hand.”
1916 Voynich establishes his first U.S. bookstore, November, Aeolian Hall, 29 W.42nd St.
NYC. Voynich sails from NYC to Liverpool on Feb 26. He donates $3,000 to the U. of
Chicago for a chair in Polish political economy.
On May 11, Voynich returns a book to Lincoln Cathedral after a London court finds that
it is stolen property. V pays half court costs, returns book, says “it’s your book.”
1917 America declares war on Germany. Fabyan offers his cryptology team to the U.S. Army
to decipher German and Mexican codes and ciphers, serves as unofficial army cipher
bureau before MI-8 Contact was Ralph Van Deman of U.S. Army. Cryptographers
William Friedman and Elizebeth Smith meet at Riverbank and are married. Work
together on new field of cryptology for U.S. government.
1919 Voynich sails from NYC to Liverpool June 14.
1929 Voynich’s final visit to England.
1930 Voynich dies.
4. WHO WAS ETHEL BOOLE VOYNICH?
1864 Ethel Lilian Boole born in Cork, Ireland. One of 5 daughters of George Boole, inventor
of Boolean algebra, the modern language of computers and set theory. He died when she
was 7 months old, leaving her mother Mary Everest Boole destitute. Girls raised in Cork,
then in London, where Mary became librarian at Queen’s College, first women’s college
in England, and ran a student B&B. An eccentric crank intrigued by science, religion and
psychic phenomena.
1882 A small legacy enables Ethel to study piano and music in Berlin at age 18. Meets Russian
anarchist Peter Kropotkin and his follower Sergei Stepniak, who wrote Underground
Russia. Stepniak calls her Boolochka. Charlotte Wilson (1854-1944), Ethel’s friend and
Kropotkin’s lover, introduced her to Stepniak. Ethel becomes an atheist, a pacifist, and
a groupie of Russian anarchists.
1884 Stepniak emigrates from Russia to England this summer.
1885 Ethel returns to London from Berlin piano studies.
1886 Ethel’s sister Mary Ellen married Charles Howard Hinton (1853-1907), an eccentric
professor of mathematics who left England after being tried and imprisoned for bigamy.
(Hinton also married Maud Wheldon.) Hinton developed a theory of four-dimension
space. Taught at Yokohama, Japan, 1887-92, then at Princeton U 1893-7, where he
invented a baseball pitching gun that killed a student. Fired, Hinton then left to teach
mathematics in Minnesota (1897-1900) and to work at the U.S. Patent Office 1902-7.
1887 Ethel goes to Russia, lives with Dr. Karaulova, sister of Stepniak’s wife. Active helping
poor peasant with radical Populists (narodniki) near Pskov in summers 1887 and 1888.
Ethel becomes Russian translator for the Society of Friends of Russian Freedom in
London.
1888 Sister Alicia Boole edited Hinton’s A New Era of Thought on the fourth dimension.
Ethel Boole and Sidney Reilly, “Ace of Spies”
COUNTERFEIT 50 RUBLE NOTE 1899.
1889 Ethel returns to London from Russia. Helps Stepniak found the SFRF (Society of
Friends of Russian Freedom) (1890-1914) and edit its journal, Free Russia. Helps
smuggle illegal books into Russian Empire from London.
1890 Ethel meets Wilfred Voynich at Stepniak’s home in London. Live together 1893,
married in 1902. They both serve on the board of the SFRF.
1893 Ethel publishes Stories of Garshin in England.
1894 Ethel goes to Lvov, Poland, and sets up smuggling network for illegal literature
like Stepniak’s revolutionary pamphlets. Learns Ukrainian language, then Polish.
1895 Breaks with Russian emigres after Stepniak dies in a railway accident. Writes The
Gadfly, a novel about Italian revolutionaries around 1848. Returns to England
from Poland and book smuggling. Wilfred Voynich joins antique book business
as a cover for radical activities. Shift from Russian to Polish radicals.
