Ritson, Joseph


Ritson, Joseph
(1752-1803)
   Although he scraped a living as a conveyancer, Ritson's real preoccupations were with his antiquarian researches and writing, and he quickly amassed an unparalleled knowledge and collection of early British poetry and song, which at the time had been neglected by other scholars. His undoubted strengths as gatherer and annotator resulted in a number of valuable publications on his chosen subjects, often issued at his own expense. On a personal level, however, Ritson had definite problems, and he publicly attacked a number of other authorities - particularly Warton (History of English Poetry), Pinkerton, and *Percy - for their errors and what he saw as their slapdash and dishonest editorial methods. These attacks were so vehemently worded and so personally abusive that, despite often being right in point of fact, he made few friends and many enemies. Combined with his other personal peculiarities - vegetarianism and atheism included - Ritson's pedantry and obsessive behaviour meant that when he died after a brief spell of 'madness' he was not much mourned. In hindsight, there is no doubt that his public strictures on the likes of Pinkerton and Percy forced editors of the time and later to be more careful in the way they handled and presented their sources, and he thus contributed a fair amount in the development of scholarly method which is now taken for granted. His main publications in folklore-related fields are: A Select Collection of English Songs (1783), Gammer Gurton's Garland (c.1783), Ancient Songs from the Time of King Henry III to the Revolution (1792), The English Anthology (1793), Scotish Songs (1794), Robin Hood (1795).
   ■ Bertrand H. Bronson, Joseph Ritson, Scholar-at-Arms (1938); Henry A. Burd, Joseph Ritson: A Critical Biography (1916).

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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