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Nostradamus : the Halbronn hypotheses

by Peter Lemesurier

    IF IT IS DIFFICULT TO PINPOINT THE WEAK POINTS in Jacques Halbronn’s huge tsunami of speculation regarding Nostradamian source-texts, this is largely because it is equally difficult to pinpoint his strong ones - or, indeed, to enumerate his main points at all without fear of immediate, hair-splitting objections and qualifications that are liable to lead to yet further veritable novels of arcane academic exposition that are typical of the genre. In effect, only counter-novels in their own right seem to qualify as valid responses - counter-novels whose individual points Halbronn is then in a position either to ignore or to pick off at will.

   For this reason, a brief, clear statement of his main arguments is needed, starting from scratch. In the international Nostradamus Research Group he has been offered several opportunities to present such a statement, but (unsurprisingly, perhaps) he has declined. Nevertheless, such a statement needs to be attempted if any effective counter-argument is to be advanced.

   What, then, are the main Halbronnian hypotheses ? A tentative list might read as follows :

      1. Almost no prophetic work by Nostradamus was written or published on the date claimed : virtually all are antedated and therefore to a greater or lesser extent forged.

      2. Most of the Nostradamus prophetic canon was therefore either not written by Nostradamus at all or heavily edited, mainly for religio-political reasons, long after the event.

      3. Any independent dated evidence suggesting the contrary must therefore itself be either forged or antedated - or both.

      4. Any independent dated evidence, on the other hand, that confirms the above has to be regarded as valid and not antedated, even when produced much “later” by known frauds such as Crespin.

      5. Points 2, 3 and 4 above, originally mere corollaries of 1 above, can therefore now be adduced as proofs of it.

   The argument, clearly, is circular (as such arguments usually tend to be), and is therefore invalid. Halbronn is, in effect, using the theory he is trying to prove, to prove the theory he is trying to prove.

   What, then, is the evidence for these various arguments ? Clearly, the only evidence that can be regarded as truly relevant is that relating to item 1 above. And, frankly, it is non-existent. However, it is worth considering some of the major points that are often advanced :

   A. Quatrain IV.46, with its reference to an attack on Tours, has clearly been “edited” to reflect later politico-religious struggles in which such an attack took place, as have other (mainly unspecified) quatrains, thus “proving” that the alleged 1555 edition was in fact published much later than it claims.
   Research by members of the Nostradamus Research Group has demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that quatrain IV.46 is in fact based on events surrounding the Battle of Poitiers of 1356, as described by Froissart (I:158-167) and other contemporary chroniclers, even though it has not been possible to identify the precise edition (or, more likely, manuscript copy) of Froissart used by Nostradamus (who in the Significations specifically admits to referring to him). Every facet of the verse has its antecedent in the ancient chronicles. Much the same applies to the other quatrains surrounding it - and also, no doubt, to the further, largely unspecified quatrains on which Halbronn claims to base his argument.

   B. The fact that Couillard, in his Propheties du Seigneur du Pavillon Lez Lorriz of 1556, parodies (like the later Videl) only the Preface to Cesar, proves that Couillard had not seen Nostradamus’s 1555 Propheties themselves, which must therefore have been published later.
   To argue, in the complete absence of any evidence, that the Preface must have been published independently of the work to which it was prefaced is clearly nonsensical - especially as Couillard specifically mentions Nostradamus’s “two or three hundred verses of varying obscurity”, which he also describes as “fantastic compositions” and “dark, obscure verses”. The additional fact that Couillard’s pamphlet, although brief, is nevertheless divided into four parts - in an obvious parody of Nostradamus’s four Centuries - tends further to remove any doubt on the matter.

   C. The fact that the November 1557 edition is shorter than the September 1557 one proves that the November edition in fact came first and that the September 1557 edition is therefore an antedated forgery.
   This argument, similarly, is obviously invalid. Publishing-chronology cannot be determined merely by length of text. Anybody who has studied the November edition at all closely - and especially anyone who, like Mario Gregorio and myself, has actually had to transcribe it - will know that this is a grossly substandard, unprofessional edition using an unpromising mixture of fonts and devoid of all the woodcuts present in the much more professionally produced September edition. This, plus the fact that the only woodcut offered is itself a substandard, reversed imitation of that on the September title page makes it perfectly obvious that it is a pirated - and therefore subsequent - edition, and not by Antoine Du Rosne at all. Its omission of the last two quatrains in particular appears to be a simple result of the pirate publisher’s desire to restrict the edition to 160 pages since, thanks to the basics of folding a large piece of paper, printing an additional page would have necessitated the production of a further 15 (or 31) blanks ! Such practical typographical considerations, alas, rarely find a place in Halbronn’s arguments.

