I’ve just heard back from the British Library Manuscript department about BL MS Add. 10035, “The Subtelty of Witches”, which I mentioned here a few days ago: “unfortunately it does not begin in English. The whole of the manuscript is written in cipher.”
So: was Eric Sams mistaken? Might the British Library actually have two unreadable books? Well… after a rather longer trawl through the various BL catalogues, I’ll say that “The Subtelty of Witches” is still the best candidate. There are plenty of enciphered letters there, but nothing else of any major size: all the same, I should probably consult Sheila Richards’ (1973) book “Secret writing in the public records, Henry VIII-George II” (actually 1519-1738), just in case there’s any fleeting reference to it there.
Incidentally, Eric Sams wrote a piece for Musical Times in 1970 (now online) on Edward Elgar’s ‘Dorabella’ Cipher, where he suggested the 87 encrypted symbols could be decrypted to read…
STARTS: LARKS! IT’S CHAOTIC, BUT A CLOAK OBSCURES MY NEW LETTERS, α, β
BELOW: I OWN THE DARK MAKES E. E. SIGH WHEN YOU ARE TOO LONG GONE.
Sorry, but somehow I just don’t think Sams quite nailed it on this particular occasion. Sams also wrote a 1987 note explaining his reasoning in more detail: but that just seems a bit too eager to tie things up. All the same, he wraps up the final note by pretty much coming round to my opinion:-
[…] But what if that cipher-table served another purpose?
Dr. Percy Young’s standard biography tells us that Elgar used a music cipher; the names of people he disliked were thus consigned to the Demon’s Chorus in The Dream of Gerontius. An Oxford professor of music, Sir Jack Westrup, has suggested that Elgar used cipher in the Enigma Variations.
Perhaps interested readers would like to consider on what lines (or spaces) ex 3 might make a music cipher?
However, a musicological Ventris has yet to take up this challenge: what haunting melody might be encrypted there? As Elgar said to Dora Penny, “I thought you of all people would guess it“… but what was her favourite song? 😉