Though the Dean at All Saints in the Citadel of Prague was one of the earliest people to mention the Voynich Manuscript (in two letters to his old friend Athanasius Kircher), poor old Godefridus (Gottfried) Aloysius Kinner of Löwenthurn hasn’t really featured much in the discussion so far.

In Kinner’s letter dated 4th January 1666, he mentions to Kircher that their mutual friend Johannes Marcus Marci asked after “that arcane book which he gave up to you“, which itself seems to mark Marci’s (rather more famous) letter to Kircher as genuine. Kinner also expresses cynicism about alchemy, judging it to be as “worthless” as judicial astrology has proved to be.

Kinner’s letter dated 5 January 1667 from the following New Year finds him still battling with asthma and a cough, and notes that even though Marci “has lost his memory of nearly everything“, he still “wishes to know through me whether you have yet proved an Oedipus in solving that book which he sent via the Father Provincial last year and what mysteries you think it may contain“. He also laments the recent death of Gasparus Schott.

Up until now, most Voynich-related archival search has been carried out by relentlessly trawling through Kircher’s obsessively overflowing (and increasingly well-documented and accessible) inbox. However, for all its interest, this is rather like hearing only one side of a phone conversation – there’s only so much you can reliably infer. I wondered: might there be other letters from/to Kinner out there, or perhaps even books (as these often contained copies of letters)?

A quick online trawl turned up some Kinner letters from 1664-1665 with Christiaan Huygens, reproduced in book V of his “Œuvres complètes”. Curiously, Huygens’ correspondence was published in 22 volumes (from 1888-1950!) yet doesn’t seem to get mentioned much (I ought to add it to my list of correspondence projects): presumably we’d be most interested in looking at “Tome Sixieme: Correspondance 1666-1669” (which I don’t think is online)…

The mention of the Jesuit Gaspar Schott in Kinner’s 1667 letter is also interesting: not only did Schott study under Kircher, he also (while a Professor at Palermo) corresponded with Guericke, Huygens and Boyle, compiling it all into the “Organum mathematicum“, a massive collection of novelties and things of contemporary interest… which Kinner helped edit. Such are the bonds which tie a community together.

Incidentally, the nine volumes of the Organum are: (1) Arithmeticus, (2) Geometricus, (3) Fortificatorius, (4) Chronologicus, (5) Horographicus, (6) Astronomicus, (7) Astrologicus, (8) Steganographicus, (9) Musicus. Of course, book eight might be the most interesting for Voynich researchers. 🙂

WorldCat lists other books by Kinner, such as his (1653) “Elucidatio geometrica problematis austriaci sive quadraturæ circuli“, and his (1664) “Stella Matutina In Medio Nebulae, Sive Laudatio Funebris“, but I somehow doubt that these will produce anything useful.

From all the above, it should be clear here that we are talking about an active community of people continually corresponding across Europe: and indeed, over recent decades letters have become perhaps the most fashionable form of historical documentation amongst early modern / Renaissance historians.

So, you would have thought it would be useful to find out if there is an archive somewhere that just happens to have more correspondence from Kinner, right?

However sensible an idea, this immediately runs into a brick wall: the lack of any kind of cross-collection finding aid for early modern historical correspondence. In fact, libraries’ and private collections’ programmes for scanning and indexing letters are decades behind the many (far more high-visibility) book-scanning programmes. Funding-wise, it seems that books are “sexy”, while letters are “unsexy”: but actually, ask working historians and you’ll find that this is just wrong.

My guess is that the right place to start such a quest would be Book VI of Huygens’ Oeuvres Complètes, to see if it says where Huygens’ correspondence to/from Kinner is held. It may well be that this points the way to more of the same, who knows?

UPDATE: thanks to Christopher Hagedorn’s exemplary persistence in the face of the BnF’s flaky servers, we now have a direct link to Book VI of Huygens’ Oeuvres Complètes. From this we can tell that Kinner’s correspondence seems to stop dead in 1667, the same year that Marci died. My guess is that perhaps this too marked the end of Kinner’s life (and the likely end of this avenue). Ah well. 🙁

14 thoughts on “Other Kinner letters…

  1. Nick: It is ironic and timely that you have mentioned the Kinner correspondence… I have in my blog drafts a post entitled, “A Strange Coincidence” (began on the 22nd… I don’t work as fast as you!). The thrust of the post is that in this 1666 Kinner letter he mentions both the Voynich Ms., and Bacon’s New Atlantis. Kinner writes (Philip’s translation):

    “Instead he [F. Bacon] consoled himself by inventing the scenario of a recently discovered island of Atlantis, in which he imagined a house of Solomon endowed with the knowledge of the whole of nature to explain his ideas to the world.”

    I think it would be hard to read anything pro or con to my theories in this… but I found it very interesting, nonetheless. I’ll probably have the post up after (our) Turkey Day. Rich.

  2. I’m not sure that would qualify as ironic, but it’s certainly a nice coincidence. 🙂

    As for speed: I actually have some drafts that are over a year old, so I wouldn’t necessarily be certain of winning a posting race. 😮

  3. It took me several hours, but I found it!

    Here is Book VI of Huygens’ Oeuvres Complètes freely available online!

  4. I’ve been reading through the volume. I’ve found a brief mention of Kinner on page 111 (image 120) but nothing else so far. I’ll keep looking.

  5. Hi Christopher,

    Thanks to your BnF find, I’ve now gone through volumes 6 and 7, and there’s nothing of any substance in either. I’ve added an update to the end of the page to that effect. 🙁

    Cheers, …Nick Pelling…

  6. Too bad; it was a pretty good idea.

  7. Never mind… I’ll just have to come up with a better one. 🙂

  8. I’ve been reading around on the Internet, and it seems that the Organum Mathematicum is just a user manual for Kircher’s invention of the same name, which was a box intended for Archduke Carl Joseph of Austria to contain all mathematical knowledge as well as some sticks which could be used for calculating a variety of things.

    This website has a bit more about the invention: Gaspar Schott

  9. Wow, I inadvertently just pasted his name in there. Here is the URL in full:

  10. Philip Neal on November 27, 2009 at 6:56 pm said:

    There is some info about the Organum Mathematicum on this site:
    (search on Schott). The download does not seem to work but there is
    a gallery of images. There are lots
    of other good things on this site
    such as Caramuel Lobkowitz,
    Mathesis Biceps, which contains
    letters from Marci and Martinitz.

  11. Hi Philip,

    Thanks for the link! The Organum Mathematicum (both Kircher’s device and Schott’s book) is really one of those things that the web doesn’t really seem to get right – it deserves a decent-length post to itself…

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  12. Rene Zandbergen on November 28, 2009 at 11:58 am said:

    Very little seems to be known altogether about G.A. Kinner. He must have died
    after 1668, as there is a letter from him dated end December 1668 in the
    Kicher correspondence (transcribed by Philip) in which Schott, the Organum
    Mathematicum and also Theodor Moretus are mentioned.
    Kinner was one of several people at the time working on the quadrature
    of the circle.

  13. Thomas Conlon on November 18, 2015 at 6:53 am said:

    Hello. Over the last couple of years Hans Vollrath (Schott’s successor as a mathematical educator at the university of Wurzburg) and I have transcribed and translated the extant correspondence of Caspar Schott. There are a number of letters from Kinner to Schott. All of the letters will be available on EMLO in the near future.

  14. Thomas: excellent, I look forward to seeing them on EMLO. 🙂

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