Appendix: Mumming of the Seven Philosophers

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Appendix: Mumming of the Seven Philosophers

Robbins (Secular Lyrics, pp. 110–13) prints the verses from Trinity R.3.19, fols. 1r–1v, which are unattributed. According to a headnote, they were written for “Festum Natalis Domini” and address the “kyng of Crystmas” (line 11), who is later invoked as “noble prince” (line 78). In the course of the mumming, the seven philosophers appear, each speaking a verse of conventional advice (rule your body, be generous, balance work with leisure, imitate good examples, don’t do anything you can’t handle, etc.) in order to help the Christmas king rule properly. The last verse is spoken by a messenger, who advises the king to heed their advice as he grows up and who ushers in a song by the seven mummers. Although it has gone virtually unnoticed, the poem has recently been discussed by Mortimer in his study of The Fall of Princes (Lydgate’s Fall of Princes, pp. 225–26). It is the first item in Trinity College MS R.3.19, a manuscript produced in the London area c. 1478–83, and is in the hand of the same scribe who wrote fols. 1r–45v and 55r–213r (Manuscript Trinity R.3.19, pp. xv and xxvi). It stands at the beginning of a number of extracts from Lydgate’s Fall of Princes and other Chaucerian and pseudo-Chaucerian texts; at the top of fol. 1r, written in a later hand is the note “Poemata of daun Jaun Anglice Lidgati.” The verses seem designed for a Christmas entertainment at court or in a school, perhaps an inversionary one similar to boy bishops’ ceremonies. While there is no evidence linking the verses to Henry VI’s court, the advice offered by the seven philosophers would be consistent with the advisory agenda adopted by Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, in the early 1430s; much of its advice could have been culled from a number of places in The Fall of Princes, as Mortimer notes (p. 225), and would have been appropriate for Henry at any point in the late 1420s and 1430s. The verses below follow Robbins’ edition, checked against the manuscript.

















             [Festum Natalis Domini

Tronos celorum continens,
Whos byrthe thys day reiterate,
Bothe god and man in exystens,
Borne of a mayde immaculate;
Preserve your dygne and high estate,
Syth ye preferre thys most high feste,
In quo Redemptor natus est.

Senek the sage that kyng ys of desert,
Regent and rewler of all wyldernesse,
Sendeth gretyng with all entier hert
Unto yow hys brother, kyng of Crystmas;
Lettyng yow wete with hertly tendyrnes
What longeth now unto youre astate royall
That ye be now to so sodenly call.

Hyt ys perteynyng to every prynce and kyng
That pepyll shall have under governaunce,
That he have prudent and wyse counselyng,
And to her counseyll geve attendaunce;
And that your reame shall nat fall perchaunce
Unto rewen for defaute of good counsell,
Take hede herto, hit mayest avayle.

For oute of olde feldes, as men sayth,
Cometh all these new cornes from yere to yere;
So oute of olde expert men in feyth
Cometh all these good rules, as ye shall here;
And by theire age they have in thys matere
The good rewle of verrey experience,
Wherefore he sendeth hem to your hygh presence.

[Primus Philosophus

Attempt nothyng surmountyng your myght,
Ne that to finissh that passeth your power;
For than ye stand foule in youre owne lyght,
And whoso doth, hymsylf shall foule a-dere
With shame, and therefore thys wysdom ye lere:
That hyt ys foly a man suche to begyn
Which to performe hys wyttes be to thyn.


When that tyme ys of grete and large expence,
Beware of waste and spende ay be mesure;
Who at suche tyme can fynde no dyfference,
Hys goodes may nat with hym long endure;
The olde ys that “Mesure ys tresure,”
For in short tyme the good may slyp away
That was gotyn in many a sondry day.


Of elther men ye shall your myrrour make,
Conforme yow to that that may most yow avayle,
What ye shall do and what shall forsake;
A bettyr thyng ne may ye not contryve
Than to other mennys dedys to releve;
To all that perteyneth yow eny thyng,
Make other men rule of your levyng.

Take good hede to youre owne estate,
To rule your body with a good diete;
Loke with tyme be nat at debate,
Though thurgh youre owne mysrule and surfete
Sekenes or sorow have yevyn yow an hete,
The tyme ys good, and no dysemable there ys,
But men hit make for they do amys.

To preve youresylf take deliberacion
Be lycly conjectour what may betyde;
Advertyse and here thys informacion
How soone owre lord can set a state asyde;
Folowe hym, therfore, and let hym be your gyde
That all thyng hath in hys regement,
Future and past and youre estate present.

Into a gret age when ye be crept,
Havyng gret ryches and habundaunce,
Be lyberall of the good that ye have kept;
Thynke that ye have ynough and suffisaunce;
Let nat youre good of yow have governanuce,
But governe hit and part hit with your frende;
When ye go hens hit may nat with yow wende.

Who that lakketh rest may nat long endure;
Therefore among take your ease and dysport,
Delyte yow never in besynes ne cure
But that other whyle ye may eft resort
To play, recreacion, and comfort;
Ye may the better labour at the long,
When ye have myrthe your besynes among.

Lo, noble prince, ye here the counseyll
Of the vii phylosophyrs sage,
Whyche to advertyse hit may hap to avayle
To let these wysdoms grow up in your age,
And in your presence afore her passage,
They purpos all afore yow for to syng,
Yef to your hyghnes hit myght be plesyng.


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