Joseph Ritson the Radical

By Stephen Basdeo

Joseph Ritson was born in Stockton-on-Tees in 1752 to a poor yeoman family. As a child, he attended the local Unitarian Sunday School where his talents intellectual talents were noticed, which led him to being apprenticed to a conveyancer in Stockton, after which his employer convinced him to seek employment in London where he could find more lucrative employment.

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A barefooted man in a rural part of England. An illustration by John Bewick to one of Ritson’s publications. Being poor, Ritson had to walk all the way from Stockton-on-Tees to London, often barefooted, to procure his first proper job.

While in London, he was kept busy trying to advance in his chosen career, which he did, eventually obtaining a salary of £300 per year. He spent his spare time conducting historical research into English history.  He was interested, not in the ‘high’ culture of people in times past, but in the culture of the common man, hence he published many collections of ancient songs such as A Select Collection of English Songs (1783), and Pieces of Ancient Popular Poetry (1791). Ritson quickly established himself as an authority on many historical subjects owing to his willingness to seek out obscure primary sources from archives and libraries across the country. He was also cantankerous, and fiercely critical of his rivals such as Thomas Percy who took it upon himself to edit and ‘refine’ Old and Middle English texts.

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The man himself: Joseph Ritson (1752-1803)

Being from poor circumstances himself, he was ever-ready to help fellow man when needed. If something could help to improve their condition, he would offer his legal services gratis. One example of this is the fact that, in 1788, Jonas Hanway asked Ritson to draft a bill for ‘The Consideration of the Politic, Humane, and Merciful’ relief of ‘distressed boys’ living in the metropolis which would, among other things, have regulated the chimney sweep trade and made it safer for boys. Having written Hanway’s bill, Ritson refused to take any payment for it but instead gave his labour freely to the cause.

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Ritson offered his legal services free of charge to Jonas Hanway, who drew up a bill designed to give greater protections to chimney sweeps.

He also taught his nephew that

Charity and benevolence have a much stronger claim upon a person than the superfluous indulgence of his own appetite. Never hesitate between a beggar and a halfpenny worth of nuts … lay up treasure in heaven.

Underneath the gentlemanly and scholarly façade, however, lurked a budding revolutionary: Ritson visited Paris in the summer of 1791 and became captivated by the teachings of Thomas Paine and the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. In a letter to a friend that summer, he wrote:

Well, and so I got to Paris at last; and was highly gratifyed with the whole of my excursion. I admire the French more than ever. They deserved 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 … 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 favourable education, for there is now no other distinction of rank,) are better acquainted with their ancient history than the English nobility are with ours … Then, 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 neighbours with all the avidity of Shakespeare’s blacksmith. You may now consider their government completely settled, and a counter-revolution as utterly impossible: they are more than a match for all the slaves in Europe.

Declaration_of_the_Rights_of_Man_and_of_the_Citizen_in_1789

When he returned to England in November 1791, he made contact with several leading radical thinkers including William Godwin, John Thelwall, John Horne Tooke. Ritson was a big admirer of Godwin, less so of Godwin’s fiction:

You have read his novel [Caleb Williams], I presume; he has got it sufficiently puffed in the Critical Review, but, between ourselves, it is a very indifferent, or rather despicable performance, — at all events unworthy of the author of Political justice: I have no patience with it.

It was during the 1790s that in his letters he began to address all of his associates as ‘Citizen’ and adopted the French Revolutionary calendar as well.

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The Revolutionary Calendar

While he admired Paine and Godwin, he wrote little on politics at the time. Pitt’s Terror, which curbed press freedom and placed restrictions upon freedom of assembly, was in full swing by the mid-1790s. Ritson had himself seen many of his revolutionary-minded associates in the dock for sedition, and said that,

I find it prudent to say as little as possible on political subjects, in order to keep myself out of Newgate.

Yet one book which Ritson wrote has, in popular culture at least, outlasted the names of both Paine and Godwin: in 1795, Ritson published Robin Hood: A Collection of All the Ancient Poems, Songs, and Ballads.

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Ritson’s Magnum Opus: Robin Hood: A Collection of All the Ancient Poems, Songs, and Ballads (1795)

Ritson’s Robin Hood sounds like a dry historical work which gathered together primary sources relating to the life of the famous outlaw. It fulfilled this function but was it is anything but a boring tome: the most important part of the book was the ‘Life of Robin Hood’ which he prefixed to the work, in which he gave the biography of England’s most famous people’s hero.

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One of John Bewick’s Images of Robin Hood from Ritson’s Robin Hood: Resistance to corrupt authority was an heroic and patriotic act.

Ritson transformed the prevailing image of Robin Hood in popular culture from being a small-time medieval outlaw who lived in the woods to a radical, revolutionary bandit: this was the politics of the 1790s superimposed onto that of the 1190s, whose rulers were veritable tyrants who denied people even the most simple pleasures in life through harsh laws made by a narrow elite which served only their interests:

The deer with which the royal forests then abounded (every Norman tyrant being, like Nimrod, “a mighty hunter before the Lord”) would afford our hero and his companions an ample supply of food throughout the year; and of fuel, for dressing their vension, or for the other purposes of life, they could evidently be in no want. The rest of their necessaries would be easily procured, partly by taking what they had occasion for from the wealthy passenger who traversed or approached their territories, and partly by commerce with the neighbouring villages or great towns.

