The Dance of St. Paul's, Trinity R.3.21

The introduction to Lydgate's text.

One of the few manuscripts that contain the text from the dance of death at St. Paul's Cathedral, and which is available on the Net, is the Cambridge, Trinity College R.3.21.

The manuscript is not only old, but it is also our only source to the history behind the mural in the chapel of St. Paul's. One of the former owners of the manuscript was John Stow, author of A survey of London, 1598/1603, and the informations that Stow give us about the mural are exactly those that are to be found in this manuscript.

In a neat red writing (see image to the right) the scribe from the 15th century has introduced the text with these words: »HEre foloweth the Prologe of the Daunce of Machabre translatyd by Dan Iohn Lydgate Monke of Bury out of Frensshe in to englyssh whyche now ys callyd the Daunce of Poulys«.

Above this a later hand from the 16th century has added: »This daunce of machabre is depeyntyd rychly at sent innocents closter in parys in fraunce«, and below: »& there was payntyd in ye cloystur at ye dispensys & request of Jankyn karpynter«.

As one can see, this is exactly what Stow was able to tell his readers in "A Survey of London" in 1598:

About this Cloyster, was artificially & richly painted, the dance of Machabray, or dance of death, commonly called the dance of Pauls: the like wherof, was painted about S. Innocents cloister, at Paris in Frāce: the metres or poesie of this daunce, were translated out of French into English, by Iohn Lidgate, the Monke of Bery, & with ye picture of Death, leading all estates painted about the Cloyster: at the speciall request and dispence of Iankin Carpenter, in the Raigne of Henry the 6.
(John Stow, A Survey of London, 1598, pages 264-265)

The start of La Danse Macabre of Paris.
The angel's scroll says: "Hec Picture Decus […]"
Guy Marchant, Authority

The text is an A-text. This means that it starts with five verses with the translater's (John Lydgate's) words.

Then follow — highly unusual — eight lines in Latin. The first six (»Cum doceat sensus […]«) are in fact spoken by the authority at the end of La Danse Macabre in Paris. On the woodcuts from Paris these words are written on a scroll, but the Cambridge manuscript is probably older than the printed Parisian versions of La Danse Macabre, so it's an open question where the scribe has found these lines.(1)

The two last of these eight lines, »Hec Picture Decus […]«, are those written on the angel's scroll at the beginning of the French books (image to the right).

Then follow two verses that are an translation of the authority's words in La Danse Macabre: »O ye creatures […]«. This introduction ends with, »Explicit prologus«.

Then follows — again highly unusual — a dialogue between Death and Adam. Unfortunately the right margin of the paper is missing:

Mors ad Adam

Auctor & Fadyr adam þat furst into man […]
Me introducyd as ryght heyr in þy possession
Thy makers chartre morieris bryng now to myr […]
By whyche þe I clayme wit þy generacion
The acquitaunce Nequaq[uam] selyd by þe serpents suggestion[?]
Set now asyde & of þy owne brewyng assay.
Thyne experyence shall shew how streyngth & duaration[?]
Ryche & pore must daunce in þe same way.

Adam respondit.

Of mankynde Fadyr furst form was I
In soule assemblyd to my makers lykenes
Immortall made duryng tyme of Innocency
All erthely creatures to obey my nobylnes
Neuer to avoyde nor other lyuyng man
Thorough inobedience causyd by þe serpents dowbylnes [?]
For lyfe deþe for welþe mysery I began
In temperatnes of colde of hete or of sekenes.

Then starts the dance with all 67 verses from La Danse Macabre of Paris augmented with the five new dancers that were added by Lydgate. The headings are in Latin: "Mors ad Papam", "Responsio Pape", "Mors ad Imperatorem", "Responsio Imperatoris", and so on.

