Thomas Percy 1729-1811

From Book Owners Online

Thomas PERCY 1729-1811

Biographical Note

Born at Bridgnorth, Shropshire, son of Arthur Lowe Percy, grocer. BA Christ Church, Oxford 1750, MA 1753, DD 1793; rector of Easton Maudit, Northamptonshire 1756. He became chaplain to the Earl of Northumberland in 1765, and a royal chaplain in 1769. He began writing and publishing poetry in the 1750s, and developed an extensive literary and cultural acquaintance; in 1765 he published his 3-volume edition of early English ballads, Reliques of ancient English poetry, which cemented his reputation. He became Dean of Carlisle in 1778, and bishop of Dromore in northern Ireland in 1782.


Percy began acquiring books in his teenage years, and a catalogue of his library at the age of 17 includes 265 volumes, with good holdings of theology, classics and literature. His Reliques were supposedly begun after he rescued a 17th-century manuscript volume of verse from a Shropshire household, where it was being used page by page to light fires. Samuel Johnson used Percy's library when he stayed with him at Easton Maudit in 1764, and in 1772 Boswell remarked that his rooms in London were "as much a library ... as any room in a college". Many of the books kept there were destroyed by fire in 1780. At his death, his goods, including his books, were divided between his daughters Barbara and Elizabeth, and many remained in the family home at Caledon House, co. Tyrone. They were sold from there by Sotheby's in 1969, and purchased en bloc by Queen's University, Belfast for £90,000. A catalogue issued at the time recorded 583 lots, with strong holdings of early poetry and literature. Many of the books were noted as being annotated by Percy. Ca. 120 books from the library went to the Bodleian Library in 1932. Some of the books now in Belfast have been digitised and are accessible via the University website (see link in Sources, below). Manuscripts and letters of Percy's are held in many libraries around the world, as noted in the "ODNB" entry.