27 July 2010

Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893-1979)

Ivor was born on 26 February 1893 at Hillside, Sandbach, Cheshire. He attended Clifton College School in Bristol (as did John Cleese). After this, he became a student at Magdalene College, Cambridge University where he studied Moral Sciences and graduated in 1915 (during WW1). He seems to have been a sufferer of tuberculosis; he suffered two bouts in 1907 and 1915/16. I am wondering if this is what kept him out of WW1 (will check this). He apparently returned to Cambridge University after convalescing to pursue an academic career, but when nothing really came to fruition, he considered becoming a mountain guide in Scotland. The story goes that he went to visit Mansfield Forbes (a well-known eccentric figure at Cambridge University and founder of the Cambridge English Faculty) for some ‘letters of introduction’ to help him pursue his mountain guide career. In amongst the conversations about the wild Scottish mountains and Scottish domestic architecture (Forbes had a keen interest in the latter), Richards was persuaded to lecture two courses. This experience later led to him becoming a freelance college lecturer before finally becoming a permanent lecturer at Magdalene College in 1926.

It seems that 1926 was a very busy year for Ivor; he published Science and Poetry two years after his 1924 Principles of Literary Critisism, took a year’s leave to go on the ‘world tour’ with Dorothy and ended the year by marrying Dorothy on 31st December! In 1929-30 Ivor became a visiting professor at Tsing Hua National University and Harvard, but only after Dorothy had climbed Dent Blanch in the Alps in 1928. After this trip they both settled down to write: Dorothy writing ‘Climbing Days (still waiting for the book to arrive) and Ivor writing Practical Critisism: a Study of Literary Judgement (1929), Mencius of the Mind (1932), Basic Rules of Reason (1933) Coleridge on Imagination (1934) and Basic Teaching: East and West (1935). Ivor wrote one more: Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936) before returning to China in 1937. However, almost as soon as he arrived, war commenced with China and he had to come back swiftly. He quickly wrote two more books: A First Handbook of English for Chinese Learners in Peking (1938) and Interpretation in Teaching (1938) while Dorothy trekked solo the 200 mile Old Jade Trail from Tali to Bhamo (Burma). In 1939 Ivor took up a lecturing position at Harvard University in the USA and stayed there until 1964.

In the USA, he started applying his theories of ‘Basic English’ by translating stories, editing picture books, writing poetry and publishing collections of his writing. In 1974 they moved back to England, moving into Wentworth House in Magdalene College. He started writing his last book: Beyond (1975) while Dorothy was busy being vice-president of the Alpine Club. During a lecture tour in China in 1979 he became seriously ill. He was flown back to England and died on 7 September 1979.

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