Wilfrid’s spell-binder: 9

Error #9. Wandering into the distant future.

I like this picture of Henry Percy. I have the same reaction to this later part of Wildfrid’s story.

Henry Percy

Henry Percy (1564 – 1632)


Wilfrid himself had ventured into the late sixteenth and earlier seventeenth century  to add another to his chain of ‘rational science heroes’: Francis Bacon.

Another by-product of this research is the increasing probability that Sir Francis Bacon wrote his great philosophical works under the influence of the great bearer of his name in the thirteenth century. The fact that John Dee met young Francis was first pointed out and discussed as a fact of historical importance a few years ago by Mary Trueblood of Mount Holyoke College.


Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)

It is proved from the diary of Dee that on August 11, 1582, Francis Bacon, then 21 years old, called on him at his library at Mortlake. In the following year, Dee began his work on the ‘Instauration of Philosophy’. The family likeness of the philosophy of the two Bacons, in spite of the intervening three and a half centuries, and their constant insistence on learning by experiment only and rejecting authority, has frequently been remarked by scholars, but has never been thoroughly investigated.[1]

In the usual way, one might dismiss all this out of hand, except that it had so much effect on the direction and nature of ‘Voynich studies’.  A great deal of the same historical fairy-floss came, astonishingly, to be included among lists of  “known facts” and “reasonable conjectures” about the manuscript, and some of it is repeated to this day, as is the attribution of such subjects such as biology or telescope-based astronomy to the manuscript’s imagery.

d’Imperio and Tiltman repeated a fair bit of the same matter, and this in relation to a  manuscript whose social or historical or iconographic context had never been formally (that is, normally) researched.

Even if  Francis Bacon had learned, in that one visit, something of Roger Bacon’s work, there is still no connection yet established between Dee and our manuscript. And even if the volume had been sitting on the shelves in Dee’s study on that day (which is a non-fact), no proof has yet been produced to show that Bacon wrote it, that Dee ever owned it, or that Francis was ever shown it. 2 


This is now full-blown “Voynicheriana”, in its way no different from Newbold’s, being divorced alike from the object and from any historical matter demonstrably relevant to interpreting the manuscript’s pictorial- or written text.   Yet believe it or not, this story too would continue to be told as ‘the manuscript’s history’ for many decades after 1921 and some of it still is.

The manuscript’s  “history” thus becomes the record of mass ‘fascination’ in the older sense.


  Fixation on the ‘cipher’ and the glamour of silk and gilded shoe-buckles is as good an explanation for the phenomenon as any.


As compensation, here’s  a glimpse of science in seventeenth century Europe.  Description of Kenelm Digby’s “POWDER OF SYMPATHY”

powder-of-sympathy“The powder of sympathy became in Digby’s hands the most famous universal cure of the seventeenth century. Digby claimed to have introduced the powder of sympathy in Spain in the 1620s, having learned of it from a Carmelite monk who brought it from the Orient.* To defend him against the claim of appropriating the powder from others, since it had been spoken of in print as early as the 1640s without reference to him, there is a reference in 1650 to Digby’s use of the powder in Spain in the 1620s. This is found in Walter Charleton’s translation of van Helmont on sympathetic cures. Another reference is found in the appendix to Highmore’s work on generation of 1651.

The powder of sympathy was a variant of the weapon salve of Paracelsus, which was put on the weapon which caused the injury rather than on the injury itself. Surgeons of as high repute as Fabry von Hilden in Germany advocated it. With the powder, the medicine was put on a cloth or bandage.. etc. (pp.27-8)”

“Digby himself was looking for a naturalistic explanation of healing in his discourse on sympathy, which was given in 1657 in French before a learned audience in the resort and school town of Montpellier, where he had gone for the waters. (p.28)”

The discourse was published. Exhaustive list of printed editions is provided (p.28-p.41).

From Kenneth Garth Huston, Sir Kenelm Digby, F.R.S., 1603-1665: A Bibliography Based on the Collection of K. Garth Huston, Sr., M.D. compiled and annotated by Davida Rubin  (reprint San Francisco: Jeremy Norman &Co. Inc, 1991).

*Don’t laugh. There were monks from Mount Carmel in Haifa who were settled in parts of Europe, and they might prove relevant, even yet. For the later period, one might also mention the Maronite Giuseppe Simone Assemani (1687–1768), especially as we have record of a work whose history includes  both Assemani and Guglielmo Libri. 🙂


1. Ms. Trueblood of Holyoke College, Mass. was demonstrably real.  Letters from her date from May 8th., 1902, and are written on letter paper headed ‘Department of English Literature’, so Voynich was doing some research, or adopting without acknowledgement ideas proposed by Newbold or some other involved in the study of English literature.

 2. Wilfrid many have seen, and become excited about, a manuscript known as the ‘Northumberland manuscript’, which caused some excitement from the belief that works by Shakespeare and by Francis Bacon were contained in it.  In 1904, while Wilfrid was still in London,  a book had been published about it. T. Le Marchant Douse, Examination of an Old Manuscript Preserved in the Library of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick, and sometimes called The Northumberland Manuscript, London: Taylor and Francis, 1904. [available through the internet archive]. Le Marchant Douse misquotes Athenae Oxiensis by omitting reference to Allen in describing the connections between Northumberland and Dee.

… now for the cipher-breakers



  1. An interesting site for interaction of Francis Bacon’s ciphers and those of the Rosicrucians’ is at

    Among the other interesting points are two I’ll quote now:
    “The simplest of the ciphers used by Francis Bacon and his Rosicrucian fraternity were numerical ones, wherein each letter of the alphabet has an equivalent numerical value. This is an ancient cabalistic cipher method, used in both the Hebraic Old Testament and the Greek New Testament for instance, but which has many possible variations. One which is recorded in Bacon’s time is the Latin Cabala, adopted in Italy in 1621 by a circle of literary ecclesiastics, who established it on the occasion of the left arm of the blessed Conrad—a famous hermit—being brought with ceremony from Netina to Piacenza. (The record of this is in a rare pamphlet entitled Anathemata B. Conrado, issued in Placentia in 1621.)”. I’m a bit puzzled about the ‘Anathemata’ bit, but the site doesn’t explain.

    Another bit, which nicely connects with the post I put up yesterday about mnemonic hands, runs:
    “The full signature, Francis Bacon, counts to 100, divided neatly into thirds by Francis (33) and Bacon (67), providing a fundamental (1:1), an octave (1:2) and a fifth (2:3) in music. 100 is the cabalistic number of universality..”

    but actually use of the 100 to represent perfection and universality was already very well established as part of Christian exegesis – not to say it hadn’t originally come from Jewish religious commentary. The Latin “C” for a hundred was, naturally, identified in the Latin tradition with Christ, the perfection – as it was said – of all that had gone before. And so forth. A good initial guide is still
    Vincent Hopper, Medieval number Symbolism. My copy is a Dover reprint, but there are others advertised online.


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