The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 5/Merlin's Prophecy

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LAST year was published a paper of Predictions, pretended to be written by one Isaac Bickerstaff esq., but the true design of it was to ridicule the art of astrology, and expose its professors as ignorant, or impostors. Against this imputation, Dr. Partridge has learnedly vindicated himself in his almanack for that year.

For a farther vindication of this famous art, I have thought fit to present the world with the following prophecy. The original is said to be of the famous Merlin, who lived about a thousand years ago; and the following translation is two hundred years old, for it seems to be written near the end of Henry the Seventh's reign. I found it in an old edition of Merlin's prophecies, imprinted at London by John Hawkins in the year 1530, page 39. I set it down word for word in the old orthography, and shall take leave to subjoin a few explanatory notes.

Seven and Ten added to nine,
Of Fraunce her Woe this is the Sygne,
Tamys Rivere twys y:frozen,
Walke sans wetyng Shoes ne Hozen.
Then comyth foorthe, Ich understonde,
From Towne of Stoffe to fattyn Londe,
An herdie Chyftean, Woe the Dorne
To Fraunce, that eber he was born.
Then shall the fyshe beweyle his Bosse;
Nor shall grin Berrys make up the Losse.
Yonge Symnele shall again miscarrye:
And Norways Pryd again shall marry.
And from the Tree where Blosums feele,
Ripe fruit shall come, and all is wele,
Reaums shall daunce Honde in honde,
And it shall be merrye in old Inglonde,
Then old Inglonde shall be no more,
And no man shall be sorie therefore,
Geryon shall have three Hedes agayne,
Till Hapsburge makyth them but twayne.


Seven and Ten, This line describes the year when these events shall happen. Seven and ten make seventeen, which I explain seventeen hundred, and this number added to nine, makes the year we are now in ; for it must be understood of the natural year, which begins the first of January.

Tamys Rivere twys, &c. The river Thames frozen twice in one year, so as men to walk on it, is a very signal accident, which perhaps hath not fallen out for several hundred years before, and is the reason why some astrologers have thought that this prophecy could never be fulfilled, because they imagined such a thing would never happen in our climate.

From Town of Stoffe, &c. This is a plain designation of the duke of Marlborough: one kind of stuff used to fatten land is called marle, and every body knows that borough is a name for a town; and this way of expression is after the usual dark manner of old astrological predictions.

Then shall the fyshe, &c. By the fish, is understood the dauphin of France, as their kings eldest sons are called: it is here said, he shall lament the loss of the duke of Burgundy, called the Bosse, which is an English word for humpshoulder, or crookback, as that duke is known to be; and the prophecy seems to mean, that he should be overcome or slain. By the green berrys, in the next line, is meant the young duke of Berry, the dauphin's third son, who shall not have valour or fortune enough to supply the loss of his eldest brother.

Yonge Symnele, &c. By Symnele is meant the pretended prince of Wales, who, if he offers to attempt any thing against England, shall miscarry as he did before. Lambert Symnele is the name of a young man, noted in our histories for personating the son (as I remember) of Edward the Fourth.

And Norways Pryd, &c. I cannot guess who is meant by Norway's pride[1], perhaps the reader may, as well as the sense of the two following lines.

Reaum shall, &c. Reaums, or, as the word is now, realms, is the old name for kingdoms: and this is a very plain prediction of our happy union, with the felicities that shall attend it. It is added that Old England shall be no more, and yet no man shall be sorry for it. And indeed, properly speaking, England is now no more, for the whole island is one kingdom under the name of Britain.

Geryon shall, &c. This prediction, though somewhat obscure, is wonderfully adapt. Geryon is said to have been a king of Spain, whom Hercules slew. It was a fiction of the poets, that he had three heads, which the author says he shall have again: that is, Spain shall have three kings; which is now wonderfully verified; for beside the king of Portugal, which properly is part of Spain, there are now two rivals for Spain, Charles and Philip: but Charles being descended from the count of Hapsburgh, founder of the Austrian family, shall soon make those heads but two by overturning Philip, and driving him out of Spain.

Some of these predictions are already fulfilled; and it is highly probable the rest may be in due time; and I think, I have not forced the words by my explication into any other sense, than what they will naturally bear. If this be granted, I am sure it must be also allowed, that the author (whoever he were) was a person of extraordinary sagacity; and that astrology brought to such perfection as this, is by no means an art to be despised, whatever Mr. Bickerstaff, or other merry gentlemen are pleased to think. As to the tradition of these lines having been writ in the original by Merlin, I confess I lay not much weight upon it: but it is enough to justify their authority, that the book whence I have transcribed them, was printed 170 years ago, as appears by the titlepage. For the satisfaction of any gentleman, who may be either doubtful of the truth, or curious to be informed, I shall give order to have the very book sent to the printer of this paper, with directions to let any body see it that pleases, because I believe it is pretty scarce.