• Work towards publishing the first complete, public description of Sir Francis Bacon’s Word Cipher.
  • Enable additional independent research into reverse-engineering the Word Cipher.
  • Replicate a historic illustration of the Word Cipher in use.

Future Experiments will focus more on Technology and less on background information.

Experiment Eleven

While Sir Francis Bacon’s invention of the Biliteral Cipher (“Binary Code”) has become one of the most successful inventions in World History, in his secret writings, he repeatedly refers to an even better cipher, which he called the Word Cipher.

What if it was true?

What if the scope and commercial impact of applications of the Word Cipher could be comparable to those of even the Binary Code?

Considering that mind-bending possibility, we might expect that our Experiment here, which attempts to emulate the operation of the Word Cipher, might be only the latest of many comparable efforts, but the opposite is true: if successful, this will be the first time in 400 years that a complete and detailed description, and demonstration, of the Word Cipher, will have been published.

The first, and greatest, and yet most elusive published works on decoding the Word Cipher came from a medical doctor in Detroit, USA, Orville W. Owen, beginning in 1893.

Dr. Owen, a Surgeon, routinely operated at such a level of intellectual clarity that he memorized the entire First Folio (900+ pages) ‘just for fun’ — just to relieve the tedium of riding in a horse-drawn carriage between workaday examinations of his patients.

He wasn’t at first aware of the Biliteral Cipher, definitely a disadvantage, since the instructions to decode the Word Cipher were left by Sir Francis encoded in the Biliteral Cipher, as a kind of user’s manual.

Dr. Owen apparently discovered the Word Cipher through the power of pure thought, without benefit of the supplied instructional manual!

Dr. Owen wrote five volumes about his discovery of the Word Cipher between 1893 and 1895. All five have been collected from multiple public domain sources onto this website, which is likely the only online source for researchers to conveniently find them all together.

The dry, stilted, formal, academic, verbose, Late-Victorian prose style of Dr. Owen will be a challenge to modern readers. He may have been overcompensating to the rancor and ridicule he was receiving as a result of his shockingly iconoclastic publications.

Worse, for reasons unknown, Dr. Owen never himself published a detailed description of his cipher method, instead, just hundreds of pages of what the decoded messages supposedly say. This has made it only too convenient for naysayers to say that there never was any embedded cipher, and it was all just a flight of fancy.

However, Dr. Owen did have a small number of visitors to his workshop, to whom he personally demonstrated the cipher method. Two articles describing this, written by the observers themselves, appeared in the pages of Baconiana, the newsletter of the Francis Bacon Society since 1886, and also are included here. Their testimony, sadly, is what meager scraps of information which has been published about how the Word Cipher works, apart from Dr. Owen’s elegant but cryptic translation of Bacon’s Shakespearean Blank Verse.

We will attempt to take the fragments available from Dr. Owen’s own writings, and those of the eye-witness visitors to his workshop, to write a simple Python program to try to reverse-engineer the original decoding algorithm. This will be a work-in-process because it begins with so little previously published material to build on.

We do present here an initial attempt at a Python program to decode a brief trial document (still cryptic since 1895!) in the hope that additional work will be carried on by others.

Below are concatenated cherry-picked snippets from all of the known published works which make any mention of how the Word Cipher actually works, collectively called here, Abstractions.

Earliest Publications

Sir Francis’ Cipher Story Volume One, 1895

Letter to the Decipherer

The ultimate point of origin of the highest tier of Bacon’s multi-tier cipher system. The description of how the system works comes from Sir Francis, and not Dr. Owen. Therefore all of it is expressed in Shakespearean Blank Verse, so prepare for a crawl.

Also on Page 7 shows offerings of Howard Publication’s Baconian books. Modern observers of American culture will be startled to learn how much interest there was in 1895 in the American midwest.

Abstraction of relevant text snippets into one PDF.

NY Herald 1894

See Keys to the Cipher Page 3.

Abstraction of relevant text snippets into one PDF.

Detroit Journal 1894

Early high-level summary, excellent source of historical background, but with only lightweight mentions of the details to the Cipher Method.

Abstraction of relevant text snippets into one PDF.

