1803 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Ritson

Anonymous, Obituary in The Monthly Magazine 16 (1 November 1803) 375.



He was greatly distinguished for the acuteness of his judgment, and the profoundness of his researches, in the characters of a consulting barrister and a conveyancer. But his literary enquiries were by no means confined within the limits of his profession; and he was, perhaps, the most successful of those persons by whom the investigation of old English literature and antiquities was cultivated in the latter part of the eighteenth century. — His memory was so tenacious, that nothing he ever stored there was obliterated: the most astonishing labours and indefatigable enquiries were to him amusement; and his penetration and judgment were so exact, that it is difficult, in his voluminous publications, to detect a single error of fact or of inference. — It is to be regretted that his style, and the mode in which he communicated his discoveries to the public, were by no means such as to adorn his discoveries — The language of his writings is harsh, rugged, and barren; and his publications are further disfigured by the affected singularity of their orthography. — But this, though it hindered them from obtaining that general success to which by their essential merits they were entitled, does not prevent them from being, to the learned and the studious, invaluable repositories of the science which they treat. — Mr. Ritson was fully sensible of the superiority he possessed in those points of learning which had engaged his attention, and was not accustomed to express himself on their subjects with any degree of diffidence and reserve. — Conscious of his own general exemption from error, he had no forbearance for the errors and misapprehensions of others. — The style in which he attacked Malone, Warton, and other contemporary critics, was remarked for a greater degree of rudeness, bitterness, and insult, than is perhaps to be found in any other controversialist. — He set somewhat too high a value on his own favourite pursuits, and defended his dogmas in a very magisterial tone.