Library and Information Services, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Friday, 2 September 2011

Grumpy Old Men: Joseph Ritson's anniversary


Joseph Ritson at work
Stockton antiquarian Joseph Ritson died, 3rd September 1808.  He had gone insane.

Fussy, pernickety and grumpy to the last, he was nonetheless a major influence on ballad scholars for the next century, and his insistence on accuracy and authenticity was groundbreaking.  He collected Scottish songs, despite being English.  As far back as 1784, he signed himself ‘anti-Scot’, when he wrote in The Gentleman’s Magazine that John Pinkerton’s Select Scottish Ballads (1783) largely consisted of forgeries.  (Pinkerton later admitted this, but got his revenge by an adverse criticism of Ritson’s Scotish Songs in 1795.) 

Ritson also - as you might guess - disapproved of the poetic excesses of Highlander Joseph McPherson's Ossian epics.  Which doesn't mean Ritson disliked Scottish song - far from it.  But his own attitudes to accuracy and authenticity come through in his Scotish Songs preface.  Intrigued? Then find out more!

You can read his Scotish Songs (yes, that's correct) online on Google Books if you don’t have access to the originals:-

Articles and papers by our Music and Academic Services Librarian, Karen McAulay:-
  • 'Antiquarianism versus creativity in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Scottish song', in Eighteenth Century Scotland 24 (Spring 2010), pp.7-12
  • 'From ‘Anti-Scot', to ‘Anti-Scottish Sentiment': Cultural Nationalism and Scottish Song in the Late Eighteenth to Nineteenth Centuries', in Library and Information History, Vol. 26 No. 4, December, 2010, 272–88
  • ‘1810-1825: From antiquarian to creative artist, as exemplified by Scottish song collectors’, paper delivered at Oran 2010/2010 Sang: an International Conference on Gaelic and Scots Song, (Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Isle of Skye).
More sources of information:-
  • Search Copac to find Ritson’s output in British academic and national libraries
  • Ritson worked with Tyneside composer William Shield, whom you can read about in Oxford Music Online (you need to be a subscriber; affiliated with a subscribing institution; or have access to a public library which subscribes)
  • Read a basic biography of Ritson on Wikipedia.

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