[following is a concise summary of same material]

Letter to the Decipherer Owen, Dr. Orville W. — Sir Francis Bacon’s Cipher Story Volume One, 1895, p.1 | pdf p. 9 of 230
Detroit Journal 1894 Detroit Journal, Hunsaker Walter — Sir Francis Bacon’s Cipher Story, date unknown
Sherman OverviewBACONIANA, Sherman, P. J. — Dr. Owen’s Cipher, S2 9 Apr 1895, p.36 | pdf p.44 of 246
Millet OuterBACONIANA, Millett, J.B. — Dr. Owen’s Cipher Method, Vol. III no. 9, Apr 1895, p. 92 | pdf p.1 of 147
Millet Inner BACONIANA, Millett, J.B. — The key to Mr. Millet’s Concealed Statement, Vol IV New-Series no. 13 p. 92 | pdf p. 96 of 246

The following key documents are from the venerable journal, Baconiana from the mid- 1890’s:

1949 BACONIANA Cover, the newsletter of the Francis Bacon Society since 1886

Sherman Overview

First independent (from Dr. Owen) Description of the Word Cipher, by an eyewitness to the decoding in Detroit.

BACONIANA, Sherman, P. J. — Dr. Owen’s Cipher, S2 9 Apr 1895, p.36 | pdf p.44 of 246

Abstraction of relevant text snippets into one PDF.

Mr. Millet’s Partially Worked Example

In 1895 Baconiana ran a series of two articles by P.J. Millet, which provides the basis for our Experiment Eleven. He poses a riddle to the readers of Baconiana: at the end of his article about some scattered claptrap of How the Word Cipher Works he reveals that within the text that reader has just finished, there was an embedded message. He writes that he will publish the solution (the decoded inner message) in the next edition, just like a Sunday crossword.

The unique value here is that it is an extraordinarily simple example, in scope, compared to the real one: not just all the First Folio, but all the other texts written by Bacon, under his own name and under his many pen-names, maybe as many as fifty. But if we can discover how the cipher works using a very simple example, the principles can be used to subsequently attack the whole corpus of maybe 50 books and essays, usually written under pen-names.

Millet Outer

The brain-dead sample Article Text to Enclose Mr. Millet’s Concealed Statement for this demonstration.

J.B. Millett, “Dr. Owen’s Cipher Method,” in Baconiana, vol. Ill, no. 9, April, 1895, pp. 92, | pdf p.96 of 246

Millet Inner

The Decoded Solution to Mr. Millet’s Concealed Statement, steganographically concealed within the above.

The key to Mr. Millet’s Concealed Statement in BACONIANA, Millett, J.B. — The key to Mr. Millet’s Concealed Statement, Vol IV New-Series no. 13 p. 92 | pdf p. 96 of 246

While it is a confused picture of how the Word Cipher works, an element which is quite clear is detection of Clustering, it is repeatedly mentioned by all of the source mentioned above. No precise definition is available of what a Cluster is, but it refers to anomalous repetitions of Key Words — which indicate where to find sections of text where the embedded messages are scattered within the outer public text. No transformation of the inner text is needed. The inner text is fully formed, concealed in the larger outer text of many Baconian works (books and essays). A list of them is given by Dr. Owen in his Letter to the Decipherer in Volume One of his series (above). It should be noted this isn’t designated as a comprehensive list.

The next thing done is to pencil around every sentence
containing the guide word being used, thus enclosing the keys as
well, and these sentences are now read from the wheel to an operator,
who typewrites them upon sheets of paper. At the head of every
page thus written is placed the key word, or words, of the sentences,
thus avoiding all confusion when the papers come to be sorted.