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From Ritson’s Robin Hood.

It was a medieval outlaw’s duty, and by extension it was the duty of a 1790s revolutionary, to make war upon the British establishment to protect the desolate and oppressed, but such a course of life would not be easy:

In those forests, and with this company, [Robin Hood] for many years reigned like an independent sovereign; at perpetual war, indeed, with the King of England, and all his subjects, with an exception, however, of the poor and needy, and such as were “desolate and oppressed,” or stood in need of his protection. When molested, by a superior force in one place, he retired to another, still defying the power of what was called law and government, and making his enemies pay dearly, as well for their open attacks, as for their clandestine treachery. It is not, at the same time, to be concluded that he must, in this opposition, have been guilty of manifest treason or rebellion; as he most certainly can be justly charged with neither. An outlaw, in those times, being deprived of protection, owed no allegiance: “his hand was against every man, and every man’s hand against him”. These forests, in short, were his territories; those who accompanied and adhered to him his subjects: “The world was not his friend, nor the world’s law:” and what better title King Richard could pretend to the territory and people of England than Robin Hood had to the dominion of Barnsdale or Sherwood is a question humbly submitted to the consideration of the political philosopher.

In other words: who says that any king has any right to lord his authority over any patch of land? Robin Hood’s ‘physical force’ resistance to a tyrannical king was simply the actions of a true patriot.

Ritson signs off his biography of Robin Hood by extolling the outlaw’s virtuous and heroic acts:

Such was the end of Robin Hood: a man who, in a barbarous age, and under a complicated tyranny, displayed a spirit of freedom and independence which has endeared him to the common people, whose cause he maintained (for all opposition to tyranny is the cause of the people), and, in spite of the malicious endeavours of pitiful monks, by whom history was consecrated to the crimes and follies of titled ruffians and sainted idiots, to suppress all record of his patriotic exertions and virtuous acts, will render his name immortal. With respect to his personal character: it is sufficiently evident that he was active, brave, prudent, patient; possessed of uncommon bodily strength and considerable military skill; just, generous, benevolent, faithful, and beloved or revered by his followers or adherents for his excellent and amiable qualities.

Were movie and television producers honest, all modern Robin Hood productions would give due credit to this eccentric man for their works. Ritson’s work had a profound effect on successive portrayals of Robin Hood, who was, after Ritson’s 1795 book, envisioned less as an outlaw and more as a freedom fighter standing up for people’s rights against tyrannical elites.

Indeed, name of Robin Hood might have gone the way of other medieval outlaws such as Eustace the Monk, Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, William of Cloudesley. These outlaws were likewise celebrated in medieval ‘popular’ culture but have disappeared from public notice except amongst academics.

What is even more admirable about Ritson is that, while other British ‘radicals’ slowly abandoned their support of revolutionary ideals after the Reign of Terror, Ritson remained steadfast and true to his beliefs till the end of his life in 1803, after suffering a debilitating stroke.

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From Ritson’s Robin Hood.

Further Reading:

Stephen Basdeo, Robin Hood: The Life and Legend of an Outlaw (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2019)

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“The Vision” by Robin Hood (1841)

Everyone of course loves to investigate appearances of the name of Robin Hood in medieval court records. One of these days, it might finally be proven who the “real” Robin Hood was by combing through these patchy records of medieval England.

Yet Robin Hood, whether he was real or not, is significant because he is a symbol. So, appropriations of his name in later centuries, by foundlings, Anti-Corn Law Activists, or angry letter writers, are significant because they are simply one means of highlighting the longevity of the legend.

Below is the text of a poem entitled “The Vision”, written by a man who called himself Robin Hood, which appeared in The Penny Satirist in 1841. Victorian newspapers and magazines, particularly those which catered to a working-class readership, often solicited poems from aspiring writers.

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The Penny Satirist, and its sister magazine, The Satirist, were quite controversial in their day. They devoted themselves to exposing the scandals of the aristocracy and upper middle classes, as well as aiming to offer a working-class radical critique of contemporary political issues. Issuing from the presses of Chartist newspaper publishers, made it one of the less “respectable” Chartist-sympathizing papers.

The Penny Satirist ran between 1837 and 1846, after which its popularity as a satirical journal was eclipsed by the bourgeois-radical magazine, Punch.

Clearly, the name of Robin Hood here, as it was in centuries past, is still being used as a symbol of resistance against an oppressive elite.

I look’d—and the Sons of Pride stalk’d past,

In their gauds and glittering sheen;

But stormy passions and baffled hopes

In their restless eyes were seen!—

And again I look’d—and a phantom ship

O’er a dark and shoreless sea,

Was bearing them on, while the arch-fiend’s voice

Yell’d out—“For Eternity!”

 

Then the vision changed—and methought I saw

A blissful valley trod,

By all who with meek contrite hearts,

Walk humbly with their God!

