Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Percy, Thomas (1768-1808)

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PERCY, THOMAS (1768–1808), editor of Percy's ‘Reliques,’ son of Anthony Percy of Southwark and nephew of Bishop Thomas Percy [q. v.], was born on 13 Sept. 1768. After education at Merchant Taylors' School, he matriculated from St. John's College, Oxford, on 27 June 1786, aged 17. Some eight years before he went up to Oxford, Daines Barrington relates that he had written not only ‘Ballads,’ one of which was set to music by the composer Samuel Wesley, but also an epic poem, consisting of more than six hundred lines, upon the invasion of Britain by Julius Cæsar. In this work, says Barrington, no less than in a tragedy which this infant prodigy founded upon Peruvian annals, ‘there are strong marks of an early genius for Poetry, which he likewise recites admirably well upon the first stool you may place him. I asked this wonderful boy how many books he intended to divide his epic poem into, when he answered that he could not well bring all his matter into less than twenty-four.’ A pastoral, written by him at the age of eight, is given in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (1778, p. 183), and some verses, written while he was at Merchant Taylors', ‘On the Death of Dr. Samuel Johnson’ (1785, 4to), were printed anonymously at the cost of an admirer. He graduated B.C.L. at Oxford in 1792, became a fellow of his college in the same year, and proceeded D.C.L. in 1793, having previously, in 1793, been presented to the vicarage of Grays Thurrock in Essex. His juvenile exploits seem to have exhausted his literary energy, for beyond supervising the publication of ‘Poems by a Literary Society, comprehending Original Pieces in the several Walks of Poetry’ in 1784, and contributing some verses to the ‘Poetical Register,’ he published nothing. In 1794, however, he was the ostensible editor of the fourth edition of the ‘Reliques of Ancient Poetry,’ the advertisement to which states: ‘Twenty years have near elapsed since the last edition of this work appeared. But although it was sufficiently a favourite with the publick, and had long been out of print, the original Editor had no desire to revive it. More important pursuits had, as might be expected, engaged his attention [Percy was created bishop of Dromore in 1782]; and the present Edition would have remained unpublished had he not yielded to the importunity of his friends, and accepted the humble offer of an Editor in a nephew.’ The editor then proceeds to refute the assertion of Ritson that the original manuscripts were not genuine.

Percy died, unmarried, at Ecton, near Northampton, on 14 May 1808. Nichols describes him, with his wonted generosity, as ‘an elegant scholar, a poet, and a very accomplished and amiable man.’

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1816; Gent. Mag. 1808, i. 470; Robinson's Merchant Taylors' Reg. p. 140; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. viii. 147, 148, and Lit. Illustr. vii. 54, 192, viii. 101, 108, 256; Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, Introduction; Barrington's Miscellanies, p. 308; Allibone's Dict. of English Literature.]

T. S.