Ritson, Joseph, 1752-1803

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Joseph Ritson (1752-1803), antiquarian and literary scholar, is best known for his concern for textual accuracy and as the editor of several poetry anthologies, including The Northumbrian Garland (1793). He also published Observations on...the History of English Poetry (1782) and the Bibliographia Poetica (1802).

From the description of Joseph Ritson collection, 1782-1824. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702132840

English literary antiquary.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : [London], to [Alexander Laing], 1796 Dec. 1. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270655235

English antiquarian.

From the description of ALS : London, to Isaac Reed, 1788 Feb. 22. (Rosenbach Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 122442908

From the description of Ancient songs, and ballads : from the time of King Henry the Second to the Revolution : ms., 1790-[ca. 1803] / collected by Joseph Ritson. (Rosenbach Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 122586164

Joseph Ritson was born at Stockton-on-Tees in 1752. Although his family was not prosperous, Ritson was articled to a Stockton solicitor and later to the conveyancer Ralph Bradley. He settled in London in 1775 as managing clerk to the firm of Masterman and Lloyd. In 1780 he began business as a conveyancer on his own, taking the Gray's Inn chambers that he occupied until his death. Ritson was appointed high bailiff of the liberty of the Savoy in 1784, and received a life patent of that post two years later.

While Ritson published a few articles on legal subjects, he is best known as an antiquarian and legal scholar. Despite poor health and nervous complaints, he produced many editions and essays, often employing a modified spelling system devised by himself. Between 1783 and 1793 he prepared a long series of anthologies of popular and local poetry, such as The Caledonian Muse (1785; published 1821) and The Northumbrian Garland (1793). He also published several collections of early English poetry, including Pieces of Ancient Popular Poetry (1791), Robin Hood, a Collection... (1795), and Ancient Engleish Metrical Romanceës (1802), as well as the useful Bibliographia Poetica (1802), a useful collection of pre-1600 English poets with short accounts of the works.

Ritson's concern with historical and textual accuracy led him into several lengthy and acrimonious controversies with contemporary scholars,among them George Steevens, Joseph Malone, and John Pinkerton. His first scholarly publication, Observations on...the 'History of English Poetry' (1782), was harshly critical of Thomas Warton's interpretations of early English literature. He repeatedly charged Thomas Percy with publishing forged and garbled versions of traditional ballads. The same preoccupation, however, also led to his detection of the Ireland Shakespeare forgeries in 1795 and enabled him to assist Sir Walter Scott with Border Minstrelsy .

Ritson's health failed rapidly in his later years. His last publication was a defense of his lifelong vegetarianism, An Essay on Abstinence from Animal Food as a Moral Duty (1802). In September, 1803, he barricaded himself within his chambers and began to set fire to many of his manuscripts. He was removed to the house of Sir Jonathan Miles at Hoxton, where he died of paralysis of the brain on September 25, 1803.

[From: Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. xvi, p. 1213-17.]

