1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Thomas Percy

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 24:327-29.



THOMAS PERCY, a late learned prelate, a descendant of the ancient earls of Northumberland, was born at Bridgenorth in Shropshire, in 1728, and educated at Christ church, Oxford. In July 1753 he took the degree of M.A.; and in 1756 he was presented by that college to the vicarage of Easton Mauduit, in Northamptonshire, which he held with the rectory of Wilbye, in the same county, given him by the earl of Sussex. In 1761 he began his literary career, by publishing "Han Kiou Chouan," a translation from the Chinese; which was followed, in 1762, by a collection of "Chinese Miscellanies," and in 1763 by "Five Pieces of Runic Poetry," translated from the Icelandic language. In 1764 he published a new version of the "Song of Solomon," with a commentary and annotations. The year following he published the "Reliques of Antient English Poetry," a work which constitutes an aera in the history of English literature in the eighteenth century. Perhaps the perusal of a folio volume of ancient manuscripts given to the bishop by a friend in early life (from which he afterwards made large extracts in the "Reliques,") led his mind to those studies in which he so eminently distinguished himself. It appears likewise that Shenstone encouraged him in publishing the "Reliques." The same year he published "A Key to the New Testament," a concise manual for Students of Sacred Literature, which has been adopted in the universities, and often reprinted. After the publication of the " Reliques," he was invited by the late duke and duchess of Northumberland to reside with them as their domestic chaplain. In 1769 he published "A Sermon preached before the Sons of the Clergy at St. Paul's." In 1770 he conducted "The Northumberland Household Book" through the press; the same year he published "The Hermit of Warkworth," and a translation of Mallet's "Northern Antiquities," with notes. A second edition of the "Reliques of Ancient Poetry" was published in 1775, a third in 1794, and a fourth in 1814. In 1769 he was nominated chaplain in ordinary to his majesty; in 1778 he was promoted to the deanery of Carlisle; and in 1782 to the bishopric of Dromore in Ireland, where he constantly resided, promoting the instruction and comfort of the poor with unremitting attention, and superintending the sacred and civil interests of the diocese, with vigilance and assiduity; revered and beloved for his piety, liberality, benevolence, and hospitality, by persons of every rank and religious denomination. Under the loss of sight, of which he was gradually deprived some years before his death, he steadily maintained his habitual cheerfulness; and in his last painful illness he displayed such fortitude and strength of mind, such patience and resignation to the divine will, and expressed such heartfelt thankfulness for the goodness and mercy shewn to him in the course of a long and happy life, as were truly impressive and worthy of that pure Christian spirit, in him so eminently conspicuous. His only son died in 1783. Two daughters survive him; the eldest is married to Samuel Isted, esq. of Ecton, in Northamptonshire; and the youngest to the hon. and rev. Pierce Meade, archdeacon of Dromore. In 1777 the rev. John Bowle addressed a printed letter to Dr. Percy, announcing a new and classical edition of "Don Quixote." In 1780 Mr. Nichols was indebted to him for many useful communications for the "Select Collection of Miscellany Poems." When elevated to the mitre, Mr. Nichols was also under further obligations in the "History of Hinckley," 1782. In 1786 the edition of the Tatler, in six volumes, small 8vo, was benefited by the hints suggested by bishop Percy to the rev. Dr. Calder, the learned and industrious annotator and editor of those volumes. The subsequent editions of the Spectator and Guardian were also improved by some of his lordship's notes. Between 1760 and 1764, Dr. Percy had proceeded very far at the press with an admirable edition of" Surrey's Poems," and also with a good edition of the Works of Villiers duke of Buckingham; both which, from a variety of causes, remained many years unfinished in the warehouse of Mr. Tonson in the Savoy; but were resumed in 1795, and nearly brought to a conclusion, when the whole impression of both works was unfortunately consumed by the fire in Red Lion Passage in 1803. His lordship died at his episcopal palace, Dromore, on Sept. 30, 1811, in his eighty-third year. So much of his life had passed in the literary world, strictly so called, that authentic memoirs of his life would form an interesting addition to our literary history, but nothing has yet appeared from the parties most able to contribute such information. The preceding particulars we believe to be correct, as far as they go, but we cannot offer them as satisfactory.