Advertisement to the Edition of 1876.
As early as the year 1794, when only the fourth edition of the Reliques had appeared, the Rev. Thomas Percy, acting as assistant-editor to his uncle, the Bishop of Dromore, hinted at the difficulty attendant upon such a composition as a collection of poems from a mutilated and incorrect manuscript. At that date Bishop Percy, his nephew, and a few friends were alone enabled to pass this judgment. To-day, however, the concealed manuscript is the property of the British Museum, its masterly edition [ 1] by Messrs. Hales and Furnivall rests in the hands of the public, and our knowledge of the original poems enables us to appreciate the extraordinary ingenuity displayed by the Bishop in his manipulation of the forty-five numbers extracted from his Folio Manuscript; nor is our admiration for his poetic genius other than redoubled by the discovery.
The Folio Manuscript itself, which has been too closely connected in the general mind with the Reliques, considering that the latter contains only about one-sixth of the contents of the former, is a narrow book, about fifteen and a half inches long by five and a half wide, which has been torn and cut, and is deficient in many parts.
It consists of a mass of some two hundred Sonnets, Ballads, Historical Songs, and Metrical Romances, transcribed, we are assured, "from defective copies, or the imperfect recitation of illiterate singers; so that a considerable portion of the song or narrative is sometimes omitted, and miserable trash or nonsense not unfrequently introduced into pieces of considerable merit."[ 2]
Mr. Furnivall fixes the date of the handwriting to the year 1650, or thereabouts, and observes, "The dialect of the copies of the MS. seems to have been Lancashire."[ 3] Who this copier may have been still remains a mystery. Percy's suggestion that it was Thomas Blount has been dismissed as incredible.
Concerning the treatment of the text in Percy's selections, we have Mr. Furnivall's word that the Reverend Editor "looked upon it as a young woman from the country with unkempt locks, whom he had to fit for fashionable society."[ 4]
Be that as it may, the Reliques have admirably served their purpose; they have passed through at least thirty editions in various parts of the world; they rank among those works which have supported popularity for more than a century, and they may make their vaunt of having aroused the "Wizard of the North" to exclaim, "The first time I could scrape a few shillings together,-- which were not common occurrences with me,-- I bought unto myself a copy of the beloved volumes; nor do I believe I ever read a book half so frequently, or with half the enthusiasm."[ 5]
The endeavour of the present Editor has been in no way critical, nor has his end in view been the satisfaction of the "judicious antiquary" so much as the desire to effect a correct reproduction of the Reliques as put forth during Percy's life.
Consequently, the four earliest editions have been carefully collated with the Folio Manuscript, and with Professor Child's English and Scottish Ballads (edit. 1857, Boston).
The result is, a refinement and correction of the text, an improvement in the punctuation, and an enlarged Glossary. A comprehensive Index has also been prepared.
The original three volumes appear in two, though Percy's arrangement of Books remains unaltered and consecutive.
A few explanatory foot-notes, the fruit of late research, increase the already copious stock, but the paternity of all such is distinctly noted.
The work, then, of revision and addition merely aims at heightening the intrinsic merit of the early editions and at assisting in making the Reliques of 1875 an improved re-cast.
1. Bishop Percy's Folio Manuscript. Ballads and Romances. Edited by C. W. Hales, M.A., and F. J. Furnivall, M.A. 4 vols. (Trubner & CO. 1868.)
2. Advertisement to the fourth edition of the Reliques, 1794.
3. Percy's Folio MS. i., xiii.
4. Percy's Folio MS. i., xvi.
5. Lockhart's Life of Scott, chap.i.