Book thief arrives London with trunks of rare books

The business of asking “where did it all go wrong” with Voynich studies is so dreary that I’ve put off that series of posts a few days longer to introduce a new possibility about how the probably-unique manuscript turned up in Fr. Beckx trunk.

It’s such a good story that I’m tempted to write in late nineteenth century Romantic Gothic style – a death-bed scene. The dying man, once an academic and retablo deathbed confession 19thCmathematician, later a man execrated and banned from his homeland, returning only to die and at the last begging to confess… you know the sort of thing.

I can’t call it history, but it isn’t fiction either.

Here are the facts (-ish).

The Jesuits’ expulsion from Italy occurred around 1860 as you might recall – at which time Fr.Beckx was living in Rome.  According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia nothing is heard of him then until 1873 when he arrives in Fiesole, until the election of someone to take his place as head of the Society of Jesus.  That done he (presumably with his trunks) returns to Rome and remains there till he dies.

However, as I added in a note to the post mentioning all this, Thomas J. Campbell’s history of the Jesuits 1534-1921 …” has Beckx go straight to Fiesole at the time of the expulsion in the 1860s.

An to Fiesole too, a certain Guglielmo Libri Carucci dalla Sommaja, the thief of my title, had returned in the last phase of his life, dying in 1869.

Need I say more?

Well, yes. It’s thanks to an article by Zeph Stewart, mentioning one of the fragments from Sommaja’s extraordinary haul, that I came to hear of his dark prefigure for Wilfrid Voynich…. and then wikis did the rest. 🙂

A FRAGMENT of Hieronymus, Epistula ad Heliodorum (Ep. LX, 14-15, onustus peccatorum … quid ago), written in Anglo-Saxon minuscule (pointed) script of the second half of the eighth century …. [which] …  consists only of the outer columns cut from one page of an unknown codex, and it first appeared in the collection of the notorious nineteenth century thief-bibliophile, Guillaume Libri.

Zeph Stewart, ‘Insular Script without Insular Abbreviations: A Problem in Eighth-Century Palaeography’, Speculum,Vol. 25, No. 4 (Oct., 1950), pp. 483-490.

“Breve breviarium breviter abbreviatum sufficit intelligenti” – Roger Bacon

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