Joseph Ritson, son of Joseph Ritson and Jane Gibson, was born October 2, 1752, at Stockton-upon-Tees, Durham.
A zealous literary antiquary and critic, was indefatigable in his labours to illustrate English literature, particularly the neglected ballad strains of the nation. He published in 1783 a valuable collection of English songs; in 1790, Ancient Songs, from the Time of Henry III. to the Revolution; in 1792, Pieces of Ancient Popular Poetry; and in 1794, A Collection of Scottish Songs.
In 1791, Ritson visited France where he was influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution. After a few years in 1795, he published Robin Hood: A Collection of All the Ancient Poems, Songs, and Ballads, Now Extant, Relative to that Celebrated English Outlaw, which introduced the modern interpretation of Robin Hood known today: "robbing from the rich and giving to the poor".
In most of his works, Ritson was a faithful and acute editor, and profoundly versed in literary antiquities. However, he was of a jealous irritable temper, which kept him in a state of constant warfare with his brother collectors. He was in diet a strict Pythagorean, and wrote a treatise against the use of animal food.
- (1989) Robin Hood. Thames and Hudson, 181–185. ISBN 978-0500289358.
- Joseph Ritson: A Critical Biography
- The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times
- Joseph Ritson, Virginia Tech
- Joseph Ritson
- Cyclopædia of English Literature: Consisting of a Series of Specimens of British Writers in Prose and Verse, Connected by a Historical and Critical Narrative, Volume 2