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Neck-verse

(Psalm li. 1). “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to They lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” This verse was so called because it was the trial-verse of those who claimed benefit of clergy; and if they could read it, the ordinary of Newgate said,

Legit ut clericus, ” and the convict saved his neck, being only burnt in the hand and set at liberty.

If a clerk had been taken
For stealing of bacon.
For burglary, murder, or rape.
If he could but rehearse
(Well prompt) his neck-verse,
He never could fail to escape.

British Apollo (1710).

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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