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'An infinite farrago of Ancient songs': Fragments and form in Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry

Horgan, Alison Lucy (2019) 'An infinite farrago of Ancient songs': Fragments and form in Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Abstract

In the Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) Thomas Percy uses the miscellany form as a poetic space in which to test the boundaries of literary taste in the mid-eighteenth-century. This thesis argues that by foregrounding the fragment – literal and metaphorical – the collection engages with ideas of order and progress and questions the possibility of singular historical narratives. It shows how Percy’s use of diverse and vernacular material brings about poetic enlightenment. By drawing on eighteenth-century figures such as Hume and Dodsley and the practice of antiquarianism, it contextualises Percy’s work and highlights how it rejects concepts of universal taste and reason. The thesis frames its argument with several metaphors. Shaftesbury’s ‘Patchwork’ signals the fruitfulness of the miscellany form, its capacity to present varied and uneven material. Instead of silencing irregular and awkward poetry, Percy acknowledges its potential to ‘quicken and revive’ poetic expression. This is linked to broader concerns such as the contemporary interest in ballads and the perceived interconnection between progress and decay. The ‘Patchwork’ also encompasses Percy’s extensive paratext, which juxtaposes factual scraps with the poetry of imagination. The fragment expresses Percy’s interest in insignificant details and in the antiquarian character of his researches and publications. The thesis also refers to Foucault’s metaphor of the archive in order to show how Percy’s text develops literary and historical knowledge gradually and incrementally. Throughout, it emphasises the provisionality of the miscellany and the scope for the reader to navigate the text and construct his or her own connections. The trope of enlightenment reveals how the Reliques engages with the ideas of the hidden, undesirable, obscure and abject. The thesis analyses the Reliques’ gothic characteristics which are significant in a miscellany which attends to and finds pleasure in the dissonant voices and mutilated manuscripts of the past.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Percy Antiquarianism Reliques Collections Poetry Eighteenth century
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > School of English (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.786612
Depositing User: Mrs Alison Lucy Horgan
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2019 10:59
Last Modified: 01 Nov 2019 10:21
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/25039

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