by Arthur Lawrie
Solutions in Civil Engineering
Revelations in Refrigeration and Rocketry,
and Notions of Pneumatics
Lessons in Literary Theory
Heresy in Heredity
A Profound Mystery!
This investigation started with a single remarkable fact, and a happy piece of coincidence. The fact is this: Cimrman's voyage in the Ludendorff, from Trieste to New York, took no less than thirty-two days. This is an unusually lengthy period for such a journey, even when undertaken over a hundred and twenty years ago. Could it have been that the vessel called somewhere en route to New York?
The happy coincidence is that the Nautical Archive of the Forth Ports Authority here in Scotland have recently computerised their records, thus creating an easily accessible historical database. And sure enough the vessel Ludendorff appears in those records, as having docked in the port of Leith in 1871.
Today, Leith is the central waterfront district of the city of Edinburgh, but in 1871 it was a bustling port, with a substantial volume of cargo passing through it. The records show that the Ludendorff docked there on 25th October 1871, in distress, and that repairs were effected over a five-day period. Why would a ship which had presumably been sailing via the Straits of Gibraltar to New York dock at Leith? Indeed, why would it have been in the North Sea at all? One can only assume, at this stage of investigation, that autumn storms were encountered west of Biscay, and that the captain decided to run with the storm, which could then have taken the vessel far into the English channel. From such a position, the most direct, great-circle route to New York would have been north, along the East Coast of Britain, and then to Southern Iceland and on to the Newfoundland Banks.
The Nautical Archive records show that the Ludendorff required repair to both superstructure and hull, the latter having sustained a minor breach. Exactly how or where this damage was wrought is not recorded, but it is the author's surmise that the ill-starred vessel, having been diverted through the English Channel by storm, encountered an even greater tempest in the Pentland Firth, off the North Coast of Scotland. The treachery of these waters is legendary. Here, Atlantic weather, carrying a fetch of fully three thousand miles, meets the implacable water of the Arctic. The result is a near-perpetual cataclysm of the elements - rip-tides, whirlpools, freezing rain, and, most of all, the howling wind.. The author in person has witnessed waterfalls cascading down the 1350-foot-high cliffs of the Orkney Islands, only to be blown back up the cliff face by the force of the wind. Here indeed, is the Northern Hemisphere's equivalent of Cape Horn. Any ship caught unawares here has but one course of action open to it - turn, run with the wind, and hope to make a leeward port on the East Coast of Scotland (If the Admirals of the Spanish Armada in 1588 had understood this, they might have been able to re-group, defeat Drake, and this correspondence would then have been in Spanish). Thus it was that Jara da Cimrman came to make an unexpected visit to Scotland in 1871.
Then as now, Edinburgh had a world-renowned medical school. Of all the attractions in the city, to which would an unwitting itinerant with a keen interest in science make his way if he were to find himself in the city in the autumn of 1871? To the medical school, of course!
The Faculty of Medicine of the University of Edinburgh contains a number of remarkable and somewhat grisly exhibits from ages past. One such exhibit is the bones of the grave-robber, William Burke - one half of the notorious duo Burke and Hare. In the early Nineteenth Century, there was a shortage of bodies for dissection. Two enterprising Irishmen decided to meet this demand by illegally exhuming freshly buried corpses and selling them to the medical school. Trade flourished, much to the consternation of the local populace, and fresh graves soon began to be equipped with heavy iron bar cages, to render them invulnerable to robbery. These can still be seen on graves in the older cemeteries of the city. Of course, it was not long before Burke and Hare turned to murder to meet the insatiable demand for bodies. Eventually they were caught. Hare turned King's evidence, condemning Burke to the gallows but setting himself free. With satisfying irony, Burke's body was itself dissected, and his bones put on display in the medical school, where they can still be seen to this day. Hare was ostracised and died alone and in penury, in London.
In 1871 the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine was one Hamish Ravelston-Orr. He does not seem to have earned his appointment on academic merit, but rather on his skills as an administrator. No particular advances in medicine are associated with his name, but he was a noted man of letters and speaker in his day. Fortunately for us, he was also a compulsive diarist. His numerous journals, written in splendid Nineteenth-Century language, are preserved in the Library of the University of Edinburgh. It is from these that the following excerpts are taken. Annotations in square brackets are this author's.
25th October 1871:
"As I was leaving the building, I spied a distinguished-looking gentleman of Eastern European appearance inspecting Burke's bones in their glass cabinet [Ravelston-Orr does not explain what constitutes "Eastern European appearance"]. He noticed my attention and engaged me in conversation by stating that Burke was obviously an alcoholic Irishman of peasant stock. I asked what had led him to this conclusion and he proceeded to enumerate first a number of physical dimensions and ratios of the skeleton that he had noticed prevailed in the Irish Celts, and then a series of features of the bones that suggested to him a poor diet as a child and an excessive consumption of alcohol as an adult. I had to admit that this stranger had made a remarkably accurate diagnosis, moreover based on evidence that had hitherto been invisible to me. I asked for his name. 'Jara da Cimmrman' [sic] he informed me. However, my surprise did not end with his diagnostic skill, for when I enquired of his medical background so that I might know of the college where he had made his studies, the fellow revealed that he had but a passing interest in medicine! I made further enquiries of him and discovered that he was a temporary visitor to the city, and would be here only for as long as it took to effect repairs to his ship, which is in Leith Docks. On hearing this, I invited the remarkable Mr Cimmrman to board at my town house for the duration of his stay. He said that it was an hospitable offer, and accepted. A house guest of such remarkable perspicacity should prove instructive and perhaps even entertaining."
So it seems to have been that Cimrman came to be in Scotland in 1871. It should be noted that there is no mention here of conspicuous youth on Cimrman's part. This would tend to favour the view of those who place his birth in the earlier part of the broader range identified by Cimrmanologists - i.e., c.1850, if not indeed, even earlier.
