I. A. Richards (Ivor Armstrong Richards) Biography
(1893–1979), (Ivor Armstrong Richards), Principles of Literary Criticism, Practical Criticism, learn, Coleridge on the Imagination
English critic, born in Cheshire, educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He was a teacher of enormous importance for the development of modern methods of reading and thinking about literature. Principles of Literary Criticism (1925) was acclaimed by T. S. Eliot not only for changing the course of criticism but for altering the meaning of the term, and there were many who thought Richards had reinvented the very notion of reading. With Richards, Allen Tate said, it became a matter of reading poetry ‘with all the brains one had and with one's arms and legs, as well as what may be inside the rib cage’. In Practical Criticism (1929) Richards effectively engendered the New Criticism through his alarming (and alarmed) discovery that much of what we call reading is merely an agglomeration of prejudice and blindness. Richards had asked his students and others to comment on poems not identified by date or author, and had received some very strange judgements and preferences in response. He concluded that we needed to learn to read literature—closely, as if for the first time. ‘The lesson of all criticism’, he said, ‘is that we have nothing to rely upon in making choices but ourselves. The lesson of good poetry seems to be that, when we have understood it, in the degree in which we can order ourselves, we need nothing more.’ Richards found models for the ordering of the self in Coleridge (Coleridge on the Imagination, 1935) and in the Chinese philosopher Mencius (Mencius on the Mind, 1932). His early work with C. K. Ogden in semantics (The Meaning of Meaning, 1923) remains influential, and Richards's writing and example were important for William Empson, who was Richards's pupil at Cambridge. Richards's attacks on vagueness and sentimentality found an echo in F. R. Leavis. Richards later moved from England to a distinguished career at Harvard. He wrote verse, and continued to reflect tirelessly on questions of language and thought. His career remains the model of what rationality may hope to do in a complex and largely unreasonable age.