Newbold and Alchemy – a query

[dropped text re-inserted]

Back in May of 2015, I was talking about the weird stop-and-start pattern to publications about the Voynich manuscript, seen from 1912 onwards, and how very unlike it is to the normal pattern of scholarship after a new object or theme comes to view.

I compared it in passing to the publications that appeared after Aurel Stein’s discovery of hitherto unknown texts and scripts around the same time that Wilfrid obtained the manuscript. In that case you find, first, a few specialists’ comments, these inspiring a stronger tide of contributions, whose varying quality leads to a period of to-and-fro discussion until finally the topic subsides into a steady state. It’s all very formal, evidence-based, and utterly transparent.  That’s how it went with Stein’s finds.

So very unlike the mood and processes by which the Voynich legends rise and fall, including Wilfrid’s own wonderous tale of scientists and chaps with titles.

These endless fantasies about the manuscript’s supposedly being a sacred relic of this or than notable leave me feeling as if I were in a medieval market, interested in a cloth that had a fascinating weave, while the wild-eyed salesman rants about it being a bit of Our Lady’s veil and a passing skeptic drops in the equally imaginative story of how the salesman’s ‘probably’ nicked it from some poor old woman.

If you want the modern equivalent, it’s an ebay legend selling the cloth as formerly (really and truly) owned by Ivana Trump.

But I digress..

Jim Reeds’ bibliography provided a helpful structure for those posts. For 1937 there were just two publications listed, one of them so obscure that Jim had added a question-mark.

  • ? Sebastian Wencelas , ‘The Voynich manuscript; its history and cipher’,  Nos Cahiers, Montreal, 2 (1937), pp.47-69.

A little preliminary digging let me note in my post that: ” … I have given the surname as spelled in Jim Reeds’ bibliography, but .. a Sebastian Wenceslas was a Franciscan writing in French and in English on various religious topics, one publication dated to the 1950s.”

The Vatican Bibliography of religious authors and their articles then brought up a (forename) Wenceslas  (surname) Sebastian  –  but none of the few listed articles were Voynich-related.

That sort of thing intrigues… a flurry of notes and introductions and emails and that sort of thing followed, and by a dint of various persons’ using appropriate degrees of diligence, chivvying, patience, impatience, and good-will, it looked as if something might turn up.  Then I received a courteous but final-sounding response: that the journal was long defunct; it never had a wide circulation and no copies of the article were to be found anywhere.

Ah well, it was a small article in a small journal, published almost eighty years ago.

But then – a fortnight or so later, and without warning or trumpets sounding… there lay a copy of the article, dropped onto my virtual desk. It came with permission to share and use the content as I wished.

(Researchers will understand this unique sort of pleasure.  Nothing quite like it and nothing to do with the quality of the item, either).

Point now is that re-reading Sebastian’s article today, I have a small question which I’d appreciate your help in answering.

On what folio of the Voynich manuscript is the text which Newbold interpreted as Bacon’s alchemical recipe?  I don’t have Kent’s book [1], so I’ve copied the passage from Sebastian’s article:

[1] Roland Grubb Kent, (ed., forward and notes), [The work of] William Romaine Newbold, The Cipher of Roger Bacon,  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press; London, Oxford University Press, 1928.

Postscript: Anyone interested in that weird pattern in Voynich publications my posts include:

(after which, for nearly two months, I turned to matters which relate to Fiesole, Guglielmo Libri, Fr. Beckx and the origin of the ‘Voynich legend’ … but then at last …)

Just to keep this post sort-of linked to our present map-related theme, here’s an illustration I used in the second … 🙂



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