The city of Edinburgh sits on the southern shore of a huge sea inlet, the Firth of Forth - i.e, where the estuary of the River Forth meets the North Sea. Just outside the city, to the West, are two huge bridges across the Firth. One, the Forth Road Bridge, was opened in 1964 and carries road traffic across the Firth. It is a modern steel suspension bridge. However, it is its companion, the original Forth Bridge, that is of interest. Opened in 1892, it still carries the railway line north, connecting all the main East Coast cities of Scotland with the North of England and London. It is a striking design, and certainly unique on this scale. Its chief engineer was one Benjamin Baker.
Ravelston-Orr was something of a socialite, fond of entertaining, and his diaries show that he had distinguished company the day he met Cimrman. Staying at his house were, amongst others, Benjamin Baker, designer of the Forth Bridge, and John Dunlop, inventor of the pneumatic tyre. The assembled company dined together that night, as the diaries show:
25th October 1871:
"He [Cimrman] was engaging Baker in eager debate over some problem of engineering. He asked for pen and ink. I obliged, With a flourish of the quill, he proceeded to draw on the lace tablecloth a diagram of a complex geometrical structure that turned out to be an element in a cantilever design for a bridge. He explained that such a structure, using modern steel, would not only be possible but that it would also be capable of spanning mighty chasms and gorges, and even sea inlets such as the Firth of Forth. In this way, considerable reductions could be made in travel times, boosting trade in all parts. We quizzed Cimrman at length about the proposed structure, which puzzled us, but our questions were answered fully and satisfactorily. Baker, who seemed to feel upstaged, fell into sullen silence. Many matters were raised, such as consistency and quality in the production of steel, and problems of securing piers and caissons in the turbulent waters, but Cimmrman fended them all with aplomb. Baker, ungracious as ever, gruffly stated that he would need time to consider the complexities of the design in detail, and would say no more."
Baker obviously did just as Ravelston-Orr records, although it appears to have taken him some time. In December 1879 a storm swept away the railway bridge over the Firth of Tay near Dundee, to the north of Edinburgh. As a result, a fully-laden express train plunged into the murky waters, with the loss of ninety lives. Following the Tay Bridge Disaster, it came to be understood that new approaches to bridge design were needed. When the contract to build the biggest and most daring bridge of all - a bridge to span the Forth (a far larger and more difficult stretch of water) - Baker's design won. Interestingly, none of Baker's published papers gives any detail of the calculation involved in designing the structure. It is as though he did not thoroughly understand the structure, as though the ideas behind it are not his own.
Today the Forth Bridge has not long celebrated its centenary. It stands as a true monument to human ingenuity and endeavour. Its vastness is imposing. It spans a chasm of over nine thousand feet, it rises three hundred feet against the howling wind, and it plunges one hundred and fifty feet into the turbulent waters. It was over eight years in the building. It employed five thousand labourers. The practices of deep-sea diving had to be derived simply to lay the foundations. It consumed a hundred thousand cubic yards of building stone and forty thousand tons of steel, fastened with eight million rivets. All of this in an age when the principal means of transport was still the horse and carriage. It has given its name to a famous aphorism - "it's like painting the Forth Bridge," for as soon as the huge structure has been freshly painted, it is time to start the job again. Perpetuity is somehow fitting for a monumental object. Radical though it may have been in its day as a design, it is also a structure of high artistry. Its smooth curves blend with the low hills of the surrounding countryside, its elegant lines echo the long sweep of the shore. It gleams and sparkles in the midday sun, it broods moodily in the twilight, and it rears up out of the fog, gaunt and gargantuan. Such transcendent subtlety is beyond the scope of the normal mind. This huge, majestic and beautiful bridge is, quite simply, a work of utter genius. Baker, of course, took the credit for the Forth Bridge. He did well out of it, going on to design the London Underground before his death in 1907. But he is forgotten today. The Bridge has outlasted him. It waits for the truth of its conception to be revealed to the world.
Cimrman's bridge, spanning the Firth of Forth at Edinburgh: a structure that puzzles and impresses engineers to this day
The day after Cimrman suggested a solution to the problem of spanning the Forth with a bridge, Ravelston-Orr records Cimrman's views on Scottish cuisine:
26th October 1871
"Mr Cimmrman stated that he would care to sample the local fare, should that be possible. Mrs Hudson [Ravelston-Orr's housekeeper] prepared a repast of broth, haggis, and cranachan [a dessert of sour cream, oatmeal, and fruit]. Mr Cimmrman commented on the flavour and texture of the haggis, saying that it was 'unusual' and 'interesting'. Later, in the drawing room, and over a fine Dutch cigar, he heartily and spectacularly vomited it all up, spraying the old oak table, the Persian rug, and the britches of most of the assembled company. The poor fellow did apologise and seemed genuinely embarrassed. I admire his pluck in tholing [enduring] his dinner when he clearly knew that it disagreed with him. Such a sense of seemliness I had thought beyond the foreign mettle."
"We retired to my study, and I offered him a large glass of my favourite tipple, Beamish-Beevers' Old Contemptible 'Peat Purge' single Highland malt whisky, characteristically matured for sixty years in oak sherrywood and flavoured with heather blossom. I believe that Mr Cimmrman now shares my partiality for this barley nectar, judging by his favourable comments, but he would not explain the meaning of the word 'moc', which he had uttered when the whisky first past his lips. I promised to present him with a bottle upon his departure from these shores. He apparently thought this uncommon generous, for he stared at me with obvious incredulity and, switching his disbelieving gaze between me and the glass in his hand, muttered 'A gift - of this?!' An unassuming fellow, this."
