The many manuscripts

Any good mystery has a multitude of twists, surprises, and unexpected turns. Readers of Umberto Eco, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Charles Maturin, and Dan Brown would not expect that a rare magical manuscript would yield its mysteries at once. Nor would it be possible to pin it down to just one place, time, and owner.

The Triangular Book is no exception. A cursory research shows that there exist two source manuscripts, once owned collectively by Manly P. Hall, and referred to as Hogart MS 209 and 210. The two differ sufficiently on several key points.

History of MSs 209 and 210

Hogart MS 209, dated 1775, was made for Antoine Louis Moret, a French Freemason who immigrated to the United States in the 18th century. At one point it resided in the library of Jules C. G. Favre (1809-1880), a French politician. Pliny E. Chase (1820-1886), an American mathematician with an interest in cryptography, makes mention of it in a lecture to the American Philosophical Society on October 3, 1873, stating that the manuscript was “purchased in Amsterdam, about seventy years ago” (i.e. around 1803). It is unclear if he owned the manuscript, examined it, or had simply heard of its existence. French bibliographer, poet, and Rosicrucian Stanislaus de Guaita (1860-1898) had it in his library for some time. From there it passed on to a certain Madame Barbe of Paris (possibly Barbara Dmitrievna Mergassov Rimsky-Korsakova), and then to Frank Hollings, a 20th century London writer and antiquary. After 1934, Hollings sold it to Manly P. Hall. In 1994, Getty Researched Institute acquired it along with the rest of Hall’s extensive library.

We know considerably less about the other manuscript, Hogart MS 210. Dated 1750 and thus the older of the two copies, it was once in the library of Lionel Hauser, a member of the Theosophical Society in Paris. In 1934, Manly P. Hall purchased it for 40 guineas at an auction of Hauser’s library at Sotheby’s.

These text make their rare appearance throughout the written history of last three centuries. Some notable examples below.

In a contested will of one Sampson Simson of the city and state of New York dating to 1857, we see Mr Simson bequeathing to Ansel Leo “a manuscript in unknown characters entitled, “Ex dono Sapientissimi Comitis St. Germain quoi orbem Terrarum percucurrit.” While neither MS 209 nor 210 perfectly matches that title, on the balance of probabilities it is more likely to be 209, because “terrarum” contains two Rs vs 210 where it is spelled “terarum.” However, note that MS 209 has “qui” and 210 has “qoi,” and the will has “quoi.”

MS 209 title page, with words QUI and TERRARUM

MS 210 with words QOI and TERARUM

A person going by the initials “M.L” makes an inquiry about a manuscript in his or her possession matching the description of 209/10 in 1903 publication Notes and Queries sourced from the University of California.

Maggs Bros of London Catalogue from 1919 offers it for sale for £ 100. In this case, we can be reasonably sure that it is MS 210 and not 209, because the catalogue offers a reproduction of one of the diagrams.

Catalogue image from 1919. Note the Mars figure with a complete circle.

MS 209. Note the deformed circle in the figure of Mars as well as light shading in the “T” figure on the right side

MS 210. Note the matching complete circle in the Mars figure and shaded “T” on the right

A publication called The Cryptogram (Vol 29-32, 1961) mentions the manuscript with the same inscription, i.e. Ex Dono Sapientissimi Comitis etc. and bearing the figure of a dragon, “greatly defaced, but still distinct enough to be perfectly legible” on the “lid” of the manuscript. Further, we see this text was presented as a cryptographic puzzle in an earlier issue as “Cipher Manuscript of the Comte de St. Germain.” If anyone reading this has access to either of these journals, please reach out to discuss.

Another source?

In October of 2017, ALDE Auction house of Paris put up a triangular manuscript from the library of Maurice Burrus, classified as Burrus 673, for sale. It fetched a healthy € 20 000. According to auctioneers’ research it dates to 1770 and bears the title marks of the Lodge “Orient de New-York 5810,” i.e. related to or owned by Antoine Louis Moret.

Judging by internal evidence of the MS itself and comparison to other existing copies, we believe this to be a forgery, albeit of a decent sort. In either case, whoever was tasked with making this copy did not seem to comprehend the underlying text and copied it visually rather than by word or phrase. It is not clear whether it is a modern or antique reproduction.

Burrus 673 – title page, with in-line corrections of TERRARUM and a somewhat poorly executed dragon

Burrus 673 – example of cipher text, showing mistakes and letter transpositions

Additional reference

As if above was not sufficient, we find in Wellcome Collection of London a transcription of MS 209, attached erroneously to another magical manuscript, Key of Solomon, catalogued as Wellcome 4668.

Wellcome 4668 loose leaf insert, showing a fairly comprehensive French decoding of MS 209

Whoever wrote this down made an initial effort to keep the triangular page effect, though reverting to regular rectangular format a few pages in, likely due to space constraints. They also note that this translation was carried out for ‘Mr. Potier’ and include a brief albeit clear sketch of all the figures.

Wellcome 4668 – figures and notes

Differences between manuscripts

Here we get into the real weeds of the subject. For now, it will suffice to say there are differences between every known copy, whether intentional or accidental. Some are considerable, for example quality and execution of the drawings and letters. Where one manuscript is illegible the other is clear. In one we see spelling errors and omissions and in other clean text without marks.

However, it is not as simple as one being a superior or root manuscript and all the rest – deficient copies. On the contrary, it seems each variant brings with it some aspect that elucidates the others.

Here are some examples to give an idea:

Thus we see the mystery deepens as manuscripts, owners, histories, and idiosyncrasies get entangled while forming the tapestry of The Triangular Book. We must keep these factors in mind, if we hope to have a full understanding of this text.