I. A. Richards (1893–1979)

When Ivor Richards was stricken with a terminal illness last spring, he was fulfilling a long, far-ranging, and exceptionally active career as a citizen of the world. During his eighty-seventh year he had been revisiting China, for him the beloved scene of educational ventures and recurrent interchanges many years before. Despite his failing strength, his lectures had been meeting with a triumphal reception. For five weeks he was treated with the utmost resources of Chinese medicine, and finally flown by the government with a medical escort back to Cambridge University, where he died in the bosom of alma mater on Friday, September 7. As a young student at Clifton and Cambridge he had been forced to drop out periodically by the hazard of tuberculosis, and in subsequently rebuilding his health had turned himself into an indefatigable mountaineer. It was on a mountain top that he met Dorothea Pilley, the accomplished alpinist who became his wife. Inseparable traveling companions, they spent most of their vacations in the Alps or in quest and conquest of more distant peaks. Even during their later years in New England, after Mrs. Richards had been seriously injured by a motor accident, they still went backpacking over the academic weekends.

Richards was a person who looked at life from the heights in panoramic exaltation. If he had professed an abiding religion, it would have been a kind of Wordsworthian pantheism. He signalized The Waste Land, when it appeared, as effecting a severance between poetry and belief—a view which T.S. Eliot could hardly accept, though their dialectical friendship was warm and longstanding. Richards viewed himself as a man “without Beliefs,” significantly capitalizing the noun; he was rather a man of attitudes, which were bound to change along with his protean development. Facing the problem of values under the early influence of G.E. Moore’s ethics, William James’s psychology, and C.S. Sherrington’s physiology, he proposed to resolve it on an empirical plane. It was not for nothing that he had taken his undergraduate honors in what was known as Moral Sciences, or that his first published article was addressed to the mediating theme of “Art and Science.” To the English Faculty, when it was established at Cambridge after the First World War, he brought a fresh approach which was philosophic and analytic, rather than conventionally oriented toward the philological and historical backgrounds of literature.

Literary studies at the time, both in England and in the United States, tended to be either antiquarian or impressionistic, and consequently at internal odds. Theory, redefinition of terms, and conceptualization of problems were matters of little concern within the academy, despite the occasional efforts of such freelances as Kenneth Burke or Herbert Read. The Marxist and the Freudian ideologies, for better and for worse, would be finding their respective critical applications. Linguistics, though seminally related to literature in the thinking of various continental schools, mainly went in its own specialized directions until the comparatively recent campaign for a rapprochement under the flashy banners of…

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