Portrait of Joseph Ritson.

Portrait of Joseph Ritson.
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London: H. Humphrey, 22 March 1803. Etching, engraving and aquatint on thin grey surfaced or prepared paper, platemark 272 x 207 mm, sheet size 306 x 221 mm, tipped to white backing sheet and mounted. An extraordinary satirical portrait of the eccentric author and vegetarian Joseph Ritson. He stands at his desk writing in a large book headed "Common Place". His finger and toe nails are talons; he dips his pen into an ink-stand inscribed "Gall", and has written "Moses an Imposter the prophets old Cloaths Men of Judaea Warburton a fool Dr Percy a Liar Warton an infamous Liar a pipeer better than a parson". From hispocket projects a pamphlet "The Atheist's pocket Companion". He stands on a slab of damaged papers headed "Dr Percy's Antient Balla[ds]"; in front of him is large open book with a portrait of Thomas Warton stabbed through with a knife and fork. The room is filled with large folio volumes and vegetable products, with a cow munching at a basket of leaves beside a paper "Bill of Fare / Nettle Soup / Sour Crout / Horse Beans / Onions Leeks"; an emaciated and chained cat crouches on the top shelf besidea book "Abstinence from animal food a moral duty"; and a frog squats on the desk. Below the image are Latin, Greek and English quotes."Ritson the antiquary (1752 - 23 September 1803) was sinking from morose or savage eccentricity to insanity. Since reading Mandeville's Fables of the Bees in 1772 he had lived on milk and vegetable. The scene must represent his chambers in Gray's Inn where (Sept. 1803) he burnt many manuscripts. He disregarded the decencies of literary controversy, and attacked (1782) Warton's History of English Poetry. His ownSelect Collection of English Songs (1783) was marred by attacks on the Reliques of Percy whom he again assailed in 1792. In 1793 he adopted the French republican calendar and declared himself an atheist. Sayers's figure was copied for the only [other] two portraits of Ritson, three-quarter length and half length" - M. Dorothy George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum. (Item Id: 108693)

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