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A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth

Settled at the retired hamlet of Easton Maudit


Percy, the compiler of the "Reliques," was a parish clergyman, settled at the retired hamlet of Easton Maudit, Northamptonshire. For years he had amused his leisure by collecting ballads. He numbered among his acquaintances men of letters like Johnson, Goldsmith, Garrick, Grainger, Farmer, and Shenstone. It was the last who suggested the plan of the "Reliques" and who was to have helped in its execution, had not his illness and death prevented. Johnson spent a part of the summer of 1764 on a visit to the vicarage of Easton Maudit, on which occasion Percy reports that his guest "chose for his regular reading the old Spanish romance of 'Felixmarte of Hircania,' in folio, which he read quite through." He adds, what one would not readily suspect, that the doctor, when a boy, "was immoderately fond of reading romances of chivalry, and he retained his fondness for them through life. . . I have heard him attribute to these extravagant fictions that unsettled turn of mind which prevented his ever fixing in any profession." Percy talked over his project with Johnson, who would seem to have given his approval, and even to have added his persuasions to Shenstone's. For in the preface to the first edition of the "Reliques," the editor declared that "he could refuse nothing to such judges as the author of the _Rambler_ and the late Mr. Shenstone"; and that "to the friendship of Mr. Johnson he owes many valuable hints for the conduct of his work." And after Ritson had questioned the
existence of the famous "folio manuscript," Percy's nephew in the advertisement to the fourth edition (1794), cited "the appeal publicly made to Dr. Johnson . . . so long since as in the year 1765, and never once contradicted by him."

In spite of these amenities, the doctor had a low opinion of ballads and ballad collectors. In the _Rambler_ (No. 177) he made merry over one Cantilenus, who "turned all his thoughts upon old ballads, for he considered them as the genuine records of the natural taste. He offered to show me a copy of 'The Children in the Wood,' which he firmly believed to be of the first edition, and by the help of which the text might be freed from several corruptions, if this age of barbarity had any claim to such favors from him." "The conversation," says Boswell, "having turned on modern imitations of ancient ballads, and someone having praised their simplicity, he treated them with that ridicule which he always displayed when that subject was mentioned." Johnson wrote several stanzas in parody of the ballads; _e.g._,

"The tender infant, meek and mild, Fell down upon a stone: The nurse took up the squealing child, But still the child squealed on."

And again:

"I put my hat upon my head And walked into the Strand; And there I met another man Whose hat was in his hand."

This is quoted by Wordsworth,[36] who compares it with a stanza from "The Children in the Wood":

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