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The Prophecy of Merlin (Dublin MS)


1 Priests intend treachery, and guile turns into figures of speech


5 Albyon. The legendary, antique name for Britain, as in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. The fool in King Lear quotes this or a related poem when he says: "Then shall the realm of Albion / Come to great confusion" (III.ii.85-86).

6 A M CCCC lx and on. RHR does not print this part of the poem, nor does he include the material I have here numbered 7-10 as if it were subjoined to the above six lines. The lyrics are separate poems, yet the thought seems to be related. The dating 1461 should be compared with "When Rome Is Removed" lines 60-63.

7-10 Longe berde . . . thrifles. These lines, which constitute a separate poem, are part of a catalogue genre that Siegfried Wenzel terms "Type A" complaint lyrics. Wenzel terms them a priamel, "in which a list of individual instances, the abusiva, leads to a 'particular point of interest or importance,' the 'evil things' of the last line" (Preachers, Poets, and the Early English Lyric [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986], p. 178). The "Type A" lyrics derive from De duodecim abusivis (the twelve abuses: seventh century, although attributed to Cyprian), a popular Latin treatise used extensively by medieval preachers; and Wenzel believes that many of these verses "derive from a native and oral tradition" (p. 181). See the discussion and many examples Wenzel provides in chapter 6. Lines 7-10 of the present lyric - which also appears in The Brut (Wenzel, p. 180) - resemble the moralizing "Abuses of the Age" lyrics, with their "world upside down" contents. RHR prints the following fragment attributed to "Aluredus king" (sayings of King Alfred) from the flyleaf of Trinity College Cambridge MS 108 (thirteenth-century):
Ald man witles       
yung man recheles       
wyman ssameles        
betere ham were lifles       

for them to be
See RHR, p. 328, and the poem which this note glosses ("Bissop lorles, / Kyng redeles"): Abuses of the Age, I from British Library MS Harley 913 fol. 6v (Index § 1820). The "Proverbs of Alfred" (c. 1175, frequently edited) were an amorphous collection of gnomic sayings generically related to The Distichs of Cato. See S. O. Arngart, The Proverbs of Alfred, 2 vols. (Lund: Gleerup, 1942-55), and Derek Pearsall, Old English and Middle English Poetry (London: Routledge, 1977), pp. 77-79. The Proverbs of Alfred have also been edited by Richard Morris (EETS o.s. 49, 1872), W. W. Skeat (1907), J. Hall (1920), and Brandl and Zippel (2nd ed., 1927). For similar examples of "Abuses of the Age" verses, see When Rome Is Removed lines 5-9 and note to line 5; The Letter of John Ball (from Stow's Annales); Ball's Letter in the Addresses of the Commons from Henry of Knighton's Chronicon: lines 35-41.
(Trinity College Dublin MS 516 fol. 115r)
When lordes wille is londes law,    
Prestes wylle trechery, and gyle hold soth saw, 1   
Lechery callyd pryvé solace,    
And robbery is hold no trespace -   
Then schal the lond of Albyon torne into confusioun!    
A M CCCC lx and on, few lordes or ellys noone.                                
Longe berde herteles,    
Peyntede hoode wytles,    
Gay cote graceles,    
Maketh Engelond thrifles.    
the law of the land
is called secret pleasure
held to be no crime
(see note)
In 1461 [there are]; (see note)
i.e., An old man; (see note)

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