Down a beautiful vista lighted up

With unearthly splendours came,

The mingling music of seraph’s harps,

And songs of loud acclaim!

 

As nature with mental strife o’erpress’d

The chains of slumber broke,

A still small voice from viewless lips,

In solemn sweetness spoke:—

“Remember the phantom ship—and beware

The doom to which pride condemns,

And school thyself to become as the meek,

Whose jewels are sacred gems!”

 

Leeds, March, 1841. Robin Hood.

Citation: Robin Hood, ‘The Vision’, The Penny Satirist, 17 April 1841, 3.

Further Reading: Mike Sanders, ‘No Laughing Matter: Chartism and the Limits of Satire’, in Nineteenth-Century Radical Traditions, ed. by Joseph Bristow, Josephine McDonagh (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2016), pp. 21–36.

Robert Southey’s “Wedding of Robin Hood and Maid Marian”

By Stephen Basdeo

Dr Mark Truesdale and I are currently transcribing Robert Southey’s ‘Harold; or, The Castle of Morford’ (Bodleian MS Eng. Misc. e. 21), which was originally written in the summer of 1791.

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Robin Hood and Maid Marian, as printed in Life and Ballads of Robin Hood and Robin Hood’s Garland (Halifax: Milner and Sowerby, 1859)

Although in the marketing for our edition we have designated it as a novel, Southey’s text should be read more as a romance, a curious blend of the Gothic (which predominates whenever the outlaws leave the safety of Sherwood) and the pastoral, for in Sherwood an outlaw’s life is idyllic and divorced from the cares of the outside world.

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Depiction of Robin Hood, Little John, Will Scarlet, and Allen-a-Dale, as printed in Joseph Ritson’s Robin Hood (1795). Towards the end of the eighteenth century, life in Sherwood was always pictured as a pastoral idyll. 

In Southey’s text, the usual stock characters from Robin Hood tales can be found: Little John, Will Scarlet, Maid Marian, the Bishop of Hereford; there are also several new characters, many of whom are taken from early modern plays such as Ben Jonson’s The Sad Shepherd (1641).

In keeping with previous portrayals of the outlaw legend, Robin Hood and Maid Marian are in love. Yet they are star-crossed lovers: Marian is the daughter of the wicked Baron Fitzosborne—the man who murdered the good Harold’s father—and the Baron, the main villain of the tale, naturally objects to his daughter’s marrying an outlaw.

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Another ‘romantic’ portrayal of Robin Hood from Joseph Ritson’s Robin Hood (1795)

With such an impediment to their match, Robin kidnaps Marian when a jousting tournament is held at the Baron’s castle. The pair of them escape to Sherwood and immediately marry each other, presumably by Friar Tuck, although the marriage scene is not recorded in the novel and we jump to the post-nuptial feast scene.

After feasting on venison and ale—Southey has clearly done his Robin Hood homework—Robin asks for music to be played. What follows is the first of many instances throughout the novel where the young, barely 16-year-old Southey, exercises his budding poetical talents. In praise of the union between Robin and Marian, the Sherwood minstrel sings the following ballad:

Behold yon elm high towering lift his head

How brightly his foliage and how cool his shade

His branches wide and towering how they spread

And cast a grateful shadow o’er the glade.

Yet though he lift his head luxuriant high

And proudly seems to threat the neighbouring sky

Useless he flourishes there barren stands

Till doom’d to perish by the woodman’s hand.

Yet should some tender joy-inspiring wine

From some robuster tree that seeks support

Round his base trunk her circling arms entwine

The elm with pendant clusters black we see

The baron once now rich with choicest

Useless and barren were the elm alone

The vine unaided barren too had grown

Mutual assistance each to the other goes

And each by mutual kindness friended lives

Emblem expressive this of human life

The elm the husband and the vine the wife

How blest indeed the faces who truly know

The never ending bliss of wedded love.

Boudeville ended and received the applause of the whole company. Come Aeglamour, said Little John, try your skill and [illegible] happiness of the life we lead here. Were you once to experience the pleasures we enjoy, turning to Richard, you would love to die in the forest of merry Sherwood what are all the pleasures of a court to the pure entertainment of a country life! Richard was preparing to answer him when Aeglamour arose and began

Rises now with orient ray

Bright the gold on the orb of day

Aw’d by his effulgent light

Swiftly they the shades of night

On the leaves with silver hue

Glittering shines the pearly dew.

Scar’d by the hunters now the deer awakes

And swiftly scuds along through o’er bushes and o’er brakes.

What pleasures can the palace yield

Equal to these woodlands give

How blissfully the outlaws live.

Who roams at will [o’er] field and hill

How happily dwell we in the wood

And o’er the flowery field

How happy live we in the wood.

Beneath the sway of Robin Hood.

The deer with spreading antlers crowned

Stalks stately o’er the bower.

The bowman fits his dart

And fixes the sharp point within the victim’s heart

He falls upon the ground

We hail the prize with choral strain

Feast on his flesh and Nottingham brown ale

List to the minstrels song and merry outlaws tale

What pleasures can the palace yield?

