24 Jun

One of the wonderful things about the internet is the global availability of resources that once were the privilege of the few, or when not, for one reason or another hard to find. It is truly amazing what is there for the curious, the hungry, the determined. Just now I am reading, on my e-reader, Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in a 19th century edition. This is a work I have been meaning to read since I was very young, a teenager or not much older. I first saw it somewhere in hard copy, multiple volumes glaring at me off a library shelf. The edition I am reading came with the e-reader, one of a hundred titles obviously out of copyright.

Since then I have found and acquired some really rare titles, got them down onto my adobe digital editions package and from there to my e-reader, which is a Kobo. I’d like to share some of them: the first folio of the works of William Shakespeare. There are not many physical copies of this particular title around, and I don’t even recall ever seeing a facsimile edition. Yet a few flicks through the net, there it is, download and shazam! It’s on my Kobo.

Then there is the quarto* of Troilus and Cressida, a curious play by the Bard. Ditto…hanging in there on my e-reader as it has been digitalised and put up on the net by a helpful soul.

Recently I was gobsmacked to find most of a collected works edition of the writings of Irish/English politician and political philosopher Edmund Burke up there too, for free. Turned out the volume containing the one I wanted, was not there, and I had to find another version. But I did, and it’s there, Kobo-ised.

This is truly a revolution in learning. It may be restricted to older material in terms of being free, but that is not especially important. If it is new and costs and you want it enough, you’ll pay. And a lot of free newer stuff that is non-fiction anyway also seems to appear, whacked up on the net by their authors or authorised people who just want to share whatever the magic is.

Not everything fits on a Kobo, but it can fit on the PC and maybe on a tablet or an iPad. Here is something that has really thrown a spark across my jumper leads, causing my hair to stand on end and goosebumps to cover my body:

There is something called the Voynich Manuscript. It was acquired from Jesuits owning a palace outside Rome in 1912 by an antiquarian styling himself W M Voynich. It is an illustrated manuscript, possibly some kind of herbal, and has been dated around 1400-1500. The thing is, this manuscript is written in a script that is unlike any other known, and despite hard work by people who are really good at codes, it has never been cracked.

I read about this on the BBC:

The Voynich manuscript is now on my PC, in my adobe digital editions package, and there is a long thread of what it is about from those who think they’ve figured it out. It seems “translators” have rendered it as the history of the Czech land, in Macedonian, some other language the first five books of the New Testament, etc…the best, in the quick squiz I had was that it was a herbal by a disciple of or himself, Paracelsus, written in a code to discourage the unworthy (the authorities too!).

But that is not all! The thick plottens!* The Voynich concerned was a Pole whose real name was Michał Habdank-Wojnicz, and who married an Irish woman named Ethel Lilian Boole. As E L Voynich she wrote one of the allegedly great revolutionary novels, The Gadfly. R Bruce Lockhart, a man for whom the truth was ever elastic, reckoned the hero of the novel was based on the early career of Sidney Reilly (“Ace of Spies”) who had an affair with Ethel in Italy and told her his story as a revolutionary would, especially if he was keen to get her into bed.

Before meeting Ethel, W M Voynich was a revolutionary in Poland, then part of the Russian empire. His wealthy family did not prevent his being sent to Siberia for his role in a plot to free two other revolutionaries in 1886. The plot failed, they were executed, and Voynich managed to escape and do a runner to safety, washing up in London.

The rest may or may not be history. Voynich ran into Ethel, they got married, she wrote The Gadfly which made  pots of dough, and he stopped being a revolutionary and settled down as an antiquarian bookseller with shops in London and New York. The couple apparently moved to New York where he died in 1930 while she carried on till the 1960s, dying at the tender age of 96.

Now, all of that is safely lodged in my PC or easily cribbed from the net, and what I say is that put together, it is pretty amazing. Here I sit, quite a long way from anywhere, and I can not only find all this stuff out, but if I want to, I can have a crack at deciphering this manuscript myself, as anyone else who cares to have a go.

Or, I can put the whole lot into my literary pipe, smoke it, and see if there is a story, or a novel, or part of one, lurking in there…there may be you know?

Thanks for reading.

* I have seen a quarto of a Shakespeare play, in a display case in a gallery/museum in Edinburgh, Scotland. It looked very much like a rudimentary Penguin paperback.

** I am congratulating Spooner on being who he was.

1 Comment

Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Uncategorized


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One response to “Eeeeeeeeeeee-k!

  1. Joleene Naylor

    July 4, 2013 at 1:35 am

    I read the article you sent me (while I was at a restaurant, actually, waiting on my chicken parmesana to arrive – gotta love free wifi) Technology is a fascinating thing, and the most interesting thing, to me, is how easily I accept this availability of all knowledge at the touch of a key. i grew up in rural nowhere – we had to special order music cds, for example, as no stores in a thirty mile area carried any, until Wal-mart came in in 1992 (though actually, we were listening to casettes at that time, and wal-mart sold 90% country so I still had to special order) but needless to say it was very hard to find/get anything and now – click – there it all is and rather than being amazed by this most of the time, I have come to *expect* it. Our society is going to be in trouble if a real technology crash ever comes… meanwhile I have also snagged said pdf for perusal 😉


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