THE LOST NOTES OF GEORGIUS BARESCH.
Jan. B. Hurych
From the VM provenance and the 'one and only' letter in existence written by Baresch, we know that Baresch sent in 1637 a letter to Kircher with some samples (apparently the handwritten copies of several VM folios). The date can be roughly calculated, since in his second letter (27th April 1639) he claimed he sent the first letter to Kircher "one and half years ago". He sent it by pater Moretus from Prague SJ who was at that time travelling to Rome. In his second letter, he also claims Moretus confirmed that the first letter safely arrived in Rome. Neither the letter nor samples were ever found . . .
We may of course assume four possibilities:
The second set of attachments is mentioned in the second letter by Baresch to Kircher. While the letter survived, no samples were ever found. We may safely assume Kircher received those samples together with the letter and so they may still exist. There is no record about them anywhere, but the most likely place would be the Museo Kircheriano. The other options of course still exist, that is they were lost or Kircher disposed of them.
- The documents never reached Kircher. This is highly unlikely: while Baresch politely suggested that in his second letter (apparently not to get Kircher offended), we can see he did not believe it - after all Moretus already confirmed to him he brought it to Rome personally. Whom he actually gave it we do not know, however there exist several letters written by Moretus to Kircher after that event. We may assume Moretus met Kircher once also personally, maybe at that special voyage to Rome.
- Kircher assumed Baresch sent him a hoax (he was already tricked by Andreas Mueller's hoax, but was it before that?) and so he destroyed the documents. However, Kircher was curious person and while he did not try to solve it, he might as well decided to keep the documentation, there was no harm in it. Still, they were never found and we have no record he ever studied them at that or any other time.
- The attachments were simply lost, no details are known.
- They might be still stored somewhere, but that is highly unlikely, since the letter was not found either.
Then of course we have to ask the question why would Kircher save the letter but throw away the samples, the only ones he had at that time? We may guess that he started to get interested in the VM in about the same time since a year later Marci sent him a letter (on 12th Sep 1640), recommending Baresch as his friend, apparently to answer Kircher's query. Marci also mentioned in that letter some samples sent to Kircher which according to Ren Zandbergen raises the possibility "it would be Baresch's third submission of material from the Voynich MS".
Now all that history is very well known and I would not repeat it here if that is all that is to it. However, recently I hit on the statement about still another set of Baresch's attachments. They were mentioned nowhere less than in Marci's famous last letter to Kircher (19 August 1666), where he claimed he sent with the book also "Baresch's attempts to solve the VM".
The translation of that letter can be found in the book by Mary d' Imperio, "The Voynich manuscript - the Elegant Enigma", page 81, and in the first chapter, she explains that it "provides its translation from Latin as prepared for Voynich and published by him (1921, p.271)".
The original text in question is this (per original saved in Museo Kircheriano):
"....uerum librum ipsum transmittere tum recusabat in quo discifrando posuit indefessum laborem, uti manifestum ex conatibus ejusdem hic una tibi transmissis neque prius huius spei quam uitae suae finem fecit. "
"...but he at that time refused to send the book itself. To its deciphering he devoted unflagging toil, as is apparent from attempts of his which I send you herewith , and he relinquished hope only with his life. "
The word "conatibus", the ablative of "conatus" (=attempt, effort) of course could mean only some records made by Baresch to solve the VM, i.e. notes or samples of his attempts, maybe even some partial solutions. These notes were accompanying the VM and so must have been received by Kircher but they were never found either. The VM and the letter was found and sold together - according to revelations by Ethel Voynich - by Villa Mondragone padres. I wonder if there is any official bill of sale (due to Voynich secrecy arrangements) so we would never know if the notes were part of the sale or not. Needless to say, the notes were never mentioned or investigated further, neither they were publically proclaimed as missing. At this stage, it seems highly improbable that Kircher would keep the VM manuscript and throw away the notes, his last possible opportunity to learn something more about the VM.
Yes, it makes perfect sense that Kircher stored those notes as well, especially if he was tempted to solve the VM. Kircher might rightly assume that Baresch knew more than Marci revealed in his letter. Maybe he knew the author, the history of the VM or leave some hints about the cipher key (there are some scribbles right in the VM, but they are too short to be qualified as any "attempts"). After all, Baresch had the VM for at least twenty five years. The notes should be somewhere, but where? Of course, they might not have been transported to Mondragone with the VM and could be possibly lost. It is rather surprising nobody ever noticed this discrepancy - and - as far as I know - ever searched for those notes.
It is apparent that Marci put hogh importance on those notes when he sent them to Kircher. We can speculate that in one time, he even tried to help Baresch with the solution and he also kept the VM himself for several years before he sent it to Kircher. He was very good in mathematics, as his books show and in one time, he attempted to solve the cipher of Swedish general Banner, together with Kircher, as one of his letters proves.
It is surprising that none of those three (or four, if Ren Zandbergen is right) attachments were ever found. True, the first two would be most likely just the copies of the VM folios (still, some of those might be the copies of now missing folios!), but the last package, the attempts to solve the VM, would be a very important addition to our otherwise slim documentation related to the VM. We may be even able to study the attempts by Baresch and get the idea what cipher (or language) he suspected most, maybe because he really knew more then it was revealed so far.
While Marci claimed Baresch never solved the VM, he might not have known if Baresch wasn't actually on the brink of the solution. And who knows, the full story of the VM could have be written by Baresch in those notes as well, when he realized that nobody else knew it and after his death, it would be therefore lost forever. The notes might therefore conveniently complement the triangle of the most important documents around the VM, namely the Marci's letter, Baresch's letter and the VM itself.
18th January, 2008.