I(vor) A(rmstrong) Richards 1893–1979
English critic, essayist, linguist, poet, and dramatist.
Richards's reputation as the forerunner of New Criticism derives from two of his earliest books. Principles of Literary Criticism, published in 1924, was his attempt to establish a criticism based upon scientific method. Of particular interest to Richards was the relatively new discipline of psychology, which he hoped would eventually justify his theory of value that the best art satisfies the greatest number of "appetencies." In Practical Criticism, published in 1929, Richards applied his theories to the study of literature. The method he introduced, asking students to comment on poems without benefit of background information, was for a time a widely accepted exercise in evaluating literature. Richards was especially concerned with the reader's reaction to the poem; he believed that only close analysis would reveal the complexity of great art and he warned against sentimentality and stock responses.
Richards is recognized for his perceptive theories of poetic language which maintained the importance of poetry, while reflecting the scientific approach of the modern age. His differentiation of language use—referential for scientific discourse and emotive for poetry—originated from his early pronouncement that poetry could offer only "pseudo-statements." This controversial issue prompted much discussion of the problem of belief and value in poetry as Richards analyzed it in Coleridge on Imagination. Richards also delineated four areas of meaning to be disentangled by the responsible critic: a poem's sense, its feeling, its tone, and its intention.
Even critical theorists who disagreed with Richards, or claimed that his literary practice did not logically follow from his psychological-neurological thesis, adapted some of his ideas and terminology. His study of metaphor, with its distinction between tenor and vehicle, and his commentary on irony and tragedy are especially notable. Although his theories at first were met with skepticism and misunderstanding, Richards's writings provided the New Critics with principles for close textual analysis and the impetus for a reexamination of the prevalent critical trends of the early twentieth century.
(See also CLC, Vol. 14 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 41-44, rev. ed., Vols. 89-92 [obituary].)