Our attempt to emulate the Word Cipher in detail will best be viewed in the comments of the Python source code:

Lab Notebook, “Experiment-11”

It is the object of the writer to give to the readers of Baconiana a report of his investigations of the work of DrOwen of Detroit U.S.A. who claims to have found the true method of deciphering various writings by Francis Bacon concealed in his acknowledged works in the Folio of 1623 and the works of Spenser Marlowe Peele and Green. As a subscriber to Baconiana and one intensely interested in whatever may possibly lead to a more extended knowledge on the subject the writer has felt that any publications which claimed so boldly the attention of all students of Shakespeare and Bacon ought to be carefully and impartially looked into and the results as impartially stated in Baconiana. Therefore the visits to DrOwen workshop in Detroit have been more frequent and more prolonged than they would have been for mere personal satisfaction. It is one thing to understand a matter like this and quite another to present it as it should be and tell others what they are to think. As to the latter I make no pretensions but it seems best to present the case just as it is as before an open court and permit every one to be his own judge and draw his own conclusion. The first volume of Sir Francis Bacon Cipher Story by DrOwen appeared in 1893 and has been followed by a number of other volumes. All these DrOwen claims to have deciphered by the same method aided by two or three assistants who have been trained by him. The first book created a great deal of interest comparatively few found the book acceptable. Belief confidence faith were of course enormously overmatched by disbelief incredulity doubt and suspicion. The great majority of readers said nothing probably fearing to be committed. A large number rushed into print to indignantly and scornfully reject the book to name its author as a madman and a swindler desirous of selling his wares in a sensational manner and to warn people against what he had done or might ever do. Much of the correspondence was from avowed Baconian who wished to protect Bacon reputation from being sullied with publications in his name which they considered in every respect unworthy of him unlike him and in the highest degree improbable. If public attention could have been concentrated on the method rather than the results. in the writers opinion it would have been better for DrOwen the discoverer of the cipher. The doctors say that inflammation means heat and that there is no inflammation without a cause for it. It was the heat displayed that attracted the writer attention. Evidently so much inflammation could not be caused by a splinter. The indications were so numerous and so persistent as to create the conviction that there must be unusual strength either in the book or its author. An absolute humbug would have died easily while in this case opposition and conference were openly invited. Therefore it seemed worth while to read the book and open a correspondence with the author. This led to an invitation to visit his workshop and to see the wheel and the exact methods employed. Accordingly in February 1893 the writer went to Detroit. DrOwen made no hesitation in answering questions and in explaining anything that seemed obscure. The writer stated the purpose of his visit namely that having read Yol. 1 he wished to ascertain how much was true or false and if he found it necessary to proclaim the affair a sham he should unhesitatingly do so he wished especially to ask DrOwen whether it would not have been an evidence of better faith to have made public his cipher method at the start and thus have forestalled criticism DrOwen accepted the conditions stating that later on the writer should answer his own question and at once introduced him to the room where stands the wheel. Here three assistants two being typewritists were engaged in deciphering in accordance with DrOwen method. The wheel and the cipher method key-words and their concordents have been explained in Baconiana of April 1895. DrOwen was at that time doing no work beyond criticising results for two of his assistants had long since become perfectly familiar with the method. To test the accuracy of the method the key-word relating to the Story of the Spanish Armada afterwards published by DrOwen was given to the writer who was shown how to proceed. With pencil in hand he copied about one hundred lines from various parts of the wheel following the key-words and then put these disconnected sentences and parts of sentences together in such a way as to make an intelligible statement without adding a word. Having finished he was about to read aloud the result when DrOwen stopped him and taking from a drawer a type-written manuscript the existence of which the writer did not know read it also aloud. The two copies corresponded almost exactly and the differences proved to be slight errors in copying on the part of the writer. Other shorter tests were made and the writer soon after left reserving his opinion until he had time to think it over and had found opportunity to investigate independently as to whether some new law of rhetoric were not involved. The thing was at all events extremely puzzling and if a fraud there were at least six persons living up to an ingenious and elaborate lie and committed to this attitude for some time to come. That any considerable number of reputable people should be party to so gigantic a lie is almost beyond belief assuming that DrOwen could as he of course stoutly maintains prove the existence of his method to any impartial mind beyond a doubt. Vol. 1 made it plain that one of