Bishop Thomas Percy’s Contributions to Langland Scholarship: Two Annotated Piers Plowman Prints in Belfast.
This essay suggests that Thomas Percy (1729-1811) was perhaps one of the likeliest potential editors of PPl in a comparatively fallow period for its textual scholarship. Not only did Percy actually have a theory with regard to the metrical regularity of L’s verse that he was particularly anxious to expound, but also he had access to multiple copies of the early prints with which he can be shown to have collated isolated textual readings. In both his published writing and in the annotations that still mark his library copies of the early prints, he also demonstrates an interest in the issues surrounding the textual history or ‘evolution’ of L’s poem. At least two of the copies he consulted—the third of Crowley’s 1550 editions and Rogers’s 1561 edition—are extant and in the Queen’s University Belfast Percy Collection. The Crowley edition has interesting sixteenth-century annotations from one James Lamb, a reformist writing in the first year of Mary’s reign; Percy added flyleaf notes and marginalia revealing themselves as those of the scholar rather than the religious enthusiast. Percy displays a high level of editorial interest in PPl, and was particularly attracted by the difficult language. Much of the remaining underscoring seems designed to draw out and clarify L’s allegorical themes in passūs 1-9.