The writing in the original is on the outside of the
last leaf, which is in fact the cover. The front cover, if there ever was
one, is lost. The ink with which the line containing the symbols is written
corresponds with that in the body of the MS.; and the line itself is placed
symmetrically in the middle of the page, near the top. The two lower lines
are apparently by another hand, probably of later date, certainly in ink of
a different colour, and paler. The word "Philosophy" is in Bacon's own
hand, written lightly in the upper corner at the left, and is no doubt
merely a docket inserted afterwards when he was sorting his papers. What
connexion there was between the note and the MS. it is impossible to say.
But it is evidently a careful memorandum of something, set down by somebody
when the MS. was at hand; and so many of the characters resemble those
adopted to represent the planets and the signs of the zodiac, that one is
led to suspect in it a note of the positions of the heavenly bodies at the
time of some remarkable accident; -- perhaps the plague, of which 30,578
persons died in London, during the year ending 22nd December, 1603. The
period of the commencement, the duration, or the cessation of such an
epidemic might naturally be so noted.|
Now three of the characters clearly represent respectively Mercury, Aquarius, and Sagittarius. The sign for Jupiter, as we find it in old books, is so like a 4, that the first figure of 45 may very well have been meant for it. The monogram at the beginning of the line bears a near resemblance to the sign of Capricorn in its most characteristic feature. And the mark over the sign of Aquarius appears to be an abbreviation of that which usually represents the Sun. (The blot between 1603 and B is nothing; being only meant to represent a figure 6 blotted out with the finger before the ink was dry.) Suspecting therefore that the writing contained a note of the positions of Mercury and Jupiter in the year 1603, I sent a copy to a scientific friend and asked him if from such data he could determine the month indicated. He found upon a rough calculation (taking account of mean motions only) that Jupiter did enter the sign of Sagittarius about the 10th of August, 1603, and continued there for about a twelvemonth; that the Sun entered Aquarius about the 12th or 13th of January, 1603-4; and that Mercury was about the 16th or 17th of the same month in the 26th or 27th degree of Capricorn: -- coincidences which would have been almost conclusive as to the date indicated, if Capricorn had only stood where Aquarius does, and vice versa. But their position as they actually stood in the MS. is a formidable, if not fatal, objection to the interpretation.
According to another opinion with which I have been favoured, the first monogram is a nota bene; the next group may mean Dies Mercurii (Wednesday) 26th January, 1603; and the rest refers to something not connected with astronomy. But to this also there is a serious objection. The 26th of January, 1603-4, was a Friday, and it seems to me very improbable that any Englishman would have described the preceding January as belonging to the year 1603. Bacon himself invariably dated according to the civil year, and the occasional use of the historical year in loose memoranda would have involved all his dates in confusion. I should think it more probable that the writer (who may have been copying a kind of notation with which he was not familiar) miscopied the sign of Venus into that of Mercury; in which case it would mean Friday, 26th January, 1603-4. But even then the explanation would he unsatisfactory, as leaving so much unexplained. Those however who are familiar with old MSS. relating to such subjects may probably be able to interpret the whole.
[@ Spedding, Works III, 207-8]