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LYKU~ HAMLIN LA. Richards (1893-1979) Grand Master of Interpretations The journey's started and what's left's undone. One's own undoing one could understand. Leaf falling to the compost finds no fault: Though not to've known even of w hat befell! Flung out beyond the carry of any cry, Soundless, lightless ... lifeless - but to try To win the Mercy in the wish, Goodbye, And blessing welling from the word, Farewell. ('Goodbye Earth')l The death of Ivor Armstrong Richards on 7 September 1979 saddens a worldwide community of devoted friends, former students, and attentive readers of his various published works, not to mention so many more, teachers and critics of English, who may know nothing of the man and .his writing and yet be in his debt. His passing marks the end of an era in Anglo-American criticism, which may well be judged unique for the range and authority of its hermeneutic advances. Richards's career extended through six decades and touched on so many areas of intellectual endeavour that no commemorative resumecould do it justice. Hewas oneof the founders of the New Criticism; a pioneer in poetics, semantics, and the theory of literature and interpretation; an eloquent spokesman for so many causes in the better use of English, especially in education; in his later years a poet of spectacular formal versatility; and above all, to generations of attentive students at Cambridge, Harvard, or wherever, a teacher and mentor without equal. Richards was not without praise and honour in his own time. Few authors have enjoyed so varied and sustained appreciation, most notably demonstrated by the Festschrift devoted to him on the occasion of his eightieth year. 2 In one of the most incisive essays contained in that volume William Wimsatt acknowledges the stature of Richards as a theorist of poetry and asserts that his most authoritative contribution is found in his later work, written during the 1950S, notably in two essays UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME XLIX, NUMBER), SPRING 1980 c:xl42·0247/80/o500-018g$ol.50/o © UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS presented at the Indiana conference on style in 1958: 'Poetic Process and Literary Analysis' and 'Variant Readings and Misreadings.'3 To this material I would add, as further evidence for a high point in Richards's long career, two other essays in which a complex theoretical model for the hermeneutics of reading was outlined (though Richards never used this now familiar term): 'Towards a Theory of Comprehending' (51) and 'The Future of Poetry' (SMN)4 In attempting a retrospective statement on Richards and his work I claim no privilege apart from the fortunate accident of having attended, as an undergraduate at Harvard, courses taught by Richards during those splendid years. The memory of the man is still strong and the devotion to his work grows from year to year. This modest essay is thus offered as a tribute by a former student, in the conviction that the full treatment of his achievement, above all during the last two decades of his life, has only just begun. I Within the general history of criticism in the twentieth century Richards is still best known for his earliest published work during the twenties, when he was teaching at Cambridge. At that time he worked closely with C.K. Ogden, and together they drafted the programme and procedures for Basic English, a verbal system of reductive signification which Richards espoused to the end of his life as a tool for education and world communication. The book co-authored by Ogden and Richards, The Meaning ofMeaning (1923), outlined a comprehensive theory of language as sign-system, constituting a proto-semiotics. It deserves a central place in the development of this now flourishing field, alongside more influential though not necessarily more authoritative theories of the sign by Charles Sanders Peirce, Ferdinand de Saussure, and the Russian Formalists. More influential for the academic study of literature, especially within the developing New Criticism in North America during the decades following their initial publication, were two books which Richards addressed explicitly to the theory and practice of criticism: Principles of Literary Criticism (1925) and Practical Criticism (1929). Again and again...


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