Thomas Percy (1729-1811)


Life
[orig. Piercy;] b. Northumberland; educ. Christ Church, Oxon., MA 1753; DD, and Fellow of Emmanuel Coll., Cambridge, 1770; he translated and published the Chinese novel Hau Kiou Choaan (1761), taken from from a Portuguese version of the original; issued Five Pieces of Runic Poetry Translated the Islandic [sic] Language (1763), includes “Death of Ragnor Lodbrog”; issued Reliques of Ancient English Poetry Reliques, 3. vols. (1765; rep. 4th ed. 1794), deriving from a folio manuscript in 17th c. handwriting containing ancient poems of various dates;
 
poetry incl. The Hermit of Warkworth (1771); his other works include Northern Antiquities (1770) and Memoir of Goldsmith (1801); arriving in Ireland he was celebrated for his magnificent silk umbrella; he became a fnd-mbr. of the Royal Irish Academy; maintained friendly relations with Catholic prelates but removed St. Colman’s Cross from Dromore town to decorate his garden; he also took a nine-foot basaltic column from Giant’s Causeway for the same purpose;
 
Percy was one of Charlotte Brooke’s advisers in compiling Reliques; he corresponded with Edward Malone, the great Shakespearean scholar; purveyed rumours that Mary Wollestonecraft (wife of William Godwin and mother of Mary Shelley) was anxious at Mitchelstown to ‘Discharge the Marriage Duties’ with Lord Kingsborough; his letters to his wife during the 1798 Rebellion are a noted source in W. E. H. Lecky’s History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century (1892, Pref., p.viii); the Percy Society was established in London the early 1840s by T. C. Croker et al. ODNB OCIL [FDA]

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Works
Thomas Percy (Bishop of Dromore), Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, ed. Henry Wheatley, 3 vols. (London 1891). See Arthur Tillotson, ed., Correspondence of Thomas Percy and Edmund Malone (Baton Rouge 1944).

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Criticism
James Wills, The Irish Nation, Its History and Biography (1871) - Remarks on Rev. Thomas Percy, Bishop of Dromore (1728-1811) [extract]; E. R. R. Green, ‘Thomas Percy in Ireland’, in Ulster Folk Life, Vols. 15-16 (1970), c.p.231 [extract]; Frank Ferguson, ‘Thomas Percy: Literary Antiquarianism as National Aesthetic” (PhD QUB 2002) [funded by AHRB; currently at University of Ulster].

See also Robert Welch, Irish Poetry from Moore to Yeats (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1980), p. 229; P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland (1994), p.21-22 - and others under Commentary, infra.

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Commentary
James Wills, The Irish Nation, Its History and Biography (1871) - Remarks on Rev. Thomas Percy, Bishop of Dromore (1728-1811): ‘It was in 1782 that Dr Percy became connected with this country by his promotion to the see of Dromore. Some accounts of his conduct, and of the character he sustained in his diocese, are brought together by Bishop Mant in his history. We cannot offer these more satisfactorily than by extracting the brief account of the bishop: “Bishop Percy resided constantly in his diocese, where he is said to have promoted the instruction and comfort of the poor with unremitting attention, and superintended 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.” (The History of the Irish Church, Vol. ii. p.683.) / The retreat of one who held a place so eminent in tne most refined circles of scholarship and cultivated taste could not but be followed by the most kindly recollections; and he still continued to be sought by the gifted and the learned. When Sir Walter Scott was engaged on his Border Minstrelsy, a work similar in material and design to the bishop’s, he constantly consulted and kept up a correspondence with him. [...] Bishop Percy lived to a great age, and saw many changes in Ireland.’ (p.376; Wills does not specify the changes or detail any other dealings in Ireland and largely concentrates on Percy's relations with Dr. Johnson in London.) [See full text version, attached.]

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E. R. R. Green, ‘Thomas Percy in Ireland’, in Ulster Folk Life, Vols. 15-16 (1970): ‘His presence undoubtedly strengthened the feeble intellectual life of the country and especially that of Belfast and the north which were just beginning to be aware of a regional distinctiveness. Percy stood too near to the sources of romanticism that transformed Ireland in the next generation to make any estimate of his contribution in that direction. At second hand, it was undoubtedly there, but of direct influence what can be said[?]. The prudent course was simply to recount his life there and to identify the scholars and writer he knew and encouraged.’ (p.231; quoted in Terence Brown, Northern Voices: Poets from Ulster, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975, pp.15-16.)