   D. The fact that the Letter to King Henri II at the head of the second fascicle of the original 1568 Benoist Rigaud edition duplicates much of that prefaced to the Presages Merveilleux of 1557 proves that the former is a fake.
   It could, of course, as easily “prove” the reverse. In fact, Nostradamus never hesitated to “borrow” material from his Almanachs for his Prophecies or vice versa. The precise politics of contemporary dedications is unknown, but certainly such ignorance does not qualify as “proof” of the falsity or genuineness of any text whatsoever, whether or not that text is the evident reprint of the now-lost 1558 edition that is the second fascicle of the evidently original 1568 omnibus edition.

   E. The fact that the Significations de l’eclipse... of 1559 contains inconsistent astrological data designed to ‘predict’ the death of Henri II in that year and the subsequent fate of the Valois “proves” that it is either a later composition or was subsequently edited, possibly by Chavigny.
   The publication in fact says nothing whatever either about the death of Henri II or about the fate of the Valois. Nor is it, as has been suggested elsewhere, almost exclusively military in character in contradistinction to the 1557 Almanachs with their mainly religious concerns. The role of the “Jovialists” (i.e. mainly the Church hierarchy) is emphasised throughout, as is the Eclipse (for Eglise) Chrestienne, while that of royalty is no more emphasised than in any other Almanach. The fact that Nostradamus is clearly using two separate and inconsistent sets of astrological data is no more than par for the course, whether a result of actual confusion or of a deliberate and not untypical attempt to bamboozle his readership. In the course of his various writings, for example, he advances no less than five different and incompatible dates for the creation of the world - two of them in the self-same document (the Letter to Henri II). Any inconsistency would thus tend to “prove”, if anything, not that the document is a forgery, but that it is genuine ! Certainly the style (a factor often ignored in these arguments) is absolutely and typically Nostradamian throughout - which hardly argues for the presence of later interpolations.

   F. The phrase “as is explained more fully in the interpretation of the second century of my Prophecies” in the course of the Significations proves that it is a late forgery, since no such interpretation was published in Nostradamus’s lifetime, and nobody referred to his verses as “Centuries” until the 1570s.
   In fact the heading of every book of his Propheties describes it specifically as a “CENTURIE” - and the theory that these are all late in date cannot then be used as an argument for the suggestion that the Significations de l’eclipse is therefore late in date, so proving that the Propheties are late in date, so proving in turn that the Significations de l’eclipse is late in date… ! As for the supposed “interpretation”, there is no suggestion in the text that it was a published interpretation. Indeed, any such public interpretation would have been contrary to Nostradamus’s own best interests, since it would have narrowed down the book’s potential scope and thus increased its likely fallibility. The likely explanation is that Nostradamus had been sending the piece’s dedicatee, named as the Vice-Legate Jacob Marrasala, private “interpretations” of his Centuries, presumably at the latter’s request (much as he would perhaps do later for Jean de Vauzelles), and that he in this case went on to mingle his private writings with his public ones - as, indeed, he is known to have done on other occasions, too, mainly (and understandably) in certain of his dedications (the disputed 1562 dedication being an obvious case in point).

   The above is, of course, only a brief selection of some of the main arguments advanced by Halbronn, and he may - indeed, he almost certainly will - argue that it caricatures them (but then, in that case, perhaps he himself should state them more briefly and clearly ?). He also marshals a whole army of other, subsidiary arguments in his efforts to support the above - even though many of them are in fact dependent on them. Most of them, indeed, are brilliantly and copiously argued to the point of positively overwhelming all but the best-informed reader, as is the usual way of things with such vast, intricately concocted scenarios. But, given that Halbronn’s initial premises are clearly invalid - thus disqualifying all such arguments at the outset - he would be better advised, in my view, to re-marshal them in support of a more consensual view of the Propheties’ origins and datings, rather than continuing with his current efforts (however impressively cross-referenced and footnoted) to stand logic and most other scholars’ research on their heads. On the evidence of his writings so far, he is more than capable of doing so.

Peter Lemesurier,
author of The Unknown Nostradamus and Nostradamus : The Illustrated Prophecies, O Books, 2003
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