A certain confusion seems to have been caused by Cimrman's unfamiliarity with the word "skirl," a Scots term used to describe the sound, or effect, of bagpipes. However, the confusion appears ultimately to have been fortuitous, for the following day, the diaries record.
27th October 1871
"As we were crossing the High Street, the massed pipes and drums of the Castle garrison came marching down from the Esplanade - a sight to stir any Scots heart. Mr Cimrman remarked that their dress (full Highland kilt and cloak) somehow reminded him of childhood. I did not understand this, and he did not elaborate. [A reference to Cimrman's transvestite formative years?] I asked him if the skirl of the pipes has the same appeal for him as it has for me, but he was obviously unfamiliar with this term, for he turned to me with eyes as wide as saucers and exclaimed 'You mean inside each of those tartan balloons there is a squirrel? Listen to the noise they are making - the poor things must be in terrible pain! Let them go at once!' I laughed heartily and put him right on the term. Obviously relieved, after a moment's contemplation he said: 'This gives me an idea.'"
Ravelston-Orr records how this inspiration developed:
27th October 1871
"Mrs Hudson bemoaned the unseasonably mild weather we are experiencing, saying that it was impossible to make a sugar fretwork frosting for the cakes. I stated that she must bear and forbear, and lamented the impracticality of maintaining an ice-house in a town dwelling, such not being furbished with spacious grounds. This prompted Mr Cimmrman to divulge a brilliant idea.
"He explained that he had devised a method of repeatedly passing a gas from one chamber to another, larger one. On each pass the gas would lose pressure so as to cause its temperature to drop. He explained that this was similar to the principle employed in the design of the latest triple-expansion boilers, in which the steam generated by a ship's boiler is put to work three times, each time at a lower temperature and pressure than before. The only difference was that in Mr Cimmrman's device, the gas, which takes the place of the steam vapour in the boiler, would start the process at ordinary temperatures and then be reduced to the temperature of a cold winter's day. If the device could be made sufficiently small, Mr Cimmrman believed, it would be possible to have one in every abode, serving the function of an ice-house."
"He attempted to demonstrate this idea. Seizing the bellows from the hearth, he demanded of me: 'Bring me one of those squirrel bags.' I took him to mean bagpipes, and fetched my set. He suggested that if we inflate the bagpipes to their fullest extent and then allow them to cool to room temperature, extracting air from them by means of the bellows would produce a temperature within the bellows lower than the ambient within the room. He felt sure that we could get enough air into the bagpipes for this to be clearly measurable.
"He replaced the chanter with the bellows, which happily made an air-tight seal, and commenced blowing through the mouthpiece. He laid the pipes on the table and suggested that Dunlop sit astride them, his weight providing additional confining pressure. Dunlop seemed to enjoy this, and commenced bouncing on the pipes, saying that the pneumatic effect was a comfortable one. It was at that point that the pipes exploded. Mr Cimrman was propelled backwards onto the floor, apparently without injury, but poor Dunlop, who was writhing on the floor, seemed to have sustained a telling blow to the privities. The rest of us were stunned but unharmed.
"Once he had recovered his composure, Dunlop observed that such a confined dbody of air could surely be used to insulate travellers from the rigours of mechanical transport, if an appropriate material could be found to hold the air. He seemed to consider that the wheels of the vehicle in question would be the most effective place for such a cushion of air. Cimrman immediately estimated that, for a carriage of typical weight, an inner chamber at a pressure of about thirty pounds to the square inch and contained within a fabric-reinforced external rubber shell, would be necessary. How he came to this rapid and specific conclusion is beyond me. I see little prospect of such fanciful wainwrighting myself."
In 1887, following the advent of durable rubber compounds, John Dunlop made the first pneumatic tyre, fitting it to his son's bicycle. Today it is a truly universal object, but it is evident that Dunlop's ubiquitous invention had its inspiration in his encounter with Jara Cimrman. Ravelston-Orr, of course, is shown by this incident as having been a figure of little imagination, as we might expect of a mere administrator.
Cimrman's ideas about refrigeration seem to have developed into notions of a propulsion mechanism, for the following is later recorded:
27th October 1871
"He [Cimrman] explained that he had devised a ballistic projectile that was 'powered by skirl,' as he put it. This turned out to be a pneumatic device in which the release of gas would provide propulsion. If the gas were to be heated as it was released, its expansion would be all the greater, as would the corresponding propulsive force. This Cimmrman plans to do by igniting a small stream of combustible gas and using the heat of this combustion to warm the propellant gas upon its release. The process could also be enhanced by ensuring that the propellant gas was sufficiently cool. To do this, he proposed to use his refrigerant device. The whole vehicle would be jacketed in a cooling device immediately prior to the start of its journey.
"Mr Cimmrman explained that the main difficulties were simply in controlling the flows of the various gases. A huge sustained thrust would be needed as the journey was initiated, and care would be necessary to ensure that the commencement of travel was not explosive. Only a small amount of combustible gas could be carried too, as the bulk of the vehicle's weight would be made up of gases.
This is clearly a rocket motor dependent upon the thermal expansivity of a propellant gas. Perhaps a substantial thrust could be achieved by such a method, but it should be noted that this is only one step removed from the rocket mechanisms of today. It is likely that, in practical experimentation, it would soon be realised that the combustion process itself would generate more thrust per unit weight than would any heating process, no matter how efficient or how refrigerated the gas. Therefore, we see here the genesis of Cimrman's notions about rocketry and space flight - his "skirl-powered" craft.
Ravelston-Orr also records:
27th October 1871
"He [Cimrman] mused that such a pneumatic vehicle, which would no doubt be a source of much noise as it vented gas furiously, might sound like 'a whole army of those men in skirts playing their squirrel-bags as they march into battle.' I remarked that these men had a fearsome reputation in battle, and he added: 'It must be because if they fail, they are given the Peat-Purge whisky to drink.' I assume he meant to say 'succeed' rather than 'fail.'"