The sequence is almost the same as in the other A-texts, but with the same deviation around minstrel and priest that we also find in Richard Tottel's printed version. A later hand has added the empress in the margin: »Death to ye mprise shuld folow next«:

Death to the Empresse

Lete see youre hande my lady dame empresse
Have no disdeyne with me for to daunce
Ye may ley aside all youre richesse
Youre fresshe atire devisyd of pleasaunce
Youre soleyne chere youre straunge countynaunce
Youre clothes of golde moste vncouthely wrought
Hauyng of dethe full lytill remembraunce
But now I see well all this is come to nought.
The Empresse answerethe

What avaylythe gold riches or perre
Or what avaylethe hyghe blode or gentillesse
Or what availethe gentilnes or beaute
What is worthe highe porte or strangenesse
Dethe seythe cheke mate to all suche veyn noblesse
All worldly poure may me nat avayle
Raunsoun kynrede frenshipe & worthynesse
Dethe is come myne hyghe estate to assaylle.

A strange feature is that "Doctor Machabre" has three verses at the end, instead of just two. The first verse is the same that we find in other A-texts, like for instance the Ellesmere (EL 26 A 13):

      Doctor Machabre

Man ys nat elles playnly for to þynke
But as wynde whyche ys transitory
Passyng ay forþe wheþer he wake or wynke
Toward þys daunce haue þys in memory
Remembryng ay þer ys no better victory
In þys lyfe here þan fle syn at þe leste
Then shall ye reygne in paradyse with glory
Happy ys he þat makeþ in heuyn hys feste.
Machabre the Doctoure

Man is nowght elles / platli for to thenke
But as a wynde / whiche is transitorie
Passyng ay forthe / whether he wake or wynke
Towarde this daunce / haue this yn memorie
Remembr[ing]e ay / ther is [no] bette victory
In this life here / than fle synne atte leste
Than shul ȝe reigne / yn Paradyse with glorie
Happi is he / that maketh yn heuene his feste.

Doctor Machabre's third verse is in reality the same as the first, but it has been thoroughly rewritten. The is the variant that we normally find in the B-texts, but the Trinity-manuscript features both variants. Here is B.M. Lansdowne 699 for a comparison:

What ys mannys lyfe but a countenaunce
Of a puff of wynde þat ys transitory
As may be well perseivyd by þys daunce
Wherfore ye þat loke on þys story
Kepeþ thentent þerof in your memory
And hyt shall stere yow in goodly haste
To eschew peyne and com to glory
Well ys hym þat so may at þe laste.
What is mannys liff / but a countenaunce
Or [as] a puff of wynde / that is transitorie
As may be weel / perceived bi this daunce
Ther-fore ye / that reden this storye
Keepe thentent / in your memorye
And it shal steer yow / in-to gostly liff
Teschewe peyn / & come vnto glorie
And be your socour / in al gostly stryff.
The end of La Danse Macabre of Paris.
The scroll starts with "Mortales dominus cunctos […]"
Guy Marchant, Authority and dead king

The dance ends with a Latin text: »Mortales dominus cunctos in luce creauit […]«. These are the same 14 lines of Latin text written on the angel's scroll at the end of La Danse Macabre of Paris (picture to the right). However, the Trinity manuscript only brings eight verses, since the last six verses were brought at the start of the dance (those starting with: »Cum doceat sensus […]«).

At the very end comes yet another Latin text: Twelve lines starting, »In cinerem rediet cinis, et neguit hic remanere […]«. However this text has little to do with neither La Danse Macabre nor The Daunce of Machabree. The text was written under a brass portrait of Bishop William Alnwic (died in York, 1449).

Gå fremad

You may enjoy reading the text from Trinity R.3.21.


Further Information

Footnotes: (1)

The Trinity College writes that the manuscript is from the time of Edward IV: »Cent. xv (temp. Edward IV.)«. Edward IV died in 1483, while the first printed version of the dance in Paris is from 1485. Thus the scribe has probably not read the text from the woodcuts in this book.

Strictly speaking the six lines (and the eight that follow later) are not a part of the French text, since they were written by Saint Bruno of Cologne, also known as Bruno the Carthusian, who lived from ca. 1030 to 1101.

Thus there is a remote possibility that the scribe has found the lines elsewhere, but why would then have chosen to place them in the middle of the dance of death? Besides there's no way around the fact that two of the lines, "Hec Picture Decus […]" are an integrated part of the Danse Macabre.