1896 Voynich sends Ethel to Italy to buy books. She meets Sidney Reilly, a Polish Jew
who becomes a famous spy.
1897 Ethel published The Gadfly, which becomes wildly popular in Russia and the
USSR. First edition in U.S. in June with Henry Holt & Co.; September in Britain.
George Bernard Shaw adapts it for the stage in London. Her book recommends
using books to hide secret messages, a “roundabout” language to pass the
censorship, writing in cipher, and smuggling books across frontiers.
1901 Ethel published Jack Raymond.
1904 Ethel published Olive Latham.
1905 Ethel obsessed with gardening and plants, collects seeds for friends
1909 Ethel learns Polish and as “Lila Woyniczowa” works for the Polish Relief Fund
translating Polish documents for the British press.
1910 Ethel publishes An Interrupted Friendship.
1911 Ethel translates Six Poems of Shevchenko, famous Ukrainian poet.
1916 Mary Boole died age 84 after 52 years as a widow. Ethel works for Quakers
during World War I assisting Polish refugees. After execution of Irish rebel Roger
Casement, Ethel begins composing a cantata in his memory (finished 1948).
1920 Ethel joined Wilfred in NYC.
1931 Ethel published a translation of Chopin’s letters. Husband dies 1930.
1940 U.S. census reports Ethel Voynich and Anne Nill living together in Apt 260,
London Terrace Towers, W. 24th St., Manhattan. Anne is the “head,” Ethel is the
“lodger.”
1960 Ethel Boole Voynich dies July 28 at age ninety-six.
5. FORGERY, ESPIONAGE AND CRYPTOGRAPHY.
1891 Peter Rachkovsky, head of Paris branch of Russian police, the Okhrana, opens an
office in London. Possible that Voynich was one of six agents operating in
England (Agent 13). Voynich may have been recruited by William Melville of
Scotland Yard to inform on Russian radical immigrants in London. Rachkovsky
works with British and French police on immigrant surveillance.
1892 Alexander Howland-Smith, a Scottish forger and alcoholic law clerk, is arrested
on fraud charges and spends a year in prison. Arrested in June 1893 and charged
with “selling and pawning spurious manuscripts as genuine.” Uses old books with
blank flyleaves and sells fake books by Mary Queen of Scots, Cromwell and
Walter Scott. Aged paper by soaking weak tea.
1893 William Melville (1850-1918) becomes superintendent of Special Branch,
Scotland Yard, tasked with controlling the Irish Fenian terrorists
involving in bombing attacks in London. From County Kerry, IR. Protected the
royal family 1888-92. Develops a network of “casuals”—agents, informers,
travelers, businessmen and journalists. Reilly, Houdini and Voynich probably
involved. Used to help control Russian immigrants in London.
1895 Stepniak dies. Voynich’s break with the SFRF to set up rival group. Voynich
offers Reilly advice on books, offers Reilly a job purchasing used books at estate
sales.
1896 Melville recruits Sidney Reilly (Sigismund Rosenblum) as a police informer.
Pseudonym is taken from a deceased infant in Ireland. Melville assigned to guard
Tsar Nicholas II during Sept-Oct visit to Balmoral Castle and Aberdeen to visit
Queen Victoria.
1897 Melville and Rachkovsky collaborate in tracking Russian terrorists in London,
especially Vladimir Burtsev, arrested at the entrance to the British Museum and
charged with plotting to kill Nicholas II. Voynich collaborates with Rachkovsky
under the alias “Kelchevsky”, was an informant for British intel.
1899 Rachkovsky warns Melville of ruble counterfeiting ring in London printing
money through Bradbury and Wilkinson currency printers. Boer War 1899-1902.
1903 Melville retires from Scotland Yard but continues to perform intelligence duties
as “William Morgan” in MO3 at the War Office. Rachkovsky produces police
forgery in Paris of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the Bible of
antisemitism. Melville a friend of Arthur Conan Doyle, who toasts M at his
“retirement dinner” in January 1904.
FROM SCOTLAND YARD TO “M”, 1903-18.