It should be noted that in some archaic tongues the words for sea and sky share the same root, which broadly means "firmament", "expanse", or "void." Perhaps, if Cimrman used deliberately obscure terminology in describing his works, a mistranslation might occur in which a craft intended to travel the skies was described as a submarine. Also, it is the author's contention that Cimrman used the word "skirl" to refer to the propulsion mechanism of his craft, but that this metamorphosed, through mishearing or mispronunciation, into "squirrel." This is a common linguistic phenomenon, the best example of it being that of the Snake River in the USA, which was originally known as the "Seneca River" but mispronunciation by placing the stress on the second syllable instead of the first, led the name to be written as "Snake." Thus, Cimrman's squirrel-powered submarine was, in fact, a skirl-powered rocket. Professional Cimrmanologists are invited to consider this possibility.
From the diaries:
28th October 1871
"As usual, the evening paper was delivered by young Arthur. He [Cimrman] noticed that the lad was more interested in a penny dreadful that apparently he was attempting to read whilst wending his way through the streets on his round. Enquiring of the lad's interest in the rag, he was informed that it was a story of a dastardly criminal genius who was holding the realm to ransom. This prompted Cimrman to remark that this was an old-fashioned theme. He further observed that he felt that there was a place in modern literature for a hero who relied solely on rational enquiry and scientific knowledge to win the day, rather than derring-do and bluster.
"Young Arthur was obviously taken with this notion, and quizzed Cimrman on the matter. He was further told that such a character would require a foil, a companion who was something of a dollard so as to emphasise the attributes of the hero. There would also have to be an absence of romantic and family entanglements, so that free range could be given to the hero. He also explained that it was not hard to devise the plot for such stories. One started by identifying the victim and villain, including the motive, means, and opportunity for the evil deed. From these circumstances, one merely worked backwards, identifying the clues by means of which the crime would be detected in the course of a systematic and rational investigation.
"Arthur wondered how the necessary level of scientific expertise could be acquired so that such a hero could be portrayed realistically, and Cimrman recommended a medical training. I had to agree with him there. The young lad was clearly impressed with this, and went away quite enthused and starry-eyed."
Could this paper boy have been Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes? Conan Doyle was raised in Edinburgh and would have been twelve years old in 1871. Could we here be seeing the inspiration behind one of literature's greatest characters, and the yardstick against which all heroes of the detective fiction genre are judged? Conan Doyle did receive medical training, and claimed that it was this that made for Holmes' powers of detection. Without corroboration from Conan Doyle's own letters, we shall probably never know if this young boy was indeed he, but this author suggests that it is surely a distinct possibility.
28th October 1871
"The conversation turned to the work of Darwin. Mr Cimrman stated that he felt that the work was incomplete, for Darwin had not established a means by which his variations in morphology could arise, thereby enabling his principle of survival of the fitness to operate. After a moment's thought, we all agreed. Darwin's notion of the mixing of blood seemed implausible. Baker sneeringly asked whether Mr Cimrman had any suggestions. Mr Cimrman proposed that the means had to be a molecular one, that somehow the characteristics of a creature were encoded in a molecular structure and that in sexual reproduction the characteristics of two creatures were admingled by a process of combination operating on the molecular scale. This would account for the observed laws of heredity and also for the phenomenon of runts and deformities, which, according to Mr Cimrman, would largely stem from errors in the combination process. This sounded plausible, but Mr Cimrman went on to divulge more of his thoughts. He felt that, if we considered how much information had to be encoded, and the fact that there is a limited number of basic molecular types in a living creature, the mechanism had to involve a small number of molecular units that were combined in a very lengthy sequence. If this were true, he said, it would one day be possible to identify which elements in the combination sequence were responsible for any given inherited attribute, and perhaps even to control the manifestation of that attribute effectively, rather than through erratic selective breeding techniques. In short, Mr Cimrman was proposing that the randomness could be removed from heredity! We were amazed. We conceded that this might be useful in the business of rearing livestock, but the prospect of its application to humans gave us pause. Mr Cimrman commented that eugenics was a constructive practice when it eliminated disease. It was only destructive when used for ill."
It is known that later, in 1881, Cimrman attempted to create a new creature, reportedly through cross-breeding. Perhaps this incident can now be re-interpreted. Contemporary recorders may well have assumed that a simple cross-breeding process was involved, but we now have evidence that, fully ten years previously, Cimrman was already theorising about genetics. Cimrmanologists can now assess whether this incident was actually an attempt to create a genuine chimera.
Moreover, in 1887, it has been reported, Cimrman discovered a new, radically unorthodox species. Was this being a creation of nature, or was it designed by Cimrman himself? Perhaps Cimrmanologists should now re-assess this incident too, in the light of his discussions with Ravelston-Orr and his guests.
It is probably significant that, shortly after Cimrman's visit, Ravelston-Orr established the medical school's "Mechanics of Heredity" project. This project developed over the ensuing decades, evolving from a simple matter of observation and postulation, to investigations in molecular biology, and ultimately to genetic manipulation. It grew in size too, and today its descendant is the Roslin Institute, where, of course, Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned higher form of life, was made. Clearly, the original inspiration for this work was Jara Cimrman, but the question has to be asked - did Cimrman beat them to it, with a chimera and an entirely new creature (q.v.)?
Dolly the Sheep: inspired by Cimrman?
From the diaries:
28th October 1871
"During the course of our conversation, I made a reference to architecture. I was amazed to hear an elliptical reply. I asked if he knew the Great Architect and he asked whether I meant Adonaye. I said that I did, and he said that the all-seeing eye had long been his compass, on the level and by the square. We discussed certain matters long into the night, and I have resolved to take him tomorrow to Rosslyn."
