Scottish revenants

Caledonian fatality in Thomas Percy’s Reliques

in Suicide and the Gothic
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Thomas Percy’s The Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, first published in 1765, was a seminal text in English literature. A comprehensive three-volume set of British ballads, it was one of the most significant collections of the century, and its influence was felt on British editors and writers for generations afterwards. The backdrop for this literary endeavour was a culture war in English and Scottish literature which emanated from the Glorious Revolution period in the late seventeenth century and found expression in a variety of texts. At the core of this battle was a struggle for cultural superiority between Scotland and England. Through The Reliques, Percy posited a conception of British literary history which maintained that the English were cultural inheritors of the Goths, a racial grouping which he believed was superior and different to Scotland’s antecedents, the Celts. By advancing this idea, Percy was aiming to defend and consolidate a cultural position that favoured an interpretation of English predominance over other constituent members of the United Kingdom. He also anticipates Gothic literary approaches in his treatment of Scotland as practically a suicidal nation.

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