 

Now we with sober mien comes

And darkness hides the sky

The labour of the day is done

And home the outlaws hie.

 

The cheerful dance and minstrels sing

The pleasures of the time prolong

We beat the ground with skilful [illegible]

With skill we separate with skill we meet

The wholesome beverage goes around

At last by calm repose the happy day is crown’d

What pleasures can the palace yield?

Low shouts of applause proclaimed the universal approbation. This is the life, said Robin Hood turning to Marian, this is the life we lead. You have exchanged pomp and pageantry for the wild uncultivated pleasures of simple nature. But they are pleasures which art can never equal. I have exchanged a life of trouble and of care replied Marian sweetly smiling for one of happiness of liberty of love. She looked tenderly upon her husband and blush’d. Robin kiss’d her to hide it. In the meantime Richard enquired of Little John who sat next to him the manner in which Marian had been so successfully carried off.[i]

Mark and I are, to put it mildly, very excited at the prospect of seeing Southey’s unpublished novel finally in book form. For now, let’s hope that this ‘sneak preview’ of it has whetted your appetites.

In the meantime, see some of my work on other eighteenth century portrayals of Robin Hood:

“If they must have a British Worthy, they would have Robin Hood”: Joseph Addison’s remarks on Robin Hood.

John Winstanley’s Robin Hood poems from 1742.

Portrayals of Robin Hood in eighteenth-century true crime literature.

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From Joseph Ritson’s Robin Hood (1795)

[i] Robert Southey, ‘Harold; or, The Castle of Morford’ (1791). Bodleian MS Eng. Misc. e. 21, ff. 11r–13r.

“If they must have a British Worthy, they would have Robin Hood”

By Stephen Basdeo

This post originally appeared on the IARHS website

Amongst the great writers of eighteenth-century literature, the names of two men stand out: Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729) and Joseph Addison (1672-1719). These two quintessentially “Augustan” [1] writers dominated the literary marketplace between 1709 and 1715 through their essay periodicals The Tatler and The Spectator. Due to the expiration of the Licensing Act in 1695, which saw the end of government censorship, there was an explosion of printed material, [2] and Addison and Steele’s periodicals were part of this expansion in the availability of print culture.

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Addison and Steele’s periodicals

The public appetite for literature it seemed could not be sated. Although these periodicals had a seemingly modest circulation of just 3,000 copies, Addison claimed a readership for The Spectator that was somewhere approaching 60,000. [3] The fame of The Tatler and The Spectator also spread overseas: James Madison (1751-1836), the fourth President of the United States, recalled having read these periodicals daily (which by his time had been bound into 8 volumes and gone through numerous editions). [4] Addison’s high estimate for the number of readers is not unreasonable, for periodicals such as The Tatler, like many of the other periodicals available in the early eighteenth century, were designed to be read and debated in public arenas such as the coffeehouse and the tavern, and periodicals, or “moral weeklies” as Jurgen Habermas calls them, contributed to the birth of the bourgeois public sphere, or as we might phrase it today, public opinion. [5] Through the essays in these periodicals these authors promoted a culture of aristocratic politeness among urban readers, in which learning and self-improvement were the order of the day. [6]

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Frontispiece of Joseph Addison, from Robert Cochrane, ed., The English Essayists: A Comprehensive Selection from the Works of the Great Essayists from Lord Bacon to John Ruskin (London: William P. Nimmo, 1876).

It is Addison’s reference to Robin Hood in the eighty-first issue of The Tatler which I would like to bring to your attention. He opens his essay with a quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid:

Hic Manus ob Patriam pugnando Vulnera passi,Quique pii Vates & Phaebo digna locuti, Inventas aut qui Vitam excoluere per Artes,Quique sui memores alios fecere merendo.

Here are the hands that suffered wounds by fighting for their country and those devoted poets, who spoke words worth of Phoebus or those who improved life through learned arts and those who by their merits caused others to remember them. [7]

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Credit: Phoebus, or Apollo, from the Victoria and Albert Museum

Addison tells his reader that he was musing upon the notion of immortality:

“There are two Kinds of Immortality; that which the Soul enjoys after this Life, and that imaginary Existence by which Men live in their Fame and Reputation.” [8]

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Marble bust of Alexander the Great

It is with the second type of immortality that Addison concerns himself with in his essay, and he says that he spent the whole afternoon mentally cataloguing the various heroes and “military Worthies” that have appeared throughout world history. [9] He was so preoccupied with this matter, he says, that after many hours awake thinking it over, he fell into a deep sleep and proceeded to have a dream in which he was invited into a great hall in which a number of prestigious persons entered:

The first who step’d forward, was a beautiful and blooming Hero, and as I heard by the Murmurs round me, Alexander the Great. He was conducted by a Crowd of Historians. [10]

Other ancient worthies enter: Xenophon, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Cicero, Hannibal, Cato, Pompey the Great, Augustus; it is all very classical, which of course ties into the neoclassical modes of the eighteenth century.