two things was true either DrOwen invented the matter contained in that book and then proceeded to hunt for scattered sentences all through the Folio Bacon acknowledged works Spenser Peele Green and Marlowe laboriously fitting these sentences together so as to make continuous sense which sense must also conform to the plot of the book he was inventing or else he had a method which enabled him in some mechanical way to find these sentences and put them together. Either fact was of sufficient importance to bring down showers of applications for more light. Hitherto DrOwen had explained his methods to but a few trusted friends and to his co-workers being satisfied beyond a doubt he would have run a great risk that of having some other decipherer using the disclosed method bring out rival books. So little being generally known there always has been a plentiful lack of faith of course Most people disbelieve in DrOwen method. Since his first visit the writer has devoted much time to cipher methods has investigated DrOwen method in a number of directions and notwithstanding the fact that DrOwen results are in some degrees astounding and unconformable with history there still remains no escape from the above conclusion. Every candid reader however great his indignation at statements controverting history or preconceived notions of his own must admit that one of the two above statements is a statement of facts. There is no middle course. With this in mind and having explained the result of the first visit to a number of friends who impatiently reviled the whole affair to others who refrained from doing so from motives of politeness and to a few who followed DrOwen the writer determined about two years after his first visit to make another trip to DrOwen workshop. During these two years DrOwen had been constantly under fire the newspapers gave great prominence to the fact that they did not accept his discoveries. Some frequently expressed their opinion that though his methods were not capable of being readily explained they could not be disposed of with a word—yet that his published books seemed in many ways ridiculous. Some few people who were denied access immediately became violently antagonistic. The first impulse in almost every case in the writer experience has been to disbelieve in DrOwen results so thoroughly as to give their words and manners every appearance of personality. Much in the same way rabid and bigoted Shakespearians answer a Baconian arguments by calling him a lunatic. It was to be expected that some people would without enquiry regard DrOwen whole career with adamant suspicion but many thoughtful readers will be more fairminded. In spite of abuse and of the fact that merely from a financial aspect the difficulty of carrying on the work was stupendous DrOwen kept on with it. This task of constantly defending himself while spending many hours at the workshop was a tremendous strain and his health gave out under it. Finally he was obliged to give up work and to go to Colorado to recruit his health. He was absent from his workshop for several months and after his return to Detroit did not revisit it or superintend the work oftener than once or twice during several months but his assistants went on deciphering without consulting him. This fact is so startling that it deserves further attention. It is therefore proper for the writer to say that he was in a position to know when and how long DrOwen was in Colorado. On the writer third visit to Detroit December 1895 he was at once admitted to the workshop and spent several hours there before DrOwen made his appearance. During that time he was permitted to see anything that he asked to see all questions that he asked were answered freely and explanations made. He satisfied himself from the testimony of the clerks and the members of the publishing firm as well as from the testimony of individuals in Detroit personally known to him and familiar with DrOwen movements that formally months DrOwen had nothing whatever to do with the deciphering which was going on in his absence but that this work was actually done by two and sometimes three of his assistants one of whom had been with him from the beginning and two others who had been taught later. From all this it follows that DrOwen method is capable of being readily explained to others and it does not require that they should be familiar as DrOwen is with Shakespeare plays or Bacon acknowledged works. A part of the work upon which DrOwen assistants were engaged at the time of the writer last visit was the deciphering of the translation of the Iliad from the wheel. The writer has always been since his university days familiar with Homer both in the original and translation and it required but a few moments to find out that DrOwen assistants were none of them in the least conversant with the Iliad. Upon examining a large pile containing about 2000 sheets of large foolscap covered with extracts made from the various works above mentioned the writer became satisfied much to his surprise that these notes contained many passages from the Iliad some obscure and not to be recognized by any one unfamiliar with the Iliad from beginning to end unless that person had some guide like a key-word to go by. The writer readily satisfied himself that DrOwen assistants were not capable from their own knowledge of picking out these different quotations or extracts from the Iliad and in point of fact it is improbable that there are many people in the world who could take up Bacon works and the folio of 1G23 and run a pencil around extracts from the Iliad often or wherever they appear. The knowledge necessary for such a task is obviously