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I. A. Richards

(1893—1979) literary scholar and educationist


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(1893–1979),

critic and poet, became a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1929, then in 1931 moved to Harvard, where he devoted many years to the study of linguistics and education. He was the founder, with Charles Kay Ogden (1889–1957), of Basic English, ‘an auxiliary international language comprising 850 words arranged in a system in which everything may be said for all the purposes of everyday language’; Richards and Ogden published two works together, The Foundations of Aesthetics (1922, with J. Wood) and The Meaning of Meaning (1923). In a literary context Richards is best known for his Principles of Literary Criticism (1924), Science and Poetry (1926), and above all Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgement (1929), a work which revolutionized the teaching and study of English. It was based on an experiment conducted by Richards in Cambridge in which he issued unsigned poems to students and asked for their written comments. Richards's attacks on vagueness, sentimentality, and laziness in poets and readers, and his praise of irony, ambiguity, complexity, and allusiveness, did much to create the climate which accepted Modernism, and greatly influenced Empson (his student from 1928 to 1929) and Leavis; but perhaps his greatest contribution lay in his emphasis on the importance of close textual study and the danger of random generalization. (See New Criticism and Practical Criticism.) Richards also published several volumes of poetry; a collection, Internal Colloquies: Poems and Plays, appeared in 1972.

Subjects: Literature.


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Works by I. A. Richards

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