London Lackpenny, The

DESCRIPTION: "To London once my steps I bend," and visited many people and watched many activities. But the Kentish plowman, come to seek justice, cannot enjoy the food or take part in many of the pleasures, because "for lack of money I might not speed."
AUTHOR: probably John Lydgate (c. 1370?-C. 1451?)
KEYWORDS: travel hardtimes
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Bell-Combined, pp. 9-14, "London Lackpenny" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: James M. Dean, _Medieval English Political Writings,_ TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages), Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 1996, "In London There I Was Bent, or London Lickpenny" (1 text)
W. W. Skeat, _Specimens of English LIterature from the Ploughmans Crede to the Shepheardes Calendar," Oxford, 1879, pp. 24-27
Celia and Kenneth Sisam, _The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse_, Oxford University Press, 1970; corrected edition 1973, #200, p. 446, "London Lickpenny" (1 text)
Digital Index of Middle English Verse #5987

NOTES [545 words]: Most sources agree in attributing this piece (it is surely not a ballad) to John Lydgate, but Chambers, p. 117, considers this doubtful.
Although John Lydgate was a very prolific writer, our knowledge of him is relatively slight; most of what we know comes from the publication dates of his works. Accorting to Kunitz/Haycraft, p. 328, his name comes from his birthplace of Lydgate in Suffolk.
According to NewCentury, p. 709, he was "one of the most prolific [poets] in the history of English letters. He was ordained as a priest in 1387, and gained a position as poet at the court of Henry IV, which he held during the reign of Henry V and after the accession of Henry VI." He is also supposed to have been patronized by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and to have known Chaucer.
Kunitz/Haycraft however give the date of his ordination as 1397. Benet, p. 660, says he also knew the Earl of Warwick, and was known for his allegorical forms.
Kunitz/Haycraft declare "Lydgate is at his best in his beast fables, his ballads, and in such brief humorous poems as London Lickpenny (not "Lackpenny" as sometimes given)." They snidely remark that he might have been a better poet if he had spent more time studying Chaucer and less time spitting out his own verses. They add that "his chief characteristic is dullness."
Bennett's tart comment on pp. 110-111 is that Lydgate "may well serve as a horrid example of the worst that [the contemporary society's system of supporting authors] could evolve." "He showed distinct powers of welding together words and phrases into collections which had all the appearance of verse, and he had an intolerable glibness and an indomitable energy, whech enabled him to essay tasks which a more sensitive man, or one 'charged with children and chief lordes rent,' would not have dared to attempt." His total output is estimated at 145,000 lines of verse.
NewCentury adds, "Most of his longer works, like the Troy Book, are translations. Modern readers find them interminable and tedious, but many of his shorter poems may still be read with pleasure."
"Interminable" seems a suitable word. This poem, e.g., has an interesting premise, but continues it too long. Bell calls Lydgate "frequently difficult and tedious... [but] rarely obscure, and generally distinguished by ease and fluency." This is certainly true by comparison to his contemporaries; as Chambers notes on pp. 115-116, this was the period when many poets were taking Latin words and sticking an English ending on them and pretending they made sense.
As proof, I offer the first sentence of the sequel to the Troy Book, The Siege of Thebes. The first sentence of this (as printed on pp. 29-30 of Lydgate/Edwards) is 65 lines long! It gets better after that -- the next one is only 26 lines long. Oy.
Nonetheless Lydgate was very popular Bennett, p. 290, reports that we haw 31 copies of Fall of Princes and 27 of The Siege of Thebes. That exceeds the number of copies of most of Chaucer's lesser works. At the beginning of the era of printing. Duff, pp. 71-77, counts twenty different editions of nine different Lydgate works published before 1500. Interestingly, it appears all of them spelled his name "Lidgate" (at this time, "i" and "y" were interchangeable). - RBW
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