Voynich Again

hmmm ... just picked up, at the Ashfield library, a recent book on the Voynich MS. Wilfrid Voynich (= Michal Wojnics) was not, as I thought, an American, but a Pole from Telschi, Kovno Province, Lithuania who graduated in chemistry from Moscow University and became a pharmacist. He got caught up in the late 19th century Polish Nationalist movement, trying to free his country from Tsarist Russian rule. He was two years without trial in a tiny cell in the Warsaw Citadel, during which he saw, from the window one day, his future wife, all dressed in black (she was mourning the death of Italian revolutionary Mazzini). Ethel Boole was the youngest of five daughters of mathematician George Boole, inventor of Boolean logic, and was studying music in Berlin when she read the writings of Sergei 'Stepniak' Kravchinsky and became a revolutionary herself. She met Stepniak in London, learned Russian, and was on her way to St. Petersburg to connect with one of his relatives when she paused in Warsaw in Easter, 1887. Before Voynich's scheduled exile to Siberia, he was given Ethel's name and Stepniak's London address. He escaped prior to being transported and, five months later, having sold his glasses and waistcoat, hitched a ride on a fruit boat from Hamburg to England, surviving shipwreck off the Scandinavian coast along the way. The day after his arrival he was out on the London streets, selling the Society of the Friends of Russian Freedom's publication, Free Russia. The Society's patrons included William Morris and Eleanor Marx. Voynich became the business manager of a bookshop selling revolutionary works to the British public and, later, calling himself Ivan Klecevski, a member of the League of Book Carriers, smuggling works by Mark, Lenin, Plekhanov and others into Russia. After Stepniak, in 1895, was knocked down and killed by a train at a level crossing, both Ethel and Wilfrid withdrew from revolutionary politics and he became instead an antiquarian book dealer. He was immediately successful, with a shop in Piccadilly and offices in Paris, Florence and Warsaw. He continued, when and if he could, to assist Polish refugees who turned up at the London shop and made many business trips to the Continent. It was during one of these, in 1912, that he came across the manuscript which now bears his name. In November, 1914, Wilfrid and Ethel Voynich, together with their most valuable books and manuscripts, sailed for New York on the SS Lusitania.

[This account from The Voynich Manuscript by Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill, Orion Books, London, 2004. Kennedy is a descendent of George Boole's brother, William.]

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