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Percy's Reliques

Reliques Of Ancient English Poetry

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Thomas Percy was the son of a grocer in Shifnal, a small town in Shropshire in England. He managed by dint of talent, determination and hard work to rise as high as was possible for such a man in the 18th Century -- an Irish bishopric. On the way he became chaplain to the Duchess of Northumberland -- his namesake Elizabeth Percy. It did not harm him that many people thought he was of a junior branch of the family, indeed he liked to think so himself. A clergyman in the Church of England, he mostly devoted himself to scholarship. The Reliques of Ancient English Poetry  is his greatest work. Based on an old manuscript book of ballads which he rescued "from the hands of the housemaid who was about to light the fire with it," he supplemented it with many other old ballads and with literary poems in the same idiom. First published in 1764, it became the English exemplar of the burgeoning Romantic ballad/saga movement exemplified in Scotland by Ossian. Its very various content includes ballads of the Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood, and many others. Some of them are still sung today, for example, Lord Donald and Little Musgrave; and Barbara Allen. Others have been undeservedly forgotten. There are also poems by literary poets such as Shakespeare, Jonson and Drayton; as well as a whole section of traditional ballads which inspired or were quoted by Shakespeare.

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