1909 The New Special Services bureau of War Office hunts German spies, run by
Melville as king’s chief detective.
1912 Voynich sends photos of his MS to experts, including George Fabyan (1867-
1936) at his Riverbank laboratories in Geneva, Illinois, thirty miles west of
Chicago, a future center of cryptography. Fabyan funded Elizabeth Wells
Gallup’s (1848-1934) research into whether or not Francis Bacon wrote
Shakespeare’s works. Claims of hidden codes and ciphers in writings. Fabyan is a
high -school dropout, wealthy textile heir, imperious, pushy, indiscreet, bossy and
profane, a multi-millionaire who like to support innovative researchers in new
fields. Hired architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design his home. Genetics lab. Staff
of a hundred people.
ELIZEBETH FRIEDMAN AND GEORGE FABYAN AT RIVERBANK; FRIEDMANS.
1915 John Manly (1865-1940), a U. Chicago professor, joins the Military
Intelligence Division. PhD in linguistics from Harvard 1890. Teaches cryptology
at the War College until 1919. Chaucer and Shakespeare specialist. At
Riverbank, works on the Bacon/Shakespeare project of Mrs. Gallup. He also
received 7 pages of the VMS from Voynich. Manly has “worked on them a good
deal, without success as yet.” Manly shows pages to Herbert Yardley and Ralph
Van Deman of MI-8.
1916 Manly meets Friedman at Riverbank.
1917 Russian Revolution. Manly visits Van Deman of MID in DC and is commissioned
a captain in the U.S. Navy. At MI-8, reports to Yardley. Fabyan at Riverbank
cooperates with Scotland Yard to decipher correspondence of Hindu nationalist
agents in U.S. Friedmans both involved. Trials in Chicago and San Francisco.
Bureau of Information opens case file 33354 on Voynich. He has dinner with a
German friend, Walter Lichtenstein, the head librarian at Northwestern U.
Suspected of being a German agent and having a War Dept cipher in his
possession. Agents search his offices at 33 W.42nd St in NYC. Manly at War Dept
defends Voynich.
1918 War ends. BoI investigation of Voynich concludes he is “a man who had no
hesitancy in tampering with the truth.” Melville dies of kidney failure.
1919 On Sept 23, British investigate visa application of Voynich, who is trying to sell
his MS for $100,000. Visa granted but JEHoover keeps him under investigation.
1919-20 Soviet-Polish war, Pilsudski leads successful campaign against the Red
Army in Poland. Poles break Soviet codes.
1921 On April 20, William Romain Newbold in Philadelphia claims to have deciphered
the Voynich MS code. Confirms Roger Bacon as author. In July, John Matthews
Manly, Professor of English at U.Chicago and second in command of MI-8 under
Herbert Yardley, confirms Newbold’s argument in Harper’s Magazine.
1926 Newbold dies of acute indigestion on September 25.
1929 MI-8 funding for cryptography cut off by U.S. Army, Yardley fired.
1930 Polish mathematicians break German military Enigma codes and create Enigma
machine replicas, later shared with British and French.
1931 Yardley publishes The American Black Chamber, revealing secrets of American
cryptography from 1920s. John Manly publishes “Roger Bacon and the Voynich
MS” in Speculum, medievalist journal.
1939 Polish mathematicians and military share their knowledge of Enigma with British
and French code breakers in July 1939.
1943 Joseph Martin Feely, a Rochester NY attorney, self-publishes a book on Roger
Bacon’s Cipher: The Right Key Found.
Polish code breakers arrive in England but are not allowed at Bletchley Park,
center of British code breaking. Polish pilots fly with RAF.
1944 At the end of the year, Friedmans begin work on Voynich MS with a team of
cryptographers, including Father Theodore Peterson and Professor Eugene
Hyvernat at Catholic U. in Washington DC. Hyvernat worked with Voynich in the
1920s at Pierpont Morgan Library in NYC on problems of provenance. Hyvernat
got photostats of MS from Ethel after Voynich’s death in 1930. Group uses
punched card system of early computing.