From the guide to the Joseph Ritson collection, 1782-1824, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Ritson, Joseph, 1752-1803. Manuscripts [of] Joseph Ritson and Joseph Frank of Stockson on Tees, 1800-1832. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Cunningham, Allan, 1784-1842. Letter: 1825 July 26, 27 Lower Belgrave Place [Pimlico, London] to David Laing, Edinburgh / Allan Cunningham. University of Edinburgh - Main Library, Edinburgh University Library
referencedIn Malone, Edmond, 1741-1812,. Autograph letter signed from Edmond Malone, Queene Anne Street, East, to an unidentified recipient [manuscript], 1792 May 2. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Frank, Joseph, fl. 1825-1833. Letter: 1832 Nov. 6, Stockton, to David Laing / Joseph Frank. University of Edinburgh - Main Library, Edinburgh University Library
referencedIn Steevens, George, 1736-1800,. Letters to and from George Steevens [manuscript], 1763-1799. Folger Shakespeare Library
creatorOf Child, Francis James, 1825-1896,. Scots songs and ballads : manuscript, 1873-1874. Harvard University, Houghton Library
creatorOf Ritson, Joseph, 1752-1803. Ancient songs, and ballads : from the time of King Henry the Second to the Revolution : ms., 1790-[ca. 1803] / collected by Joseph Ritson. Rosenbach Museum & Library
creatorOf Laing, David, 1793-1878,. [Volume of psalms] / edited and compiled by David Laing. University of Edinburgh - Main Library, Edinburgh University Library
referencedIn Letters of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., collected and edited by George Birkbeck Hill, extra-illustrated, 1413-1900 (inclusive), 1775-1839 (bulk). Houghton Library.
creatorOf Ritson, Joseph, 1752-1803. ALS : London, to Isaac Reed, 1788 Feb. 22. Rosenbach Museum & Library
creatorOf Ritson, Joseph, 1752-1803,. Autograph letter signed from Joseph Ritson, Grays Inn, to [Richard Heber?] [manuscript], 1803 July 10. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Scott, Walter, Sir, 1771-1832. Autograph letter signed : [Laswade Cottage, near Edinburgh], to George Ellis, 1803 Oct. 14. Pierpont Morgan Library.
creatorOf Ritson, Joseph, 1752-1803. Autograph letter signed : [London], to [Alexander Laing], 1796 Dec. 1. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn An annotated copy of Joseph Ritson, Bibliographia poetica, (London, 1802), 19th century Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
referencedIn Transcripts and notes concerning the "Brown manuscript" of Scottish popular ballads, 1793-1920. Houghton Library.
creatorOf Ritson, Joseph, 1752-1803. Research materials on Philip, Duke of Wharton, [1780s?]. Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Laing, David, 1793-1878. Letter: 1821 May 28, Edin., to Richard Heber / David Laing. University of Edinburgh - Main Library, Edinburgh University Library
referencedIn Frank, Joseph, fl. 1825-1833. Letter: 1829 Oct. 16, Stockton, to David Laing / Joseph Frank. University of Edinburgh - Main Library, Edinburgh University Library
creatorOf Brown, Anna Gordon, d. 1810. Transcripts and notes concerning the "Brown manuscript" of Scottish popular ballads, 1793-1920. Harvard University, Houghton Library
creatorOf Bronson, Bertrand Harris, 1902-1986. Bertrand Bronson miscellany, 1789-1931, n.d. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Frank, Joseph, fl. 1825-1833. Letter: 1825 Nov. 28, Stockton, to David Laing / Joseph Frank. University of Edinburgh - Main Library, Edinburgh University Library
creatorOf Ritson, Joseph, 1752-1803. Autograph letter signed : London, to [David Macpherson], 1801 July 7. Pierpont Morgan Library.
creatorOf Ritson, Joseph, 1752-1803. Joseph Ritson collection, 1782-1824. Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Frank, Joseph, fl. 1825-1833. Letter: 1833 July 24, Stockton, to David Laing / Joseph Frank. University of Edinburgh - Main Library, Edinburgh University Library
creatorOf Ritson, Joseph, 1752-1803. Emendations of lines from Shakespeare's Two gentlemen of Verona, The tempest, and Merry wives of Windsor [manuscript], [18th or 19th century]. Folger Shakespeare Library
creatorOf Ritson, Joseph, 1752-1803,. Autograph letter signed from Joseph Ritson, Grays Inn, to George Ellis, Wimpole St., [London] [manuscript], 1803 April 9. Folger Shakespeare Library
creatorOf Ritson, Joseph, 1752-1803,. Autograph letters signed from Joseph Ritson to Thomas Park [manuscript], 1801-1803. Folger Shakespeare Library
creatorOf Macmath, William, 1844-1922,. Ballads from the Abbotsford library : manuscript transcript, 18--. Harvard University, Houghton Library
referencedIn Furnivall, Frederick James, 1825-1910. Letter: 1867 Mar. 18, to David Laing / F.J. Furnivall. University of Edinburgh - Main Library, Edinburgh University Library
creatorOf Ritson, Joseph, 1752-1803,. Autograph letters signed and unsigned from Joseph Ritson to George Steevens [manuscript], 1793. Folger Shakespeare Library
creatorOf Joseph Ritson collection, 1782-1824 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bohn, John, 1758-1843, person
associatedWith Bronson, Bertrand Harris, 1902-1986. person
associatedWith Collier, John Payne, 1789-1883. person
associatedWith Cunningham, Allan, 1784-1842. person
correspondedWith Ellis, George, 1753-1815 person
associatedWith Frank, Joseph, b. 1773 or 4, person
associatedWith Frank, Joseph, fl. 1780-1830. person
associatedWith Frank, Joseph, fl. 1825-1833. person
associatedWith Furnivall, Frederick James, 1825-1910. person
associatedWith Godwin, William, 1756-1836 person
associatedWith Haslewood, Joseph, 1769-1833. person
correspondedWith Heber, Richard, 1773-1833 person
associatedWith Ireland, William Henry, 1775-1835. person
correspondedWith Johnson, Samuel, 1709-1784 person
associatedWith Laing, David, 1793-1878. person
associatedWith Laing, William, 1764-1832, person
associatedWith Macmath, William, 1844-1922, person
associatedWith Macpherson, David, person
associatedWith Malone, Edmond, 1741-1812, person
correspondedWith Park, Thomas, 1759-1834 person
associatedWith Percy, Thomas, 1729-1811. person
associatedWith Perry, Marsden J. (Marsden Jasiel), 1850-1935, person
associatedWith Plumer, C., person
associatedWith Ray, Gordon Norton, 1915- person
associatedWith Reed, Isaac, 1742-1807. person
associatedWith Scott, Walter, Sir, 1771-1832. person
associatedWith Selby, H. C. person
associatedWith Selby, H. C. person
associatedWith Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 person
associatedWith Smith, Robert. person
associatedWith Smith, Robert. person
associatedWith Southey, Robert, 1774-1843 person
correspondedWith Steevens, George, 1736-1800, person
associatedWith Wharton, Philip Wharton, Duke of, 1698-1731. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Great Britain
Great Britain
Subject
English literature--Scottish authors--History and criticism
Mental illness
Scottish literature--History and criticism
English poetry--Early modern, 1500-1700
English literature--Scottish authors
English poetry--18th century
English poetry--Middle English (1100-1500)
Authors, English--18th century
English literature--Bio-bibliography
English ballads and songs
Occupation
Authors
Function

Person

Birth 1752-10-02

Death 1803-09-23

Britons

English

Information

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