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Rheims, Sculpture at 93 

Richard Coeur de Lion 15 16 19 20 23 

24 27 51 81-86 
Richard Coeur dc Lion (Romance) 24 

27 81-86 
Richard, Earl of Cornwall 20 
Roald 24 31 2,7 
Robert, Brother 26 
Rome, Vatican Library 12 
Runkelstein, Castle 11 

Saddle 14 

Saga 26 27 28, ct passim 

St. Ann's Hill, Chertsey 15 

St. Floret. Castle 10 

St. Kehelm, Worces. 16 

St. Thomas, J'ic dc 23 37 40 67 82 

Saladin 20 82 83 94 

Salisbury Cathedral 86 

Samson 82 

Shaw, Henry 16 28 93 

Shurlock. Dr. M. 15 16 24 26 40 44 45 

60 66 67 72 
Sir Tristrcm 26 

Tapestry 11 12 13 
Tavola Ritoiida 51 
Torelha, Guillem 14 
Trial bv Battle 86 

Tristram, Versions of Romance : 
Eilhart von Oberge 10 
Folic Tristan, Douce MS. 60 68 94 
French Prose 11 
German Prose 11 
Gottfried von Strassburg 10 11 22 26 

50 60 77 
Saga 26 27 28, et passim 
Sir Tristrem 26 51 60 
Tavola Ritonda 51 
Thomas 10 14 19 26 27 28, et passim 

Usella 10 

Villard de Honnecourt 93 

Wager of Battle 86 

Walter, Master 22 

Waterhouse, C. O. 28 

Waverly Abbey 19 

Westminster Abbey Chapter House, 

Tiles at 19 20 22 31 37 67 76 93 94 
Westminster Palace, Painted Chamber 

at 21 22 
Wheeler, Miss L. 17 20 
Wienhausen 10 
U'igalois n 
William, Master 22 
Windsor 20 


(A list of the titles of the figures 
be found on pp. 7 and 8.) 
Armor 10 15 16 17 23 36 40 41 43 
Archery 31 39 

Bier 30 
Bringvain 29 

Chess-board 2 
Crossbow 40 

Dirge 30 
Dragon 24 

Gage, Offering of 25 
Gormon 18 26 

Hanap 27 
Harp 4 20 21 
Homage 6 
Horn 32 

Lsolt 21 28 29 

will Kaherdin 29 
Kanelangres i 

Letter i 

Lion Combat 35 41 42 43 

Mace 2>3 
Mark, King 4 13 
Morgan, Duke 89 10 19 
Morhaut 15 16 17 

Pilgrims 3 
Porter 5 

Richard Coeur de Lion 35 36 

Saladin 37 
Sceptre 8 
Ships 2 20 28 29 34 
"Stake-gift" 3 

Wager of Battle 38 



Vol. II August, 1916 No. 3 

Board of Editors 

George T. Flom William A. Oldfather 

Stuart P. Sherman 

Published by the University of Illinois 

Under the Auspices of the Graduate School 

Urbana, Illinois 

Copyright, 1916 
By the University of Illinois 






Chapter I Early Years: Life At Stockton-On-Tees ii 

Chapter II London Life : Business And Professional Career 25 

Chapter III Literary Beginnings: The Warton Controversy 46 

Chapter IV Shakespeare Criticisms 66 

Chapter V Editorial Labors, 1783-1795 90 

Chapter VI Editorial Labors After 1795 121 

Chapter VII Prefatory Dissertations 148 

Chapter VIII Revolutionary Traits : Death 172 

Chapter.. IX Conclusion 195 

Appendix A Robert Smith's Narrative Of Ritson's Last Days And Death, 

And Two Letters Of H. C. Selby To Bishop Percy 200 

Appendix B Passages Cancelled In Ritson's Ancient Engleish Metrical Ro- 

iiiaiicecs 206 

Appendix C I. A Bibliography Of The Published Works Of Joseph Ritson 209 
II. The Unpublished Manuscripts of Joseph Ritson 213 

Bibliography 215 

Index 222 


Joseph Ritson is a luinor figure in the literary history of the latter 
half of the eighteenth century. But he was one of the chief instruments 
in bringing about the changes in that period of remarkable transition. 
Although a potent factor in reviving the interest in ballads and old 
poetry and in hastening the acceptance of advanced standards of editor- 
ship and criticism, he has been largely ignored in the historical appraise- 
ment of the romantic movement. This neglect was not altogether 
unnatural. Ritson 's method of criticism was so invidiously personal 
and his beliefs and habits were so eccentric that attention was attracted 
primarily to his peculiarities, while his stable qualities were overlooked 
by the majority. As a consequence of the silence which early enshrouded 
his name, an adequate estimate of his literary place has, up to the 
present, been impossible. 

There have been three previous biographical treatments of Ritson. 
Joseph Haslewood's Life and Puhlications of Ritson professes to be, 
and is, nothing more than a catalogue of the publications. The Memoir 
by Sir Harris Nicolas is primarily a personal account based on Ritson 's 
letters and the reminiscences of his nephew. Whatever critical judg- 
ments are essayed are colored by an undisguised endeavor to clear from 
censure the name of "honest Joseph Ritson". The account by Sir 
Sidney Lee in the Dictionary of National Biography is based mainly 
upon the Memoir. In the present study I have added to this material the 
contemporary magazine notices and critical reviews, eight letters of 
Ritson hitherto unnoticed, and frequent comments from the published 
and unpublished correspondence of other literary men of the time, espe- 
cially the account of Ritson 's death prepared for Percy. Several minor 
corrections of fact have been made, and, I trust, a major one of 
emphasis. For I have endeavored, without overlooking the personal 
peculiarities, to bring Ritson into proper perspective and to estimate 
his importance in his own day and his influence upon the subsequent 
course of literature and criticism. The material in Chapter IV is a sub- 
stantial revision and enlargement of an article on "Joseph Ritson and 
Some Eighteenth Century Editors of Shakespeare", published in Shake- 
speare Studies, by members of the Department of English of the Uni- 
versity of Wisconsin, Madison, 1916. I presented before the Wisconsin 
Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, a paper entitled, "Eight 


10 PREFACE [344 

Unedited Letters of Joseph Ritson", which appears in the Translations 
of the Society, Vol. XIX, Part 1, p. 1 ff. 

My obligations in the preparation of this work are too numerous 
for detailed notice. Special mention must, however, be made of my 
indebtedness to the authorities of the University of Illinois and the 
University of Wisconsin libraries for many courtesies; to the librarians 
of the University of Edinburgh, the Bodleian, and the British Museum 
libraries for the use of unedited manuscripts; to Sir Sidney Lee for 
calling my attention to the Selby letters and to Mr. Charles Davis for 
permission to print them from his manuscript ; to Mr. Marsden J. Perry 
for opening to me his valuable collection of Ritsoniana and to Mr. George 
Parker Winship for unfailing kindness in making it readily available ; to 
Professor H. S. V. Jones for helpful criticisms ; to my colleague Mr. 
W. E, Alderman for reading the proof; and to Professor "W. A. Old- 
father for assistance in seeing the work through the press. My greatest 
debt is to Professor S. P. Sherman, who suggested the subject of this 
study and who has followed its progress with stimulating criticism. 

H. A. B. 

Madison, Wisconsin. 

Early Years ; Life at Stockton-on-Tees 

Birth — Father — Mother — Family name — Home life — Formal education — Know- 
ledge of languages — Legal apprenticeship — Antiquarian interests aroused — Becomes 
vegetarian — Publication of Versees — Journey to Edinburgh — Early friends : Cun- 
ningham, Shield, Holcroft, Brewster, Allan — Settles in London. 

Joseph Eitson, son of Joseph Ritson and Jane Gibson, was born 
October 2, 1752, at Stockton-upon-Tees, Durham.^ He was the second of 
a family of nine children, only five of whom survived infancy. The 
oldest child, Christopher,- and John, Sarah, and Elizabeth all died young. 
Anne, the third daughter, married Robert Frank of Stockton. Her son 
Joseph, named for his uncle, the subject of this sketch, became the critic's 
protege and heir ; and it is to him that posterity is indebted for most of 
the facts of Ritson 's life^ and for the publication of many of his manu- 
scripts. The next child, Sarah, curiously bearing the name of a de- 
ceased sister, became the wife of Jonathan Brown of Liverpool. Jane 
married one Thomas Thompson of Great Strickland. The youngest 

^The statements by Nichols, Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, 
etc., VIII, p. 133, note, that Ritson was "a native of Stockton in Yorkshire", and 
Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, etc., VIII, p. 588, 
that "Mr. Ritson was born at Stockton, ten miles from York, not at Stockton- 
upon-Tces", are evidently erroneous. Although Ritson did not employ the full 
appellation "Stockton-upon-Tees" in his correspondence, there is ample evidence 
that Durham and not York was his native county. He makes frequent mention of 
other towns in Durham but not in Yorkshire; his interest in local antiquities of 
various sorts was centered in Durham (cf. MSS. 4, 6, 10, Appendix C, II) ; he is 
designated in the Register of Gray's Inn as the "son of Joseph R. of Stockton, 
Durham" ; and his first publication, the Versees, links the Tees with Stockton 
(11. II, 19). 

2A Mrs. Kirby, a life-long friend of the Ritson family, whose remarks are 
reported by H. C. Selby in a letter to Bishop Percy (See Appendix A), declares 
that the first child was a daughter who died insane about the close of the eighteenth 
century. If this unsupported assertion is to be accredited, the family register must 
be increased to ten. Diet. Nat. Biog. gives eight children, probably omitting the 
second Sarah. 

3Frank collected and edited The Letters of Josfeph Ritson, Esq. London, 1833, 
and supplied most of the material for the Memoir of the Author prefixed to that 
collection by Sir Harris Nicolas. 



daughter, Mary, seems never to have married. Joseph's extant corre- 
spondence contains only the meagerest mention of any of his sisters 
except Anne, but he seems in later life to have been assiduous in visiting 
the various members of the family on his infrequent journeys to the 
north of England. 

Joseph Ritson senior was, in early life, a menial servant to a 
Stockton tobacconist and at the time of his marriage served one Robin- 
son, a prominent corn dealer of that place. Later he became a corn 
grower and as such continued his business relations with Robinson. He 
seems to have owned nothing but the house he lived in and to have been 
forced to a hard life to support his large family. The general discontent 
of the agriculturist class and the disregard of the poor farmer by the 
moneyed merchant are reflected in his life. Although he had little or 
nothing to leave his family, their dark outlook was rendered still more 
forbidding by Robinson's refusal of a final business settlement during 
the elder Ritson 's last illness. During this trying period the son's 
letters to his father were warm with filial affection and expressed an 
anxious concern for the whole family. On one occasion he wrote : 

"Heaven knows how much I have all along pleased myself with thinking I 
should be able in a few years to render you some assistance towards making you 
easy and happy in your old age in return for the education and indulgence you be- 
stowed on me in my youth I am sorry to hear Mr. Robinson should 

refuse the small comfort of having your affairs in some degree settled : on such 
an occasion as this his behavior is unfeeling and inhuman to the highest degree. 
. . . . My heart bleeds to think of the distressed situation the whole family 
is in. I would to God I could be with you for a day — but alas ! I should only add 
to your confusion. May heaven assist you with patience and resignation in your 
afflictions. I crave your blessing and earnestly commend myself to your remem- 

The father died, at no very advanced age, early in the year 1778. Joseph 
was then struggling for a livelihood in London, unable in any material 
way to assist the family at Stockton. 

Jane Gibson, at the time of her marriage, was a servant in the 
family of Robinson, in whose service her husband was also engaged. 
It is not probable that she continued long as a bread-winner, for the 
burdens of her own family and home must soon have demanded all her 
attention. An uneducated peasant woman, she bestowed upon her family 
the simple and unaffected devotion characteristic of her class. The 
children maintained for her and for each other a deep and permanent 
affection. It was in relation to his mother that the stolid and undemon- 
strative Joseph betrayed his finer sensibilities. The illness which termin- 

*Letters, I, pp. 4, 5. 

347] EARLY YEARS 13 

ated in her death began in the spring of 1780. On May 5th of that year 
Joseph wrote to her: "I have so few, and those such slender connec- 
tions with mankind, that if we lose you I shall not be very uneasy at 
anything that might happen to me." In the same letter, in answer to 
an inquiry from her as to what disposal she should make of her small 
belongings, he generously says: "It is very much my wish that you 
should dispose of everything you have to leave in favor of Nanny and 
her child [Anne Frank and Joseph.] "^ During the course of the sum- 
mer he attempted to regale her with accounts of the London riots and 
uprisings among the lower classes, and she invariably replied with solicit- 
ous concern for his health and personal safety. In November, 1780, she 
died, and the love which Joseph had bestowed upon her seemed almost 
immediately to be diverted to his sister and her young son, for whom 
he had an affection almost paternal throughout the remainder of his life. 

The Ritson family name was, according to Joseph, a corruption of 
Richardson. In his "Memoranda" he records the genesis of the word 
thus: "Richardson, Richison, Richson, Ricson, Ritson." But it is 
highly doubtful if there is any other authority than personal fancy for 
this evolution. The name was, however, of considerable antiquity in 
"Westmoreland and Cumberland, as it occurs in the parish register of 
Lowther at its commencement in 1550. But even with this assistance 
and with his own antiquarian interests Ritson was able to trace his 
pedigree with certainty only as far back as a great-grandfather Chris- 
topher Ritson, who died in 1703. This branch of the family belonged 
to the poor but respectable yeomanry of the north of England where 
it had held property for four generations. 

From what is known of Joseph's immediate family, it is evident 
that life in the Ritson home must have been simple and affectionate. 
The necessity for the daily practice of economy in the material comforts 
of life in no way decreased but rather augmented the mutual love and 
sympathy of the family. Only one element, the religious atmosphere 
characteristic of the English middle and lower class families, seems to 
have been lacking. There is no evidence in the lives of the children so 
far as they are known, nor in their letters, to indicate Christian training. 
Neither is there any token in the early life of hostility to religious 
matters. The home seems only to have been non-religious, not irreligious. 
Joseph Ritson, reared in such a home, was no unnatural product of his 
environment. That there was a distinctly human side to his character, 
no one who has taken the trouble to look into his correspondence will 
deny. Yet the oft repeated remarks of cynical critics, who would paint 
him as an ogre who never fed on the milk of human kindness, make it 

^Ibid., I, pp. 12, 13. 


necessary to point out that, however virulent and sarcastic he may have 
been towards certain editorial malefactors, he was, to his friends and 
family, a singularly generous, kind-hearted, and sympathetic man. 

Ritson's formal education was quite limited but was no doubt the 
equal of that of most lads of his station in life. His only schoolmaster 
was the Eeverend John Thompson of Stockton, afterwards vicar of War- 
den in Northumberland. It is reported that he often spoke of Ritson 
as one of his best scholars and was accustomed to relate some anecdotes 
indicative, even in his youth, of those mental eccentricities for which he 
was afterwards so noted.'' Elsewhere he has been described as "clever 
at his books and an apt scholar. " As a lad at school he constantly shun- 
ned the company of other boys. He endeavored to associate with the 
girls, but they avoided him as much as possible, and he was consequently 
a half-voluntary outcast. Being much alone he grew morose and 
secretive and could be dislodged from his meditations by only one or 
two girls whom he secretly feared.'^ 

The exact studies which Ritson pursued at Stockton are not definitely 
known. On the question of his knowledge of languages there is differ- 
ence of opinion. It has been said of him that he was "totally unac- 
quainted with the Greek and Latin languages",^ and again, that he 
was "ignorant of Greek and self-taught in Latin ".^ He knew no Greek 
and seems never to have felt his ignorance of it a handicap in his 
work.^° At any rate he was very emphatic in urging his nephew not 
to "waste his time" in studying it. His estimate of the comparative 
value of Greek and Latin is clearly stated in a letter to his charge, 
June 4, 1785: 

"You should pay all possible attention to Latin and writing. I do not 
apprehend Mr. Pattison can put you into Greek this summer, but if he should, I 
desire that you not waste your time in acquiring any more knowledge of that 
language, than consists in reading it with facility from a familiarity with the 
characters, though you should not understand a word. Latin will be useful to you, 
not Greek, and I beg you will pay no regard to any one who tells you otherwise."^^ 

^Memoirs of Ritson, in Brewster's History of Stockton, 1829, p. 370. 

■^Mrs. Kirby claims the distinction of being able to do anything she pleased 
with the eccentric youth, "he was so much afraid of her". 

^Review of "Homer's Hymn to Venus", Gentleman's Magaine, Vol. LXXHI, 
ii, p. 1031. 

oDeQuincey's Works, ed. Masson, 1896. Vol. VI, p. 23, note. 

loThe only remark which might be construed as expressing remorse at his 
ignorance of the classics appears in a letter to Robert Harrison, Aug. 22, 1795. 
He is lamenting the inefficiency of the modern writers of ancient history : "Did 
we but all understand Greek and Latin as well as you do ... . my historian 
. . . . should not be suffered to write a line." Letters, H, p. 99. 

^^Ibid., I, p. 102. 

349] EARLY YEARS 15 

But Ritson was certainly familiar with the Latin language. Its rudi- 
ments, at least, were made familiar by composition and construing at 
Thompson's parish school. Although he may not liave been critically 
skilled, he made constant use of it in his literary labors. Many of his 
sources exist only in that language, and his quotations from the Roman 
writers are apt and numerous. His knowledge of French, Italian^ and 
Spanish was likewise sufficient to enable him to use them extensively. 
It may be doubted, however, if he secured much acquaintance with any 
of these tongues — except perhaps French — at school. His frequently 
acknowledged ignorance of German is not at all surprising. 

In these early school days Ritson evidently began to cultivate the 
interest in history, old plays, songs and ballads, which later became his 
hobby and finally the absorbing interest of his life. In the letters to 
his nephew, whose early education he supervised and directed by corre- 
spondence from London, is to be found the chief expression of his own 
preferences as a child and a confession of the deficiencies in his early 
training. "Writing in 1780 to his six year old nephew he says : "I have 
sent you a few books, &c, such as I was most entertained with, and in- 
structed by, when I was at your own age ; and I hope they will answer 
as good a purpose, if not a better to yourself. . . . You will find 
some few plays, and other things, which you may like better, perhaps, 
and know more of as you grow bigger."^- The next year he sends him 
"a history of England, and a little book of childish songs", and com- 
mends him for ''getting by heart so excellent a poem as Chevij Chase."^^ 
A few months later he sends a collection of prints, pencils, and paints. 
''The prints are mostly such as I was very fond of when I was rather 
older than you are," he writes; "and the drawing book I still think a 
very pretty one." At the same time he commends Don Quixote, "which 
is one of the best books ever written", and Mother Goose's Melody, 
which is "an excellent thing. "^* By the time Frank is seven years old 
Ritson advises him to write verses on the model of Mother Goose, adding 
significantly: "I regret nothing so much as that I did not make a prac- 
tise of committing all such little things to writing the moment I heard 
them."^^ His early education, so far as it went, was thorough, but 
advancement was due largely to his own unaided efforts. In later years 
he felt keenly the lack of intelligent and sympathetic guidance in his 
formative period, and endeavored to supply this want in the life of his 
young nephew. 

^'Ibid., I, p. II. 

13/&I(i., I, p. 20. 

^^Ibid., I, pp. 28, 29. 

^'^Ihid., I, p. 42. . ; 


Formal education beyond that to be obtained in the local school was, 
of course, out of the question for one in Ritson's station. There was a 
large family to support, and economic considerations made it imperative 
for the oldest son to contribute as early as possible to the family budget, 
or, at least, not to make any considerable drains upon it. Accordingly 
Joseph was put to work at an early age. It was perhaps just as well 
that he remained at home. As a youth he was sensitive, studious, and 
inclined to be secretive. At Stockton he had opportunity for private 
reading, and intimate daily contact with his fellows served as an anti- 
dote to the eccentric tendencies of his nature. 

Being designed for the law, Joseph was at first apprenticed to a 
solicitor Raisbeck of Stockton, a son-in-law to Robinson, the corn merch- 
ant with whom his father dealt. His stay with Raisbeck was probably 
short, and he was subsequently removed to the office of Ralph Bradley,^* 
a distinguished conveyancer of Stockton. Here he remained as long as 
he was a resident of Stockton. Bradley knew his business extremely 
well and kept his apprentices close at their tasks. In 1772 Ritson wrote 
to John Cunningham, the poet: "I have never had a day nor the offer 
of a day (except Sunday) from my master since I entered his office." 
Ralph Hoar and John Crathorne, apprentices to Bradley together with 
Ritson, both remainisd on terms of intimacy with him during life. Joseph 
applied himself with considerable diligence and evidently proved an 
apt student. Bradley is reported to have ''described young Ritson's 
abilities as too great to be wasted in such a place as Stockton 'V^ and it 
may be conjectured that it was at his master's suggestion that he decided 
to settle in London. 

During his apprenticeship the duties of the office occupied a large 
portion of his time, but he undoubtedly found more or less leisure for 
non-professional reading according to his own fancy. Early visitors 
to Stockton report that Ritson, ''like most young men of taste and tal- 
ents ' ', was more fond of reading poetry and ancient history, than law.^^ 
That these early marked the chief lines of his interest is evident from the 
degree of familiarity with them exhibited in his first publications. His 
concern with poetry w^as deep and permanent and not long after his de- 
parture from Stockton almost completely overshadowed the interest in 
other antiquities which was taking root in these years. 

i°The name is mistakenly given "Bindley", in Diet. Nat. Biog. The exact dates 
of these changes are not known. Mrs. Kirby says Ritson was apprenticed to 
Bradley upon quitting the Latin school, and remained with him some year or two. 
See Appendix A. 

i^Nicolas, Op. cit. p. iii. 

i^See Holcroft's Memoirs, London, 1852, p. 93. 

351] EARLY YEARS 17 

Conditions in northern England at the end of the third quarter of 
the eighteenth century were peculiarly fit for the making of an anti- 
quarian. Durham and the surrounding counties were rich in British 
and Roman antiquities. Northumberland was widely known for its 
pre-Roman antiquities of various sorts. Within Eitson's reach were 
Hadrian's great wall, the Devil's Causeway, the London road, and var- 
ious camps and cairns. At Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he had many 
friends, were the ancient church and university buildings, and there, in 
1771, excavations brought to light the river bridge constructed by the 
emperor Hadrian. In the county seat of Durham, where Ritson must 
have gone occasionally on professional business, was the magnificent 
cathedral founded in 1093, by William de Carilepho, in which lay the 
remains of St. Cuthburt, brought thither from Lindisfarne, and of 
Venerable Bede, removed from Jarrow.^^ All of these relics of antiquity 
served to interest Ritson in the ancient history of his own county, and 
he early collected sufficient material to make him of valuable assistance 
to George Allan in his projected History of Durham, and to Richard 
Gougli in the 1780 edition of his British Topography. -° His early letters 
from London are replete with references to the antiquities of Durham, 
and he never through life lost interest in them. 

Among the books which Ritson read at Stockton was one which 
influenced the whole of his subsequent life. Mandeville's Fahle of the 
Bees, which formed the basis of one of the influential schools of thought 
of the early eighteenth century, was the direct cause of his forswearing 
animal food at the age of nineteen. It was, moreover, the source of his 
inspiration in other ways of which he was not aware, and which his 
biographers have overlooked. In his Essay on Abstinence from Animal 
Food as a Moral Duty, published in 1802, he recounts the circumstances 
in the following words : 

"The compiler himself, induced to serious reflection, by the perusal of 
Mandeville's 'Fable of the Bees', in the year, 1772, being the nineteenth year of his 
age, has ever since, to the revisal of this sheet, firmly adhered to a milk and 
vegetable diet, having, at least, never tasted, during the whole course of those 
thirty years, a morsel of flesh, fish, or fowl, or anything to his knowledge prepared 
in or with those substances or any extract thereof, unless on one occasion, when 
tempted by wet, cold and hunger, in the south of Scotland, he ventured to eat a 
few potatoes dressed under the roast; nothing less repugnant to his feelings to be 
had ; or except by ignorance or imposition ; unless it may be in eating eggs, which, 
however, deprives no animal of life, though it may prevent some from coming into 
the world to be murdered and devoured by others."-^ 

iMn Account of Durham, &c, Durham, 1804. 

20Ritson's antiquarian services are more fully discussed in Chapter III. 

-''■Abstinence from Animal Food, pp. 201-2. 


The determination at so early an age to forswear animal food, and 
the adhering to that determination in the face of thirty years of good- 
natured ridicule by his friends and of bitter satire by his enemies, is 
highly characteristic of the man. After his death his Pythagorean diet 
was pointed to as proof of the contention that he had always been half- 
mad, or, at least, that the germs of insanity had been ever present. That 
there was a connection between the meager diet, the ill-nourished body, 
and the alienated mind cannot be doubted, but as we shall have occasion 
later^^ to examine the nature of this connection somewhat more fully, it 
may be dismissed for the present. One thing, however, should be borne 
in mind. Far from being a mere fad, Eitson's vegetarian resolution was 
founded on deep and honest conviction and arose from a refined sense of 
humanity. There is no trait of the gentler side of his nature — the com- 
paratively unknown facet of his character — that is more uniformly 
expressed throughout his correspondence than his love for the animal 

In 1772 appeared Eitson's earliest known publication and the only 
extant literary work of his Stockton years. This was a poem of 98 lines 
contributed to the Newcastle Miscellany under the caption Versees Ad- 
dressed to the Ladies of Stockton.-^ The first 30 lines of this youthful 
production, in the nature of a general introduction to the individual 
"addresses", suggest the sentiment of the Deserted Village and point 
clearly to Eitson's interest in the romantic history of the North. 

Accept, ye Fair, the tribute of my praise, 
And deign a smile upon my humble lays ; 
For your applause i strike the tuneless lyre, 
And strive to raise within a poets fire : 
In hobbleing verse your charms attempt to sing ; 
Your charms adorn'd w^ith ever blooming spring. 

Ye female critics, read, sans spleen, my song, 
Nor deem it or too languid, or too long; 
For Your applause i write, your Frowns i fear ; 
Hence, fellows! hence! Your judgment's nothing here. 
Let not harsh censure my poor rhimes asperse, 
But with the Subject dignify the verse. 

Where Tees in sweet meanders slowly glides, 
And gentlely murmuring rolls his easy tides, 
There stands a town, with peace and plenty crown'd, 
For wit, for wealth, and loj'al sons rencwn'd ; 

22See Chapter VIII. 

-^Reprinted at Stockton, n. d., and again as an Appendix to Haslewood's Life 
of Ritson, etc., 1824. 

353] EARLY YEARS 19 

Far fame'd for dames, wise, charitable, chaste. 

And first in Beauty's annals ever place'd. 

In every age has STOCKTON been revere'd, 

Her sons have always been belove'd and fear'd. 

When, 'gainst the hardy legions of the North, 

Brave Percy led his youthful warriors forth, 

Her valiant deeds let History proclaim. 

And Cheviot hills record the fatal name. 

Her nymphs erst wont to trip the verdant groves, 

Seem'd sisters to the Gracees and the Loves. 

Leave these, my muse, and sing, in careless rhimes, 
The special beauties of her modern times ; 
Let them alone engage thy every care. 
Speak but the truth, and paint them as they are. 

The remainder of the poem consists of eleven stanzas extolling the 
virtues of as many of the "Ladies", each designated by a name rich in 
literary associations : Titania, Olivia, Daphne, Chloe, Phillis, etc. 

This youthful, amatory poem, without intrinsic merit, has a three- 
fold interest to the student of Ritson's life. It marks the beginning of 
a thirt}' years' connection with the press. It exhibits the earliest speci- 
men of Eritson's peculiar orthography. In this private system as now 
employed the first personal pronoun is written with a small letter, and 
words formed with suffixes are invariably given their full form.-* From 
a letter written to Isaac Reed, to whom he presented the copy for the 
Versees from which the above quotation is taken, it does not appear that 
he had then any intention of employing his system of orthography 
further. "I beg your acceptance of the enclosed", he writes, "as the 
only specimen of my system of spelling that ever was, or, perhaps, ever 
vtdll be printed."-^ But the promise here held out was not lived up to, 
for Ritson's volumes were marred with eccentricities of spelling up to 
the very last.-^ 

Finally, the Versees suggests a question as to the extent and per- 
manence of Ritson's interest in the writing of poetry. Several years 

-*Ci. versees, hobbleing, gentlely, wonderous, riseing, etc. 

-^August 29, 1782. Quoted from Haselwood, Some Account of the Life and 
Publications of the late Joseph Ritson, Esq., London, 1824, Appendix. Haselwood is 
"certain that the orthography of Versees was not adopted by him so early as the 
year when the lines were first printed", p. 5, note. 

-^Ritson's orthography is more fully discussed later. See especially Chapters 
IV and VIII. 


afterward he wrote a long versified epistle to his friend Ralph Hoar, 
in which appear these lines: 

This many a year I have not made 

Two lines of verse, though once my trade 

You know it was — No, you can't tell. 

But I can yet remember well. 

When care was to my youth unknown, 

My fancy free, my hours my own, 

I lov'd i' th' laureat grove to stray, 

The path was pleasant, prospect gay; 

But now my genius sinks, nor knows 

To make a couplet tink i' th' close.-'' 
It may, of course, be questioned whether Ritson's reference to poetry 
as "once my trade" means any more than that as a youth he wrote 
frequent exercises in verse such as every boy interested in literature 
attempts at some time or another. Such an interpretation lends color 
to Haslewood's otherwise unsubstantiated remark that Ritson "once 
intimated a claim to another poetical effusion" that appeared in the 
Newcastle Miscellany. But if Ritson's statement is to be taken literally, 
there is no need to lament the fact that he forsook the Muses for criti- 
cism and antiquarianism. Scholarship gained much thereby and Poetry 
lost nothing. 

Toward the close of 1773 Ritson made an archaeological trip to 
Edinburgh. His diary records the fact that he went on foot, subsisted 
on a vegetable diet, and suffered the hardships incident to his mode of 
travel. It was at this time that he began his acquaintance with the 
Advocates' Library, where he spent many delightful hours. His anti- 
quarian zeal led him to spend so much money for ancient Scottish books-^ 
that he was unable to pay for his lodging until a fellow traveller became 
so mucli interested in his discussion on the Battle of Flodden Field that 
he paid his reckoning for him. The concluding entry from the diary 
of this tour is one of the few intimate personal remains of the man. 

"Friday, got my shoe mended ; set off at eight, and after walking twelve 
hours, most of it in a heavy rain, arrived safe at home, after an absence of twelve 
days. The length of time I had been absent, the distance of my journey, and the 
vicissitudes of weather and pocket, the change of lodgings, and the many hardships 

27"New Year's Day, 1787", Letters, I, p. 123. 

28The line of his interest is indicated by the following books which he pur- 
chased, among others, on this trip: Robert of Pitscottie's Chronicles of Scotland, 
1436-1565, Edinburgh, 1738; Thomas Ruddiman's Dissertation Concerning the 
competition for the croivn of Scotland, 1748; and David Moyses's Memoirs of the 
Affairs of Scotland, 1577-1603, Edinburgh, 1755. 

355] EARLY YEARS 21 

I had experienced in my little tonr, all contribute to make the time of my arrival 
at home the happiest moment of my life."-^ 

Not the least important factors of Ritson's early years were the 
friendships formed at Stockton with men of literary talents and anti- 
quarian tastes. His first known letter was written to John Cunningham 
(1729-1773), itinerant actor and small poet, who spent his dissolute life 
witli strolling companies in the north of Britain and wrote occasional 
prologues, a farce or two, and some pastoral poems of slight merit. 
Cunningham met Ritson, then a young legal apprentice with literary 
aspirations, and immediately fell heir to his homage. They corresponded 
infrequently during the period of Cunningham's voluntary retirement 
to Newcastle where he was waiting "till my health either seems to 
return, or totally abandons me". The following letter from Ritson sup- 
plements the two from Cunningham given by Nicolas. "° 

Montagu d. 15, fol. 219, 219b. 

Stockton, Friday 

. th Augt. 1772 
Dear Sir 

The pleasure I received from your agreeable favor was a little damped by 
your treating as Flattery tlie most sincere Expressions my pen could commit 
to paper. 

I can have small hopes of enjoying the least share in your Thoughts when 
you will not believe me if I speak Truth. But I had rather that you should tell me 
I h^e than a 1000 others I could name should commend me for speaking Truth. 

As to your Expectations of seeing Lanc.^i and me at Durham in the Race 
Week. I am sorry they had so bad a foundation. The pleasure I would have 
received from seeing you would have abundantly compensated for any trouble 
I might have been at in the Journey. But as I have never had a Day nor the 
Offer of a Day (except Sunday) from my Master since I entered his office, I 
never could have expected to succeed had I asked him. I believe Lane, is much in 
the same Situation. Yet I hope (as it is likely we shall have Races) I shall 
enjoy that pleasure before Christmas — & if you are not inrolled in the List of ye 
Racing performers I have a little Expectation of seeing you at Whitby then. 

I am exceedingly glad your Benefit at Darlington turned out to your Satis- 
faction. You say "you have often Experienced the friendship of Darl.^^ as 
well as Stock.'^" — long very long may you continue to enjoy the Friendship of 

-^Nicolas, Op. cit. p. v. Ritson later exhibited a decided antipathy to Scotch- 
men, but there is no indication that it was "acquired" on this journey, as Sir Sidney 
Lee states in Diet. Nat. Biog. Cf. Chapter VIL 

3°pp. viii-ix. Cunningham's letters are dated respectively June 19, 1772 and 
July 23, 1773. Ritson's letter is evidently in reply to the first of these. 

"iProbably a fellow apprentice, Lancaster. 




both. Tho' jMerit is seldom rewarded so well as it should be — Yet the Place must 
be a damn'd stupid one indeed to let it be neglected. 

We have had the "famous and unparalleled" Mr. Jonas the Jugler here — his 
Visit indeed was only short but as he performs his Part much better than any 
other Pretender to the Art — the Spectators are as much pleased as astonished. 

There is not the least Necessity for the Letters you honor me with "to be left 
at Mrs. Barkers"."* Directed to J. Ritson at Ra : Bradley's Esqr Stockton they 
will be much sooner received as I seldom know there is a Letter till three or 
four Days afterwards. 

My imagination's so shallow, it is the most vain Undertaking possible, for 
me to pretend corresponding with you. Yet if my stupid Letters have only the 
good fortune to procure one in return— I am happier than if I were the Author 
of Mr. Pope's Literary Correspondence. 

I am 

Dear Sir 

With the greatest Respect 
Your most humble Servant 
J. Ritson Jun 

Ritson 's interest in Cunningham continued for some years. At the 
time of the poet's death he collected a great many newspaper clippings 
concerning him, and from these and his personal knowledge wrote a 
short biographical sketch.^^ He printed several of Cunningham's songs 
in his edition of English Songs,^^ and in the "Historical Essa}^ on Na- 
tional Song" which precedes that collection, included this unbiased 
estimate of his poetic ability :^^ 

"Cunningham, though not equal to his countryman [Goldsmith] in native 
genius, and still less so in learned application, possesses a pleasing simplicity which 
cannot fail to recommend him to a reader of unadulterated taste. This simplicity 
may, perhaps, in some of his compositions, be thought too great; but when it is 
known that they were necessarily adapted to the intellects of a country theatre, 
little censure can be justly incurred by the poet." 

During tiie early days of his acquaintance with Cunningham, Eitson 
met William Shield (1748-1829), the famous nuisical composer whom 
Cunningham had been instrumental in placing in an advantageous posi- 
tion as a director. Ritson remained on terms of comparative intimacy 

3*Ritson's landlady. 

35The "Life" was printed by Nicolas, Op. cit. p. vii, note. "Cunningham's 
Poems, with an account of him in manuscript by Mr. Ritson, and extracts from 
Newspapers respecting him", formed Lot 808 of the sale of Ritson's library. 

3M Select Collection of English Songs, 3 vols, 1783. References are to 
second edition, 1813, I, pp. 230, 236; II, p. 165. Another song is included in The 
Northumberland Garland, etc., 1795, p. 69. 

^'^English Songs, I, pp. xc-xci. See also Letters, I, p. 144, and Walker's His- 
torical Memoirs of the Irish Bards, 1786, p. 85. 

357] EARLY YEARS 23 

with Shield until death. He seems to have written at least one song 
which Shield set to music and to have contributed others.^^ The notation 
of the music for his collections of English and Scotish Songs was done 
largely hy his friend. Nor did he hesitate to call upon Shield to supple- 
ment his deficient musical knowledge when he was endeavoring to take 
down ballads from oral tradition. ^^ It was in company with Shield that 
Ritson made his only continental tour, a visit to France in 1791.*° 

Thomas Holcroft (1744-1809), afterward famous for his liberal 
views on politics and religion, was a third member of the strolling 
theatrical companies Avhose acquaintance Ritson made at Stockton. The 
exact date of their meeting is not known."*^ It may have been on one of 
Ritson 's visits to Durham or Newcastle, or when Holcroft 's company 
played at Stockton ; and it is highly probable that Cunningham, Shield, 
and Holcroft, on one of their companionable pedestrian expeditions to 
the outlying towns, called upon Ritson in a body. Later, after both 
Ritson and Holcroft had settled in Loudon and a similarity of views had 
drawn them together, their friendship was kept fresh by frequent inter- 

Two other early acquaintances of Ritson deserve mention because 
of their part in arousing and advancing his antiquarian interests. John 
Brewster (1753-1842), a native of Newcastle, was officially connected 
with the church at Stockton from 1776 to 1805. His life-long interest 
in the antiquities of Stockton and his later reliance on Ritson for assist- 
ance in his publications,*" seem to point to an acquaintance, however 
cursory, before the critic left Stockton. But it was to George Allan 
(1736-1800) the famous antiquary of Darlington, that Ritson was most 
deeply indebted for his interest in the local antiquities of Stockton.** 
His friendship with Allan was long and their correspondence extensive. 
"While at Stockton he laid himself under obligations to Allan for material 
and for valuable suggestions for his work, and when he went to London 

s'^Nicolas, Op. cit. p. vi. The information comes from some notes of Ritson 
to Shield, then in the possession of Joseph Frank but never published. 

^^Letters, II, p. 221. 

40See Chapter VIII. 

■*iAccording to his Memoirs, pp. 92-3, Holcroft must have met Ritson some- 
time between the spring of 1776 and the fall of 1777, but this is obviously impossi- 
ble. At the time of their meeting Ritson is described as "a young legal apprentice 
of that place [Stockton]", but he was settled in London by the beginning of 1776, 
probably late in 1775. They must then have met before Holcroft joined Bates's 
company which included Stockton in its 1776-7 tour. 

*-For a discussion of their later connection see Chapter VIII. 

43See Chapter VI. 

4^See Chapter III. 


it was chiefly through the instrumentality of Allan that he was early 
afforLled the opportunity of carrying on his literary researches there. 

The exact date of Ritson's departure for London is not known. It 
has been variously stated that he left Stockton ' ' as early as his twentieth 
year",*^ "in his twenty-second year",**' and that he "settled in London 
in 1775".*^ However, it is evident from a letter written from Stockton, 
April 19, 1775,** that he had not yet left his native town and at that 
time saw no prospect of getting farther than its immediate neighborhood. 
In an unpublished letter of John McLaren to Barnslie Toleman, dated 
"Stockton, Nov. 5, 1775", "Mr. Joseph Ritson, a young gentleman of 
this place", is commissioned with a small errand.*'-* The earliest extant 
letter written from London is under date of August 26, 1776."'° It 
appears, then, that it was not earlier than the end of 1775 or the begin- 
ning of 1776 that Ritson took his leave of Stockton. In all likelihood he 
walked the 250 miles to London, and his baggage was probably light, for 
we are told that he "used to take his journeys on foot, with a couple of 
shirts in his pocket, and if he found his bundle too heavy, he would, 
without hesitation, throw one of his shirts away".^^ With neither 
impedimenta nor family connections lie arrived in the city, ostensibly to 
seek a larger field for the exercise of his legal talents, but with a strong 
desire to explore the treasures of the libraries and museums. 

^^Haslewood, Op. cit. p. 4. 

^^Encyc. Brit., art. "Ritson". 

^^Nicolas, Op. cit. p. x. 

48Ritson to Allan, Lit. Anec, VIII, p. 350, note. 

"^MS. Douce d. i. Bodleian. 

soRitson to Allan, Letters, I, p. i. 

^^Mrs. Kirby's comment, cited by Selby. See Appendix A. 

London Life ; Business and Professional Career 

Takes clerkship with Masterman and Lloyd — Sets up for himself as con- 
ve3'ancer — Engages permanent chambers in Gray's Inn — Considers return to Stock- 
ton — Accepts crown appointment as High Bailiff — Becomes law student — Receives 
call to the bar — Practises in chambers — Stands for Durham circuit — Attitude 
toward profession — Legal publications : Digest of the Court Leet, Jurisdiction of the 
Court Leet, Office of Constable, Observations on a Deed, Office of Bailiff, Unpub- 
lished ]\ISS. — Manages sister's affairs — Directs nephew's career — Method of 
handling money — Misunderstanding with Rowntree — Trouble with property — Dis- 
astrous speculations — Business creed and professional ethics. 

Ritson went up to London as a young man interested in the law 
and concerned with securing an opportunity to use and develop his 
abilities in gaining a livelihood and obtaining advancement in his pro- 
fession. To the men with whom he was most intimately associated there, 
he appeared as a man of eccentric habits, with a thorough knowledge 
of his branch of the law, with the usual interest in business and politics, 
and with an unusual interest in literary antiquities. His biographers 
have discoursed at greater or less length on his literary activities, but 
they have said next to nothing about the other interests of his life. He 
was by profession a conveyancer, not a literary antiquary ; and his osten- 
sible business was with charters and deeds, not with ancient poetry and 
romances. Although he came to consider literary interests of first import- 
ance, his pursuit of them was made possible only by careful attention to 
the law. 

Very soon after his arrival in London Ritson was engaged as clerk 
in the conveyancing department of Masterman and Lloyd, attorneys 
of Gray's Inn. He settled in chambers with a man by the name of 
Robinson^ and began his London apprenticeship of nearly five years 
on an annual salary of £150. There is every reason to believe that this 
period of service was equally satisfactory to himself and his employers. 
By studious attention to duties he widened his knowledge of convey- 
ancing, secured a limited personal acquaintance among frequenters of 
the Inns of Court, and gained the confidence which enabled him to open 

^The similarity of names suggests the question of whether Robinson of 
Stockton, the employer of his father and mother, had anything to do with securing 
Ritson's position in London. 



an office of his own. Masterman, who was a member of Parliament, took 
an especial interest in him and aided him in a pecuniary way by allow- 
ing him the use of chambers at reduced rates, furnishing him with gov- 
ernment franks for his correspondence, and loaning him small sums at 
need. This benevolence continued even after Eitson had left his first 
position, and he always referred to Masterman with expressions of grat- 
itude and esteem.- 

After a service of more than four years with Masterman and Lloyd, 
Kitson determined to set up for himself as a Conveyancer, or Special 
Pleader.^ Late in 1780 he accordingly removed to No. 8 Holborn Court, 
Gray's Inn,* where he occupied chambers uninterruptedly till his death. 
Having severed his connection with his old masters, Ritson began his 
professional career without the prestige of either name or wealth. He 
had thoroughly mastered the details of conveyancing, but his acquaint- 
ance in London was not extensive and his clients were necessarily drawn 
from a limited circle. His salary no longer available, he was thrown 
entirely upon his own resources and at times almost despaired of being 
able to make his own way in the metropolis. During these anxious 
months when every day was a drain on his small saving and brought 

^The following amusing reference to Masterman is from Ritson's versified 
letter to Hoar {Letters, I, p. 120) : 

My old friend Masterman is gone, 
And now the chambers are my own : 
Not gratis — that you must not think, 
For, though I did not down the chink, 
A bargain still a bargain is, 
And I did for them pay, I wis. 

He left me nothing but a ring, 

Nor did I look for any thing, 

Knowing his mind not that way tended : 

Though some are mightily offended ; 

And I, who ow'd a hundred pound, 

Could wish he had released the bond. 

3"When I am a little more settled (having left Mr. Lloyd, and begun a little 
drawing business for myself) . . . ." Ritson to Allan, Nov. 24, 1790, in Lit. 
Anec. VIII, p. 133. This would indicate that the change was a very recent one. 
There is nothing to bear out the suggestion of Nicolas, Op. cit., p. xvi, that Ritson 
set up for himself before 1780. 

^Holborn Court is now known as South Square. No. 8 has been rebuilt and is 
at present occupied by the library and offices. 

361] LONDON LIFE 27 

little in the way of income, his thoughts reverted to Stockton, and he 
considered the advisability of returning there to practise where he was 
well known. He even went so far as to make inquiries of his friend 
Matthew Wadeson, who seems not to have encouraged his coming because 
the conveyancing business was well taken care of by the long-established 
office of one John Reed. But with perseverance and conscientious appli- 
cation his period of probation was not long. Shortly the times began to 
mend and within two years he felt that his prospects in London were so 
good that he could ill afford to abandon what he had so hardly gained 
and begin anew in a different location. When Reed died, in 1782, Wade- 
son immediately wrote to Ritson and suggested that if he was still 
desirous of settling in Stockton, a favorable opportunity now offered. 
Ritson advised his young friend. Jack Rowntree, a former apprentice to 
Reed, to take the place, and wrote to Wadeson : 

"I well know that your friendship and good wishes prompted you to think 
of me and my former inquiries. But times and circumstances are so much changed 
since I made them, that it is impossible for me, now, to think of altering my situa- 
tion, as Rowntree is every way qualified to prevent Mr. Reed's loss, as a profes- 
sional man, from being felt by his clients and the public : and I doubt not that 
the prospect, which is certainly most flattering, will every day become more satis- 
factory and interesting."^ 

This, of course, does not mean that Ritson had become suddenly 
rich, or even that he was beyond the pinch of poverty, but simply that he 
had reached the point where he could securely look forward to an increas- 
ing business that would eventually render him independent. Aside 
from pecuniary considerations there was another factor that undoubtedly 
weighed heavily in his decision to remain at London. By this time he 
had been reading for half a decade in the British Museum and Bodleian 
Libraries and was so deeply interested in antiquarian research that only 
the most unfavorable combination of circumstances could have induced 
him to retire into the country where he would have no opportunity of 
continuing this study. 

After two years more of struggle for recognition and a competence, 
Ritson achieved the goal of many a young English professional man — 
an office under the crown. Through the generous exertions of his friend 
and former employer, Masterman, he was on May 1, 1784, appointed 
High Bailiff of the Liberty of the Savoy. His chief concern was that 
the appointment should be made permanent, and this hope was fulfilled 
on January 25, 1786, when he was granted the patent of the office for 

^Letters, I, p. 52. 


life. This place he hoped would bring him in about one hundred and 
fifty pounds a year, but he seems actually to have realized less than one 
hundred pounds from it.** Even though the salary did not prove to be 
what he had expected, the position afforded a new lease of life to Eitson. 
Once more he was assured of a definite annual income. This removed 
the uncertainty as to his means of livelihood and, because the duties of 
the office were not onerous, afforded him an opportunity to devote more 
time to his literary studies, then grown to quite considerable proportions. 

Although pleased with his appointment as Bailiff, Ritson did not 
exaggerate its importance and replied to the felicitations of friends that 
he considered it "far too poor a subject for congratulation". He was, 
however, seriously impressed with the responsibilities of the office. He 
soon discovered that to perform its duties well required a more extensive 
legal knowledge than he possessed, and his determination to do thor- 
oughly everything he undertook caused him to resolve to be called to 
the bar. Accordingly he was admitted to Gray's Inn as a student. May 
6, 1784, at the beginning of the Easter term.'^ Having kept the usual 
term of five years as a student, and having satisfied the requirements of 
the Benchers, he was called to the bar. May 20, 1789. He must, there- 
fore have taken the customary oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy, in 
spite of their seeming conflict with the anti-religious views which he 
probably held then and unblushingly proclaimed later in life.^ 

Beyond this stage Ritson did not advance in his profession. He 
was never raised to the degree of Bencher, and he did not practise in open 
court. His failure to achieve preferment in his own Inn was in large 
measure the result of his peculiar notions and his eccentric habits of 
life. Persistence in the vegetarian diet begun at Stockton, an extremely 
economical mode of living, both as to food and dress, and an increasing 
emphasis on revolutionary ideas in politics and religion served to mark 
him off from his fellows. These peculiarities, coupled with increasing 
constitutional ailments, made him seclusive and uncommunicative. Just 
as he avoided his playmates at school, so as a man he had few intimates. 
He confessed to only a limited acquaintance among the law firms of 
London.^ The Benchers of his Inn he considered "a parcel of foo>s", 

^"I possess a place which brings me in from fifty to one hundred a year." 
Ibid., II, p.43. 

'The entry in the records of Gray's Inn on this occasion is : "Joseph Ritson, 
son of Joseph R. of Stockton, Durham, gent." The only other time Ritson's 
name appears in the records is where it occurs once in the formal record of 
a lease. 

^See Chapter VIII and Appendices A and B. 

^Letters, I, p. 160. 

363] LONDON LIFE 29 

and he scarcely knew the men who lived nearest to him. Robert Smith 
says : 

"Mr. Ritson lived in the same staircase with me in Gray's Inn for many 
years, and the common civilities of the day passed between us, but nothing more — 
we never visited."i° 

As a natural corollary to these traits of character, Ritson limited his 
practice as Conveyancer and Consulting Barrister to chambers. As 
Barrister-at-law he had the privilege of practising before the superior 
courts of the land, but only once, and that five years after his admission 
to the bar, is he known to have appeared in court wearing his profes- 
sional costume, and then he was merely a spectator, not an advocate. 
This was on the occasion of Home Tooke's trial for high treason. When 
Ritson found that speculators were selling seats in the court room at a 
guinea each, he shyly donned his wig and gown and secured free 

Two other factors operated to retard Ritson 's advancement in the 
profession. The first was his antagonism to the government in all mat- 
ters of politics. In the preface to a little volume of Tables shewing the 
Descent of the Crown of England, which he printed privately in 1778 
because he said he "never dared to publish it", he declared himself a 
Jacobite and set forth his political beliefs in extremely vigorous lan- 
guage.^- But despite his decided opinions he manifested only a pass- 
ing interest in politics, and when he expressed himself it was usually to 
condemn the government. Periods of upheaval and popular excitement 
stimulated him to comment but not to action. Of the popular disturb- 
ances in London in June, 1780, he was an interested spectator though 
in no way a participant. His ardent expression of sympathy with the 
purposes of the Protestant Society and his condemnation of the "scoun- 
drel ministry" foreshadow the revolutionary ardor which later fired 
him.^^ When the much maligned War Ministry resigned in 1782, Ritson 
referred to the event as, 

"the dismission of those miscreant blockheads who formed the late infamous 
administration, some of whom it is to be hoped will yet hop headless".^'* 

Aside from these instances there is no hint of Ritson 's interest in political 

"See Appendix A. 

'^^Letters, II, p. 57. 

i-Haslewood, Op. Cit., p. 8. The Descent of the Crozvn is discussed in the 
following chapter. 

^^LettcrSj I, pp. 13-17- See also Robert Bisset, The History of the Reign of 
George III, 2nd edition, London, 1820, Vol. Ill, p. 21 fif. 

^*Letters, I, p. 44. 


events in London during the early years of his residence there. He 
seemed to be much more concerned with legal and political conditions 
in the region of Stockton than in his immediate environs. Coupled 
with his revolutionary tendencies this endeavor to follow closely and 
even to help direct the politics of the North while he practised his pro- 
fession in London was sufficiently distracting to prevent high success 
in either direction. Not only did he take a keen interest and occasionally 
a personal share in the various elections at Stockton, but on one occasion 
he yielded to the entreaties of friends to stand for the Durham circuit. 
He went into the North for the campaign but was defeated in the elec- 
tion and professed no reluctance at losing the position. ^^ 

The second factor was his increasing interest in literature. His 
■preference for the study of poetical antiquities was so marked that he 
constantly assumed a sneering attitude toward the law. He had a great 
contempt for the profession in general and for attorneys in particular. 
The law he treated as a mere bread-and-butter profession and feel- 
ingly expressed his desire to do what he knew was impossible under the 
circumstances — to relinquish it altogther. His crown appointment he 
spoke of as ''that little dirty place in the Savoy", and yet he was forced 
to hold on to it as the only assured source of regular income. He never 
lost an opportunity to swinge the attorneys, and his remarks run the 
gamut from humorous jibes to serious charges of dishonesty. With 
satiric facetiousness he thus congratulates Rowntree on his progress in 
the profession : 

"I hear with pleasure the increase of your business. To establish yourself 
at Stockton you have nothing to do but, by dint of evidence, &c, to gain a desperate 
cause or two, ruin two or three honest, and hang two or three innocent men, and 
your fortune is made."^^ 

Again he writes : 

"Apropos ; have you got a sufficient number of credible witnesses? There 
are a few devilish good hands in that line hereabouts, which I fancy you might 
have pretty reasonable. N. B. I assure you I have no interest in this proposal 
myself, as I belong to a quite different gang."i^ 

To his nephew, who is thinking of becoming one, he describes attor- 
neys as, 

"not only the most ignorant and capricious, but the most insincere, unprin- 
cipled, and in every respect, worthless of men,"^* 

^^Ibid., I, pp. 171, 197, and passim. 
^^Ibid., I, p. 72. 
^Ubid., I, p. 80. 
^mid., II, p. 23. 

365] LONDON LIFE 31 

and then threatens him with absolute worthlessness if he does not immed- 
iately study to be an attorney. 

There may be a measure of personal animus back of these violent 
outbursts, but there is something more. They are the genuine expres- 
sion of Eitson 's sincere beliefs. Not only did he feel that atttorneys were, 
as a class, dishonest, but that they were useless parasites upon society. 
He would do away with the existing need for them by going back to 
elemental principles. The innocent man, he declared, needs no defense 
at the bar of justice; the guilty man deserves none. Ergo, justice will 
be done without the expense of attorneys. However absurd such a 
theorj^ may appear, it was nevertheless sincere. Eitson exemplified his 
beliefs in his own conduct. He never willingly allowed himself to be 
referred to as an attorney,^^ but considered the epithet opprobrious. 
To Eowntree he once declared vehemently, "I would not act the part of 
attorney for you nor any man."-° On another occasion he wrote: 

"You need not have been under the least apprehension of my addressing you 
by so odious a title as Attorney-at-law .... You are just beginning to value 
a childish distinction which I have learned to be ashamed of."-^ 

But with all his sneering and contemptuousness Eitson yet had a 
real, though perhaps a forced, interest in the law. He was conscientious 
enough to endeavor to do well whatever he undertook, whether he liked 
it or not. Consequently he applied himself assiduously to the study of 
his profession, especially during his early years in London. When he 
received the appointment as High Bailiff of the Savoy, he redoubled his 
energy with the result that he not only was admitted to the bar but also 
published three volumes dealing with his office. The natural antiquarian 
tendency of his interests gave an unmistakable character both to the 
legal compilations which he published and to the manuscripts which he 
prepared but did not put to press. 

In the same year with his call to the bar, 1789, Eitson brought out 
the first" of his publications on subjects connected with his profession. 

i9Ritson was, strictly speaking, a barrister, not an attorney, and he protested 
against the tendency of his day to slur over the distinction. As a barrister he 
limited his practice to conveyancing, a branch of the law which, however dry and 
uninteresting it may appear to the average individual, is exempt from the criticisms 
which he levelled against attorneys. 

-^Letters, I, p. 80. 

-^Ibid., I, p. 173. 

22In the list of Ritson's works in S. A. Allibone's Critical Dictionary of 
English Literature, etc., Philadelphia and London, 1908, is included The Lord High 
Steward of England; or an Historical Dissertation on the Origin, Antiquity, and 
Functions of that Officer. . . . with Remarks on the antient and modern 


This was A Digest of the Proceedings of the Court Leet of the Manor 
and Liberty of Savoy, parcel of the Duchy of Lancaster, in the county 
of Middlesex: from the year 1682 to the present time. This is the 
first of two publications on the Court Leet. It is the natural product 
of five years of study since his appointment as High Bailiff of the Savoy 
and is a minute record of the thoroughness with which he delved into the 
antiquities of the office. His interest in the Court Leet is otherwise 
symptomatic. The most ancient court in the land, originating in the 
early feudal days and for ages the most authoritative court of record 
in existence, it had sunk, by the end of the eighteenth century, to the 
place of least authority and was ultimately entirely superseded by the 
modern courts of the justices. Only an antiquarian would find pleasure 
in delving into the ancient records of an institution whose glory was 
already faded and whose usefulness was practically negligible. 

In 1791 appeared The Jurisdiction of the Court Leet: Exemplified 
in the Articles which the Jury or Inquest for the King, In that Court, 
is Charged and Sworn, a7id by Laiv Enjoined to Inquire of and Present. 

Modes of trying Peers. . . . To zvJiicji is added, A Catalogue of the High 
Stezvards of England. . . . London, 1776. There are plausible reasons for 
concluding this to be the work of Ritson. The volume was published anonymously, 
as were most of Ritson's. The subject is one in which Ritson was undoubtedly 
interested, especially after his appointment as High Bailiff, for his superior officer 
was the High Steward. The general treatment of the subject is comparable to 
that in his acknowledged law works, consisting of a compilation of extracts from 
ancient authorities and citations from the statutes, with little or no authorial 
comment. But the following considerations seem to prove conclusively that the 
work is not Ritson's. i. The "Historical Dissertation" begins with these sentences : 

"Having been employed for some time past in an historical research, relative 
to some of our Norman Princes, I had occasion to inform myself of the nature 
of the great offices, which were hereditary from the time of William the First. Of 
these, the four principal were the Steward, the Chamberlain, the Constable and the 
Mareschal, of England." 

The High Stezvard was published in 1776, Ritson's first year in Lon- 
don. There is no evidence that he was interested in this subject while in 
Stockton. Of the "four principal offices" mentioned here, Ritson wrote on the 
Constable, but there is no hint in that volume that he had been previously 
concerned with this or allied subjects. 2. The writer of the High Stezvard makes 
constant use of the first personal pronoun singular. This is all but totally unknown 
in Ritson's publications. In the law books he refers to himself as "the compiler", 
"the writer", or "the editor", never as "I". 3. The High Stezi'ard was not included 
in Lazv Tracts, 1794, a volume published by Ritson with his name on the title page 
and including his legal publications prior to that date. 

367] LONDON LIFE 33 

Together with Approved Precedents.-^ Although this was his second 
publication dealing with the Court Leet, it did not by any means exhaust 
the material he had gathered on that subject. His original purpose and 
the reasons for its partial fulfilment are explained in the "Advertise- 

"It was originally intended that the compiler's publication on the subject here 
treated of should have comprised all that, to his knowledge, had been said, or, in 
his judgment, could be said, upon it. Large collections were made for the purpose, 
and the work partially proceeded in : but the bulk of the volume and the scanty 
sale it was likely to experience effectually discouraged him from proceeding 
with that plan, and produced the Introduction and Analysis now presented to the 

The "Introduction" treats of the name of the court, its antiquity, 
nature, and present state. It is wholly antiquarian and impersonal and 
affords a minute and accurate history of the subject. The "Analysis" 
consists of thirteen chapters, fully annotated, on the historical develop- 
ment of the officers and functions of the court, and a small body of pre- 
cedents of presentments and judgments in Leet. The work was received 
with great favor among the profession as a valuable contribution to the 
study of legal antiquities.-* 

Ritson's third legal publication, and the second to appear in 1791, 
was The Office of Constable: being an entirely New Compendium of the 
Law concerning that Ancient Minister for the conservation of the peace. 
Care f idly compiled from the best authorities. With a Preface; and an 
Introduction, containing some account of the origin and antiquity of the 
office.-^ It was prompted by "a sincere wish to benefit the community, 
by furnishing its most ancient, most constitutional, and most useful 
officer with a compendious system or manual of his duty or powers".-^ 
This work, like the preceding volumes, is a "mere epitome of the original 
compilation", for a pamphlet of fifty pages, at a moderate price, seemed 
more likely to be purchased by the constables, whom it was designed to 
benefit, and understood when read than a more expensive and less concise 

23A second edition "with great additions" was published from Ritson's an- 
notated manuscript (Lot 978 of his library sale) in 1809, and a third in 1816. 

24See Athenaeum, Vol. V, p. 150. 

25The second edition, enlarged from Ritson's manuscript (Lot 9/6 of his 
library sale), was published in 1815. In 1794 these three volumes {Proceedings 
of the Court Leet, Jurisdiction of the Court Leet, Office of Constable) were 
reprinted as one, with the title, Law Tracts, by Joseph Ritson, of Gray's Inn, 

^^ Office of Constable, Preface, p. iii. 


In the Preface Ritson takes up the cudgels in defense of the con- 
stable and in opposition to the lawmakers. With the vigorous denuncia- 
tion and the sarcastic ridicule which brought him notoriety as a literary 
critic and antagonist he protests against the continuous making of new 
laws without purging the statutes of those which are obsolete and use- 
less. There are many laws on the statute books, he declares, which are 
not, and many more which ought not to be, in force. In fact, 

"every little dirty parish in the environs of London must have a law for 
itself. The churchwardens can provide the money, the attorney wants a job, the 
justice looks forward to the penalties, and the 'gemmen of the westry' like 
authority : an act of parliament is accordingly obtained and being an admirable 
compound of ignorance and knavery, cannot fail of proving exceedingly beneficial 
to the community."-" 

The result is that the officers of the law, especially the constables, are 
ignorant of their powers and duties. It was Blackstone's opinion that, 
considering the type of men who were elected constables, they ought to 
be kept in ignorance of their powers. To this view Ritson takes violent 
exception. He draws upon Shakespeare for a satire on the typical 
English constable-^ and then proposes a number of radical reforms which 
he has the perspicuity to see are too constructive and progressive to be 

The Introduction and body of the work are of the same type as the 
volumes on the Court Leet, except that here Ritson occasionally ventures 
far enough away from his sources to give a personal observation in a 
footnote. Like its predecessors, this pamphlet is a useful, and certainly 
a learned and accurate compilation. 

The three volumes already considered were the only legal publica- 
tions to appear during Ritson 's life. Yet they comprise only a small 
part of the material actually collected and arranged as a result of his 
professional interests. At least eight manuscripts were left in varying 
degrees of preparation and but two of these were published posthum- 
ously. Before his death Ritson had revised for publication the manu- 
script of Practical Points, or, Maxims in Conveyancing, by his old mas- 
ter, Ralph Bradley. When this volume was published in 1804, Ritson 's 
thirty-four page pamphlet. Critical Observations on the Various and 
Essential Parts of a Deed, was appended to it. In this little work the 
deed is taken up clause by clause and elucidated. In 1811 Joseph Frank 
published Ritson 's Office of a Bailiff of a Liberty, which he says was 

~~Ibid., p. vi. Ritson is here only voicing a protest which had been made in 
England for many generations. See his footnotes. 