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Augustus of Prima Porta

All of these worthies sit at a table, but it is revealed that there is an empty seat at the table where these illustrious heroes are seated. They begin to whisper among themselves and discuss who, from British history, is worthy to join them at their table. Would they choose King Arthur? He had, after all, been called a “British Worthy” only a few years prior in John Dryden’s opera King Arthur; or, the British Worthy (1691). How about King Alfred, the only English King ever to have been given the epithet “the great”? No—neither of these men are good enough in the estimation of men such as Caesar and Augustus. They conclude by saying that,

“if they must have a British Worthy, they would have Robin Hood.” [11]

An outlaw who (supposedly) lived in the thirteenth century was greater than all of the other heroes of English history, and worthy enough to take his place amongst the likes of Alexander and Caesar.

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In Addison’s essay all of the ancient worthies are from the Classical period, with the exception of Robin Hood. Indeed, Addison’s placing of Robin Hood—a medieval figure—among all those classical heroes seems incongruent. In the early part of the eighteenth century, whilst it was recognised that the Middle Ages were integral to Europe’s past, the period was “not much liked” by scholars and thinkers.[12] And 1750 is the date that Peter Raedt cites as having been the year when eighteenth-century scholars stopped being dismissive of the Middle Ages as a barbaric interlude between antiquity and the “enlightened” eighteenth century and the period began to be appreciated in its own right.[13] Raedt concentrates his article on Germany, and while some of his points are applicable to England, at the same time England seems to have never truly “lost” an appreciation of its medieval past during the early part of the eighteenth century. Dryden’s and Purcell’s King Arthur has already been cited, and Dryden also “translated” (into perfectly rhyming couplets) parts of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in his Fables: Ancient and Modern (1700). Handel also produced a medievalist opera Rinaldo (1711) set during the time of the First Crusade (1096-1099). Thomas Arne and James Thomson also authored the libretto for the opera Alfred (1740), known most famously today for its finale Rule Britannia! An appreciation for England’s medieval past also manifested itself in architecture, most famously in the Temple of British Worthies at Stowe, designed in 1734 by William Kent. Whilst the marble busts of most of the great men on display there are mostly from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, there are two medieval figures present: King Alfred and Edward, the Black Prince.

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Temple of British Worthies at Stow Gardens

Yet Addison’s idealisation of Robin Hood as a British Worthy is an anomaly when compared to the works of Arne who venerated a King, Alfred, and the establishment figures that were sculpted in marble by William Kent. Robin is different to these other illustrious persons because he is an outlaw. And Addison’s reference to Robin Hood is certainly more positive than the one which would appear in Alexander Smith’s A Complete History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen (1719) only a few years after Addison was writing, where Robin is described as a “wicked, licentious” individual. [14] This makes it seem odd that Addison would choose Robin Hood to make a point in a “moral weekly.” I have two theories about this. Firstly, it would seem that Robin Hood was by the early eighteenth century gentrified enough in the public consciousness for him to be used in such a way. The gentrification process had begun with Anthony Munday’s two plays The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntington and The Death of Robert Earl of Huntingdon (1597-98) where Robin is recast firmly as an establishment figure. [15] The second is that an idealisation of Robin Hood fits in with eighteenth-century contemporaries’ love of liberty. In a later issue of The Tatler, Addison wrote about another vision he had in which he witnessed the goddess of Liberty presiding over the prosperity of the nation. [16] Although crime was increasingly viewed as a problem during the eighteenth century, as indicated by Fielding’s lament that the streets of London would soon become impassable except “without the utmost hazard,” [17] liberty-loving men of Georgian England resisted any attempt by the government to form a professional police force. In a rather odd sort of way, highwaymen (and Robin is the original highwayman) were loved by the people because to many they were seen to embody liberty. [18] People of all ranks held a degree of admiration for highwaymen. At the trial of the “Gentleman Highwayman,” James Maclaine (1724-1750), for example, “many persons of rank of both sexes attended his examination, several of whom were so affected with his situation that they contributed liberally towards his support.” [19] This admiration of outlaws and highwaymen perhaps then explains why Smith, whose Highwaymen is a heavily moralist text, is so keen to recast Robin Hood in a negative light, for he evidently disagrees with the prevailing admiration for both Robin Hood and contemporary criminals.

Addison’s and others’ representations of Robin Hood raise questions as to whether the so-called ‘medieval revival’ of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was actually much of a ‘revival’ at all. In the eighteenth century, however, the Robin Hood tradition has a neoclassical overlay, in a similar manner to Ben Jonson’s play The Sad Shepherd; or, a Tale of Robin Hood (1631), where the story of Robin Hood is portrayed as a classical and quasi-tragic story of lost pastoral love. [20] Drawing further connections with antiquity, in the play Maid Marian is equated with the goddess Diana. [21] After Addison was writing, Ely Hargroves, in Anecdotes of Archery (1792), catalogues all of the greatest archers in history, highlighting many of the illustrious archers of history such as Pandarus, Ulysees, Aeneas, and Robin Hood. [22] As Robin Hood scholars we are often told that the credit for popularising the medieval period rests largely with Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819), a novel which, in the words of John Henry Newman (1801-1890),

‘first turned men’s minds in the direction of the Middle Ages.’ [23]

Whilst Scott’s historicist vision of the Robin Hood tradition was different to the neoclassical eighteenth-century interpretations of it discussed above, a sustained interest, admiration even, for medieval figures can be traced throughout the eighteenth century, not just from the Gothic Revival of mid-to-late part of the century onwards.