far above that of the average reader. This demonstration is a difficult one to deal with from the standpoint of any one disinclined to accept the existence of such a cipher method but a change of mind may perhaps come from the consideration of the facts here presented as they appeared to the writer who endeavoured to conduct the investigation as impartially as possible. In this particular portion of the investigation there is no question of partiality or impartiality but merely of facts. There seems no escape from the conclusion that DrOwen has discovered a method of deciphering which in the case of the translation of the Iliad at all events is producing something which can be compared with an accepted work and which therefore will bring the question upon a higher plane. Thus far the world has been asked to accept as a demonstration of his method books or decipherings which conflict with history with public prejudices and which were for most people absolutely beyond possible acceptance. If however DrOwen is able later as he expects to be to make a translation of the Iliad in which as marginal notes he proposes to give the source of every quotation naming the chapter and page or the act and scene he will then have placed in the hands of all readers a demonstration which each may investigate in his own way. It is expected that this work will appear some time during the present year. An example of it all that the writer could obtain permission to publish is given in the following translation and along side of it other translations of a similar portion of the poem * — * The references to tho lines in the various plays are not given by Mr. Millet. We have traced the following No sooner lmd god Phoebus’ bright some beams Begun to dive within the western seas And darksome Nox had spread about the earth Her blackish mantle but a drowsy sleep Did take possession of the Grecian youths Greene And all the night in silver sleep they spent. Spenser But all so soon as the all cheering sun Should in the farthest East begin to draw The shady curtains from Aurora bed Romeo and Juliet The Greeks have wind at will the waters rise Pcclc For has not the divine Apollo said Winter’s Talc ‘ Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast Henry IV. The sails of sandal spread unto the wind Greene I promise you calm seas auspicious gales And sail so expeditious that shall catch Your royal fleet far off.* Tempest But Peleus* valiant son the great Archilles Peele The ornament of great Jove progeny Spenser Wrath kindled in the furnace of his breast Marlowe That now no more of arms this warrior would Peele Nor this so noble and so fair assembly Of noble heroes frequent. Shakespeare —Bacon translation according to DrOwen. If the reader will compare this with half a dozen accepted transla­tions he will find that they all differ very largely in the degree of freedom. The use of the word frequent will be found in but one other case namely Buckley translation—which we give. “That day was held divine… And spent in peans to the Sun who heard with pleased ear When whose bright chariot stoop’d to sea and twilight held the clear All soundly on their cables slept even till the night was worn And when the lady of the light the rosy finger’d morn Rose from the hills all fresh arose and to the camp retired Apollo with a fore-right wind their swelling bark inspired. The topmast hoisted milk-white sails on his round breast they put . . That day was held divine And spent in peans to the Sun who heard with pleased ear Line 6. Fairy Queen vi. Canto is. Stanza 22. „ 7—9. Rom. Jul. i. 1 139— 141. Lino 14—16. The Tempest v. 1 314— 316. „ 10. . 11. „ 12. The Talc of Troy. p. 554. Winter’s Talc v. 1 37. 2 Hen. IV. iii. 118. „ 19. „ 28. „ 21. „ 22. Part2. Tamburlaine . 1. Talc of Trot/. Hen. VIILi. 4 67. All’s Welli\. 139. The mizens strooted with the gale the ship her course did cut So swiftly that the parted waves against her ribs did rore. * * * * * But Pelcurs’ son swift-footed Achilles at his swift ships sate Burning in wrath nor ever came to councils of estate That men make honor’d never trod the fierce embattail’d field. —Chapman translation 1598. But when the sun had set and darkness came on then they slept near the hawsers of their ships. But when the mother of dawn rosy- fingered morning appeared straightway then they set sail for the spacious camp of the Aehmans and to them far-darting Apollo sent a favourable gale. But they erected the mast and expanded the white sails. . . . But the Jove-sprung son of Pilcus swift-footed Achilles continued his wrath setting at his swift ships nor ever did he frequent the assembly of noble heroes nor the fight. -—Literal translation by Theodore Alois Buckley. In regard to DrOwen personally the writer has entire confidence in his honesty and in his earnestness. Opportunity was taken during his first visit to Detroit in 1893 to meet unknown to him a number of his friends and acquaintances and to ascertain what was his reputation with people not his friends. This was done for the reason that a number of persons in the East writing for newspapers had openly asserted that lie was a charlatan and an impostor aud it therefore seemed proper that the writer should inform himself. It was found without exception that the highest character of honesty and probity was given to DrOwen by all who had had any dealings with him the only thing said against him was that he was a Baconian and therefore a crank. In closing the writer would ask the reader to refer once more to the two facts which every investigator will ultimately have to face namely either DrOwen is inventing these books making up out of his own head the plans of