28Cf. Elbow in Measure for Measiire, Dull in Love's Labors Lost, and Dog- 
berry in Much Ado. 

369] LONDON LIFE 35 

compiled about the same period as the three tracts published during the 
author's lifetime, and which it very closely resembles in manner. 

In addition to these five published volumes there were six manu- 
script collections of a legal nature.-^ It is almost certain that the chief 
labor on all these compilations was done before 1795, for ill health and 
an absorbing interest in literary affairs took the major portion of his 
time and attention after that date. When it is remembered that by 1795, 
in addition to the dozen legal works, he had actually published twenty- 
six volumes and fragments of three others (to say nothing of j)rojects 
in hand), the mere bulk of work accomplished is astonishing. But more 
important than this is the thoroughness and accuracy with which all 
the work was done. Although Ritson's distaste for the law as a pro- 
fession must have made part of the labor of compiling his legal publica- 
tions mere task work, yet the fact that they are all antiquarian in nature 
and involve to a greater or less degree the type of work in which he took 
greatest interest in the realm of poetry is sufficient evidence that he did 
not get far afield from his vital interests. 

Such is the bare skeleton of Ritson's professional career — his office, 
his attitude toward the law, his legal publications. But very little of the 
intimate personal character of the man is revealed in these. That phase 
of his character is to be seen in both the general and specific conduct 
of business affairs. It is most intimately and most favorably exhibited 
in the care and attention bestowed upon his sister and nephew. It 
shows to less advantage in his pecuniary transactions with various friends 
and in the misunderstandings and disagreements which not infrequently 
arose therefrom. It is again seen to disadvantage in the disastrous 
maladministration of his own property. And the unfortunate disparity 
between theory and practise, between ideal and accomplishment, is clear 
from a knowledge of his business creed and professional ethics. 

Upon the death of his parents Ritson generously assumed the man- 
agement of his sister's affairs. He had little inclination for the details 
of business and was quite frank in acknowledging his weakness in this 
direction. ■•° There were certain general principles of conduct by which 
he was guided in all matters, but he lacked the tact to adapt them to 
Tarious specific cases. As a consequence he contented himself with 

=«Xos. 1-6, Appendix C, II. 

'•"Ritson's letters contain frequent mention of his business incompetence : 
'However as you are a much better judge of these things [the value of a 
house] than I can pretend to be, I shall readily submit to your opinion" ; ". . . It 
would be best to let the house, till at least as great a fool as myself wants to buy 
one" ; "I wish you, who can manage everything of the nature of business, by 
familiar methods to which I am a total stranger, would . . . ."; etc. 


knowing that his sister was supplied with all the necessaries for an 
economical but comfortable existence and left the details to Matthew 
Wadeson, a resident of Stockton, in whose business sagacity he had 
great confidence. In this indirect manner his sister's affairs were 
undoubtedly more skilfully conducted than if he had attempted to 
manage them entirely alone. 

Ritson's London business life is bound up closely with the life of 
his nephew, Joseph Frank, and is intimately revealed through letters 
to him. He undertook the entire expense of Frank's education, cared 
for him when he came to London to enter business, and followed his 
subsequent career with loving interest, being his adviser in every impor- 
tant step of life. We have already seen how he sent him books and 
materials for his Latin school days. He was so accustomed to sending 
useful presents that he felt it necessary to apologize when an occasion 
passed without its gift. Early in January, 1782, he writes : 

"I am only poor at present, or I would have sent you a New Year's gift : but 
if you will grow wiser and better behaved than j'ou were when I left you, I won't 
forget you on the approach of better times. "^^ 

Better times were slow in coming, and often in the struggle against 
poverty and in the business competition of the great city Ritson reflected 
on the wisdom of his change from Stockton to London and regretted the 
lack of experienced counsel in his youth. As a consequence he sought 
constantly to give his nephew the advice which he knew from experience 
would be helpful to a young man in his situation. At an early age both 
Frank and his mother became anxious for him to "get into business" 
and importuned Ritson's aid in placing him advantageously. Feeling 
that it would be unwise for the lad to curtail his education in order to 
enter professional life, Ritson wrote to his sister : 

"I think Joe had better go to school another year, and we shall then determine 
what to make of him. He will be only fifteen, and you know I was much more 
before I went to business."^- 

He gave the same counsel to his nephew : 

"I must beg leave to say .... that it will be much better for you to 
mind your book, than to come to London. You will see it soon enough in all 
likelyhood though you will have little reason to lament if you never see it at all."^^ 

But they were insistent, and in the winter, more to relieve the anxiety 
of the mother than to satisfy the boy's whim, Ritson promised to take 

^'^Letters, I, p. 40. 
32/fcid., I, p. 90. 

33/fcld., I. p. 91. 

371] LONDON LIFE 37 

Frank to London the next summer to live with him and study for his 
profession. Something of Ritson's habits of life may be gleaned from his 
advice to his nephew to spend the last days at home in learning to cook, 
sew on buttons, and mend stockings. The only explanation he offered 
the astonished youth was this : 

"You will think, perhaps, that such a lesson would be more fit for one who 
was coming into a Cook's shop, than a Conveyancer's chambers — but when you have 
been here a year or two you will probably be of a different opinion."^* 

In the summer of 1785 Frank went into chambers with his uncle 
in order to learn conveyancing and at the same time be under the 
immediate care of his guardian. After a period of five years or more 
he returned to the vicinity of Stockton to enter upon business for him- 
self. It was at this time that, like Eitson before him, he felt the need 
of further legal training, and asked his uncle's advice on the question 
of studying for the bar. Ritson's reply is curious. There is something in 
it of the eccentricity which marked his views on politics, religion, and 
literature. He sneers at his office, berates and maligns attorneys, and 
at the same time vigorously urges his nephew to become an attorney and 
perhaps seek an office like his own. He writes : 

"Wolley's reflection on your proposal of drawing imder the bar is certainly 
just: 'I have experience of it myself: and can assure you that if it had not been 
for that little dirty place in the Savoy, I should most probably at this moment 
have been either in a jail, an attorney's office, or stationer's shop : and it would be 
hard to say which of these situations is the worst. Five years are nothing in com- 
petition with the prospect you will have of establishing yourself in a useful and 
lucrative business at the end of the term : whereas you might be drudging whether 
under or above the bar for ten times that long, without a hope of ever being worth 
a farthing. ... In a word you had much better hang yourself at once than 
begin to draw under the bar. If you do not immediately accept Wolley's offer 
[to study for the bar] you may resign yourself to everlasting damnation, as there 
will not be a chance left for your doing well."^^ 

Ritson believed in and insisted upon thorough preparation for every 
task. This was one of the constantly recurring points in his literary 
criticism, and he placed equal emphasis upon it in business. When 
Frank determined to follow the advice of his friends, he did not wish 
to spend the full five years in terms; so he submitted to his uncle his 
plans for "saving two years". Ritson, satisfied that there was no royal 
road to the bar, addressed him thus : 

"The ingenious expedient by which you intend to save two years is perfectly 

^*Ibid., I, p. 104. 
^'"Ibid., II, p. 22. 


well calculated to lose fiv^e. In a word, your time would be thrown away, and 
yourself (most probably) put in the pillory. Nothing will do short of actual 
service for five complete years under articles.""^ 

Even after Frank had entered upon his service with Wolley, Ritson 
kept a watchful eye on him. The young man had interests of his own 
aside from legal study, and spent much time and thought on them. 
Ritson had no respect for the man who used his employer's time to 
further his own private ends, however laudable they might be in them- 
selves. Just as he had no sympathy with sinecurism in any form, so 
was he outspoken against the individual who would not gain a livelihood 
by honest labor. There were two points upon which he placed great 
emphasis and which he constantly reiterated to Frank : give your employ- 
ers full satisfaction ; acquire a competency. In • the following extract 
they are expressed with characteristic precision : 

"After all, I would recommend it to you, as a friend, to lay your politics and 
philosophy upon the shelf, for a few years at least; their temporary absence will 
do you no harm, and their perpetual presence can do you no good. Your first 
and principal (if not sole) object should be, by a sedulous and unremitting atten- 
tion to business, to do justice to your employers and acquire the means of an 
honest independency."^^ 

Ritson was very anxious that Frank should avoid the pitfalls into 
which he himself had unwittingly stumbled. He frequently confessed 
his own faults in order the better to impress his advice upon his nephew. 
He realized that he was eccentric, that his peculiarities of diet, of belief, 
of manner, hindered his progress. But Mobile he recognized the handicap 
under which his eccentricities placed him, he seemed utterly impotent 
to escape from it. There is remarkable self -revelation in this admon- 
ition : 

"You must be content, for the present, to lay most of your peculiarities upon 
the shelf : you make a g like a p which is abominable. Avoid as much as possible 
all appearance of singularity or affectation, and while you are a man of business 
endeavor to be nothing else : 1 have learned the value of this piece of advice 
by dear-bought experience ; and experience generally both costs too much and 
comes too late to be of service to the purchaser. "^^ 

With Frank and with other friends, especially Rowntree and Wade- 
son, Ritson frequently exchanged opinions on matters of professional 
interest. Being in London he was often asked by his provincial corre- 
spondents to look up references or to cite the law in cases in which they 

s6/&irf., II, p. 25. 
^Tlbid., II, p. 40. 
38/&irf., II, p. 167. 

373] LONDON LIFE 39 

were interested. These errands he was always willing to do, but his 
liberality was imposed upon, and he was often asked to perform for 
nothing services for which his friends were paid when the results of his 
labors were given to their clients. Ritsou himself never hesitated to ask 
for assistance in his various undertakings, but he always offered and 
expected to pay for it, either in cash or in kind. While he seldom dis- 
played sufficient resoluteness of spirit to refuse a favor to a friend, he 
occasionally remonstrated against unfair requests. Rowntree was the 
most frequent object of his sarcasm. At one time he wrote: 

"I shall make you the usual charge for the deeds and surrender, as I take your 
client to be like yourself — a very honest man — who could not wish that any person 
should give up his time and trouble for nothing. That is not your plan, Master? 
No, no. You'll take care to do very well for yourself, I dare say, whatever you 
do for your clients."^^ 

Ritson's utter lack of business ability is shown in his woeful incon- 
sistency in pecuniary transactions. In handling another's money he was 
scrupulously exact and careful in the smallest detail. Even though his 
record of accounts was purely mental, he paid to it that attention 
requisite to insure full justice to his client, and if he erred, it was always 
on the side of generosity. Besides controlling his nephew's annuity, he 
frequently had the task of administering book funds for his friends. 
However incompetent he may have been in other business transactions, 
he knew the value of an ancient volume and prided himself on his ability 
to drive a bargain with the booksellers. 

But when the money was his own, Ritson was careless to the point of 
indifference and generous to the point of recklessness. If there was a 
purchase to be made, he did not know how much should be paid; if he 
had something to sell, he depended upon the judgment of friends as to 
its value. This placed him at the mercy of less scrupulous men, who not 
infrequently took advantage of him in business transactions. Though he 
occasionally realized that he was being cheated, he seldom did more 
than enter some such mild protest as this : 

"It ran in my mind that I was to pay you forty pounds for the whole kitty: 
if, however, as I collect from your letter, the sum was ten pounds more, I can only 
say that I have brewed a pretty kettle of fish, and brought my hogs to a fair 
market. As writing seems to be attended with some difficulty if not uneasiness, 
j^ou have only to put down a figure of 4 or 5 before a cypher to satisfy me of 
the verity of the matter : a nod, you know, is as good as a wink to a blind 

"^Ibid., I, p. 114. 
"o/feiU, II, p. ID. 


The difficulty was that Ritson paid too much attention to what he 
owed others, and others too little attention to what they owed him. And 
because he knew more about his debts to others than their obligations to 
him, he never possessed a clear notion of his pecuniary status. He was 
continually calling upon his friends for statements of account that he 
might know where he stood. In 1794 he sent this pathetic appeal to 
Wadeson : 

"I am not poorer than I used to be, but my money, as they say, is neither 
here nor there. Besides, I want to put my little affairs in order that I may live, 
if I am to live, or at least die, in comfort. "*i 

He frequently resolved to be systematic in his business affairs, but the 
resolve never became more than a good intention. He wrote to Rowntree : 

"I mean in future to pay more attention to the arrangement of my pecuniary 
matters than I have hitherto done. With half your economy I might at this 
moment have had a thousand pounds in the funds."*- 

Such loose methods led inevitably to difficulties, and he quarreled over 
money matters with old friends, with publishers, and with booksellers. 
Money was a very inconstant factor in Ritson 's life. Aside from his 
small salary, he had as income only the proceeds from a limited busi- 
ness and the occasional small royalty from a book. His living expenses 
were almost negligible, but he spent large sums for books for his library, 
laid out considerable amounts in printing his own volumes, made clan- 
destine "loans" to needly relatives,*^ and obliged impecunious friends 
until he was almost constantly in want. When he had money he loaned 
it to any one who asked for it, and expected, in his turn, to be able to 
borrow as easily when in need. That his creditors failed to meet their 
obligations and that his friends occasionally refused to respond to his 
appeals were matters of surprise to no one but himself. The greater 
caution exercised by others he sometimes misconstrued as antagonism 
to his interests. He was almost constantly in a state of ill health and 
used to plead his bodily infirmities as an excuse for his business laxity. 
Nevertheless he was frequently involved in disagreeable altercations with 
his most intimate friends, some of which led to serious results. The out- 
standing example is his misunderstanding with Rowntree, a life-long 
friend with whom he had borrowed and loaned promiscuously for many 
years and to whom he once said : 

"My good sir, I have hitherto had no account to keep with you and whether 

*^Ibid., II, p. 6i. 
*-Ibid., I, p. 157. 
*^Ibid., II, p. 244. 

375] LONDON LIFE 41 

I keep one or not — that is a subject upon which I dare venture to say no dispute 
will ever happen between you and me."^* 

But the dispute came and with it the disruption of a long friendship and 
the almost total severance of close connections with Stockton. 

Early in 1791 Ritson asked Rowntree for the loan of one hundred 
pounds, and receiving no answer construed the silence as a dislike on 
his friend's part to accommodate him. When Rowntree explained his 
failure to reply as due to other causes, Ritson apologized for the false 
interpretation he had given it. His apprehensions he describes as, 

"false appearances which a gloomy fretfulness in my disposition magnified 
into clouds that threatened the sun of your friendship with utter darkness, though 
the sky being now cleared, I find it to burn as bright as ever."*^ 

But this did not satisfy Rowntree, who played the role of "injured 
innocence" and represented himself as deeply wounded by Ritson 's 
lapse of faith. To this one-sided view of the matter Ritson eloquently 
replied : 

"You will do great injustice to my feelings to suppose that all the uneasiness 
experienced upon this disagreeable occasion has been confined to yourself. My 
mind and spirits have sustained a shock of which it will not be easy for me to get 
the better. I am arrived at a time of life when the interruption of a much 
shorter acquaintance than ours is more to be dreaded than any friendship is to 
be courted : and the confidence that nothing of this kind would ever take place 
between us has rendered the disappointment inexpressibly severe. What can I 
say? I shall endeavor to forget everything that has passed, and to regain the 
favorable opinion I entertained of your friendship on the 31st of December, 
1790. I am not fond of professions and have long ceased to express myself with 
either advantage or ease. But the intimacy of a dozen years must, I am persuaded, 
have convinced you of the esteem and sincerity with which I have been your truly 
faithful and affectionate friend."'*^ 

Again Rowntree refused to accept Ritson 's statements at their face 
value and seemed secretly desirous of terminating the friendship. They 
continued an intermittent correspondence, but Ritson 's letters are more 
formal and more distant, though as sincere and straightforward as of 
old. Writing to Wadeson some months later he dismissed the incident, 
and gave a characteristic interpretation of Rowntree 's position. 

"You, my good friend, are a man of feeling: as to my part, it is no longer 
in the power of Elegy to make me cry, or (which I think much more lamentable) 
of Epigram to make me laugh. I should, however, without consulting Mr. Shen- 

**/&iU, I, p. 158. 
«/btU, I, p. 183. 
*^Ibid., I, p. 200. 


stone, be very unhappy to lose the friendship of a man I esteemed; but when 
esteem is once destroyed, what is the value of either the friendship or the man? 
Rowntree, to be sure, is a very clever as well as a very useful fellow, and was not, 
perhaps, to blame that I placed more confidence in his sincerity than it was able 
to bear. One should have some sort of a mental thermometer to ascertain the 
boiling and freezing points of a man's friendship. At least (to change my meta- 
phor) it would be very important to know 'the sticking place' of the machine, lest 
by screwing too high you break it in pieces, or render it of no further use. My 
friend Rowntree's zeal might be up to the loan of fifty, or perhaps sixty, or even 
seventy pounds, but the mention of a hundred extinguished his fires and converted 
his hot water into cold ice. I am, therefore content to let him freeze."*'' 

In addition to the question of borrowing and lending money, there 
was another business matter which harassed Ritson greatly ; this was his 
property. From an uncle he inherited "two or three small old houses" 
at Hartlepool and a little property in Great Strickland. During his 
early years in London he sold his small paternal inheritance in Stockton 
and purchased at auction a large house there. He seems to have been 
unfortunate in the character of his tenants for all these houses and was 
under the additional handicap of being so far removed from them as to 
be unable to give them any personal attention. At different times Rown- 
tree, Wadeson, and Ralph Hoar, all Stockton friends, acted as his agent, 
but none of them was successful in collecting rents. At first Ritson took 
their failure good-naturedly and made facetious reference to his "hope- 
ful tenants" and to the stewardship of his agent: 

"My Hartlepool estate, I fancy, is sunk into the earth, or the houses are 
empty, or the tenant insolvent. Render up an account of thy stewardship, thou — 
just steward."*® 

But his attitude soon changed. The constant trouble which the property 
gave and the urgent need for money in London caused him to resolve 
upon selling everything. But in executing this wish his agents were no 
more successful than in gathering rentals. Failing to dispose of the 
property for what he had been led to believe it was worth and being 
involved more and more in pecuniary straits, he finally in desperation 
commissioned his agents to sell "for anything that can be got". But 
€ven this blanket charge was not effective. The property was never 
sold, but it was finally swept from him. 

Incompetent as he was in handling money, Ritson occasionally 
dabbled in the Stock Exchange whenever his funds for the moment per- 
mitted it. He always depended on the advice of friends, and he nearly 

*'Jbid., I, p. 211. 

48/fclU, I, p. 65. 


always made bad investments. His earliest recorded venture on 'Change 
is thus explained in a letter to Harrison : 

"As you allowed me to suit my convenience with regard to the payment of 
your draught, I shall take the liberty to defer it till I leave town, having turned 
stock-jobber and disabled myself by buying into the funds. I shall be a loser of 
ten pounds by this business ; so that you must never say I bargain like a 

His last move was totally disastrous. A friend in whom he had great 
confidence induced him ''in hope and flattery, to speculate with all the 
money I had or was able to get". As a consequence of the mismanage- 
ment of his friend combined with the sudden peace which terminated the 
French-English difficulties in 1803, he was utterly ruined, his loss being 
''considerably above one thousand pounds". All his property and a part 
of his library went to satisfy his creditors, and then he began borrowing 
money for another investment in which he hoped to retrieve his losses 
' ' when the price of consols fall to nothing in consequence of the expected 
French invasion ".^° 

As a business man Ritson exhibited the proverbial inability of 
genius to meet the practical requirements of a work-a-day world. But 
with all his imperfections he was a man of high principles and good 
intentions. His business creed, as expounded in suggestions to his 
nephew, is one of sound integrity. He lacked tact, however, in executing 
it and too frequently exceeded or fell short of the requirements of the 
case. His code of professional ethics was just as uncompromising. He 
not only believed that the guilty man should have no hired defense at 
the bar of justice, but he felt that no honest man would go to court with 
an unjust cause. He remarked on one occasion : 

"I do not think that man honest who would avail himself of a quirk of law 
to obtain what in reason and justice he can possibly have no right to."^^ 

Thus far many men of his own profession would agree with him, at least 
in theory. Ritson did not stop here ; he had the courage of his convic- 
tions. In all his professional and business dealings he was guided by one 
principle — that of honesty. His opinions once formed, nothing could 

'^^Ibid., II, p. i8. Nicolas commends Ritson for "his avowed detestation of 
every species of gambling." (Op. Cit, p. Ixi) But he does not seem to have been 
so circumspect in action as this praise would lead one to suppose him. 

^'^Letters, II, p. 246. This investment was fortunately never made. As it was, 
more than £500, in addition to his books, was required to liquidate Ritson's 

^^Ibid., I, p. 71. 


induce him to act contrary to his convictions. He was always willing 
to hear arguments in favor of a different line of conduct, but these he 
invariably referred back to his touchstone of honesty, where, if they 
failed in the test, they were rejected. 

The absurd lengths to which he went in pursuance of his policy are 
illustrated in the following anecdotes related by Surtees. 

"He chose to exercise his judgment and his sturdy morality on questions 
which a less scrupulous lawyer would have left to his client to settle with his own 
conscience. For instance, having made up his mind that the Duke of Athol had 
already been sufficiently remunerated for ceding his rights in the Isle of Man, he 
refused all the solicitations of his friend, Frances Russel, Esq., Solicitor to the 
Board of Control, to induce him to draw the draft of a petition to Parliament, for 
the further recompense which the Duke afterwards received. The argument, 'if 
you do not, another will', had no effect on Ritson, nor would he ever set cheerily 
to work, without being perfectly satisfied of the strict propriety of the business in 
which he was engaged. As a somewhat ludicrous instance, he steadily refused 
to draw the draft of Jonas Hanway's Bill for the Incorporation of the Chimney- 

But Eitson's influence was not wholly negative in this regard. At 
least one instance is reported of his having successfully exerted himself 
to drive out of office a man who openly defied the law. As High Bailiff 
of the Savoy Ritson was associated with Reeves, the notorious leader of 
the association for encouragement of spies and informers, and for the 
suppression of freedom of writing and speaking upon political topics. 
Although Reeves was High Steward of the Savoy, and as such his superior 
officer, Ritson lost no opportunity to discredit him because of his 
political conduct. Wlien Reeves resigned his position, it was Ritson 's 
belief that he, by his continued hostility, had driven his superior from 

But with all his peculiarities of habit and opinion and in spite of 
his contempt for the law, Ritson met with more than mediocre success 
in the profession. Had he devoted himself unreservedly to it, his talents, 
his inflexible integrity, and his high professional character must have 
led to wealth and renown. His few law tracts give him a worthy place 
among the respected illustrators of legal antiquities; more attention to 
work of this sort would have been deeply appreciated by a relatively 
small but select group of his colleagues. He was content, however, to use 
the law as a means to other ends, and to draw his business from such 
clients as came to him unsolicited. A small circle of friends furnished 

5-Robert Surtees, The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Dur- 
ham, London, 1816-40. Vol. Ill, p. 193, note i. 

ssSee "Memoir of Ritson" in Monthly Magazine, Nov., 1803. 

379] LONDON LIFE 45 

sufficient work to enable him to eke out a moderate private income, and 
to devote the bulk of his time to studies more congenial to his taste. 
Sir Walter Scott is reported to have said of Ritson : 

"he had an honesty of principle about him, which, if it went to ridiculous 
extremes, was still respectable from the soundness of the foundation. I don't 
believe the world could have made Ritson say the thing he did not think."^* 

The fundamental identity of Ritson the professional man with Ritson 
the critic of letters is apparent when it is recognized that Scott's state- 
ment, made with the literary antiquarian in mind, applies with equal 
force to the Barrister-at-law. 

s^Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, London, 1869. Vol. II, p. 406. 

Literary Beginnings ; The Warton Controversy 

Reads in British Museum Library — Collects material for Allan — Goes to 
Oxford — Contributes to Cough's British Topography — Visits Combridge — Meets 
Farmer — Has part in the revival of interest in antiquarianism — Publishes Descent 
of the Crown — Prepares a number of manuscripts of local antiquarian interest — 
Turns to literature — Williams's Ode^ — The Stockton Jubilee — Prospectus of 
Fabularmii Romanensium Bibliotheca — Observations on the History of English 
Poetry — Its nature — Critical reception — Effect upon Warton — Ritson's later attitude 
toward Warton — General estimate. 

Ritson's first concern on arriving in London was undoubtedly to 
secure a place in a law firm where he might have a definite if meagre 
income and an opportunity to exercise his legal talents. This practical 
consideration disposed of to his satisfaction, his attention almost immed- 
iately turned to seek the means of satisfying his interest in literature 
and various antiquities. In this he relied upon the friendship of his 
Stockton acquaintance, George Allan, the famous antiquary. Shortly 
after his arrival in town he was introduced to the British Museum by 
AUan^ and was soon recognized as an habitual visitor there. During 
the hours that could be spared from his legal duties in the office of 
I\Iasterman and Lloyd he was usually to be found in the Museum poring 
over ancient documents and literary manuscripts then but little explored. 
He seems to have limited his recreation to the daily walk to and from 
the Museum, and this routine was varied so little that the slight figure 
clad in customary black hurrying along with uncertain gait soon became 
a familiar sight to frequenters of his line of travel.- This brief daily 
walk with an occasional vacation ramble into the country comprised his 
relaxation through life. His habits were formed early and rigidly 
adhered to. 

Before he left Stockton Ritson's interest in local antiquities was 
effectually aroused, and he began a collection of curious papers regard- 
ing his native town. In this project he was encouraged and materially 
aided by Allan, whose kindness and generosity he was anxious to repay.^ 

^See note by Allan's son in Lit. Anec, VIII, p. 350. 
^Robert Surtees, Op. Cit, III. p. 195. 

3See letter of Ritson to Allan, dated "Stockton, April 19, i775". in J^it- Anec, 
VIII. p. 350, note. 



The opportuuity to be of service to his friend came when lie obtained 
access to the antiquarian stores in the British Mnsenui. The earliest 
of Ritson's collected letters, written August 26, 1776, reveals him as 
already familiar with the antiquarian manuscripts of the Museum and 
as concerned chiefly with finding material relating to the ancient history 
of the county of Durham. The bits of information which he presented 
to Allan in this first letter and which he subsequently supplemented 
quite materially, were to be used by Allan in a History of Durham on 
which he was then engaged but which he later relinquished in favor of 
his friend William Hutchinson.* 

Among the manuscripts, mentioned in this early letter, in which 
Ritson was searching for material concerning Durham, he speaks of the 
"ancient exemplar of the Boldon Buke" in the Bodleian Library, which 
"may contain perhaps many other articles equally valuable" but which 
he had not yet had an opportunity of consulting. An impelling desire 
to enlarge his acquaintance with antiquarian sources and a curiosity 
as to what was to be discovered about his native shire led him to visit 
the Bodleian and other libraries at Oxford as soon as opportunity pre- 
sented. Toward the latter end of his vacation in 1779 he made a 
pedestrian excursion to Oxford^' and spent some time in the various 
libraries, where his success, he says, "though not altogether equal to my 
expectations was pretty^ reasonable".*^ Besides the notes from the 
Bolden Book, of which he had already spoken, Ritson sent Allan copies 
of charters and registers concerning Durham and mentioned others 
which would be of great service "not only in stating the history of 
property, but in forming and correcting the descents of ancient fam- 
ilies."'^ On this same visit he extracted from the original register of 

^Nicolas erroneously states (Op. Cit., p. xi) that this first letter "exhibits 
Ritson as ... . aiding Mr. Allan in collecting materials for a History of 
Shcrburn Hospital, in Durham." This volume was published in 1771, five years 
before the letter was written. The material there mentioned was to be used in the 
History of Durham instead. Allan later abandoned his project in favor of William 
Hutchinson (1732-1814) who at his suggestion took up the work and under his 
direction and guidance published The History and Antiquities of the County 
Palatine of Durham, Newcastle, 1785-94. Allan modestly remarked that he fur- 
nished Hutchinson with a "variety of manuscripts and printed collections unar- 
ranged and undigested." Lit. Anec., VI, p. 125. 

^The diary of this journey, which is declared to be "no otherwise curious 
than as presenting the first evidence of his sceptical opinions" (Nicolas, Op. Cit., 
p. XV.), like that of the earlier trip to Edinburgh, although originally in the pos- 
session of Joseph Frank, is now unknown. 

'^Letters, I, p. 6. 

Hbid., I, p. 7. 


Richard de Kelawe, early bishop of Durham, two indentures in French, 
dated at Stockton, relating to the appointment of governors in the 
Bishopric of Durham. He sent an account of these entries to Richard 
Gough, (1735-1809), who gladly inserted it in the new edition of his 
British Topography, then preparing.^ 

Now that he Avas familiar, through five years intercourse, with 
the British Museum, and had been made acquainted with the Bodleian, 
Ritson's next objective was Cambridge. Through the generous offices 
of friends he had been enabled to borrow books and manuscripts from 
the University libraries for several years before he had an opportunity 
to visit them.'' On July 20, 1780, he set off for Cambridge, intending to 
spend a few weeks in this depository of ancient learning and then go 
further into the country for the remainder of the vacation. This plan 
was not fully carried out, for "momentous" business recalled him to 
London early in August. It was not, however, until after he had accom- 
plished at least a part of his original purpose and had met with a 
singular stroke of good fortune in making the acquaintance of Richard 
Farmer, of whose friendship he was always proud to speak. He sums 
up the results of his visit thus : 

"I saw a great many curious books, made a great many important discoveries : 
and what is better than all, became intimately acquainted with Dr. Farmer, whom 
I found a most sensible, liberal, benevolent and worthy man."^° 

The last quarter of the eighteenth century witnessed a remarkable 
revival of interest in antiquarian studies of all kinds. Various anti- 
quarian societies were founded or rehabilitated during that period. The 
reconstituted Society of Antiquaries of London, chartered in 1751, 
was granted permanent quarters in Somerset House by George III in 
1780. This acknowledgment that after years of probation the Society 
had proved its right to a place among the recognized British institu- 
tions was highly gratifying to those interested in furthering the study 
of antiquities. In 1780 also the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland was 
formed at Edinburgh to do for the north of Britain what the London 
Society was doing for the south. Two years later the Royal Irish 
Academy, which had existed intermittently since 1683, was reconsti- 

sRichard Gough, British Topography, or an historical account of zvhat has been 
done for illustrating the Topographical Antiquities of Great Britain and Ireland, 
2nd edition, London, 1780, Vol. I, p. 337. 

^Surtees, Op. Cit., Ill, p. 193. 

^^Letters, I, p. 57- 


tilted." These were but the organized evidences of a widespread general 
interest in antiquities which was further revealed in various and increas- 
ingly numerous publications. Not only were there studies in coins, 
medals, and heraldry, which previously had engrossed the attention 
of antiquaries, but there was now searching investigation of the ancient 
historical records of the various topographical divisions of the kingdom, 
and of its ancient families and old institutions, to say nothing of purely 
literary researches. 

Prominent among the members of the London Society of this period 
were the two men whose researches in non-literary antiquities Ritson 
was instrumental in aiding. George Allan published a number of 
volumes relating to Durham and Northumberland and was extremely 
generous and helpful to fellow antiquaries by printing at his private 
press, "The Grange", many expensive works, by throwing open his 
valuable library to other students, and by bequeathing to the Society 
of Antiquaries of London twenty-six quarto volumes of manuscript 
relating chiefly to the University of Oxford.^- Richard Gough, described 
by a late contemporary as the Camden of modern times,^^ produced a 
very valuable work in his British Topography, a much needed supple- 
ment to the antedated volumes of Rawlinson,^* Nicolson,^^ and Gibson,^*' 
Like Allan he spared no time or expense to preserve and publish the 
relics of antiquity. He presented to the Bodleian his manuscripts of 
topography ' ' for the antiquaries ' closet ' ', and to Oxford his antiquarian 
literary collections "for the use of the Professor of Anglo-Saxon." 

Ritson 's published contribution to this renascence of antiquarian 
interest was small. He made valuable and highly appreciated additions 
to the collections of both Allan and Gough. But the only volume of his 
own which indicates this type of study is a pamphlet of Tables, Shelving 

"The continental Societies did not come into existence till much later. See 
H. R. Steeves, Learned Societies and English Literary Scholarship in Great Britain 
and the United States, New York, 1913. 

i^The date of Allan's election as F. S. A. in the Diet. Nat. Biog. should be 
1774 instead of 1744. 

i^Dibden in Nichols's Typographical Antiquities of Great Britain. 

I'^Richard Rawlinson, The English Topographer, . . . by an impartial hand, 
London, 1720. 

isWiiliam Nicolson published The English Historial Library in three parts, 
1696-99; The Scottish Historical Library, 1702; and The Irish Historical Library, 

i^In 1605 Edmund Gibson published an English translation of Camden's 
Britannia, with the extensive assistance of a number of British scholars and anti- 
quaries. The three foregoing publications represent the best work of this type in 
the century preceding Cough's British Topography. 


the Descent of the Crown of England, only fifty copies of which wore 
privately printed in 1778.^" This little work consists of three parts: 
Table I, showing "the true hereditary succession of the English crown 
from Egbert, the first Saxon monarch, to James VI of Scotland"; Table 
II, "the true hereditary succession from William the Conqueror (sup- 
posing a title in him by conquest) "; Table III, "the de facto succession 
from Edward Ironside." Besides their showing Kitson's political 
leaning at this time in his career, these compact and accurate tables 
reveal an early interest in the genealogical side of British history and 
the patience necessary to explore dry and dusty records of antiquity for 
the sake of presenting an accurate family tree. 

Ritson's published antiquarian work, however, is but a small portion 
of the material collected and represents but a fraction of the time and 
energy expended in this interesting field. Not only did he formulate 
Tables of the Descent of the Crown, but he investigated the history of 
the ancient Northern families of Bailiol and Comyn and embodied the 
results in a manuscript which was never published.^® Not only did he 
furnish Gough with valuable additions for the second edition of his 
Topography, but he continued his researches after that edition was pub- 
lished and made numerous additions and corrections in his own eopy.^^ 
Not only did he assist Allan quite extensively in gathering material 
about Durham, but even before he left Stockton the atti'action of the 
work proved so great that he began a collection of his OAvn. Wlien he 
began to explore the libraries in and about London, he made so many 
additions to his stock that he formed a definite design of printing a 
"Villare of the County, with useful appendixes". On February 13, 
1780, he acquainted Allan with his project and ventured the hope that 
it would meet with his approbation and gain his assistance.-*^ During 
the next two years Ritson continued to amass material through his own 
investigations and by the help of Allan, Harrison, and other friends 
in the county of Durham,-^ but he published none of it. He soon came 

i''The second impression, with some slight alterations in phraseology, was 
printed in 1783. The tract is now extremely rare. See John Martin, Biblio- 
graphical Catalogue of Privately Printed Books, 2nd edition, London, 1854. 

i^Lot 967 of Ritson Library sale : "An enquiry into the connection between 
the families of Bailiol and Comyn in the thirteenth century." 

i^Lot 909 of Ritson Library sale : "Cough's British Topography, with MS. 
additions and corrections by Mr. Ritson .... 2 vols., London, 1780." 

-^Letters, I, p. 9. Ritson's project became generally known among antiquaries. 
Gough says (Op. Cit., I, p. 340) : "Mr. Joseph Ritson of Stockton has a small MS. 
collection relating to that place. He is likewise preparing materials for a villare 
of the county." 

-^Letters, I, pp. 36, 56, and Lit. Aiiec, VIII, p. 133. 


to have, in his own words, "so many irons in the fire and other fish to 
fry", that his attention was diverted from this particular field of anti- 
quarian study to the more strictly literary. The bulk of his topograph- 
ical material was comprised in a manuscript "Villare Dunelmense, the 
names of all the towns, villages, hamlets, castles, sea-houses, halls, 
granges, and other houses and buildings, having any appellation within 
the Bishop ricks or county palatine of Durham," In addition there were 
tw^o minor manuscripts which must have been prepared at this time : 
"Topographical Rines[sic]", and "A list of river names in Great 
Britain and Ireland, with a few etymological notes on them."-- 

Some of the "other irons" which Ritson had in the fire at this 
time, 1780, were the duties of his new office as High Bailiff^, the problem 
of gaining a livlihood by private practice, and, most absorbing of all, 
two or three literary projects. Although the major portion of his time 
was of necessity devoted to the law, his great desire was to have an 
abundance of leisure for literature, and especially for poetry-. From his 
earliest years he was more interested in poetry than in anything else, 
but he was not yet able to devote himself to it in any great measure. 
His concern with local topographical antiquities was preliminary to an 
absorbing interest in poetical antiquities. His non-professional read- 
ing in London served to whet his appetite to such a degree that he 
soon abandoned all interests outside the requirements of his profes- 
sion, except poetry. To poetry and the various antiquarian subjects 
growing out of its study he devoted his leisure from this time on. It 
was not until 1782 that he produced any noteworthy work in this field, 
but two earlier and minor publications deserve mention. 

Haslewood states that in 1780 Ritson edited the second edition of 
The Odes of Sir Charles Hanhury Williams.-^ He gives this on the 
authority of Ritson 's "own avowal to an intimate acquaintance" and 
adds that "his labor could not extend beyond collating the proof- 
sheets."^* But Nicolas declares that Ritson 's connection with the Odes 

22Now MS. Douce, 340, Bodleian. The other manuscripts seem to have been 
lost or destroyed since the Ritson sale in 1803. 

23Sir Charles Hanbury Williams (1708-1759), courtier, diplomatist, and satirist, 
is noted for the licentiousness of his published works, consisting mostly of poetical 
satires, coarse ballads, and squibs. The original edition of The Odes appeared in 
1763 as A Collection of Poems. Principally consisting of the most Celebrated 
Pieces of Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, Kt. of the Bath. A fairly complete edition 
of Williams appeared in three volumes in 1822 as The Works of the Right Hon- 
orable Sir Charles Hanbury Willia)iis, K.B., from the originals in the possesison of 
his Grandson, the Right Honorable the Earl of Essex, zvith notes by Horace 
Walpole, Earl of Oxford. 

-*Haslewood, Op. Cit., p. 5. 


''is denied by his nephew and executor, and is rendered extremely 
unlikely by the disgust which Ritson always expressed at licentious 
poetry. ' '^^ Despite this denial by the person who is in the best position 
to know the facts, Sir Sidney Lee, in writing the life of Ritson in the 
Dictionary of National Biography, relies upon Haslewood in stating that 
Ritson "is said to have edited a second edition of the scurrilous Odes 
of Sir Charles Hanhury Williams"; and Thomas Seccombe, in the life 
of Williams, says that the Odes was "edited by J. Ritson in 1775."-* 
There would seem, then, to be ground for difference of opinion although 
no facts but only assertions have thus far been given. 

There is no internal evidence on which to base a decision ; the little 
volume comprising the second edition of the Odes contains no preface 
or introduction, and there are only two or three inconsequential notes. 
In the complete absence of editorial matter the case seems to resolve 
itself into a question of the word of Haslewood and the unnamed "inti- 
mate acquaintance" against that of Nicolas and the "nephew and 
executor", with a slight balance in favor of the former because of the 
statements of Lee and Seccombe. But a more exhaustive study of the 
situation reveals a preponderance of evidence on the other side. 

The statement of Joseph Frank deserves carefvil consideration from 
his long and intimate association with Ritson and consequent knowledge 
of his various activities. Furthermore, no contemporary mention is 
made of Ritson 's connection with the Odes.-~ Nicolas 's personal reason 
for denying this work to Ritson — his aversion to licentious poetry — 
though based on Ritson 's own words, should not be given too great 
weight, for it must be remembered that moral standards vary with 
different periods and that what was considered "licentious" in 1833 
might not have been so viewed half a century earlier. It is true that 
Ritson boasted of excluding from his collection of English Songs, 1783, 
every verse that might bring a blush to the cheek of innocence-* but it 
is equally true that in other volumes he included material quite as 
coarse and indecent as any passage in the Odes.^^ The most nearly eon- 

^^Nicolas, Op. Cit., p. xvi, note. 

-''Seccombe evidently does not mean that the volume was printed in 1775, 
for he adds in parentheses the dates of publication: "(London, 1780, i2mo. ; 1784, 
12 mo.)". If he means that Ritson's "editing" was done in 1775, that seems highly 
improbable from the early date, from the five year period before publication, and 
from the fact that the volume contains no editorial matter whatever. 

-^In itself this would, of course, not be strong evidence, as the contemporary 
lists of Ritson's works are frequently inaccurate or incomplete. 

-^See the Preface. 

-^See Observations on IVartoit, etc., passim^ and prefatory essay to Ancient 
English Metrical Romances. It should be borne in mind that the Odes does not 


elusive argument against Ritson's editing the Odes is the ignorance of 
Williams and his poems which he exhibits — an ignorance quite unex- 
pected in an editor who, everywhere else, insisted upon a thorough 
knowledge of the subject in hand or an explicit confession of imperfect 
acquaintance with it. 

In 1783 Ritson printed in English Songs ''Martialis Epigramma" 
as "by Sir Charles Hanbury Williams?"^" This piece is included in 
the 1780 edition of the Odes without any question as to its authenticity. 
Ten years later, in the advertisement to the first volume of English 
Anthology, Ritson made an earnest appeal for the dates of the birth and 
death of a number of poets — among them Sir Charles Hanbury Williams 
— , "in order that the selections from those poets may be duly arranged.'^ 
The second volume, which appeared the following year, contained two 
of Williams's odes ("On the death of Matzel" and "On Miss Harriet 
Hanbury"), both of which are included in the 1780 edition of Odes; 
but the dates of Williams had not yet been determined, a footnote read- 
ing: "Born 1 . . .; dyed 17 . ."^^ These examples of unfamiliarity 
with Williams and his verses, taken with the other facts, seem sufficiently 
conclusive evidence that Ritson did not edit the Odes. 

In December, 1781, Ritson published anonymously at Newcastle, a 
piece of satiric humor entitled. The Stockton Jubilee, or Shakspeare in 
all his Glory, A Choice Pageant for Christmas Holidays.^- This "unwar- 
rantable satire" consisted of extracts from Shakespeare applied to all 
the principal inhabitants of Stockton. Frank says the "characters 
were, generally, adapted with the most admirable precision. "^^ At 
any rate the pamphlet seems to have aroused a storm of ill feeling in 
Stockton. Ritson attempted to conceal from most of his friends that he 
was its author, although to Ralph Hoar he is said to have entrusted the 
delivery of various copies to the Newcastle post office.^* But he wrote 
to Wadeson an implicit acknowledgement of his connection with the 

contain the worst of Williams. Although Carb'le spoke of him as "deep in that 
slop-pail or scandal-department of an extinct generation" (History of Frederick 
the Great, Centenary edition, London, 1898, Vol. V, p. 246.), and the Quarterly 
Reviezv declared his Collected Works to contain "specimens of obscenity and 
blasphemy more horrible than we have before seen collected into one publication" 
(Vol. XXVIII, p. 47), yet these sweeping denunciations apply in varying degree to 
not more than half a dozen of the thirty-eight odes in the second edition. 

^^Eitglish Songs, I, p. 238. 

^'^English Anthology, II. p. 280. 

32As early as 1824 this volume was "extremely rare" and it is now practically 
extinct. There is no copy in the British Museum. See Haslewood, Op. Cit., p. 5. 

"•^Letters, I, p. 38, note. 

"^Nicolas, Op. Cit., p. xvii. 


work. He speaks of having heard ' ' that a most impudent and malicious 
rascal has been libelling the all-accomplished inhabitants of Stockton in 
a twelf penny pamphlet", refers to the treatment accorded Wadeson in 
it, and then asks if it is true that the scoundrel has been apprehended 
' ' and is to be publicly baited at the bull-ring ? ' ' But it ,\vas useless for 
him to attempt concealment in this fashion, for it is apparent that he 
was already suspected by many of his victims. In a postscript to this 
letter, he says, apropos of a possible visit to his friend : 

"But, alas ! I understand that my reappearance in Stockton Streets would 
cost me my life ! Gods mercies ! My good friend, you see what 'an' infernal 
world we live in."^^ 

Ritson's reading was, from the very first, largely in early printed 
books and old manuscripts. From historical antiquities he soon turned 
to poetry, romances, and literary origins. By the time he began to 
publish the results of his researches he had acquired an extensive 
acquaintance with the material of a little-known period in the history 
of English literature and had accumulated a valuable collection of 
early romances. His first projected work of importance to literary anti- 
quarianism was, Fahularum Romanensium Bihliotheca: a general cata- 
logue of old romances, French, Italian, Spanish, and English, to be 
published in two volumes. A specimen of two sheets of the work to be 
published under this title appeared in 1782, but the work itself was 
never printed. It is probable that Ritson found the project too ambitious 
at this early stage in his work with romances, or it may be that the 
material he intended to put into these volumes was absorbed by his 
other publications.^'' 

At this time Ritson had in hand another work to which he was 
devoting a great deal of painstaking research and on which he was 
bringing to bear all the information concerning the older periods of 
English poetry which he had been accumulating during his years of 
private reading and investigating in London. This was a criticism of 
Warton's History of English Poetry, ^"^ consisting of an enumeration 
of one hundred and sixteen errors of various degrees of importance, in 
that justly celebrated work. The first intimation of Ritson's concern 

^'^Letters, I. p. 38. 

^®Since no manuscript of this description appeared in the catalogue of his 
library sale, it would seem that Ritson never progressed far in the actual prepara- 
tion of this material for the press. 

3^Thomas Warton, History of English Poetry from the close of the eleventh 
to the connncnceiucnt of the eighteenth century. 3 vols., Oxford, 1774-1781. 


with Warton is to be found in a letter to Harrison, written August 6, 
1782. He says: 

"I have at last put my libel upon Warton into the hands of a bookseller. It 
is in a fair way of seeing the light by Christmas. ""^ 

The publisher's speed exceeded his expectations, however, and within 
two months there appeared anonymously : Observations on the three 
first volumes of the History of English Poetry. In a familiar letter to 
the author}^ 

When Ritson undertook the criticism of Warton he possessed a 
wide familiarity Avith first sources in literature and history. His won- 
derfully retentive mind was stored with dates and other more or less 
isolated bits of information gleaned from neglected and forgotten 
books and manuscripts dealing with early poetry. He had the patience 
for extremely careful and accurate research after little things, and he 
had come to place so much importance on correctness in details that he 
unblushingly demanded absolute accuracy in every writer, no matter how 
broad his subject. The volumes of Warton 's History he found to abound 
in errors of date and name and in inaccuracies of statement, all of 
which he deemed inexcusable. The Observations is a catalogue of some 
of these errors, noted in the order in which they occur. But this is not 
all. He employed the most personal, and what in his hands proved the 
most insolent, means possible for calling them to the attention of War- 
ton — a "familiar letter to the author". His enthusiasm for precision 
led him into grievous excesses of language. He was unable to restrain 
his disgust at what he variously designated Warton 's laxness, careless- 
ness, ignorance, or dishonesty, in making the errors. As a consequence 
the volume contains an overabundance of virulence and vituperation. 
He exhibited an unexampled irrascibility of temper and indulged in 
personal taunts and insulting abuse entirely uncalled for and absolutely 
indefensible. He missed no opportunity to sneer at Warton 's religion, 
to impeach his motives, to question his sincerity, to taunt him with 
"ignorance" and "incompetence". There is a constant tendency to 
exaggeration and an inevitable overshooting of the mark. Some of his 

^^Lcttcrs, I, p. 58. On October 8, 1782, Ritson again wrote to Harrison : 
"What say you to my scurrilous libel against Tom Warton?" Ibid., I, p. 60. 

^^Ritson printed the Observations "in the size of Mr. Warton's History" as 
"extremely proper to be bound up with that celebrated work, to which they will 
be found a very useful appendix." He was perfectly sincere in this statement, 
although his "afFrontery" and "grim humor" in making it have been universally 


statements are more indicative of the schoolboy than the serious critic. 
Such hyperboles as this are not infrequent : 

"Cotgrave undoubtedly knew a thousand million times more on the matter 
than you can do."*° 

It is Ritson's manner that is most frequently mentioned in con- 
nection with the Observations, and it has brought down upon him a 
perfect torrent of criticism, most of it justified. But his exaggera- 
tions, his spleen and ill-nature, indefensible as these are, do not com- 
prise the whole of his w^ork. Stripped of its abusive language there yet 
remains in the Ohservations a substantial body of criticism which is 
valuable in itself and for the wholesome influence which it exerted on 
future literary study. 

After a prefatory address to Warton, in which he confesses that 
he may have occasionallj^ indulged in too great warmth of expression but 
disavows personal motives, Ritson passes over the introductory^ Disserta- 
tions to the body of the History. His most frequent mention is of 
erroneous glosses in the medieval period. In this particular field Ritson 
was better prepared than Warton. He was at this time laying the 
foundation which enabled him later to publish a dozen volumes dealing 
with the poetry of the period and to furnish them with glossaries more 
accurate than had previously appeared. As a result of this study almost 
all of his emendations of Warton are correct.*^ The few instances in 
which he is at fault*- only prove the necessit}^ of allowing for human 
fallibility — a necessity which he refused to take into account when 
dealing with the works of others. 

Warton 's errors in glossing, Ritson almost always ascribed not to 
misunderstanding of the text but to lack of understanding of it. Upon 
"ignorance" in one thing and another he harped with ungracious con- 
stancy. He charged Warton with being ignorant of Anglo-Saxon,*' 
of Italian,** of the early romances,*^ of English history.*'' In many 
cases he was correct; in others it w^ould have been charitable to allow 
for typographical errors, for faulty information, or for the inevitability 
of mistakes in so large a publication. But Ritson had an eye single to 
accuracy, and he was slow to admit extenuating circumstances for error. 
When he did temper the violence of the charge it was usually to that 

^'^Observations, p. 7. 

*^Ibid., pp. 6, 9, II, 14, 16, 22, 23, 25, 30, 31, etc. 

*-Ibid., pp. 7, 17, 31, etc. 

43/fctrf., p. 2. 

**Ibid., pp. 25, 43. 

*'-Ibid., pp. 20, 35, 39, 42. 

^'^Ibid., pp. 17, 37. 


of carelessness, and on this score he had ample opportunity to censure 
the historian. Judged by Ritson's standards Warton was undoubtedly 
careless. He Avas engaged on a gigantic undertaking, and it was not 
possible for him to devote to each minute point the personal attention 
and careful research which Ritson demanded. In the case of inac- 
cessible manuscripts and rare books he relied on catalogues or the reports 
of friends. This failure to investigate original sources Ritson attributed 
to indolence, and in pointing out the anachronisms and inconsistencies 
into which "Warton was often led by this habit he did much to correct 
the History of English Poetry.*' 

"Warton 's failure to make personal investigation of all phases of his 
subject and his failure to keep exact notes of his reading caused him 
often to make vague allusions or indefinite references to books and manu- 
scripts. In literary matters Ritson was a pretty thorough skeptic. He 
allowed the validity of no inference or conjecture until it had been 
substantiated by documentary evidence. When Warton failed of pre- 
cision in his references, Ritson questioned his ever having seen the work 
alluded to. He doubted and even denied the existence of manuscripts 
which he had not himself seen and continued incredulous until con- 
vinced by ocular or other substantial proof. This skepticism sometimes 
placed him in ridiculous positions, but it proved to be not wholly a 
negative quality in the days of Chatterton, Rowley, Ireland, and their 
ilk; and Ritson was not in the least deceived by any of these clever 

Ritson questioned Warton 's sincerity in numerous instances in 
which he had detected errors of various sorts, but the most emphatic 
impeachment was of the Historian's motive in including material which 
to him seemed superflous. Warton did fall easily into digression, and 
his side excursions were usually long. But there was no reason for 
deciding, as Ritson hastily did, that the digressions were introduced 
merely "to enhance the bulk and price of his writings". The critic was 
extremely vexed at the long dissertation, of ninety-seven pages, on the 
"Gesta Romanorum", prefixed to the third volume. This he called 
satirically, a "pretty reasonable assistant", asserting that it had no 
particular connection with the history of English poetry in the sixteenth 
century, but was inserted because "it serves to fill up the volume, and 
that's enough".*® He likewise objected to the inclusion of foreign poets 
in this History, asserting that the digression on Dante*^ was injected 
as a space-filler. But here Ritson's failure to appreciate the value of 

*-'Ibid., pp. 8, 15, 28, 36. 

*»Ibid., p. 29. 

*^Ibid., p. 38. See also pp. 12, 22- 


the comparative study of literature — which he came afterward to under- 
stand and to apply in his owti criticisms^° — led him into the grievous 
error of attributing to Warton the habits of the meanest hack-writer. 

Judging from the criticism it has aroused, the most serious of all 
Ritson's charges against Warton is that of plagiarism. One of his 
critical canons was that every literary debt must be specifically acknowl- 
edged, and he was scathing in denunciation of anyone who borrowed 
from another without giving due credit. He frequently detected unac- 
knowledged borrowings in Warton and freely charged him with "steal- 
ing" and "pilfering". While the language of these notes is not in the 
least justifiable, there has never yet been a successful attempt to explain 
away the essence of Ritson's criticism — that Warton was guilty of 
plagiarism,^^ And herein lies perhaps the most permanent value of the 
Observations. The bare corrections contained in this volume might 
have been given as a mere table of Errata, and they would have been 
given sooner or later and in much more gentlemanly fashion. But the 
force and virulence of Riton's manner — the very thing that has been 
most consistently condemned — operated to place him in an advantageous 
position to enforce the principles of accuracy, care, and honesty which 
he championed. The knowledge that there was a keen and uncom- 
promising critic ready to pounce upon editorial laxity and castigate the 
offender had a not inappreciable share in hastening the day of ' ' modern ' ' 

The Ohservations appeared early in October, 1782, and was almost 
immediately reviewed in the various magazines.^^ The comments of the 
reviewers are remarkably similar in character. All the writers naturally 

soSee Chapter VII. 

^iRitson charged Warton with copj-ing a ballad from Percy's Reliqucs (Obser- 
vations, p. 5), with "pilfering" Fawkes's notes to Douglas's Description of May 
{Ibid., p. 24), and with taking from Steevens's Shakspeare an explanation of the 
Hundred Merry Tales as the Cent Nouvelle^ Nouvelles (Ibid., p. 43). Mant 
explains the first instance by saying that both Warton and Percy may have 
received their copies from a common hand (Richard Mant, The Poetical Works 
of Thomas Warton, Oxford, 1802. Vol. II, p. Ixxviii.), but the others remain 

■''-Instances of the effect of Ritson's criticism in insuring greater accuracy in 
Percy, Pinkerton, and others will appear in the course of the subsequent discussion. 
Previous to Ritson sporadic protests against inaccuracy, carelessness, and plagiarism 
had been made, but without noticeable effect. See H. G. Paul, John Dennis; his 
life and criticism. New York, 191 1, p. 72. 

^'•^Critica! Review, Vol. LIV, p. 272>'> Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. LII, p. 532; 
Monthly Rcvieiv, Vol. LXVIII, p. 186; London Reviezv. February, 1783; European 
Magazine, Vol. Ill, p. 126. Although the work was anonymous, there was little 
doubt as to who the author was. 


devote most of their space to a condemnation of Ritson's ugly manner 
and say relatively little about the value of the material. They are 
unanimous in deprecating the ill nature, violence, and malignity of the 
"Observer". His abusive language is variously attributed to ignorance, 
malice, and insanity; and it must be said that some of the writers are 
almost as virulent with the critic as he was with Warton. But with 
all this denunciation, no one denies the extreme accuracy and justness 
of the criticisms when stripped of their violent language. In fact, 
everywhere it is admitted, though always hurriedly and frequently 
grudgingly, that the substance of the work is good, and is the result of 
the minute investigation of a scholar. And yet, it is sought to minimize 
this admission of the importance of the critic's contribution by saying 
that his productions are mere "gleanings", "the effect of a mind anxious 
about little things", and "affect the value of the History of English 
Poetry little if at all." Here undoubtedly began that hatred of the 
Reviewers as a class which Ritson nursed throughout the remainder of 
his life. For however violent the language of his own works might be, 
he never seemed to understand why anyone should be violent with him 
and seemed to feel that there was always justification for his own 
intemperance but never for that of another. 

The formal reviews did not, however, mark the close of the discus- 
sion of Ritson and the Observations. The critic's strictures against 
Warton were too numerous and too serious to be left without an attempt 
at more extended refutation. Such an attempt was early undertaken 
and received its initial impulse from a letter in the Gentleman's Magazine 
for November, 1782, signed "Verax", and very plausibly attributed to 
Warton himself.^* This communication proved to be the beginning'^ 
of an epistolary discussion that was continued in the columns of the 
Gentleman's Magazine during the whole of the following year.^*^ After 
a dozen letters had been contributed, the editor declared that he "had 
sufficiently shown his impartiality in the controversy" and would now 
"beg leave to dismiss it." But whereas the editor may have been 
impartial, the Warton adherents among the contributors very greatly 
outnumbered the Ritson allies, only three of the letters defending the 

s*On Nov. 3, 1782, Warton wrote to Nichols asking the "very singular favor" 
of the insertion of an enclosed letter "in this month's Gentleman's Magazine", 
urging the absolute necessity of so early an appearance, and enjoining strict 
secrecy in the whole transaction. See Lit. Lllust., IV, p. 739. 

s^Warton's most recent biographer says that he was later "drawn into the 
controversy .... and probably even contributed a letter himself". Clarissa 
Rinaker, Thomas Warton; a biographical and critical study. University of Illinois, 
1916, p. 113. 

^^See Vol. LII, pp. 527-8, 571-5; Vol. LIII, pp. 42-7, 126-7, 281-4, 416. 


critic. It was literally true, as one of the correspondents remarked, that 
Warton had ''unkennelled a pack of literary bloodhounds that seemed 
to hunt his less-friended antagonist to death." Among others the com- 
batants included, on Warton 's side, his brother Joseph, the Eev. Thomas 
Russell of New College, Oxford, and the Rev. John Bowie; and on 
Ritson's, the critic himself, and his friend John Baynes,^^ of Gray's 

From a beginning in which the correspondents seriously tried to 
reestablish some of the points which Ritson had attacked, the contro- 
versy soon degenerated into personalities. The discussion was charac- 
terized by a good deal of violence, which caused the writers at times to 
lose sight of their subject and indulge in personal taunts and abusive 
flings at one another. Most of the correspondents played the role of 
advocates, and, holding briefs for their respective clients, they were 
blinded, wilfully or no, to whatever virtues the opponent might possess. 
The less frenzied of the controversialists acknowledged that Warton 's 
errors deserved reprehension and admitted that Ritson displayed great 
learning and critical acumen in detecting them, though he was to be 
censured for presenting his material in an ungentlemanly manner. With 
these men the dispute centered mainly upon particular criticisms, among 
which the most prominent were Ritson's challenge to Warton to prove 
his statement that "anciently in England ladies were sheriffs of coun- 
ties ' '^^ and his denial of the existence of such a person as Messen Jordi.^® 
These and similar points were established by the contestants for both 
sides by the simple and obvious expedient of placing their own construc- 
tion upon whatever evidence could be marshalled. 

But Ritson's critics could make no great headway at answering his 
strictures against Warton and took up the easier task of censuring his 
method. In doing this they frequently indulged in language as intem- 
perate as that they criticized. The logomachy was thus marked by the 
intemperance and violence, and often by the coarseness and scurrility, 
which characterized most of the literary controversies of the seventeenth 
and eighteenth centuries. Ritson was justly censured, on the grounds 
of common decency, for dragging obscene material*"' into his work. His 
eccentric spelling and altered grammatical distinctions*'^ have little other 

^'■John Baynes (1758-1787), special pleader of Gray's Inn, was a miscellaneous 
writer of some note. At his death he bequeathed to Ritson a very curious collec- 
tion of old romances. See Lit. Anec, VIII, pp. 113-115. 

^^Observations, p. 10. 

^^Ibid., p. 30. 

^"Marlow's tenets, Observations, p. 40; Scoggin's jest. Ibid., p. 20, note; etc. 

^^Eccentricities of spelling begun in the early Versees are enlarged upon 
here. The outstanding peculiarity of the orthography of Observations is the use 


authority to support them than personal whim. He is unwarrantably 
vicious in many of his thrusts at Warton. But these violations of 
propriety are hardly sufficient justification for his opponents' falling into 
the very errors for which thej^ reproached him. Their most flagrant 
and most persistently reiterated abuse is that of imputing to him motives 
of personal animosity. It is equally absurd to conjecture that he was 
''angry that a history of our poetry should have been undertaken by a 
scholar of polite taste and not hy a "pedant"*^- and to declare that the 
Observations was intended ''to depreciate an individual and not benefit 
the public.""^ Ritson had no conceivable reason for personal enmity 
to Warton and consistently disavowed any such motive. It is only 
justice to take at their face value these words in the opening paragraph 
of Observations : 

"Personal motives I cannot possibly have been influenced by, and utterly 
disavow. And were you able to falsify every charge I have here brought against 
you, whatever might be your severity, I should kiss the rod with resignation and 
even pleasure : as, I assure you, the satisfaction I should have experienced, in 
finding your work entirely free from error, would have been infinitely beyond any 
I can be supposed to feel, in thus making myself the public instrument of its 

The reviewer of the Observations in the London Review expressed 
the common judgment of most of Warton 's friends when he said: "Mr. 
Warton, it is to be hoped, for the honor of literature, will think it 
infinitely beneath him to immortalize such a critic, even with a damna- 
tion". In effect Warton compiled with this wish, and although his let- 
ter which precipitated the long discussion in the Gentleman's Magazine 
was a virtual reply to Ritson, he took no acknowledged notice of the 
critic. There is, however, difference of opinion as to the true effect of 
Ritson 's attack upon Warton himself. Bishop Percy and Thomas 
Caldecott of New College, both friends of Warton, were of the opinion 
that Ritson 's pamphlet caused him to abandon the History in its incom- 
plete stage at the third volume.*'* Mant, author of the first Memoir 
of the Historian, declared that "an intimate friend of Mr. Warton has 
informed me, that he neither allowed the justness, nor felt, though he 

of "hisself", "theirselves", etc., for "himself", "themselves", etc. Robert Lowth 
(1710-1787), in his Short Introduction to English Grammar, 2nd edition, 1786, p. 
43, admits the use of such constructions, but nowhere uses them himself. 

^-Critical Review, Vol, LIV, p. 373. 

