18th century

Ladies of Stockton (1772) | Joseph Ritson

The following lines were written by the antiquary Joseph Ritson (1752–1803) and were first printed in the Newcastle Miscellany in 1772, then later as a standalone tract. Although it’s a poem about all the women he found attractive, it bizarrely combines this with old medieval ballad and fairy tales. For what it’s worth, I doubt that Ritson ever intended these lines to be considered as ‘great’ poetry—Transcribed by Stephen Basdeo.

To find out more about the fascinating life of Joseph Ritson, see my book: Discovering Robin Hood: The Life of Joseph Ritson–Gentleman, Scholar, Revolutionary (2021)

Versees [sic] Addressed to the Ladies of Stockton

First Printed in the Newcastle Miscellany,



The women came, as custom wills they pass’d,

On one (oh! That distinguished one) I cast

The favourit glance: O yet my mind retains

This fond begging of my infant pains.——Prior.

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 the poets fire:

In hobbleing verse your charms attempt to sing;

Your charms adorn’d with 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 loyal sons renown’d;

Far famed for dames, wife, charitable, chaste,

And first in beautys 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.

With thee, TITANIA, does the muse advance,

The leader thou in this uncouple’d dance;

Thy prudent maxims, and thy manners sage,

To us seem wonderous, far above thine age;

Thy infant buds, like bees about thee swarm,

Thyself their empress, shielding them from harm;

Of treacherous man warn’d in each dayly task,

Though, spite of thee, he’ll soon be all they ask,

To thee the riseing generation bows,

Accept our homage, nor our praise refuse.

From grandsire magistrates OLIVIA springs;

How pleasantly she looks! How sweet she sings!

To her though Venus have not deign’d her aid,

Nor do her charms adorn the wity maid,

Yet with their want who cannot but dispense,

Where such goodnature joins with such good sense?

When unbecomeing wildness rules the fair,

Let her of slanders evil tongue beware;

Lost fame, says Prior, ne’er can be regain’d;

A character that’s once, is always, stain’d:

Mark youthful CELIA! Though that evil tongue

Have hardly yet had power to do thee wrong,

From light behaviour drawn, hints vile and dark

The pureest fame eternally may mark.

Fair DAPHNE! Tears bedew the musees eyes,

And heaves of pity in her bosom rise;

In sorrow silent, she but breathes thy name,

Nor good, nor ill, of thee commits to fame.

View haughty CHLOE! Sneaking even in state,

How few who love her! And how few who hate!—

Beneath the last, from most:—long may live,

Adorn’d with all the graces pride can give.

Her affectation, spleen, ridic’lous ease,

Show what you can be, fair ones, when you please.

In malice laughing, of her laughter vain,

See cookmaid Phillis, envious, spiteful, plain.

The LEARNED SISTERS next demand my lays;

Few outward charms they boast to speak their praise,

But by their mental they shall lovers thrall,

And, with goodnature, make them bless’d in all.

Let not THE WIDOW miss her share of fame,

Nor uninserted here let pass her name:

A Stockton toast, wit, critic, lo! She stands;

Beaus, bucks and fribbles press to kiss her hands;

To all at home;—sh’ ’as felt the marriage chain,

Nor would be grieve’d to have it on again.

Nor thee, fair ANNA, shall the muse pass by,

Nor ’mongst these charmers thee a place deny;

Remote from Stocktons hospitable doors,

Thou, like ELVIRA, pass’d’st thy natal hours;

And, honour’d by her friendship, e’er shalt share,

The utmost praise my suckeling muse can spare:

Goodnature, sense, and modesty are join’d,

Equally fair to make thy face and mind.

Though last in number, yet in beauty first,

Among Strenshelians happy people Nurse’d,

Hail, my ELVIRA! Graceful, debonair;

Among the fairest thou alone art fair:

In vain i bid the muse attempt thy praise;

In vain the muse to sing thy charms essays;

To sing thy charms—alone the heavenly quires

Should raise their Halleluias,—strike their lyres;

The theme but worthy them:—yet gracious deign

To pardon my sincere, though lowly, strain;

All i dare ask:—Adieu, my Fair, though thou

Nor grant a smile, nor an unclouded brow,—

Thy bard, thy slave i’ll be—and, with the thought

My bosom cheer, although my chance be nought.