This entry appears to allude to the accidental discovery that Cimrman had been initiated into freemasonry. From Army records it is known that Ravelston-Orr was surgeon to the Black Watch when that particular regiment was stationed in India. His attendance at field lodge meetings is documented. From the above, he evidently was an initiate of high rank, and prudent enough to omit detailed reference to matters concerning the secret society from his writings. The fact that Cimrman and he "discussed certain matters long into the night" suggests that they were both privy to the same knowledge.
Rosslyn Chapel is a curious building. A quiet religious retreat just outside Edinburgh. The detail of its architecture is bizarre, heavily laden with symbolism and encoded messages.
Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh -where Cimrman's most daring idea awaits realisation?
To explain the above diary entry, we must first digress. Early in this century, a new priest called Sauniere took up a ministry in the French Pyrennean village of Rennes-le-Chateau. During the course of his ministry this ostensibly penniless priest spent vast sums of money, on his church and his house. When he died, this provincial priest's funeral was attended by a stunning selection of eminent scientists, men of letters, and crowned heads of Europe. It was also discovered upon his death that inscriptions on stonework in his church had been obliterated. His housekeeper, who was also probably his lover, spoke of a great secret. However, a stroke silenced her and she died without divulging a word. Just how a minor priest came by such a fortune, and how he came to be known to so many notable figures of the day, grew into a mystery that caught the popular imagination. The mystery is compounded by Sauniere's seeming attempts at preserving it by obliterating inscriptions.
From here we leap forward to the 1970s, and an English historian called Henry Lincoln, who made documentary television programmes for the BBC on the subject of Rennes-le-Chateau. He went on to publish a book with two co-workers, Baigent and Leigh, entitled "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail", which became a huge international best-seller. In the course of their investigations, the three workers uncovered a secret society, with ages-old links to freemasonry and the Knights Templar. They also managed to acquire a list of names of Grand Masters of this society (known as the Prieure de Sion), and these names include such historic luminaries as Isaac Newton, Robert Fludd, Jean Cocteau, and....Leonardo da Vinci. All of these names have one thing in common - in their day, each was known for his unorthodox religious beliefs.
The main thesis of the book is that Sauniere accidentally stumbled upon the identity of the Holy Grail, and that the Grail is actually a bloodline, descending from Christ into the present. This bloodline has been protected over the centuries by the Prieure de Sion,
The book and its sequel, "The Messianic Legacy," spawned a plethora of further investigations, ranging in subject matter from Templars and freemasons to Egyptology, the purported secret history of mankind, and aliens. This unprecedented interest has surely produced many red herrings, but at least it has allowed an informed consensus view to emerge.
Most Grail investigators now agree that the legendary Grail may well be a bloodline, however, they also believe that it is a material object. Today, the view is increasingly being promulgated that this object is the ultimate religious relic - the body of Christ. It is now also generally considered that this most precious relic lies buried at Rosslyn Chapel, Here it has safely eluded plunderers and human curiosity since it was brought there centuries ago.
Of course, knowledge of the whereabouts of such an object would be carefully restricted to the highest initiates of a secret society charged with acting as its custodians. Was Jara Cimrman privy to such knowledge? Did Ravelston-Orr reveal this ultimate truth to him? Cimrman's family connection to Leonardo, a former Grand Master of the Prieure de Sion, suggests that he may well have been, and his dealings with Ravelston-Orr, who certainly appears to have known the true significance of Rosslyn Chapel, suggest that he almost certainly was.
What were Cimrman's intentions at Rosslyn? I fear we must now speculate. We have seen the evidence of his interest in, and understanding of, heredity. This author believes that he was aware of what lies hidden at Rosslyn Chapel. Could it have been his long-term ambition to extract and utilise that element of the sacred relic that conferred divine power - could it have been Cimrman's intention to force a quantum leap in human evolution by isolating and spreading the Jesus Gene?
Such an advance would undoubtedly transform Homo sapiens into a higher being. Surely no investigator could have resisted the temptation of such a task if they believed it to be within their grasp. Currently, this can only be speculation, but it may be that other evidence of this intention will be uncovered elsewhere, possibly concerning later periods in Cimrman's life. We must wait and hope.
Fate has a way of redressing balances. Cimrman's visit to Scotland would seem to have been remarkably propitious for the Scots - it was inevitable that there would have to be a down side. Sure enough, the diaries do not let us down. Ravelston-Orr records:
29th October 1871
"He had indeed availed himself of the wine cellar, and much too much. He entered the drawing room unsteady on his feet and muttered incoherently. He peered around the room and spotted the open fireplace. This he apparently mistook for a urinal, for he proceeded to relieve himself therein! My guests beheld this disgusting spectacle in stunned disbelief. I implored Mr Cimrman to remember where he was, and called for Watson [Ravelston-Orr's butler] to conduct him to his room. I decided not to attempt to re-light the fire that evening.
"That night I was woken by a commotion downstairs. Lighting the lamp and taking the poker from the hearth, I proceeded with caution. I espied the open door of the sitting room, and heard the noise coming from within. Entering the chamber, I was horrified to find Mr Cimmrman in flagrante delicto with Mrs Hudson!
"I was obliged to expel Mr Cimmrman from my home. I would have enjoyed his company longer, but such a lapse in decorum is simply impermissible. Watson escorted him from the premises. I presume he made his way back to his ship in Leith.
"Sadly, Mrs Hudson has had to find another position after thirty years in my service and that of my father before me. I have thought it best that she leave the city, and have given her a testimonial sufficient to secure a position in a farmhouse. I did not consider it necessary to mention her disgrace."