63Ritson's English Songs, ed. Thos. Park, London, 1813. Preface, p. xxxviii, 

6*Thomas Caldecott to Thomas Percy, March 21, 1803 ; and Percy to Caldecott, 
August 17, 1803, Lit. Illust., VIII, p. 372. 


might lament, the keenness of the censure. "^^ Dr. Rinaker, Warton's 
latest biographer, suggests the distraction of his interest to other fields,"® 
as the most plausible explanation of his neglect of the work. Warton's 
only personal remark occurs in a letter to George Steevens, who had 
just furnished him with some information about Ritson. There he 
declares that he "could disprove most of his [Ritson 's] objections were 
it a matter of any consequence. "^'^ That he felt the censure more 
keenly than he cared to admit is evinced by the fact that this statement 
was written five days after he had dispatched to the Gentleman's Mag- 
azine the pseudonymous letter already cited, in which he attempted to 
reestablish many of the points Ritson had attacked. 

If there is divided opinion as to the effect upon Warton of the 
Observations and the storm it aroused, there are equally divergent judg- 
ments on the question of the reaction upon Ritson. Haslewood asserts 
that Ritson afterwards became convinced of the unjustness of his attack 
on Warton, and "the reasoning of his frank friend, Mr, Park, drew 
from him an acknowledgement of his own impropriety, and induced him, 
at a later period, to buy up and destroy all the copies of the work that 
could be obtained."®* Support is given this view by Ellis's confession 
that his anger at Ritson 's attack on the Historian was mollified by the 
critic's repentance®'' and by Anderson's statement that he had heard 
Ritson speak of Warton "in a placable and penetential way.""" Ritson 's 
nephew, however, denied that his uncle ever repented, and Nicolas 
attributed the statement to "an amiable motive to extenuate the con- 
duct of Ritson, which, nevertheless, fails because it happens to be without 
foundation."'^ In view of these contradictions and in the want of evi- 
dence that Ritson ever went so far as to destroy the available copies of 
the book, the only opportunity to determine how sincere his repentence 
was — if indeed he did repent — lies in a review of his later allusions 
to Warton. 

65Mant, Op. Cit., p. Ixxvii. 

660p. Cit., p. 112. 


^^Haslewood, Op. Cit., p. 7. 

^^George Ellis to Thomas Park, Sept. 27, 1799, quoted by Haslewood, Op. 
Cit., p. 27, note. 

■'oAnderson to Percy, May 21, 1803, Lit. Illust., VIII, p. 113. There is no evi- 
dence to support the view set forth in an unsigned article in the Encyclopedia 
Brittanica that the storm of anger aroused by his criticism greatly delighted Rit- 
son. See art. "Ritson". 

■^^Op. Cit., p. xxiii. 


On hearing of Warton's death Ritson wrote to his friend Walker: 

"Well ! 'T war not with the dead', and shall treat his ashes with the reverence 
I ought possibly to have bestowed on his person. Unfortunately he is introduced, 
not always in the most serious or respectful manner, in a work which has been 
long printed, but which I think my book-seller does not choose to publish till both 
the editor and all his friends and enemies are buried in oblivion."^- 

The work to which he refers, Ancietit Songs, from the time of King 
Henry III to the Revolution, was printed in two volumes in 1787, but 
not published until 1792.'^^ The material for these volumes was amassed 
at least three years before the Historian's death and at a time when 
the editor could have had no thought of that event. Though tardy, the 
expression of regret at his flippancy and disrespect is highly creditable 
to his character. Later editors of the Ancient Songs, evidently guided 
by Ritson 's implied wdsh, have omitted the allusions to Warton.'* 

In the preface to his edition of Poems . . . . hy Laurence 
Minot, published in 1795, Ritson criticised Warton's handling of these 
poems in his History, and pointed out some errors which he ascribed 
to mis judgment and ignorance. The language employed is plain and 
direct, but in no wise meant to give offense. Although Ritson had not 
given over his antagonism to Warton's faults, his comments here lack 
the personal direction which was so objectionable in his earlier work, 
and he exhibits a manner w^hich, compared with that of the Observa- 
tions, may without the least danger of overpraise be characterized as 
"softened asperity and tempered virulence. "^^ 

But the change of spirit which Ritson had manifested in his remarks 
on the death of Warton, in the preface to Minot 's Poems, and in com- 
ments to friends, is not evident in his latest publications. After a period 
of editorial inactivity comprising seven years of severe illness which left 
his faculties impaired, he published Ancient English Metrical Romances 
and Bihliographia Poetica, in 1802. In both these works Ritson displays 
an acerbity of language which is not exceeded in the Observations. He 
devotes several pages of the introductory Essay in Metrical Romances 

'''^Letters, I, p. 169. 

^^Ritson has several comments on Warton in his English Songs and Remarks 

on Shakspeare, both published in 1783, but it is obvious that they 

will throw no light on the question in hand because those works were in preparation 
simultaneously with the Observations and he could not then have anticipated the 
full effect of that publication. 

"*The most offensive notes occured on pp. 27 and 286 of the original edition. 
The only reference to Warton in the second edition, 1829, is a very brief and 
eminently civil allusion, Vol. II, p. 233. 
"^Mant, Op. Cit., p. Ixvii. 


to a refutation of Warton's theory of the origin of romance, and over- 
looks no opening for a vicious personal thrust at Warton or a contemptu- 
ous sneer at the church which he served/*' The comments on Warton 
and his History which appear in Bihliographia Poetica are much tem- 
pered and softened, but it seems that the want of extravagance in lan- 
guage was not the result of voluntary restraint on Ritson's part. The 
manuscript of this work was presented to Thomas Park for criticism, 
and he declares that he blotted out a "severe sarcasm against Warton's 
mendacious History of English Poetry, which Ritson forebore to rein- 
state."^^ Either on this or a previous occasion Ritson expressed to Park 
his regret for his disrespectful treatment of Warton, but he was never 
able wholly to give over his contempt for the Historian's laxness in 
handling material. It appears, then, from Ritson's correspondence and 
his private expressions to various friends that he realized he had over- 
stepped the bounds of propriety in some of the notes in Observations 
and that, especiall}^ after Warton's death, he was genuinely repentant. 
For a time he sought to make amends in a negative fashion by publishing 
nothing virulent about Warton and even by commending his service to 
literature when he had occasion to mention the History. But all this 
is largely overbalanced by a return to the old violence and extravagance 
of statement in his last published works. The almost inevitable con- 
clusion is that his hatred of Warton and the History was too deep- 
seated for anj^ effective and thorough-going repentance to have been 

The great amount of discussion created by the publication of Obser- 
vations is ample evidence that there was something more than sound 
and fury to that indictment of Warton. In spite of the fact that every 
effort was made to discredit Ritson and his work by emphasizing the 
indefensible coarseness of his manner and ignoring the kernel of his 
criticism, it was impossible to obscure the fact that he was a man of 
wide and accurate learning in the older periods of English poetry, a 
critic of keen perception, and a powerful antagonist. As such he 
became almost immediately known ; but his most vulnerable point was 
always his vicious manner of writing, and an attack upon this too fre- 
quently diverted attention from the real value of his criticisms. The 
editors of Warton illustrate this fact. 

Thomas Park planned to include the body of Ritson's notes in his 
edition of the History of English Poetry. "^^ Although this project was 
never carried out, it appears from Park's comments on Ritson in his 

''^Anc. Eng. Met. Romances, 2nd edition, 1884, Vol. I, p. 2, and passim. 

^^Haselwood, Op. Cit., p. 27. 

^^See announcement of this projected edition in Athenaeum, Vol. V, p. 245. 


edition of the latter 's English Songs, that he would have manifested but 
little charity towards him. He concludes a rather severe arraignment 
of Ritsou with a mention of his proposed edition of the History when 
*'as an editorial advocate, it will become my province to rebut a regular 
indictment, comprising seventeen counts, against the veracity of our 
poetical historian."'^ Although we are deprived of this formal attack 
upon Ritson by Park 's failure to edit Warton, there is an equally earnest 
attempt to discredit the critic in Richard Price 's edition of the History. ^^ 
Price used more than half of Ritson 's notes in his edition, but this did 
not prevent his indulging in an extremely ill-natured and malicious 
attack upon the antiquary, in which he conjured up all his personal 
faults and individual foibles against him and said next to nothing of the 
material that really concerned the editor and student of Warton.^^ Fairer 
treatment is accorded Ritson in the 1840 and 1874 editions of the 
History. The substantial body of his notes is included, and he is given 
credit for what he actually contributed toward a correct History of 
English Poetry, with no attempt to depreciate its importance by cat- 
aloguing the private sins for which he may be held accountable. 

It has been contended that Ritson was not competent to judge the 
History of English Poetry because he did not know it as a whole but 
only saw it as so many separate minutiae. But Ritson did not attempt 
a criticism of the History on any comprehensive scale. His work was 
avowedly the detecting of errors of commission and the finding of faults, 
which, though minute, detract from the accuracy of a work and hence 
diminish its value for the careful student and conscientious reader. That 
Ritson succeeded in this task no one has denied. But many have been 
ignorant of, or have ignored, the fact that this and not something more 
ambitious was what he set out to accomplish. It is not the greatest type 
of criticism, perhaps not even great, but such as it is, it ought to be 
judged on its merits. It is task work that must be done, and at this 
particular time in the history of English literature it needed especially 
to be done. 

"^Advertisement to Park's edition of English Songs, 1813. 

^°The History of English poetry . ... By Thomas Warton .... 
A new edition carefully revised with numerous additional notes by the late 
Mr. Ritson. . . . and by the Editor [Richard Price]. 4 vols. London. 1824. 

siThe unjustness of Price's treatment of Ritson was ably exposed by a writer 
in the Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. XCV, pp. 486-8. 


Shakespeare Criticisms'- 

Undertakes serious critical study of Shakespeare — His place in the changing 
attitude toward the dramatist — Publishes Remarks — Its general nature — Subsequent 
relations of Ritson and Steevens — Critical reception of Remarks — Publishes Quip 
Modest — Abuse of Reviewers and Steevens — Misunderstanding with Reed — ^Critical 
reception of Quip Modest — Publishes Cursory Criticisms — ^X'^iolent attack on Re- 
viewers and Malone — Malone's reply — Ritson's later attitude toward Malone — Gen- 
eral theories of editing — Specific criticisms of Shakespeare — Appreciation of Hamlet 
— Plans an edition of the plays and poems — Publishes two pages of Comedy of 
Errors — The lost manuscripts — Conclusion. 

Eitson 's early years in London were filled with a number of literary 
interests. He did not allow his concern with Warton's History or with 
early romances to consume all his time. The earliest of his letters and 
all his publications reveal a wide familiarity with Shakespeare, to whose 
works he seems to have devoted a great deal of attention from the very 
first. The Stockton Jtitilee, or Shakspeare in all his Glory, was a youth- 
ful display of Shakesperian knowledge for the edification of friends 
back in Stockton. But with increased maturity of thought and with the 
stimulus of enlarged reading he soon turned his study to more serious 
ends. The century in which he lived is replete with editors and critics 
of Shakespeare. The increasing volume of Shakespeare literature as the 
century advanced represents that growing interest in the old English 
writers and increasing familiarity with their works which we are told 
was one of the "beginnings of romanticism". This increasing interest 
was a complex growth. There are the bare mathematical facts of the 
increasing number of Shakespeare references and allusions in the liter- 
ature and in the private correspondence of the century; the increasing 
frequency with which new editions appeared; and the rapidly growing 
army of annotators, commentators, and essayists. Then there is the less 
tangible but no less real fact of the changing attitude toward Shake- 

^The present chapter is an enlargement and revision of an article entitled, 
"Joseph Ritson and Some Eighteenth Century Editors of Shakespeare" which was 
published in Shakespeare Studies, By members of the Department of English of 
the University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1916, pp. 253-275. The material is here 
used with the permission of the Department of English. 



speare ; from a patronizing view of the dramatist as an inspired barbarian 
to a conception of him as the transcendent artist; from a blind and 
ignorant worship to a sane and serious study; from a heterogeneous 
hodge-podge of criticism to a common conception of the duties of the 
editor and critic. This evolution was gradual, but it was more rapid 
toward the close of the century than at the beginning. Some of the 
greatest and some of the least of England 's literary men helped it along. 
To the lesser, oftentimes, was it given to correct the greater and to make 
straight the paths for feet more worthy to tread them. Among these 
minor agencies Ritson is to be classed. Although his chief claim to 
attention in the history of English letters must continue to rest upon 
the work with ballads and romances which is to be discussed in the 
succeeding chapters, yet he deserves more recognition than he has thus 
far received as a critic and emendator of Shakespeare. Unlike many of 
his contemporaries, he had a profound reverence for Shakespeare and 
considered him the great universal genius. He had a thorough knowl- 
edge of the original quartos and folios, which enabled him to detect 
textual mutilations and alterations. Through his influence these first 
texts received a more ample measure of the consideration due them at 
the hands of Shakespeare's editors. Ritson possessed ideas of editorship 
and a conception of the function of the critic which were in advance of 
his day, and by unremitting insistence upon them he helped to establish 
standards which are today recognized as inviolable. His own contri- 
butions to Shakespearean interpretation are by no means to be ignored. 
Most at home in the minutiae of textual correction, he was not devoid 
of an appreciation of the characters and the plays as a whole, and made 
many sound observations upon them. 

To these qualities the personal equation added more in the case of 
Ritson than in that of perhaps any one of his contemporaries. The 
personal controversial flavor which was characteristic of the Observations 
is to be detected in almost equal degree in all his publications on Shake- 
speare. He often put Shakespeare in the background while he lashed 
Steevens or Dr. Johnson or Malone, or even Reed or Farmer. But he 
respected these men, and in his less heated moments invariably repented 
of his harsh treatment of them. Such conduct again brought down upon 
his head the scorn and ridicule of the reviewers. The Reviews may have 
killed Keats ; they only galvanized Ritson into action and gave us one, 
and perhaps two, Shakespeare pamphlets we should not otherwise have 
had. Because the Shakespeare publications afforded Ritson a means of 
carrying on personal warfare and seemed, in some degree, set forth 
chiefly for that purpose, and because the body of criticism is substantially 
the same through all the volumes, it will be well to defer the consider- 


ation of his contribution to Shakespearean knowledge until the chron- 
ology of his pamphlets has been traced. 

Before the vigor of the discussion of his attack upon Warton had 
begun to wane, Ritson issued a second controversial volume entitled, 
Remarks, Critical and Illustrative, on the Text and Notes of the Last 
Edition of Shakspeare. It was directed against the Johnson and 
Steevens Shakspeare of 1778,- especiallj^ against Steevens, and the 
method pursued was substantially that followed in the Warton tract. 
In this volume, as in the earlier one, Ritson disavowed any personal 
motive in his remarks. He declared himself enlisted in "the cause of 
Shakspeare and truth", and called Shakespeare the God of his idolatry. 
But he recognized that "to controvert the opinions or disprove the 
assertions" of such men as Johnson, Steevens, Tyrwhitt, and Farmer, he 
must have some justification, especially where an undue warmth of 
expression was occasionally to be detected. In this, however, he con- 
sidered that he was only exercising the right which these men before him 
had practised, and which it was the privilege of every man to exercise, — 
that of contradicting the opinions of his predecessors when they were 
thought or proved to be erroneous. But at the same time he was anxious 
to avoid the imputation of animus or of mean quibbling. In dealing with 
other men he declared he would "not be found to have expressed him- 
self in a manner inconsistent with a due sense of obligations and the 
profoundest respect. Such, at least, was his intention, such has been 
his endeavor, and such is his hope."^ 

Of the 457 notes in the Remarks approximately half are concerned 
with textual emendations, the remainder with errors of judgment of 
Steevens and his fellow commentators. It was in notes of the latter 
type that the venom of Ritson 's nature was exhibited. He frequently 
overstepped the bounds of literary propriety in ridiculing Steevens 's 
"blunders", in questioning his motives, and in exposing his "ignor- 
ance". And yet there was underlying all this unscholarly manner a 
vein of pertinent criticism which struck home to Steevens. 

Although the Remarks was published anonymously, Ritson made no 
effort to conceal the authoriship,* and Steevens knew almost immediately 
who was the author of the book and spread the information among his 

'^The Plays of William Shakspeare, zi'iili the corrections and illustrations of 
various commentators ; to which are added notes by S. Johnson and G. Steevens. 
Second edition revised and augmented, lo vols., London, 1778. 

^Remarks, etc., Preface, p. viii. 

*0n going to press Ritson informed Harrison, who seemed to be a sort of 
Father Confessor for his literary life, of the nature of his new work and added 
boastfully, "I will turn the world upside down." Letters, I, p. 61. 


friends.-' It was little to be expected that Steevens, wliose insinuating 
abuse had already disposed of a brace of critical opponents, would let 
pass Avithout some effort at refutation, a charge more serious against his 
literary reputation and more ably sustained than that of either Collins 
or Jennens.® Under the signature of "Alciphron" he attacked the 
Remarks in a letter to the St. James's Chronicle for June 5, 1783/ He 
dismissed tlie Remarks as trivial and insignificant, as treating not a 
single "important and shining passage of Shakspeare". Signing himself 
"Justice", Ritson replied the next week that the design of the "Re- 
marker" had been to prove the late edition of Shakespeare "an execrable 
bad one ; and tliis, I say, he has done ' '.® Such juvenile assertion and 
denial did nothing, of course, to establish the critical status of Ritson 
or his book; it served merely as means of escape for personal animus. 
Wlien the edge of their rancor had grown dull, Steevens and Ritson 
continued on friendly terms. The editor kept the critic informed of his 
various undertakings and was from time to time supplied by him with 
interesting notes on Shakespeare.^ 

It was perhaps largely because of their continued correspondence that 
Ritson came eventually to feel that his published attack upon Steevens 
was quite unworthy of himself. More than a decade after its appearance 
he wrote to his nephew, who had undertaken to make some corrections 
in it: 

"In behalf of the Remarks I have nothing to saj'. Indeed, I should think you 
much better employed in putting them into the fire, than in a vain attempt to 

^See the following letters : George Steevens to Thos. Warton, April i6, 1783, 
in John Wooll's Biographical Memoirs of Joseph Warton, London, 1806, p. 398; 
John Bowie to Thos. Warton, May 18, 1783, ibid., p. 402; M. Lort to Bishop Percy, 
May 19, 1783, Lit. lilies., VIII, p. 457. 

^'In defense of Capell, John Collins (1748-1797) charged Steevens with pla- 
giarism in a Letter to George Hardingc, Esq. on the subject of a passage in Mr. 
Steevens' Preface to his impression of Shakspeare. London, 1777. Steevens 
never forgave this attack and let slip no opportunity to hurl violent epithets at 
Collins, relating disparaging anecdotes concerning him, and fathering upon him a 
number of highly questionable notes in the 1778 Shakspeare. Charles Jennens 
(1700-1773) made a similar accusation against Steevens, and the editor, not without 
some foundation, sneered at him unmercifully, both in reviews and newspapers. 
See Critical Reviezv, Vol. XXXIV, p. 475; XXXV, p. 230, and Public Advertiser 
for Jan. 26 and Feb. 14, 1771. 

"Reprinted in Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. LIII, p. 594. 

^St. James's Chronicle, June 10, 1783. Reprinted in Gentleman's Magazine, 
Vol. LIII, p. 595- 

°See Letters, II, pp. 32, 123, 171, 193, and Advertisement to Bibliographia 
Poetic a. 


diminish the inaccuracies of such a mass of error, both typographical and 
authorial." 1° 

Ritson's final estimate of Steevens accords well with the judgment of 
posterity. As a commentator he recognized his rival as a man of 
acuteness and wit, whose arguments were "always ingenious and plausi- 
ble, but not in every way convincing", but as an editor of Shakespeare 
he thought him deficient in true poetical feeling, and devoid of rever- 
ence for his author. 

The Warton controversy had brought Ritson into a prominence not 
altogether enviable as a critic and antagonist, and the reception of the 
Bemarks by the Reviews was largely influenced by the opinion previously 
formed by its author.^ ^ The minute accuracy in textual collations, the 
extensive learning displayed, the contributions to Shakespeare interpre- 
tation — all these were damned with faint praise as the reviewers hastened 
on to condemn the offensive assurance, the unwonted egotism, and the 
unparalleled violence of the author.^ ^ Using the methods which they 
condemned, they turned Ritson's own weapons upon himself and accused 
him of plagiarizing from the Supplements of Malone and Steevens^ ^ 
material to correct their own faults. To the arch-enemy of plagiarists 
and editorial defaulters, this was a serious charge; and he hastened to 
enter his denial. In addition to Ritson's assertion that he "was not 
aware of being anticipated in more than a single instance", it appears 
from chronology that plagiarism was all but impossible. The Remarks 
was put to the press as early as the first week in October, 1782, and was 
published in the spring of 1783. Malone 's Second Supplement appeared 
early in the same year, antedating Ritson's volume by only a few weeks 
at best. It is this work that contains the most of the "purloined" notes 
(the first supplement being largely taken up with the apocryphal plays) 

^^Letters, II, p. 123. Ritson seems never to have been wholly satisfied with the 
accuracy of the Remarks and found it necessary to publish two lists of Errata, 
mostly typographical. Yet he found a melancholy sort of pleasure in the con- 
viction that his pamphlet was less inaccurate than the edition of Shakespeare which 
it criticized. 

"While the reviewers did not mention Ritson, since the volume was anonymous, 
yet they invariably connected this work with the Observations as the production of 
"Wartono Mastix" or the "modern Zoilus". 

i2See Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. LIII, pp. 593-5; Critical Rcviezv, Vol. LVI, 
pp. 81-9; Monthly Review, Vol. LXX, pp. 334-8. 

^^Supl)lement to the edition of Shakspeare's plays published in 177S .... 
containing additional observations by several of the former commentators .... 
zvith notes by the editor [Malone] and others. London, 1780. A Second Appendix 
to Mr. Malone's Supplement containing additional observations by the editor of the 
Supplement. London, 1783. 


and it is obvious that Kitsoii could not have seen it in time to make any 
changes in his own publication. The logical conclusion is that the notes 
in question occurred simultaneously to Ritson and Malone (or Steevens), 
working independently. 

While his own books were little praised and largely censured, Ritson 
frequently saw less accurate productions accorded unalloyed praise. 
It was impossible for him to understand why of two works, the one 
moderately correct but urbane in manner, the other flawless in fact but 
vituperative in tone, the less perfect should be the more highly com- 
mended. Quick to detect and anxious to punish any personal thrust 
at himself, he refused to grant to others the same privilege, and indeed 
seemed not to know when he had spoken so sharply as to give offense. 
He proclaimed himself enlisted in the cause of truth, and in her service 
he considered everything fair. If enthusiasm for his goddess some- 
times betrayed him into ridiculous excesses and violent exaggerations, 
he either did not recognize it, or, recognizing, justified the means by 
the end. But his critics refused to take this view and largely ignored 
the truth of his writings while they condemned his manner. The 
reviewers seemed even to go out of their way to censure him. From 
this he came to believe that they were in league to destroy his literary 
character and grew to feel that he had a personal grievance with them. 

When the tardy reviews of the third edition of the Johnson and 
Steevens Shakspeare^* appeared, they gave high praise to Reed, the 
editor, and sneered at Ritson as an "orthographic mutineer" and as a 
critic relegated him to the ranks of the "unimportant".^^ This taunt 
of the reviewers came as an added insult to Ritson. Although more than 
two hundred notes from the Remarks had been adopted in Reed's edition, 
yet Ritson chose to consider himself very unjustly treated because some 
of his notes were omitted and a few were held up to biting and sarcastic 
ridicule. Being extremely sensitive about his own work, guarding it, 
as he said, as jealously as a father does his offspring, he felt it his duty 
"to defend every part of it from injury and misrepresentation", and 
declared that he knew of "no difference between the integrity or char- 
acter of a writer and that of any other individual, nor ought an unjust 
charge against the former to remain unrefuted, any more than one 
against the latter."^® Thus stung to action he took up the notes he had 

^*The Plays of William Shakspcare, in ten volumes. . . . to which are 
added notes by S. Johnson and G. Steevens. The third edition revised and aug- 
mented by the editor of Dodsley's Collection of Old Plays [Isaac Reed]. 
London, 1785. 

^■'Critical Reviezc. Vol. LXII, pp. 321-9; Vol. LXXXVII, pp. 19-25. 

'^^Quip Modest, Preface, p. v. 



made "in turning over the revised edition immediately after its publica- 
tion, but had lain aside and almost forgotten", and put them to press as, 
The Quip Modest; a feiv words hy way of Supplement to Remarks, 
Critical and Illustrative, on the Text and Notes of the Last Edition of 
Shakspeare; occasioned hy a republication of that Edition, Revised and 
Augmented hy the Editor of Dodsley's Old Plays. As its title suggests, 
the substance of this little volume consists mainly of answers to the 
objections which had been made to the Remarks. The dozen new notes 
are about equa*lly divided between textual emendations and corrected 

The most interesting part of the book, however, and that which 
attracted immediate notice, is the Preface. In it he openly attacked the 
reviewers and Steevens, and by inuendo Keed himself. He heaped scorn 
and invective on "those very good Christians" his "liberal and candid 
friends", the reviewers. He accused them of "passing sentence upon 
books which they never read, and on the character of writers whom they 
do not know." In short, he was so violent in his strictures as to obscure, 
for his immediate readers at least, almost everything except the points 
of personal controversy. 

Of Steevens 's share in the 1785 Shakspeare Ritson had little definite 
information. The notes in which he considered himself disrespectfully 
treated were signed with the editor's initials, but he did not choose to 
think they came from Reed. On the contrary, he held that they were 
"furnished by some obliging friend, who had desired to be effectually 
concealed under the sanction of the editor's signature". That he believed 
this "obliging friend" to be Steevens is clear from the following com- 
ment which was a part of the original Preface : 

"This worthy gentleman is probably the infamous scoundrel who published 
'An address to the curious in ancient poetrj^/^^ as, however little relation it may 
have to Shakspeare, the author has had interest enough to procure it a place in the 
'List of Detached Pieces of Criticism, etc' prefixed to the revised edition. A 
congeniality of disposition in the Critical Reviewers procured this fellow a 
dififerent reception from these literary hangmen, from that which he may one day 
experience from a well-known practical professor of the same mystery." 

After a few copies of the Qiiip Modest had been sold, Ritson came to 
feel, or more probably, was persuaded, that this note was ' ' too strong for 
the person alluded to", and he stopped the sale of the work long enough 

''■'A familiar address to the curious in English Poetry, more particularly to the 
readers of Shakspeare. By Thersites Literarius, London, 1784. This rather 
inconsequential tract was written in the first person as though it came from Ritson, 
and gave him great offense. 


to cancel this page and substitute another bearing the following — per- 
haps ironical — statement :^® 

"Impressed as I have been with this idea, I ought in common justice to 
acknowledge that I suspect no one in particular to whom I am thus indebted. 
Above all I wish to declare, that the candor, liberality, and politeness which dis- 
tinguish Mr. Steevens, utterly exclude him from every imputation of this nature." 

Besides the disrespectful comments which he attributed to Steevens, 
there were three notes in the 1785 edition of Shakespeare at which 
Ritson was particularh^ offended, in which, to use his own words, "I 
found or imagined I was treated with contempt ".^^ These were: (1) In 
the Remarks, p. 12, Eitson had expressed the belief that "King Edward 
shovel boards", (Merry Wives of Windsor, I. i. 154) referred to "broad 
shillings of Edward III." and not of Edward VI, as Farmer had stated. 
An italicized note in the Reed Shakspeare castigated him for "censur- 
ing" Farmer, denied his assertion, and dismissed the note as ''not worth 
consideration."-^ (2) After devoting a page and a half to Ritson 's note 
on the mortality of fairies, {Midsummer Night's Dream, II. i. 101) the 
editor concluded thus : 

"It is a misfortune as well to the commentators, as to the readers of Shak- 
speare, that so much of their time is obliged to be employed in explaining and 
contradicting conjectures and assertions. ... A future editor of our author 
may without any detriment to his work omit this note, which I should have been 
better pleased to have had no occasion to incumber the page with."-i 

(3) Upon Ritson 's demanding that Dr. Johnson present some other 
proof than his own assertion that Shakespeare was guilty of an anach- 
ronism in introducing rapier into Richard II., IV. i. 40, the editor 
remarked : 

"It is probable that Dr. Johnson did not see the necessity of citing any 
authority for a fact so well known, or suspect that any person would demand 

Upon reading these notes one wonders why Ritson should have 
been so wrought up as to feel that he had a personal quarrel with the 
man who wrote them. It is certain that imagination and a super-sensi- 
tive nature played a rather large part in exciting his anger. Outside 

^^Ritson was not yet far enough removed from his original quarrel with 
Steevens to treat him with the candor which he later displayed. 
^^Letters, I, p. 105. 
20Reed's Shakspeare, I, p. 253. 
21/fcirf., Ill, p. 37- 
^-Ihid., V. p. 227. 


of the two letters that have been preserved, the only explanation of his 
point of view is to be found in the Quip Modest. There he admitted 
that he was guilty of a "gross blunder" about "King Edward shovel 
boards", but he resented the statement that he had censured Farmer, 
for whom he professed the highest regard, and declared that he had only 
expressed a difference of opinion. In the discussion on the mortality 
of fairies Ritson knew he was in the right, and he steadfastly maintained 
his ground. It was the insinuating nature of this note to which he 
objected, and to the editor's parting fling he replied in his richest vein: 

"The editor might, without any detriment to his work, have omitted the above 
note ; but I cannot think that the page has any particular reason to complain of the 
incumbrance, as it would be no difficult matter to point out several hundreds 
groaning under an equal burthen".-^ 

In the last note Ritson was incensed at the notion that he should be 
criticized for insisting upon an editor or commentator performing his 
proper function — that of substantiating opinion with fact wherever 

Ritson immediately made known his dissatisfaction with these notes. 
He held much store by Reed's friendship and professed to believe that 
they came from some "friend in the dark", possibly Steevens, rather 
than from the ostensible editor. Hearing that Ritson had taken offense. 
Reed wrote him a very cordial letter expressing regret that anything in 
his work should tend to alienate a friend. But he nowhere denied having 
written the notes to which Ritson objected, and the general tenor of his 
letter implied that he was their author. Ritson replied that he had no 
desire to cause a disagreement, acknowledged the right of Reed and every 
other man to dispute his statements and point out his errors, but, he said, 
in homely illustration of his contention that there was a difference be- 
tween "information" and "attack", that while he would thank any per- 
son for acquainting him that he had a hole in his stocking or some dirt on 
his face, he would not feel himself obliged if that person "accompanied 
the information with a kick on the shin or a box on the ear. ' ' At Reed 's 
suggestion that a common friend be designated to act as arbitrator, Rit- 
son turned the matter over to John Baynes and endeavored to dismiss 
it from his mind: 

"I shall dwell no longer on a subject which I would have given one of my 
fingers had never existed, and which for my own sake I shall endeavor as soon as 
possible to forget."-* 

-^Quip Modest, p. 14. 
-^Letters, I, p. 107 ff. 


There is no record of Baynes's activity, but at least he failed to bring 
the men to a mutual understanding. 

When the Qidp Modest was published this affair was in status qua 
ante. In the Preface Ritson expressly stated that he did not hold Reed 
responsible for the most offensive notes in the Shakespeare edition which 
"that respectable gentleman" had supervised, but added, alluding no 
doubt to the three notes which he was unable to forgive : 

"However, I doubt not there are many things in the following pages which I 
might have been allowed to say, without running any possible risk of giving offense 
to him ; alive as an editor is on such occasions said to feel himself." 

Ritson was himself more "alive" than perhaps any other editor of his 
day, and yet he seemed utterly incapable of conceiving that others might 
take offense at what would invariably anger him if turned against his 
work. The offense given, he was prompt to apologize and to express 
regret at what he had done. But he did this on every occasion and 
seemed not to profit by the experience. Reed wrote immediately, dis- 
claiming the authorship of the notes which had displeased Ritson and 
voicing his surprise that their friendship had not been proof against 
such a misconception. The critic's reasons for his conclusions and his 
sincere desire to avoid a break with his friend are eloquently set forth 
in the following letter to Reed: 

Dear Sir, 

I plainly perceive that the little pamphlet I have published will be productive 
of a consequence which it must be evident I have sought to avoid, & for which I 
shall be very sorry. 

That I have often thought and said that the notes at which I have taken 
oflfense could not possibly proceed from you is a fact well known. I declared my 
belief of it to yourself in the letter I wrote soon after the publication of your 
Shakspeare;-^ — you could then, I thought, so easily have undeceived me, that your 
silence tended to authorize & confirm my belief. I cannot however doubt the 
assertion you now make — but I am more and more at a loss to account for the 
language and manner of your notes which so far as you were personally concerned 
were without the least provocation on my side and could not fail to give the most 
unfavorable impression of my character to every one who knew who was meant by 
the Author of the Remarks. It would surely have been generous and friendly at 
the least to have afforded me an opportunity of defending myself against the charges 
you thought me liable to, before the publication of the book, that I might have 
had a chance of convincing you that the Remarks objected to were neither so 
false nor so foolish as they were represented. You adopted a mode of conduct 
which it would have been perfectly natural for me to expect from Mr. Warton 
or Mr. Malone but certainly not from you. 

-'^See Ibid., I, pp. 105-8. 


I have no intention whatever of troubling the public with anything more upon 
the subject. My only wish was to justify myself which I hope I have done to the 
satisfaction of every unprejudiced person. 

You will do me the justice to believe that I never entertained the most 
distant suspicion of j^our having any concern in the scurrilous libel you allude 
to-' — but both Baynes & I were very much surprised to see it noticed in your list-" 
which we concluded it would not have been if you were unacquainted with its 
contents, & which it was equally difficult to conceive why it shod have been if 
you were not. 

I should consider myself a person of neither honour or honesty if I had been 
actuated in this publication by the least spark of resentment against you & I beg 
leave to assure you that notwithstanding what has passed I shall still continue to 
preserve the respect and esteem to which your personal character & literary 
services have so just a claim. 

I am, 
Dear Sir, 
Your very obliged & obed. serv. 
J Ritson. 
Grays Inn, 
22d. Feb. 1788.28 

If Ritson really believed that his slurs would cause the reviewers 
to treat him with less familiarity, he was a poor judge of human nature. 
If, on the other hand, he was wilfuUy provoking them to further assaults 
that he might have justification for a counter attack, he accomplished 
his purpose. By the critical Reviews the work was treated in a half 
humorous manner as the inconsequential production of an eccentric 
critic.^^ This much Ritson might have expected, and it is possible to 
conceive that he might not have felt called upon to reply to it. But the 
attitude of conscious superiority assumed by the reviewers added insult 
to injury. This he might have expected too. It was what he had before 
objected to, and it was just the thing that harassed him most. In his 
view it was beyond the pale of human possibility for any one to judge 
fairly, after only a casual perusal, a book which had been months, and 
perhaps years, in preparation. The presumptuousness of the reviewers 
in doing this he was bound to expose. His opportunity came in the 
publication of Malone 's Shakspeare in 1790.'^° 

After two years of preparation and delay, Ritson published a 

^^A familiar Address, etc., cited above. 

27"A list of detached pieces of criticism", Reed's Shakspeare, Vol. I, pp. 261-6. 

-8The MS. of this letter is in the library of Mr. Marsden J. Perry, Providence, 
Rhode Island. 

^^Critical Review, Vol. LXV, p. 407; Monthly Review, Vol. LXXIX, p. 275. 

^^The Plays and Poems of William Shakspeare in ten volumes; collated 
verbatim with the most authentic copies, etc. London, 1790. 


pamphlet of one hundred and four pages, entitled, Cursory Criticisms 
on the Edition of Shakspeare published hy Edmond Malone. He pre- 
fixed a bitterly acrimonious letter "To the Monthly and Critical 
Reviewers", for the purpose, he says, 

"to induce you, before yon pass sentence on the following pages, to read them 
through : 'Strike, but hear'." "I consider you", he cries, "as two formidable, 
and iTiischievous gangs of nocturnal banditti, or invisible footpads, equally 
cowardly and malignant, who attack where there can be no defense, and 
assassinate or destroy where you cannot plunder. Shakspeare's morality, in the 
hands of a Reviewer, is to be read backward, like a witch's prayer."-'^ 

With the gentle Malone himself, Ritson was only slightly less 
severe than with the reviewers. He undertook the work with an avowed 
purpose "to convict Malone, not to convince him". And he would con- 
vict him on the following counts: with "a total want of ear and judg- 
ment"; with "replacing all the gross and palpable blunders of the first 
folio"; with "deforming the text, and degrading the margin with inten- 
tional corruption, flagrant misrepresentation, malignant hypercriticism, 
and unexampled scurrility". 

Ritson recognized that he was dealing in a high-handed manner 
with a worthy writer and felt the necessity of finding an excuse for the 
violence of his language. Malone had treated Ritson with scant respect 
in his edition, referring to him as a "shallow or half -informed remarker", 
and alluding to his "profound ignorance" and "crude notions". This 
Ritson considered ample justification for heaping upon the editor all 
manner of vilification and abuse — a course which he followed with more 
consistency in this than in either of the earlier volumes. Although 
this pamphlet was directly inscribed to the reviewers, it was almost 
neglected by them. They recognized when a controversy had degen- 
erated beneath the dignity of gentlemen and dismissed Ritson and his 
billingsgate "without feeling one spark of resentment ".^^ But Malone 
had more at stake than the reviewers and was not willing to give over the 
contest so readily as they. A letter in the 8t. James's Chronicle for 
March 27, 1792, defending Malone, was probably written by himself. 
Magazine warfare had proved disastrous to Ritson, from the mere 

"^Cf. Dr. John Brown's characterization of the reviewers as "two notorious 
gangs of monthly and critical book-thieves hackneyed in the ways of wickedness, 
who, in the rage of hunger and malice, first plunder, and then abuse, maim, or 
murder, every honest author who is possessed of aught worth their carrying off; 
yet by skulking among other vermin in cellars and garrets, keep their persons 
tolerably well out of sight, and thus escape the hands of literary justice. "/in 
Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times. London, 1758. Vol. II, p. 75. 
^'^Critical Review, Ser. 2, Vol. IV, p. 476; Monthly Revieiu, Vol. XCIII, p. iii. 


superiority of the enemy's numbers if for no other reason, and he 
prudently refrained from replying to the letter. This article did not 
fully satisfy Malone's purpose, however, and the next month he pub- 
lished A Letter to Richard Farmer, relative to the edition of Shakspeare, 
puMished in 1790, and some Criticisms on that work, in which he vindi- 
cated his own care and industry, but failed to establish his reputation 
for metrical judgment.^^ 

It is to Ritson's credit that he made no public reply to Malone's 
letters. He did, however, write boastingly to his friend Robert Har- 
rison, apropos of Cursory Criticisms and Malone's Letter: 

"I flatter myself I have totally demolished the great Malone. He has attempted 
to answer it [Cursory Criticisms] by the most contemptible thing in nature."^* 

But Ritson did not condemn everything that Malone wrote, nor was he 
always so sanguine of his success in "demolishing" him. He was far 
from insensible to Malone's merit, and he was not unwilling to give 
credit where credit was due. As in many other instances, when the heat 
of the contest had passed over, w^hen his anger had had time to cool 
in thoughtful retrospection, he repented his rash act and sought in some 
way to make restitution. To his nephew, who followed blindly and 
doggedly in his footsteps, he wrote in 1796 : 

"You will do Mr. Malone a great injustice if you suppose him to be in all 
respects what I may have endeavored to represent him in some. In order that he 
may recover your more favorable opinion, let me recommend to your perusal, the 
discussion, in his Prolegomena, entitled 'Shakspeare, Ford, and Johnson', and his 
'Dissertation on the three parts of King Henry Sixth' (to which I am more 
indebted for an acquaintance with the manner of our great dramatic poet than to 
any thing I ever read.)"^^ 

3'^See James Prior, The Life of Edmond Malone, London, i860, p. 185 flf. 

^^Letters, I, p. 215. 

^^Ibid., II, p. 122. In this same letter Ritson praised Malone's exposure of 
the Ireland forgeries in the following words : "His recent enquiries into the Shak- 
spearian forgeries evinces, also, considerable industry and acuteness, and is certainly 
worth your reading. I do not mean to say that there was any difficulty in the 
subject; but it has certainly derived importance from the ignorant presumption and 
Gullibility of certain literary aristocrats who have considerable influence upon what 
is called the public." From the very first Ritson maintained that Ireland's "dis- 
covery" was a forgery concocted since the publication of Malone's Shakspeare 
by some person "of genius and talents which ought to have been better employed." 
See Letters, II, pp. 75, 91-93, 140, 143, and Lit. Illust., VII, p. 9. Ritson was one of 
the earliest visitors to the exhibit arranged by the elder Ireland on Norfolk Street, 
and the impostor himself later confessed that he had difficulty in maintaining the 
counterfeit during the interview. He writes : "The sharp physiognomy, the 


It is stated, on the authority of Nicolas,'**' that Ritson carried out his 
repentence and made good his amend by buying up and destroying all 
the copies of Cursory Criticisms that remained in the hands of his pub- 
lishers, but there is no support for this statement other than the extreme 
scarcity of the volume. 

These three slight volumes constitute Ritson 's Shakespearean pub- 
lications. They are all very much alike. Each one is an attack upon 
an editor and his work; the author's manner is almost invariably over- 
bearing if not insolent; and he exhibits more critical ability than good 
manners. But the contributions to Shakespeare knowledge are by no 
means inconsiderable. Of these pamphlets the first is the largest and 
the most important. The Remarks contains practically all of the notes 
that were of real value. Quip Modest and Cursory Criticisms have few 
new notes and are mainly taken up with a reconsideration of fhose 
already presented. Some of them were decidedly worth defending; 
others were unhandsomely revived by a supersensitive author whose 
feelings occasionally overpowered his judgment. 

The results of Ritson 's Shakespeare criticisms fall into two main 
divisions comparable to the double effect of the Observations. In the 
first place, there is the direct reaction upon the theory and practice of 
editing. Ritson insisted upon a few fundamental principles, and he 
reiterated them so vociferously in each succeeding publication that they 
were more carefully heeded by future editors. Secondly, there is in 
these three volumes a not inconsiderable body of valuable contributions 
to Shakespeare knowledge. These two divisions will be taken up in 

In the Prefaces to these volumes is to be found the first explicit 
statement of some of the canons of criticism by which Ritson was always 
guided. "The chief and fundamental business of an editor", he declared 
at the outstart, ' ' is carefully to collate the original and authentic editions 
of his author, "^^ Although all the editors from Rowe to Malone pro- 
piercing eye, and the silent scrutiny, of Mr. Ritson, filled me with a dread I had 
never before experienced. His questionings were laconic, but always to the 
purpose. No studied flow of words could draw him from his purpose ; he was 
not to be hoodwinked; and after satisfying his curiosity, he departed from 
Mr. Samuel Ireland's house, without delivering any opinion, or committing himself 
in the smallest circumstance. In fine, I do as firmly believe that Mr. Ritson went 
away fully assured that the papers were spurious, as that I have existence at this 
moment." The Confessions of William Henry Ireland, etc., London, 1805, p. 227. 
360p. Cit, p. liii. 

^"'For the quotations in this and the next paragraph see the Prefaces to 
Remarks, Quip Modest, and Cursory Criticisms. 


fessed to have collated the old editions, Ritson maintained that no one 
of them had even compared the first two folios, "books indifferently com- 
mon and quoted by everybody". Theobald had done more than any 
one else toward a careful collation of the quartos and folios, and him 
Ritson adjudged the best of the editors. He quarreled with Steevens 
for basing his text on the quartos, and with Malone for relying on the 
first folio. Some choice was necessary, he admitted. It was the privilege 
and the dut.y of the editor to choose one old text as a basis, but he ought 
to do this with a full and intimate knowledge of all the others. The 
folios, he maintained, were more reliable than the quartos, and of the 
folios the second was superior to the first. He went to great pains to 
assemble parallel passages from the folios to prove that ]\Ialone had, 
in the majority of cases, chosen the inferior reading. This point he 
had little difficulty in sustaining. But if Steevens was led into excesses 
and error by too close reliance on the quartos, and Malone on the first 
folio, Ritson, in his turn, exhibited the natural editorial tendency by 
too faithful adherence to his favorite text, the second folio. But Ritson 
knew both the quartos and the folios better than most of his contem- 
poraries and from his wider knowledge was able to trace back with 
remarkable precision variant readings to their ultimate sources. He thus 
took from contemporary editors the honor for many "proposed emenda- 
tions" and exerted a wholesome influence toward more careful textual 
collation. This influence is especially noticeable in Malone, although 
his unreasoning prejudice against the second folio prevented him from 
making his text as reliable as it might have been.^^ 

Eighteenth century editors generally had no exalted conception of 
the sacredness of an author's text. They deleted, altered, or enlarged 
wherever they thought necessary and took no particular pains to dis- 
tinguish their own work from the original. With advanced ideas of 
editorship, Ritson declared it his belief that an author's text w'as his 
own property, sacred and inviolable, and not to be altered in the 
slightest save by his OAvn hand. The question was never, what should 
an author have written, but what did he write? An editor ought never 
to feel under the necessity of apologizing for his author ; he ought simply 
to give the text as he found it. It was the privilege of every editor to 
alter the text where he deemed it necessary, but it was also his duty to 
designate, by some means clearly intelligible to the reader, his alteration 
as an alteration. On this score Ritson condemned Warton, the editors 

38Malone assumed an attitude of nonchalance to Ritson, but he confessedly 
stood in awe of the critic's wrath, and he took special care to let it be known that 
he had collated diligently the 100,000 lines of Shakespeare's text. See the letter 
in the Gentleman's Magazine and the Letter to Farmer cited above. 


of Shakespeare, and, most of all, Bishop Percy, Although his personal 
opinions colored his criticisms, yet he stood true to the proper function 
of an editor in textual matters. Here again he exerted a salutary influ- 
ence upon his century and hastened the day of "modern" editing. 

These were, in a measure, criticisms of Shakespeare's editors, but 
their accuracy reflects the solid basis of most of the notes on the poet, 
especially of those not inspired by purely personal motives. The great 
majority of the notes were acknowledged, however grudgingly, by late 
eighteenth century editors, but Ritson has been all but lost sight of by 
modern editors, and the credit for many of his notes has gone to others.'^ 
From the citations in the following pages can be gleaned a fairly com- 
prehensive idea of the nature of Ritson 's criticisms and of their intrinsic 

The problem of filling out the metre of certain of Shakespeare's 
lines was a troublesome one and gave rise to various suggestions by the 
commentators. To the theory of Tyrwhitt and Steevens that Shake- 
speare arbitrarily lengthened a word in which I or r is subjoined to 
another consonant, and to that of Malone that any "short" line may be 
properly filled out by making a dissyllable of a convenient monosyllable, 
Ritson was equally opposed. He immediately diagnosed Malone 's case 
as a "total want of ear", and unmercifully castigated him for tampering 
with metre. Tyrwhitt 's theory he ridiculed as lacking foundation in 
grammar and orthography. For it he wished to substitute a pet 
orthographical system of his own — a system based on a study of sixteenth 
century grammars — which he fondly believed to be the only salvation 
for our present "thoroughly corrupted" system of spelling. "Every 
verb in the English language", he declared, "gains an additional syllable 
by its termination in est, eth, ed, ing, or (when formed into a substan- 
tive) in er." The fact that Shakespeare did not seem to have been 
guided by this rule was sufficient reason for its rejection by all save its 
author. Ritson himself made an accurate forecast of its reception as the 
mark of its author's eccentricity when he said: 

"These ideas had they been more germane to the object of these sheets, or 
more likely to experience a favorable reception, might have been much expanded 
and further pursued ; but, indeed, our orthographical system is so thoroughly 
corrupted, and the principles and formations of the language are, even by those 
who have professedly treated the subject, so little investigated or understood, that a 
writer, hardy enough to attempt a reform, will naturally expect to find many of his 

39Reed, 1785, included half the notes from Remarks; Malone, 1790, utilized 
Reed's selections as well as nearly all the new material in Quip Modest; Steevens, 
1793, made use of practically everything in Cursory Criticisms in addition to the 
notes from the earlier volumes that had been accepted by his predecessors. 


clearest axioms considered as the offspring of singularity, affectation and caprice."*" 

The knowledge of medieval literature which stood him in such good 
stead in his work with the ballads and romances Ritson used to advantage 
in criticisms on Shakespeare. He printed for the first time a pageant of 
the Nine Worthies from MS. Tanner, 407, in illustration of Love's Labor 
Lost, V. ii. 486. His familiarity with folk-lore enabled him to correct 
current misconceptions about "other world" creatures. In an extended 
debate on the mortality of fairies (Midsummer Night's Dream, II. i. 
101) Ritson had decidedly the better of his opponents. By a wealth of 
allusion to Shakespeare and his contemporaries he proved that fairies 
in general, and Shakespeare's fairies in particular, are immortal.^^ He 
likewise corrected Johnson's misleading note on "changeling" (Mid- 
summer Night's Dream, II. i. 23) by pointing out that since a fairy was 
speaking, "changeling" was properly used for the child taken in 

Ritson was a close and accurate student of the early forms of 
language, and he gave correct glosses to many words that had been mis- 
understood by previous commentators. In the following examples, culled 
at random, his glosses are supported by the New English Dictionary but 
are not credited to him in the New Variorum Shakespeare. 

L. L. L. I. i. S. "imp" means grafif, slip, scion ; and, by metonomy, a boy or 

Mac. IV. iii. 194. "latch"^ catch, from A. S. laeccan.** 

Rich. III. II. iv. 35. "parlous", a corruption of perilous, dangerous.*^ 

Ant. and Cleo. III. vi. 95. "trull", a strumpet.*" 

Cymb. V. ii. 4. "carl", A. S. ceorl, a churl or husbandman.*'' 

*^Rcmarks, pp. 6-8; Quip Modest, pp. 1-6. Ritson praised Shakespeare for the 
broad-mindedness and liberality which made him tolerant of all parties and all 
creeds and enabled him to transcend the petty strife and turmoil of his day — to be 
not for an age but for all time. But the critic was unable to emulate the poet. 
Not only did he ride an orthographical hobby, but he could not avoid expressing 
with vigor and sometimes with virulence his personal political and religious views. 
See Remarks, pp. 66, 84, 104, 114, 124, 137, 173, 188, and Quip Modest and Cursory 
Criticisms, passim. 

^''■Remarks, p. 43; Quip Modest, pp. 11-14. With a characteristic display of 
revengeful abuse Ritson alluded to the discomfiture of his opponents in this con- 
troversy in the "Dissertation on Fairies" prefixed to Fairy Tales. See Chapter VI. 

^-Remarks, p. 42. 

*^Ibid., p. 35. 

^*Ibid., p. 78. 

*5/&iU, p. 133. 

*'^Ibid., p. 149. 

^''Ibid., p. 167. 


Ritson honored Dr. Johnson for the sturdy common sense which 
enabled him to brush away from simple passages the mass of difficult 
interpretations which more artificial thinkers had placed upon them.*^ 
And this saving quality was not wholly lacking in his own criticisms. 
The examples which follow have been credited, in the New Variorum 
to other writers from Ritson 's day down to the latter half of the nine- 
teenth century. 

il/. A'. D. II. i. SI. "aunt, in this place at least, certainly means no other than 
an innocent old woman."^^ 

M. of V. III. iv. "2. Por. I could not do withal. "Could a lady of Portia's 
good sense, high station, and elegant manners, speak (or even think) so grossly? 
It is impossible. There is no hint of a bawdy or immoral meaning."-'*' 

Lear IV. ii. 83. Gon. One way I like this well. "Goneril is glad to hear of 
Cornwall's death, because, by her sisters, now rendered less difficult to compass, 
she could possess the whole kingdom.''^! 

R. and J . II. vi. 14. Fri. L. Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow. "Alluding 
to the vulgar proverb : The more haste the worse speed."^- 

R. and J. III. ii. 113. That "banished", that one word "banished" 
Hath slain ten thousand Tybalts. 
"I am more affected by Romeo's banishment than I should be by the death of ten 
thousand such relations as Tybalt."^- 

Hani. II. ii. 185. Hatn. Conception is a blessing, but not as your daughter 
may conceive. 
"Conception (understanding), says Hamlet, is a blessing, but the conception 
(pregnancy) of your daughter would not be one."^^ 

It must be recognized that Ritson 's forte was in the minutiae of 
criticism. He had a knowledge of details and an acquaintance with the 
sources of Shakespeare material that would have done credit to any com- 
mentator. He was not, however, devoid of a sympathetic appreciation 
of Shakespeare's characters or of each play as a whole. His notes are 

*^Although Boswell makes no mention of Ritson, there is more than a bare 
possibility that Johnson had met him personally. According to Nicolas (Op. Cit, 
p. xxx) "a note exists from Davies, the bookseller [1782-1835], to Ritson, stating 
that Johnson would be glad to see him on the following day, or on the ensuing 
Friday; and that he, Davies, would be happy to wait on him if convenient, prob- 
ably to introduce them." The note is not dated. Ritson's natural timidity would 
make it improbable that he sought the acquaintance of Johnson while he was 
preparing his first criticism on Shakespeare, and there is little reason to suppose 
that Johnson would have desired an acquaintance before the publication of Remarks. 

*^Remarks, p. 42. 

•"•o/bid., p. 53- 

^^Ibid., p. 171. 

^-Ibtd., p. 181. 

^^Ibid., p. 197. 


interspersed with happy bits of eritieism which reveal a soul responsive 
to the appeal of poetr3^ Yet it was unfortunate that he seemed to require 
the stimulus of a judgment with which he did not agree in order to 
produce his own estimate. As a result, his remarks frequently took on 
the nature of rebuttal, and because of their controversial flavor their 
sincerity was often questioned. The one shining example of Ritson's 
ability in the larger sweep of interpretation is his review of Hamlet 
in answer to the irreverent and unappreciative construction given by 

Steevens, in analyzing Hamlet, advanced the theory that the play 
was a study in immoral conduct and its dire consequences in a weak 
character. He argued that Hamlet was a j^outh whose faculties had been 
impaired by the death of his father, the loss of an expected kingship, 
and the sense of shame resulting from the incestuous marriage of his 
mother. He made but one attempt to avenge his father, — when he mis- 
took Polonius for the king. He deliberately procured the death of 
Rosencranz and Guildenstern. He was responsible for the distraction 
and death of Ophelia and outraged common decency by interrupting her 
funeral. And at last he killed the king to revenge himself and not his 
father. His own death the poet meant as a sacrifice for his immoral 
conduct. He is not deserving the pity of the reader or spectator because 
of the iniquitous means by which he finally accomplished his purpose.^* 

Such an interpretation was, to a worshipper of Shakespeare, noth- 
ing ^ess than sacrilege. Ritson decried the want of reverence which 
Steevens had manifested and in a long review of the play justified Ham- 
let's conduct and contended that the poet's aim was to excite sympathy 
for a noble character prevented by circumstances beyond his control 
from accomplishing his single and unrelinquished purpose ; a character 
deserving the pity of the audience because of his virtue, his unparallelled 
misfortunes, and the final sacrifice of his own life to the deed he set out 
to perform. He writes, in part, as follows : 

"Hamlet, the onely child of the late king, upon whose death he became lawfully 
intitled to the crown, had, it seems, ever since that event, been in a state of 
melancholj% owing to excessive grief for the suddenness with which it had taken 
place, and an indignant horror at his mothers speedy and incestuous marriage. The 
spirit of the king his father appears, and makes him acquainted with the circum- 
stances of his untimely fate, which he excites him to rci'ciigc : this Hamlet engages 
to do : an engagement it does not appear he ever forgot. . . . To conceal, and, 
at a convenient time, to effect, his purpose, he counterfeits madness. . . . He 
soon after espies the usurper at prayers, but resolves, and with great justice 

5*Johnson and Steevens, Shakspcare, 1778, Vol. X, p. 411 ff. See also Helent 
Richter, Gcschichte dcr Englxschcn Romantik, Halle, 191 1, Vol. I, p. 99. 


resolves, not to kill him in the very moment when he might be making his peace 
with heaven, inasmuch as a death so timed would have been rather a happiness 
than a punishment, and, by no means, a proper revenge for his father's murder. 
. . . At the beginning of this conference [with his mother] he mistakes Polonius, 
who was behind the arras, and about to alarm the household, for the usurper, and, 
under that apprehension, stabs him. . . . He is, immediately, sent off to 
England : and, in his passage, discovers the treacherous and fatal purpose of the 
commission with which his companion and pretended friends were charged. These 
men, he knew, had eagerly solicited and even thrust theirselves upon his employ- 
ment ; and he had, of course, sufficient reason to conclude that they were well 
acquainted with the nature and purport of their fatal packet. . . . His own 
safety depended on their removal ; and, at such a time, and under such circum- 
stances, he would have been fully justified in using any means to procure it. . . . 
Walking with his friend Horatio through a church yard, he enters into conversation 
with a grave-digger; but, presently, observing the approach of a funeral procession, 
he says to Horatio, to whom he was then speaking: 

Soft, soft, aside. Here comes the King. 

The queen, the courtiers; Who is this they foUozv? 

And zvith such maimed rites*? This doth betoken 

The corse they follow, did with desperate hand 

Foredo its own life. 'Twas of some estate. 

Couch we a while, and mark. 
. . . . Laertes asking what ceremony else? Hamlet observes to Horatio, That 
is Laertes; a very noble yoiitli. Laertes concluding his expostulation about the 
further honors with the following beautiful lines : 

— lay her i' the earth ; 

And from her fair and unpolluted flesh 

May violets spring ! — I tell thee, churlish priest, 

A ministering angel shall my sister be, 

When thou liest howling; 
Hamlet exclaims; What! the fair Ophelia? .... Laertes bids 

— Treble woe 

Fall ten times treble on that cursed head, 

Whose wicked deed thy most ingenious sense 

Deprived thee of; 
an execration Hamlet cannot but perceive to be pointed at himself. Having 
uttered this curse, Laertes, hastily, and in direct violation of all decorum, jumps 
into the grave, where he 'rants and mouths it' like a player. This outrageous pro- 
ceeding seems to infect Hamlet; who, forgetting hisself, as he afterward, with 
sorrow, owns to Horatio, and, by the 'bravery' of the others grief being worked 

up 'into a towering passion', leaps in after him 

"The affection Hamlet now boasts for Ophelia was genuine and violent; we 
find him with the very same sentiments in the beginning of the play, and he has 
never once disowned it, except on a single occasion, when the sacrifice was required 
by his assumed character ; a circumstance which cannot, at least ought not to, be 
imputed to him as a crime. 


". . . . Hamlet, in a trial of skill with Laertes, receives an unexpected, 
a treacherous, and mortal wound. Immediately before the company enter, he 
appears to be much troubled in mind ; his spirits foreboding what was to happen : 
'If it be now', says he, ''tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; 
if it be not now, yet it will come; the readyness is all.' .... Being thus 
wounded, and on the threshold of futurity, if he had not killed the usurper imme- 
diately, the villain would have escaped unpunished. But he does not stab him 
for his treachery toward hisself, — he upbraids him with his crimes of incest and 
murder, — and consigns him to the infernal regions. 

With all his 'rank offences' thick upon him. 

So that he sufficiently revenges his father, his mother (who, by the way, dyes, 
if not deservedly, at least unpityed), and hisself. As to his own fall, every reader 
or spectator must sympathise with Horatio, for the untimely loss of a youthful prince 
possessed of such great and amiable qualities, rendered miserable by such unparal- 
leled misfortunes ; 

— For he was likely, had he been put on. 

To have prov'd most royally; 

and who falls a sacrifice to the most base and infernal machinations. His death, 
however, is not to be looked upon as a punishment ; the most innocent, as Shake- 
speare well knew, are frequently confounded with the most guilty; and the virtues 
of Hamlet were to be rewarded among those angels which his friend Horatio 
invokes to escort him to everlasting rest.''^^ 

This quotation is given because it reveals a phase of Ritson's char- 
acter all too seldom discovered and shows the eloquence he could attain 
to under proper stimulus. With more writing of this kind to his credit 
it would be unjust to say he was a man "who lived on syllables" and 
who was devoid of the finer sensibilities of character. 

Although Ritson's published volumes place him among Gray, Col- 
lins, Farmer, Tyrwhitt, and the other authors of detached pieces of 
criticism, yet he hoped to be ranked with Theobald, Johnson, Steevens, 
Reed, and Malone as an editor of Shakespeare. He long cherished the 
ambition to leave as a symbol of devotion a complete edition of "the 
god of his idolatry." At least as early as 1782 he had formed the 
design,^® but it was not announced to the public until April 18, 1783. 
At that time there appeared on the last page of the Remarks a pros- 
pectus for "An edition of the plays of William Shakspeare, with notes, 
preparing for the press." The edition was to comprise eight duodecimo 
volumes; the text was to be "carefully and accurately printed from 

^^Reinarks, pp. 217-224. 

58When in November, 1782, Rowntree asked to borrow a Shakespeare, Ritsot 
replied that his only edition was not fit to leave the chambers, but added, alluding 
no doubt to his own contemplated work : "twenty years hence I shall probably have 
it in my power to give you an edition of the immortal bard." Letters, I, p. 6^. 


the only copies of real authority, the two first folios," with painstaking 
collation of the old quartos and an accurate statement of all variations 
adopted ; doubtful readings were to be settled ' ' from an attentive exam- 
ination of the sentiments of every commentator ' ' ; notes were to be intro- 
duced only where they seemed absolutely necessary; the author's life 
and the prefaces of his various editors were to be prefixed and an 
accurate glossary added ; and an extra volume was to contain ' ' a com- 
plete verbal index". This edition was to be, with regard to the correct- 
ness of the text, "infinitely superior to any that has yet appeared"; it 
was to possess all "the advantages of every former edition, and be as 
little liable as possible to the defects of any". 

Coming as it did upon the heels of his captious attack upon John- 
son and Steevens, this announcement appeared as a challenge to Shake- 
speare editors. But had Ritson had the hardihood to publish at this 
time, he could not have met with success. When such a brilliant galaxy 
of commentators and editors as Johnson, Steevens, Tyrwhitt, Farmer, 
Reed, and Malone possessed the ear of the booksellers and the confidence 
of the public, an edition of Shakespeare by an antiquary who was 
minutely accurate in details, who held advanced notions of the functions 
of an editor and critic, who was uncompromising in praise and blame 
alike, who was, above all, pugnacious and controversial — an edition by 
such an one would have met with scant approval in most quarters and 
with open rejection in many. Ritson sensed the situation accurately. 
On February 1, 1788, in the preface to Quip Modest, he replied thus to 
the enquiries that had been made concerning his edition: 

"In truth, the attention requisite to the publication of so voluminous a work, 
and the little likelihood there is of its being productive to the undertaker of any- 
thing but trouble and expense, together with other causes of. less consequence, 
have hitherto deterred me from putting it to press. But I have neither laid aside 
all thoughts of bringing it forward, nor can I pledge myself to produce it in any 
given time. I have little reason to suppose that the Public interests itself at all 
in the matter, and therefore think myself at full liberty to suit my own inclination 
and convenience." 