Hugh O’Neill, a botanist and Benedictine friar, consulted on plant illustrations in
the MS. Friedman team creates Voynich alphabet, thinks the MS is not a hoax.
Friedman thinks Voynich MS may have attempted a universal or artificial
language.
1945 Clarence Strong, Yale geneticist, argues MS was a sixteenth-century herbal and
sex manual using more than one alphabet, written by Anthony Ascham, alchemist
and astrologer, tutor to Elizabeth I.
1951 William Friedman meets John Tiltman (1894-1982), Britain’s master
cryptographer, at Bletchley Park, the center of codebreaking. Tiltman of Scot
ancestry, born in London. Room 40 codebreaking WWI. 1920s cryptanalyst for
the India Army breaking Soviet ciphers. Founded military section of GCCS in
1930. 1930s scours book dealers and libraries in Europe looking for running keys
in book codes. Friedman tells Tiltman what he knows about the VM. Tiltman
studies the symbols and writes a report based on the last twenty pages and no
illustrations. Finds no solution. NSA consultant 1964-80. Thinks VM may be a
synthetic language, not a cipher.
1962 Retired naval officer Prescott Currier (1912-95), a cryptologist, finds two
handwriting systems (A and B) in the VM.
1974 Tiltman lectures on the VM, still has no answer.
1978 Worked with Mary d’Imperio at NSA and wrote the forward to her The Voynich
Manuscript. An Elegant Enigma that year. Was Mary a real person or not?
1987 Leo Levitov, a NJ physician, argues MS is a Cathar (heresy) liturgical document
of the late thirteenth century.
6. POLES APART: THEORIES ABOUT THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT.
Facts:
There is no evidence of a manuscript before Voynich acquired it in 1912. He had plenty
of inks and papers/vellum in stock, the means to forgery. He needed money and may
have created the MS as a hoax with help.
The supposed provenance of the MS is available in books published in England before
1912. They include a first bio of John Dee and a book on Rudolf II’s court in Prague.
The cipher alphabet of the MS is not yet readable, even by modern cryptographers trained
in World Wars I and II.
Voynich dealt in rare books and MSS and had a supply of old inks, paper, vellum and
covers in stock.
Both Voyniches were active in Russian, then Polish, revolutionary circles in England and
Europe in the 1890s.
Voynich was a lifelong friend of Bronislaw and Josef Pilsudski, advocates of an
independent Poland. His bookstores were used as Polish meeting places and book
distribution centers for getting illegal lit into Poland. Two PPS radicals, Titus and Wanda
Fillipowicz, run Voynich’s bookstore in Florence for a time. Titus went to Japan with
Pilsudski in 1904 and was later Polish ambassador to U.S.
Voynich attributed the MS to Roger Bacon and tried to sell it in the U.S. starting in 1914.
Voynich had contact with Fabyan and Riverbank labs regarding his MS.
Yale University paid nothing for the MS but accepted it as a gift from Hans Kraus.
Josef Pilsudski, 1899
Theories:
Roger Bacon produced the MS in the 13th century and it descended to Voynich through
various owners. Supported by Newbold.
The MS was forged in the late medieval or Renaissance period, perhaps at the court of
Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, based on existing herbals, botanical books and
other published sources.
The cipher is really an independent language with its own alphabet, not a translation of
any known language.
The Voyniches, with help, produced the MS before 1912 using paper, vellum and inks
available from antique book sources. They may have elaborated on the 1390 Book
of Ballymote, published in a facsimile edition in 1887 in Dublin, that includes a
number of examples of the ancient Irish Oghan alphabet:
Book of Ballymote
Voynich and a team of collaborators produced the MS between 1904 and 1912, using
Medieval paper and inks, books published in England on botany, Rusolf’s court in Prague,
ciphers and alphabets, medicine. VMS was hoax perpetrated by Voynich to make money for
Polish liberation movement, play a trick on British and Russian intelligence, and see how