The life of Jara da Cimrman is a fascinating one, but it is also shrouded in mist. Only fragmentary records seem to be available. However, his unplanned visit to Scotland, thanks to the journals of Ravelston-Orr, are perfectly illuminated by a strong, unwavering beam. We are afforded a perfectly clear window onto a particular moment in the great man's life, brief though that window was. It is the author's hope that this clarity with which Cimrman's trip is recorded will serve as a useful reference, shining new light into the gloomy recesses that still lurk elsewhere in his life story.
Ravelston-Orr's diaries contain more. There are references to a meeting with James Clerk Maxwell, the physicist. There is also a discussion on computing, this being prompted by Ravelston-Orr receiving news of the death, on 18th October 1871, of his old friend, Charles Babbage, inventor of the "analytic engine." There is also a visit to the Scottish village of Bonnybridge, which has since become the world centre of UFO activity. Reference is also made to a lexical work that was planned - The Cimrman Rhombus. These await further investigation.
Another area for enquiry is the question of whether Cimrman ever returned to Scotland. Given the connection with Rosslyn, it seems more than likely that he did. Also worthy of investigation is the question of whether, in returning from the New World, Cimrman docked at Liverpool or Southampton, either of which would have been a natural port of call for any such journey back to Northern Europe made in those days. But these potentially rich veins must wait for another day. It is the author's hope that the events uncovered here will shed light on Cimrman's life, and perhaps provide guidance and inspiration for Cimrmanologists.
24th Sept. 1999
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-------------------------------------------------------------------------- (remarks by Honza Rehacek - from the mailing list JDC-L, Sept. 27, 1999) Dear colleague Lawrie, let me first thank you for an inspiring and thought-provoking paper on Cimrman's short visit to Scotland. Your mastery of the presented material is quite impressive and I dare say that it would make many JDC-L readers feel rather envious, thinking that "such cimrmanological perspicacity is beyond the foreign mettle", as our dear Ravelston-Orr would have undoubtedly put it. While the repercussions of your contribution will surely be felt in the cimrmanological community for years to come, I'd like to make a few minor comments here on some of the points that your paper has raised. > .......... One, the Forth Road Bridge, was opened in 1964 and carries road > traffic across the Firth. It is a modern steel suspension bridge. I think this would be an appropriate place to mention that even though Cimrman may have had nothing to do with the Forth Road Suspension Bridge, or with any other suspension bridge for that matter, he was in fact an involuntary founding father of its close relative - a suspense bridge. As long as my records are accurate, the first suspense bridge was built in 1903 in the Argentinian town of San Juan Nepomuceno, known for its small Bohemian community, a residue of the emigration wave in 1848. When the need for a new bridge over the river Tiarapa arose, the Czechs lobbied for a project designed by Jara Cimrman. Unfortunately, Cimrman himself could not supervise the construction, being fully focused on building his famous soda water factory in the Ukraine, and so it came to be that the construction was being overseen by a Prague firm "Bridges and Tunnels, Inc.", whose best three civil engineers Vladimir Kocarnik, Viktor Dlouhy and Ivan Kozeny were promptly sent to Argentina. This clever trio, however, soon realized that their Hispanic sub-contractors, as well as the inspection officials of the Argentinian government, were naive and gullible and so they, contrary to Cimrman's strict specifications, started cutting corners wherever they could. Tens of tons of cement were sent back to their homes in Bohemia and Moravia and many of the iron rods designated originally to reinforce the concrete structures found themselves standing idly in the discreet darkness of backyard toolsheds, awaiting patiently their transformation into grids and gratings for the builders' mansions. Well, to cut the long story short, the bridge turned out to be rather wobbly, to say the least. People were afraid to use it, because it might collapse right beneath their feet. Book-makers were accepting bets on how long would the bridge last and daredevils from all over the world were flocking to the area to cross it. A foreboding of an imminent disaster grew so tangible that after a few months the bridge was dubbed "the San Juan Nepomuceno Suspense Bridge" and the legend has it that local suicidal maniacs would not even have to jump off it to get killed. They would just walk on and wait long enough. The bridge lasted for quite some time though, and finally collapsed only during the infamous Great Flood of 1905, when raging waters and incessant impacts of hundreds of floating cattle carcasses undermined its already shaky structure insofar as the remaining grains of cement just called it quits and stopped doing whatever they were miraculously doing up to that point. The bridge fell down, disintegrated and was washed away. Despite the lack of luck on this bridge's part, the idea of a suspense bridge has not been completely forgotten and many offsprings of the San Juan Nepomuceno Suspense Bridge are still standing around the world, waiting for their fifteen seconds of fame. > ... I believe that Mr Cimmrman now shares my > partiality for this barley nectar, judging by his favourable comments, but > he would not explain the meaning of the word 'moc', which he had uttered when > the whisky first past his lips. The word "moc", as long as it is Czech can have two, possibly three meanings. It could stand for "much", as in "much delightful", which is what Cimrman may have wanted to say, or it could mean "power", indicating clearly the strong feelings Cimrman had had on that occasion. Finally, with a diacritical mark over "c", it would simply mean "urine". Now, this may seem to be a little bit on the vulgar side, but considering what we know about Cimrman's last moments in Ravelston-Orr's house...who knows? Maybe, by coincidence he needed to go to the bathroom at that very moment and felt awkward about asking for directions. And we have to keep in mind that Cimrman in 1871 was still very young and his command of the Czech language may thus have been very poor. It would seem more logical that the word was actually German in which case I dare not predict what it could have meant. > "As we were crossing the High Street, the massed pipes and drums of the > Castle garrison came marching down from the Esplanade - a sight to stir any > Scots heart. Mr Cimrman remarked that their dress (full Highland kilt > and cloak) somehow reminded him of childhood. I did not understand this, > and he did not elaborate. [A reference to Cimrman's transvestite formative > years?] Well, first, let me clarify one point, since I am not sure I made it clear in the Highlights. Cimrman's recycling of his sister's clothes wasn't a manifestation of his transvestism. At least not in the sense that he would enjoy wearing girls clothes. He had no idea he was a boy. His parents are to blame, since they concealed his true sex from him and sent him to a girls boarding school, just to save a few pennies for proper boys clothing. It was only much later that Cimrman realized that he had quite a different sort of ammunition under his skirt and started behaving accordingly. This, of course, resulted in a little bit of frustration since he could identify neither with girls, on account of their different physique, nor with boys, who simply did not and would not wear skirts! Therefore I claim that not only was any Scots heart overflowing with emotions on seeing the bagpipers march down the Esplanade with their pressed kilts on, but so was Cimrman's. Here, finally, there was a group of people he could relate to - men in skirts! In the past, I actually found out that Cimrman was confused about his sex until his mid twenties and was fearfully expecting his first menstruation, month after month, until he was clinically confirmed to be a man by Viennese physician, Dr. W. A. Kleichendorf. That might also explain why, upon forced landing in Edinburgh, he made a beeline for a medical college, hoping perhaps to find there some answers to questions pertaining to his sexuality. To a young man, or even adolescent, these are questions of superior importance. > Could this paper boy have been Arthur Conan Doyle, > creator of Sherlock Holmes? It could very well be. Let me remark though that I have argued elsewhere that Cimrman himself was not very successful detective novelist, what with his questionable methodology of not divulging the murderer till the very last page - inclusively. Perhaps, this unfortunate strategy resulted from the commercial fiasco of his first detective novel "The murderer is Bedrich Kolomaznik", in which the name of the villain was given away on the very cover of the book, much to the dismay of thrill seeking readers. > "That night I was woken by a commotion downstairs. Lighting the lamp and > taking the poker from the hearth, I proceeded with caution. I espied the open > door of the sitting room, and heard the noise coming from within. Entering the > chamber, I was horrified to find Mr Cimmrman in flagrante delicto with Mrs > Hudson! This is very interesting observation indeed. It is generally accepted that Jara was extremely shy towards women. And even though rumors about his love affairs occasionally do surface (I vaguely recollect his hanky-panky with Mrs. Schmoranzova, a gamekeeper's wife, or his broken engagement to Alice Echtnerova), they are scarce and probably fall into the category of exceptions confirming the rule. Could it be that his hesitant behavior in matters of love stemmed from the above scene? Certainly, having been caught in the act at such an early age must have been a devastating blow to his self-esteem, not to mention messing up his already confused sexual instincts. Well, we may never know... > Another area for enquiry is the question of whether Cimrman ever returned > to Scotland. Given the connection with Rosslyn, it seems more than likely I think it is very likely too. And I see at least three reasons for it. First, in Cimrman's time the Czech nation didn't have a separate state and essentially lived in a shadow of its big brother, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The position of Scotland within the United Kingdom may have looked somewhat similar to Cimrman. It has been known that in later years he actively tried to subvert the monarchy and kept encouraging his fellow Bohemians and Moravians to resist the Austrian oppression and fight for their freedom. Maybe, he tried to do the same service for the Scots folks. It is a very curious coincidence that the Education Act of 1872 that stirred the Scottish national consciousness came just a year after Cimrman's unexpected visit to Scotland. And let's not forget that despite being a jack-of-all-trades, one occupation that Cimrman loved above all was teaching. Second, considering how much Cimrman loved the rolling hills of Northern Bohemia, the chances are that the mountainous Scotland was to his liking too. And last but not least, Cimrman was connected with Scotland by his lifelong friendship with Patrick Geddes, a biologist and social thinker. Together they helped to establish a botanical garden in Dundee, where they spent many jolly weekends trying to answer a question that was nagging Cimrman for quite some time - namely - whether parsnips are capable of emotions or, perhaps, even primitive thought processes. Tirelessly, night after night, they talked to their parsnips, discussed politics with them, fine arts, principles of riding bikes in the thick English fog, rugby scores, investment options in gardening tools industry, pitfalls of parsnip sexuality and even the latest gossip about French horse-radishes, but the parsnips' expressions remained listless. During the last phase, they tried to cajole them into showing any kind of emotional reaction, flattered them, but no discernible signs of blushing were recorded. Despite the negative outcome, their joint effort resulted in a series of papers entitled "On diminished cognitive abilities of parsnip roots", published in 1897 by the Royal Botanical Society of Scotland. Conceivably, it was this endeavor that brought about the sublime British expression "fine words butter no parsnips". Oh, one more reason. I don't know what Scots' reputation is in the British Isles, but in the Czech lands they are presumed to be extremely frugal (and don't ask me why). Well, Cimrman too was extremely frugal, thrifty, maybe even stingy at times, wasn't he? All right, off to Scotland with him! :-) > Sponsored by > The Scottish Historical Investigation Trust > The Campaign for Edinburgh-Praha Town Twinning Junkets > Beamish-Beevers' Old Contemptible "Peat Purge" Single Highland Malt Whisky Well, Arthur, to your health then and thanks again for the insightful and entertaining essay. Honza Rehacek, Chair Department of Biocimrmanology The University of Hradec Kralove Australia-Hungary 213 87 Milky Way (end of remarks) ------------------------------------------------------------------
First, our source - Ravelston-Orr - for it is through his eyes that we are forced to observe the Master. Who was Ravelston-Orr? The outline of his life is well known, mostly recorded by his own hand, but in order to delve deeper, we must consider first the world in which he lived and moved. He was obviously a pillar of Victorian society, but what implications does that carry?