Following this pronunciameuto he made enough effort to put two 
sheets of Comedy of Errors to the press. Here the matter rested, 
although it is certain that he did not for some years give up his notion 
of eventually perfecting his edition and perhaps never entirely relin- 
quished it. To the indifference of the public, which he felt keenly, was 
soon added physical illness which materially lessened the amount of his 
literary labor. In the middle of 1790 he wrote to Joseph Cooper Walker, 
the antiquary: 

"I know not whether I shall ever have resolution enough to put an edition 


of this favorite author into the press, as the public will for some time be completely 
glutted with editions of one kind or another."^'^ 

Two years later he was still gathering material and declared that he 
had yet "some intention of printing an edition of Shakspeare."^^ 

Indeed he was, throughout life, making notes, exchanging sugges- 
tions with friends, and amassing material for an edition of the dramatist. 
Although only the three pamphlets already reviewed were published, 
yet much more was prepared. The catalogue of the sale of Ritson's 
library records the ten volumes of the Johnson and Steevens Shakspeare 
and the four volumes of Shakspeare' s Twenty Plays, by Steevens, as 
"filled with MS. notes and comments by Mr. Ritson." In addition, 
there were three volumes of manuscript material "prepared by Mr. Rit- 
son for the press, intending to publish it. ' '''^ 

With the exception of twenty-three pages of variant readings,**** 
all this material — the painstaking accumulation of a lifetime — has disap- 
peared from view. Had he published his material in final form, Ritson 's 
edition of Shakespeare would undoubtedly have compared favorably 
with any of his century. He had a knowledge of the quartos and folios 
not surpassed by any of his contemporaries and a capacity for taking 
pains not equalled by any. He had a better ear than Malone, more 
reverence for his author than Steevens, and a finer critical insight than 
Reed. He would have laid under tribute a vast knowledge of medieval 
literature and a wide acquaintance with the English language in its 
early forms. His glossary and verbal index would probably have been 
the most valuable parts of his edition, for he long complained of 
Ayscough's Index, and he had consistently corrected the glosses of 
previous editions. The most likely fault of his work would have been 
the outcropping of the acidity of his nature in personal abuse of fellow 
editors. — But this is speculation. Unless the lost manuscripts are by 

^^Ibid., I, p. i68. 

^^Ibid., I, p. 215. 

59At the Ritson sale Longman purchased "for the trade" the annotated Johnson 
and Steevens Shakspeare and the three volume manuscript of Ritson's notes. It 
is not known why he did not publish the material. In 1824 Haslewood waxed 
indignant at what he called the "singular apathy or inconsistency of the biblio- 
polistical monopolizers" and professed to believe that a conspiracy to defame Ritson 
existed even after his death. (Op. Cit., p. 44.) But the publishers probably acted 
on purely commercial considerations. This material was disposed of at Longman's 
sale in 1842 and has not been located since. 

«oThese pages, now in the library of Mr. Perry, contain 159 parallel passages 
from the two first folios compiled in the endeavor to convict Malone of adopting 
all the "gross and palpable errors of the first folio". Seventeen of them were 
printed in the Introduction to Cursory Criticisms. 


good fortune discovered, Ritson's fame as a Shakespeare commentator 
must rest upon the Remarks, Quip Modest, and Cursory Criticisms. 
Making due allowance for an unhappy manner, this reputation is by 
no means the least of the eighteenth century. 

Editorial Labors, 1783-1795 

First period as an editor and collector — English Songs — Makes strong appeal 
for popular favor — Emphasizes editorial accuracy — Manifests interest in literary 
antiquities of Stockton by publishing Bishoprick Garland and Gammer Gurton's 
Garland — Publishes Spartan Manual for nephew — Yorkshire Garland — Corre- 
spondence with Walker — Illness — Ancient Songs — Its general character — Appeal 
to critical student — Glossary — Ancient Popular Poetry — Contents — Preface — Revises 
Reed's Dido — North-Country Chorister — Northumberland Garland — English An- 
thology — Plan — Appeal for public favor — Abuse of reviewers — Transcribes Hodg- 
son's Memoirs — Scotish Songs — Labor in compiling — Contents — Critical reception — 
Minot's Poems — First critical edition — Date of MS. — Minot's personality and liter- 
ary rank — Robin Hood — The Life — The Poems — Critical estimate. 

With the publication of the Observations, in 1782, Ritson's literary 
career may be said to have begun. From that time on to the close of his 
life he was known to his contemporaries as an editor and a critic rather 
than as a conveyancer. As has already been indicated, he continued in 
his profession and devoted enough attention to it not only to gain a 
livelihood but also to publish some valuable professional books of an 
antiquarian nature, but his serious concern with the law decreased in 
proportion as his purely literary interests increased. In literature his 
work is primarily that of an editor, secondarily that of a critic. His 
editorial labors fall naturally into two periods determined by the inse- 
cure state of his health. The first extends to 1795 when a nervous ailment 
became so severe as to put a temporary stop to his work. During the 
years 1785 to 1795 he saw through the press twenty publications totalling 
twenty-six volumes. Of these, six titles have already been considered. 
The others remain for treatment in the present chapter. With three 
exceptions these volumes consist of collections of poems, ballads, and 
songs of a somewhat popular type. Several of them contain introductory 
essays of an historical and critical nature. For the most part this 
material will be reserved for discussion in the next chapter but one. 
We are here concerned with the edited matter only. 

Besides his first Shakespeare pamphlet, Ritsou published in 1783^ 
A Select Collection of English Songs, with their Original Airs, in three 

lAUibone, Op. Cit., credits Ritson with the continuation of Ben Jonson's Sad 
Shepherd, or a Tale of Robin Hood, published anonymously in 1783 under the 
title, An atte}npt to continue and complete the justly admired Pastoral of the Sad 


425] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 91 

volumes.^ One is immediately struck with the typographical elegance of 
this collection. It is delightfully printed. There is an excellent frontis- 
piece by the Swiss artist Fuseli,^ and scattered throughout the volumes 
are several pleasing vignettes by Stothard.* Ritson was exceedingly 
vain of the mechanical appearance of his publications and prided him- 
self on their typographical finish almost as much as on their critical 
accuracy. He wrote to a friend that his books were "not without some 
merit as an example of the printer's art", and he was always pleased 
when the format of his work was praised. The fact that he went to 
great expense in illustrating his publications and in printing them in 
superior style (a part of several editions was printed "on fine paper") 
made it impossible for him to realize anything from their sale. He 
frequently complained that all his publications except the little Garlands 
were a drain on his purse, but it seems never to have occurred to him that 
he might have lost less money on his publications if he had allowed 
the printer to bring them forth in an equally substantial but less elegant 
dress. In fact, this very insistence upon superior typography, coupled 
with his haphazard business methods, led frequently through misunder- 
standings to disrupted friendships.^ In English Songs the use of musical 
type added to the difficulties of publication. Musical printing did not 
develop as rapidly in England as on the continent,^ and at that time there 
was but one printer in the kingdom who possessed a sufficient quantity 
of musical type for this work and those were all of equal size and 

Shepherd. This is the work of Francis G. Waldron (1744-1818). See Ben Jonson's 
Sad Shepherd ivith Waldron's Continuation, edited by W. W. Greg as vol. xi. of 
Materialism zur Kunde des alteren Englischen Dramas, Louvain, 1905. 

^References are to the second edition "with additional songs and occasional 
notes" by Thomas Park, 3 vols., London, 1813. 

^Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), Swiss painter, spent practically the whole of his 
life in England. As an artist he had many things in common with Reynolds and 
Blake. His most noteworthy paintings are perhaps his Shakespeare and Milton 
productions. It was through his intimacy with Joseph Johnson, bookseller of 
St. Paul's Churchyard, that he designed the frontispiece for Ritson's English Songs. 

^Thomas Stothard (1755-1834) is famous chiefly as a book-illustrator. His 
long friendship with Blake was terminated as a result of Cromek's clandestine 
dealings concerning the painting of the "Canterbury Pilgrims." 

^In this regard English Songs took its toll in the friendship of Christopher, 
Ritson's Stockton bookseller. See Letters, I, pp. 111-113. 

^Cf. Robert Steele, The Earliest English Music Printing, London, 1903; 
Encyc. Brit., art. "Typography". 

"As late as 1813, Park says it was necessary to cast the type twice for musical 
notes, and even then the second font was quite defective in blending the ligatures of 
the notes. English Songs, I, p. xvii, note. 


The excellence of the printer's workmanship is, however, quite in 
keeping with the editor's ideals in forming the collection of English 
Songs. In the Preface Ritson justifies his work on high moral grounds. 
Previous song collections in the eighteenth century were filled with 
coarse and immoral material. D 'Urf ey 's famous and popular six volume 
"singing book"^ was notoriously vulgar and immodest, and although 
D'Urfey intended the songs to be sung by the youth of both sexes he 
saw no necessity for apologizing for the impudicity of the pieces. Col- 
lectors after him, from Ramsay to Aikin,^ called attention to the chastity 
of their volumes, and while the collections are far from pure when 
judged by present day standards, the men were justified in congratu- 
lating themselves on their service to morality when they remembered 
that the public had once been delighted with the obscenity which 
D'Urfey had foisted upon them. But of all these men Aikin was the 
only one who approached with any degree of proximity the id:^al which 
they exalted in their prefaces. Ritson was outspoken in his disapproval 
on moral grounds of previous song collections, and he aimed rigidly to 
correct their faults on this score by excluding from his own collection 
"every composition, however celebrated, or however excellent, of which 
the slightest expression, or the most distant allusion could have tinged 
the cheek of delicacy, or offended the purity of the chastest ear".^*' In 
this endeavor Ritson succeeded better than any of his predecessors and 
for his achievement received the unalloyed praise of his contemporaries. 
In some other exclusions he was not so fortunate. These strictures were 
in some cases the result of purely [personal dislikes. Such is the exclus- 
ion of songs on Freemasonry, those "absurd, conceited, enigmatic, and 
unintelligible ' ' compositions which ' ' seemed calculated rather to disgrace 
than to embellish the collection." Others are the result of sweeping and 
rather hasty generalizations ; as when he says that the insertion of songs 
on political topics has been studiously avoided because "the best of 
these pieces are not only too temporary, but too partial to gain applause 
when their subjects are forgotten, and their satire has lost its force. "^^ 
This criticism would apply to most but by no means all political songs. 

Quite different from the point of view in his earlier publications, 
which were aimed primarily for the student and antiquary, is that taken 

^Thomas D'Urfey, Wit and Mirth; or Pills to Purge Melancholy, London, 

^Cf. Allan Ramsay, Tea-table Miscellany and The Evergreen, London, 1724; 
William Thomson, Orpheus Caledonius, 172$; Benjamin Wakefield, Warbling 
Muses, 1749; Edward Capell, Prolusions, 1760; John Aikini Essays on Song 
Writing, 1772 and 1774. 

^^English Songs, Preface, p. vii. 

^''Ibid., p. X. 

427] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 93 

in the Preface to English Songs. There he makes a strong bid for 
popular favor. Like all preceding collectors he apologizes for the old 
popular songs which he feels obliged to include, and flatters the refined 
taste of his polished age. He deferentially explains that the old ballads 
which form the last section of his collection "would by no means 
assimilate or mix with the more polished contents of the preceding divis- 
ions" and tells the reader that "he must be content to take them, as they 
were probabl}' written, — at least, as they have come down to us, — 'with all 
their imperfections on their heads '."^- 

The omissions already noted were a part of his appeal for public 
approval. There were others. Those who look in this collection for 
extracts from the vast manuscript stores with which Ritson was familiar 
will be disappointed. While he professed acquaintance with a "prodi- 
gious quantity" of unpublished lyric poetry, he confidently assured his 
readers that every piece before them had already appeared in print. 
"The editor", he writes, "could not, consistently wdth his respect for 
the public, obtrude upon them a single line, which had not been already 
stamped with their approbation, or on the merits of which they had not 
had an opportunity to decide. "^^ 

A still further plea for general approbation was made by playing 
upon the chord of patriotism, by appealing to the national spirit. Ritson 
deprecated the "fashionable rage for music" which caused the people 
of his day to forsake the old songs and ancient ballads and turn to the 
ephemeral tunes of the second-rate play houses. In this he was seconding 
an earlier opinion of Dr. Aikin, who characterized the tendency of the 
times in this wise : ' ' the most enchanting tunes are suited with the 
most flat and wretched combinations of w^ords that ever disgraced the 
genius of a nation ; and the miserable versifier only appears as the hired 
underling of a musical composer."^* As an antidote to this "popular" 
music Ritson advocated a return to the old songs whose simple melodies 
served only to enhance the sentiment of the words. ^^ This was his chief 

^-Ibid., p. xiii. 

^■'Ibid., p. xi. 

i*John Aikin, Op. Cit., 2nd edition, Preface, p. vi. 

i^More than a decade earlier (1769) Benjamin Franklin, then in London, had 
expressed the same idea in a letter to Peter Franklin, who had sent him a song 
to be set to music by one of the London composers. After expressing the opinion 
that some Massachusetts country girl who had heard nothing but "Chevy Chase" 
and "The Children in the Woods" and had naturally a good ear "might more 
probably have made a pleasing popular tune than any of our masters here 
[London]", he adds of the modern composers : "they are admirable at pleasing 
practised ears, and know how to delight one another ; but, in composing for songs, 
the reigning taste seems to be quite out of nature, or rather the reverse of nature, 


reason for adding in the last part of his collection the old ballads which 
he called the ' ' genuine effusions of the English muse, unadulterated with 
the sentimental refinements of Italy or France." He professed to be 
rendering a distinctly national service by including in his collection the 
genuine ancient songs of the English, while he ignored the "mushroom 
growth of comic operas" which the recent "fashionable rage" for 
French and Italian music had caused to spring up in England.^^ 

Ritson sought further to curry popular favor by the simplicity and 
naturalness of the arrangement of the songs. One of his chief reasons for 
venturing to add another to the already numerous collections of some- 
what similar nature was that he would present on an improved plan 
and within brief compass the best lyrics in the English language, which 
otherwise had to be sought through a large number of volumes and mixed 
with a mass of other material. He expressed the idea in characteristic- 
ally trenchant language thus: 

"For who, let his desires and his convenience be what they may, will think it 
worth his while to peruse, much less to purchase, two or three hundred volumes, 
merely because each of them may happen to contain a couple of excellent songs? 
Everyone who wishes to possess a pearl, is not content to seek it in an ocean 
of mud".i7 

The pearls being now brought together, the question was to arrange them 
for the most effective display. This Ritson considered to be the most 
natural and simple from the reader's point of view, and he disclaimed 
any desire for personal commendation for an "ingenious" arrangement. 
As classification presupposes definition, Ritson 's first task was to 
define song and distinguish song from ballad. 

"Song, in its most general acceptation, is defined to be the expression of a 
sentiment, sensation or image, the description of an action, or the narrative of an 
event, by words differently measured, and attached to certain sounds, which we call 
melody or tune."^^ 

On the basis of this general definition Ritson made a division into ' ' songs 
strictly and properly so called" and "ballads or mere narrative compo- 

and yet like a torrent, hurries them all away with it; one or two perhaps only 
excepted." "The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, ed. A. H. Smyth, New York 
and London, 1906. Vol. V, p. 529. 

i^The purely English character of the collection is further enhanced by 
rejecting almost all Irish songs and by rigidly excluding Scottish productions. 
A further reason for the last omission is to be found in the fact that Ritson was 
planning a separate collection of "songs entirely Scotish." 

^~Eng. Songs, Pref., p. ii. Aikin considered the business of classifying a 
disagreeable task, but Ritson professes to take pleasure in it. 

'^^Ibid., Historical Essay, p. i. 

429] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 95 

sitions." This distinction was here for the first time clearly made, and 
it had a wholesome effect in clarifying later discussions on the whole 
ballad and song question. The songs in the confined sense form the first 
three divisions of English Songs, ballads the fourth. 

The first and principal division, "Love Songs", is subdivided into 
five classes, each with its characteristic theme. This part of the work 
is a veritable store-house of song. It comprises pieces from authors 
ranging in time from Marlowe and Raleigh to Dr. Johnson, and in poetic 
merit running the gamut from Barton Booth and Sir William Yonge 
to Shakespeare. The second division consists of half a hundred pieces 
unfortunately designated "Drinking Songs". It was the excess of 
Bacchanalian verses, with their attendant licentiousness, freedom, and 
immorality, that had disgraced previous song collections in Ritson's 
eyes. In making his own selection he considered that he had performed 
a commendable service for his generation, for he had carefully excluded 
every piece that might give offense to the most refined. If Ritson erred 
here, it was in that his enthusiasm for morality led him to excessive 
strictures. Into a third division, "Miscellaneous Songs", are thrown 
all those pieces of poetic merit which a strict observance of his classi- 
fication had excluded from the foregoing sections. It includes some 
of the most delightful songs in the whole collection. After these three 
groups of songs follows a comparatively small number of old popular 
ballads. The third volume of the collection is devoted to the musical 
notation of the songs contained in the other two volumes. In this part 
of the work Ritson experienced peculiar difficulty, for, by his own 
confession, his knowledge of music was quite limited. This handicap was, 
however, largely overcome through the generous assistance of his old 
Stockton friend, William Shield.^^ 

In the preface to English Songs there is a curious mingling of two 
ideals which in the eighteenth century had seemed incompatible. Not 
only does Ritson make a strong plea for the favor of the popular reader, 
the person who wishes to receive a little instruction and more amuse- 
ment, the "man of taste", but he places much emphasis on fidelity 
to sources and accuracy in editing. The songs are all published from the 
best edition of the author's works or from some other reliable source 

i^Ritson made no attempt to give any music further than a simple treble. He 
apologizes to "such fair readers as may complain of the want of a bass part for 
their harpsichords" by saying that it was impracticable to complicate the musical 
notation to such a degree. An amusing side-light on this explanation is afforded 
by Park's statement that he once heard "a lady of high musical repute inquire 
whether a bass had been printed with the airs of his English Songs, to which the 
editor replied, "A bass! what would you have a bass for? — to spoil the treble?" 
English Songs, Pref., p. xv, and note. 


and corrected by a careful collation of all available authentic copies. 
He is careful to point out that all variations adopted are indicated in 
the notes. It is in the last section of the work, however, that Ritson 
has most to say about this point, and here began a quarrel with Percy's 
editorial methods which he carried on with increasing vigor for the 
remainder of his life. In this part of the preface he seems to have for- 
gotten the man of taste, for the moment at least, and to have in mind 
only the critical student and the antiquarian. 

Each of the ballads included in this work Ritson saj^s "has been 
transcribed from some old copy, generally in black letter; and has, 
in most cases, been collated with various others." He has kept closely 
to his originals, varying the text only so far as to modernize the 
spelling — a slight concession to the man of taste — and to correct obvious 
typographical errors. Half of the twenty-eight ballads included had 
been previously printed by Percy in the Reliques, a work which Ritson 
commended as "beautiful, elegant, and ingenious". But the elegance of 
the publication did not blind him to Percy's editorial laxness, nor was it 
sufficient to stop up the vials of his wrath, which had not been emptied 
on Warton, Steevens, et al. In preparing his own collection Ritson 
had had frequent recourse to the originals from which Percy had pro- 
fessedly printed the ballads, "but not one", he says, "has upon examin- 
ation, been found to be followed with either fidelity or correctness, ' ' and 
they who look into the Reliques "to be acquainted with the state of 
ancient poetry, will be miserably disappointed or fatally misled." And 
then, led on by his animosity to editorial carelessness he indulges in a 
bitter personal thrust at Percy. 

"Forgery and imposition of every kind, ought to be universally execrated, and 
never more than when employed by persons high in rank or character, and those 
very circumstances are made use of to sanctify the deceit."-'' 

A comparison of the texts printed by Percy and Ritson with those given 
in Child's monumental collection-^ proves Ritson to be far superior to 
his celebrated contemporary in accuracy and fidelity to originals. Allow- 
ing, then, for a warmth of expression which was perfectly natural to 
Ritson, his judgment that "the inaccurate and sophisticated manner in 
which every thing that liad real pretensions to antiquity, has been 
printed" by Percj^ "would be a sufficient apology for any one who might 
undertake to publish, more faithful, though, haply, less elegant copies", 

^'^Ibid., p. xii, note. 

-^F. J. Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Boston, 1882. Of^ 
the fourteen ballads given in common by Percy and Ritson ten are printed by 

431] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 97 

is not much afield so far as the strict requirements of editorial accur- 
acy go. 

These same rigid canons of editorship Ritson carried into his work 
with the music of the songs. He insisted, first of all, upon the original 
air for each song. A large number of the old airs had, of course, been 
forgotten and were irrevocably lost. Of those that were known, many 
were faulty and had to be rearranged. In all cases there was the problem 
of harmonizing the words and music. Here it was Ritson 's somewhat 
revolutionary demand that the music should be made to fit the words of 
the song, not vice versa. Two composers who incurred his condemnation 
for the opposite practice were Dr. Arne,-- "whose own professional ex- 
cellence might have taught him the respect due that of another", and 
"William Jackson of Exeter,-^ 'Svho has gone so far as to prefix to one of 
his publications a formal defense of the freedom he had exercised upon 
the unfortunate bards who have fallen into his clutches." In his aver- 
sion to altering the original tunes Ritson was fortunately supported by 
Shield, who wrote to him: 

"I feel very differently from many of my brother professors, for although 
practise must improve my harmonical knou^ledge, it does not lessen the value of a 
simple national melody, which I hope will ever be admired by every sensible mind."-* 

Ritson 's diverse aims in collecting and publishing English Songs 
are well summarized in a sentence in the Preface : 

"Entirely to remove every objection to which the subject is, at present, open; 
to exhibit all the most admired, and intrinsically excellent specimens of lyric poetry 
in the English language at one view ; to promote real instructive entertainment ; to 
satisfy the critical taste of the judicious; to indulge the nobler feelings of the 
pensive; and to afford innocent mirth to the gay; has been the complex object of 
the present publication.'"^ 

How well he succeeded in the accomplishment of this manifold object is 
attested by the almost universal commendation with w^hich the collection 
was received. Even his quondam enemies, the reviewers, took but passing 
notice of the harsh treatment of Percy and gave unstinted praise to 
the work as a whole.-^ He seems to have succeeded remarkably well in 

22Thomas Augustine Arne (1710-1778), musical composer and teacher, supplied 
the music for Covent Garden and Drury Lane for many years. His two most 
notable triumphs are "Rule Brittania", and "Where the Bee Sucks." 

23William Jackson, of Exeter, (1730-1803) was a musical composer, and author 
of numerous volumes of songs and many musical text books. 

-^Quoted by Nicolas, Op. Cit., p. xxxiv. 

^^English Songs, Pref., p. ii. 

-®See Critical Review, Vol. LVIII, pp. 300-4; Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. LIV, 
pp. 817-18; Monthly Review, Vol. LXXIII, p. 234; and for the second edition, 


pleasing both the student and the general reader ; and he was fortunate 
in striking a period Avhen the public was much interested in collections 
of songs, ballads, poems, and romances. This interest joined Avith Ritson's 
absorption in poetic antiquities to keep him working and publishing in 
this field. He seldom gave up working on a book when it had been issued 
from the press. Instead he immediately set about correcting and altering 
with an eye to a new edition. The suggestions of friends were always 
gratefully received, and he undoubtedly profited by hostile criticism 
although he made anything but grateful acknowledgment of it. A new 
edition of English Songs was contemplated and some progress made in 
its execution,-^ but the press of other work caused him to defer its 
publication until too late. 

Ritson's immediate interest at this time centered for the moment 
in the literary antiquities of Stockton and its vicinity. The attention 
which he had earlier paid to the topographical antiquities of the north 
was diverted, with the general directing of his aims to literature, to its 
poetical remains. It may be merely a coincidence, but at this time and 
at each future period when he published poems of the north his attention 
was directed there by some special development in his non-literary 
interests. Just now his sister was in the illness which he mistakenly 
judged to be her last, and he was especially concerned for the future of 
her son, Joseph Frank. It may be that visits to Stockton because of 
family matters incited him to publish the material which he had been 
for some time collecting. In 1784 he published at Stockton, The Bishop- 
rick Garland; or Durham Minstrel: a Choice Collection of Excellent 
Songs. This is a collection of sixteen northern provincial ballads-^ of 
interest mainly to residents of Durham county and to antiquaries. About 
this same period was issued at Stockton an anthology of nursery rhymes 
with the title. Gammer Gurton's Garland, or The Nursery Parnassus.) 
Further collections of similar nature appeared at infrequent intervals. 

It is highly probable that the special concern which Ritson felt for 
the proper guidance of his youthful nephew led him to publish, in 1785,-^ 
The Spartan Manual, or Tablet of Morality: being a genuine Collection of 

Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. LXXXIII, p. 223; and British Critic, Vol. CLIII, 

pp. 153-9- 

-''Letters, II, p. 109. 

28Ritson asked Harrison to suggest "alterations or remarks for the improvement 
of a second edition" (Letters, I, p. no) which appeared in 1792 with six songs 
omitted. Two new ones were later added, and all eighteen were printed in the 
next edition. 

29In 1785 was printed The Caledonian Muse, a collection of Scottish poetry, 
but it was not published until many years later. It will be considered in the 
next chapter. 

433] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 99 

the Apophthegms, Maxims, and Precepts of the Philosophers, Heroes, and 
other great and celebrated Characters of Antiquity: under proper hpads. 
For the improvement of Youth, and the promotion of Wisdom and Virtue. 
The expression in the title, "for the improvement of youth", his anxiety 
to supply Frank with a copy,^° and certain comments in the Preface^^ 
seem to indicate that the collection was prepared especially for his 
nephew. But if this is true, it did not prevent him from performing his 
task scientifically. He furnished an alphabetical table of the names, 
nationalities, and dates of the men whose words were quoted and supplied 
each quotation with the name of the author. The compilation is obviously 
designed for the desultory reader, and although it is a credit to the 
extent and care of the editor's reading among the ancient classics, it 
could not be expected to attract wide attention.^- The most interesting 
thing about it is the light it throws on Ritson's commendable desire to 
inoculate sound morality in the hearts of youth. 

Since 1784 Ritson had been continuing his work on the Garlands. 
During this period nearly all of his summer vacations were spent in the 
north and much of his time while there was devoted to collecting songs 
from oral tradition and from literary friends interested in their preser- 
vation.^^ His third collection. The Yorkshire Garland; 'being a curious 
collection of old and new songs concerning that famous county, appeared 
in 1788.^* This is a small pamphlet containing half a dozen local songs. 

^^Letters, I, p. loi. 

^'^Spartan Manual, Pref., pp. viii-ix. 

32The reviews were brief but commendatory. See Montlily Reviezv, Vol. 
LXXII, p. 235 ; Critical Review, Vol. LIX, p. 398. 

^^Lettcrs, I, pp. 73-138, passim. 

3*In 1788 also appeared Homer's Hymn to Venus, translated from the Greek, 
with notes by I. Ritson. The Gentleman's Magazine attributed this work to Joseph 
Ritson (Vol. LIX, p. 539) and included it in the list of his publications appended to 
the obituary notice (Vol. LXXIII, p. 987). This same mistake was made by 
Nichols and later corrected (Lit. Anec. VIII, pp. xii, 135, note.) The real trans- 
lator was Isaac Ritson (1761-1789), a native of Scotland who supported himself 
in London by writing medical articles for the Monthly Review. Joseph Ritson left 
the following note in his copy of the Hymn: "This Isaac Ritson, a lame man, 
who walked with a crutch, was, for sometime schoolmaster at Penrith ; but ambition 
haveing induce'd him to study physick, and adopting the principles and practise of 
Doctor Thomas Brown, he addicted hisself so much to that worthy physician's 
universal specifick — a glass of brandy, that he fel sick, went mad, and dye'd in the 
neighbourhood of London. Poor Isaac ! thou should'st have remember'd the fate 
of Old Cole's dog, which was determine'd to take the wall of a wagon, and was 
crushed to death for his presumption. J. R." Quoted by Haslewood, Op. Cit, 
p. 14, note. 


Ritson's publications of songs and ballads, and especially the Gar- 
lands, served to attract the favorable notice of the Irish antiquary, Joseph 
Cooper Walker, who made commendatory mention of his work in the 
Memoirs of the Irish Bards. Ritson made a brief stop at Dublin on his 
way to the north during his vacation in 1789 for the purpose of picking 
up native songs but says that he ' ' met with little or nothing except disap- 
pointment."^^ Shortly after this began a correspondence with Walker 
which was continued to the end of his life. Despite Ritson's disparaging 
note on the Irish in English Songs^^ and his unabating scorn of the 
natives of the island, he and Walker continued in a friendly may to 
exchange ideas on all manner of antiquarian topics. Their early interest 
was in Irish songs. Walker seemed a little jealous of Ritson's activity 
in collecting the songs but was appeased when informed by Ritson that 
he would never attempt to publish them, as "it would be the extreme of 
arrogance in me to attempt a work for which no one can be less 
qualified. ' ' 

Collecting Irish songs which he did not intend to publish was hardly 
more than a diversion, however. Ritson had more serious projects in 
hand, and they soon began to materialize in printed form. A nervous 
illness which he says must have been stealing on him for years now 
became so distressing as to hinder his work and to find a place in most 
of his letters. The first mention of it occurs in a letter to Harrison in 
1790 when he says: 

"I am become so nervous, as they call it, that I have very seldom either 
resolution or capacity to write the shortest note on the most trivial occasion. 
Anything beyond a mere letter of business is attended with so much trouble and 
difficulty as to make me eagerly lay hold of any trifling pretext to put it off till 
the next day."^"^ 

But although this illness constantly increased in severity, it did not 
effectively cut off his active work of publication for half a decade, and 
during this period he seemed to be spurred to increased efforts by the 
realization that his work would soon be stopped. 

In 1787 he had completed and printed a collection of early songs 
under the title, Ancient Songs, from the time of King Henry III to the 
Revolvtion. For some unaccountable reason the publication of this 
volume was delayed until 1792 when it appeared bearing on the title 
page the date 1790, the year in which it must have been originally 
intended to be published. This was Ritson's second important eontri- 

^^Letters, I, p. 151. 

^^English Songs, Pref., p. ix, note. 

^''Letters, I, p. 162. 

435] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 101 

biitiou to tlie awakening interest in early and modern poetry which had 
received its signal impetus from the publication of Percy's Rcliques 
and which was constantly fed by collections of songs and ballads, editions 
of the poets both separate and collected, and researches into the ancient 
literature of the English and neighboring peoples, from the Ancient and 
Modern Songs of Herd to Ellis's Specimens of the Early English Poets. 

As the title of this collection indicates, Ancient Songs covers the 
period from the reign of Henry III to the Revolution. By bringing 
together the best songs and lyric productions of this period Ritson hoped 
to illustrate national history and to exhibit to his own generation the 
idealized manners and splendid traditions of a virile though perhaps a 
crude past.^® In order the better to accomplish his end he arranged 
the songs in five classes on chronological considerations, a plan previously 
approximated in the Reliques and later adopted by Ellis and Southey 
in their Specimens.^^ The songs consist of old English lyric fragments 
like "The Cuckoo Song", stirring battle songs like "Flodden Field", 
delightful old carols, and love songs from the recognized poets of the 
later periods. It was not until the second edition, 1829, that the 
collection became rich in genuine ballads ; at that time a number of 
pieces were added to Class four and the material was enlarged to two 

Ritson 's object in compiling Ancient Songs was somewhat different 
from that in English Songs. Although here he placed more emphasis 
on the appeal to the critical student, yet he made conscious effort to 
attract the general reader. This is seen in the typographical elegance of 
the work — scarcely less noticeable than in English Songs — and in the 
excellent vignettes by Stothard which stand at the beginning and end of 
each class. To offset these advantageous qualities, however, was an unfor- 
tunate error of judgment on the editor's part which militated against 
the popularity of his work. Ritson 's veneration for the relics of antiquity 
and his desire to transmit the songs exactlj^ as he found them induced 
him to print the earliest pieces with Anglo-Saxon characters and even 
the later ones with obsolete spelling. He soon came to feel that such 
scrupulous fidelity to the mechanical form of his originals was not de- 

^^Ritson was always interested in reconstructing the private as well as the 
national life of the past. See his commendation of LeGrand's J'ie privee des 
Francais, and his suggestion for a similar treatment of the ancient Irish. Letters, 
I, P- 143. 

39\Yhen Park states that Ritson meant to conform his Ancient Songs to the 
Specimens of Ellis, "in the hope of obtaining for it poetic popularity", he over- 
looks the fact that Ritson's work was printed three years before that of Ellis 
appeared. See English Songs, I, p. xcv. 


manded by even the most rigid canons of editorship, and he saw imme- 
diately that the sale of his work was impeded by the antique air which 
these innovations gave to it. In preparing the manuscript for a new 
edition he discarded both these disguises, and with it his work lost much 
of its forbidding aspect.**' 

That Ritson was more deeply concerned with satisfying the critical 
reader than the man of taste is evident from a number of considerations. 
Here as everj^where else he was scrupulously careful in textual matters. 
Of the eighty-eight pieces in the first edition, fifty-four had previously 
appeared in print — some of them in black letter and some in book form. 
The remaining thirty-four are printed for the first time and are here 
rescued from the oblivion of manuscripts in various public libraries and 
in his own private collection. In some instances Ritson was able to 
correct the errors of former editors and historians*^ and in others to 
afford more exact copies than had previously been available.*^ He did 
most of the transcribing himself and so avoided the errors which nearly 
always result from having material of this sort pass through a third 
hand. His only deviation from this rule was in the case of songs in 
foreign tongues. In transcribing for the second edition the Latin 
"Drinking Ode" of Walter Mapes, and the French ballads "On King 
Richard I", "On the death of Simon de Montfort", and "The Recollec- 
tions of Chatelain", he had the assistance of such friends as Ellis 
and Scott.*^' 

Prefixed to the songs are two critical dissertations which are a 
further concession to the antiquarian reader. Ritson was most at home 
in the Middle Ages, and in these dissertations "On the Ancient English 
Minstrels" and "On the Songs, Music, and Vocal and Instrumental 
Performance of the Ancient English" his critical faculties are shown to 
highest advantage; antiquarian erudition, elaborate research, and inde- 
fatigable care appear on every hand. Ritson was more veracious than 
Percy and more industrious than Warton, and he only fell short of the 

^"Park saj's that the manuscript for a second edition of Ancient Songs was 
"totally destroyed at the morbid close of Ritson's life'' (English Songs, I, p. xc, 
note; II, p. 380, note.) This is an error. The second edition with the title altered 
to Ancient Songs and Ballads, front the reign of Henry II to the Revolution was 
published in two volumes, London, 1829, from the two volume manuscript in Ritson's 
hand which is now in the library of Mr. Perry. 

**Sir John Hawkins, History of Music, London, 1776, Vol. II, p. 93, followed 
by Burney and Warton, dated the "Cuckoo Song" about the middle of the fifteenth 
century. Ritson puts the MS. "as early (at least) as 1250." Ancient Songs, p. 2. 

*-Ibid., pp. 88, 137- 

•*^See English Songs^, II, p. 380 ff. ; Letters, II, p. 231; and second edition of 
Ancient Songs. 

437] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 103 

erudition of Tyrwhitt. To combine these elements with advanced stand- 
ards of editorship was as unusual in the eighteenth century as it was 
fortunate for the next, and the errors into which Ritson slipped were due 
to the limitations under which every literary pioneer labors. 

The final evidence of Ritson 's endeavor to please the critical student 
is his attempt to furnish his collection with a glossary. The study of 
Anglo-Saxon was then in its infancy, and Ritson had at his disposal 
only a few books which would aid him in glossing these early poems. 
He confessed regret at his inability to render the glossary more perfect 
and in the second edition made ample reparation for any shortcomings 
that may have been noticed in the first. 

Ancient Songs is undoubtedly the most interesting and in many ways 
the most valuable of Ritson 's publications. It received immediate com- 
mendation from his contemporaries** and has been continually praised 
since. *^ Not only did it afford ' ' innocent amusement to the gay ' ', but by 
presenting the valuable songs of a forgotten age it furnished future poets 
and historians with a storehouse of fable and tradition from which they 
might draw hints for their own writings. 

Ritson continued his researches in the poetry of antiquity and 
perpetuated his fame as an accurate and conscientious editor by the 
publication, in 1791, of Pieces of Ancient Popular Poetry ; from authentic 
manuscripts, and old printed copies. This volume, like its forerunners, 
exhibits a high grade of typography. The fifteen woodcuts by Thomas 
and John Bewick,*'' which illustrate the poems, are among the most 
pleasing of all those that adorn Ritson 's publications. The collection is 
small, consisting of an ingenious preface, seven poems with brief historical 
introductions, and a glossary. The only ballad in the group, "The King 
and the Barker", described as "the undoubted original of "King Edward 

4*See Monthly Rcviezv, Vol. XCIII, pp. 17S-82. 

*^See Haslewood, Op. Cit., p. 15; Nicolas, Op. Cit., p. XLIV; and Lowndes, 
Bibliographer's Manual. An article in Eraser's Magazine, Dec, 1833, makes 
wholesale condemnation of Ritson's works. With regard to Ancient Songs there 
is a curious inconsistency which shows the shifts to which the Reviewer is put to 
avoid giving any praise to Ritson. In the first place he ridicules the affectation 
of quaintness which caused Ritson to print his poems with Anglo-Saxon char- 
acters, whereas these have been discarded in the second edition, which he is 
admittedly reviewing. He then turns to the book at his elbow to lament the lack 
of illustrations to make the pieces '"grateful either to the eye or taste", but the 
first edition was plentifully supplied with charming vignettes. An undivided 
attention to either edition of the book would destroy one or other of his objections. 

^"To Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) is ascribed the restoration of wood engraving 
as an art in England. John Bewick (1760-95) is less noted as an engraver than 
his elder brother. 

104 JOSEPH RITSON ' [438 

IV and the Tanner of Tamwortli" as printed by Percy, is reproduced 
from the very defective copy in the Cambridge library. Joseph Frank, 
editor of the second edition of the collection says of it : 

"Mr. Ritson intended, in any future edition, to have suppressed this piece, 
which was originally printed chiefly with a view to bringing to light some more 
accurate copy : an effect which has not been, nor is now likely to be, produced."*^ 

"Adam Bel" is given from Copland's black letter copy, but there is 
nothing in the introduction or notes to indicate that it was republished 
for the "insignificant purpose of immortalizing the true readings" of 
that editor in preference to Percy's.** Surely the editor may be allowed 
to disagree with two of the Bishop's etymologies without being stigma- 
tized as envious. The antiquity and popularity of the piece were suf- 
ficient recommendations for its insertion. "The Life and Death of 
Tom Thumbe", a delightful account of the marvelous exploits of this 
doughty hero of childhood; "The Friere and the Boy", evidently of 
French extraction; "How a Merchande dyd hys wyfe Betray" ; the little 
moral piece, "How the Wise Man taught his son"; and "The Lover's 
Quarrel ' ', are all given from authentic old copies, mostly in black letter. 
To these was added "Sir Percy" in the second edition. 

The preface to this little volume is quite illuminating. Although 
popular interest in old poetry was on the increase, yet Ritson still felt it 
necessary to apologize for these old compositions, "which will have few 
charms in the critical eye of a cultivated age." 

"The genius which has been successfully exerted in contributing to the 
instruction or amusement of society in even the rudest times", he says, "is a 
superannuated domestic whose passed services entitled his old age to a comfortable 
provision and retreat ; or rather, indeed, a humble friend, whose attachment in 
adverse circumstances demands the warm and grateful acknowledgments of 

It was to the humble beginnings of these "nameless bards" of antiquity 
that Ritson thought posterity was indebted for a Homer and a Chaucer. 
And this was ample reason for preserving carefully every genuine 
relique which could be discovered. The poems in his collection he attrib- 
uted to the minstrels — men 

"who made it their profession to chant or rehearse them up and down the 
country in the trophied hall or before the gloomy castle, and at marriages, wakes, 
and other festive meetings, and who, generally accompanied their strains, by no 

^'Pieces of Ancient Popular Poetry, 2nd edition. London, 1833, p. 59. 
♦^See Monthly Review, Vol. XCIII, p. ~3. 
^^Pieces of Anc. Pop. Poetry, Pref., p. v. 

439] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 105 

means ruder than the age itself, with the tinkling of a harp, or sometimes, it is 
apprehended with the graces of a much humbler instrument/'^** 

Ritson intended this little volume to be suggestive. He was himself 
engaged in collecting popular poetry for future publication and expressed 
the hope that others might be inspired to undertake similar tasks. In 
addition to publishing many volumes of antiquarian interest, he rendered 
a distinct service to the study of medieval poetry by constantly reminding 
his generation of the richness of the unworked mine of antiquity. He 
lost no opportunity to stimulate research after the scarcely known but 
excellent old songs which he described as abounding "with a harmony, 
spirit, keenness, and natural humor, little to be expected, perhaps, in 
compositions of so remote a period." 

Ancient Popular Poetry was presented to the world Avith a degree 
of candor and fidelity as remarkable as it was little to be experienced 
in similar publications of the period. What with the forgeries of Chat- 
terton, Macpherson, Evans, and Pinkerton, and the surreptitious addi- 
tions and clandestine alterations of Percy, it was deserving of no small 
honor to print from known and designated authorities and to notice in 
the margin every variation from the original which a ' ' disuse of contrac- 
tions and a systematization of punctuation" rendered necessary. This 
was Ritson 's method. As an example of its successful application, he 
submitted Ancient Popular Poetry "to the patronage of the liberal and 
the candid, of those w^hom the artificial refinements of modern taste have 
not rendered totally insensible to the humble effusions of unpolished 
nature, and the simplicity of old times. "^^ 

At this point Ritson 's work with popular poetry was temporarily 
interrupted by his editing Dido; A Tragedy: as it was performed at the 
Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, with universal applause, by Joseph Reed, 

^^Ibid., pp. vii-viii. Ritson's emphasis here on the character of the minstrels was 
a continuation of the theory advanced in the dissertation on that subject presented 
in Ancient Songs in opposition to Percy's theory. See below, Chapter VII. 

^'^Pieces of Anc. Pop. Poetry, Pref., p. xiii. Although Ritson would by no 
means have called them "liberal and candid" beings, the reviewers were very 
generous in praise of his execution of a meretorious service in publishing these 
pieces. See Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. LXI, p. 561 ff., and Monthly Review, 
Vol. XCII, p. ~2 ff. The writer in Fraser's Magazine, to whom reference has 
already been made, condemns this, as he does all Ritson's work. There is not the 
slightest basis in fact for his assertion that "several of the pieces were published 
originally with the purpose only of gratifying Ritson's malevolence." This volume 
came to a second edition in 1833, and a third in 1884, but the Reviewer gives it 
as his "sincere opinion" that "Ritson never wrote or compiled anything worthy 
of a reprint." His peevish chiding at the public for admiring books which he had 
told them to despise, makes him a ridiculous figure. 


the controversial dramatist, native of Stockton. R^ed left Stockton for 
London in 1757 ; so Ritson could not have met him in Stockton excepting 
on a visit. There is no doubt that they saw more or less of each other in 
London after Ritson had gone there. Furthermore, Reed's son, John, 
was the intimate friend of John Baynes, one of Ritson 's few close 
acquaintances in the Inn. Ritson respected Reed's talents and is said to 
have contemplated an eight-volume edition of his "Miscellanies", which 
he was prevented by death from preparing. The tragedy, which he saw 
through the press and for which he supplied a preface and some notes, 
Avas never published. It was printed in 1792 but not formally announced 
for publication till 1808. At this time nearly the whole impression was 
destroyed by fire. The few copies that were saved were purchased by 
a friend of Reed's and have not been traced since.^- 

In 1792 Ritson 's sister was again ill, and she died early the following 
year. Ritson 's connection with the north in each of these years is 
evidenced by the publication, in the first of them, of The Nortlh-Country 
Chorister; an unparalleled variety of Excellent Songs, at Durham; and 
in the second, of The Northumberland Garland; or, Newcastle Nightin- 
gale: a matchless collection of famous songs, at Newcastle. The North- 
Country Chorister is the shortest of all the Garlands, consisting of sis 
rather brief pieces supposedly the work of a Bishopric ballad-singer. 
The fifth and last of these little poetical collections. The Northumberland 
Garland, is the longest and in some respects the most interesting of all. 
Of the sixteen songs which it contains — many of them from small poets 
of the region, but some genuine border ballads — especial interest attaches 
to "The Hunting of the Cheviat". Eight years after Ritson 's death 
there appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine''^ an "Ode to Mr. Ritson, on 
his intended descriptive revision of the ancient ballad of 'Chevy Chase', 
(written near the spot) in 1791." It is accompanied bj^ the following 
explanatory note : 

"The purpose Mr. Ritson once entertained of publishing the above ballad with 
historical and topographical observations, was revoked soon after a visit he made 
to the north, one of the objects of which was to collect materials." 

It must have been about this time that Ritson had in mind the revision 
of the poem, but the full design was never carried out, for the song 
printed in The Northumberland Garland has neither introduction nor 
notes.^* How much superior to this copy would have been the product 

52See Nichols, Lit. Anec, IX, p. ii6 and note; Nicolas, Op. Cit., p. liii. 

53Vol. LXXXI, p. 568. 

5*Child unaccountably overlooked this publication of the A version, which 
antedates by three-quarters of a century the copy in Skeat's Specimens (1873) 
which he gives as its earliest appearance in print. Op. Cit., Ill, pp. 303-iS- 
(No. 162). 

441] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 107 

of Eitsou's original design may be judged from the high commendation 
of Ritson given in the ' ' Ode ' '. 

4. Wert thou, discerning Ritson, near, 
Thou would'st the awful scene revere; 
A scene made sacred by those rhymes, 
Which thou may'st deck for latest times. 

5. Thy fancy, from her store, would yield 
A thousand shades to throng the field : — 
And sounds create of trampling steed, 
Or arrow, wing'd with deathful speed. 

6. Aluch to the Mitred Sage [Percy] is due; 
Ritson, the liberal task pursue — 

And Chevy Chase, the pride of you, 
With all its feudal spoils, restore. 

These little Garlands, M'ithout glossary and lacking critical notes^ 
are today of interest primarily to the local antiquary. They made a 
wider appeal in their own day, however. Put up in the form of the 
penny histories usually sold by itinerant hawkers, they met with a 
ready sale and soon became quite scarce. Ritson is reported to have said 
that these volumes sold better than any other of his various publications,^^ 
and although he had his customary difficulties with the publishers, he 
did not lose money on these books.^*' But in spite of their quick and ready 
sale, they were not immediately reprinted. Ritson made corrections and 
additions whenever the necessity was brought to his attention, but he was 
constantly bringing out new books and the frequent misunderstandings 
with his publishers prevented out-of-print books from going automatically 
to a reprint or a new edition. 

In 1793 Ritson printed the first, and the next year the second and 
third, volumes of The English Anthology, a compilation which he had put 
together before 1785. With the fact of its early composition in mind^ 
Ritson 's statement in the Advertisement that it is prepared upon "a plan 
hitherto unattempted" can be understood. Before its appearance in 
print, however, The Muse's Library and Ellis's Specimens had been 
published. Ritson ought, then, to have modified his claims as a pioneer. 
He professes to have followed a foreign model — the French anthology^'^ — 
but he could have got nothing there but the bare plan, for that work is 

•^5 Park in English Songs, I, p. xcv. 

^^For trouble over The Northumberland Garland see Letters, II, p. 129 ff; 
and for North-Country Chorister, Ibid., II, 221 ff. 

•'"^ Anthologie frangoise ou Chansons choisies, depiiis le xiii" sicclc jusqu' a 
present, 3 vols., 1765. 


a compilation of songs and music. But wherever the plan was derived, 
it is not a highly advantageous one in its present adaptation. Although 
professedly chronological, the poems are arranged in four Parts and a 
supplement. Part 1 gives a chronological arrangement from Wyatt to 
Cotton ; Part 2 is devoted to poems by women ; Part 3, to extracts from 
long pieces; and the Supplement to living authors. Wliile the arrange- 
ment within the Parts is fairly chronological, yet the division into Parts 
leads to such confusion that without the ' ' Index of Authors ' ' one would 
be at a loss to find any given selection. Evidences of the absurdity of 
the plan are the beginning of the first volume with Wyatt, the second 
with Dyer, the third with Chaucer, and the placing of Mason's "Isis" at 
volume III, page 262, and Warton's "Triumph of Isis", which is an 
answer to it, at volume II, page 136. Even within the different Parts the 
chronology is based on the date of the poet's birth.^^ But it is the date 
of an author's poem, and not of his birth or death, that should be the 
determining factor in placing it in a collection of poetry. 

In the Advertisement Ritson indulges in rather high praise of his 
own work. He is justified in commending it as an elegant and accurate 
compilation. The engravings by Stothard are pleasing, and the fidelity 
to the best sources in printing is characteristic of Ritson 's editorship. 
There is here a further touch of the apologetic tone which has been 
noticed in the prefaces to all his collections and which was characteristic 
of his age. Poetry prior to the sixteenth century was denied a place in 
his volumes — "the nicety of the present age being ill disposed to make 
the necessary allowances for the uncouth diction and homely sentiments 
of former times." Ritson was again making an avowed appeal for 
popular favor, but this Advertisement is marred by a revival of his iU- 
natured abuse of the reviewers. His editorial labors in the various col- 
lections so far considered had been generally commended, but of the 
historical essays which accompanied some of them there had been much 
adverse criticism. Ritson failed to distinguish between the commendation 
of his editorial abilities and the condemnation of his controversial asper- 
ity ; or, if he made the distinction, he considered the praise as mere sop. 
Just now he was smarting under the rather contemptuous dismissal of 
his third Shakespeare pamphlet, and there is no doubt that the increasing 
severity of his illness made him more sensitive to criticism and less capable 
of controlling his wrath. These circumstances combined to produce the 
following splenetic attack upon his critics. 

ssRitson omitted from the first volume several poets vk^hose dates he did not 
know. When this information was supplied after an appeal to the public in the 
Advertisement, all these men were included in the later volumes — a sufficient test 
of his "chronological" plan. 

443] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 109 

"Nor will any person be found to rescue such things [poems before 1500] 
from oblivion, while the attempt exposes him to the malignant and ruffian-like 
attacks of some hackney scribbler or personal enemy, through the medium of one 
or other of two periodical publications, in which the most illiberal abuse is vented 
under colour of impartial criticism, and both the literary and moral character of 
every man who wishes to make his peculiar studies contribute to the information or 
amusement of society are at the mercy of a conceited pedant, or dark and cowardly 
assassin. The editor, at the same time, by no means, flatters himself, that either the 
omission of what is obscure and unintelligible, or the insertion of every thing 
elegant and refined, will be sufficient to protect these volumes from the rancorous 
malice and envenomed slander of the reviewing critic. He appeals, however, from 
the partial censures of a mercenary and malevolent individual, to the judgment and 
candour of a generous and discerning public, whose approbation is proposed as the 
sole reward of his disinterested labours."^^ 

This venomous tirade may have been suggested partially by a feeling, 
which all his proud claims for the work were not able wholly to repress, 
that it would not be highly successful. The '* discerning public" did not 
call for the second edition which he began preparing,*'" and the reviewers 
considered it as only one more book.^^ While it contains a wealth of 
poetry, the pieces are not skillfully arranged and the work as a whole 
duplicates individual authors in many cases and collections in others. 

By this time K-itson's nervous derangement had become so serious 
as to interfere vitally with his literary labors. He continued to publish 
material which he had been working on for years and had nearly ready 
for the press, but new projects were not undertaken with his customary 
alacrity. Some time in 1792 he had borrowed from Harrison his manu- 
script of the Memoirs of Captain John Hodgson (d. 1684) with the inten- 
tion of transcribing it for publication. On December 26 of that year he 
wrote to Harrison : 

"I must with shame confess that I have not yet begun the transcript of 
'Captain Hodgson's Memoirs', and that it is owing much more to want of inclination 
than to want of leisure."^^ 

On July 21, 1794, he returned the manuscript, 

"which I have carefully transcribed, but dare not yet venture to put to press, 
being already in advance, one way or another, above five hundred pounds ; a good 
part of which, I begin to fear, will never find its way back."^^ 

Just how much editing B-itson had done or intended to do on this work 

^^Eng. Anthology, Advertisement, pp. v-vi. 
•^^See Letters, H, p. 26. 

^^See British Critic, Vol. I, pp. 95-7; Critical Review, Vol. X, pp. 196-9; Vol. 
Xn, pp. 412-13; Monthly Reviezv, Vol. XCVI, p. 125; Vol. XCVHI, pp. 229-30. 
^-Letters, II, p. 26. 
^^Ibid., II, p. 54. 


is not known. Nothing has been said about his concern with it. When 
Scott published the Memoirs with those of Sir Henry Slingsby, in 
1806/'* he included Ritson's Advertisement, but there is no indication that 
he made use of Ritson's transcript. In the Advertisement Ritson declared 
it to be his opinion that in point of importance, interest, and even 
pleasantry, Hodgson's narrative was infinitely superior to Defoe's 
Memoirs of a Cavalier, although other critics have been less enthusiastic 
in their praise.^^ 

In the Preface to English Songs Ritson justified the "careful omis- 
sion" of Scottish songs from that collection by the promise of the 
publication of "a much better and more perfect collection of songs 
entirely Scotish, than any that has been hitherto attempted. "®*' Neither 
is the part played by the Scottish muse in the development of national 
song mentioned in the historical dissertation, for "an accurate investi- 
gation and ample discussion of this curious and important subject is 
intended for a future opportunit3\'"'" The collection begun thus early 
received the intermittent attention of years and was the slow product 
of long labor. 

It is impossible to say when Ritson 's interest in Scottish history and 
poetry began. Reared, as he was, in the extreme north of England, the 
influence of Scottish tradition must have been felt very early. On his 
first visit to Edinburgh, at the age of twenty, he purchased a volume of 
Scottish poems and several histories and from that time on seemed 
almost equally interested in Scottish and English antiquities. From 
London his annual vacation tours to Stockton often carried him over 
into Scotland. Especially from 1786 to 1790 was he concerned with 
the history of the northern kingdom. Besides the information gathered 
on his own expeditions into the north, he acquired valuable material from 
friends more advantageously situated than himself. These men he 
kept constantly informed of his discoveries and of the general progress 
of his book. As early as 1788 it was commonly known that he was 
engaged upon this collection, and it seems that he even entertained some 
hope of publishing it in the winter of that year.^^ The actual printing 
of the work, however, was not begun till June, 1790,*^® and then it dragged 

^^Original Memoirs zvritten during the great Civil War; being the life of Sir 
H. Slingsby, and memoirs of Capt. Hodgson. With notes &c., by Sir Walter Scott. 
Edinburgh, i8o6. 

6'-See Nichols, Lit. Anec, IX, p. 686; Lockhart's Life of Scott, Vol. Ill, p. 2; 
Carlyle's Oliver Cromwell, Vol. I, p. 333. 

^^Eng. Songs, Pref., p. viii. 

^~Ibid., Hist. Essay, p. xciii. 

fi^Walker to Percy, Lit. Anec., VII, p. 709. 

^^Letters, T, pp. 164-68. 

445] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 111 

on so slowly that Ritson could "form no possible idea of its being 
completed", and exclaimed that his bookseller was born to plague himJ" 
During the next four years, while a part of the material was at the 
printer's, he continued his sometimes futile efforts to gather more songs 
and to verify the words and music of those already in his possession. In 
this endeavor he was materially aided by his old friends Walker, Harri- 
son, and Shield, who corrected much of the music, and by Herd^^ and 
Alexander Campbell,'^- whose acquaintance he made because of a com- 
mon interest in Scottish poetry. His stock of material increased so 
rapidly that in 1793 he was able to say (without exaggeration, as the 
catalogue of his library proves), that he possessed "almost every volume 
of Scotish poetry, ancient and modern, hitherto printed", and was 
"nearly as perfect in Scotish history"." After a satisfactory adjust- 
ment of difficulties with his engravers, Ritson hoped for the publication 
of his collection by Christmas, 1793, and began to take steps for its 
advance sale. The following letter is typical of his interests at this time. 

MS. Laing II. 124. 

No. 104 Case^* 

X435 Dissertatio''5 

603 Tristan^s 

809J ^^""'" 

70/feid., I, p. 187. 

'■iLaing introduced Ritson and Herd, and they exchanged ideas about Scottish 
poetry. Ibid., II, p. 142. 

''-Campbell (1764-1824) corrected Ritson's version of Lesly's March. Ibid., 
I, p. 219. 

''^Ibid., II, p. 2. 

74The titles and numbers which stand at the head of this letter have evidently 
been taken from the bookseller's catalogue, and it is impossible to trace them down 
with absolute certainty. Only one of the entire list appears in the catalogue of the 
sale of Ritson's library; so it would seem that his fear that most of them were 
already disposed of when he wrote had been well founded. "Case" probably 
refers to John Case's Angelical Guide, shewing men and women their lott or 
chance in this elementary life in IV books, 1697, in which Ritson would have been 
interested because of his sceptical philosophy. 

^^British Museum catalogue lists 2,3 titles beginning with Dissertatio and 
antedating this letter. The most of them deal with affairs of the Church, and it is 
impossible to determine to which one, if to any, Ritson alludes. 

^sprobably one of the versions of the Tristan saga: by Cast, Paris, 1520, 
1533; by Mangin, Lyon, 1577, Paris, 1586; or by Thessen, Paris, 1781, 1787- 

"Ritson left annotated copies of Sir David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes's Annals 
of Scotland from Malcolm III to Robert I, and from Robert I to the House of 
Stuart, 1776. See also Letters, II, p. 47. 


903 A proper project'* 

X2413 Noble'^3 

X2619 Colville^o 

5655 Sibbaldisi 

Gray's Inn, 20th Novr. 1793. 
My good friend, 

I have purposed writing to you for some time, but as you would have got 
nothing by it, you will think it just as well perhaps that i have deferred my letter 
till it became productive of some little advantage. I am vexed, at the same time, 
that i could not write yesterday, as most likely such of the above numbers as i wish 
most to see are already disposed of. I dare not mention Sibbald, as in the first 
place i suspect it 7iot to be complete, and secondly, i am terrified at the idea of your 
unexpressed & inconceivable charge. You may put up the few articles you send me 
(if not too late) in Egerton's^^ parcel; & i will pay the charge into your account 
with them. I will also pay them if agreeable to you, the sum of ten guineas which 
you will be so good as to pay over to Mr. Allan to whom i write by this post. My 
book is nearly ready for publication, & will certainly appear by or about Christmas. 
I have not taken the liberty to put your name to it, for which, I take it, on a 
perusal of the introduction, you will think yourself not a little obliged to me.^^ 
I cannot easyly reconcile your assurance of the sale of a number of copies with 
your indetermination to take one. The expense of sending a parcel to Edinburgh 

'''^This may allude to one of the numerous "Projects" of the time. 

''■^Probably either the Genealogical History of the Royal Families of Europe, 
1781, or Memoirs of the Protcctoral House of Cromwell, 1784 and 1787, or both, 
by Mark Noble (i 754-1827). Ritson was interested in royal genealogies and had 
himself published privately a Table of the Descent of the English Crown, 177S. 
Furthermore, both editions of Noble's second work had been severely criticized 
by Ritson's friend, Richard Gough, in the preface to his Short Genelogical Viezv 
of the Family of Oliver Cromwell, 1785, and in the Gentleman's Magazine, June, 
1787, p. 516. See Lit. Anec, VIII, p. 133, note. 

^°The Poetical Works of Robert Colvill, minor Scottish poet, appeared in 1789. 

s^Sir Robert Sibbald (1641-1712), chiefly noted for his History of Fife, 1710, 
wrote a great number of treatises on antiquarian subjects for the Royal Society. 
These were published in 1739 as A Collection of Several Treatises in folio, con- 
cerning Scotland, as it was of old, and also in later times. On July 30, 1793, 
Ritson wrote to Laing for a copy of Sibbald's Works, which was to be purchased 
from the library of James Cumyng. See Letters, II, p. 19. 

^-T. and J. Egerton, London booksellers, published Ritson's English Anthology, 
and Scotish Songs. 

s^In the "Historical Essay" the Scottish literati are condemned as the world's 
most notorious forgers. Ritson somehow acquired, or was possessed of an inherent 
dislike of the Scotch. lie always questioned their integrity and on one occasion 
remarked, "The character given of Scotish men by old surly Johnson was, gener- 
ally speaking, far from unjust. They prefer anything to truth, when the latter 
is at all injurious to the national honour: nor are they, so far as I can perceive, 
very solicitous about it on any occasion." Letters, I, p. 191. 

447] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 113 

may be no great object, but to have it returned entire is what i should not like: 
so if you will answer for 50 i will send you 100, if 25, 50, if 10, 20, if 5, 10, 
if none, not one, sat verbum.^* 

I am much obliged to Mr. Brown, s'' & request whenever you meet him you 
will exert your eloquence in remembering my friendship & respect. I am much 
chagrined at the fate of my King Charles spurs, which were really curious,^*^ as 
well as at the loss of Mr. Paton's parcel. Please to present my best compliments 
to that worthy man & say that i mean to have the pleasure of writing to him in a 
little time. I must give up, i find, all expectation of becoming acquainted with the 
old volume which has given all of us so much trouble. I sometimes think of 
addressing myself directly to the dean, but "the insolence of office" would most 
probably prevent him from paying any attention to my request.^" 

Pray why have i never heard anything further of the Edinburgh catalogue?*^ 
It would be of great use to me in a work i am now amused with ; & which i 
mean to be a kind of a sort of a Scotish library of historians & poets. ^^ 
In this, which i think i must come down to finish & print in Edinburgh, you would 
be of no little service. Who or what is Robert Colvelle? Can you get me the 
two (or more) poems he has published? 

I am, 
]\Ir. Wm. Laing, Your sincere friend & 

Bookseller, well-wisher, 

Chessel's Buildings J. Ritson. 



