This tenth-century manuscript, also known as the Red Book of Darby, is written in a small rounded hand. The first twenty-six pages contain dialogues between Solomon and Saturn in verse, then in prose, and again in verse. From this portion of the manuscript, at least three leaves have been lost and one additional entire page has been erased and overwritten. In addition, the first manuscript page was once pasted into a binding and is almost completely illegible. Many pages have been partly or fully painted over with a reagent or dye in the effort to bring out the color of the ink, but this does not appear to have made reading the text any easer. Moreover, there are holes caused by rust and portions of several pages which have been badly rubbed. In short, the manuscript is in a condition that makes much of it difficult, and some passages impossible, to read.
In 1965, R. I. Page examined the entire manuscript under ultra-violet and infra-red lights, and was able to make out passages, especially on page 1, that had previously been obscured. Recently, the entire manuscript has been photographed, creating extremely high-quality digital images that can be magnified to many times the size of the original. Studying the difficult passages under magnification allows for confirmation of several of Page’s readings, and has also allowed for the discovery of portions of letters previously completely obscured. In some cases, this has confirmed editorial conjecture; in at least one, it has yielded a new reading of a passage.
The manuscript begins with 169 lines of verse, incomplete at the beginning because of damage to first page, but otherwise uninterrupted, containing a description of the Pater Noster which is at times fantastic. The text of CCCC 422 switches from verse to prose in the middle of a page and, in fact, in the middle of a manuscript line; there is no scribal indication that a new text is understood to begin here. Thematically, the prose text is also continuous with the verse, as it continues with additional description of fantastic features and powers of the Pater Noster prayer. The prose text breaks off in mid-sentence; the page that follows has been cut out of the manuscript.
The text resumes at the top of the next extant page with verse, beginning in mid-sentence. Nine lines of poetry are written over seven manuscript lines, forming a clear conclusion to the text on the missing leaf. Somewhere on the lost page, the manuscript must have returned from prose to verse, perhaps continuing, as before, without scribal break, or perhaps indicating the start of a new text.
This fragment of verse ends in the middle of the seventh manuscript line. The next line is left blank, and the following line is written in capital letters, in a scribal indication of the beginning of a new text: a second poetic dialogue between Solomon and Saturn, which once again opens with a description of the disputants and continues with the presentation of a variety of secular and Christian wisdom and lore (though there is nothing on the Pater Noster) including gnomic statements by Solomon as well as by Saturn.
Scribal consistencies and reasonable continuity of subject matter suggest that this was inscribed as a single poem. However, manuscript damage has broken it up into four fragments: the bottom two-thirds of page 13, containing the start of the poem (23 lines of poetry); after which page 14 has been completely erased; pages 15 to 18, containing about 107 lines of verse, after which a leaf is lost; pages 19 to 22, containing almost 100 lines of verse, followed by another lost leaf; and pages 23 to 26 (the last manuscript page) at the bottom of which the text breaks off in mid-sentence. Where a single leaf has been cut out following the prose dialogue, a stub of the lost page remains. The other two lost leaves, however, appear to have been bifoliate; given the current state of the manuscript, which was re-bound in the 1950s according to current librarians, there is no evidence that a folio (or folios) has been excised. The gaps in the text, however, give a clear indication of lost material. In each case, the text breaks off in the midst of a speech by Saturn, and when the text resumes, Solomon is speaking.
A catalogue of the full contents of the manuscript is available via the Parker Library.