Percy, Thomas

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Percy, Thomas (1729-1811). English Poet.

Thomas Percy was a devout man of letters, whose work inspired some of the eighteenth century’s greatest poets. Percy attended Christ Church at Oxford and took his station as a curate, then deacon, near his home in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, England after receiving his master’s degree in 1751. He soon became chaplain to the Earl of Sussex, the Duke of Northumberland, and finally to King George III. Having won the King’s favor, Percy was appointed Dean of Carlisle in 1778. Four years later and deeply in debt despite his impressive appointments, he made a profitable and prestigious move to Ireland, where he became Bishop of Dromore in 1782.

While he succeeded in his religious vocation, Percy remains better known for his work as a literary scholar. He became friends with Johnson, Samuel, Boswell, James, and Goldsmith, Oliver and with their help published successfully. His publications reflect his vast range of interests, from a translation of a Chinese novel, Hau Kiou Choaan (1761), to A Key to the New Testament (1766), and his own ballad, The Hermit of Warkworth (1771). While he published over ten books, dozens of essays and reviews, several poems and histories, he is best known for his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). In this collection, Percy uncovered dozens of ancient ballads and romances and evaluated them in key critical essays. Reliques’ authority and influence soared throughout the eighteenth century, with Wordsworth claiming it to be his generation’s greatest inspiration.

Further Reading:

Bertram H. Davis, Thomas Percy: A Scholar-Cleric in the Age of Johnson, 1989.

Jason Horn

Gordon College