them or else he has found a cypher method. If the reader wishes to assume that all that the writer has ascertained is a mistake that the writer is not for any reason capable of investigating and making an impartial and intelligent report such a reader may be assured that the writer will not quarrel with his conclusion but will in turn request such a reader to take up the only remaining conclusion namely that DrOwen invented these various books. A few moments spent on that proposition with two or three of DrOwen decipherings on the table will satisfy the reader that any man who can construct these books by putting together disconnected sentences from the various works named is indeed a marvel. That he could also teach his assistants to do this would be still more marvellous. That lie could teach them for example to quickly select in any one of about 800 references to honor in the concordance of the Folio of 1623 that particular one which will exactly fit into the sentence then being constructed would be certainly very extraordinary. The further the reader investigates this proposition the more he will be amazed for if it be true DrOwen is to be credited with intellectual powers so remarkable as to amount to genius and he should be accredited accordingly and judged by the same standard as other geniuses. One critic who had been particularly severe was invited to Detroit by DrOwen with expenses paid and he was challenged to expose the fraud. He declined the challenge not wishing to travel so far with so little confidence he should however in fairness have taken it. When the writer is asked whether he accepts all DrOwen has written he says unhesitatingly that he does not. He furthermore is of the opinion that it is not necessary that these decipherings should be accurate statements of fact as it is possible that the decipherings should contain a double meaning which when found would be the main statement of fact. This was the common way. The writer does however feel as sure as it is possible for anyone to feel in a matter of this land that DrOwen has discovered a method which can be taught to his assistants and which is so mechanical that they although ignorant of the Iliad are enabled to pencil extracts from it the moment they see them in the works above mentioned. It will be remembered that the Omnia per Omnia cipher invented by Francis Bacon was made up entirely of the use of two letters a and b. It was a very laborious task to write a long letter by this method because five letters were used to indicate one letter of the alphabet. DrOwen cipher depending entirely upon key-words or concordents and key-words growing out of them is such a method as can be readily conceived Francis Bacon would naturally have invented as a sequel to the Omnia per Omnia. It grows out of it. The practicability of this method has been very thoroughly illustrated by the work of several amateurs in Detroit who in response to a prize offered by a Detroit newspaper wrote a series of live stories in which was concealed a sixth and this sixth story was to he found by the use of DrOwen cipher method. It was required of the successful competitor to write out the sixth story without any assistance and a number were able to do so thus demonstrating that without altering the sense without changing the construction or without hampering himself in any way apparent to the reader the author of these five stories was able to conceal in them a sixth readily deciphered after the method was known but entirely different in construction and meaning. In this particular case the sixth or hidden story was a poem of some length. Boston U.S.A signed J.B. Millett Note.—In the preceding article the writer has concealed a statement in which he gives his opinion as to the course which Dr. Owen should have followed when he made his first announcement. This statement is enclosed in accordance with the method which Dr. Owen claims to have discovered, and by which he is producing his decipherings as above narrated. It has been impossible to present anything but a very simple and rigid illustration of the method—and imperfect at that. The desire to illustrate only the very foundation of the method has made the task difficult, and the results not altogether satis factory to the writer. But, in any event, it illustrates how easily this cipher method may be concealed and with what security. The key words are plainly given and relate (as they should) distinctly to the subject itself and the attitude of the public mind toward it. It is only necessary to find the key-words, copy a word or two which precede, and all that follows in each case, and then fit such fragments together so as to make a continuous statement. The key-words may be omitted or exchanged in making the concealed statement. The solution will be given in the next number of Baconiana.

The next thing done is to pencil around every sentence
containing the guide word being used, thus enclosing the keys as
well, and these sentences are now read from the wheel to an operator,
who typewrites them upon sheets of paper. At the head of every
page thus written is placed the key word, or words, of the sentences,
thus avoiding all confusion when the papers come to be sorted.

Sherman, 1895


View the Jupiter Notebook: the experimental commands used here, and the results recorded.

View and download the Python source code from Github.

Independently run this experiment on Google Colab, or create a clone of it to run on a Colab account of your own.

Notes for this page:

Copyright © 2024 New Gorhambury

The Tudor Rose

Respectfully dedicated to A. Phoenix, whoever you are

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