^^Despite this ultimatum, in March, 1794, Ritson sent Laing 50 copies of the 
work, with the following directions as to their disposal : "Twelve you take your- 
self ; five you will present, with the Editor's compliments, to Mr. Eraser Tytler, 
Mr. Allan. Mr. Brown, Mr. Paton, and Mr. Campbell — that is one to each ; the 
rest you will sell on my account, if you can. The expense of advertising once or 
twice in the Edinburgh papers I must of course be debited with. You will 
scarcely believe that the publication of these two small and unfortunately unequal 
volumes stands me in three hundred pounds. I make up my mind of course, to a 
considerable loss." Letters, II, p. 47. 

s^Alexander Brown, librarian of the Advocates' Library. See Letters, II, p. 21. 

8*5Ritson had sent to James Cumjmg, Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries 
of Edinburgh, his rare King Charles's spurs, as a gift to the Society. Upon 
Cumyng's death, early in 1793, his entire library was purchased by Laing. After 
repeated inquiry Ritson learned that the spurs had been lost in transferring the 
property. See Letters, II, p. 21 ff. 

s'^This refers to an "old volume of Tracts" which Tytler had drawn from the 
Advocates' Library, and from which Ritson wished especially a transcript of the 
"six first lines of Robin Hood". See Letters, II, pp. 4, 21 ; Archibald Constable 
and his Literary Correspondents, London, 1873, Vol. I, pp. 505, 509. 

ssRitson suggested to Laing, who was noted for his catalogues, that he make a 
complete compilation of books published in Scotland, and offered his own ideas as 
to the best method of procedure. See Letters, II, pp. 38, 48. 


But it was not until March, 1794, that the long-delaj-ed edition of 
Scotish Songs appeared in two volumes. It is easily perceived to be 
complementary to English Songs. There is a prefatory "Historical 
Essay on Scotish Song" in which Ritson indulges in further unseemly 
slurs on Percy and begins a systematic attack upon Avhat he dubs 
Pinkerton's "Scotish system". The songs are arranged in four classes: 
I. Love ; II. Comic ; III. Historical, Political, and Martial ; IV. Romantic 
and Legandar}^, or Ballads. As Ritson declared it his belief, with Tytler, 
that "the words and melody of a Scottish song should be ever insepar- 
able",^" he has accompanied the verses in this collection with the musical 
notation wherever the combined ingenuity and labor of himself and 
Shield were able to discover or to reconstruct it. Wlien the music was 
irreparably lost, the bars are printed so that the notes can be inserted 
with a pen if they are recovered. The critical comments evince a wide 
and intimate acquaintance with Scottish history and reveal interesting 
anecdotes concerning the subjects of the songs. The collection itself is 
rather disappointing. Nearly all the songs had previously appeared in 
print, and many of them were so easily accessible as to cause surprise 
at their republication.^^ There appears here some ground for the criti- 
cism frequently levelled against Ritson that he reprinted many pieces 
solely in order to expose the errors of previous editors. In Scotish Songs 
he had much to say about the errors, both wilful and unconscious, of his 
predecessors. He was frequently vituperative and seldom charitable. 
The most thoroughly depreciative article appeared in the Critical Review 
for January, 1795. Ritson is there declared to be "immodest", "inaccur- 
ate", and "unscholarly". He is ridiculed for attempting to give serious 
consideration to such inconsequental things as ballads and is accused of 
sparing no pains "to reject any improvement, and to restore them to 
error and imperfection." "To us who are accustomed to treat trifles as 
trifles", exclaims the Reviewer, "what must appear to be the power of 
that mind which can descant with such dignity on the ballad ? ' ' Here is 
the poetic judgment of Pre-Reliquan days opposing itself to the new light 
of Romanticism. The knowledge that Pinkerton himself was the author 

^^"Bibliographia Scotica", See Chapter VI. 

^^Scoitish Songs, Pref., p. i. See William Tytler's Dissertation on the Scottish 

9iForty-six of the songs are taken from Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, 
heroic ballads, etc., forty-two from Ramsay's Teatable Miscellany; fourteen from 
Johnson's Scots Musical Museum; six from Percy's Reliques; and the remainder 
from ancient manuscripts and editions of the various author's poems. 

449] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 115 

of this Keview,^- gives it less the character of a reflection of the critical 
spirit of the age and more that of a defence of personal conduct. Both 
Percy and Pinkerton felt the lash of Ritson's denunciation for deceiving 
the public by presenting modern compositions in the guise of antiquity 
and for augmenting ancient sources with verses of their own without com- 
plimenting the reader's intelligence by distinguishing between the old 
and the new. This spirit of carping criticism and fault-finding was 
denounced by the reviewers as it had been in the earlier volumes on 
Shakespeare. But Pinkerton 's attitude was not wholly representative of 
the times.^^ Ballads were not universally considered as inconsequental 
things. If the spirit of the age had been so opposed to pieces of ancient 
popular poetry and so prejudiced in favor of the polished poems of 
modern composers as the apologetic tone of the prefaces to the numerous 
editions of old poems would lead one to suspect, those very editions would 
not have been so numerous. That they continued to be produced and to 
be received with favor is the best proof of the real feeling of the time 
toward them. 

Ritson now turned his attention from general collections of poetry 
to the remains of an unknown poet of antiquity. In 1795 he issued 
"Poems on interesting events in the reign of King Edward III. ivritten 
Anno MCCCLII, by Laurence Minot, ivith a preface, dissertations, notes, 
and glossary. Prior to this time Minot was all but unknown. He is not 
mentioned by Leland, Bale, Pits, or Tanner. The first reference to him 
is in a note to the "Essay on the learning and versification of Chaucer", 
in which Tyrwhitt alludes to the discovery of the poems of one Laurence 
Minot in MS. Galba E. ix. of the Cottonian collection.^* After Minot 's 
name was brought to light in that brief notice a copy of the poems was 
transmitted to Warton for his History of English Poetry, in the third 
volume of which they are printed with neither scrupulous care nor unfail- 
ing accuracy.*'-'' It remained for Ritson to edit the manuscript with a 
degree of faithfulness and care worthy the student of Middle English 

Although he was pioneering in his edition of Minot, Ritson went at 
his task in a thoroughly scholarly fashion. His text follows the manu- 

"-Ritson suspected the authorship from the first. See Letters, 11, p. 67. This 
article is reprinted in Letters from Joseph Ritson to George Raton, Edinburgh, 
1829, as "A critique by John Pinkerton upon Ritson's Scotish Songs." 

''^See the favorable review in British Critic, Vol. V, pp. 490-502. 

^^Thomas Tyrwhitt, The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer, Oxford, 1775. 

95Although some of the errors in Warton's edition were undoubtedly due to 
his copyist, Ritson saw fit to sneer at the historian's indolence and ignorance. See 
Minot's Poems, Pref., p. viii. 


script closely and accurately except that for some unexplained reason he 
omits the fourth of the eleven poems — the only one of the group which 
lacks a descriptive couplet heading. The second edition is practically 
a reprint,®'' and modern editors have found few errors of transcription. 
Ritson's notes are mostly historical in character and are chiefly taken 
from Berner's translation of Froissart and from the Chronicles of Fabin, 
Holinshed, and Stow. They are not mere citations or clippings from 
authority' but are illustrated with his own vast and intimate knowledge, 
which serves often to correct and to supplement the ancient writers. 
Upon two points of importance he enlarged so freely that the material 
became too bulky for notes and was transferred to the beginning of the 
book as introductory dissertations, "On the Scottish Wars of King Ed- 
ward III.", and "On the title of King Edward III. to the Crown of 
France." The glossary is necessarily incomplete, as many words were 
here encountered for the first time and required further investigation. 
Of his inability to make the glossary exhaustive Ritson remarked : " It 
seems no part of an editor's duty to save his reader the trouble of 
guessing at the meaning of expressions for which they cannot possibly 
be more at a loss than he is himself. ' '®' 

On points of interest in connection Math the manuscript and with 
the personality of Minot himself Ritson passed judgment so far as the 
meagreness of available material would permit. Warton dated the unique 
manuscript in the reign of Henry VI., Ritson in that of Richard II., but 
it is probably not older than the early years of the fifteenth century.®* 
From obvious internal evidence Ritson placed the conclusion of the 
poems in 1352 and judged that, because the stirring events following 
that date are not celebrated, the poet did not live to see them. The later 
conjecture that Minot continued to write after 1352 but that his poems 
have been lost is less probable. There is no development of style in the 
poems now extant, which would seem to indicate that Minot was mature 
when he wrote them, and there is no reason for premising lost poems save 
perhaps the general tendency to believe that the medieval poetry which 
has been preserved represents only a small fraction of what was actually 

^^Poems, written anno MCCCLII by Laurence Minot. With introductory 
dissertations on the Scottish Wars of Edzuard III and on liis claim to the throne of 
France, and notes and glossary. London, 1825. References are to this edition. 

^^Minot's Poems, Pref., p. xviii. 

^®See Thomas Wright, Political Poems, London, 1859. Vol. I, p. 58; Joseph 
Hall, The Poems of Laurence Minot, Oxford, 1887, p. v ; Morris and Skeat, Sped- 
mens of Early English, Oxford, 1873, Vol. II, p. 126; Prof. Herford's life of Minot 
in Did. Nat. Biog. 

451] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 117 

Of Minot himself nothing is known but what may be gleaned from 
the poems he has left. From the prevalence of Northern dialect forms 
Ritson concluded the author was a native of one of the northern counties. 
There seems, liowever, to be a sufficient mingling of Midland forms to 
indicate that the poet was familiar with both dialects, although he was 
unquestionably a Northerner. 

Theories as to the author's profession and position in life are equally 
conjectural. Without pretending to sufficient knowledge of the matter 
to pass final judgment, Ritson surmised that Minot may have belonged 
to one of the monasteries in the north. This opinion, evidently based 
on the religious allusions in the poems, is seconded in essence by Bier- 
baura,"'' who called Minot a priest. The lack of a general knowledge 
of Middle English poetry, with the perspective which it would have 
afforded, prevented Ritson from knowing that the religious references in 
Minot were no more numerous than was common in poetry of that period. 
So that it seems more probable that Minot was a soldierly minstrel who 
wrote and sang for the army but was also favored by the court.^*^° Ritson, 
indeed, came near this view in an indirect way w^hen he pointed out that 
many of the poems are written in the manner of an eye-witness who 
celebrates events still fresh in mind. 

Minot 's literary excellence lies mainly in his versification. His 
most frequent measure is the popular six line strophe, but he employs 
other forms in both rhymed and alliterative verse. He was no mean 
metricist, but he scarcely merits the exuberant praise bestowed upon him 
by Ritson : 

"In point of ease, harmony, and variety of versification, as well as general 
perspicuity, Laurence Minot is, perhaps, equal, if not superior, to any English poet 
before the sixteenth, or even, with very few exceptions before the seventeenth 
century."^ °^ 

In facility of rhyming and choice of words Ritson gave precedence 
only to Robert of Brunne and Thomas Tusser ; Chaucer he excepted from 
all such comparisons. The enthusiasm of the discoverer is reflected in 
this high praise, and the handicap under which the explorer works is 
seen in the errors which Ritson committed in the work. But with it 
all his edition of Minot deserves the commendation which it received 

^^Bierbaum, Uebcr Laurence Minot uiid seine Licdcr, 1876. 
I'X^Cf. Herford, Op. Cit., and B. ten Brink, Geschichte dcr Englis\'hcn Litter- 
atur. Strassburg, 1899, Vol. I, p. 375. 
'^^'^Minot's Poems, Pref., p. xiv. 


at the hands of his contemporaries^"- and from the pens of later 

It was naturally to be expected that a poetical antiquary who con- 
cerned himself particularly with songs and ballads should eventually 
take up the subject of Robin Hood. One should expect to find Robin 
Hood ballads in every volume of "Ancient Popular Poetry", but one 
looks in vain for any material concerning the border outlaw in Ritson's 
collection of that title. Realizing the inconsistency of the omission, he 
justified the procedure in the announcement that he was reserving "the 
poems, ballads, and historical or miscellaneous matter relating to this 
celebrated outlaw", for separate treatment. This promised publication 
made its appearance in two volumes, 1795, as Rohin Hood: a collection 
of all the ancient poems, songs, and hallads, now extant, relative to that 
celehrated English Outlaw. To which are prefixed Historical Anecdotes 
of his Life. It is a monument of industry, the result of years of inves- 
tigation and study, and brings to a fitting close the first period of Ritson's 
editorial activity. 

The Life of Robin Hood, with which the first volume opens, does not 
profess to be historically authentic. Although Ritson considered Robin 
Hood as an historical character, he was unable to ground his biography 
on unassailable authorities. He had recourse to the Robin Hood legends, 
anecdotes, and allusions in the manuscripts and printed works of numer- 
ous ancient and modern writers, and from these he constructed a history 
"which, though it may fail to satisfy, may possibly serve to amuse." 
The Life is short, covering only twelve pages ; but there are a hundred and 
fifteen pages of "Notes and Illustrations." In this section of the work 
are to be found valuable contributions to the store of Robin Hood infor- 
mation. Ritson took most of the "facts" of the Life from the prose 
manuscript in the Sloane library in which Robin Hood is given definite 
dates, but he supplemented this by frequent quotations from other early 
writers. In addition he has constructed a chronology from 1593 to 1784 
of the dramatic exhibitions in which Robin Hood 's exploits are recounted, 
has listed the Robin Hood ballads and songs and tlie collections of them 
from the fourteenth century to the Reliques, and has given a number of 
Robin Hood proverbs. The bringing into one view of this vast store of 
material was a meritorious service ; and in spite of the outcropping of 
Ritson's scurrility in disrespectful allusions to Christianity and in spite- 
ful reference to other editors, it is not to be ignored by the student of 
Robin Hood. 

lo^Cf. Moutlily Reviczv, Vol. CII, p. 464; British Critic, Vol. IX, p. 22; Dibden's 
Director, Vol. I, p. 88. 

^''^See any of the writers cited above. 

453] EDITORIAL LABORS, 1783-1795 119 

As for the remainder of the work, the first volume contains five songs 
and the second twenty-eight, each with a brief introduction on the source 
of the text and the copies with which it was collated. Although twenty- 
six of the ballads had appeared in Evans's Old Ballads^^* in the order 
given here, Ritson prints them from older sources, usually black letter 
copies in the collection of Anthony a Wood. To Ritson 's collection Child 
was able to add only five ballads. Of these "The Bold Pedlar and Robin 
Hood" was known by Ritson to exist, although there is no proof that he 
knew it before his collection went to press. It is probable that this infor- 
mation was furnished by Scott, who seems to have promised to get a copy 
of the ballad for him.^°'^ In the introduction to the first edition Ritson 
printed a fragment of "Robin Hood and the Monk" and expressed his 
regret that the whole was no longer extant. The ballad was given in 
full in the Appendix to the second edition, 1832, the editor of which says 
its existence was unknown to Ritson. The three remaining pieces, 
"Robin Hood and the Pedlars", "Robin Hood and the Scotchman", 
*' Robin Hood, Will Scarlet, and Little John", were not known to Ritson. 

Ritson was accused of allowing his antiquarian zeal to overrun his 
critical acumen because he included in his collection pieces which had 
little but their antiquity to recommend them.^"*' Scott, as late as 1830, 
took him to task for encumbering his pages with such ballads as "Robin 
Hood and the Tinker", "Robin Hood and the Butcher", Robin Hood 
and the Tanner", which were, at best, scarcely more than variations on 
a single theme ; and he said that this collection illustrated at once the 
excellencies and the defects of Ritson 's editorial system — the excellencies 
in care, accuracy, wide research, etc. ; the defects in including whatever 
was old.^°'' It is true that by paying attention rather to the age of his 
selections than to their poetic merit Ritson missed the appeal to popular 
favor which had been a large element in the success of the Reliques 
and was later to play a considerable part in the popularity of the 
Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. But while he may be open to the 
censure of those who seek only pleasant reading, Ritson performed a 
noteworthy service for scholarship by gathering together all the scattered 
allusions to Robin Hood and collecting into one compass the various 
poems relating to the outlaw.^"^ The standards of scholarly editorship 

'^o^Thomas Evans, Old Ballads, historical 'and narrative, with some of modern 
date. 2 vols. London, 1777. 

^^^ Letters, II, pp. 220, 241. 

i°«See British Critic, Vol. IX, pp. 16-22; Fraser's Magasine, Vol. VIII, p. 717. 

'^'^'^ Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, ed. Henderson, Edinburgh and London, 
1902. Vol. I, p. 46. 

lo^Later editors have been rather chary in their acknow^ledgment of indebted- 


which he set up for himself were then pointed to as blemishes on an other- 
wise excellent production, but half a century later they received due 
praise when exemplified by the labors of Child in the ballad field. 

ness to Ritson. J. M. Gutch declares that the Historical Essay in his Lytell Geste 
of Robin Hode, 2 vols., London, 1847, is "not grounded on the documents used by 
Ritson." Yet, despite this asseveration, he reprints almost the whole of Ritson 
without additions. 


Editorial Labors after 1795 

Increasing illness halts publication — Enhances eccentricities — Essay on Abstin- 
ence from Animal Food — Letter to Chalmers — MS. "Gleanings of Grammar'' and 
"Dictionary" — Supplies material for Brewster's History of Stockton — Forms new 
friendships — Sir Walter Scott seeks his aid — Their correspondence — MS. "Scotish 
Ballads" — Letter on "Sir Tristrem" — Begins again to publish — Bihliographia Poctica — 
Assisted by Douce and Park — Comments on Lydgate and "Piers Plowman" — MS. 
"Bihliographia Scotica" — Metrical Romancces — Contents — Reception — Caledonian 
Muse — Partly printed in 1785 — Its subsequent history — Triphook's letter — MS. 
"Select Scotish Poems" — Life of King Arthur — Purpose — Memoirs of the Celts — 
Annals of the Caledonians — Preparation and object — Nature — Fairy Tales — Blem- 
ishes — Contents — ^Summary of editorial labors. 

The abrupt cessation of Ritson's publications in 1795 was undoubt- 
edly the result of the increasing malignancy of the illness of which he 
had first complained in 1790. By this time he had become so deranged 
nervously that writing was attended with great difficulty. He neglected 
his correspondence and pleaded his illness as an excuse which ought 
to make him the object of the commiseration of his friends rather than 
of their resentment. The exact nature of his ailment is difficult to 
determine. It was not, he said, a fever or a consumption. To all outward 
appearances he was as healthy as ever. But he complained of increasing 
forgetfulness in small matters and feared the complete loss of his memory. 
Friends suggested various remedies, none of which he saw fit to try. 
His physician advised him that his only hope for anything like permanent 
relief lay in a complete rest in unfamiliar surroundings. But he could 
not persuade himself to spare the time and undergo the expense incident 
to a long sojourn in the country' and was content with the brief outings 
afforded by his annual vacations. The temporary diminution of his 
distress which these vacations induced was sufficient to enable him to 
prolong his mental activity, but he realized that he was losing ground 
rapidly and in 1801 expressed surprise that he had already lived so long.^ 

The neurological character of Ritson's illness increased his sensi- 
tiveness, gave him an exaggerated conception of his own importance, and 
caused him to guard jealously the eccentricities which set him off from 
the generality of mankind.- The revolutionary ardor in politics which 
was greatly stimulated by his visit to France in 1791 continued with 

^Letters, II, p. 205. 

-These characteristics are more fully discussed in Chapter VIII. 



unabated fervor. He persisted in his vegetarian diet and became so en- 
thusiastic in his endeavors to secure converts to his theory that he issued 
An Essay on Abstinence from Animal Food as a Moral Duty, 1802, as 
conclusive evidence of the invulnerability of his position. The eccentric 
theory of orthography which he had first practised in the Versees and 
early propounded in the Shakespeare pamphlets, attracted his attention 
in these later years. Now he began in earnest the attempt which he had 
earlier suggested, to reform the whole system of English orthography. 
This ambitious undertaking brought no fruit in the form of published 
material, but he seems to have been prevented from putting it to press 
only by the state of his health and his pocket. His work took shape in 
three manuscripts, all of which have apparently been destroyed. Some- 
thing of the nature of his method may be gained from the following letter 
to Chalmers, in which he seeks to borrow a number of sixteenth century 
grammars and orthographies. However eccentric his theories may have 
appeared in his own day, he sought to ground them on authority, and 
in true antiquarian style he went to the remote past for that authority. 
Montagu d. 15, fol. 216, 218. 

1. Derickes Image of Ireland, 1581.^ 

2. Bellots English Schoolmaster, 1579.* 

3. BuUokars Orthographie, 1580.^ 

4. Mulcasters Elementarie, 1582.^ 

5. Grammatica Anglicana, 1594. "^ 

2John Derricke's Image of Ireland, in two parts, written in 1578, published 
1581, was reprinted with notes by Sir Walter Scott in Somers Tracts, 1809, and a 
limited edition was put out by John Small in 1883. The full title of this book, 
containing 153 words, is given in Ritson's Bibliographia Poetica,pp. 1S6-7. See also 
Letters, II, p. 148. 

*The only copy known to exist of Jacques Bellot's The Englishe Schole- 
maister: Conteyning many profitable precepts for the naturall borne French men, 
and other straungers that have their French tongue, to attayne the true pronouncing 
of the Englishe tongue, London, 1580, is that preserved at the Hofbibliothek in 
Darmstadt. It was edited, with a reproduction of the original title page, by Theo. 
Spira as Vol. VII of Neudrikke friihneuenglischen Gramniatiken, Halle, 1912. 

sWilliam Bullokar published in 1580 Bookc at Large for the Amendment of 
Orthographie for English Speech. This was followed by two other books dealing 
with similar subjects. All three were published by Max Plessow in Geschichte der 
Fabcldictung in England bis su John Gay, Berlin, 1906. 

•^Richard Mulcaster, First Part of the Elenicntairic, zvliich cntrcatcth chefelie of 
the right Writing of our English Tung, 1582. No second part is known to have 
appeared ; the first has never been reprinted. 

''Graniniatica Anglicana , praecipuc quatenus a Latino diffcrt, ad unicani P. Rami 
mcthodiini concinnata, etc., 1594. Hrsg. von M. Rosier und R. Brotanek. An- 
nounced in 1905 for publication in Neudrikke friihneuenglischen Granunatikcn, but 
it lias not yet appeared. 


6. Spensers Three Letters, 1594.^ 

7. Blages Wise conceytes, 1569.^ 
Dear Sir, 

If the books mentioned in the inclosed paper be in your own library, as I presume 
they are, I shall be highly gratifyed by the perusal of such of them as you can con- 
veniently spare. They shal be treated with care, & returned with expedition. 

Yours respectfully 

J Ritson 
Monday, 6th Feb. 

George Chalmers, Esq. 

The result of his labors through a great many years with these and 
numerous like volumes was the three manuscripts already mentioned. 
The "Dissertation on the use of Self" was the formulization of his 
ideas regarding the use of "self" as a substantive, which resulted in 
his own frequent use of ' ' hisself ", " herself ' ', etc. ' ' Gleanings of English 
Grammar, chiefly with a view to illustrate and establish a just system of 
orthography, upon etymological principles" probably took the nature 
of a dissertation explanatory of the more elaborate project which he 
described as an " orthographico-etymological dictionary of the English 
language." Besides the formal defense of his own theories of orthog- 
raphy there are several references in his letters to the inadequacy of 
existing lexicographies. Johnson's dictionary he declared to contain the 
"strangest mixture of ignorance and idleness that was ever exhibited 
in such a work". He ridiculed Croft 's^** pretentious attempt to "correct 
all Johnson 's errors, supply all his defects, and produce the most finished 
and perfect specimen of lexicography that has ever appeared in any 
language or in any country. ' '^^ As early as 1793 Ritson began the prepar- 
ation of his own dictionary but "for want of vigor of mind was forced 
to lay it aside." He recurred to it in his later years but did not com- 
plete it, although the manuscript was described in his sale catalogue as 
"intended for publication." 

During this non-productive period Ritson was devoting as much 
time and energy to his favorite pursuits as the state of his health would 

^Edmund Spenser, Three proper and wittie, familiar Letters: lately passed 
between two university men: touching the earthquake in April last, and our English 
reformed versifying, London, 1580. 

^Thomas Blage, Schole of Wise Conceytes, a book of Aesopian fables. 

i^Sir Herbert Croft (1751-1816) busied himself with the preparation of an 
English dictionary from 1786 or 1787 until 1793, when he was forced to abandon 
it for want of subscribers. He seems to have had no clear calling to the task 
in hand. 

^^Letters, I, p. 213. 


permit. His reputation as an antiquary and as a student of the older 
forms of poetry caused his old friends to call upon him frequently for 
assistance in their various undertakings and led to the formation of new 
friendships with men of kindred interests. He was himself constantly 
seeking here and there for additional material for the projects he had in 
hand and asking verification of conclusions on the meaning of words 
and the dates of pieces of poetry. With Paton, Walker, Harrison, Chal- 
mers, and others he continued his correspondence on literary subjects, 
though with less regularity than formerly. Knowing of Ritson's early 
concern with and his continued interest in the antiquities of his native 
town, John Brewster, clergyman at Stockton, sought his aid in compiling 
material for his Parochial History and Antiquities of Stockton-upon- 
Tees, published in 1796. Ritson furnished a great part of the material 
for this volume but afterward expressed regret that he had done so 
because Brewster had handled it in a woefully unintelligent manner.^ - 

The enlarging of the circle of his friendships proved very beneficial 
to Ritson. With David Macpherson (1746-1816) he exchanged Scottish 
etymologies, and although himself in keenly distressing circumstances he 
offered Macpherson real encouragement in the latter 's difficulties.^^ He 
received valuable assistance in translating from Robert Surtees^* and 
found himself indebted to William Laing for repeated aid in obtaining 
scarce volumes.^^ The greatest boon, however, came when he made the 
acquaintance of Sir Walter Scott. 

In 1800, or thereabouts,^** Scott applied to Ritson for aid in com- 
piling materials for his projected Border Minstrelsy. He had previously 
appealed to Percy, but the prelate expressed only a mild interest in 
the undertaking. After a period of hestitation induced by Ritson's 
avowed hatred of Scotchmen and the known virulence of his lan- 

^-Ibid., II, pp. 125, 127. See Henry Heavisides, Annals of Stockton-on-Tees; 
zvitli biographical notices, Stockton-on-Tees, 1865, for curious anecdotes regarding 
Brewster's ignorance of antiquities. 

It was probably during this same period that Ritson made some progress 
toward a life of Wharton. His copy of The Life and Writings of Philip late 
Duke of Wharton, 2 vols., London, 1732, which included the Memoirs of the Life of 
his Grace Philip late Duke of Wharton, By an Impartial Hand, London, 1731, inter- 
leaved with copious manuscript notes and supplied with transcripts of several of 
the Duke's poems furnished with notes, is in Mr. Perry's collection. 

'^^Letters, II, p. 197. 

^^Ibid., II, p. 241. 

^^Ibid., passim. 

i*^The exact date is unknown. Lockhart places the beginning of the corre- 
spondence in 1800-01. Life of Scott, II, p. 54. 


guage toward those he disliked, and against the advice of Ellis, Scott 
decided to seek Ritson's aid/' Apparently to the surprise of himself 
and his friends he met with "the readiest, kindest, and most liberal as- 
sistance."^"* His suave courtesy, his frank praise of Ritson's industry 
and accuracy, his unfailing tact in avoiding everything suggestive of a 
controversy completel}^ disarmed Ritson and led him to communicate 
the stores of his valuable learning in a gracious and friendly manner. 
The correspondence thus begun continued uninterruptedly throughout 
the remaining years of Ritson's life and was supplemented by at least 
one pleasant personal meeting. In the autumn of 1802 Ritson visited 
Scott at Lasswade cottage. Dr. John Leyden, the crude Scottish poet, 
was present on this occasion and by his rudeness of manner somewhat 
irritated the more delicate sensibilities of Ritson. Despite this unpleas- 
ant circumstance, Ritson treasured the memory of the visit among his 
most delightful recollections and hoped constantly for an opportunity 
to repeat it. Lockhart's ill-natured abuse of Ritson on the occasion of 
this visit has given rise to a misunderstanding of the nature of the rela- 
tionship between him and his two Scottish friends.^^ There was no 
permanent breach between him and Leyden. He frequently spoke in 
praise of his "inestimable friend" Leyden, and seems to have forgotten 
entirely their early unpleasantness. Of his connection wdth Scott there 
can be no doubt. Not only his own letters but Scott 's frequently repeated 
praise prove them to have been on constantly friendly terms. 

The extant correspondence proves Scott and Ritson to have been 
mutually helpful in their respective compilations. Despite his illness, 
Ritson reveals in these letters an unsubdued zeal for his work, and his 
manner is always deferential and unassuming. He seems to feel that 
he has at last met his superior in medieval learning. When he received 
a copy of the first edition of the Minstrelsy he thanked Scott in glowing 
terms for "the most curious and valuable literary treasure I possess. 
Everything is excellent throughout, both in verse and prose," He 
declared his intention of reading it charily, one ballad a day, thus extend- 
ing his "exquisite gratification to the most distant period. "-° It was 
with obvious hesitation that he ventured to suggest a "few trifling 
remarks, in contemplation of a second edition. ' '-- Had the Minstrelsy con- 

^^Scott's statement quoted by Surtees, Op. Cit., Ill, p. 194, note q. 

i^See Lockhart, Op. Cit., I, pp. 330, 358 ; Encyc. Brit., art. "Ritson" ; British 
Critic, Vol. LV, pp. 581-93; Constable and his Literary Correspondents, I, pp. 495-7- 

^^Letters, II, p. 222 ff. ; Surtees, Op. Cit., Ill, p. 194, note r. 

-^Although everything he wrote was in high praise of the Minstrelsy, yet 
Ritson felt that Scott had taken unfair advantage of him by printing from the 
Brown MS. several ballads which he had himself transcribed with the full knowl- 


tained a copy of "Sir Tristrem", as Scott originally intended it should, 
Ritson would no doubt have had some very pertinent remarks to make 
on it. For it appears from the following hitherto unnoticed letter that, 
even before the completion of the Minstrelsy, Ritson had discovered the 
poem, made extracts from it, estimated its age and origin, propounded 
the most plausible theory yet advanced for a definite authorship of it, 
and supported his theory by all the available internal and by almost all 
the corroborative external evidence which the subsequent century of 
scholarly investigation has sufficed to unearth. 

To the question of the authorship of "Sir Tristrem" there has not 
been, and probably can never be, a definitive answer. The theory held 
by Ritson and propounded by Scott (in his edition of 1804) that the 
"Thomas" mentioned in the first lines of the romance was in all prob- 
ability its author, was too simple to go long unchallenged. In their 
anxiety to prove all things scholars have explored the hidden, labyrinth- 
ian paths and have been prone to ignore the plain and straight ways, 
if for no other reason than because they were obvious. And so, after 
Scott's declaration that "The Romance of Sir Tristrem was composed 
by Thomas of Erceldoune, called the Rhymer, who flourished in the 
thirteenth century", came the testimony of such men as Price, Wright, 
Paris, Hazlitt, Halliwell, Garnett, Murray, Schofield, and Kolbing to 
prove — not that some other person was the author of the poem, but sim- 
ply that Thomas was not its composer. In McNeill, the latest editor of 
the romance, critical judgment seems to be swinging back to the com- 
mon-sense position taken by Ritson and Scott. After reviewing carefully 
the evidence and the arguments in favor of an unknown author other 
than Thomas of Erceldoune, McNeill concludes thus: 

"Broadly viewed, the question of the authorship of the poem is one which, 
from the nature of the evidence, must be answered in accordance rather with 
reasonable probability than with absolute demonstration ; and the reasonable prob- 
ability is that Robert Mannying of Brunne was right when he ascribed the poem 
to Thomas of Erceldoune."^^ 

How ably Ritson had analyzed the available evidence is revealed in 
the following letter, and how thoroughly he had anticipated Scott's 

edge and consent of Thomas Gordon. See manuscript of 102 pp. in Ritson's best 
hand, comprising fifteen ballads and a copy of a letter of Thomas Gordon to 
Alexander Fraser Tytler under date of January 15, 1793. To the Table of Contents 
Ritson has appended the following note : "Many of these ballads have been since 
publish'd, from the same manuscript, in 'The Minstrelsy of the Scottish-border' ; 
whether deserve'dly, or not, i shal not now say." MS. in Mr. Perry's library. 

--G. P. McNeill, Sir Tristrem, Edinburgh and London, 1886, for the Scottish 
Text Society. 


conclusions is seen upon comparison of the letter with Scott's Introduc- 
tion to his Sir Tristrem. Just what is the degree of Scott's indebtedness 
to Ritson cannot now be definitely determined. The letter unfortunately 
bears no address. It was no doubt written to one who could and prob- 
ably did communicate its contents to Scott prior to the appearance of his 
Sir Tristrem in 1804. But even though Scott knew nothing of Ritson's 
letter on the romance, the fact remains that Ritson antedated Scott's 
conclusions by nearly three years. 

Laing II, 589. 
Dear Sir, 

The romance of Sir Tristrem, if admited to be the production of Thomas of 
Ercildon, i may be well enough said to have discovered, as i know of none who 
had anticipated my conjecture though i have not been permited to announce that 
discovery myself.-^ It is extant in a most valuable, but shockingly mutilated, MS. 
in the library of the faculty of advocates at Edinburg, marked W.4.1. and presented 
by the late lord Auchinleck, in 1744; its age, to the best of my judgment being 
about the year 1400,^^ and, evidently compiled and written in England.^^ The 
reasons from which i infer this imperfect romance to be the work of the ancient 
Scotish bard already mentioned are these : Robert of Brunne, in the prologue 
to his metrical version of Peter Langetoft, says,-® 

"I see in song in sedgeyng tale 
Of Erceldoun, & of Kendale, 
Non tham says as thai tham wroght, 
& in ther saying it seems noght. 
That may thou here in Sir Tristrem, 
Over gestes it has the steem, 
Over all that is or was, 
If men it sayd as made Thomas. 

But I here it no inan so say. 
That of some copple is away. 
So tharefare saying here beforne. 

-^Probably because of ill health holding back his publications. 

24]viodern critical opinion places the MS. at an earlier date. Most students go 
with McNeill in placing it at the beginning of the 14th century; some agree with 
Murray in setting it at the middle of the century. Scott refers it to "the earlier 
part of the fourteenth century". 

-^On this point there is no difference of opinion. On the question of the origin 
of the romance, Ritson would, of course, agree with the theory that the English 
version is from a Norman or Anglo-Norman source. He frequently contended, as 
did Tyrwhitt and Warton, that there exists no English romance which is not 
derived, directly or indirectly, from a French original. 

-611, 93-104, iog-ii2. Scott quotes these lines. 


Thai says in so quaynte Inglis, 
That many one wate not what is, 
Therfore heuyed wele the more 
In strange rynie to travayle sore." 

I shall now proceed to gratify your curiosity, by a transcript of the first 
stanza, which will serve at the same time, to illustrate the censure of the English 
'^rkick, and to ascertain the title of the Scotch poet. It runs thus : 

"I was at Ercildoun (To supply by conjecture, what is 
With Thomas spak y thare, 
Ther herd y rede in roune. 
Who Tristrem gat & bare, 
Who was king with croun, 

And who him fostered zare, 
And who was bold baroun. 
As thair elders ware 
Bi zere; 
Tomas telles in toun 

this aventours as thai were." 

This is a specimen of such "quaynte Inglis". and such "strange ryme", as 
there is no other instance of ; and, with the other extracts i have made from this 
venerable relique-^ (which, by the way, i had neither time nor convenience to 
transcribe at length), sufficiently proves, at least to my own conviction, that this is 
the identical poem alluded to in the above passage of Robert Mannyng. In further 
support of the authorship, i can also cite the fragment of an ancient romance in 
French metre upon the same subject, in the possession of Mr. Douce, in which the 
Scoto-English performance is apparently criticized under the name of Thomas.-^ 
The objection made, by some, against this opinion, is, that the poem speaks of 
Thomas, in the tliird person, as one from whom he states himself to have received 
his materials: but for this singularity (if it be one), the authors caprice must be 
responsible. It seems, in fact,- to have been, if not the peculiar, at least the 
notorious practise, of this popular rimer : as in two more modern poems, always 
ascribed to, but not, i believe, actually written by him, he is introduced in the same 
manner : one of these mentioned by Lord Hailes, you most probably have in the 
Scotish prophecys, the other, an imperfect MS. in the Cotton library, & Lincoln 
cathedral, has not been printed.-'' Besides, Maistre Wace, more than once, speaks 

-'They appear not to have been made use of. 

28The Douce fragments were edited by Francisque Michel, Tristan: Rccucil de 
ce qui reste dcs pocincs relatifs a ses aventures composes en Frangois en Anglo- 
Normand ct en Grec dans Ics xii^ ct xiii^ siecles\, London, 1835, and described by 
A. E. Curdy, La Folic Tristran, an Anglo-Norman Poem, Baltimore, 1902. Scott 
cited extracts from the fragments (Introd., pp. 42-4) in support of the point Ritson 
makes here. 

29It was printed by Laing as "Thomas of Ersseldoune", in Ancient Popular 
Poetry of Scotland. Second edition revised by W. C. Hazlitt, 1895, pp. 81-111. 


of himself in the same manner, tho' at other times in the first person; and this 
identical objection is alleged, by Bishop Watson, against the cavils of Thomas 
Paine, as a strong argument in favour of the four evangelists, after the example of 
Caesar, Xenophon, and other ancient historians -.^^ which is all i have at present to 
say upon the subject. I understand, however, that some gentlemen, at Edinburgh, 
have transcribed the entire poem for the purpose of publication, which i should, 
in fact, have done myself, tho' without the like advantages, had it not been 
mutilated and imperfect.^^ 

I put into your hands a few years ago an alphabetical list of the names of 
British rivers, which, if it would be of any service to you, and has already performed 
it, i should be obliged to you to leave for me at Egertons any time it may be 
convenient. 32 

I am, 

Dear sir, 

Very respectfully & sincerely yours 
J. Ritson. 
Gray's inn, 
26th June 1801. 

When one recalls that Scott's views on the subject of ballad decep- 
tion were, like those of his age, lax, and his practise even more remiss, 
one wonders what has become of the Ritson whose main object in life 
seemed to be to expose and to ridicule the liberties taken by editors of 
medieval poetry. That Ritson had not, at this period of life, given over 
his enmity to editorial laxity is evinced by his latest publications, Scott 
alone of all the collectors of ballads wholly escaped his ire. The poet's 
good fortune was undoubtedly due in large measure to the bland manner 
in which he treated Ritson. Scott himself, perhaps disturbed by an 
accusing conscience, was fearful lest Ritson should discover the extent 
to which he had indulged in textual liberties and attack him with his 
customary violence. In 1802 he wrote to Ellis : 

"As for Mr. Ritson, he and I still continue on decent terms ; and, in truth, 
he makes l^atte de velours: but I dread I shall see 'a whisker and then a claw' 
stretched out against my unfortunate lucubrations. "^^ 

^oRichard Watson, Apology for the Bible . . . Letters to Thomas Paine, 
1796, directed against Paine's "Second Part". 

3iThis no doubt alludes to the copy which formed the basis of Scott's edition. 
Ritson's veneration for Scott probably led him here to underestimate his own 
ability as a transcriber. Had he copied the whole poem for publication it would 
certainly not have been less perfect than Scott's version, which, according to Kobling, 
swarms with errors. Die nordische und die englische version der Tristan-saga , 
Heilbronn, 1878-92. 

32This unpublished MS. is now Douce 340, in the Bodleian Library : "A list of 
river names in Great Britain and Ireland, with a few etymological notes on them". 

s3Lockhart, Op. Git., II, p. 87.' 


The stimulus which came from his correspondence with men actively 
engaged in literary pursuits no doubt operated to revive Ritson 's waning 
interest to the point where he began again to publish. Despite steadily 
declining health he managed, with great suffering, to see three books 
through the press in 1802 and to bring several others to completion. 
Each one of them is disfigured by his peculiar orthography, and all are 
marred by extravagances in idea and statement. The condition of his 
mind serves in large measure to explain if not to excuse the extreme 
violence which characterizes much of the language of these volumes. 
All the dislikes which he had earlier expressed, all the eccentricities 
which he had formerly exhibited, are here reiterated with the cocksure- 
ness of conceit and egotism run riot. The Essay on Abstinence from 
Animal Food has already been mentioned and will be treated later ; the 
other two works appeared simultaneously. 

Bihliographia Poetica; a catalogue of English poets of the tivelfth, 
thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth century s, with a short 
account of their works, was the product of several years of labor. It was 
originally undertaken at the suggestion of Steevens, who was unable to 
fill out a list of authors' initials submitted by Thomas Park. "With the 
assistance of "the bibliographical labors of Leland, Bale, Pits, Wood, and 
Tanner", the ''ingenious though too frequently inaccurate History of 
English Poetry", Herbert's enlarged and improved edition of Ames's 
Typographical Antiquities, and his own transcript of the registers of the 
Stationers' company, "obligingly furnished by mister Chalmers",^* 

34The following letters concern the borrowing of the transcript. 

Add. j\ISS. 22900, f. 404. 

Dear Sir, 

Understanding that you have purchased Mr. Herbert's transcript of the 
Stationers-books, I presume upon your experienced liberality to solicit the loan, for 
a few days, of the first volume, either now or when you can better spare it; with 
liberty, if you please, to extract such entries of ballads as Herbert has not already 

I am. Dear sir, 

Very respectfully & sincerely yours 
J. Ritson. 

iSth. Dec. 98. 
George Chalmers esquire, 


together with numerous books and titles from the libraries of his 
friends,^^ and especially with critical suggestions from Douce and Park, 
Ritson worked out a catalogue surprisingly full and accurate for that 

It would seem that Ritson entered upon the preparation of this 
volume in collaboration with Douce but completed it alone, using exten- 
sively the material collected by his friend. A manuscript of "Materials 
for a biography of English poets to the end of the sixteenth century, 
collected by J. R. and F. D." now in the Bodleian, is entirely in Donee's 
hand.^'' Its plan is the same as that of Bibliographia Poetica-' the authors 

Montagu d. 15, f. 220. 

Gray's-inn, 20th Decern. 1798. 
Dear Sir, 

I return your first volume, with a thousand thanks; and flatter myself it has 
not been detained beyond your expectation. As you appear not to have finished 
your examination of the second, perhaps you could part with it more conveniently 
at a future time, for which I should wait with pleasure. If, however, the present 
be equally agreeable, you may rely on the utmost dispatch from, 

Dear Sir, 

Very sincerely yours, 

J. Ritson 

P. S. "The Clarkes booke", I perceive, wch contained the entrys from 22d July 
1571 to 1576 is still missing; nor now likely, I conclude, ever to be found. Another 
book, with a white cover, occasionally refer'd to, is, doubtless, in the same pre- 
George Chalmers esquire, Green-street. 

Add. MSS. 22901, f. 13. 
Dear Sir, 

I return you the concluding volumes of Mr. Herberts transcript, & shall ever 
retain the most grateful sense of so considerable a favor. 

Upon Mr. Steevens's application to I know not what members of the stationers 
company, they agreed to let me have the use of these books in their own hall, but 
had determined, it seems, that they should no more go abroad into private hands. 
As the terms were inconvenient, I did not accept the ofifer ; & have thereby had 
an opportunity of being much more pleaseingly indebted to your superior liberality. 

I remain, Dear sir, 
Your most obliged & respectful 
humble servant, 

J. Ritson. 
29th Jany. 1799. 

3^See S. E. Brydges, Censura Literaria, London, 1805-9, I, P- 54- 
3'*MS. Douce, e, 5. 


are arranged alphabetically by centuries, and there is a list of English 
translators and a supplement. Presumably Douce undertook to arrange 
his own and Ritson's notes in this volume, and after their estrangement 
Ritson enlarged and altered Douce 's material for his own published 
book. Apropos of the disruption of his friendship with Ritson, which 
resulted in breaking their collaboration on this volume, Douce wrote 
to Ellis : 

"We have taken a formal leave of each other — under our hands and seals, 
probably forever. We complained of each other's cavilling and contradictory tem- 
pers, which accidently colliding with no common violence produced the irre- 
parable breach."^'' 

Ritson allowed this misunderstanding to prevent his openly acknowledg- 
ing his obligations to Douce. There is, however, in the Advertisement to 
Bibliographia Poctica a veiled compliment of which Douce considers 
himself the subject. It reads : 

"That the compilation is more extensive, accurate and minute than it other- 
wise could have been, is owing to the kind attention, and literary exertions, of a 
very learned and ingenious friend, to whom the public is not less indebted than 
the editor." 

To this sentence, Douce, in his copy of the printed work, added : ' ' Orig- 
inally F. D.[ouce] but he [i. e. Ritson] afterwards concelled the name 
from a bit of spite," 

Throughout the course of Bibliographia Poctica there are many 
references to Douce, but Ritson was probably only slightly less indebted 
to Thomas Park, many of whose notes, signed "T. P.", are included. 
Park corrected Ritson's manuscripts twice and added so much valuable 
material that Ritson volunteered to divide the profits of the sale with 
him.^^ The first draft of the Preface contained a joint acknowl- 
edgment of the assistance rendered by Douce and Park, but when Ritson 's 
altercation with Douce caused the latter 's name to be stricken out. Park 
asked that his be omitted also. This was accordingly done, and in his 
ingratitude Ritson neglected even to send Park a copy of the printed 

3^ Add. MSS. 28099, f- 47- This letter bears no date beyond "Monday eve". 
That it was written later than Feb. i, 1801, is proved by another letter of Douce to 
Ellis in the same MS., f. 30, which bears that date and in which Douce expresses 
his interest in procuring Nicol as publisher for Ritson's book. 

sspark to Percy, Nov. 5, 1803, Nichols, Lit. Illust., VIII, p. 376. 

39For Park's version of his connection with Bibliographia Poctica see Hasle- 
wood, Op. Cit., p. 23 ff. 


Bihliographia Poetica was intended as a register of every poetical 
Avriter to the end of the sixteenth century, Ritson endeavored to list 
every poet, whether of renown, as Chaucer and Spenser, or whether 
known only for a translation in Englisli verse of a Latin poem, or for a 
single ballad sheet or other promiscuous verse ; dramatic pieces were 
excluded in order not to encroach upon the field occupied by Baker's 
Biographia Dramatica. His avowed concern was with names, titles, an<i 
dates. He gave the outstanding facts of an author's life, where such were 
knoAvn, but made no attempt to write biography. Neither did he under- 
take the role of critic, but he frequently called attention to the errors 
of previous historians of the period and occasionally dropped casual 
comments ou an author or his work. These remarks bear always the 
stamp of Ritson 's individuality and usually reveal keen judgment. 
His estimate of Lydgate and his voluminous productions is characteristic. 

"But, in truth, and fact, these stupid and fatiguing productions which by no 
means deserve the name of poetry, and their still more stupid and disgusting author, 
who disgraces the name and patronage of his master Chaucer, are neither worth 
. . . . collecting nor even worthy of preservation." In his "elaborate drawlings 
there are scarcely three lines together of pure and accurate meter.""*" 

This condemnation comes at the end of twenty-four pages devoted to 
Lydgate, in which 251 titles are listed. Ritson is by no means certain 
that his list is exhaustive or that it does not contain works wrongly 
attributed, but he is justified in proclaiming it to be "the completest 
list tliat can be formed, without access at least, to every manuscript 
library in the kingdom."'*^ His own estimate of his work has been 
substantiated by time. The Lydgate list contains many works of 
Chaucer and other contemporaries, and a single work is occasionally 
multiplied by two, three, or even four, by means of the repetition of 
varying titles. But, "with all its imperfections on its head", it remains 
a monument of industry. Necessarily faulty to a degree, it was a mar- 
velous achievement for its day, and while modern scholars have done 
much toward perfecting the list of Lydgate 's works, they have not yet 
made it definitive.^- To the dry and thankless task of chronicling names 
and titles Ritson brought a breadth of knowledge and a thoroughness of 
method which made his work as little liable to error as it is possible for 
that of any pioneer to be. 

^'^Bibliographia Poetica, p. 88. 

"/frid., p. 87. 

■*2H. M. AlacCracken, The Lydgate Canon, London, 1908, corrected Schick's 
chronology in Lydgate s Temple of Glass, London, 1891, but does not consider his 
own catalogue exhaustive. 


Eitson's outburst against the "drivelling" Monk of Bury-St. Ed- 
raond is given with his usual exaggeration, but his judgment of Lydgate's 
poetic ability persists well into the present day.*^ Despite the marvelous 
advance of interest in ancient English poetry, Lydgate was pretty gen- 
erally neglected during the first three-quarters of the nineteenth cen- 
tury, and Ritson's pronunciamento undoubtedly had its influence in 
perpetuating this neglect. The effect of his words concerning "Piers 
Plowman" was likewise noticeable. 

Up to the publication of Bihliographia Poetica "Piers Plowman" 
had been known in only one form — that now known as the B-text.** In 
investigating the numerous manuscripts of this poem, Ritson was struck 
with the degree in which some of them differed from the printed copies. 
"In order to enable any curious person to distinguish at first sight to 
which of the two editions (as one may call them) any new manuscripts 
he may happen to meet with belongs", Ritson quotes the opening lines 
of the B- and C-texts. The variations, he thinks, may be due to the fact 
that at some time the author revised his original work, "giving as it 
were a new edition." Without attempting any statement of priority, 
he conceives that "it may be possible for a good judge of ancient poetry, 
possessed of a sufficient stock of critical acumen, to determine which was 
the first and which was the second."*^ Manuscripts of "Piers Plowman" 
were so numerous (there are not less than forty-five extant today) that 
it is not surprising that even Ritson failed to collate all of them from 
beginning to end. This probably accounts for his failure to discover 
that the poem exists in three distinct forms instead of two. He perhaps 
compared A-text manuscripts only through the opening lines in which 
they agree closely with B, while the two manuscripts he selected for 
thorough comparison happened to be a B-text and a C-text.*^ Although 

^^Saintsbury remarks, History of Prosody, p. 221, note: "Some of Lydgate's 
Irecent German editors and champions have been nearly as severe on Ritson him- 
self. There is nothing to be said for his temper or his manners ; but the man who 
knew what he knew a hundred years ago is not to be belittled by those who 
have profited (or not) by nearly four generations of his and others' labors." 

''^It was first edited by Robert Crowley in 1550, and again by Owen Rogers in 

*^Bibliographia Poetica, p. 29, note. 

♦•'Ritson mentions nine separate manuscripts, at least two of which are of 
A-vcrsion, and speaks in general of "others". The present highly unsatisfactory^ 
state of the text may be gathered from Knott's account of his preparation of a 
critical text of the A-version from the fourteen imperfect MSS. extant. "An Essay 
toward the Critical text of the A-version of 'Piers Plowman'," Modem Philology, 
Vol. XII, pp. 129-61. 


it was nearly a quarter of a century before the A-text was discovered,*'' 
it Avas Ritson who laid the foundation for the "Piers Plowman" prob- 

Ritsoii entertained no delusion concerning the exhaustiveness of his 
labors in compiling Bibliographia Poctica; his chief ambition was to 
make a useful catalogue of the early English poets, with the hope that 
it would be corrected and supplemented by other students. The value 
of the work has been generally recognized^^ although some critics have 
insisted on citing only its inaccuracies and, by ignoring its purpose, 
censuring it for affording only "dry and uninteresting reading."^" 
Almost immediately upon its publication ' ' corrections ' ' and ' ' additions ' ' 
began to appear, and Joseph Haslewood undertook a new edition, which 
was never put to press.-^^ 

At the same time with the preparation of Bibliographia Poetica, 
Ritson was collecting material for a catalogue of Scottish writers upon 
a similar plan. He called upon Scott^- and other friends for assistance 
in this project and succeeded in preparing the copy for the printer but 
did not live to publish it. The manuscript, entitled "Bibliographia 
Scotica ; Anecdotes, Biographical and Literary, of Scottish writers, His- 
torians, and Poets from the earliest accounts to the nineteenth century", 
was a desideratum with Scott,"'^ and with Chalmers, who intended to 
publish it.^* It was bought over both these men by Longman and Rees 
and since 1875 has disappeared from sight.^^ 

•^Trice, in his edition of Warton's History, 1824, discovered the A-text and 
arranged the versions in their proper order. 

^^For the genesis of this problem see Samuel Moore's "Studies in 'Piers 
Plowman'," Mod. PhiloL, Vol. Xf, pp. 177-93. Moore states that the "tradition" 
to which Jusserand appeals in attempting to shift the burden of proof to the shoul- 
ders of Manly began with Price ; yet it had its partial but definite origin in Rit- 
son's discovery of the C-text. 

*^See Dibden's Director, I, pp. 126-8; Brydges, Restituta, II, p. 10; "The English 
Chaucerians", Cambridge Hist, of Eitg. Lit. 

soSee Diet. Nat. Biog., art. "Lydgate" ; Brydges, Censura Literaria, I, p. 158. 

"'iThis was no doubt the work announced in the Gentleman's Magazine for 
October, 1814, "to be put to press next year". Many of Haslewood's corrections 
appeared over his initials in Censura Lit., V, pp. 131-6; VI, pp. 29-34. 

•"'-See Letters, II, p. 241. 

53Scott to Ellis, Oct. 14, 1803, Lockhart's Scott, II, p. 136; Park to Hill, Dec. 8, 
1803, Add. MSS., 20083, f- 118. 

"'^Chalmers to Constable, Oct. 27, and Dec. 27, 1803, Constable and his Lit. 
Corresp., I, pp. 410-12, 502. 

^^Notes and Queries, Ser. 5, Vol. X, pp. 287, 412. 


The work for which the printer held up the publication of Biblio- 
graphia Poetica that they might both appear together'^*' was Ancient 
Engleish Metrical Eomancees, in three volumes. Throughout the work, 
and especially in the prefatory "Dissertation on Romance and Min- 
strelsy", are to be found numerous vicious slurs upon the accuracy and 
integrity of Percy, Pinkerton, and "Warton, and violent attacks upon 
Christianity, all of which must be traced to tlie morbid state of mind in- 
duced by Ritson 's illness. The copy first submitted for the ' ' Dissertation ' ' 
contained a number of derogatory allusions to Christianity which were 
so virulent that Nicol refused to print it without alteration. Accord- 
ingly a dozen of the worst passages were deleted or modified before 
publication.^" The melancholy sentence with which the Advertisement 
concludes affords abundant evidence of Ritson 's mental condition. 

"Brought to an end with much industry and more attention, in a continued 
state of ill health and low spirits, the editor abandons it to general censure, with 
cold indifference, expecting little favor, and less profit ; but certain, at any rate, 
to be insulted by the malignant and calumnious personalities of a base and pros- 
titute gang of lurking assassins, who stab in the dark, and whose poisoned daggers 
he has already experienced." 

There is somewhat more than a tincture of irony in Ritson 's pro- 
fessing to take from Percy the suggestion for a compilation on almost 
every page of which that worthy prelate is branded as a literary forger 
and an editorial malefactor. This irony is obvious in his appropriating 
Percy's remarks on the value and importance of a judicious collection 
of ancient metrical histories and romances, "accurately published, with 
proper illustrations", as praise of his own collection. To the eloquent 
commendation of this learned and ingenious writer, he says, nothing 
need be added in favor of the present publication. 

Besides the historical Dissertation, in many ways the most inter- 
esting and in some respects the most important part of the work. Metri- 
cal Romances consists of twelve romances, with "Horn Childe and 
Maiden Rimnild" added as an Appendix to the second volume. The 
pieces are printed from the most ancient sources available, a few from 
black letter copies, more from manuscripts. The work is done with 
Ritson 's customary accuracy; variant readings and editorial emenda- 
tions are noted with scholarly care. It is not, however, perfect. There 
are obvious blunders in the text; there are errors of judgment in the 
critical introductions ; and there are mistakes and gaps in the glossary^®. 

^"Park to Hill, May 26, 1802, Add. Mss., 20083, f. 54. 

s^These cancelled passages were subsequently printed on separate sheets which 
may be found bound in a very few copies of the first edition. See Appendix B. 

^^Skeat pointed out fifteen "peculiar blunders" but praised the glossary as a 
noteworthy example of pioneer scholarship. See .V. a)id Q., Ser. 8, Vol. II. p. 3. 


But the whole is a remarkably accurate production for its day and re- 
flects credit upon the erudition and scholarship of the editor. 

Chestre's beautiful fairy tale, "Launfal", had just previously ap- 
peared among Ellis's notes to Way's translation of Le Grand's Fah- 
liaux,^'-^ and Ritsou does not justify his reprinting it here. There are 
several explanations of troublesome passages given with a "not as mister 
Ellis says" which would indicate that the romance was given primarily 
with the peevish purpose of correcting Ellis. A similar reason seems to 
account for the insertion of "Lybeaus Disconus", which Percy had 
printed in the Reliques as from a copy in his folio manuscript. In the 
general revision of the Reliques for the fourth edition, this romance was 
made to conform more closely to its original, and the editor's remarks 
concerning it were altered accordingly. Ritson, who was perhaps more 
directly responsible than any one else for this general overhauling of 
the Reliques, declared that Percy's treatment of "Lybeaus Disconus" 
in the fourth edition was such as to destroy confidence in what he had 
advanced concerning it in the third. Ritson accordingly printed it from 
the Caligula manuscript for the double purpose of discomfiting Percy 
and exhibiting a more perfect copy of the romance. 

Purely personal considerations play no part in the work with the 
remaining pieces, which were included on their merits alone. Ritson 's 
conjectures on the sources of these romances were not always as definite 
as might be wished, but his general theory that they could all be traced 
to French originals was not far wrong. He did not connect ' ' The Knight 
of Curtesy and the Fair Lady of Faguell" with the "Chatelain de 
Coucy", upon which it is founded. He could find no single original 
for either "Le Bone Florence" or "The Squyre of Lowe Degre", though 
he considered it more than probable that one had actually existed in 
the former case and was opposed to the theory of Percy and Warton that 
"a romance of 'The Squyr of Lowe Degre' is alluded to in the Rime of 
Sir Topas". In contradiction of Percy, who judged "The Geste of Kyng 
Horn" to be "of genuine English growth", Ritson derives it from a 
French original. In this estimate he had the support of Tyrwhitt and 
Warton, and was later followed by Morris and others.*"' This theory 
was long questioned, but finally overthrown only in 1876 by Wissman.®^ 
In the matter of dates Ritson was more nearly correct than previous 
editors, but many of his conclusions have had to be modified as inves- 

^^Le Grand D'Aussy, Fabliaux or Talcs, abridged front French manuscripts of 
the tzvelfth and thirteenth centuries. Selected and translated by G. L. Way. 
London, i8oo. 

^°See O. Hartenstein, Studicu zur Hornsage, Heidelberg, 1902. 

*5iWissman, King Horn, Strassburg, 1876. 


ligations in the field brought more information to hand. "Ywaine and 
Gawain" is to be placed in the first half of the fourteenth century 
rather than at its close, as Ritson thought.'^- His vague statement that 
"The King of Tars" is apparently of the fourteenth century can be 
made definite for the first third of the century .^^ "The Geste of Kyng 
Horn" he rightly considered to be the oldest Middle English romance 
which lias been preserved. 

If Ritson had not already passed beyond the stage at which he 
cared much what happened to his books when they were published — 
and his Advertisement indicates that he had passed this stage — the cold 
reception accorded Metrical Romances by the public must have been 
very disappointing to him.*'* And his chagrin must have been increased 
when he recalled that in deference to him George Ellis had not only 
generously relinquished his own projected edition of ancient romances 
but had successfully exerted himself in obtaining Nicol as publisher for 
Metrical Romances. This was no easy task, when publishers were re- 
ported to "groan in spirit over the peculiarities of Ritson 's orthogra- 
phy".^^ There can be little doubt that Ritson 's wide acquaintance with 
medieval literature, especially in manuscript sources, his unwearying 
facult.Y for research, and his advanced editorial standards, gave him 
superior claim to the work in hand. But it is equall}" indisputable that 
he lacked the taste and judgment of Ellis and was certain to produce 
a book less readily appreciated. Ellis was not, however, permanently 
denied the field. Upon Ritson 's publication falling into almost imme- 
diate neglect, and on the solicitation of friends, he took up again his 
original plan. Early in 1804 Percy asked Thomas Park to undertake 
a revision of Ritson 's work, proffering the use of his own extensive col- 
lection of romances. Park declined for two reasons. 

"One is that I think Ritson's plan injudicious and his execution of it repulsive : 
whence his book is likely to prove unsalable. The other is that my highly esteemed 
and respected friend, Mr. George Ellis, is preparing for publication a general 
analysis of English metrical romances, intermingled with extracts from the ancient 
copies, which are curious for the illustration of manners, meter, or language, and 
which will certainly, prove, like his Specimens of our lyric poesy, a very popular 

"-W. H. Schofield, English Literature from the Norman Conquest to Chancer, 
New York, 1906, p. 230. 

83A. Gough, On the Middle English Metrical Romance of Emare, Kiel. 1900. 

6*.'\lmost without exception the reviewers devoted themselves to the Disserta- 
tion and found little or nothing there to commend. See British Critic, September 
1804 and January 1805; Critical Rez'icw, Vol. XXXTX. pp. 179-87; Edinbnrrih Re- 
Tiew, Vol. VII, pp. 387-413. 

''■•Scott to Ellis, Lockhart's Scott, II, p. 87. 


Attention was first called to the general subject of romances by Percy 
in his "Essay on the Ancient Metrical Romances."*"^ Warton's great 
taste for medieval poetry led him to investigate romances somewhat in 
detail, but the first comprehensive work upon the subject was that by 
Ritson. Yet it remained for Ellis's Specimens of Early English Ro- 
mances in Metre, 1805, to arouse a popular interest in the subject which 
secured for Ritson 's collection the attention it deserved. 

Ritson intended for publication in the year 1785 a collection of 
Scottish poetry entitled The Caledonian Muse. Like a great many of 
his books, it was printed in installments, as he had the habit of begin- 
ning printing before he had all the copy ready. Although this volume 
was not ready for publication in 1785, it was nevertheless announced as 
an issue of that year. Ritson himself referred to this work in his sub- 
sequent publications. In the Advertisement to English Anthology , 1793, 
he writes : ' ' The Caledonian Muse, a collection of Scottish poetry, upon 
a similar plan, printed some years since, though not yet published was, 
in fact, a subsequent compilation. " In a list of books "published by 
J. Johnson" in Scotish Songs, 1794, appears this notice: "The Cale- 
donian Muse, a chronological selection of Scottish poetry, from the ear- 
liest times to the present: with notes and a glossary; and elegant vig- 
nettes, engraved by Heath, from the designs of Stothard. To which is 
added, an essay on the author of Christ's Kirk on the Green." The 
work itself had not yet appeared, and on March 5, 1794, Ritson wrote 
to Paton : 

"The impression of another little volume, of which I believe I shewed you a 
fragment, entitled 'The Caledonian Muse', which had engaged my attention for a 
great many years, and was at last got ready for publication, has been lately 
destroyed by fire in the printer's house ; so that I neither possess, nor can procure, 
one single complete copy. 'Sic transit Gloria mundi.' I am of course meditating 
a trip to Scotland, to re-collect materials for a new edition."^^ 

Ritson 's belief that the whole impression was at that time destroyed has 
been found to be erroneous although it was sufficiently strong in his 
own mind to cause him to abandon hope of finishing the volume on the 
original plan. From an incomplete manuscript of "Select Scotish 
Poems"®* and some fugitive notes by David Laing,*^'' into whose hands 

«6Nichols, Lit. Illiist., VIII, p. 377. 

