1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Ritson

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:688.



JOSEPH RITSON (1752-1803) another zealous literary antiquary and critic, was indefatigable in his labours to illustrate English literature, particularly the neglected ballad strains of the nation. He published in 1783 a valuable collection of English songs; in 1790, Ancient Songs, from the Time of Henry III. to the Revolution; in 1792, Pieces of Ancient Popular Poetry; in 1794, A Collection of Scottish Songs; in 1795, A Collection of all the Ancient Poems, &c. Relating to Robin Hood, &c. Ritson was a faithful and acute editor, profoundly versed in literary antiquities, but of a jealous irritable temper, which kept him in a state of constant warfare with his brother collectors. He was in diet a strict Pythagorean, and wrote a treatise against the use of animal food. Sir Walter Scott, writing to his friend Mr. Ellis in 1803, remarks — "Poor Ritson is no more. All his vegetable soups and puddings have not been able to avert the evil day, which, I understand, was preceded by madness." Scott has borne ample testimony to the merits of this unhappy gleaner in the by-paths of literature.