1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Thomas Percy

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:75.



DR. THOMAS PERCY, afterwards bishop of Dromore, in 1765 published his Reliques of English Poetry, in which several excellent old songs and ballads were revived, and a selection made of the best lyrical pieces scattered through the works of modern authors. The learning and ability with which Percy executed his task, and the sterling value of his materials, recommended his volumes to public favour. They found their way into the hands of poets and poetical readers, and awakened a love of nature, simplicity, and true passion, in contradistinction to that coldly-correct and sentimental style which pervaded part of our literature. The influence of Percy's collection was general and extensive. It is evident in many contemporary authors. It gave the first impulse to the genius of Sir Walter Scott; and it may be seen in the writings of Coleridge and Wordsworth. A fresh fountain of poetry was opened up — a spring of sweet, tender, and heroic thoughts and imaginations, which could never be again turned back into the artificial channels in which the genius of poesy had been too long and too closely confined. Percy was himself a poet. His ballad, "O, Nanny, wilt Thou Gang wi' Me," the "Hermit of Warkworth," and other detached pieces, evince both taste and talent. We subjoin a cento, "The Friar of Orders Gray," which Percy says he compiled from fragments of ancient ballads, to which he added supplemental stanzas to connect them together. The greater part, however, is his own. The life of Dr Percy presents little for remark. He was born at Bridgnorth, Shropshire, in 1728, and, after his education at Oxford, entered the church, in which he was successively chaplain to the king, dean of Carlisle, and bishop of Dromore: the latter dignity he possessed from 1782 till his death in 1811. He enjoyed the friendship of Johnson, Goldsmith, and other distinguished men of his day, and lived long enough to hail the genius of the most illustrious of his admirers, Sir Walter Scott.