^''Letters, II, p. 45 ; Nichols, Lit. Illust., Ill, p. 778. 

^^Now in Mr. Perry's library. This MS. was put into the hands of Constable 
for publication but at the time of Ritson's death only two sheets were in print and 
it was never completed. See Constable and his Literary Correspondence, I, pp. 

®^Picked up in a copy of the Caledonian Muse in an Edinburgh book shop. 


the information concerning it came, it appears that Ritson had actu- 
ally made some progress in republishing his material under the new 
title. He seems to have recompared the text of the different pieces with 
the oldest manuscripts or the earliest or best editions, to have struck 
out passages or resolved to omit altogether some of the longer poems 
which the Caledonian Muse contained, and to have added some ancient 
pieces with which at first he may have been unacquainted. He pro- 
ceeded in this work until death put an end to his labors, and he never 
knew that upwards of four hundred copies of such pages of the Caledo- 
nian Muse as had been printed and probably removed to the publish- 
er's warehouse escaped the fire. In reality only the introductory por- 
tion of the work was destroyed. The copies that were saved remained 
untouched in Johnson's shop vintil his death in December, 1809, after 
which they were purchased by Robert Triphook.'^" The only authentic 
account of the later history of the volume is given in the following 
letter of Triphook, which unfortunately bears neither address nor date •J'^ 

Dear Sir 

Till this moment I have had no leisure to attend particularly to the Ritson's 
Caledonian Muse. I send you with this a copy complete so far as I have it. Sheet 
2. was printed by me in continuation. & the copy for the remainder of the vol. 
with rather a long Life of Ritson to be prefixed, was sent to Mr. Heber for his 
perusal some six years ago, but by some unfortunate accident it was either lost 
or mislaid, and it has remained in the state I now send it ever since."- It appears 
that Ritson (by your letter) had printed to Sheet 2. (these additional sheets were 
probably destroyed as Waste by Johnson of St. Pauls Churchyard, before I 
purchased — Of his select Scotish Poems. Hunter who succeeded Johnson, knows 
nothing — nor have I ever seen a Copy. 

The Number of the Caledonian Muse is about 420 a few more or less. I have 
also a Portrait (Shade) of Ritson engraved by me for the purpose of placing with 
the volume, of which no impressions have yet been taken. I will dispose of the 
whole to you at two shillings a book & five guineas the copper. Mr. Haslewood 
(who collected the material for the Life) has a portion of MS. ready transcribed 
for the press in order to finish the work.'''^ 

''°In a note in his edition of Ritson's English Songs, p. xciv, Thomas Park 
says : "Mr. Triphook, jun. bookseller in St. James St. has purchased that portion of 
Caledonian Muse which escaped conflagration, and purposes to complete and pub- 
lish it, according to the original plan." 

'^iThis letter is in David Laing's copy of The Caledonian Muse, now in Mr. 
Perry's library. 

''-Since Triphook did not acquire the Caledonian Muse before 1810, this 
statement would place the composition of the letter in 1816 or after. 

^^In Brydges's British Bibliographer, Vol. IV, p. 302, appears the following 
notice signed with the initials "J. H.", evidently Joseph Haslewood : "It is my 
intention to attempt a conclusion of the last part of Ritson's Caledonian Muse, and 


Of the volume on Scotland at Brand's Sale. I cannot trace to whom I sold 
it. The Maunsell's catalogue was sold for cash. If a copy of Chaucer 1532 occurs 
I will secure it for you 

I have purchased of Mr. Chalmers his Edition of Churchyard Chips con- 
cerning Scotland — 150 copies, which I will sell en Masse for 3o£. I think it would 
be acceptable in Scotland 

May I beg jou to forward the enclosed small Packets as directed 

I remain 

Your obd. Serv. 

Robt. Triphook 
Old Bond St. 
Oct. 12. 

Triphook did not succeed in disposing of the work and in 1821 
published it himself, with the following title page : The Caledonian 
Muse: a chronological collection of Scotish poetry from the earliest times. 
Edited by the late Joseph Ritson, Esq. With vignettes engraved hy 
Heath, after the designs of Stothard. London: Printed 1785: and 
now first puMished, hy Robert Triphook, 23 Old Bond Street, 1821. 
The "Life" and the proposed additions by Haslewood^* do not appear, 
and the publisher states that the only additions to Ritson 's material 
have been a Title and a Portrait. 

The Caledonian Muse consists of a chronological arrangement of 
Scottish poetry (songs excluded) in three divisions, comprising respect- 
ively : Authentic Poems, Poems by uncertain authors, and Extracts. 
There are but a few notes and these appear in the first pages of the 
book. It is to be regretted that Ritson 's "Essay on the author of Christ's 
Kirk on the Green" was destroyed. He contended that the poem was 
erroneously ascribed to James I."'' and in this volume attributes it to 
James V., but his reasons are nowhere to be found. 

By the middle of 1803 Ritson had ready for publication an histor- 
ical volume on King Arthur which he submitted to Longman and Rees 
for publication. It was rejected for reasons which Ritson himself an- 
ticipated in a letter to Scott : 

"I have put into Mr. Longman's hand at his own request, for the opinion 
of some critic he is used to consult, my "Life of King Arthur" but whether the 
partners to whom I was recommended by our worthy friend Dr. Leyden, will 
submit the volume within a very short period, to the candor of the sons of 
Caledonia, rather than suffer any relic of the accurate Ritson to be lost." If the 
material which Haslewood prepared "within a very short period"' is that to which 
Triphook refers, i8i6 would be a highly probable date for his letter. 

'^^Haslewood probably used the biographical materials he had collected for this 
volume in his own Life and Publications of Ritson, 1824. 
''^Scotish Songs, I, p. xxxvi, note. 


undertake the publication, I much doubt, as Mr. Longman thinks my orthography 
unfavorable to its sale and Mr. Rees was apprehensive I should treat the Welshmen 
with too much familiarity, an apprehension, I confess, which will turn out to be 
well founded."^^ 

Ritson had no further opportunity to seek a publisher, and the 
volume did not appear until 1825, with the title, The Life of King 
Arthur: from ancient historians and authentic documents. Joseph 
Frank, Ritson's nephew, supervised the printing but did no editing save 
to eliminate the objectionable orthography. He made no attempt at 
criticism and offered only a single comment on the work: 

"The difficulty of the subject may be partly estimated from doubt having been 
actually entertained by the author, during his early researches, as to the identity 
of his hero, and fears lest the real Arthur might not, after all, be found : 

'So many of his shadows had he met, 
And not the very king.' " 

In the Preface Ritson concerned himself mainly with demonstrat- 
ing that Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Britonum is "a series of pal- 
pable and monstrous lies", and that the Britons or "Welsh, by professing 
to believe it authentic have shown themselves to have ' ' more vanity and 
less judgment than any other people in the world." He ignored" alto- 
gether the literary importance of Geoffrey's work and seemed to feel 
that because the Historia was a forgery its author deserved nothing but 
condemnation and abuse. From the absence of any mention of Arthur 
by historians prior to the twelfth century, Ritson concluded that Geof- 
frey had invented the whole of his pseudo-history. He admitted that 
the Bishop may have had the Latin Nennius before him but flatly denied 
the existence of the Welsh originals. Beyond Nennius and the romance 
of Charlemagne, he contended that Geoffrey had nothing to draw upon 
but his own fertile imagination. For support of his charge of infidelity 
Ritson turned to Geoffrey's contemporaries. He quotes at length from 
the Preface to William of Newburgh's chonicle,'^ which he considers 
"not only a criticism of extraordinary merit, for the time, but even the 
only thing of the kind to be found in ancient English literature." The 
tone of this Preface is as intemperate as Ritson's own: — "How petu- 
lantly and how impudently he [Geoffrey] lies." The testimony of 
Giraldus Cambrensis,^^ "himself a Welshman and a bishop", who calls 
the British History a "lying book", is considered by Ritson sufficient 
to clinch his argument against Geoffrey. It is obvious that Ritson took 

''^Letters, II, p. 238. 

''"'Historia Rerum Anglicariim, c. 1200, ed. by T. Hearne, Oxford, 1719. 

''^Descriptio Caiiibriae, ed. Powell, London, 1585. 


keen delight in his arraignment of Geoffrey. If he recognized the tre- 
mendous influence of Historui Britonum upon subsequent literature, he 
studiously avoided any mention of it and seemed obsessed with the idea 
that fraud or deception on the part of an author destroyed the value 
of everything he wrote. Such an obsession is, perhaps, a not unnatural 
product of twenty years' activity in hunting down literary impostors. 

In the "Life" of King Arthur proper, Ritson is less the controver- 
sialist and more the historical compiler. By implication he is all along 
rectifying the erroneous statements of Geoffrey, but, with a few excep- 
tions, he avoids comparisons. He has collected a mass of interesting 
quotations from what he considered authentic historians — Caesar, Taci- 
tus, Leland, Nennius, carefully distinguishing the scholia of Samuel, 
etc. — and arranged them in chronological order. It was his purpose 
to present a history of Britain, particularly through the reign of Ar- 
thur, and carefully to sift out the authentic facts from the mass of tra- 
dition and legend which had accumulated about his hero. In the labor 
of gathering from remote and obscure sources material on a definite 
subject, Ritson was unequalled by any one in his day.'^ But he had 
not the ability to weave his extracts into an interesting and continuous 
narrative, and he seldom ventured to deduce inferences or draw con- 
clusions. As a result of his merits he has left in this volume a mass of 
valuable material ; but because of his defects it remains only a ' ' mass ' ' 
fit for reference by the student of a particular subject but of no general 

Ritson 's interest in Scotland, as revealed by the publication of 
several volumes of songs and poems, has already been noted. When his 
prefator^^ essays in Scotish Songs engaged him in dispute with Pinker- 
ton, he began a careful investigation of the history of the early inhabi- 
tants of the British Isles, and especially of Scotland. On August 22, 
1795 he informed Harrison that he was employing himself "very busily 
in researches after the Celts, the Picts, and the Scots", adding by way 
of explanation, "I am quite sick of the modern writers of ancient his- 
tory, who think to make amends by their fine language for their total 
want of industry, truth, and candor. ' '^° The results of this investigation 
were ultimately published in three volumes under two different titles. 
The Annals of the Caledonians, Picts, and Scots; and of Strathclyde, 
Cumberland, Galloway, and Murray, in two volumes, was ready for the 
press by the end of 1801 at which time he wrote to Constable concern- 
ing it: 

"My annals of the Picts, Scots, Strathclyde Britons, Cumbrians, Galwegians, 

'9Cf. his Robin Hood. 
^^Letters, II, p. 99. 


and men of Murray, in Latin and English, with which I have taken great pains, 
and which is certainly a very curious book for that sort of learning, is now ready 
for the press. If you think it would answer for your shop, it is at your service: 
but I do not wish you to venture upon it, if you are not perfectly satisfied, though 
we should likewise have the name of a good bookseller in London. Think on this 
and tell me your mind."^^ 

Although Constable did not accept the work at this time, it was through 
his interest that it was sent to Ballantyne, by whom it was printed a 
quarter of a century later.^- The other volume, Memoirs of the Celts 
or Gauls, Ritson made no effort to publish. He had it practically ready 
for the press but in the last of his extant letters referred to it as "laid 
by for the present. "^^ These two histories were edited by Frank in 
1827 and 1828. He professes to have altered the original manuscripts 
no whit, save to reduce Ritson 's "peculiar orthography to the standard 
of our language" and to "omit a few hasty epithets, appearing to be 
harsher than the occasion could require or justify, (which the author, 
had he lived to publish the works himself, would, probably, have al- 
tered) " — a conjecture which the violence of Ritson 's latest denuncia- 
tions seems not to support. 

This whole historical investigation was undertaken with the pur- 
pose of discrediting Pinkerton's theory of the origin of the Scots, and 
so these volumes will be looked into more minutely in the next chapter. 
It will suffice here to see their general nature. 

In Memoirs of the Celts Ritson brought together all the allusions 
to the Celts which he was able to gather from poets and historians of 
the Middle Ages. These extracts he arranged in twenty-one chapters 
and ten appendices, treating of almost every detail of the customs, 
habits, and personal characteristics of the people, as well as of their 
origin and their language. In the Annals of the Caledonians it was his 
object to present 

"a chronological account of the inhabitants of the country known, for the first time, 
by the name of Caledonia, and, in successive ages, by those of Albany, Pictland, 
Scotland, and North Britain, from the earliest period which history affords, and 
from the most ancient and authentic documents which time has preserved, and 
with that attention to truth and accuracy which integrity and utility require." 

^^Constable and his Literary Correspondents, I, p. 498. 

s^Constable wrote Scott, Sept. 20, 1825 : "I am glad to say I have had it in my 
power to send Ballantyne two or three jobs within the last week — one of them the 
History of the Picts, by our old friend Ritson." 

»^ Letters, II, p. 248. 


His sources, as in the former work, were ancient historians and poets — 
especially the Latin chroniclers. His method is to follow a general 
historical introduction to each nation or people by all the passages 
concerning it which he was able to garner. It is distinctly to his credit 
that, though he held a brief for the Celts, and though he was concerned 
with establishing his theory in opposition to that supported by Pinker- 
ton, yet he did not stoop to the methods of the professional dialectician 
by presenting only his own side of the case but fearlessly gave every ref- 
erence found, irrespective of its bearing on his thesis. Such a method 
manifestly disarms criticism and inspires confidence. 

The last of Ritson's publications appeared in 1831 as Fairy Tales, 
now first collected: to which are prefixed two dissertations: 1. On^ 
Pygmies; 2. On Fairies. There is no mention of this work anywhere 
in his extant correspondence, but it seems probable that the twenty- 
nine fairy tales, in both prose and verse, and the six fairy songs, which 
compose the body of the volume, were brought together in the 1780 's 
when he was concerned with collecting and publishing the poetic Gar- 
lands. Yet from internal evidence it appears that the prefatory Essays 
could not have been composed earlier than 1794. He probably took up 
this volume and completed its preparation for the press sometime during 
his later years when illness made continued work on one subject a burden. 

In the first edition of the Reliques Percy had printed with an old 
ballad of "Robin Good Fellow" two woodcuts which he said "seem to 
represent the dresses in which this whimsical character was formerly 
exhibited upon the stage." In Scotish Songs Ritson produced evidence 
purporting to prove that these cuts were originally used to represent 
two of the characters in Bulwer's Artificial Changeling and had nothing 
to do with Robin Good Fellow. Because Percy altered his remarks in 
the fourth edition of the Reliques but did not pay homage to Ritson 
for his correction, the critic finds occasion in the present Essay to ridi- 
cule the "contemptible tone of the pertinacious prelate." However 
little these contemptuous comments may illuminate the subject of Fai- 
ries, they serve to reveal the nature of their author, and to suggest very 
strongly a late date of composition. 

Aside from this blemish and another produced by Ritson 's ungracious 
reference in indecent language to his early controversy with Steevens 
on the mortality of Fairies, the Essay is delightful reading. It seems 
evident that Ritson sought to adapt his material to youthful readers, 
but he could not avoid learned and obscure quotations with their accom- 
panying footnotes. By means of citations from writers of various coun- 
tries and different ages, he demonstrated the universality of the belief in 
other-world creatures. He then turned to Oberon, Puck, Robin Good 


Fellow, and Titania, whose dress, appearance, and habits are illustrated 
by happy extracts from Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and lesser Eng- 
lish poets. The Essay concludes with a touch of personal reminiscence 
which is extremely rare in Ritson 's writings : 

"The compiler of the present sheets remembers when very young, to have 
heard a respectable old woman, then a midwife, at Stockton, relate that, when, in 
her youthful days, she was a servant at Durham, being up late one Saturday night, 
cleaning the irons in the kitchen, she heard these shrikes (of the Barguest), first 
at a great, and then at a less distance, till, at length, the loudest, and most horrible, 
that can be conceived, just at the kitchen-window, sent her upstairs, she did not 
know how, where she fell into the arms of a fellow-servant, who could scarcely 
prevent her from fainting away."®* 

In concluding the chronology of Ritson 's editorial labors it will be 
well to summarize his w^ork and estimate its importance. In a period of 
twenty years — only thirteen of which were actively employed in pub- 
lishing — he saw through the press thirty-six volumes and prepared 
nearly as many more for publication. Of these, ten were printed after 
his death ; the others either were destroyed or remain unknown in man- 
uscript. The printed volumes consist of collections of poems, songs, 
ballads, and romances ; legal antiquities ; critical comments ; and histor- 
ical extracts. The material of but few of these volumes is original. 
Ritson is their editor not their author; and it was as an editor that he 
exerted most influence upon his age. His editorial creed may be summed 
up in one word — honesty. To be more explicit, he insisted on recourse 
to the most ancient sources, on fidelity to originals in transcribing, on a 
candid notation of all necessary variations and additions, on a free ac- 
knowledgment of obligations, and on exact references to all quotations. 
These principles he followed in his own publications, and he insisted 
with a great deal of vehemence that other editors should adhere to them 
and unsparingly condemned those who went contrary to his precepts. 
Tyrwhitt had anticipated Ritsoii by nearl}^ a decade in giving to Eng- 
land an example of scholarly editing; but, while his work attracted the 
favorable comments of nearly all critics, it did not operate as a reforma- 
tive force. It remained for Ritson, with his eccentricities, his abusive 
manner, his violent language, and his reiterative insistence on honesty, 
to stimulate the attention of students of early literature to such a degree 
that editorial laxity was generally discountenanced. It was because of 
Ritson 's activity that Percy purged the fourth edition of the Reliques 
of much dross and that Pinkerton confessed his dishonesty and plead 
for forgiveness. Ireland and Scott admittedly stood in awe of his critical 

^*Fairy Tales, p. 58. 


eye, and Ellis and Weber confessed themselves indebted to him for exam- 
ples of faithful editing.^-' 

In the field of popular poetry Ritson's influence was likewise con- 
siderable. The mere bulk of his poetical material outweighs that of any 
other man of his day. Half the total number of his volumes were col- 
lections of poems, songs, ballads, and romances, both English and Scot- 
tish. Although he confessed his failure to gather ballads from oral 
tradition, yet he rescued from possible destruction many a relique of 
antiquity by making accessible unknown or forgotten manuscripts and 
black letter copies. Not only did he increase the interest in popular 
poetry first aroused by Percy, but he inspired a veneration for the 
' ' rude ' ' remains of the past which was absent in the days of Percy and 
came to be thoroughly acknowledged only in those of Scott and Laing. 

^^This was a preliminary, though a necessary, step to present-day "critical" 
editing. For a concise statement of the evolution of editing from the exact repro- 
duction of a single MS. through the "eclectic" method to the "critical", see 
E. P. Hammond, Chaucer: A Bibliographical Manual, New York, 1908, pp. 106-13. 

Prefatory Dissertations 

Classification of the material — General Characteristics of the Essays — First 
division : Songs and musical instruments — Historical view — Among the English — 
In Scotland — Second division : Minstrels, ballads, and romances — Percy's minstrel 
theory — Ritson's refutation — Definition of terms — Percy's alterations in fourth 
edition of Reliques — Social status of the minstrels — Their literary status— Ballad 
origins — Oral transmission — Comments on the folio manuscript — Exposure of Per- 
cy's editorial methods — Third division : Scottish poetry and history — Attack upon 
Pinkerton's integrity — Antipathy toward Scotchmen — Attack upon Scottish national 
character — Pinkerton's "Gothic system" — Ritson's defense of the Celts— Summary. 

All of Ritson's publications have now been passed in review, and 
it remains to consider the historical essays prefixed to four of the col- 
lections. These are five in number: 1. "A Historical Essay on the 
Origin and Progress of National Song", in English Songs, 1783; 2. 
"Observations on the Ancient English Minstrels", and 3. "Dissertation 
on the Songs, Music, and Vocal and Instrumental Performances of the 
Ancient English", in Ancieiit Songs, 1790; 4. "A Historical Essay on 
Scotish Song", in Scotish Songs, 1794; and 5. "Dissertation on Ro- 
mance and Minstrelsy", in Metrical Romances, 1802. To these will be 
added, for reasons presently apparent, two historical volumes : Memoirs 
of the Celts, 1827, and Annals of the Caledonians, 1828. Ritson made 
no formal classification of his material except within each of the essays, 
yet the substance of all of them falls naturally into three divisions: 
songs and the musical instruments that accompanied singing; minstrels, 
ballads, and romances ; Scottish poetry and history. In handling the 
last type of material he came into violent opposition to Pinkerton and 
his assumptions, and much of his investigation was undertaken with the 
avowed purpose of controverting his Scottish opponent. A situation 
almost parallel to this obtains in the second division. What he had to 
say about minstrels and romances was largely inspired by the desire to 
expose the fallacy of Bishop Percy's hypotheses. Onl,y in dealing with 
the history of song and musical instruments is he free from personal 
controversy with an individual and his theories. 

Although the titles are various, these essays are all built upon one 
plan. Just as in forming his collections of poetrj^ and song Ritson was 
the editor and not the poet, so in producing the essays he was the com- 


piler and not the historian. In his own view, however, he was writing 
history, for he considered it the business of the historian simply to give 
liis material as he found it without attempting to put himself into it, 
much less to construct a philosophy. It was in the strength of this belief 
that he refused in most instances to draw inferences from his material 
and failed always to summarize conclusions. What he did do was this. 
Given a subject, say English or Scottish song, he gathered from remote 
poetical and historical sources an astonishing number of references and 
allusions to it and then strung them together in chronological sequence 
with a minimum of editorial comment. It was his declared purpose 
"to discover fact, not to indulge conjecture", and it was matter of pride 
to him that he made no statement without citing for it an old authority, 
either printed or manuscript. 

Sucli was the plan adopted in all the essays. It was worked out 
more exhaustively for songs than for any other subject. The "Histori- 
cal Essay on the Origin and Progress of National Song" gave a survey 
of the subject from the very earliest times to Ritson's day. Ostensibly 
dealing with English song, it follows the development of the type through 
Greek, Roman, Italian, Spanish, and French. This employment of the 
comparative method was a little surprising in Ritson in view of his 
slightly earlier condemnation of Warton for using it in his History. 
But it is introduced awkwardly and not very effectively. What Ritson 
really does is to give the development of national song in each country 
separately. Except in the treatment of France he makes no effort to 
illustrate the progress of national song in England by its growth among 
other peoples. The essay is a learned compilation and was the product 
of unwearied research. The extensive quotations from Greek and Latin 
sources amply demonstrate Ritson's familiarity with the ancient tongues, 
unless, mayhap, he used translations and had the help of friends in 
this part of the work. It has been asserted by Haslewood^ and denied 
by Nicolas- that he Avas materially assisted in the classical portion by 
his friend John Baynes. There seems no room for doubt on the question 
as he himself states^ that he is indebted to Baynes for the translation 
of all original Greek poetry in the essay. 

Ritson pursued the subject of English song still further and seven 
years later published the "Dissertation on the Songs, Music, and Vocal 
and Instrumental Performances of the Ancient English." That part 

^Op. Cit., p. 9, note. 

-Op. Cit., p. xxxiv, note. 

sRjtson's MS. note to Eng. Songs, p. ix. All page references to the essays 
will be given under the titles of the books in which they appear, not under the 
subject of the essays. 


of the Dissertation dealing with the songs is an excellent supplement 
to the earlier essay. He begins the subject with the Norman Conquest 
and gives it detailed treatment such as the length of his former essay 
and the attention paid to foreign tongues made impossible there. In 
treating of the music and the musical instruments he makes extensive 
use of the histories of Burney* and Hawkins^ and supplements these 
with numerous illustrations from the literature of the period. Together 
these two essays present a great mass of material on the subject — undi- 
gested, but valuable merely in the fact of its being brought together. 

With the essays on English Song must be noted briefly the "His- 
torical Essay on Scotish Song", which does in the same way for the 
songs and music of the northern kingdom what the two previous essays 
do for England. It falls into three divisions treating respectively of 
the songs, the music, and the musical instruments. In this it exactly 
parallels the earlier dissertations and affords a further illustration of 
the duplication of Ritson's English interests in Scottish affairs. 

With the exception of the "Dissertation on the Songs, Music, etc.", 
the essays thus far considered play a minor part in the two remaining 
divisions : that on Scottish Song in connection with Pinkerton and the 
whole Scottish question, that on English Song with the discussion of 
Percy and the minstrels. 

The earliest formal treatise on the ancient English minstrels Avas 
Percy's "Essay", published in the original edition of the Reliques, 1765, 
and reprinted without material alteration in the second and third edi- 
tions, 1767 and 1775. Percy defined the minstrels to be "an order of 
men in the Middle Ages, who united the arts of poetry and music, and 
sung verses to the harp of their own composing." By means of a wealth 
of quotations from English and continental sources he pictured the 
minstrels as a society of men in high repute, having free access to the 
homes of the nobility and the great and to the courts of kings. He 
represented them as musicians, as singers, and as poets ; often as all 
three in one. The Anglo-Saxon minstrel he gave an exalted character, 
almost equal to that of the Scandinavian Skald ; and for ages after the 
Conquest the English minstrels were, he declared, persons of honor and 

Percy's minstrel theory was first challenged by Ritson in his "Essay 
on National Song", wherein he flatly contradicted almost every claim 
to honor which the Bishop had made for the minstrels. Only a few 

^Charles Burney, A General History of Music, from the earliest ages to the 
present period. London, 1776. 

^Sir John Hawkins, The General History of the Science and Practise of 
Music. London, 1776. 


historical references were adduced in this essay, but Ritson again took 
up the subject and treated it at some length in the "Observations on 
the Ancient English Minstrels". He there set himself to answer the 
question: "Whether at any time, since the Norman Conquest, there has 
existed a distinct order of Englishmen, who united the arts of poetry 
and music, and got their livelihood by singing to the harp verses in 
their native tongue of their own composing." He ignored the Anglo- 
Saxon period because he considered it impossible to obtain reliable data 
concerning it. His aversion to Geoffrey of Monmouth,*' whom Percy 
had frequently cited in the early part of his essay, led him to declare 
that even the mere existence of minstrels in England prior to the elev- 
enth century was wholly conjectural. Nevertheless, the allusions which 
Percy gathered from Tacitus, Bede, and the Saxon Chronicle, as well 
as from Geoffrey, create a strong impression in favor of his theory. 
Little has since been added to our stock of information concerning the 
Anglo-Saxon minstrel — perhaps nothing with historical authentication ; 
and Percy's theory remains as a highly probable conjecture.' 

In taking up the subject at the time of the Conquest, Ritson 's first 
step was the very essential one of distinguishing the various terms which 
Percy had taken over from the French and indiscriminately massed 
together under the name minstrel. "Under this term", says the critic, 
"we are to include the trouvere or poet, the chanteur or vocal performer, 
and the menetrier or musician: not to mention the fahlier, conteur, 
jongleur, haladin, etc. all of which were sometimes distinct professions 
and sometimes united in one and the same man."® Although Guiraut 
de Riquier,^ five centuries before Ritson, had protested against the con- 
fusion arising from the indiscriminate grouping of the various classes 
of entertainers, Percy persistently refused to differentiate them. He 
declared that "it equally throws light upon the general history of the 
profession to show what favor or encouragement was given, at any par- 
ticular period of time, to any one branch of it."^° 

Acting on the distinction which he had made, Ritson first of all 
separated the English from the French and Norman minstrels. It was 

^Expressed in uncompromising terms in the Life of King Arthur. See above, 
Chapter VI. 

"The best treatment of the English Minstrels is that given by Chambers in 
the first four chapters of The Medieval Stage, Oxford, 1903. Other English books 
on the subject are unsatisfactory. An excellent bibliography of French and Ger- 
man works is given by Chambers. 

^Ancient Songs and Ballads, 2nd edition, I, p. ii, note. See also Metrical Ro- 
mances, 2nd edition, I, p 79. 

''See Chambers, Op. Cit., I, p. 63. 

'^^Reliques, 4th edition, I, p. 50. 


the latter, he maintained, Avhom Percy had described as a respectable 
society with free entrance to the homes of the nobility. The English 
minstrels, he declared, were not a respectable society, if a society at all. 
They were only rude singers to the vulgar and illiterate and had no 
opportunity to appear at Court or in the houses of the nobility, because 
there only French was spoken and English despised. 

From the absence of reference by historians or by the English min- 
strels to themselves as composers, Ritson concluded that they, unlike 
the French minstrels who constantly refer to themselves in their songs, 
did not compose but only sang and played. ' ' They could sing and play ; 
but it was none of their business to read and write. "^^ Ritson 's evi- 
dence is probable, not conclusive. In rebuttal Percy maintained, with 
much plausibility, that "by proving that minstrels were singers of the 
old romantic songs, gests, etc., we have in effect proved them to have 
been the makers of at least some of them.'"^- But Ritson carried his 
restrictions a step further and limited the function of the minstrels to 
playing on musical instruments, — a conjecture that is open to grave 
doubt. From the medieval glossarists, from the early chroniclers, from 
"Piers Plowman", and from the Mysteries, he extracted passages in- 
which "minstrel" was used interchangeably with "fiddler". But the 
critic himself does not seem to be wholly assured on this point, for he 
elsewhere admits that the minstrels went up and dqwn the country 
singing ballads and rude songs to the accompaniment of their musical 
instruments. He is, however, assured of the utter degradation of the 
English minstrels and of their rapid decline in the eyes of the law. The 
extinction of minstrelsy, if not of the minstrels, came in the age of 
Elizabeth as a result of religious restrictions and of legal enactments 
made necessary by the large number of men who continually sought 
refuge for vagabondage under the guise of minstrels. At a fitting post- 
lude to his account of their services, Ritson quotes the following satire 
by Dr. Bull : 

"When Jesus went to Jairus' house, 

Whose daughter was about to dye, 

He turn'd the minstrel out of doors, 

Among the rascal company : 

Beggars they are with one consent, 

And Rogues, by act of parliament."^' 

In the fourth edition of the Reliques Percy revised his essay to a 
considerable extent and profited by Ritson 's criticisms. Although he 

^'^English Songs, I, p. Ixviii. 

^-Rcliqtics, I, p 60. 

''■^Ancient Songs, I, p. xvi, note. 


nowhere mentions his opponent by name, he expressly states that "in 
consequence of objections respecting the English minstrels after the 
Conquest [the latter] part [of the essay] hath been much enlarged, and 
additional light thrown upon the subject : which, to prevent cavil, hath 
been extended to minstrelsy in all its branches, as it was established 
in England, whether by natives or foreigners."^* Finding it impossible 
to distinguish between English and French minstrels (as Ritson had 
demanded) and still maintain his thesis throughout, Percy altered the 
title of the essay to read: "The ancient minstrels in England."^'' De- 
claring that he had "readily corrected any mistakes which have been 
proved to be in this Essay" because he was "wedded to no hypothesis", 
he also changed his definition of minstrels to comply with Ritson 's criti- 
cism. It now read : "an order of men in the Middle Ages, who sub- 
sisted by the arts of poetry and music, and sang to the harp verses 
composed by themselves, or others." But, while the Bishop conceded a 
good deal to Ritson by admitting that the English minstrels were, per- 
haps, properly speaking, "subordinate members of the college", and by 
qualifying many of his remarks on their exalted station, yet he persisted 
in considering them poets as well as musicians and continued the un- 
critical method of employing semi-synonymous terms without discrimi- 
nating among them. Ritson examined Percy's revised essay carefully 
and made reply to it in the "Dissertation on Romance and Minstrelsy". 
There he exulted with unseemly delight over the alterations which the 
Bishop had made as a result of his criticisms^® and filled his pages with 
additional proofs of the points already advanced. 

It is now apparent that the issue between Percy and Ritson was a 
dual one : what was the social status of the English minstrels — were they 
honored and respected, or were they rogues and vagabonds? What was 
their literary status — were they merely musicians and singers, or were 
they composers as well? Percy answered both questions by giving to 
the minstrels the most elevated rank in both literary and social spheres ; 
Ritson, by giving them the lowest. The crux of the whole disagreement 
[lay in the refusal of both men to recognize the coeval existence of two 
grades or classes of minstrels. The distinction once clearly made be- 
tween the English and Normal minstrels, Ritson was correct in consid- 

^^Rcliqucs, 4th ed., p. 64. 

^"'This is significant because it shows that Percy conceded to Ritson practically 
half the point at issue. 

lewheatley ignores this last Essay and labors under the impression that the 
"Essay on the ancient English minstrels", 1790, was Ritson's reply to Percy's 
revisions in the 4th edition of the ReUques, 1794. See Rcliques, ed. H. B. Wheat- 
ley, 1876, I, p. 430. 


ering the former as an inferior society. There can be little, if any, 
doubt that the Anglo-Saxon types were submerged by the Norman 
minstrels and in the centuries immediately following the Conquest were 
in disrepute and that they had access to the homes of the nobility or 
the court only when in the company of French minstrels.^" But if this 
distinction is not made — if the subject for discussion is the "Ancient 
minstrels in England" and not the "Ancient English minstrels"^® — it 
is legitimate to consider a class of men of high rank and renown. The 
difficulty lay in not realizing that this twofold classification runs through 
the whole history of minstrelsy. The merging of the mimus and scop 
of Roman and Teutonic tradition was never quite complete, but a new 
distinction based largely on the old difference came to be well established 
in England by the second quarter of the fourteenth century.^^ Both 
Percy and Ritson were treating of the same period of time-° but of 
different classes of men in it. As a result, each of the disputants had 
hold of only a bare half of the truth, yet each succeeded in illustrating 
his half with historical, legal, and poetical references such as would not, 
perhaps, otherwise have been brought together for years. It was not a 
barren logomachy in which they were engaged. Modern writers on the 
subject confess that there is little fact to be added to the stock accu- 
mulated by these pioneers, but that it only remains for them to place 
the two halves side by side and make the necessary adjustments in order 
to come at the whole truth. 

On the second point — the literary status of the minstrels — there 
was scarcely less divergence of opinion. Percy considered them com- 
posers as well as singers. While it was generally recognized that the 
English minstrels translated and adapted many of the romances brought 
over by the French, he held that in some cases the tables were turned 
and the French made versions of native English minstrel songs. "Rich- 

^''A roll of payments made on the occasion of a Whitsuntide feast held in 
London in 1306 records many minstrels by name. The list is headed by five min- 
strels with the title "le roy" ; next come a number said to be in the employ of this 
or that reverend or noble guest at the feast. These have French names. Lastly 
comes a large number of inferior minstrels, "les autre menestraus de la commune", 
and some of these seem to have been of English birtli. Chambers, Op. Cit., L p. 47. 

i^'The difference in the title of his Essay made by Percy in the first and fourth 

li'Chambers, Op. Cit., vol. I, Bk. i, "Minstrelsy". 

^''DeQuincey, "Homer and the Homeridae", in Works, ed. Masson, 1896, vol. 
VI, p. 2T,, says of the point at issue between Percy and Ritson : "The contradiction 
lay in the time: Percy and Ritson were speaking of different periods; the Bishop 
of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries — the attorney of the si.xteenth 
and seventeenth". But this is a misconception of the facts. 


ard Cour de Lion" and "Eger and Grime", from the use of native 
names he considered of genuine English growth, and this view is held 
by the editors of the folio manuscript."^ Ritson, on the contrary, did 
not believe the minstrels sufficient to account for minstrelsy. Granting 
to them neither education nor culture, it was absurd to think of the 
minstrels as the authors of fabulous narratives several thousand lines 
in length. Though they could neither read nor write, yet they could 
sing what men of genius had composed or translated for them. Ritson 
does not state who he thinks these "men of genius" were, but he says 
there is nothing about the romances themselves to preclude the view 
that they were written by "a monk in his cell" or "a priest in his 
closet".-- While denying Percy's thesis that the English minstrels 
composed romances, he did not contend that there were none of native 
English growth. " 'Eglamour'^^, 'Trimour'-*, 'The squyre of lowe 
degre', and it may be one or two more, of which no French originals are 
known, may be fairly concluded to be of Englisli invention ; but, ' ' he 
says, "it is absolutely impossible that this can be the case with 'Guy', 
'Bevis', or the rest, of which these originals are extant. "^^ With scant 
justice Ritson doubted the probability that these famous romances, the 
French manuscripts of which are superior to the English and antedate 
them by one, two, or even three centuries, had been originally com- 
posed on English soil though in the French language. Indeed, he carried 
his iconoclasm so far as to deny the theories of the Arabian, Scandina- 
vian, and Provengal origin of romance, without substituting any defi- 
nite system in their stead. All of these he rejected because they were 
largely conjectural, there being not sufficient fact to support a theory. 
But his own proposal was equally conjectural. "After all", he said, 
"it seems highly probable that the origin of romance in every age or 
country is to be sought in the different systems of superstition which 
have from time to time prevailed, whether pagan or Christian."^*' While 
this theory contains a large element of truth, Ritson pushed it too far 
in denying historical basis to the romances. Their heroes are not his- 
torical characters, he declared : ' ' they are mere creatures of the imagi- 

21J. W. Hales and F. J. Furnivall, BisJiop Percy's Folio Manuscript, London, 
1867-8, Vol. I, p. 341 ff- 

^-Metrical Romances, I, p. 57. 

23"There is a secret history attached to the source of this romance yet to be 
unravelled" — Halliwell, ed. "Sir Eglamour of Artois", for Camden Society, 1844. 

24Nothing of the source of this romance is given by Hales and Furnivall, nor 
by Halliwell who edited it for the Percy Society, 1846. 

-^Metrical Romances, I, p. 51. 

^Hhid.. I, p. 19. 


nation and only obtain an establishment in history because it was 
usually written upon the authority of romance."-' 

Kitson 's disrespect for the English minstrels was thoroughgoing. Not 
only did he rate them as rogues and vagabonds, deny them the ability 
to read and write, and limit their activities to "twanging on the harp", 
but he characterized their songs as rude and barbarous. Sidney's "blind 
crowder with no rougher voice than rude style",-* was the typical min- 
strel for Ritson, and his music was happily described by Puttenham: 
"your ordinary rimers use very much their measures in the odd, as 
nine and eleven, and the sharp accent upon the last syllable, which 
therefore makes him go ill-favoredly and like a minstrel's music. "^^ 
With the coming into favor of the ballad singer in the age of Elizabeth, 
Ritson noticed a corresponding decrease in the entertainment furnished 
by the minstrels. These were undoubtedly contemporaneous events, but 
a causal connection would be more difficult to establish than Eitson 
seems to think. It is his opinion that the ballad singers with their 
simple melodies soon drew all attention from the wild and licentious 
meter of the minstrels and caused them in sheer self-defense to adopt 
ballad tunes. But he does not, as Gummere states, "think the feeble 
ballads of Deloney better than Chevy Chase. "^° What he does say is 
that the old Chevy Chase is inferior in simplicity, nature, pathos, and 
melody to such ballads as "Fair Rosamond", "John Dory", "Little 
Musgrave and Lady Barnard", "Children in the Wood", etc.^^ But 
he did not fall into the error of considering these ballads as ancient as 
the minstrel songs: "Those pieces w^hich Ave now call old ballads, are 
comparatively modern, that is, of the latter end of the sixteenth cen- 
tury." And he adds: "Our most ancient popular ballads, if we may 
judge from the few specimens preserved, were singularly rude.''^- Both 
Ritson 's taste and judgment were in advance of his age ; and in the 
matter of ballads his taste seldom lagged behind his judgment. 

Ritson was a genuine admirer of the old popular ballad. He it was 
who first clearly differentiated song and ballad and gave the prevailing 
definition of ballad as a lyrical narrative.^^ With the true instinct of the 

^'Ibid., I, p. 50. 

^^Defense of Poetry, ed. Cook, 1890, p. 29. 

-^Thc Art of English Poetry, Ed. Arber, 1869, p. 85. 

^°Old English Ballads, 1894, P- xxvi. 

^''■Ancient Songs, pp. xxxiii-iv. 

^-Ibid., p. c. 

^^English Songs, I, p. i. Motherwell, in Minstrelsy, ancient and modern, 1827, 
Preface, p. i ; and Gummere, in Old English Ballads, p. xxxvi, give Ritson credit 
for the first clear-cut definition of ballad. 


ballad lover, he declared that the genuine pieces of this species were not 
to be sought "in the works of Hamilton, Thomson, Smollet, or even 
Ramsay ; but in the productions of obscure and anonymous authors, of 
shepherds and milk maids, who actually felt the sensations they describe ; 
of those, in short, who were destitute of all the advantages of science 
and education, and perhaps incapable of committing the pure inspiration 
of nature to writing."-^* On the subject of ballad authorship he says 
nothing further ; but from this statement and his remarks on the origin 
of minstrelsy we can judge pretty closely what his attitude would have 
been. He would have espoused the theory of individual authorship, and 
scouted that of communal origin. The "composing folk" would have 
vanished into nothingness under his uncompromising demand for his- 
torical authentication. 

On the preservation of ballads by oral tradition Ritson spoke more 
definitely. It was his belief that there yet remained in his own day many 
pieces of the true type current in the oral tradition of Scotland. He 
had made several unsuccessful attempts to take them down from recita- 
tion ; but his own failure did not cause him to deny that other persons, 
perhaps possessing greater tact, had been more fortunate. But he pro- 
fessed himself to be an incompetent judge of the antiquity and genu- 
ineness of many of the pieces published as "from tradition". Where 
he had not an ancient manuscript as a guide, he was almost lost. In 
such a case he confessed that his judgment was necessarily based on one 
or both of the following tests : the irregular style, and the pathetic sim- 
plicity of the genuine ballad. If judiciously applied, these tests would 
not often lead one astray. Of one principle, however, Ritson was very 
certain, viz., that oral transmission alters and tends always to degrade 
the material. "Obsolete phrases", he says, "will be perpetually chang- 
ing for those better understood, and what the memory loses the inven- 
tion must supply. So that a performance of genius and merit, as the 
purest stream becomes polluted by the foulness of its channel, may in 
time be degraded to the vilest jargon. Tradition, in short, is a species 
of alchemy which converts gold into lead."^^ With keen critical insight 
he remarked that the effect of tradition was "degrading" only to the 
form, to the words, but not to the substance of the ballad — that remained 
unaltered.^'' While the "description and sentiment" remained the same, 

^*Scotish Songs, I, p. Ixxix. 

^^Ibid., p. Ixxxi. 

26This conclusion, unassailable as it is, was in the present instance based on 
a false premise. To illustrate the transforming power of tradition, Ritson com- 
pared a popular version of "The Wee Wee Man" with a fourteenth century manu- 
script which he erroneously considered to be its original. Child prints the manu- 


the "expressions and allusions" fluctuated with the times and eoniuni- 
ties through which they passed, so that no single piece was preserved in 
oral tradition exactly as it had been originally composed. The advocates 
of oral tradition in Percy's day, and especiall}^ the Ossianic enthusiasts, 
insisted that every piece current in the mouth of the folk was sung 
exactly as it had been composed. On this point Kitson remarked in 
conclusion : 

"Had the 'Canterbury Tales' of Chaucer been preserved to the present time 
in the same manner, there would not have remained one single word which had 
fallen from the pen of that venerable bard : they would have been as completely, 
though not quite so elegantly modernized, as they are by Dryden and Pope : and 
yet it is pretended that the poems of Ossian have been preserved immaculate for 
more than a thousand years."^' 

Ritson displayed a sincere love for the reliques of antiquity and an 
ardor in collecting and preserving the rude remains of the past. He 
repeatedly urged the publication of ballads and minstrel songs and 
declared that one of his highest ambitions in making his own collections 
was to inspire others of a like nature. ^^ He insisted, however, that these 
collections should be made scientifically and with absolute fidelity to 
originals, whether oral or written. But students of popular poetry in 
Ritson 's day were not accustomed to apply a stern critical faculty or a 
cold judgment to ballads and romances. To these they preferred to apply 
the test of feeling or taste. Percy gave the first note-worthy example 
of this method in the Reliques; and here again Ritson joined issue with 
him. The critic's disgust with Percy's manner of handling his pro- 
fessedly ancient material led him quite early to question the very 
existence of the folio manuscript. On Ritson 's conduct in this matter 
there has been much half-informed writing,^^ and it will not be imper- 
tinent to review his comments. 

script in an appendix. He remarks that this poem stands in somewhat the same 
relation to the ballad of the "Wee Wee Man" as the poem of Thomas of Ercal- 
doune does to the ballad of Thomas Rymer, "but with the important difference 
that there is no reason for deriving the ballad from the poem in this instance." 
Op. Cit, I, p. 329. 

^''Scotish Songs, I, p. Ixxxii. Ritson was always outspoken against the Ossian 
imposture. See especially Ibid., I, p. xxii and English Songs, I, p. xxxvi. 

^^See Prefaces to all the collections, especially Ancient Songs, I, p. ciii and 
Scotish Songs, I, p. cxix. 

29See Surtees, History of Durham, III, p. 193 fif. ; Dihdin's Decameron, 111, p. 
338 ff. ; and Park's notes to English Songs. Pickford writes : "Ritson denied the 
existence of the manuscript : it is said in order to refute this charge, the fine 
portrait of Percy, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, had, in compliance with his own 
request, the disputed manuscript Folio placed in his hand, in order to show that 


The first published evidence of Eitson's doubt as to the existence 
of the famous manuscript occurs in the Observations on Warton, 1782 
(p. 11) : "You say you think you have somewhere seen a romance in verse, 
entitled, 'The Turks and Gawaine'. The Bishop of Dromore says he 
has it in his folio MS. Did you ever see THAT?" This ironical 
challenge, in itself, simply implies doubt of Warton 's having seen the 
manuscript, not of its realit3^ The next statement expresses doubt, but 
not yet denial of its authenticity. He is commenting, in the Remarks 
on Shakespeare, 1783 (p. 167), on the "unreasonable practise" of com- 
mentators in referring their readers to rare books which it is virtually- 
impossible for them ever to see. Percy has here made reference to the 
poem of "John the Reeve", and Ritson remarks: 

"never was this absurdity carried to such an extent of mockery as it is in the 
present instance ; where the learned prelate very cooly orders us to inspect a poem, 
only extant, as he is well assured, and has elsewhere told us, in a certain Folio 
MS. in his ozun possession, which, perhaps, no one ever saiv, and which (if it 
really exist) he will, for his own sake, take effectual care that no one else shall 

In a second publication of the year 1783, Ritson remarked with great 
justice that "the genuineness of the pieces in the Reliques cannot be 
properly investigated or determined without an inspection of the original 
manuscript from which they are said to be extracted.*" This was one of 
the earliest, if not the very first, of the demands upon Percy to publish 
his manuscript. But requests and threats and demands were to be 
equally unavailing for nearly a century. 

Some time after these attacks Percy began to exercise himself to 
convince Ritson of his error. He asked J. C. Walker, a mutual friend, 
to undertake the task of persuading the critic of the existence of the 
manuscript. Walker wrote to Ritson and told Percy that in doing so, 
"I had little more to do than to transcribe your Lordship's letter 
changing as I proceeded, the second to the first person."*^ Walker 
was not far wrong in his conjecture that he had "opened Ritson 's 
eyes". The critic replied immediately: 

"As a publication of uncommon elegance and poetical merit I have always 
been, and still am, a warm admirer of Bishop Percy's Reliques, and although I 

it had an actual existence." Life of Percy in Hales and Furnivall edition of the 
Folio manuscript, I, p. xlvii. The portrait here referred to was painted in May, 
1773 (see the general Introduction of Hales and Furnivall, p. liii), and Ritson's 
earliest comment on the manuscript appeared late in 1782. 

■^^English Songs, I, p. Ixxvi. 

*iSept. 22, 1789, Nichols, Lit. Illust., VH, p. 710. Percy took little public notice 
of Ritson, but he made numerous private efforts to turn aside the critic's shafts. 


have been persuaded that he has not on every occasion been so scrupulously at- 
tentive to his originals as I think the work required, I shall be very glad to find 
the idea unfounded, and readily confess that what you have been so obliging as 
to tell me about the Folio MS. has in a great measure removed my prejudice on 
that head. The limits of a letter will not permit me to enter fully into the dis- 
cussion of a question upon which I believe a good deal may be said. In the course 
of some prefatory matter to a book which ought to have come out two or three 
years ago, but which I hope to receive and have the pleasure of transmitting to 
you in a short time, you will perceive the grounds upon which I have ventured 
to doubt the authenticity or at least the fidelity of this celebrated publication."*- 

"Walker at once comnmnicated the substance of this letter to Percy with 
the comment: "Thus have I, without a breach of confidence, opened 
Mr. Ritson's mind to your Lordship."*^ 

The publication to which Ritson referred in the letter just quoted 
was Ancient Songs and Ballads, 1790. In the Preface he acknowledged 
his error: "The existence of this MS., if ever questioned, is now placed 
beyond the possibility of a doubt. But", he significantly adds, "it 
appears to have suffered much by ill usage." He cites a dozen poems 
in which "the learned collector has preferred his ingenuity to his 
fidelity, without the least intimation to the reader." From the great 
number of such instances in the Reliques he concludes that "no con- 
fidence can be placed in any of the * old minstrel ballads ' inserted in that 
collection, and not to be found elsewhere."** With perfect candor he 
admitted that he had no objection to Percy's filling out the defective 
pieces with verses of his own ; but with advanced ideals of editing he 
insisted that the new should have been clearly distinguished from the 
old. Percy defended many of his errors by his distant removal from the 
press at the time of printing, and Ritson, with his usual keenness, sug- 
gested that he "would perceive the justice of confining this excuse to 
the first edition".*^ 

Percy's friends now became interested in his defense. Pinkerton 
outlined a statement of the authenticity of the manuscript, which was to 

42Nov. 4, 1789, Letters, I, p. 152. 

43Nov. 7, 1789, Nichols, Lit. Illtist., VII, p. 711. Later Percy accused Walker 
of lukewarmness and said his conduct reflected on his moral character. This was 
because Walker remained in the good graces of Ritson and was mentioned with 
praise in the Preface to Scotish Songs. Walker answered Percy that he had con- 
vinced Ritson of the existence of the manuscript but was unable to persuade him 
further until he could, by an inspection of the document, verify his own conviction 
that the Bishop had 'dropped no unacknowledged flowers' in the Reliques. Spring, 
1794, Ibid., VII, p. 725. 

*^*Ancient Songs, L p. xxix ff. 

*5Ritson to Walker, January i, 1790, Nichols, Lit. Illust., VII, p. 725. 


be signed by a number of prominent literary men, and he suggested that 
the manuscript itself be deposited in a public place for inspection. 
To this Percy would not consent, exclaiming : 

"This was the very end to which Mr. Ritson had been driving. . . . But 
he shall be disappointed : the manuscript shall never be exposed to his sight in 
my lifetime; and, as I have no other resourse, I hope yet to procure some re- 
spectable family name, that may be generously interposed as a shield, before one 
whom the assailant knows to be incapable, from the peculiarities of his situation, 
of self-defense."^^ 

The manuscript was accordingly deposited for nearly a year at the 
house of Nicol, the printer, while the fourth edition of the Reliques was 
passing through the press. It was inspected by Barrington, Cracherode, 
Farmer, Steevens, Malone, and Reed, whose names are appealed to in the 
Advertisement to that edition in support of the description of the manu- 
script there given.*^ Of these men, at least Steevens, and perhaps others, 
while convinced of the existence of the manuscript and of its corre- 
spondence with the printed copy in one or two particular ballads which 
he had examined carefully, could not be brought to subscribe to the 
veracity of the Reliques as a whole.^^ Ritson himself had long since given 
over the idea of denying the existence of the manuscript ; but Percy and 
his friends continued to remark on this point with the apparent object 
of drawing attention from the critic's more pertinent and less easily 
answered objections to the way in which it had been handled. 

In the "Dissertation on Romance and Minstrelsy" occurs Ritson 's 
final judgment on the Reliques. It may be repeated that he noM'here 
disputes the existence of the manuscript "in its present mutilated and 
miserable condition ' ' ; but he still insists that Percy has ' ' fairly and 
honestly printed scarcely one single poem, song, or ballad" from it. In 
justification of this judgment, antithetical as it was to the prevailing 

*^July 28, 1792. See the Literary Correspondence of John Pinkerton, 2 vols., 
London, 1830. Contrast with the sentiment of the above letter the assertion that 
prior to Ritson's attack Percy had intended to bequeath his Folio Manuscript to 
him, "thinking as he himself owned, it could not be in better hands." Gentle- 
man's Magazine, Vol. XCV, i, p. 486-8. The authenticity of this statement is highly 

^'^Park is in error in stating, English Songs, I, p. Ixxvi, note, that Ritson had 
it in his power to inspect the manuscript at this time. See Percy's declaration of 
hostility, above. 

48See Nares to Percy, Dec. 28, 1804, Nichols, Lit. Illus., VII, pp. 606-7; and 
British Critic, Jan., 1805. 


opinion, he summarized, in equally revolutionary terms, his conception 
of an editor's function. 

"To correct the obvious errors of an illiterate transcriber, to supply irreme- 
diable defects, and to make sense of nonsense, are certainly essential duties of an 
editor of ancient poetry, provided he act with integrity and publicity ; but secretly 
to suppress the original text, and insert his own fabrications for the sake of pro- 
viding more refined entertainment for readers of taste and genius, is no proof 
of either judgment, candor, or integrity."*^ 

Then he printed "The Marriage of Sir Gawaine ", placing the "amended" 
copy from the first edition of the Reliques by the side of the "original" 
as given in the fourth, designating by different type Percy's additions. 
The contrast brought out by this method was only intensified, and 
Ritson's generalization as to the faulty character of the whole work was 
verified, by the Hales and Furnivall edition of the Folio manuscript 
sixty -five years later. ' ' The purchasers and perusers of such a collection 
are deceived and imposed upon", Ritson declared; "the pleasure they 
receive is derived from the idea of antiquity, which, in fact, is perfect 
illusion. ' ' 

Percy's defense of his method was that "the rudeness of the more 
obsolete poems", and "the tediousness of the longer narratives", must 
be atoned for by "little elegant pieces of the lyric kind", in order for 
them to appeal to "a polished age like the present. "^° And modem 
critics and historians of literature, following his lead, declare with one 
accord that the plan pursued was the only one which would have insured 
a kindly reception to these rude remains of antiquity. But Ritson coun- 
selled thus: 

"If the ingenious editor had published all his imperfect poems by correcting 
the blunders of puerility or inattention, and supplying the defects of barbarian 
ignorance, with proper distinction of type, it would not only have gratified the 
austerest antiquary, but also provided refined entertainment for every reader of 
taste and genius."^^ 

This simple device seems not to have suggested itself to any one of the 
critics of the last century. They are accustomed to consider the revival 
of interest in popular poetry, along with other romantic manifestations, 
as largel}^ an emotional growth which would have been killed, or indefi- 
nitely retarded, by the introduction of the purely intellectual and critical. 
But it is at least an open question whether the mere distinction of type 
suggested by Ritson would not have left the immediate effects of the 

^^Metrical Romances, I, p. 70. 
'•"Preface to Reliques. 
^"^Metrical Roiiiatices, I, p. 70. 


Beliques substantially the same ; and there can be no doubt that many a 
genuine ancient piece would have been preserved and that the famous 
and valuable Folio manuscript would have been given to the world of 
scholarship in its primitive state a century earlier than it was." 

The third group of topics in the prefatory dissertations is Scottish 
poetry and history. Ritson's point of departure here was quite similar 
to that in the second division, with the emphasis now upon Pinkerton 
and Scotland rather than upon Percy and England. Again it was the 
detection of forgery and literary deception which led him into a thorough 
investigation of a relatively unexplored field. On the publication of 
Pinkerton 's Select Scottish Ballads, 1783,"^ which professed to be "now 
first published from tradition in their original perfection ' ', Ritson demon- 
strated in a letter to the Gentleman's Magazine/'* that "The laird of 
Woodhouslie ", "Lord Livingston", "Binnorie", "The death of Men 
teith", "I wish I were where Helen lies", the second part of "Hardy- 
knute", and two pretended fragments, were "artful and impudent 
forgeries". Although Pinkerton was allowed, through the singular con- 
duct of the editor of the Gentleman's, to print a denial of Ritson 's charges 
before the letter was published, and although he took counsel of friends"'^ 
as to how he should dispose of his calumniator, yet in Ancient Scottish 
Poems, 1786, he confessed the deception and pleaded for forgiveness, 
urging in extenuation of his guilt, youth and a laudable desire to please 
the public.^^ But with this expression of penitence did not go an 

''^It may be asserted that a comparison of the popular reception of the Reliques 
and any one of Ritson's collections would be a sufficient test of this argument. It 
cannot be denied that Percy's interpolations and additions contributed greatly to 
the popularity of his work. The question is, would it have been less popular with 
the new distinguished from the old in some simple and unobtrusive manner? 
Ritson's collections could never have been such general favorites as the Reliques 
because he lacked the Bishop's poetic gift. Had either of them possessed the 
excellencies of both, the scholar and the general reader would have been equally 

^^Originally, Scotish Tragic Ballads, London, 1781. 

^*Letter signed "Anti-Scot". Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. LIV, ii, pp. 312-14. 

"'^Walpole advised Pinkerton to make a firm denial of the charges but by no 
means to display anger. Pinkerton's Correspondence, I, p. 87. 

•'''^Ritson afterward gave it as his opinion that "had this letter never appeared 
these contemptible forgeries would have continued to disgrace the annals of Scotish 
poetry, till, at least, the pretence of antiquity had proved too slight a buoy to sup- 
port the weight of their intrinsic dullness." Scotish Songs, I, p. Ixxvi, note. This 
was not the only error of which Pinkerton was convinced by Ritson. Sept. 4, 
1794, he wrote to Percy: "I must confess myself thoroughly convinced that Min- 
strel only implied musician, and was never used for a bard, maker, or poet; were 
I reprinting any former production in this way I would retract all my opinions to 


altered conduct which should accompany a true change of heart. He 
continued to insert his own productions in "ancient" collections, mean- 
while making a display of honesty by censuring, with poor grace indeed, 
other men who had practised deception.^^ 

Pinkerton again became involved with Ritson in 1792, when, in his 
Scottish Poems, he printed an imperfect version of "Sir Gavan and Sir 
Galeron of Galloway". This was from a manuscript of John Baynes, 
which fell to Ritson in 1787. Pinkerton requested permission to publish 
it, but Ritson refused on the ground that he intended to edit it himself. 
In spite of his promise that it should not be used, Pinkerton printed the 
romance and was scathingly rebuked for his perfidy in a communication 
to the Gentleman's Magazine, written hy Ritson.'^* Pinkerton achieved 
his revenge for this letter in a violently denunciatory review of Ritson 's 
Scotish Songs, in 1795.^^ This brought no public response from Ritson, 
though he remarked to friends on its "falsehood, impudence, and scur- 
rility."®° He said of Pinkerton, as Dr. Johnson of Goldsmith, "he only 
stumbles on truth by accident"; and he considered it "a thousand pities 
that John Pinkerton had not flourished in the age, and enjoyed the 
friendship of Geoffrey of Monmouth that he might have certified, with 
his sacred signature, the integrity and truth of the original manuscript 
of that veracious historian, as he did the no less genuine 'Shakspeariana', 
of William Ireland."" 

Ritson "s attack was undoubtedly intensified by Pinkerton "s nation- 
ality. To Scotchmen he entertained an aversion as pronounced as that 
of Dr. Johnson. He lost no opportunity to satirize the Scotch, although 
he spent much labor and money in illustrating the antiquities of the 

the contrary, though often repeated." After suggesting a rearrangement of Percy's 
Essay to distinguish the Minstrel proper from the poets and reciters, he adds : 
"Even granting all the passages cited in your favor, you must contend against 
hundreds on the opposite side. For a part, Ritson's book may be referred to." 
Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. CII, ii, p. 125. 

•''"See his inconsistent censure of Ramsay in Preface to Select Scottish Bal- 
lads; and his abuse of those who believed in the authenticity of "Ossian", in his 
Inquiry into the History of Scotland preceding the reign of Malcolm /// or the 
year 1036, 2 vols., London, 1790. 

'**See Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. LXIII, p. 33. Ritson complained to Harri- 
son, February 14, 1793, that "the scoundrel of an editor had the impertinence to 
omit the best part of my letter." Letters, II, p. 10. A note in Douce's hand on 
the original manuscript, now Douce 324, Bodleian, supports Ritson's contention 
that Pinkerton printed the romance "in direct violation of his promise." 

^^Critical Reviexi.', January, 1795. Reprinted in The Letters of Joseph Ritson 
Esq. to Mr. George Paton, Edinburgh, 1829. 

^^Letters, II, pp. 67, 75. 

^''■The Life of King Arthur, p. xviii, note. 


North. His letters abound in sarcastic flings at the Scottish people, and 
he passed no occasion to sneer at thera.''^ His most vigorous pronounce- 
ment on the weakness of the Scottish character appeared in the "Essay 
on Scotish Song". There he sarcastically proposes as a subject of inves- 
tigation for the new Royal Society, "Why the Scotch literati should 
be more particularly addicted to literary imposition than those of any 
other country." That they are, Ritson does not doubt. He agrees with 
Johnson that "a Scotchman must be a very sturdy moralist who does 
not love Scotland more than truth." Of the love of falsehood rather 
than of truth, he considers the many literary impostures perpetrated by 
Scotchmen an incontrovertible evidence. 

"The forgeries of Hector Boethius, David Chalmers, George Buchanan, 
Thomas Dempster, Sir John Bruce, William Lauder, Archibald Bower, James Mac- 
pherson, and John Pinkerton, stamp a disgrace upon the national character, which 
ages of exceptionless integrity will be required to remove: an era, however, which, 
if one may judge from the detestation in which the most infamous and despicable 
of these imposters is universally held, has already commenced.''^^ 

This characterization of Scotland as the breeding place of literary 
forgeries and of himself as the most notorious of the malefactors. Pinker- 
ton undertook to refute in the review already noted of Scotish Songs. 
His argument is beside the point, for his sole defense is that other nations 
have been equally guilty. That the impostures listed by Ritson were a 
national disgrace, he could not gainsay. 