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Terence Brown, Northern Voices, Poets from Ulster (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975): Percy issued Reliques (1765); came to Ireland in 1782 and remained apart from visits to Cheltenham, Windsor, and London, until his death in 1811; [his] position commanded higher stipend than many English bishopric[s]; undoubtedly happy to play part of cultured gentleman in 18th c. Anglo-Ireland; interest in Celtic and medieval past rather scholarly and antiquarian than romantic; textual remains of vanished civilisation; encouraged poetic and scholarly endeavours within confines of Augustan taste and antiquarianism; close neighbour [to] Countess of Moira; patron to Boyd, Stott, et al. Quotes E. R. R. Green [as supra]. Brown concludes that his influence was probably a force for literary conservatism well into the nineteenth century (p.16).

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Joseph Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael (1986), ‘Vallancey’s credulous acceptance of the Gaelic claims to prehistoric civility began to invite attacks from the opposite quarter, his Phoenician model which shed its ex oriente lux on the primeval Gaels, was opposed by fellow antiquarians; Bishop Percy, the compiler of the Reliques of ancient English poetry, was sceptical and complained that ‘Vallancey is as hot tempered as he is hot-headed, and downright quarrelled with me one evening at the [Dublin] Society, for presuming to question some of his wild reveries.’ (Percy to Pinkerton, 11 Feb. 1786) [404]. Walter Love comments, ‘it is probably not irrelevant that many of [them] [Ledwich, Beauford, Percy, and Campbell, all involved in the established Church of Ireland] regarded all attempts to glorify the ancient Irish as a challenge to the English conquest and subsequent domination.’ [405]. ‘It was not until [J. C.] Walker’s work had met with a positive reception that he and Bishop Percy could prevail on Charlotte Brooke to publish her collection of translations from the Irish’ [422]. Percy thought that the very ablest assistance in this kingdom that he could offer to Pinkerton was that of Campbell and [Theophilus] O’Flanagan. [425]

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Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850, Vol. 1 (1980), Dromore school, unique in being only such gathering of writers. Thomas Percy, author of Reliques, Bishop from 1783; fled in 1798, returned, and remained to his death in 1811; under his tutelage, Thomas Stott abandoned his radical tendencies, and was ridiculed by Byron in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. ‘A Group at Dromore’ was painted by Thomas Robinson in 1807; the work of these poets, including Thomas Rodney Robinson, son of the foregoing, Henry Boyd, William Cunningham, and Samuel Burdy, was ordered and mechanical, full of clichés of traditional neo-classical England. Also remarks on William Drummond (see RX supra).

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Quotations
“The Nut Brown Maid”: ‘If ye go thyther, ye must consider / When ye have lust to dine, / There shall no meat be for to gette / Nether bere, ale, ne wine, / ne shetes clean, to lie between.’ (“The Not Brown Mayd”, Percy’s Reliques, Series Two; Book the First.)

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References
Margaret Drabble, ed., The Oxford Companion to English Literature (OUP 1986), bio-data: b. Piercy, son of Bridgesnorth grocer, grad. Oxford.; published from a Portuguese version the first Chinese novel in English, Hau Kiou Choaan (1761); Five Pieces of Runic Poetry Translated the Islandic [sic] Language (1763), includes ‘Death of Ragnor Lodbrog’; Memoir of Goldsmith (1801); poetry incl. The Hermit of Warkworth (1771); Reliques, 3. vols. (1765; rep. 4th ed. 1794), influential though later attacked as unscholarly. The Percy Folio, an MS in mid-17th c. handwriting which belonged to Humphrey Pitt of Shifnal, and basis of Child’s collection of ballad literature, includes 14th c. alliterative poetry and ‘Scottish Feilde’, on Flodden. Printed in entirety, Hales and Furnivall, 1867-68. The Percy Society was founded in 1840 by T[homas] C[rofton] Croker, Dyce, Halliwell-Phillipps, and JP Collier for purpose of publishing old lyrics and ballads. Harvey ed., published Reliques, encouraged by success of Ossianic cult; successive eds. included new material.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3, highwayman in Behan sourced in Percy, 214n; [The] same Romantic urge had in England produced Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry in 1765, 571.

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Notes
Account of letter by Percy to Dr. Robert Anderson of Edinburgh. MSS 599; cited in Celtica (1967), catalogue of Gaelic materials in Scottish National Library [see supra under James Macpherson].

The Percy Society: Members listed in The Historical Songs of Ireland (1841) - on next leaf after t.p. (recto), as follows: J. A. Cahusac, William Chappell, John Payne Collier, R. Crofton Croker, Rev. Alexander Dyce, Richard Halliwell, James Orchard Halliwell, William Jerdan, Samuel Lover, Charles Mackay, E. F. Rimhault, Thomas Wright. [All Esq.; sundry FSA, incl. JA Halliwell, Treas., and E. F. Rimhault, Sec.; Croker given as FSA, MRIA.] See also under Bishop Percy, q.v.

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