In 1871 Britain was basking in a golden age of unprecedented power and prosperity. The French threat had long since gone, and it was too early for Anglo-Teutonic rivalries to have arisen. Britain had few dealings with other countries. It traded with its colonies, rather than with anyone else. It had no particular friends in the world, for it needed none. It had no particular enemies either, for no one could challenge it. If trouble threatened, the sight of the Royal Navy appearing on the horizon was enough to dispel it.
In such a society, things foreign were foreign indeed. It was known that there was a world beyond the British Empire, but it was looked upon as an unfortunate place, where people did things differently, where they simply weren't British. Little distinction was made between the various parts of this foreign realm - being Czech was much the same as being French or Polish or Russian. This would have been Ravelston-Orr's view of the world.
It is worth recounting here a true story. During the Napoleonic Wars, a French ship foundered off the Yorkshire coast, in the North of England. A survivor of this incident was the ship's mascot, a monkey, which was kept dressed in a little suit of clothes. Upon reaching the shore, the monkey was captured by the locals. They could not understand the language this strange, hairy little fellow was speaking, so they naturally assumed it was a French spy, and hanged it. Ravelston-Orr was not quite as imbecilic as this, but he would nevertheless have been ill-informed on foreign matters.
In spite of this ignorance, he would have been a very well-educated man. Having been schooled in Latin and Greek, and well-grounded in the work of Pythagoras, Euclid, Leibniz, and Newton, he would have gone on to acquire an encyclopaedic knowledge of the medical practice of his day. He probably also spoke French, and may well have collected minor pieces of Renaissance art. He would have been acquainted with the rigours of scientific method, and, as a skilled administrator, his diaries would have been diligently and fastidiously written.
Ravelston-Orr makes no comment on Cimrman's age. Clearly, others had considered him old enough to cross the Atlantic. Appearances can be deceptive, but normally an age of at least 16 years would be suggested here. However, Ravelston-Orr's eye would have been distracted by one far more obvious feature than Cimrman's age - the fact that he was a foreigner. Such a terrible disadvantage would surely have been uppermost in Ravelston-Orr's mind, and may well have blinded him to Cimrman's youth.
This author recognises that there is a fundamental difference between involuntary and deliberate transvestism, but that no distinction between these is implicit in his use of the word in reporting on Ravelston-Orr's writings.
Putative Conan Doyle
This question, I think, serves to illustrate the truth of the old adage: "those who can, do; those who can't, teach." Cimrman may not have succeeded in writing detective fiction, but he certainly seems to have known how to do it, judging by his advice to the young paper boy. Interestingly, the names of some of Conan Doyle's characters in his Sherlock Holmes stories are the same as those of some people in Ravelston-Orr's household. Could it also be that, if this lad was Conan Doyle, Ravelston-Orr was the model for Watson and Cimrman himself the model for Holmes?
Bloodlines and Holy Grails
If Cimrman was aware of the matters alluded to by Ravelston-Orr, he would have had very particular views on authority and on the legitimacy of rulers. It is likely that he would have disapproved of royal houses that were not of the appropriate descent i.e., those that did not stem from the holy bloodline. He would have approved of those families that could trace their history back to the Merovingian Franks and who played a key roll in the Crusades, but he would have seen as usurpers any royal house that did not have such a pedigree. British royalty (then as now, the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha) would have met with his disapproval, as they had supplanted the House of Stewart. Similarly, many royal households of Central and Eastern Europe would have been seen by him as illegitimate. It is suggested here that Cimrmanologists should review his known subversive activities, and assess whether the above contention is applicable.
In Flagrante Delicto
Ravelston-Orr fails to record one important detail - what was the flagrant act in question? Obviously, an act involving two people of opposite sex and a deal of noise does suggest copulation. Mrs Hudson is likely to have been a 44-year-old childless widow, who may well have had desires born of both frustration and a strong mothering instinct. She may well also have had something of an Ellouise Complex, resulting in strong attractions for men of obvious intellectual capability. The interruption of what may have been Cimrman's first sexual experience would certainly have had a detrimental effect on his confidence.
However, it is not inevitable that the act in question was a sexual one. For Mrs Hudson to be dismissed, a severe breach of decorum would have had to have been committed. This could have been a criminal act. Had Mrs Hudson, fired by years of resentment at her lowly position in life, enticed a naive Cimrman into assisting her in committing theft? The act took place in a sitting room, not a bedroom. A sitting room in such a house would have been heavily adorned with valuable, and highly portable, objects. It would have been easy for the resentful, or the innocent, to succumb to temptation.
One should also remember that Cimrman had discovered alcohol, and may have been under the influence at the time. Maybe even Mrs Hudson was too.
In conclusion, I would like to remind you that all the events I have reported on took place in Scotland. This is a small, wind-swept land that finds itself perpetually locked in a difficult marriage with its much larger southern neighbour. It is often rumoured that Scotland's inhabitants are a mean-spirited, miserly bunch with a grim outlook that befits such a grim land. I wish to place on record that such rumours are quite scurrilous and slanderous. On the contrary, Scotsmen are a very hospitable and generous crowd, and I wish to demonstrate this by inviting you to come and stay at my home. which you will find very palatial and relaxing, and well worth the charge of £200 per day (breakfast not included). Book early, deposit required, no refunds. :-)
May the skirl of the pipes gladden your heart, may the whisky warm your soul, and may life forever fatten your wallet. All the best from the Celtic Wasteland.
29th Sept. 1999
-------------------------------------------------------------------------- (remarks by
Honza Rehacek - from the mailing list JDC-L, Oct. 4, 1999) Esteemed colleagues, ladies and
gentlemen, let me add a few more remarks on the subject of Cimrman and Scotland. >
From: "Lawrie, Arthur"