The Percy Folio

The Percy Folio

Thomas Percy (1729–1811) was the son of a grocer, and studied at Christ Church, Oxford, before being ordained as an Anglican priest. Eventually he was to become Bishop of Dromore in Ireland. He combined his pastoral duties with an energetic programme of study, translation, and the enticing pleasures on offer to an eighteenth-century gentleman, including, shooting, horse-racing, operas, coffee houses, and pleasure gardens. His London friends included Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson and Joshua Reynolds.

While visiting a friend in the 1750s, Percy saw an old book, ‘lying dirty on the floor, under a bureau in the parlour […] being used by the maids to light the fire’. Percy acquired the book, and eventually based his collection Reliques of ancient English poetry (1765) upon it. Ballads and chapbook romances had a vigorous life in popular culture, but Percy’s work revived scholarly interest in them. Percy’s Reliques was criticised for its heavy-handed editing, bowdlerizing many of the texts to suit polite taste. In having the book bound, some parts of the text were cut off, and Percy also scribbled notes in the manuscript. Nevertheless, his innovative and eccentric publication gave impetus to a surge of interest in popular storytelling, ballad and romance, which inspired Wordsworth, Blake and Coleridge, the brothers Grimm, Walter Scott, and later William Morris and other Victorian writers and artists. This section of the exhibition in includes some of the material surrounding the Percy Folio. The manuscript itself appears in the physical exhibition in Oxford, on loan from the British Library where it is normally kept on display.

Origin Stories
Origin Stories
Romance and the Medieval World
Romance and the Medieval World
Truth, Deceit and Desire
Truth, Deceit and Desire
Empires of Romance: Arthur
Empires of Romance: Arthur
Empires of Romance: Alexander
Empires of Romance: Alexander
The Objects of Romance
The Objects of Romance
Cities under Siege
Cities under Siege
Strange Encounters
Strange Encounters
The Fortunes of Sir Gawain
The Fortunes of Sir Gawain
Composing, Writing, Preserving
Composing, Writing, Preserving
The Percy Folio
The Percy Folio
Routes of Romance I
Routes of Romance I
Routes of Romance II
Routes of Romance II
Romance and the Modern World
Romance and the Modern World