In calling attention to the prevalence of literary deception in Scot- 
land, and in condemning Pinkerton for his falsehoods, Ritson was only 
pushing forward his campaign for truth and candor in all editorial 
dealings. And because it was done with his customary violence and lack 
of restraint, his manner has attracted attention while his beneficial ser- 
vice has been ignored. But he was something more than a mere caviller. 
His strictures on faulty editorial methods were not without their effect 
and were of value in proportion as they cleared the way for critical and 
scholarly methods. A more immediately recognized service, because a 
more definitely constructive work, was rendered in his opposition to 
Pinkerton 's "Gothic System" of Scottish history. 

®-Cf. 'T dread a Scotchman bringing ancient verses"; "shoals of Scotchmen 
are arriving in London every day ; the difficulty I should imagine would be to find 
one going back" ; "either accuracy or integrity is pretty extraordinary in a Scotch- 
man" ; etc., etc. Letters, passim. 

^^Scotish Songs, I, p. Ixiii. Ritson's personal contempt for Pinkerton may- 
have misled his judgment in this last clause. Chalmers wrote to Constable, Oct. 
27, 1803 : "there seems to be a Pinkerton mania in Scotland." Constable and his 
Literary Corre^ondents, I, p. 411. 


Although the Scottish people had long considered themselves a very- 
ancient nation, a true investigation of the original sources of their history 
was slow in making its appearance. In 1526 Hector Boethius, the Geof- 
frey of Scottish history, by embellishing the Chronicles of Fordun** and 
Andrew of Wyutoun"^ and adding a list of fabulous kings, manufactured 
an historical development highly gratifying to the Scots of his and suc- 
ceeding generations. Boethius was followed by Bishop Lesley,^^ and 
George Buchanan,"' both of whom continued the list of imaginary kings. 
The antiquity of the Scots, and especially the veracity of this kingly 
chronology, was attacked by Roderic 'Flaherty*'^ in 1685, but the first 
considerable attempt to sift fact from tradition was that undertaken 
in 1729 by the antiquary. Father Thomas Innes."^ The service which 
he rendered was largely negative. He destroyed about half of the Scot- 
tish kings and winnowed out from the accepted history much of the 
trash of tradition. A further step in this direction was taken half a 
century later by Sir David Dalrymple,'^" but the works of both these 
men were concerned only with the middle ages of Scottish history. This 
left the very ancient times, the real source of all the misunderstanding 
of later ages, untouched so far as critical treatment was concerned. 

The first to undertake an elucidation of this ancient period was 
Pinkerton. His Dissertation on the origin and progress of the Scythians 
or Goths, being an Introduction to the ancient and modern history of 
Europe, 1787, presents in somewhat general form the theory of the 
origin of the Scottish people which was developed more fully in his 
Inquiry into the history of Scotland preceding the reign of Malcolm 
III., or 1056, including the authentic history of that period, 1790. Pink- 
erton brought to his task a wide but not a thorough knowledge of me- 
dieval history and an undisguised contempt of other laborers in the 
field. He recognized the necessity of grounding his history on authentic 
records, although not many of them were ace '.sible to him and he did 
not always use honestly those available. "With characteristic egotism 
he declared of his Inquiry, some time before its publication : " It is a 

8*John of Fordun, Chronica Gcntis Scotoruui, 1384. 

*^''Original cronykil of Scotland, 1406. 

'^^'Hisioria Scotoruui, 1582. 

^''History of the Picts, 1578. 

^^Ogygia seu reruiu Hibcrnicarum chroiiologia, London, 1685. 

*9As an appendix to his Critical Essay on the ancient inhabitants of Scotland, 
2 vols., London, 1729, he pubhshed some ancient chronicles and fragments of Scot- 
tish history. 

'''^Annals of Scotland, from the acccssfion of Malcolm III, surnamcd Canmore, 
to the accession of Robert I.; and Annals of Scotland from the accession of Robert 
I., surnamcd the Bruce, to the accession of the house of Stuart, Edinburgh, 1776. 


work which will fix the ancient history of my country upon the firm 
basis of ancient authorities, that nothing can shake. Men of science 
and all lovers of truth I shall convince : as for the rest, ' si vulgus vult 
decipi, decipiatur'.'''^ His work is ingenious, but its value was greatly 
impaired by an unreasoning aversion to the Celts and everything Celtic, 
and by the adoption of an erroneous theory concerning the "Fix", as 
he persistently calls them. 

Pinkerton classified the ancient peoples of Scottish history under 
four divisions: the Celts, Britons, Picts, and Scots. According to his 
theory the Goths, originally Scythians, in the centuries before the Chris- 
tian era came westward from the wilds of their native country and 
over-ran all northern Europe, subduing the original inhabitants and 
colonizing the territory. About the Christian era the Peuki tribe of the 
all-conquering Goths went from Scandinavia to northern England, where 
they conquered and all but annihilated the inferior Celts. The Celts 
were to the other inhabitants of Europe what the savages of America 
were to the European settlers there; and they remain to this day "a 
dishonored, timid, filthy, ignorant, and degraded race." The Goths 
settled in the Lowlands of Scotland and were known to the Romans as 
Picts. They were subjugated by Agricola but later established a king- 
dom which spread over all Scotland. They were never conquered but 
were united with the Scots, a Celtic tribe from Ireland, when Kenneth 
by marriage succeeded to the Pictish throne in 503. After that time 
the Scots became insignificant, only giving their name to the kingdom. 
From 503 to the present day the Picts have continued supreme in the 
Lowlands. The Scottish vernacular of that section had its origin in the 
Teutonic dialect spoken by the Picts, or early invading Goths. 

Pinkerton 's theory did not go long unchallenged. Ritson attacked 
the earlier statement of it in a cursory fashion in the "Essay on Scotish 
Songs". There he only, denied the general hypothesis without going 
into detail and charitabl} -rascribed to insanity Pinkerton 's treatment of 
the Celts as a "medial race between beasts and men". But he did not 
wish to let the matter rest in this incomplete state. Upon the publica- 
tion of Pinkerton 's Inquiry he was still more strongly convinced that 
"a history of the Celts by a person of learning and industry is much 
wanted." Knowing that John Lanne Buchanan had undertaken a reply 
to Pinkerton, Ritson awaited the appearance of the Defense of the 
Scots Highlanders in general and some learned characters in particular, 
1794. But when this work proved to be what he had anticipated," un- 
scholarly and inadequate, he took up the subject of Scottish history 

'iPinkerton to Percy, Nov. 19, 1785, in Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. CII, ii, 
pp. 121-2. 

'-In anticipation of the publication of this book Ritson wrote to Paton, March 


himself. From 1795 until his death he spent much time in this field, 
but the results of his labor -were not published during his lifetime. In 
Caledonia, 1807, George Chalmers'^ summarized the various systems of 
Scottish history up to his own day. He expressed his opposition to 
Pinkerton's theory but did not enter into a scientific examination of the 
evidence. It remained for Ritson to vindicate the Celts and to expose 
the fallacy of the Pictish origin of the modern Scottish dialect, in his 
Memoirs of the Celts and An7ials of the Caledonians. He had access to 
a wider range of ancient material than Pinkerton ; his treatment of it 
was scientific; and his results Avere corresponding!}^ more accurate. 
Although he could not have anticipated the rapid advance which has 
since been made in ethnological and linguistic science, yet he presented 
a large body of the authentic material upon which modern theories are 
based. The advance which he made over Pinkerton and the degree of 
his approach to present-day theories will be revealed by a brief exami- 
nation of the Memoirs and Annals. 

Speaking very strictly, it is inaccurate to say that Ritson had no 
definite historical policy in these volumes. He followed his usual method 
of amassing and arranging in chronological order all the historical refer- 
ences and poetical allusions which he could gather. But he avowedly 
held a brief for the Celts, and even though his candor led him to insert 
every pertinent reference to the subject whether it favored the Celts 
or not, 3"et his footnotes and casual comments leave no doubt as to his 
own beliefs. With an astonishing array of evidence from scores of early 
writers he traces the movements of the Celts on the continent. Instead 
of being an inferior and degraded race they were for several centuries 
before Christ the most powerful and numerous people in Europe. Event- 
ually conquered by the Romans, they became disintegrated and were 
gradually absorbed by the other nations. "People of a Celtic race are 
yet to be found in Wales, Ireland, the north of Scotland, the HebrTdes, 

5, 1794: "Pinkerton's treatment of the 'Celtic savages' is to be speedily resented 
in print by the Rev. John Lane Buchanan . . . who seems in fact, to be as 
very a Celt as his antagonist could possibly wish for. I am sorry to find so good 
a cause in the hands of such an incompetent advocate." Letters, II, p. 46. 

"^Chalmers was by some thought to be the author of a review of Pinkerton's 
Inquiry which appeared in the first number of the Edinburgh Review. Apropos of 
this he wrote to Constable, Oct. 2j, 1803 : "I was surprised to learn from you 
that I should have been considered by anj'body at Edinburgh to be the author of 
the Vindication of the Celts, which is so unlike anything that I ever wrote. If I 
had written on that subject, I would have beaten Pinkerton's brains out in one 
half the space. Pinkerton's Goths is a tissue of interpolation and falsehood, fiction, 
and impertinence ; but I have never published anything upon the matter." Consta- 
ble and his Literary Correspondents, I, p. 411. 


the Isle of Man, Armorica, and in a district of the Alps, called the Pais 
de Vaud."'* The primitive language of the Celts, dialects of which 
were still spoken by the people in these districts, Ritson said was not 
Teutonic, although it bore evidences of relationship with Germanic. 
This was about all that could be said on the subject before the intro- 
duction of comparative philology. Modern ethnology has confirmed 
Ritson 's thesis on the predominance of the early Celts and has even 
denominated the time from the fifth to the third century before Christ, 
the "Celtic period"." 

The Annals of the Caledonians, Picts, and Scots; and of Strath- 
clyde, Cumberland, Galloway, and Murray is an attempt to give a chro- 
nological account of the early inhabitants of Caledonia from the most 
ancient and authentic documents. The main object of Ritson 's labors 
here was to disprove Pinkerton's theory concerning the Teutonic origin 
of the Picts and the consequent influence of the Pictish tongue on the 
modern lowland Scottish, and at the same time he had opportunity to 
present further evidence of the importance of the Celts. From the 
testimony of Herodotus, Caesar, Tacitus, Bede, and others it appears 
that the most ancient inhabitants of the British Isles were the Celts,'^® 
who had no doubt settled there in the great Celtic period. The first 
mention of the Picts is about 300, when they are referred to by Caesar, 
Tacitus, and others, as enemies to the Britons." Coming as they did 
from the continent to Ireland and thence to Caledonia, Ritson concluded 
that they were originally Celts but by long separation from that branch 
of the race which had settled in Britain had become a distinct nation 
and made war on their own kinsmen.'^ In 449 the South Britons called 
in the Saxons to aid them against the Picts and Scots, who were driven 
into the north. The Scots, originally Irish, and admitted by Pinkerton 
to be Celts, contended Math the Picts against the South Britons. When 
these two nations were forced back by the combined efforts of the Saxons 
and Britons they fell to warring among themselves, with the result that 
the Picts were overcome and all but annihilated. This in itself was 
fatal to Pinkerton's Celto-Gothic system. By a wilful perversion of 
history he declared that it was the Scots who were exterminated. But 
the Scots gave their name to the country and to the language and from 
503 are mentioned by historians with increasing frequency, while the 

'^Mcmoiri of the Celts, Preface, p. x. 

"•'See Deniker, The Races of Man, 2nd edition, London, igoo, p. 317 fif. for a 
statement of modern views concerning the peoples of Europe, especially the Celts. 

''^Annals of the Caledonians, I, p. 13. 

-■'Ibid., I, p. 71 ff- 

"^Similar instances are not infrequent in the history of the races of men. See 
Deniker, Op. Cit., p. 323 ff. 


Picts are all but forgotten and tlieir dialect and racial characteristics 
are preserved only in the northern islands and the remote highlands. 
How the Scots, admittedly an inferior race, should be able permanently 
to impose upon a people superior in every way, their language, customs, 
and institution must ever remain a mystery to those who support Pink- 
erton's theory of the Gothic origin of the Picts. 

Perhaps the most important phase of this whole discussion was 
that concerning the Pictish influence on the modern Scottish dialect of 
the Lowlands. Pinkerton argued that the Picts were Goths and hence 
spoke a Teutonic dialect. He supported his theory bj- evidence from 
history. Tacitus said the Caledonians had a Germanic origin. The 
ancient Caledonians were Picts ; therefore the Picts spoke a Germanic 
dialect. The Picts were known to have inhabited the Lowlands, and 
there a Teutonic dialect is now spoken while there is no evidence of any 
other having been prevalent. Therefore, he argued, the modern Scottish 
dialect of the Lowlands had its origin in the language spoken by the 

Pinkerton 's theory was questioned from the beginning, but it 
gained rather wide popular credence and did not want the support of 
students of poetry and language. The wide-spread interest in the 
Ossianic and other Erse poetry, and in all northern antiquities, was 
undoubtedly fostered by the misconception that the Gaelic people were 
Teutons and their language a dialect of Germanic.'^^ James Sibbald, 
who published a Chronicle of Scottish poetry from the thirteenth cen- 
tury to the Union of the Crowns, 1802, lent his support to the general 
theory outlined by Pinkerton. John Jamieson, after an extended review 
of the evidence, in the introductory dissertation to his Etymological 
Dictionary of the Scottish Language, 1808, declared himself convinced 
that the dialect of the Lowland Scots was not a daugliter to English 
Saxon but was a sister language derived from the Teutonic speech of 
the Picts. Such a theory as this was possible only before the science of 
comparative philologj^ had differentiated the various branches of the 
Indo-European family and shown something of their inter-relations. 
It is to be noted, however, that Ritson anticipated the conclusions of 
modern science in his treatment of the Picts. These people, he said, 

■^^The great vogue of the Ossianic poems in Germany must have been due in 
part at least to this feeling of racial kinship. See Joseph Texte, Jcan-Jacqucs 
Rousseau et les origines du cosmopolitism e literaire, Paris, 1895, p. 388 ff. Some 
hint of the importance of the national spirit in the Romantic movement is given 
by Farley, Scandinavian Influences in the English Romantic movement, 1903. The 
part plaj-ed by ethnological and linguistic theories in the literary movements of the 
late eighteenth century is an interesting problem, but it has never been adequately 


were not Teutons but Celts. Their language was therefore a Gaelic 
dialect and could have had little if any influence on modern Scottish. 
The Gaelic, or Erse, was not wholly unintelligible to English speaking 
persons of his day because it was ultimately derived from the same 
root as the Saxon and would have many characteristics in common with 
it. Yet it was a mistake, he maintained, to attempt to apply this par- 
allel to Scottish and Saxon. The dialect of the Lowlands was identical 
with the Saxon spoken north of the Humber and it was folly to separate 
them.®° To Ritson's astonishing array of historical evidence little of 
incontrovertible authenticity has since been added. The study of phi- 
lology has resulted in the common acceptance of certain general princi- 
ples governing inter-relations of languages. By these Ritson's theory 
concerning the Scottish and Pictish dialects is supported.*^ 

Ritson's whole treatment of the Scottish question was controversial 
in nature. It was sometliing more, to be sure, but it had its inception 
in controversy. With all its learning and wide reading, the "Essay 
on Scotish Song" was an unblushing attempt to contradict Pinkerton. 
Ritson's various manuscript collections of Scottish songs and ballads 
were made with the object of teaching Pinkerton how his work should 
be done. And the two historical compilations were undertaken with no 
other purpose than to correct the theories of Pinkerton. A similar 
thread of personal controversy runs through all the discussions of 
romances and minstrelsy. It is unfortunate for Ritson's fame and for 
the permanent value of his work that he was so persistently the antago- 
nist. To his contemporaries the constant ill-nature of his comments 
overshadowed everything else, and since his death he has been uniformly 
criticised for this weakness and only sporadically commended for his 
services to scholarship. He did much, however, that deserves praise. 
Disregarding his reprehensible manner, the ends he attained were worth 
striving for. He caused both Percy and Pinkerton to alter their methods 
and undoubtedly inspired many other editors to a more faithful and 
more scholarly treatment of their originals. Besides this impulse to 
correctness, he furnished students of old poetry, of ballads and ro- 
mances, and of Scottish history with a fund of material from first 
sources such as had not previously been assembled. 

8°See Annals, especially I, p. 25 ff ; p. 135 ff; and II, p. 25 fif. 

s^W. F. Skene applies to Pinkerton's hypothesis the reasoning of Ritson, judged 
in the light of later scientific developments, but makes no mention of the critic. 
Celtic Scotland, 2nd edition, 3 vols., Edinburgh, 1886, I, p. 196 fif. James Ferguson 
has produced topographical and linguistic evidence to prove that the Celtic element in 
the native population of the modern Scotch Lowlands is much larger than is gen- 
erally believed. See "The Celtic Element in Lowland Scotland", Celtic Review,. 
Vol. I, pp. 246-60; 321-32. 


Revolutionary Traits Death 

Visit to Paris — Interest in libraries — Enthusiastic over Revolution — Announces 
strong republican sympathy — Adopts republican forms in letters — Professes to be 
disciple of Paine and Rousseau — Fears for personal safety during prosecution 
of Revolutionary leaders — Becomes disgusted with them — Holcroft and Godwin — 
Finally gives up hope of English republic — Religious views — Discounts historical 
importance of Christianity — Has no respect for church or churchmen — Sneers at 
religious sects — An atheist — No belief in future existence — Follows high ethical 
standard — Spelling vagaries — Waning interest stimulated by visit to Paris — Nature 
of suggested improvements — His weakness — An orthographic mutineer — ^Vegeta- 
rianism — Converts nephew and sister — Abstinence from Animal Food as' a Moral 
Duty — Contents — Contemporary comments — Illness increased by diet — Pecuniary 
distress — Endeavors to insure life — Apoplectic strokes — Violent insanity — Death — 
Burial — Disposition of library. 

To the casual observer the outstanding eccentricities of Ritson's 
conduct and belief seem to have taken their rise chiefly in the revolu- 
tionary ardor which resulted from his visit to Paris in 1791. But they 
were fairly constant factors in his life, and he was only emboldened to 
espouse them more vigorously after his foreign journey. In the early 
days of 1788 Ritson was considering a trip to Paris or Madrid, "being 
ashamed", as he said, "to have lived so long in the world and seen so 
little of it."^ Events in France, culminating in the States-General 
and the storming of the Bastile, combined with his own busy-ness to 
deter him for more than three years from translating his thoughts into 
action. The temporary lull which succeeded the first violent outbursts 
of popular feeling in France seemed, to the most optimistic, to indicate 
that the Revolution was ended. On June 9, 1791, Ritson wrote to 
Harrison : 

"My desire to reside for a few weeks at or near Paris has been increasing 
ever since the Revolution, and is in reality verj^ strong; which you will readily 
conceive when I give it as a decided opinion that no people ancient or -nodern was 
ever so deserving of admiration."^ 

^Letters, 1, p. 132. 
-Ibid., I, p. 193. 



Shortl}^ after August 20 of that year^ he set off for Paris in company 
with his friend William Shield. From Paris Shield proceeded, with a 
number of agreeable foreigners,* by easy stages to Rome and did not 
return to England till 1792. Ritson remained in Paris for a couple of 
months.^ From his great interest in literary and historical antiquities 
one would expect him to avail himself of this opportunity to visit the 
splendid libraries and museums of Paris. He did improve this oppor- 
tunity in a way, for immediately upon his return to London he wrote 
to Harrison : 

"Paris abounds with antiquities, and public monuments, which you would be 
delighted to see. There are three magnificent libraries ; two of which at least, 
are infinitely beyond either Bodley's or the Museum, both for printed books and 
manuscripts. When united as they probably will be in a little time, they will 
form the first collection in the world. All three are open to everyone who chooses 
to go, without previous applications or any exceptions. The French read a great 
deal, and even the common people (such, i mean, as cannot be expected from 
their poverty, to have had a favorable education, for there is now no other distinc- 
tion of rank,) are better acquainted with their ancient history than the English 
nobility are with ours. They talk familiarly of Charlechauve, and at St. Dennis 
i observed that all the company, mostly peasants or mechanics, recognized with 
pleasure the portrait of La Piicelle."^ 

It does not appear, however, that he spent a great deal of time laboring 
in these institutions, for in his subsequent publications he made but 
one specific reference to the material which came in his way there.'^ 
This was evidently not a business trip. He seems to have made the 
visit for amusement only, and that he found in an absorbing interest 
in political events. 

Ritson arrived in Paris at a peculiarly happy moment. The ill- 
advised flight of the King had been abruptly terminated by his enforced 
return to Paris in July. After the mutterings of discontent with the 
monarch's conduct had died away, attention centered mainly on the 
new Constitution. In early September this document was completed, 

3R. H. Legge, who wrote the life of Shield in tlie Diet. Nat. Biog., follows the 
erroneous statement in G. G. Cunningham's History of England in the lives of 
Englishmen, London, 1853, Vol. VIII, p. 361, that this journey was taken in 
August, 1792. 

*See Shield's letters to Holcroft, Holcroft's Memoirs, p. 308 ff. 

"'Cunningham and Legge state that Ritson continued to Italy, but this is clearly 
an error. Ritson makes no mention of any other city than Paris, and Shield does 
not refer to him as a member of the party in the later stages of the extended 
journej'. Ritson had certainly returned to London by November 26. 

^Letters, I, pp. 203-4. 

''In the Scots' College he saw the testament and letters of Mary, Queen of 
Scots, "blotted with her tears". Scotish Songs, I, p. xlix. 


revised, and accepted by Louis. Upon this signal success of their de- 
signs the populace became jubilant, and there were gala-nights in Paris. 
The sole topic of conversation seemed to be the Constitution, and the 
people were happy, forgiving, and hopeful.^ The effect of this exuber- 
ance and enthusiasm upon Ritson is shown in his correspondence. 
He says nothing of struggle, of lawlessness, of bloodshed; but he extols 
the principles for which the people were fighting and praises in un- 
measured language the new constitution. To Harrison he writes, in the 
first letter after his return : 

"Well, and so I got to Paris at last; and was highly gratified with the whole 
of my excursion. I admire the French more than ever. They deserve to be free, 
and they really are so. You have read their new constitution : can anything be 
more admirable? We, who pretend to be free, you know, have no constitution at 
all. ... As to modern politics, and the principles of the Constitution, one 
would think that half the people in Paris had no other employment than to study 
and talk about them. I have seen a fishwoman reading the journal of the National 
assembly to her neighbor who appeared to listen with all the avidity of Shak- 
speare's blacksmith. You may now consider this government as completely settled, 
and a counter-revolution as utterly impossible : They are more than a match for 
all the slaves in Europe."^ 

To another correspondent he writes in the same strain : 

"My sentiments are and ever have been so entirely correspondent to the 
ruling measures that I had only to rejoice at seeing a theory I had so long admired 
reduced to practise. I know that you and I do not exactly agree in our political 
principles. Your creed if I mistake not, is that a few men, whether born with 
boots and spurs or at least who have got them on, have a right to bridle, saddle 
and harness the rest, and ride or drive them with as much gentleness or violence 
as they see occasion ; and that it is much more advisable for the latter to jog on 
peaceably and quietly than by kicking or flinging to provoke a larger portion of 
hard blows and hunger. This I believe is a pretty fair representation. . . . 
They order these matters very differently in the country I was speaking of, which, 
owing to the dissemination and establishment of those sacred and fundamental 
principles of liberty and equality, enjoys a degree of happiness and prosperity to 
which it had hitherto been a stranger : but which is merely typical of that to which 
it will shortly arrive."^° 

Coming from Ritson this extravagant praise of democratic govern- 
ment is quite surprising. When it is recalled that he who now states that 
his ''sentiments are and ever have been entirely correspondent to the 
ruling measures" of the French revolution, is the same, who, eleven 
years before had compiled, and only eight years earlier had revised 

^Carlyle, History of the French Revolution, London, 1898, Vol. I, p. iQSff- 
^Letters, I, p. 203-4. 
^^Ibid., I, pp. 208-9. 


for a second edition, the Tables of the Descent of the Crown, and who, 
in publications ranging through a decade had lost no opportunity to 
condemn in violent language those who under whatsoever pretext had 
sought to set aside the "legitimate and inviolable lineal descent" to the 
English throne,^ ^ there appears to be a glaring inconsistency. When it 
is remembered, too, that he who now declares with so much confidence 
that "we have no constitution at all", is the same who, on several occa- 
sions heartily condemned the Revolution Parliament with having done 
more to destroy the English constitution than all other parliaments 
had done to preserve it,^- it is still more apparent that a radical change 
of belief has taken place. It is not difficult to substantiate Ritson's 
statement that he had always admired the French people, but his earlier 
remarks concerning them have nothing to do with the revolutionary 
temper which they later exhibited. For instance, he strenuously denied 
the validity of the claim of Henry V. to the throne of France and took 
occasion to commend Joan of Arc and to praise the ill-starred Dauphin.'^ 
He likewise lauded the poetic ability and the keen intellectual quali- 
ties of the French.^* But none of these comments can, without violence, 
be adduced in support of his praise of the principles for which the 
French people struggled in the Revolution. 

It is clear that Ritson's political faith had suffered a definite re- 
versal. The erstwhile Jacobite is now an avowed Jacobin; the sometime 
Tory is now a Whig of the most liberal complexion. He declared that 
he ' ' detested every species of aristocracy ' ' ; yet he seems to waver 
slightly in the advice he gives his nephew concerning the authority 
of historians. 

"Always prefer Tory or Jacobite writers", he says, "the Whigs are the 
greatest liars in the world. You consult history for facts, not principles. The 
Whigs, I allow, have the advantage in the latter, and this advantage they are 
constantly laboring to support by a misrepresentation of the former."i^ 

But this is only his historical judgment asserting itself in the midst 
of enthusiasm. The critical temper which served admirably in all his 
literary labors did not entirely desert him in his political zeal. By its 
aid he discovered the unworthy motives of many of the republican 
leaders in his own country. But this was after he had joined their 
ranks and had been for some time associated with them. 

i^See Remarks, pp. 84, 137, 188, etc. 
^-Ibid., p. 124; English Songs, I, p. Ixxxii. 
^^'Reinarks, p. 104; Preface to Ancient Songs. 
^■*See Prefaces to English Songs and Ancient Songs. 
^''Letters, II, p. 121. 


The spirit of the revolutionists had a firm grip upon Ritson. Al- 
most immediately upon his return to England he began addressing his 
intimate friends as "Citizen" and used the complimentary close of the 
republicans in most of his letters. Early in 1793 he adopted the new 
republican calendar and struggled for some months to become perfect 
in its use. At the same time he declared himself a disciple of the lead- 
ing philosophers of the Revolution and adorned the walls of his chamber 
with portraits of Paine, Rousseau, and Voltaire. He realized that this 
was not a step in the direction of popularity, for on sending hiegalite 
des hommes to his nephew, he remarked: 

"The excellent author looks down upon me ; on the other side of the fireplace 
hangs the sarcastic Voltaire ; while the enlightened and enlightening Thomas fronts 
the door : which is probably the reason, by the way, that scarce anybody has entered 
it since he made his appearance."^'' 

During this period he renewed his friendship with Holcroft^" and sought 
the acquaintance of Godwin, Thelwall, and other Revolutionary leaders 
in England. He visited freely with these men and followed their po- 
litical fortunes very closely.^* He advised his nephew to become familiar 
with their writings, which contained "much deep and just reflection as 
well as excellent writing." And he himself commented frequently on 
their publications as well as on their political ups and downs.^'' 

The first few years after Ritson's return from Paris were, to use 
his own words, ticklish times for the advocates of Liberty and Equality 
in England. Thomas Hardy founded "The London Corresponding 
Society" in January, 1792. In September the Society sent a congratu- 
latory address to the National Convention of France and before 
the end of the year was in correspondence "with every Society in Great 
Britain which had been instituted for the purpose of obtaining by legal 
and constitutional means a reform in the Commons' house of Parlia- 
ment."^*^ The rapid increase of the corresponding societies and their 
unconcealed intercourse with the republican leaders in France caused 
the Government to adopt stringent measures to suppress or exterminate 
them. The cooperation of Home Tooke's "Society for Constitutional 
Information ",21 and John Thelwall 's "Society of the Friends of the 

^^Ibid., II, p. 39- 

^''Sidney Lee, in the Diet. Nat. Biog., implies that Ritson first made the acquaint- 
ance of Holcroft at this time, but he knew him at Stockton. 

''■^Letters, II, p. 34; Holcroft's Memoirs; C. K. Paul's Williain Godwin, his 
friends and contemporaries, 2 vols., London, 1876, Vol. I, p. 78. 

^^Letters, II, p. 49, 86, 112. 

^^Memoir of Thomas Hardy, London, 1832, p. 24. 

2iSee Alexander Stephens, The Life of John Home Tooke, London, 1813. 


People"-- with Hardy's organization resulted in the arrest of all the 
leaders in the summer of 1794. On October 5 true bills were returned 
against them and eight others. On October 28 Hardy's trial was begun 
amid great excitement. His acquittal, on November 5, was followed 
within a month by those of Home Tooke and Thelwall. The Govern- 
ment 's case was so weak that the rest of the defendants were discharged 
without trial, to the great delight of the people and the extreme relief 
of many members of the Societies who felt themselves to be under the 
surveillance of spies.-^ 

Ritson followed these trials with a great deal of interest, for his 
own strong sympathy with the defendants was known among his 
friends, and he well knew that one might be arrested on suspicion engen- 
dered by such sympathy. It seemed to be the custom of the government, 
he said, to suspect a man of Jacobinism and hang him for felony in order 
to be rid of him.-* He was careful to write nothing that would incrimi- 
nate him-^ and declared that he talked politics as little as possible, '4n 
order to avoid Newgate, ' '-^ yet he seems not to have felt perfectly secure 
until after the Government had failed in two attempts at conviction. At 
the acquittal of Home Tooke he breathed a sigh of relief and remarked 
that the storm had now blown over, and he considered himself safe.-^ 
The success of the Revolutionists in their first encounter with the Gov- 
ernment gave them a great deal of confidence in the justice of their 
cause and, as is not unusual in such cases, they almost immediately de- 
stroyed the confidence of unprejudiced persons by extravagances and 
inconsistency. "Their constant cant" says Ritson, "is the force and 
energy of mind to which all opposition is to be ineffectual."-^ They de- 
clared that no member of their Society under suspicion should have 
hired defense at his trial but should depend upon his own eloquence and 
the undoubted justice of his case. While the leaders were perfectly 
willing to endorse this rule as an abstract principle, yet when their own 
safety was in jeopardy they exerted every effort to secure the best legal 

22See The Life of John Thelwall, London, 1837. 

23See J. Smith, The Story of the English Jacobins, London, 1881, and Howell's 
State Trials, London, 1816-28, Vols. XXIII-XXIV. 

-^Letters, II, p. 103. 

250n March 5, 1794, he addressed Laing as "My friend" and explained the 
salutation thus : "I do not call you Citizen, lest, when I revisit your metropolis, your 
scoundrel judges should send me for fourteen years to Botany Bay; only I am in 
good hopes, before that event takes place, they will all be sent to the devil". Ibid., 
II, p. 47- 

-^Ibid., II, p. 7- 

^-'Ibid., II, p. 57- 

-»Ibid., II, p. 69. 


talent in their behalf. Although it was Ritson 's own theory that the inno- 
cent need no hired defense at the criminal bar, yet he was extremely 
disgusted at the inconsistency of some of the Revolutionists and con- 
demned their selfishness. "Mister Yorke, (for a culprit in a black silk 
coat does not appear to deserve the title of citizen) "-^ was one of the 
worst offenders. Upon his arrest in 1795 he sent out a popular appeal 
for funds to aid in his defense, preferring to keep his own fortune intact. 
This form of mendicancy Ritson especially abominated, and he was de- 
lighted that Yorke was sentenced to a fine and imprisonment in spite of 
all his trouble.^" 

The dissatisfaction with the republican leaders registered in these 
comments of Ritson soon ripened into thorough disgust. He considered 
them not only inconsistent but insincere. "To confess the truth", he 
said, "the more I see of these modern patriots and philosophers the less 
I like them." Holcroft and Godwin fell under his particular censure: 
the former for his over- weening egotism ; the latter for the want of 
courage to face the full consequences of the practical application of his 
philosophy. Holcroft regretted keenly that he had not been allowed to 
display his oratorical talents at his trial and declared that he would 
gladly have given one of his hands for the opportunity of making his own 
defense; "which", Ritson remarked, "would certainly have hanged him, 
however favorable his judges might have been beforehand. "^^ Godwin 
was ridiculed for recognizing the authority of an institution which he 
professed to hold in contempt by having his marriage with Mary Woll- 
stonecraft sanctioned by the ceremonies of the Church of England.'^- 
Ritson 's quarrel with Godwin over the loan of books and money no doubt 
intensified his bitterness. On January 16, 1801, he wrote to the phil- 
osopher: "I wish you would make it convenient to return me the thirty 
pounds I lent you." Godwin was unable to repay the money, but he 
sent a copy of his tragedy, which he hoped would please Ritson. The 
critic replied in surly tones : 

"Though you have not ability to repay the money I lent, you might have 
integrity enough to return the books you borrowed. ... I never received a 
copy of your unfortunate tragedy: nor, from the fate it experienced, and the 
character I have read and heard of it, can I profess myself very anxious for its 

But the unctuous Godwin was not in the least disturbed by the conse- 
quences of Ritson 's "transient misapprehension", and by repaying a 

~^Ibid., IL p. 96. 

•'oHowell, Op. Cit, Vol. XXV, p. 1154. 

^^Letters, II, p. 63. 

^-Ibid., II, p. 154. 


few pounds of the loan, and by the discreet employment of flattery 
succeeded in drawing from hira a half-hearted apology."*^ 

But even though Ritson became disgusted with the methods em- 
ployed by the Revolutionary leaders in England, he continued until near 
his death to hope for a transplanting of the French spirit to his own 
country. Upon his return from France he was anxious that the English 
people should enjoy a degree of freedom equal to that of the French. 
This end could be gained only by a revolution, and he thought the up- 
heaval would be sudden and violent. The work of the Corresponding 
Societies and of the republican orators had its effect, but he looked to 
dissatisfaction with economic conditions for the real source of a popular 
uprising. In 1793 he wrote : 

"With respect to a revolution, though I think it at no great distance, it 
seems to defy all calculations for the present. If the increase of taxes, the decline 
of manufacture, the high price of provisions, and the like, have no effect upon 
the apathy of the sans culottes here, one can expect little from the reasoning of 
philosophers or politicians. When the pot boils violently, however, it is not always 
in the Cook's power to prevent some of the fat from falling into the fire.""'* 

He continued for some time to hope that the English people would work 
out their own salvation, but with the progress of hostilities between 
the French republic and Holland, and between England and Spain, he 
looked forward to a French invasion which would establish the ideal 
government on the island. Everything, he said, was to be hoped from 
the success of the French in Holland, nothing without it. After nearly 
a decade of waiting, in "momentary expectation of the French fleet", 
he abandoned hope of any great assistance from the continent. The 
republicans were already proving themselves unworthy of the high con- 
fidence he had placed in them, and with the change of the English 
ministry in 1801 he prayed for a "settled and permanent peace ".'"^ 

It has been stated in Chambers's Book of Days^^ and in the Diction- 
ary of National Biography that Ritson's admiration for the heroes of the 
French Revolution led him to adopt their atheistic religious views. But 
it is apparent from a survey of his letters and publications that, while his 
visit to France and his subsequent interest in the leaders of the Revolu- 
tion undoubtedly intensified his animosity to orthodox religion, they 
were not the source of it. From the time of his earliest book, which 
appeared nine years before his foreign visit, he was outspoken in con- 
demnation of the Bible, the church, and all religious sects. There is no 

33C. K. Paul, Op. Cit, II, p. 6i ff. 
'•'■^Letters, II, pp. 2^, 42. 
^'^Ihid., II. pp. 63, 128, 182, 205. 

36V0l. II, p. 406. 

180 JOSEPH RITSON [514: 

evidence of religious training in his early life, and he seems to have 
brought to his work a deep-seated aversion to all organized faiths. In 
his prefatory dissertations he made frequent and always disparaging 
allusions to the historical importance of Christianity. It was his declared 
opinion that the christianizing of the Saxons was their undoing, and he 
dated the "perversion of true history" from the time when it began to 
be written by monks, and the ''disgrace of English literature" from the 
age in which the legends of the Christian saints were believed and 

"While the Saxons continued pagans", he writes, "they were unquestionably 
a brave and warlike nation; but upon their conversion to Christianity their kings 
became monks, the people cowards and slaves, unable to defend themselves, and a 
prey to every invader/'^^ 

Elsewhere he asked what advantages the Saxons had gained, how much 
their understanding had been enlightened, or how much their morals 
had been improved, to counterbalance the destruction of their national 
genius and spirit as a result of their accepting the Christian faith. ^^ 
According to his theory the origin of romance was to be sought 

"in the different systems of superstition which have from time to time pre- 
vailed, whether pagan or Christian. The gods of the ancient heathens and the 
saints of the more modern Christians, are the same sort of imaginary beings who 
alternately give existence to romances, and receive it from them. The legends 
of the one and the fables of the other, have been constantly fabricated for the 
same purpose, and with the same view — the promotion of fanaticism, which, being 
mere illusion, can only be excited or supported by romance. . . . There is this 
distinction indeed, between the heathen deities and the Christian saints, that the 
fables of the former were indebted for their existence to the flowery imagination 
of the sublime poet, and the legends of the latter to the gloomy fanaticism of a lazy 
monk or stinking priest."^^ 

Closely enwrapped in this scorn for the historical prestige of the 
church was a contemptuous disrespect for its ministers, both medieval 
and modern. "A piper", he exclaimed, "is preferable to a parson".*" 
He thought it because of the "malicious endeavors of pitiful monks, by 
whom history was consecrated to the crimes and follies of titled ruffians 
and sainted idiots", that the "patriotic exertions and virtuous acts" of 

^'Metrical Romances, I, p. ;i3. 

^^Englisli Songs, I, pp. xlvii, Iviii, etc. In one of tlie cancelled passages in 
Metrical Romances, he declared the Saxons would have been better off if they had 
never had a Bible to read. See Appendix B. 

^^Met. Rams., I, p. 19. 

*'^lbid., I, p. 109. 


Robin Hood had not been recorded for the edification of posterity.*^ But 
the crimes of the early churchmen were not merely negative. In the 
distorted vision of this hypochondriac critic they had fathered upon 
Eiiglisli history and literature an incubus from which they had struggled 
in vain to free themselves. He writes : 

"The forgery and fabrication of lying legends, of James the son of Zebedee, 
Simon Zealot^ Simon Peter and Saint Paul . . . and many more such nonenti- 
ties, all forgery and falsehood, have been greedily swallowed up . . . to the 
pollution of true history and the everlasting disgrace of English literature. "*2 

With the churchmen of his own day he was no less unreasonable. If 
his indefensible violence towards Percy and Warton was not intensified 
by their connection with the church, at least his sneering allusions to 
their ecclesiastical position would make such a deduction almost inevit- 
able.^^ He took no pains to save their moral feelings but seemed rather 
to embrace every opportunity to expose what he considered an incon- 
sistency between their religious profession and their literary practice,^* 

For the church as an historical institution Ritson professed no 
respect, and he had only jeers for the various religious sects. He spoke 
with fluency of "Calvanistic bigotry"/^ of the "fanatical puritans", 
and of "those modern puritans, the methodists".*" Concerning his 
nephew's early training he wrote to Wadeson: 

"I know not whence you collect any intention in me of making him a papist, 
unless you suppose that papacy and fiddling necessarily go together. I shall rely 
on your care in preventing his mother's making a methodist of him : but must 
insist that you do not attempt to make him a presbyterian, which, if there be any 
difference in such sectarists, is the worst among them."*^ 

He thought his sister's long illness was only a religious melancholy and 
severely reprimanded his nephew for joining the "gang of methodists" 
who intensified her complaint by singing and praying.*^ It was his 
earnest wish that there should be no singing of hymns at his sister's 
funeral and no clergyman pjresent at his own burial. 

'^''■Robiii Hood, I, pp. xv, viv. 

*-King Arthur, p. 126. 

*'^This was the point of view taken by his contemporaries and emphasized in all 
the Rcvicivs. Percy laid much stress on this point in correspondence concerning 

■^^His satirization of the religious comments of Johnson and Steevens will be 
recalled in this connection. 

*''Ancient Songs, I, p. xxvii. 

*^'Ibid., I, p. Ixxviii ; Scotish Songs, I, p. cii; Letters, I, p. 100. 

^'Letters, I, p. 24. 

*^Ibid., I, p. loi. 


After such an array of testimony concerning Ritson's position with 
regard to the church and churchmen, there can be little question as to 
his personal beliefs. Although there appears nowhere in his published 
works or in the extant correspondence an explicit statement on the point, 
he owned no belief in a supreme being and was undoubtedly an atheist. 
Robert Smith, who was perhaps as intimate with Ritson as any member 
of the Inn, declared that he did not think him an atheist. But his reas- 
oning is by no means convincing. If he were an atheist, he said, "why 
should he send up ejaculations to God, or talk of the Devil tormenting 
people whom he believed had used him very ill?"*^ Ritson, himself, would 
have called these expressions simply foolish and unmeaning oaths which 
were neither wicked nor criminal.^" On the other hand, Mrs. Kirby, who 
had known Ritson from his youth up, said he certainly was an atheist, 
for he had often declared himself such to her. 

"He did not believe there was any such being as Almighty God, or that there 
was any future state of rewards or punishment, and the greatest devil he knew 
was a nasty, crabl)ed, ill-natured old woman."^^ 

This statement, in itself, is not, of course, conclusive evidence of Ritson's 
atheism, but it fits in perfectly with the general character of his remarks 
on religion and with the opinion held by him by his contemporaries.^- 

On the question of belief in a future state Ritson was more specific. 
In the first year of the nineteenth century he wrote to his ' ' worthy, ven- 
erable, and very dear friend," Harrison, congratulating him on his long 
life, and in that letter remarked : 

"You know my sentiments with regard to other worlds, which I believe, are 
not likely to change. My health is much impaired, my frame disordered, and my 
spirits depressed; so that I have no hopes for myself of an eternal existence: and 
am rather, in fact, disposed to wonder that I have lived so long; having had the 
mortification to see many whom I loved and esteemed drop from time to time 
around me at a much more immature age."^^ 

Although he could at times write in this calm and dispassionate manner, 

49Appendix A. 

^•^See Appendix B. 

^'lAppendix A. Mrs. Kirby likewise maintained that Ritson played the hypocrite 
in taking the oaths of allegiance, supremacy, and abjuration on his admission to the 
bar. If he thought of the significance of these oaths at all, Ritson probably consid- 
ered them as a mere form to be gone through with in order to reach his goal. 

s^See the reviews of any of the publications which contain essays. Haslewood, 
Op. Cit., p. 3, note, states that a letter was written to a person then living (1824) 
declaring his poignant regret, even to tearfulness, that it had been his misfortune 
to live an unbeliever. 

^^Letters, II, p. 205. 


there were occasions when he viewed life, and perhaps death, less 
steadily. His illness resulted, at the end of his life, in frequent mental 
aberrations. In these last days he devoted his energy to an attempt to 
prove Christ an impostor. This pamphlet was never finished. It was 
laid aside a short time before he was permanently bereft of reason, and the 
sheets already written were destroyed in the flames. The religiously 
inclined of his own day believed that remorse had seized him and that 
by the hand of Providence he was arrested in this final sacreligious 

A consideration of Ritson's destructive comments affords an accurate 
but not an adequate view of his principles : accurate because it reveals 
his attitude toward religious affairs ; inadequate because it does not 
include his ethical creed. He was a man of uncompromising moral 
integrity. His insistence on fidelity and honesty in editorial labors 
is well known. To deceive, to simulate, to shirk one 's duty, was to incur 
his wrath. And this had to do not only with literary matters ; he held 
the same standards for every activity of life. In his letters of counsel 
to his nephew he emphasized right and honest action. On one occasion 
he wrote to Frank, then a mere boy : 

"Never hesitate between a beggar and a half-penny worth of nuts. I know 
not whether by adopting this maxim j'ou may (as the Scripture says) 'lay up 
treasures in heaven', but this I am sure of, that the relish of a good action will 
continue longer and be a thousand times more grateful than that of an apple. "■''•'' 

From the very first his philosophy was grounded on humanitarian prin- 
ciples. After enumerating various inhuman practises, he admonishes 
his youthful nephew thus : 

"All these you ought to detest and abhor ; and, by following the contrary 
and opposite paths of Reason and Virture, you will obtain, or what is the same 
thing, deserve the love and esteem of everyone who knows you ; and if they do 
not make you a great man, they will at least make you a good one which is a 
much superior, and far more excellent character."^^ 

Reason and virtue are not clearly defined, but Ritson's test of the 
reasonableness of an act, and so of its rightness or wrongness, w^as its 
utility. "What is right or wrong but that which is useful or per- 
nicious?" he askes late in life; "is there any other criterion ? "^^ His 

"^^See Selby's letters, Appendix A. 
^''Letters, I. p. 64. 
■'^Ibid., I, p. 21. 
^'•Ibid., II, p. 90. 


acceptance of Reason^^ as the guide of conduct allied him with the Revo- 
lutionary leaders and cut him off effectually from the disciples of revealed 
religion. With undoubted sincerity he lived the present life according to 
what he considered the most exalted standards, and if, with this, he had 
not the consolation of a future existence, he deserves rather the commiser- 
ation than the condemnation and ridicule of those who consider themselves 
more fortunate. 

The new enthusiasm engendered by Ritson's visit to Paris operated 
to revive his waning interest in orthographical reform. In his early 
publications, especially the Versees, English So)igs, and the Shakespeare 
pamphlets, he had undertaken to reform the English language by sys- 
tematizing its spelling. The full extent of his system is not known. As 
far as he developed it, it consisted in discarding the capital I when 
not at the beginning of a sentence and in giving all words ending in e 
their full form when suffixes were added. These attempts at so-called 
reform met with so little encouragement and so much ridicule that Ritson 
was discouraged from pushing the matter further. In the last Shake- 
speare pamphlet (1790) he said that although his system of spelling 
required further elucidation he had no inclination to continue it. At 
the end of the year he gave Walker a further reason for abandoning 
his efforts in this direction : 

"I was much pleased to find you had had the resolution to discard the capital 
I from the middle of a sentence. Nothing can be urged in its favor but the 
ordinary argument of prejudice against improvement, that it is an innovation. 
I have sometimes attempted little reforms of this nature, but I find a spirit of 
ignorance and bigotry so universally prevalent, that I have been compelled as it 
were to abandon everj^ idea of the sort, though I shall alvi'ays applaud the man 
who has courage enough to pluck the Blatant Beast by the beard."^^ 

In the fall of the next year he visited France and returned to Eng- 
land with sufficient courage to beard the lion in his own den, which he 
did by flaunting innovations of spelling in all his subsequent publications. 
The first letter written after his return to London, the exuberant repub- 
licanism of which has already been noted, was crowded full of strange 
spellings. After the second sentence he remarked parentheticallj' : * ' You 
observe, by the way, i am teaching you how to spell". And at the end 
of the letter he invited criticism with the confidence of one whose position 
is unassailable: "if you know any cause or just impediment why words 
should not be spelled in my way you are to declare it". Yet with all 

^^There is no external evidence of Ritson's indebtedness to either Bentham or 
Hume. He might have got his philosophy from them or from any of the Revolu- 
tionary leaders ; the doctrine was sufficiently current. 

^^Letters, I, p. 177. 


his new enthusiasm, Ritson professed not to be an advocate of innova- 
tion merely because it Avas innovation. Joseph Frank carried his uncle's 
general scheme of reform further than Ritson was willing to go. He 
wished to abolish the capital letter at the beginning of a line of poetry 
when not also the beginning of a sentence*'" and to substitute ''thou" 
for "you" in familiar address. Ritson answered that there was no 
sufficient reason for abolishing fixed and universal customs in language 
unless it could be proved that the benefit accruing from the change 
would considerably overbalance the confusion resulting from such an 
innovation, — and this, he said, could not be demonstrated in these two 
cases. "Until convinced to the contrary, I am entitled to maintain that 
the practise is right, merely in short, because it is a practise. Never 
wake a sleeping lion."^^ 

But Ritson did not follow his own excellent advice. Although the 
use of "himself", "themselves", etc., had become established, he pre- 
pared a dissertation purporting to prove that "self is always a sub- 
stantive ; as in ' myself ', ' thyself ', etc., and, consequently ' himself ' is 
anomalous and absurd."''- The process of dropping the k from words 
ending in -ck had become quite noticeable by this tirae.''^ But for the 
sake of consistency Ritson Avished to restore it. His reason is thus stated : 

"It appears that as many words still continue to end in -ck as have been 
made to end in -c ; and, as the privation cannot possibly be applied to the former 
list, I conclude it will be the best method not to apply it to the latter. There may 
be some exceptions, as no rule is without them : but your question should have 
been not why the k is to be preserved in such and such words, but why it came 
to be rejected from them."^* 

To revise English orthography and grammar with a view to absolute 
consistency would be a gigantic task, impossible for any single man 
to accomplish and equally impossible for any body of men unless clothed 
with unlimited authority. Left to its natural course language develops 
irregularly and often illogically, and this too, in spite of the efforts of 
reformers and systematizers. 

Ritson worked with his system of spelling and grammar for many 

^'^Ibid., II, p. 39. This innovation Capell had employed in his Prolusions, 1760, 
only to meet with universal ridicule and contempt. 

^^Ibid., II, pp. 85, 89, 96. 

62/fciU, II, p. 144. 

63John Walker's Rhyming Dictionary, London, 1775, gives a list of several 
hundred works in -ck, and another of practically equal length from which the k has 
been dropped. 

^^Letters, II, p. 106. 


years, yet he never came to the point of absolute certainty on all its 
phases. In 1795 he wrote : 

"I have scarcely courage enough to apply my principles of orthography to the 
verb and participle in -en: not knowing well what to do with the words given, 
driven, riven, etc., etc. However, I take ripeen, hasteen, spokeen, etc., to be per- 
fectly accurate."*^-' 

But uncertainty on particular points did not deter him from em- 
ploying many innovations of his system in his published works. Each 
volume was more forbidding in appearance than its predecessor, and 
after his return from France the promiscuous use of mutilated forms 
rendered much of his text obsolete and well nigh unintelligible. It was 
often necessary for him to modify his spelling as well as his religious 
sentiments in order to secure a publisher, and the editors of all his 
posthumous publications found it necessary to "reduce his orthography 
to the recognized standard of our language". There is no reason to 
believe, as these editors have stated, that Ritson would have modernized 
the spelling himself if he had lived to see the books through the press.**® 
Under wholly different circumstances this might have been possible. But 
as illness with its consequent insanity settled down upon him he became 
more eccentric in every way and more violently aggressive in exhibiting 
his idiosyncrasies. 

From his own day to ours Ritson 's orthography has been made the 
butt of numerous critics. A factitious letter in the Monthly Mirror for 
August, 1803, put together by "Old Nick", ludicrously exposed some of 
his variations from the common rules of spelling. Subsequent writers 
declare that his orthography was based on no conception of the rela- 
tions of words but was the caprice of fancy and the sport of a crank.*'' 
That it was, especially in his later years, largely the result of fancy and 
caprice there can be no doubt. But it is equally true that it had its 
Inception and its early nurture in what he himself erroneously believed 
to be the accurate rules of historical grammar. His fault was in not 
realizing the essentially plastic nature of language and its consequent 
instability, so that the rules of Shakespeare's time, even though they 
could be mth absolute certainty determined, would not apply to our 
own. Ritson xjublished nothing to compare with Elpliinston's Propriety 
ascertained in her "picture, or Inglish Speech and Spelling mutual guides, 


^''See Prefaces to the various posthumous publications. Joseph Frank's patent 
eflforts to exculpate his uncle explain many of these assertions. 

s^See especially, Haslewood, Op. Cit., p. 29; H. A. Beers, English Romanticism 
in the eighteenth century, p. 297; De Quincey's Works, Vol. XI, p. 441. For con- 
temporary remarks see the reviews of any of his books. 


and his Inglish Orthoggraphy epittomized, and Propriety's pocket- 
diccionary ; but the three treatises which he did prepare no doubt em- 
bodied his grammatical and orthographical systems. If these should be 
recovered to supplement the scattered remarks already known, it could 
be determined whether Ritson stood on solid historical ground. Without 
them he is only to be classed with Capell, Elphinston, Pinkerton, Landor, 
and others of the large body of ' ' orthographic mutineers ' ' whose peculiar 
eccentricities have served mainly to amuse the public. 

We have already seen the origin of Ritson 's vegetarianism in the 
reading, at nineteen years of age, of Mandeville's Fable of the Bees. 
By his own statement he was induced, only after serious reflection, to 
take up this mode of life, and throughout his remaining years he adhered 
to it in the face of scorn, ridicule, and volent abuse. There is a very 
reasonable doubt as to whether this habit of diet was a mere fad, as it 
has been continually called. Even though his reasons for abjuring ani- 
mal food were purely personal, yet they were founded on what he 
believed to be the unshakable rock of Reason and Virtue. He was 
fundamentally and sincerely humanitarian in nature, feeling deeply 
for all the lower forms of life and repeatedly declaring that animals 
had as much right to the full enjoyments of life as man himself. In 
limiting his diet to vegetable food he felt that he was not only conserv- 
ing life but that he was contributing to his own happiness by freeing 
his conscience from the accusation of murder. He was anxious that 
others should enjoy the mental tranquility which he maintained always 
accompanied abstinence from animal food, and so he sought to make 
proselytes. His young nephew was not unnaturally his first convert. 
In the letters to him, along with an exaggerated idea of the importance 
of his pet hobby, Ritson propounded much sound advice and good com- 
mon sense. 

His earliest counsel to Frank was primarily humanitarian. In 1781 
he wrote : 

"Cruelty and barbarity or wantonness to brute animals, birds, insects, or any 
other living thing which you might have power over ; not forgetting the inhuman 
custom of taking birds' nests, eggs, etc., which is abominable : all this you ought 
to detest and abhor."^* 

A few months later he said : ' ' humanity and good nature are the first 
and highest virtues that the mind of man is capable of entertaining."^^ 
Within a year from this time he had, by force of reason and the offer 
of a small monthly stipend, persuaded Frank of the virtue of eating 
no meat. He praised his nephew for persisting ' ' so heroically in a mode 

^^Letters, I, p. 21. 
^^Ibid., I, p. 29. 


of living, which you will one day or other find to have been of essential 
service both to your body and mind, by preserving health and a good 
conscience, neither of which you could possibly have if you addicted 
yourself to the unnatural and diabolical practise of devouring your 
fellow creatures, as pigs and geese undoubtedly are."^° This is the 
strain in which his comments always run. With the single-mindedness 
of the fanatic, he did not appreciate the absurdity of his theories when 
pushed to extremes. It was apparently easy for him to declare, for he 
said it more than once, and no doubt came firmly to believe it, that no 
one who ate animal food could have a sound mind, a strong body, or a 
clear conscience. The result in his own case gave eloquent testimony 
to the fallacy of his reasoning. 

Frank was a willing and enthusiastic disciple and appealed to his 
uncle in doubtful cases. After eggs had been added to the list of con- 
traband, he asked if it was improper to eat a pudding which contained 
eggs. Ritson replied, drawing a very nice distinction: 

"I think that if a pudding stand before you, you are not obliged to refuse 
it on account of the eggs. I do not myself. But I should never direct a pudding 
to be made for me with eggs in it"^^ 

With boyish enthusiasm Frank carried into practice the humanitarian 
principles which he had learned, and on one occasion, at least, Ritson 
was obliged to write to his sister a mild protest on the unforeseen results 
of his teaching : 

"I rather think Joe went a little too far in putting Mrs. Wiseman's cat to 
death for killing a mouse, which, perhaps nature, certainly education had taught 
her to look upon as a duty."^2 

Ritson 's sister was his second and last known convert to vegeta- 
rianism. In her case, as in his own, the results were unfortunate and 
all but fatal. His tender solicitation on the occasion of her illness re- 
veals the affection and compassion of the nature which lay back of his 
eccentric and uninviting manner. Following his suggestion she had 
limited herself to a vegetable diet, but the sudden change of a life-long 
habit so impaired her strength that she was reduced to serious illness, 
and the judicious use of wines and meats was prescribed as the only 
means of restoring her to health. In deference to her brother she re- 

""^Ibid., I, p. 39- 

"^Hbid., I, p. 41- 

''-Ibid., I, p. 95. There is no support for Mrs. Kirby's assertion that Ritson 
drove Frank out of chambers because he ate animal food. The correspondence of 
uncle and nephew is continuous and gives no hint of a misunderstanding on 
this point. 


fused to comply with these instnictions. Learning of the serious con- 
sequences of his teaching, Ritson hastened to inform her that he had 
never meant his words to be taken so literally nor followed to such 

"I hardly wished and never expected", he wrote apologetically, "that my 
scruples on this head would influence you so far as to make you give up the mode 
of living to which you have always been accustomed. Certainly not that you 
would resolve to deny yourself what everybody about you, nay, even almost the 
whole world, eats without concern or reflection, when your very existence might 
perhaps depend upon it. I shall not weary you with further argument. I only 
hope and desire that as you relinquised the use of this food out of complaisance 
to me as a philosopher, }^ou will now revive it out of affection for me as a 

Ritson made no secret of his aversion to animal food ; it was one 
of the things that everybody knew about him. His unpleasant encoun- 
ter with Leyden at Lasswade cottage grew out of an argument on the 
eating of meat. He frequently dropped into letters to close friends 
arguments aimed to persuade them to desist from animal food. Wade- 
son played a practical joke on him by pretending to be almost persuaded 
never to taste another morsel of meat, when in reality he was gorman- 
dizing all the while. Wlien Ritson discovered the deception, he expos- 
tulated in mock seriousness, concluding thus : 

"But, alas ! miracles will never cease ! — and god knows whether I myself, 
who am thus preaching to you, and set such an example of temperance and hu- 
manity to all, may not be found one day or other devouring lambs and turkeys, 
geese and capons, and all other creatures which earth, air, or sea, can furnish, 
and the luxury of the most voluptuous epicures have for these thousand years 
past been day by day singling out for the beastly satisfaction of their unnatural 

This is excellent sarcasm. So long as an individual can treat of 
his own personal foibles and eccentricities in this fashion he is on the 
safe side of the dividing line between sanity and lunacy. But it is 
comparatively easy for peculiarities of thought and manner to be so 
exaggerated as to lead almost insensibly into insanity. Unfortunately 
this was the trend of Ritson 's crotchets. Their final summation in 
An Essay on Abstinence from Animal Food as a Moral Duty, 1802, 
contains many evidences of insanity. The ear-marks of idiosyncrasy 
were so nvimerous on this manuscript that Ritson did not readily find 
a publisher for it. It was at length accepted at the Jacobinical shop 

''^Ibid., I, p. 49. 
''Hbid., I, p. 32. 


of Richard Phillips," a kindred spirit and himself a Pythagorean. 
Ritson expressed his gratitude to Phillips by a complimentary allusion 
to the abstemiousness of his publisher.'^*^ 

In this Essay Ritson played his usual role of compiler. He listed 
a large number of extracts from various sources and then arranged them 
with a view to illustrate the propriety of abstinence from animal food. 
Of the ten chapters in the book the first, "Of Man", and the last, 
"Humanity", stand somewhat in the relation of prologue and epilogue 
to the body of the work. In the prologue Ritson relates the various 
accounts of the origin of man, from Homer to the "sensible and eloquent 
Rousseau", omitting the Biblical account. The original man was the 
same as, if not identical with, the orang-outang." Through the centuries 
of so-called civilization he had retained the destructive traits of his 
forbears and had even excelled them in rapacity and cruelty. The 
dog is the natural enemy to the cat, the cat to the rat, the fox to the 
goose, the ferret to the rabbit, the spider to the fly; the whole animal 
creation being a system for the express purpose of preying upon each 
other, and for their mutual misery and destruction. Man stands at 
the head of this great system of cruelty and ferocity, whereas, by the 
very fact that he is man he ought to be superior to these purely animal 

"The only mode in which man can be useful or happy, with respect either to 
the generality or to the individual, is to be just, mild, merciful, benevolent, humane, 
or, at least, innocent and harmless, whether such qualities be natural or not; but if 
the present system of bloodshed, cruelty, malignance, and mischief, should continue, 
it would be better that such diabolical monsters should cease to exist.""® 

By this high-sounding arraignment of the sins of man Ritson means 
simply to condemn his habit of eating animal food — this is the root of 
all evil. It is the cause of cruelty and ferocity, of human sacrifices, 

^^Richard Phillips (i 767-1840) was a radical whose shop became headquarters 
for the advanced democratic literature of the revolutionary epoch. His Golden 
Rules of Social Philosophy, 1826, contains "The Author's reasons for not eating 
animal food". 

''^Abstinence from Animal Food, p. 201. 

'■'In foreshadowing the later theory of the origin of man and his ascent or 
descent from the lower forms, Ritson has been anticipated by James Burnett, 
Lord Monboddo, (1714-1799) in his six volume work On the Origin and Progress 
of Language, 1773-92. (See also Knighjt, Lord Monboddo and slome of his con- 
temporaries, 1900). It seems hardly probable that Ritson did not know this 
publication, although he makes no allusion to it. He quotes frequently from The 
Philosophy of Natural hiistory, 1780-9, of Burnett's friend, William Smellie. 

