Welcome to The British Literary Ballads Archive, a site dedicated to a unique genre of literary imitations of traditional ballads. The site contains a growing archive of over 700 poems, as well as short biographical sketches of the poets who wrote them.

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Thomas Percy (1729-1811)



English poet and bishop, born in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, England. Though Percy's contributions as editor of The Tatler andThe Spectator, as translator of Icelandic poetry (Five Pieces of Runic Poetry, 1763), and as writer of Memoir of Goldsmith(1801) should be remembered, the greatest contribution to the world is generally agreed to be his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765; 2nd. ed. 1767; 3 rd. ed. 1775; 4th. ed. 1794), one of the important collections responsible for the ballad revival in English poetry.

The 
Reliques is based on an old manuscript collection of poetry called 'Percy's Folio Manuscript', which Percy claimed to have rescued in his friend Humphrey Pitt's house at Shifnal, Shropshire, from the housemaids who were about to light the fire with it. The first edition is composed of 176 works, and four are added to the second, with no addition in the third, and no change in the fourth except for a small substitution. In consequence, the Reliques became finally a collection of 180 pieces, 45 of which derive from the Folio Manuscript, the others being chosen out of the prevailing broadside ballads and other sources, with William Hamilton and other 12 poets' literary ballads being included among them.

"The Child of Elle" is one of those 45 accidentally obtained pieces. The original work in the Folio Manuscript is composed of 39 lines and both the first and the last parts are missing. Percy confessed that he wanted to introduce to the world this fragmentary story as a finished work of 200 lines. Consequently, the emended piece with its great increase of lines must be read as Percy's own creation. "The Friar of Orders Gray" is one of the 18 ballads 'that illustrate Shakespeare' in Book 2 of the first volume of the Reliques. The third and fifth stanzas come from Ophelia's song in Hamlet (IV, v). "The Hermit of Warkworth" (1771) is Percy's own exemplary literary ballad, combining the vogue for graveyard poetry and the ballad vogue that he himself had set in motion. (M. Y.)


CriticalEssays  1           
Critical Essays 2 Mitsuyoshi Yamanaka. 'The History of Literary Ballads (3) - The Editor's Finger in the Pie : "The Child of Elle" (in Japanese).  Studies in the Humanities (60) 65-88.   1996.

 

1. The Child of Elle
2. The Friar of Orders Gray
3. The Hermit of Warkworth