In conclusion, whilst many early eighteenth-century appropriations of Robin Hood are negative, Addison’s elevation of Robin Hood into the status of a “worthy” in the face of negative interpretations is interesting for it confirms to us that the gentrification process was not a linear process but an uneven one. Addison’s essay is the only “gentrified” representation of Robin Hood (gentrified in the sense that he is elevated into someone equal to the heroes of antiquity) which I have managed to find between c.1700 and c.1730 and is certainly deserving of consideration. It is often fleeting comments about Robin Hood in later texts such as The Tatler which allow us to map and construct an idea of how people in past ages interpreted the legend at various points in its history. By 1709 it seems that Robin’s status was firmly gentrified in public consciousness for Joseph Addison to speak about him in a “moral weekly.”


Notes

[1] “Augustan,” named after the Roman Emperor, Augustus, is the term usually applied to “high” culture in England which flourished during the reigns of Queen Anne and George I. It is so called because artists and writers imitated Classical styles in their works, e.g. Alexander Pope’s Dunciad (in imitation of the Iliad), or his Imitations of Horace.

[2] Julian Hoppit, A Land of Liberty? England, 1689-1727, The New Oxford History of England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 177.

[3] Joseph Addison, “The Spectator, Number 10.” [1711] The Spectator: A New Edition, Reproducing the Original Text, Both as First Issued and as Corrected by its Authors. Ed. Henry Morley (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1880), 19.

[4] Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1971), 39.

[5] See Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (London: Polity, 1989).

[6] James V. H. Melton, The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe, New Approaches to European History 22 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 96.

[7] “No. 81,” in The Tatler, ed. Donald F. Bond. 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 2: 13-21. Bond notes that but “for the last two sentences, this number is by Addison,” 13. The Latin verse from Virgil included at the beginning of Addison’s article for my essay is translated by Richard Thomason (Ph.D. student at the University of Leeds).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 2: 19.

[10] Ibid., 2: 17.

[11] Ibid., 2: 20.

[12] Peter Raedt, “Representations of the Middle Ages in Enlightenment Historiography,” The Journal of Medieval History 5, no. 1 (2002): 1-20 at 1.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Alexander Smith, A Complete History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen. Ed.  Arthur Heyward (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1933), 412.

[15] Stephen Knight, Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), 44.

[16] “No. 161,” in Bond, The Tatler, 2: 397-401. This issue is also authored by Addison.

[17] Henry Fielding, An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers (Dublin: G. Faulkner, 1751), 1.

[18] Lucy Moore, Conmen & Cutpurses: Scenes from the Hogarthian Underworld (London: Penguin, 2001), xiii.

[19] Andrew Knapp & William Baldwin ed. “JAMES MACLANE Called ‘The Gentleman Highwayman.’ Executed at Tyburn, 3rd of October, 1750, for Highway Robbery.” The Newgate Calendar. http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ng234.htm (accessed 26 August 2015).

[20] Stephen Knight, “‘Meere English Flocks’: Ben Jonson’s The Sad Shepherd and the Robin Hood Tradition,” in Robin Hood: Medieval and Post-Medieval, ed. Helen Phillips (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005), 129-44 at 131.

[21] Ibid., 134.

[22] Ely Hargroves, Anecdotes of Archery from the Earliest Ages to the Year 1791 (York: Printed for E. Hargroves, 1792), 1-17.

[23] Alice Chandler, “Sir Walter Scott and the Medieval Revival,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 19, no. 4 (1965): 315-32 at 315. 

John Winstanley’s Robin Hood Poems

By Stephen Basdeo

This article originally appeared on the IARHS Website)

Rosemary Mitchell argues that during the eighteenth century, artists and writers when representing the medieval period did not strive for historical authenticity but instead sought to present a neoclassical or Shakespearean view of the past.[1] Classical imagery is present in some literary representations of Robin Hood from the eighteenth century. In a previous post for this website, it was pointed out that Joseph Addison (1672-1719) thought that Robin Hood was equal to classical heroes such as Achilles and Caesar.[2] The “classicisation” of Robin Hood is even stronger in two mid-eighteenth-century poems entitled “An Invitation to Robin Hood” and “Robin Hood’s Answer” (1742).

Winstanley Image 1
John Winstanley

These two Robin Hood poems appeared in John Winstanley’s Poems Written Occasionally, Interspersed with Many Others by Several Ingenious Hands(1742). Winstanley (c.1677-1750) was born in Ireland, but he is a minor figure in the eighteenth-century literary world, and virtually nothing is known of his life.[3] However, there is a good chance that the poems were not written by Winstanley, as the subtitle indicates that several writers contributed to the volume. His collection should therefore be viewed as one of the many poetic miscellanies that were published throughout the period. As Robin Hood scholars are unlikely to have come across this poem before, it is transcribed below in full. The original spelling, italicisation, and capitalisation of each word in the original book are retained, with the exception of long [∫].