''^Abstinence from Animal Food, p. 38 ff. 


and of cannibalism, to eacli of which he devotes a chapter. Besides, 
animal food is not natural to man. There are flesh-eating animals to 
be sure, but these, Ritson says, are the extremely vicious, and they 
possess these reprehensible traits as a result of their carnivorous appe- 
tites, not as the cause of them. Man, being naturally a more gentle 
animal, has corrupted and vitiated himself by indulgence in flesh and 
has consequently taken on the attributes of the worst animals. But 
Ritson feels that his arguments of the evil consequences of animal food 
will not be sufficient to effect a reform, because people have come to 
believe, or to pretend that they believe, animal food necessary to the 
highest bodily and intellectual vigor. And so he devotes a chapter to 
proving ''animal food not necessary for the purpose of strength and 
corpulency". His method is the eclectic one of citing cases of vegeta- 
rians who were notably strong and healthy. But this is only one-half 
the picture ; animal food is declared to be positively pernicious and to 
destroy health, spirits, and quickness of perception. From a number 
of cases in which intractable diseases were cured by a vegetable diet — 
and these examples could no doubt then, and certainly could now, be 
multiplied almost indefinitely — Ritson inferred that animal food was 
the cause of the ailment and that a vegetarian diet would have pre- 
vented it. It did not occur to him that it was not the use of animal 
food but the improper use of any food ( as many of his medical authori- 
ties expressly stated^^) which was to be censured. Nor did he experience 
difficulty in generalizing from individuals to nations subsisting entirely 
on vegetable food. Reduced to their logical absurdity, his arguments 
would deny health and peace of mind to those individuals, and pros- 
perity and advancement to those nations, that indulged in animal food. 
This volume is the final outcome of his early advice to Frank on the 
morality of abstinence, but the condition of his mind or his own wil- 
fullness had prevented his seeing the absurdity of his conclusions. He 
constantly harks back to the sacredness of every form of animal life, 
and the epilogue to this erratic volume is very properly "Humanity". 
"If god made man", he concludes, "or there be any intention in na- 
ture", the lives of the animals over which he considers himself master, 
"are equally sacred and inviolable with his own". 

Ritson 's vegetarian diet had long been the butt of numerous quips 
and much sarcastic comment. A verse lampoon in the St. James's 
Chronicle of June 3, 1783, reveals the extent to which his dietetical 
eccentricity had gained publicity at that time. A contrast is drawn 
between his great compassion for the lower forms of animal life and 
his utter lack of sympathy with other men, especially in matters liter- 

'^Ibid., p. 148 fif. 


^j.y 80 j^ jg gj^j^j j.]^g^^ Holcroft probably intended the simple and amus- 
ing character of Handford, in his Alwyn, or the Gentleman Comedian, 
as an indirect satire upon Kitson's arguments on the inhumanity of 
eating animal food.^^ With the publication of Ritson's Essay comments 
came as thick as hail. Cutlet, an emotional butcher in Lamb's The Paivn- 
broker's Daughter, is made to sentimentalize in a highly ludicrous 
fasliion over Animal Food.^- The reviewers greeted the volume with 
shouts of laughter and hoots of derision,^^ and numerous comments 
appeared in the letters of literary men of the day.^* Ritson had clearly 
failed in his object, whether it was simply to justify his own habit of 
life or to do this and to gain proselytes to it. Marks of incipient insan- 
ity are on every hand, and they can be explained only by the deranged 
mind and body whose strength, perhaps, had been in large measure un- 
dermined by the very habit he sought to defend. 

Ritson was never physically robust. There can be little doubt that 
his ill health had its origin in a constitutional or hereditary malady, 
and it was certainly aggravated by his diet. If, as he suspected, he 
was afflicted by "an inveterate scurvy", nothing could have been more 
suicidal than limitation to a restricted diet through many years. By 
1790 he began to suffer constantly from nervousness, insomnia, and 
inanition. His malady grew constantly more distressing until his liter- 

s'' The Pythagorean Critick. 

By wise Pythagoras taught young R-ts-n's meals 

With bloody viands never are defil'd ; 
For Quadruped, for Bird, for Fish he feels : 

His board ne'er smokes with roast meat, nor with boil'd. 
In this one instance, pious, mild, and tame, 

He's surely in another a great sinner ; 
For Man, cries R-ts-n, Man's my game ! 

On him I make a most delicious dinner. 
To venison and to partridge I've no Gout; 
To W-rt-n Tom such dainties I resign ; 
Give me plump St-v-ns, and large J-hns-n too, 
And take your turkey and your savory chine. 
s^See Holcroft's Memoirs, pp. 112-3. 

^-The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. by E. V. Lucas, 7 vols., London, 
1903, Vol. V, p. 212 ff. 

83See Critical Reviciv, Vol. XXXVIII, pp. 16-7; Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. 
LXXIII, ii, p. 95; Monthly Review, Vol. CXXIII, pp. 40-5; Edinhurg Review, Vol. 
II, pp. 128-36; British Chitic, November, 1803. 

8*See Nichols, Lit. Anec., VII, p. 604; VIII, p. 50; Constable and his Lit. Cor- 
resp., I, p. 503; Memoirs, journal and correspondence of Thomas Moore, ed. by 
J. Russell, 8 vols., London, 1853-6, Vol. VII, p. 13. 


ary labors all but ceased. In January, 1802, he suffered a stroke of 
apoplexy and during the twenty-four hours in which he was deprived 
of all mental and physical faculties, was thought to be dying. Apropos 
of this event he remarked stoically: "The next attack, I suppose will 
carry me off".^^ In the spring of this year when he was planning a 
second trip to Paris, he was visited by another attack, and when par- 
tially recovered from it he went to Bath for a month. There he received 
only slight alleviation because he was too impatient to remain long 
enough for effective relief. He promised to return the next season, 
but his physician warned him that he would not live to see that time.^*' 

To bodily illness was added pecuniary distress. It was at this 
time that his ill-advised speculation in the Stock Exchange utterly 
ruined him. To retrieve in a measure his lost fortune, he disposed of 
his remaining property in the North and with great reluctance sold a 
few of his books.^^ The following summer he was obliged to part with 
two other sections of his library.^® Realizing that the end was near, 
he shrewdly determined upon insuring his life for £1000, as his friend 
Reed had done only a short time before death. He had proceeded 
favorably in his design with the Equitable Assurance Company when 
the directors learned of his recent illness and declined the business. 
Upon receipt of this news, Ritson says, "I turned my back and came 
away as cool as a cucumber ",^^ 

Early in September Ritson became violent, barricaded himself in 
his chambers, and drove off in a threatening manner all who approached 
him. He disturbed the members of the Inn by loud boasting of his 
accomplishments in confuting literary leaders, and by setting fire to a 
mass of papers which included many unfinished manuscripts. Only 
one person had influence with him in these paroxysms. This was Robert 
Smith, a fellow Inn-man, who cared for him until Joseph Frank arrived 
from the North. ^'^ Ritson was then removed to the country house of 
Sir Jonathan Miles at Hoxton, where he was attended by Dr. Temple 
of Bedford-Row. There he died at four o'clock in the morning, Septem- 
ber 23, 1803. Four days later he was buried without ceremony of any 
kind and with the attendance of but a few personal friends, near the 

^^Letters, II, p. 215. 

^^Ibid., II, p. 229. 

s^This was in a miscellaneous sale at King's, and the exact date is unknown. 

88May 4-10, 1803 : an anonymous sale by Leigh and Sotheby, described as "the 
property of a well-known collector, consisting of English history, old English 
poetry, plays, etc." ; and August 10, a further part at King's in the third day of the 
sale of Dr. Mitchell's books. 

^^Letters, II, p. 245. 

9°See his account of Ritson's last days. Appendix A. 


grave of his friend John Baynes, in Bunhill Fields. Frank was imme- 
diately appointed administrator. He found that his uncle's debts ran 
very high and that there was no property but the library. He accord- 
ingly arranged for the sale of Ritson's books. The law books were 
disposed of by Leigh and Sotheby, in November.^^ The remainder of 
his library, including many rare books of medieval history and poetry, 
several of them plentifully supplied with his own notes, and what manu- 
scripts had escaped the conflagration, was disposed of in the early days 
of December.^- In addition to the proceeds from these sales Frank 
found it necessary to supply £500 from his own funds in order to liqui- 
date his uncle's indebtedness. 

Ritson's will, which had been executed on September 7, was not 
discovered for several days after his death. His nephew knew Ritson's 
wishes so well that all the directions contained in the will, except the 
last, were carried out before it was known they had been made. The 
last clause of the will reads : 

"With respect to my funeral, (if I happen to die, that is, in the county of Mid- 
dlesex, or the city of London), my most earnest request to my executor is, that my 
body may be interred in the burying ground of Burnhill fields, with the least possible 
ceremony, attendance, or expense, without the presence of a clergyman, and my 
coffin being previously, carefully and effectually filled with quick lime."^^ 

One of Ritson's contemporaries remarked that he slipped away 
unnoticed, and his grave has been unnoticed since. No stone marks his 
resting place in Bunhill fields. There is a tradition that he desired to 
be forgotten by the world and to that end directed that his grave be 
immediately levelled and left to the care of nature,^* but its only authen- 
tic support is the rather meagre evidence afforded by the following 
quotation from one of his letters to Thomas Hill, in whicli he declines 
an invitation to have his picture appear in the Monthly Mirror: 

"Here, let me live, unseen, unknown, 
Here, imlamented, let me dye, 
Steal from the world, and ne'er a stone 
Tel where i lye."^^ 

81 With the books of John Topham, Treasurer of the Society of Antiquaries. 
^^These sales were well attended by publishers and antiquaries. See letters 
of Park and Hill, Add. MSS. 20083, ff- 98, 109, 122, etc. 
^^Quoted from Nicolas, Op. Cit, p. Ixv. 
^■*See E. Field, Love affairs of a Bibliomaniac, p. 93. 
8"'jV. and O., Ser. 2, Vol. XH, p. 222. 


Joseph Ritson was a man of little formal education but of much 
learning. If the terminology of the modern business world may be 
transferred to the intellectual sphere, he would be called a self-made 
man. His schooling was brief, being limited to the grammar forms. 
The child of poverty, he was put to a profession when young. But he 
was a foster-child of the muses, and instead of confining his attention 
to the book of common law and the statutes, he read widely and vora- 
ciously in history and medieval poetry. He read carefully and with in- 
sight and made notes in many of his books.^ As the need for extending his 
and made notes in many of his books. ^ As the need for extending his 
knowledge of his own and foreign languages became apparent, he took 
up their study in a systematic and thorough-going fashion. He became 
proficient in Middle English and gained a familiarity with Anglo-Saxon 
at a time when the study of these dialects was just beginning. The 
thoroughness and accuracy of the extensive glossaries supplied with his 
collections of medieval poetry are sufficient testimony to his skill in this 
field. He acquired a working knowledge of Latin and French and 
strewed his essays with apt quotations from writers in these tongues. 
It is not improbable that he attained sufficient familiarity with Italian 
and Spanish to enable him to lay under contribution historical works 
in these languages, for he frequently alludes to and occasionally quotes 
from such sources. Greek he did not know beyond the letters of the 
alphabet. Nor was he proficient in German, although the growing inter- 
est in German literature attracted his attention and through the pur- 
chases which he made for his friend Harrison he learned something of 
the new publications in that language. Although not a man of remark- 
ably extensive linguistic knowledge, he was thorough and accurate as 
far as his information allowed. Above all he recognized the value of 
comparative study and applied his knowledge of foreign languages to 
elucidate the early English and Scottish dialects. 

Ritson was a prodigious worker. In spite of a constitutional disease 
which troubled him almost continually and frequently made writing 

iprom a calculation based on the Ritson sale catalogue, it appears that approxi- 
mately half the volumes in his library were supplied with "MS. notes by Mr. Ritson, 
on separate sheets". 



an impossibility, he prepared upwards of seventy volumes for the press 
and published half of them. These were nearly all collections of ancient 
poetry, songs, and ballads, and the collecting, verifying, annotating, 
and glossing was the painstaking labor of a life-time. He was able to 
work with great concentration and was aided by a wonderfully retentive 
memory which seldom failed him until illness had completely under- 
mined his bodily strength and mental vigor. 

In addition to his labor in collecting and publishing, Ritson was 
under the necessity of earning a livelihood. Only a few, and those the 
least expensive, of his publications paid for themselves. The profession 
of conveyancing to which he was bred was never of primary concern 
to him. He used it as a bread-and-butter profession only. But even 
so, his thoroughgoing habits and conscientious scruples caused him to 
master the subject in every detail and enabled him to publish some 
valuable antiquarian tracts on his office and the profession in general 
and gave him a respectable rank among the practitioners of his day. 

Ritson's native field of labor was the Middle Ages. Half of his 
publications were collections of ballads, romances, and old songs. When 
his first collection appeared in 1783, the general interest in old poetry 
aroused by the Reliqiies had gained considerable headway. Volumes 
of ballads and ancient poems were appearing with a fair degree of 
regularity. Ritson joined the ranks of the literary gleaners and devoted 
a large part of the remaining years of his life to gathering up the scat- 
tered remnants of song and story which were dispersed in unknown or 
forgotten manuscripts or which held an uncertain tenure of life in the 
oral tradition of a people rapidly acquiring communication by the writ- 
ten word. In his efforts to rescue from oblivion and possible destruction 
these reliques of antiquity, he materially aided the romantic movement. 
If he was not a solitary forerunner of his age in recognizing the neces- 
sity for collecting popular poetry, his companions were very few. In 
the mere volume of the material which he amassed he exceeded any 
other man of his day. But it is not alone the matter which he collected, 
but the manner in which he handled it, that makes him the most impor-> 
tant figure in ballad collecting between Percy and Scott. 

It is always hazardous to attempt to designate any one man as the 
originator of a movement in literature. But in the sense of his being 
one of the first to practise editorial accuracy and the very first to 
insist upon it with such vehemence that others rectified their errors 
and confessedly stood in awe of his wrath, Ritson may be called the 
founder of the modern method of liandling early English texts. He did 
not go the whole way to the present critical text, but he took tlie first and 
very essential step of insisting upon accuracy and fidelity to a single text. 

531] CONCLUSION 197 

He taught his generation to respect the literary remains of departed au- 
thors — instead of considering them as a legitimate plunder to be exploited, 
altered, and "improved" at will. In short, he taught men to speak the 
truth as they found it, even though the truth might be deemed offensive 
in the ear of a "cultivated age". Detesting fraud and deception in the 
literary as in the business world, he would visit upon the one as condign 
a punishment as upon the other. In his admiration for truth he went 
to ridiculous extremes in carping and fault-finding, but no one can now 
doubt the value in his time of the line from Boileau which he took for 
the motto of his first publication, — a motto which represents his standard 
throughout all his editorial labors : 

Kien n 'est beau que LE VRAI ; le vrai seul est amiable. 
Without fidelity to sources and accuracy in transcribing in the early 
years of ballad collecting, many a "critical" text of today would have 
been an impossibility. Pinkerton and Percy might have gone on indefi- 
nitely publishing "ancient" poetry; meanwhile the truly ancient poetry 
would have become more and more remote and much of it must eventu- 
ally have been irretrievably lost. 

The antiquarian interest in old poetry was comparatively a recent 
development, and with it came a renewed curiosity in racial and na- 
tional history. The English people began to inquire into the sources of 
their history and language and to attempt to establish their kinship 
with other nations. To the confused theories and faulty generalizations 
of the early investigators in this field Ritson applied his test of histor- 
ical accuracy. He reduced the vagaries of Pinkerton to definite fact 
and assembled the historical materials from which accurate deductions 
could be made. In the revival of interest in local antiquities Ritson 
also had a share. He collected the songs of various northern localities, 
contributed to antiquarian histories, and made collections for his own 
history of Durham. But his service to antiquarianism in these various 
lines was not acknowledged. His unfortunate vein of acerbity, which 
manifested itself in nearly everything he wrote, aroused personal jeal- 
ousies which barred him from membership in the Society of Antiquaries, 

Ritson w^as for traveling the unbeaten paths. At a time when it 
had not yet become fashionable to be "different", and in a day when 
the number of those who ran counter to the prevailing customs and ideas 
w^as relatively small, he was marked as a romanticist because of his 
Jacobinism and atheism, and because he advocated an eccentric system 
of spelling and adhered to a vegetarian diet. The desire to differentiate 
himself from the generality of mankind was due in large measure to 
personal whim but in part also to a deep-seated dissatisfaction with his 
time. His own day he looked upon as degenerate in politics, in morals, 
and in literature. For an antidote he looked to the remote past and 


took pleasure iu retrieving and illustrating the reliques of departed 

Joseph Ritson had his faults, and they were grievous. An unusual 
acidity of temper was exhibited in all his criticisms. He indulged a 
violence of language and a crude directness of speech which almost 
invariably gave offense. He was at odds with Warton and Shakespeare 's 
editors, with Percy and Pinkerton, and he warred continually with the 
reviewers. He seemed in his own person to feel severely any attack, 
and from the pain thus acutely experienced he might have learned 
mercy but did not. He was despised as a critic though admired as a 
scholar. In all his writings he appeared cold, cynical, and unfeeling. 
Because he exhibited little poetic temper, because he usually judged 
verses by their antiquity and not by their intrinsic merits, he was stig- 
matized as pedantic. The unfavorable opinion of contemporaries was 
confirmed by Ritson 's habits of life. His circle of acquaintances was 
not large, and he made no efforts to increase it. He knew Farmer, Reed, 
Steevens, Scott, and many less prominent persons, but his attacks upon 
Warton, Percy, Johnson, and others effectually cut him off from inter- 
course with them and with most of their friends. He lived the life of 
a recluse. He was never seen in court and was seldom encountered 
outside his chambers. He had little communication with those who lived 
about him and hardly knew the members of his own Inn. Every day 
his neat spare figure might have been seen moving rapidly from Gray's 
Inn to the British Museum and later back again. If one accosted him, 
lie spoke briefly — even snappishly — while he moved about nervously and 
cast furtive glances in all directions as if seeking some means of escape. 
This daily walk was the extent of his exercise. At vacation time he 
slii)ped quietly away from London and spent a few weeks with friends 
and relatives in the north. These journeys were usually taken on foot, 
probably for the double purpose of reducing expenses and of securing 
the seclusion which he so much prized. 

But there is another side to Ritson 's character. Unattractive as 
he was to the stranger and repellant as he might be to the chance ac- 
quaintance, to his family and few intimate friends he was singularly 
kind, generous, and warm-hearted. His devotion to his father and 
motlier, and after their death to his sister and her son, was sincere and 
disinterested. Those who knew him intimately sa^^ tliat when once 
within the seclusion of his chambers with a few tried friends, he became 
a lively and unreserved conversationalist. Although he was given to 
disputation and was tenacious of his own opinions, yet he was always 
open to conviction, and when once persuaded of his error he was quick 
to make frank reparation. 

533] CONCLUSION 199 

It is not known that Ritson ever sat for a portrait. He declined 
a request for an "original portrait'' to be inserted in the Monthly 
Mirror, remarking facetiously that the only painting he had was an 
original of Ben Jonson, which he feared would not be accepted as a 
substitute. There is a silliouette in profile by Mrs. Park, which gives 
only a vague suggestion of his appearance. It is prefixed to the Cale- 
donuin Muse and to Haslewood's Life of Ritson. A half-length sketch 
by Gillray has been twice copied with the subject in slightly different 
positions. In the one which appears in The Book of Days he is repre- 
sented as standing, quill in hand, before a table on which lies a book 
of poems; in the other he is before his book shelves, on which may be 
seen a few volumes suggestive of the outstanding characteristics of his 
life and work: Warton's History, the Bible, Shakespeare, Metrical Ro- 
mances, and Abstinence from Animal Food. He is dressed in a long 
black coat closely buttoned about his thin form, and wears a high hat 
well down on his head. The forehead is bold, indicative of large intel- 
lectuality; the thin, pale face suggests inadequate nourishment. The 
nose is large, and the lower lip protrudes from a set and determinate 
jaw. The head is inclined slightly forward, and the shoulders are 
stooped from continual poring over books and manuscripts. But this is 
more of a caricature than a true portrait, say those who knew him per- 
sonally. Gillray 's sketch gives an inadequate conception of the "little 
neat old man, in his suit of customary black, with his gray hair and 
pale delicate complexion, tinged with "Time's first rose'. He should 
have been taken in his evening chair, cheerfully chirruping some old 
saw or bardish rhyme ".- 

-Surtees, History of Durham, III, p. 195, note y. 


Robert Smith's Narrative of Ritson's Last Days and Death, and 
Two Letters of H. C. Selby to Bishop Percy.^ 

Narrative of Robt. Smith Esq. Benclier of Gray's Inn. 

The late Mr. Ritson lived in the same Staircase with me in Gray's 
Inn for many years, and the common civilities of the Day passed between 
us, but nothing more. We never visited. I understood he possessed a 
great Singularity of Character, but he was ever polite and civil to me. 
Early in September, 1803, I frequently heard a great Swearing and 
Noise in his Chambers, and on meeting his Laundress on the Stairs, I 
asked her ye cause of the Disturbance I had heard. She answered, that 
she believed her Master was out of his mind, for his conduct in every 
respect proved him so, and that she was greatly afraid that in his 
Delirium he would do himself or her an injury. She said she had taken 
him his Dinner the Day before, but that he had not touch 'd it and that 
he never ate animal Food. She was then going to him, but expressed a 
fear that he would burst into a Rage and abuse her as I had heard him 
before. The last time she was in the Chambers he had shut himself 
up ; however she left his Dinner on the Table, and w^as then going to 
see if he had ate it. I said as she had expressed herself fearful I would 
go with her to her Master, which I accordingly did. I saw his Dinner 
on the Table, but he was still shut up in his Room. I ask'd the Laundress 
whether he had any relations in Town, she said he had not, but that he 
had a Nephew somewhere in the North who had lived with him for many 
Years, but that Mr. Ritson had turned him out of his House for eating 
animal Food. I desired her to endeavour to find out some of his Rela- 

^This material is given from the original manuscript in the library of Charles 
Davis, Esquire, of Kew Gardens. It has been previously referred to in two letters 
of Bishop Percy to Anderson, Literary Ilhistratioiis, Vol. VII, pp. 139, 153; and 
Sir Sidney Lee mentions it in his life of Ritson in the Dictionary of National 
Biography. Neither makes direct quotations from it. It is of interest in connection 
with the life of Ritson for two reasons. It gives the most exhaustive and the only 
intimate account of the morbid close of Ritson's life and effectively dissipates the 
haze of conjecture which has hitherto clouded comment on his end. Furthermore, 
it reveals the means taken by Percy to gain authentic information about the man 
who had for twenty years vigorously defamed his literary and personal character. 
The fact that Percy never published the material which he might then have used 
with telling effect is ample evidence of the generosity of his nature. 



535] APPENDIX A 201 

tioiis or Friends, and to apprize them of his unhappy Situation — and 
in the meantime to be very careful of him. 

On the 10th of September about nine o'clock in tlie Evening?, on 
my Eeturn to Chambers, my Servant told me that Mr. Ritson had been 
making a great Noise, and that there was a great Light in his Room, 
winch had alarmed the people in the Steward's office. I went immed- 
iately to the Steward's Office, and looking from his window I saw Mr. 
Ritson 's Room strewed with Books and loose papers, some of which he 
was gathering up and throwing on the Fire, which occasioned the great 
Blaze, they had seen. He had a lighted chandle in his Hand which he 
carried about in a very dangerous manner. The Steward not being at 
home I sent for him to represent to him Mr. Ritson 's extraordinary Con- 
duct. However, being much alarmed, I went to Mr. Ritson 's Chambers, 
and knocked at the Door several times, but could get no admission. At 
last a key was obtained from the Laundress, and Mr. Quin the Steward 
and myself with two Porters entered his Chambers. He appeared 
much confused on seeing us, and asked how we came in? We told 
him by means of the Laundress's Key. He then asked what we wanted? 
Mr. Quin told him we came in consequence of the great Blaze that 
appeared in his Chambers, believing them to be on Fire ! He answered 
that his Fire had gone out, and that he was lighting it to make some 
Horse-reddish Tea. 

Mr. Quin then represented to him the great Danger of making his 
Fire with loose papers, particularly as there was so many scattered about 
the Floor, some of which had actually taken Fire ! Mr. Quinn therefore 
begged he would permit the Porters to collect them together and put 
them away, and to do anything he wanted. Upon which he said No ! 
No! and in the most peremptory manner ordered them to leave his 
Chambers, saying they were only Servants to the Society and had no 
Business in his Chambers. Mr. Quin observed that consistent with his 
Duty as Steward of the Inn he could not leave his Chambers in that 
Dangerous Situation. Mr. Ritson, then, appearing much enraged, swore 
he would make him, for that they came to rob him, and immediately 
went to his Bed-Room and returned with a drawn dagger in his Hand, 
at Sight of which Mr. Quin and the Porters immediately left the Cham- 
bers, Mr. Ritson pursuing them along the Passage, and they in their 
Hurry, shut the outer Door, leaving me in the Room. On his return I 
disarmed him, and begged him to sit down while I explained everything. 
He was then very complaisant, and said he did not mean to offend me, 
but swore Venganee against those who had left the Room. He insisted 
on my going into his best Apartment, which I did and found his Books 
and papers scattered on the Floor as they were in the other Chambe>, 
he asked me to drink with him but I refused. He paid me some Compli- 


ments as a Neighbour, and said lie would give me a History of his Life. 
He told me he had a great Passion for Books of which he possessed the 
finest Collection in England; That he had written upon many Subjects 
and had confuted many who had written on Law and Theology. He 
said he was then writing a pamphlet proving Jesus Christ an impostor 
but that something had lately discomposed him and he was therefore 
resolved to destroy many of his Manuscripts for which purpose he was 
then sorting his Papers ! ! ! I heard him patiently for an hour and a 
half when I advised him to go to bed which he said he would do, and I 
left Mm seemingly composed. About an Hour after he became very 
violent and outrageous, throwing his Furniture about his Chambers, 
and breaking his Windows. I then went to him again and endeavored 
to pacify him but without Effect. He had a Dagger in one Hand and 
a Knife in the other, tho' I had taken the other Dagger from him and 
carried it to my own Chambers. He raved for a considerable time, 'till 
being quite exhausted he went to sleep. A person was then sent for 
from Megsdon to take care of him who remained with him five days, and 
said that his Derangement was incurable. I visited him every day 
when he appeared very glad to see me and said "here comes my Friend 
who will set me at Liberty" but violently abused his Keeper, and said 
the Devil would torment him for his Cruelty in keeping him so confined. 
It was thought proper by his Friends to remove him to a Madhouse 
where I understand he died in a few days. I have since learned that his 
Malady was a Family Disorder and that his Sister died mad. 
sist March 1804. . Robt. Smith. 

Gray's Lm, 6th April 1804. 
My Dear Lord, 

In consequence of your Lordship's letter of the 20th ult. which I 
was very happy to receive, as it gave me good Accounts of your Lord- 
ship 's health, & that of your family, to all of whom I most sincerely wish 
well, I made application to my very worthy neighbor Mr. Smith, who 
I knew to be an intelligent man, who lived in the same Staircase with 
Ritson, & was well acquainted with all his whims and eccentricities, to 
give me the best and most particular relation he could to satisfy your 
Enquiries, for which purpose I read to him that part of your Lordship 's 
last letter to me respecting it. Just as I was preparing to go into Essex, 
to pass a few days in the Easter holydays ^^^th my friends there, I 
received the foregoing report, which I hope may prove satisfactory to 
your Lordship. But as Mr. Smith in our conversation on the subject 
of Ritson 's passions, prejudices, and sentiments in general, dropt some 

537] APPENDIX A 203 

expressions which I found he had omitted in the foregoing Recital, I gave 
him a call j'esterdaj', and mentioned the Circumstances to him, which 
he perfectly recollected, and recapitulated them to me as he had done 
before. He says that Ritson frequently made such a noise and thump- 
ing in his Chambers as to disturb and alarm all his neighbors frequently, 
and that on these occasions he used to go down to Ritson 's Chambers, 
which were on the first Floor or Story, & Smith's was on the 2d. and 
being a strong powerful j\Ian, & Ritson a mere spider in comparison to 
him — he used to prevail on R. either by force, or by kind persuasions 
to give over making such a disturbance — at these times Ritson would 
appear sometimes very furious, enraged and violent to a degree and after 
he had fatigued himself by the Exertion of those horrid Passions he fre- 
quently, it seems, used to sit down, lay his hand in a pathetic and in a 
sort of ejaculating manner on his forehead & exclaim "Oh My God, 
what a miserable wretch am I ! " " My poor distracted Head ! " " When 
will there be an end of my distresses ! ' ' He would then start up again 
and act as wildly as before, until Mr. Smith who had obtained compleat 
command over him, insisted on his going again to bed, which he always 
did at Mr, Smith's request. 

I ask'd Smith if He believed Ritson to be an Atheist, — his Answer 
was, that He did not think so: — else whj^ should he send up ejaculations 
to God, or talk of the Devil tormenting people whom he believed had 
used him very ill. Smith said that he possessed the most consumate 
Pride, and had the highest opinion of his own Abilities in all Sciences; 
He say'd that He had had literary controversies with a great Number 
of Men of the First Talents in the Country, on subjects of their respective 
& several Studies; and that he had compleatly confuted them all!! As 
to the Benchers & Gentlemen of this Inn, they were all a parcel of Fools 
to him, & not worthy his Notice! He say'd he had for some time been 
engaged in writing the Work mentioned in ]\Ir, Smith's Recital as before 
related by him — "vdz. "To prove That Oiir Saviour Jesus Christ was an 
Impostor" — but something had happened to prevent his finishing the 
w^ork, & which therefore he had not then concluded; Whether He had 
been struck by conviction or by remorse, or from any and what other 
cause, it may be perhaps for ever impossible to say, but I understand that 
he consumed the Sheets, which contained what He had written on that 
extraordinary Subject, in the flames. I do believe that His Madness 
originated in his Pride, in thinking himself the most learned, and Extra- 
ordinary Genius of the Age in which he lived, — and that there were few 
if any that were fit for him to associate with in this world; what He 
thought, if he thought at all, of that which is to come, it is not in my 

204 JOSEPH RiTSOx [538 

power to say not having had any sort of intercourse, or acquaintance with 

I beg my most friendly respects to Mrs. Percy & such of your Family 
as are with you, and that your Lordship will believe me with the truest 
Esteem and regard, 

Ever Your's most faithfully, 
H. C. Selby. 

Grays Inn, London. 
14th June 1804. 
My Lord ! 

I hope the Complaint in your Eyes has been compleatly removed, 
which by your Lordship's last letter I observed had been very trouble- 
some & inconvenient to you. I have lately seen Mr. Smith on the sub- 
ject of your Lordship's letter to me, who has no sort of objection that 
a just & true Account should be given to the World, of the late Mr, 
Joseph Ritson's Character, Conduct & Principles, & which I conceive 
is very proper to be done; Wlien I was with him (Mr. Smith) He 
sent for a woman of the Name of Elizabeth Kirby, who was a native of 
the same Town, viz. Stockton-upon-Tees, where Ritson drew his first 
breath, was about his own age, and perfectly well acquainted with him 
and all his family. This Mrs. Kirby informed us, that Ritson 's father 
was a Menial Servant to a Tobacconist at Stockton — afterwards he served 
a Mr. Robinson a Merchant there, at which time his mother was also a 
servant in the same family and was with child to the Father before he 
married her, & which proved to be a Daughter who some time ago died 
of Madness ! Ritson went to a Latin School at Stockton, and was clever 
at his books, & an apt scholar; On his quitting the Latin School he was 
put to a Conveyancer, a Mr. Bradley of the same town, who I under- 
stand knew his business extremely well. After having remained with 
him for some year or two, he came up to Town ; He used to take his 
Journeys on foot, wuth a couple of shirts in his pocket, & if he found his 
bundle too heavy, he would, without hesitation, throw one of his shirts 
away ! He was entered a Student of the Society of Grays Inn, & after 
keeping his Terms, & being of the proper Standing in the Inn, he was 
called to the Bar ! in this transaction He could not but have taken the 
usual Oaths of Allegiance, Supremacy, &e. &c. as no person can be 
admitted to a Barrister without taking those Oaths. However I find 
by Mrs. Kirby 's declaration and solemn affirmation, that in taking those 
Oaths He must have played the Hypocrite : For she says, that he most 
undoubtedly was an Atheist, & that He very often declared himself 
such to her : — He did not believe there was any such Being, as Almighty 
God ! ! or that there was any future State of Rewards or Punishments, 


539] APPENDIX A 205 

& the greatest devil he knew, was a nasty, crabbed, ill natured old 
Woman ! ! When he was young & at School, he never associated with 
other boj's, but always with the girls, and they never liked his company, 
but got rid of him as well as they could ; and at last he was forsook by 
everj'body. This Mrs. Kirb}^ is a very stout, hearty woman about 54 
years of age, & she tells me that she had complete Mastery over him, and 
could make him do anything she pleased, — he was so much afraid of her. 
Of the rest of his History, Your Lordship is in possession, and at liberty 
to make what use of it you may think proper and right. 

Your Lordship has been rightly informed as to Mr. Stirling's 
Residence, which for some time has been at No. 44 in Parliament 
Street, Westminster. Neither the size of my paper, nor the Shortness 
of my time at present, will permit me to give your Lordship the detail 
of my Reconciliation but I hope we shall be permitted to meet again 
in this world, when I will with pleasure give it you 'Vive Voce'. I dined 
at Northumberland House about three Weeks ago, with a small Party 
of Northumbrians, and was very cheerfully & agreeably entertained. 
The young ladies are very mild, easy, & good humoured — but seem more 
diffident than Ladies of their Rank generally do. 

I beg to be most respectfully remembered to Mrs. Percy & all your 
Lordship's Family, and that your Lordship will believe always with 
great Veneration & Esteem, your Lordship's affectionate Friend, and 
most faithful Humble Servant. 

H. C. Selby 
The Right Revd 

The Lord Bishop of Dromore 


Passages Cancelled in Ritson^s Ancient Engleish 
Metrical Romancees 

The passages cancelled in Metrical Romances because of their 
extreme personal bias and afterwards printed and bound with a few 
copies of the published work are here given together with the modified 
passages by which they were replaced. The cancelled material is italic- 
ized; the substitution which appeared in the regularly printed edition 
follows in square brackets. 

Vol. I. 

Page ix, line 7 : Achilles, likewise, the celebrated champion of the 
Greeks, was the son of Thetis, a sea-gooddess ; as Aeneas, the pretended 
founder of the Roman empire, was of Venus, the goddess of love ; and 
all these fancies of a poetical imagination are to be as firmly Relieved as 
the Jewish or Christian religion, the hool'S of Moses, or the new testa- 
ment, [firmly believed, though nothing more than mere romance.] 

Page xlvi, line 22 : This Turpin is pretended to be the Archbishop 
of Rheims, whose true name, however, was Tilpiu, and who died before 
Charlemagne, though Robert Gaguin, in his licentious translation of this 
work, 1527, makes him, like Moses, the Jew prophet, relate his own 
death, [like some one else, relate his own death.] 

Page Ix, line 6 : The same effects had not long before been already 
produced upon the Romans, as they have in modern times upon the 
Mohawks, who, in consequence of hecoming Christians, have lost all that 
was valuable in their national character, and are become the most despic- 
able tribe that is left unexterminated. [a certain change.] 

Page Ixv, note : The loss sustained by the vulgar of their Saxon 
version would have been effectually remedied by their French one, and 
peradventure, it ivoidd have heen just as well for the Saxons if they 
had never had a bible to read, [the Latin Vulgate, which the priest^ 
continued to explain to them in their vernacular idiom (for, in fact, 
there was no French translation of the Bible) ; and the reading of it 
might have contributed to the knowledge of the Latin tongue.] 

Page cxlviii, line 1 : So that, it seems, the fabulous history of Geof- 
frey of Monmouth was to have been the platform of his sublime poetical 
structure; but he, whether wisely or not, abandoned one series of lies 
for another, [but this project, whether wisely or not, he abandoned.] 


541] APPENDIX B 207 

Vol. Ill 

Page 238, line 20 : Oaths and curses, in fact, are, at this day, com- 
mon to most nations in the world, as they were formerly, to the Greeks 
and Romans. They are foolish, no doubt, and unmeaning, hut it is the 
extreme of higotry and idiotism to consider them as wicked or punish 
them as criminal. 

Page 247, line 1 : Merlin, a powerful magician, and a more clear- 
sighted and veracious prophet than the Jew Isaiah, was begotten by a 
devil, or incubus, upon a young damsel of great beauty, and daughter, 
as Geoffrey of Monmouth asserts, to the king of Demetia. 

Page 247, lines 7, 11 : He removed by a wonderful machine of his 
own invention, the giants-dance, now Stone-henge, from Ireland, to Salis- 
bury plain, where part of it hy the favour of Almighty providence is 
still standing; and in order to enable Uther Pendragon, king of Britain 
to enjoy Igerna, the wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, transformed him, 
by magical art, into the likeness of her husband ; which amorous con- 
nection, (Igerna being like the Bathsheha of the old testament rendered 
an honest woman by the murder of her spouse, and timely inter- 
marriage with king Uther,) enlightened the world, like another Alcmena, 
with a second Hercules, videlicet, the illustrious Arthur. 

Page 248, line 15 : His prophecies, which were first published in 
The British History, are fulfilling every day, like those of the old 
clothesmen of Judaea, or the still more Merlinical rhapsodist of The 
Revelation of the New Jerusalem, [have since gone through repeated 
editions, in Latin, French, and English.] 

Page 321, line 28 : That the Christians of former ages, a most ignor- 
ant, bigoted and superstitious sect, appear to have entertained an invet- 
erate antipathy to the Mahometans (who, certainly, would not have been 
much less intolerant) is apparent from the ancient romances of chivalry, 
French or English, in which this equally polite and religious appella- 
tion, frequently occurs. 

Page 349, line 5 : This was Jesus Christ, who, in the interval between 
his crucifixion and his ascension, made an inroad into the infernal regions 
and plundered them of all the damned souls he thought worth carrying 
off. This miraculous event, though unnoticed by the four evangelists, 
is nevertheless circumstantially related in the Gospel of Nicodemus; and 
in honest Tom Hearne's appendix to his edition of John Fordun, the 
Scotchman's lying chronicle, is the engraving of an ancient picturesque 
representation thereof, in which Christ (not Saint Patrick, as is falsely 
pretended by Doctor Johnson) in so desperate an adventure, armed with 
his invincible cross, is opposed at the very mouth of hell fire, by a devil 


blowing a horn and exclaiming in a manner truly diabolical, "Out out 
ARONGST." (Refer to page 1402-3; and, for what Johnson has said, td^ 
Stevens's Shakspeare 1793, vii, 342.) It seems alluded to in the first 
epistle of Peter m, 18, 19: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, 
being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit; by which also 
he went and preached unto the spirits in prison," and in the apostles' 
creed, it is expressly said "He descended into hell." [This means Jesus 
Christ, who, in the interval between his crucifixion and ascension, is 
said, in the apostles' creed, to have "descended into hell". This visita- 
tion is related, most at large, in Nichodemus's Gospel. In Hearne's 
Appendix to Fordun's Scotichronicon (p. 1482-3), is a singular engrav- 
ing from an old illumination, in which "Ihesus Christus (resurgens a 
mortuis spoliat infernum," not Saint Patrick, as Dr. Johnson mistakes) 
"is represented", as he says, "visiting hell, and putting the devils into 
great confusion ... of whom one . . . [with a prong and a 
horn] has a label issuing out of his mouth, with these words, "Out out 
ARONGST !" (Note in Shakspeare, 1793, VII, 342.) ] 


I. A Bibliography op the Published Works of Joseph Ritson. 

1. Versees addressed to the Ladies of Stockton. In the Newcastle 

Miscellamj, 1772. 

Reprinted at Newcastle, n. d. 

Again, as an Appendix to Joseph Haslewood's Some Account of the 
Life and Publications of the Late Joseph Ritson, Esq. London, 

2. Tables, shewing the descent of the Crown of England. 1778. 

Second impression, 1783. 

3. The St*ckt*n Juhilee: or, Shakspeare in all his glory. Newcastle, 


4. Observations on the three first volumes of the History of English 

Poetry. In a Familiar Letter to the Author. London, 1782. 

5. Fahularum Romanensium Bihliotkeca : a general catalogue of old 

Romances, French, Italian, Spanish and English. 2 vols. Lon- 
don. [Only two sheets printed.] 

6. Remarks, Critical and Illustrative, on the Text and Notes of the Last 

Edition of Shakspeare. London, 1783. 

7. A Select Collection of English Songs, with their Original Airs; 

and a Historical Essay on the Origin and Progress of National 
Smig. 3 vols. London, 1783. 

Second edition, with additional songs and occasional notes by Thomas 
Park. 3 vols. London, 1813. 

8. The Bishoprick Garland, or Durham Minstrel. Being a choice col- 

lection of Excellent Songs relating to the above county. Stock- 
ton, 1784. 

New edition, corrected, Newcastle, 1792. 

Again, See No. ZZ- 

9. Gammer Gurton's Garland: or the Nursery Parnassus; a choice col- 

lection of Pretty Songs and Verses, for the amusement of all 
little good children who can neither read nor run. Stockton, 

Reprinted, zvith additions, London, 1809. 

Again, London, 1810. 

Again, Glosgow, 1866. 
10. The Spartan Manual, or Tablet of Morality: being a genuine Collec- 
tion of the Apophthegms, Maxims, and Precepts, of the Philos- 
ophers, Heroes, and other great and celebrated Characters of 



Antiquity; under proper heads. For the Improvement of 
Youth, and the promotion of Wisdom and Virtue. London, 

Reprinted privately, Glasgow, 1873. 

11. The Comedy of Errors, with notes. London, 1787. [Only two 

sheets printed.] 

12. The Quip Modest; a feiv words iy way of Supplement to Remarks, 

Critical and Illustrative, on the Text and Notes of the Last 
edition of Shakspeare; occasioned hy a RepuMication of that 
Edition, revised and augmented hy the Editor of Dodsleys Old 
Plays. London, 1788. 

13. The Yorkshire Garland : heing a curious collection of old and new 

songs concerning that famous county. Part I. York, 1788. 
[It was never continued.] 
Again, See No. 33. 

14. A Digest of the Proceedings of the Court Leet of the Manor and 

Liberty of Savoy, parcel of the Duchy of Lancaster, in the 
County of Middlesex ; from the year 1682 to the present time. 
London, 1789. 

Again, See No. 25. 

15. Ancient Songs, from the time of King Henry the Third to the 

Revolution. London, 1790. 

Second edition, Ancient Songs and Ballads from the reign of King 

Henry the Second to the Revolution. Collected by Joseph Rit- 

son, Esq. 2 vols. London, 1829. 
Third edition, revised by W. C. Hazlitt. London, 1877. 

16. Pieces of Ancient Popular Poetry: from Authentic Manuscripts and 

Old Printed Copies. Adorned with cuts. London, 1791. 
Second edition, London, 1833. 
Again, revised by E. Goldsmid. 2 vols. London, 1884. 

17. The Jurisdiction of the Court Leet: Exemplified in the Articles 

ivhich the Jury or Inquest for the King, in that Court, is 
charged and Sworn, and hy law enjoined, to Inquire of and 
Present. Together with Approved Precedents. London, 1791. 

Again, See No. 25. 

Second edition, with great additions. London, 1809. 

Third edition, corrected. London, 1816. 

18. The Office of Constahle: heing an entirely new compendium of the 

Law concerning that Ancient Minister for the Conservation of 
the Peace. Carefully compiled from the best authorities. With 
a Preface; and an Introduction, containing some account of the 
origin and antiquity of the office. London, 1791. 

Again, See No. 25. 

Second edition, enlarged. London, 1815. 

545] APPENDIX c 211 

19. Cursorij Criticisms on the Edition of Shakspeare published by Ed- 

mond Malone. London, 1792, 

20. The North-Countrij Chorister; an unparallaled variety of Excellent 

Songs collected and published together, for general amusement, 
by a Bishoprick Ballad Singer. Durham, 1792. 

Second edition, London, 1802. 

Again, See No. 2>2- 

21. Dido: A Tragedy; as it was performed at the Theatre Royal in 

Drury-Lane, with universal applause. By Joseph Reed, Author 
of The Register Office, Tom Jones, &c. London, printed 1792, 
published 1808. 

22. The Northumberland Garland; or Newcastle Nightingale; a match- 

less collection of Famous Songs. Newcastle, 1793. 
Again, See No. s^. 

23. The English Anthology. 3 vols. London, 1793-4. 

24. Scotish Songs. 2 vols. London, 1794. 

Again, in one volume omitting the Historical Essay and the musical 
notation, Scottish Songs and Ballads, collected by Joseph Ritson. 
New and revised edition with glossary and index. London, 1866. 

Second edition, edited by J. Alexander. 2 vols. Glasgow, 1869. 

25. Law Tracts, by Joseph Ritson, of Gray's Inn, Barrister. London, 

1794. [Comprising Nos. 14, 17, 18.] 

26. Poems on interesting events in the reign of King Edward III: 

written a7ino MCCCLII, by Laurence Minot. With a preface, 
dissertations, notes, and glossary. London, 1795. 

Second edition, Poems'written anno MCCCLII, by Laurence Minot. 
With Introductory Dissertations On the Scotish Wars of Ed- 
ward III, On his claim to the Throne of France; and Note» 
and Glossary. By Joseph Ritson. London, 1825. 

27. Robin Hood: a collection of all the ancient Poems, Songs, and Bal- 

lads, now extant relative to that celebrated English Outlaw. 
To which are prefixed historical anecdotes of his life. 2 vols. 
London, 1795. 

Second edition, London, 1832. 

Other editions, London, 1840, 1845, 1853, 1862, 1884, 1885; Glasgow, 

28. Bibliographia Poetica : A Catalogue of English Poets, of the Twelfth, 

Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth, Centurys, 
with a short account of their works. London, 1802. 

29. An Essay on Abstinence from Animal Food, as a Moral Duty. By 

Joseph Ritson. London, 1802. 


30. Ancient Engleish Metrical Bomancees. 3 vols. London, 1802. 

Second edition, Ancient English Metrical Romances. Selected and 
published by Joseph Ritson, and revised by Edmund Goldsmid. 
3 vols. Edinburgh, 1884-5. 

From this collection were separately published: (i) A Dissertation 
on Romance and Minstrelsy. To which is appended the Ancient 
Metrical Romance of Ywaine and Gawin. Edinburgh, 1891. 
(2) Thomas Chestre: Launfal. Edinburgh, 1891. 

31. Practical Points, or, Maxims in Conveyancing, drawn from the 

daily experience of a very extensive practice. By a late Eminent 
Conveyancer. To which are added, Critical Observations on the 
various and essential parts of A Deed. By the late J. Ritson, 
Esq. London, 1804. 

Again, London, 1826. 

32. Original Memoirs written during the great War; being the Life of 

Sir H. Sling shy, and Memoirs of Captain Hodgson. With notes 
hy Sir W. Scott, Bart. Edinburgh, 1806. [The Advertisement 
to Hodgson's Memoirs was written by Ritson.] 

33. Northern Garlands. Edited by the late Joseph Ritson, Esq. Lon- 

don, 1810. [Comprising Nos. 8, 13, 20, 22, each with a separate 
title page dated London, 1809. Edited by Joseph Haslewood.] 
Reprinted, Edinburgh, 1887 and 1888. 

34. The Office of Bailiff of a Liberty. By Joseph Ritson, Esq., Barrister 

at Law, Late High Bailiff of the Savoy. London, 1811. [Edited 
by Joseph Frank.] 

35. The Caledonian Muse: A chronological Selection of Scotish Poetry 

from the earliest times. Edited by the late Joseph Ritson., Esq. 
With vignettes engraved hy Heath, after the dengns of Stot 
rard. London, printed 1785; and now first published, 1821. 

36. The Life of King Arthur: from Ancient Historians and Authoitic 

Documents. By Joseph Ritson, Esq. London, 1825. [Edited 
by Joseph Frank.] 

37. Memoirs of the Celts or Gauls. By Joseph Ritson, Esq. London, 

1827. [Edited by Joseph Frank.] 

38. Annals of the Caledonians, Picts, and Scots; and of Strathclyde, 

Cumberland, Galloway, and Murray. By Joseph Ritson, Esq. 
2 vols. Edinburgh, 1828. [Edited by Joseph F'rank.] 

39. Letters from Joseph Ritson, Esq., to Mr. George Baton. To which 

is added, A Critique by John Pinkerton, Esq., upon Ritson's 
Scotish Songs. Edinburgh, 1829. [Edited by James Maidment. 
Only 100 copies printed.] 

547] APPENDIX c 213 

40. Fairy Talcs, Now first collected: To which are prefixed Two Disser- 

tations: 1. On Pygmies. 2. On Fairies. By Joseph Ritson, Esq. 
London, 1831. 

Another edition, Fairy Tales, Legends, and Romances illustrating 
Shakespeare and other early English Writers. To which are 
prefixed two dissertations: i. On Pigmies. 2. On Fairies. 
With Preface by W. C. Hazlitt. London, 1875. 

41. The Letters of Joseph Ritson, Esq. Edited chiefly from originals in 

the possession of his nephew. To which is prefixed a Memoir 
of the Author hy Sir Harris Nicolas. 2 vols. London, 1833. 

II. The Unpublished Manuscripts of Joseph Ritson. 

1. Precedents in Conveyancing. 

2. Treatise on Conveyancing, 

3. Precedents by Mr. Bradley. 

4. Wills drawn by the late Ralph Bradley, Esq., of Stockton in the 

Connty of Durham. 2 vols. 

5. The Privileges of the Duchy of Lancaster, by Charter, Statute, 

and Judicial Determination. 

6. Antient and Modern Deeds, Charters, Grants, Surveys, and other 

Instruments, Writings, Extracts, &c., relating to the Manor, 
Borough, Township, Chapelry, and Parish of Stockton, in 
County Durham. [MS. Gough, Durham 1, Bodleian.] 

7. The Institution, Authority, Acts and Proceedings of Burgesses of 

the Savoy — Repertory of Evidences in the Duchey Office relat- 
ing to Manor and Liberty of the Savoy — and other papers rela- 
tive to the Hospital, with the Views and Plans, framed and 
glazed, of the Savoy. 

8. Topographical Rines [sic]. 

9. Description of the North-East Part of Cleveland, with notes. 

10. Villare Dunelmesne, the names of all the towns, villages, hamlets, 

castles, sea-houses, halls, granges, and other houses and build- 
ings, having any appellation within the Bishopricks or county 
palatine of Durham. 

11. A Glossary of obsolete or difficult Words occurring in the Charters 

granted to the Duchy of Lancaster. 

12. A List of River Names in Great Britain and Ireland, with a few 

etymological notes on them. [MS. Douce 340, Bodleian.] 

13. An Enquiry into the Connection between the Families of Bailiol 

and Comyn in the thirteenth century. 

14. An English Dictionary, intended for publication. 

15. Gleanings of English Grammar, chiefly with a view to illustrate 


and establish a just system of Orthography, upon etymological 

16. Dissertation on the use of Self. 

17. Notes for a life of Philip, Duke of Wharton. 

18. The Poetical Works of Mr. George Knight, formerly of Stockton, 

Shoemaker of facecious memory. 1 

19. Extracts of Entries (chiefly of songs and ballads) in the Stationers' 

books, from a transcript by the late W. Herbert. 

20. Select Scotish Poems. [MS. in Mr. Perry's collection.] 

21. Scotish Ballads. [MS. in Mr. Perry's collection.] 

22. Bibliographia Scotica; Anecdotes Biographical and Literary of 

Scotish Writers, Historians, and Poets, from the earliest ac- 
counts to the nineteenth Century. In two parts, intended for 

23. Notes on Shakspeare, and Various Readings. [MS. in Mr. Perry's 


24. Notes and corrections on Shakspeare, prepared for the press. 3 vols. 


Aikin, John. Essaj's on song writing; with a collection of such English songs as are 

most eminent for poetical merit. 2nd ed. London, 1774. 
Allan, George. Collections relating to Sherburn hospital in the county palatine of 

Durham, etc. Darlington, 1771. 
Allibone, S. A. A critical dictionary of English literature, etc. 3 vols. London and 

Philadelphia, 1908. 
Andrew of Wyntoun. The original chronicle, ed. by F. J. Amours. 6 vols. 

Edinburgh, 1903-14. 
Baker, David E. Biographia dramatica. 3 vols. London, 1812. 
Ball, Margaret. Sir Walter Scott as a critic of literature. New York, 1907. 
Beers, H. A. A history of English romanticism in the eighteenth century. New 

York, 1890. 
Bellot, Jacques. The Englishe scholemaister, ed. Theo. Spira. Halle, 1912. 
Benndorf, Cornelie. Die englische Padagogik in 16. Jahrhundert, wie sie darge- 

stellt wird im Wirken und in den Werken von Elyot, Ascham und Mulcaster. 

Wien und Leipsig, 1905. 
Bisset, Robert. The history of the reign of George III. 2nd ed. 6 vols. London, 

Blage, Thomas. The schole of wise conceytes. London, 1572. 
Brewster, John. The parochial history and antiquities of Stockton upon Tees. 

2nd ed. Stockton upon Tees, 1829. 
Brown, John. An estimate of the manners and principles of the times. London, 1757. 
Brydges, Samuel E. Censura literaria. 10 vols. London, 1805-9. 

The British bibliographer. 4 vols. London, 1810-4. 

Restituta; or titles, extracts, and characters of old books in English literature, 
revived. 4 vols. London, 1814-16. 
Buchanan, John L. A defense of the Scot's highlanders in general and some learned 

characters in particular. London, 1794. 
Burnett, James. On the origin and progress of language. 6 vols. London, 1773-92. 
Burney, Charles. A general history of music, from the earliest ages to the present 

period. 2nd. ed., 4 vols. London, 1789. 
Capell, Edward. Prolusions ; or select pieces of antient poetry, etc. London, 1760. 
Carlyle, Thomas. History of Frederick the Great. 8 vols. London, 1898. 

History of the French revolution. 4 vols. London, 1898. 

Oliver Cromwell. 4 vols. London, 1898. 
Case, John. The angelical guide, shewing men and women their lott or chance in 

this elementary life in IV books. London, 1697. 
Chalmers, George. Caledonia ; or an account, historical and topographic of North 

Britain, from the most ancient to the present times. 3 vols. London, 1807-24. 
Chambers, E. K. The medieval stage. 2 vols. Oxford, 1903. 
Chambers, Robert. The book of days. 2 vols. London, 1869. 





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Aiken, John 92-3 

Allan, George 17 2^ 46-7 49 

Ancient Popular Poetry, Pieces of 103-5 

Ancient Songs 63 100-3 148 

Andrew of Wyntoun 166 

Animal Food, Abstinence from 17 122 

See also Vegetarianism 
Antiquarianism 17 46-51 98-9 197-8 
Arne, Thomas A. 97 
Bailiff, Office of 34 
Ballads 103-4 106 114 119 125^ 129 146-7 

156-8 196-7 
Baynes, John 60 74 106 149 194 
Beers, H. A. i86n 
Bentham, Jeremy i84;i 
Bewick, John I03;t 
Bewick, Thomas 103M 
Bibliographia Poctica 63 64 130-5 
Bishoprick Garland, The 98 
Boethius, Hector 166 
Boileau-Despreaux, Nicholas 197 
Booth, Barton 95 
Bowie, John 60 
Bradley, Ralph 16 34 
Brewster, John 14H 23 124 
Brown, Dr. John 77n 
Buchanan, George 166 
Buchanan, John L. 167 
Burnett, James, Lord Monboddo igcm 
Caldecott, Thomas 61 
Caledonian Muse, The gSn 139-41 IQQ 
Caledonians, Annals of 143-4 148 168-71 
Campbell. Alexander III 
Carlyle, Thomas 53n lion 174 
Capell, Edward i85n 
Celts. Memoirs of 144-S 148 168-71 
Chalmers, George 122 130 135 i65n 168 
Chambers, E. K. I5in 
Chaucer, Geoffrey 117 133 158 
Chevy Chase 106-7 
Christianity See Religion 
Christ's Kirk on the Green 141 
Collins, John 69 86 
Comedy of Errors 87 
Constable, Office of 33 
Conveyancing, Practical Points in 34 
Court Leet, Jurisdiction of 32 

■ Proceedings of 32 

Croft, Herbert 123 

Cunningham, John 16 21-2 

Cursory Criticisms 7"-9 81-3 

Dalrymple, David 166 

Davis, Charles 200 

Deed, Critical Observations on a 34 

DeQuincey, Thomas I4« 154" i86w 

Descent of the Crown of England 29 

50 175 
Deserted Village, The 18 
Dictionary 123 

Douce, Francis 128 131-2 164^ 
D'Urfey, Thomas 92 
Editorial Standards 79-80 96-8 129 146- 

7 158-63 165 196-7 
Ellis, George 62 loi 107 137-8 147 
Elphinston, James 186 
English Anthology, The 107-9 I39 
English Songs 22n 23 63n 65 90-8 lOO 

loi 148 175 
Erceldoune, Thomas of 126-9 I57» 
Evans, Thomas 119 
Fabularum Romanensium Bibliotheca 54 
Fairy Tales 82;; 145-6 
Farmer, Richard 48 67 73 78 86 161 198 
Frank. Joseph 11 36-8 53 99 104 144 

185 187-9 .193 
Franklin, Benjamin 93n 
Revolution, The French 172-4 
Fuseli, Henry 91 
Gammer Gurton's Garland 98 
Geoffrey of Monmouth 142-3 151 164 
Gillrav, James 199 
Godwin, William 176 178-9 
Goldsmith, Oliver 22 
Gough, Richard 17 48-50 
Gray's Inn 26 28 
Gummere, F. B. 156 
Hamlet 84-6 
Hardy, Thomas 176-8 
Haslewood, Joseph i8n 20 62 103;! 135 

140 149 199 
Herd, David loi iii 
Hill, Thomas 194 
Hodgson, John 109 
Holcroft, Thomas i6n 23 176 178 192 
Hymn to Venus I4» 99K 
Hume, David 184)1 
Hutchinson. William 47 
Innes, Thomas 166 
Ireland, William Henry 78M 146 164 
Jackson, William 97 
Tamieson. John 170 
Jennens, Charles 69 
John of Fordun 166 
Johnson. Samuel 67 73 82 83 85 86 123 

164 198 207 208 
Jonson. Ben 199 
King Arthur, Life of 1-11-3 
Kirby, Mrs. ii» I4n i6^i 182 204 
Laing, David 139-40 
Laing, William 11 1-3 124 147 177M 
Lamb, Charles 192 




Landor, W. S. 187 
Law, The 28 32-4 44 106 
Lesley, Bishop t66 
Leyden, John 125 i8q 
Lockhart, John G. 125 
Lydgate, John 133-4 
iVIacpIierson, David 124 
iMalone, Edmond 6y 70 76-9 81 86 161 
Mandeville, Bernard de 17 187 
]\rant, Richard 61 
i\L'irlowe, Christopher 95 
]\Iason, WilHam 108 
jMasterman and Lloyd 25-6 46 
McNeill, G. P. 126 
Minot's Poems 63 115-7 
IMinstrel 150-7 

Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border 125 
Musical instruments 150 
Notation 95 

See also Shield, JJ'illiaiii 
Nicolas, Sir Harris 62 83^ 149 
Xorth-Country Chorister, The 106 
Xorthumbcrland Garland, The 106 
Ohserz'ations on the History of English 

Poetry 55-65 
O'Flaherty, Robert 166 
Orthography 19 8r 122-3 184-7 
Ossian 158 170 
Paine, Thomas 129 176 
Paris 172-5 
Park, Thomas 62 64-5 91 95;; ioim 10211 

130-2 138 
Percy, Thomas \\n 58^ 61 96 lor 104 
136-8 145-7 iSO-63 181 196-7 200 

Folio MS. 155 158-63 
Perry. Marsden J. 88u I02» I25n 
Philosophy 183-4 ipo 
Phillips, Richard 190 
Piers Plozvnian 13.!. 152 
Pinkerton. John 58/? 114-5 143-4 146-7 

148 150 160 163-71 187 197 
Politics 29-30 174-9 
Price, Richard 65 
Ouit> Modest, The 72-6 81-3 
Raleigh, Sir Walter 95 
Ramsay, Allan 92 11411 
Reed, Isaac 19 67 71-8 80 ^6 161 198 
Reed, Joseph 105 
Religion 13 136 179-83 203-8 
Remarks on Shakespeare 637; 68-70 81-3 

.^6 159 175 
Reviewers 71 ~7 109 
Rinaker, Clarissa 59;; 62 
Ritson, Isaac ggn 

Ritson, Joseph See also titles of sepa- 
rate works 

Birth II 

Business Career 35-43 

Controversies See Johnson, Malone, 

Percy, Pinkerton, Reed, Steevens, 
Wart on 

Critical Canons 58 79-80 96-8 129 146- 
7 149 158-63 165 171 195-7 

Death 193 202 

Education 14 195 

Friends See Allan, Baynes, Brezvster, 
Chalmers, Scott, Shield, Walker, etc. 

Health 121 

Portrait 199 

Shakespeare criticisms 66-89 

See also Editorial Standards, Lazv, 
Orthography, Paris, Philosophy, Re- 
ligion, Vegetarianism 
Ritson Family 11-13 
Robin Hood 118-9 
Robinson 12 16 25 
Romances i2yn 136-9 
Romances, Metrical 63 136-9 148 206-8 
Rousseau, J. J. 176 
Rountree, John 40-2 
Russell, Thomas 60 
Scotish Songs 23 110-5 148 

History 166-71 

Language 170-1 

Literary Forgeries 165 

People 164-5 
Scott, Sir Walter 45 102 no 119 124-9 

135 141 146 147 196 198 
Selby, H. C. iin 200 
Shakespeare, William 34 66-89 95 186 

'198 207-8 
Shield, William 22 9^ in 173 
Sibbald, James 170 
Sir Gazvain, Marriage of 162 
Sir Tristrem 126-9 
Smellie, William igon 
Smith, Robert 193 200 
Songs 148-50 
Southey, Robert loi 
Spartan Manual, The 98-9 
Steevens, George 58;; 62 67-71 80 84 86 

145 161 198 
Stockton Jubilee, The 53 66 
Stothard, Thomas 91 
Surtees. Robert 4-t 124 
Thelwall, John 176-7 
Theobald, Lev/is 80 86 
Thompson, John 14 
Triphook, Robert uo-i 
Tyrwhitt, Thomas 68 81 86 103 115 
Vegetarianism i" 28 122 187-92 

See also Animal Food 
Versees ii;r 18 6on 
Voltaire t"6 
Walker, John 185/1 
Walker, Joseph Cooper 6t, 87 100 in 




Walpole, Horace 16311 
Warton, Thomas 54-65 

159 181 198 
Watson, Richard 129 
Weber, Henry 147 
Wharton, Philip, Duke of 

102 108 116 149 


Wheatley. H. B. 153;/ 
Williams, Sir Charles Hanl)ury 
Yonge, William 95 
Yorke, Henry R. 178 
Yorkshire Garland, The 99 





Vol. II November, 1916 No. 4 

Board of Editors 

George T. Flom William A. Oldfather 

Stuart P. Sherman 

Published by the University of Illinois 

Under the Auspices of the Graduate Schooi, 

Uebana, Illinois