“An Invitation to Robin Hood”

SIR, Thursday next, the Archers dine,

On Round of beef, if not Sir Loin;

Though Round suits best, at B—r’s House,

A Glass to drink, and to carouse,

And is, to Marks-men, you’ll allow,

For each his Arrow, and his Bow,

Much fitter to determine Lots;

The Center shewing nearest Shots:

The Day then, Sir, to celebrate,

And crown each Archer’s lucky Fate,

The Muse your Company bespeaks,

To shoot, at least, for Ale and Cakes;

And, Sir, whoever wins the Prize,

To do him Justice to the Skies.

“Robin Hood’s Answer”

Untouch’d by Phoebus’ scorching Rays,

And his poetick Fire,

Victorious Laurel, not the Bays,

Is all my Soul’s Desire.

Soon will the rash Apollo know,

The Danger of inviting,

An Archer armed with his Bow,

And Impliments for fighting.

The Round of Beef with all it’s [sic] Charms,

Will small Protection yield,

Against an Archer’s conquering Arms,

Tho’ turn’d into a shield.

His Butt he’ll make it, which shall feel,

The Marks of his Disdain,

His Arrows tipt with Blades of Steel,

Shall pierce thro’ ev’ry Vein.

The Vict’ry gain’d, he scorns to boast,

For gen’rous Deeds renown’d;

Then to the Round around we’ll toast

‘Till all the World turns round.

Thus writeth in a merry mood,

Your humble Servant Robin Hood.[4]

Commentary

The classical imagery in the poem is self-evident: Apollo (also known as Phoebus), is the Greek god of music, poetry, art, and archery, and he is holding a feast for all legendary archers. The feast will feature an archery contest in which all of the bowmen will test their skills. Winstanley will also be in attendance. He desires Robin Hood to be present, so Winstanley writes him an invitation. Robin responds that he will attend, but he will come to win the contest, outshining even Apollo himself. After Robin has won the contest, he will then feast with the rest of the archers.

There are several reasons why neoclassicism became prevalent in art, literature, and architecture in Britain during the eighteenth century. Joseph M. Levine argues that it was the result of several factors: antiquity was viewed as a “refined,” “polished,” and “civilized” age in which men enjoyed political liberty. This was perfect for England’s polite and commercial elites who viewed themselves as the vanguard of civilisation and liberty.[5] Moreover, classicism was linked to ideals of heroism during the eighteenth century.[6] Winstanley and even the “Augustan” Addison believed that Robin was a hero, one who surpassed even Apollo in his skill and bravery.

250px-MG_RevCoke_and_Daniel_Coke_M.P.
Politeness epitomised: Rev. D’Ewes Coke and Family

In general, the ancient Greeks did not consume great quantities of meat. The references to beef, in contrast to the classical imagery present in the play, lend an air of Englishness to the poems. Perhaps this is Winstanley’s attempt to provide continuity with earlier Robin Hood texts. The outlaws in both the medieval and post-medieval tradition are frequently seen feasting. Feasting occurs in the first and seventh ‘fyttes’ of A Gest of Robyn Hode, and illustrates the truth, honor, and fellowship of the outlaws’ society.[7]

Smith, James H., active 1781-1789; Sir Thomas Egerton, Bt, as an Archer in Heaton Park
Thomas Egerton as Apollo Belvedere (c) Manchester Museums and Galleries.

Admittedly, it is venison that the outlaws eat in earlier Robin Hood texts. The consumption of beef in Winstanley’s connects the recurrent motif of feasting in the Robin Hood tradition with eighteenth-century British patriotism. During the eighteenth century in which Britain was involved in many wars and a number of these were fought either directly or indirectly against France, beef became a patriotic symbol.[8] It was assumed that the beef fed to English soldiers made them hardy and strong, in contrast to the slim and underfed continental soldiers.[9] The image of the strong Englishman fed on a diet of beef appeared numerous times in contemporary popular culture. In Henry Fielding’s very popular play The Grub Street Opera (1731) contained a patriotic ballad entitled The Roast Beef of Old England. The same theme that was taken up by William Hogarth in an eponymous painting completed in 1748. Fielding’s song was soon set to music and became a military anthem. Later in the century, especially during the Napoleonic Wars, the portly/stocky John Bull, one of England’s national symbols, was often depicted as gorging himself on beef.[10]

Why Winstanley chose to author this poem is unclear. As so little is known of his life, his reasons can only be speculated at. Perhaps he had grown up reading a version of the frequently reprinted eighteenth-century ballad collections known as Robin Hood’s Garland or The English Archer. As a whole, Winstanley’s book appears to have received a favorable reception from some major eighteenth-century cultural figures, such as Jonathan Swift, Colley Cibber, and Alexander Pope.[11] Miscellany collections of poetry, such as Winstanley’s volume, were extremely popular during the eighteenth century. They were not published in order to create a canon of poetic taste but instead were published to provide a snapshot of the popular literary tastes of the moment.[12] And this is why their content is often diverse, explaining why the text of a cheap seventeenth-century broadside ballad such as A Ballad of Bold Robin Hood, Shewing his Birth, Breeding, and Valour (which also features a Christmastime feast on beef) appears alongside poetry written by John Dryden in the same volume.[13]

In conclusion, R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor were quite dismissive of texts from this period, and they included one eighteenth-century Robin Hood ballad in their anthology, for instance, only to illustrate what in their words was

“the imaginative poverty as well as stylistic debasement that overtook the legend of the greenwood during the course of the eighteenth century.” [14]

Similarly, while Stephen Knight’s research is substantial concerning earlier texts and post nineteenth-century sources, there is still a relative neglect of eighteenth-century works in all three of his monographs. Thus Robin Hood’s appearance in eighteenth-century texts certainly is an area which requires more research.


References

[1] Rosemary Mitchell, Picturing the Past: English History in Text and Image, 1830-1870 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 9.

[2] Stephen Basdeo, “If They Must Have a British Worthy, They Would Have Robin Hood.” Robin Hood Scholars: IARHS on the Web – The Web Presence of the International Association for Robin Hood Studies, accessed August 12, 2016, http://robinhoodscholars.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/notes-from-greenwood-if-they-must-have.html.

[3] Bryan Coleborne, “Winstanley, John (1677?–1750)” in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/29758.

[4] John Winstanley, Poems Written Occasionally, Interspersed with Many Others by Several Ingenious Hands (London, 1742), 210-212.

[5] See Joseph M. Levine, “Why Neoclassicism? Politics and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England,”Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 25, no. 1 (2002): 75-101; and Paul Langford, A Polite and Commercial People: England 1727-1783 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

[6] See A. D. S. Smith, “Patriotism and New-Classicism: The ‘Historical Revival’ in French and English Painting and Sculpture, 1746-1800.” PhD diss., University of London, 1987.

[7] Basdeo, Stephen, Robin Hood: The Life and Legend of an Outlaw (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2018); Douglas Gray, “The Robin Hood Poems,” in Robin Hood: Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism, ed. Stephen Knight (Cambridge: Brewer, 1999), 3-37 at 26-27. See also Stephen Knight, “Feasts in the Forest,” in Telling Tales and Crafting Books: Essays in Honor of Thomas H. Ohlgren, eds. Alexander L. Kaufman, Shaun F. D. Hughes, and Dorsey Armstrong. Festschriften, Occasional Papers, and Lectures XXIV (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2016), 161-75.

[8] For example, the wars that Britain fought either directly or indirectly against France include The Great Northern War (1700-1721), The War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the Jacobite Rebellion (1715), Drummer’s War (1721-25), The War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), The Second Carnatic War (1749-1754), The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), The War of American Independence (1776-1783), and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815).

[9] Hannah Velton, Cow (London: Reaktion Books, 2007), 132-133.

[10] See Mark Bryant, The Napoleonic Wars in Cartoons (London: Grub Street Publishing, 2009).

[11] John Winstanley, Poems Written Occasionally, xv-xxv.

[12] “Miscellanies and Eighteenth-Century Print Culture.” Digital Miscellanies Index, accessed August 13, 2016, http://digitalmiscellaniesindex.org/about/miscellanies.php.

[13] ”A Ballad of Bold Robin Hood, Shewing his Birth, Breeding, and Valour,” in The Sixth Part of Miscellany Poems, Containing a Variety of New Translations of the Ancient Poets, Together with Several Original Poems by the Most Eminent Hands. Publish’d by Mr. Dryden (London: J. Tonson, 1716), 346-352.

[14] R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, eds., Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw, 3rd ed. (Stroud: Sutton, 1997), 183.

Image Credits: Frontispiece to John Winstanley’s Poems Written Occasionally (Dublin: Powell, 1742). Digitised by University of Michigan and Made Available via The Internet Archive.

Anon. ‘Robin Hood’ (1828)

The following poem, written anonymously and titled simply as ‘Robin Hood’, appeared in The Oriental Observer and Literary Chronicle in 1828.

The newspaper, printed in Calcutta during the rule of the East India Company, went through a number of name changes during its run (which was not unusual for a newspaper at this time). Its alternative names were:

  • Oriental Observer. 
  • Oriental Literary Observer.
  • Oriental Observer.
  • Oriental Observer and Literary Chronicle.

As some of the names indicate, the paper had a literary focus and often published anonymous pieces of poetry.

‘Tis merry, ‘tis merry, in green Sherwood,

To wind the horn,

When breaks the morn,

O’er the leafy bed of bold Robin Hood.

And the welkin sounds,

And the roebuck bounds,

Through copse, and fallow, and brake, and flood.

The chase is o’er, the merry men all

In their Lincoln green,

Are gather’d at e’en,

To tell of the gallant roe-buck’s fall:

And the bowl is crown’d,

And the toast goes round,

To the grey goose shaft and the bugle call.

‘Robin Hood’, The Oriental Observer, 3 February 1828, p. 407.