Ivor Armstrong Richards, together with Eliot, is the most influential critic in the twentieth century Anglo-American criticism. Among the moderns he is the only critic who has formulated a systematic and complete theory of the literary art. In the words of George Watson, “Richards’ claim to have pioneered Anglo-American New Criticism of the thirties and forties is unassailable. He provided the theoretical foundations on which the technique of verbal analysis was built. “
His reputation as a critic lies on a limited number of critical books he wrote. The relevance of psychology to literary studies emerges clearly in his first book, The Foundations of Aesthetics (1922), written in collaboration with his two friends. In this book the authors have tried to define ‘beauty’ by studying its effects on the readers. His second book, The Meaning of Meaning (1923) was written with Ogden; it distinguished between the symbolic use of language in science and its emotive use in poetry. In The Principles of Literary Criticism (1924), Richards alone explains his psychological theory of value and explores the emotive language of poetry. Practical Criticism (1929) was based on the lecture-room experiments conducted in Cambridge in which he distributed poems, stripped of all evidence of authorship and period, to his pupils and asked them to comment freely on those poems. The only other important critical work of Richards is Coleridge on Imagination which was published in 1935.
As a critic, I. A. Richards is not only learned and abstract but also iconoclastic and original. He is a staunch advocate of close textual and verbal study and analysis of a work of art without reference to its author and the age. His approach is pragmatic and empirical. He is the father of the psychological criticism as well as of New Criticism. Such new critics as John Crowe Ransom, Kenneth Burke, Cleanth Brooks, R. P. Blackmur, Robert Penn Warren, William Empson, despite differences in their theory and practice, have repeatedly acknowledged their indebtedness to him. He has made liter aiy criticism factual, scientific and complete. It no longer remains a matter of the application of set rules or mere intuition or impressions. He developed the unhistorical method of criticism.
He holds that adequate knowledge of psychology is essential for a literary critic to enter into the author’s mind. He also gives paramount importance to the art of communication and brings out a distinction between the scientific and the motive uses of the language. Before coming to the value of imaginative literature he first formulates a general psychological theory of value, and then applies it to literature. This is scientific or psychological approach to literature. Poetry, according to him, represents a certain systematisation in the poet, and the critic, for a proper understanding of the poem, must enter and grasp this systematisation and experience of the poet. He should also be able to judge the value of different experiences, i.e., he should be able to distinguish between experiences of greater and lesser value.
“The qualities of a good critic are three,” says I. A:. Richards. “He must be an adept at experiencing, without eccentricities, the state of mind relevant to the work of art he is judging. Secondly, he must be able to distinguish experiences from one another as regards their less superficial features. Thirdly, he must be a sound judge of values.” Richards himself possesses these qualities.
1. A. Richards’value as a critic also lies in his conclusions about what imaginative literature is, how it employs language, how its use of language differs from the scientific use of language, and what is its special function and value. His conclusion, at this stage in the development of his critical ideas (for it should be noted that Richards developed his views in different directions in his later works), is that a satisfactory work of imaginative literature represents a kind of psychological adjustment in the author which is valuable for personality, and that the reader, if he knows how to read properly, can have this adjustment communicated to him by reading the work. Training in reading with care and sensitivity is therefore insisted on by him and again this has had a great influence on modern criticism, which has more and more come to insist on the importance of a proper reading of the text.
In conclusion we may say that Richards did a great service to literary i riticism by linking it with psychology. But some people are of the opinion i at this psychological approach to literary criticism makes it too technical and dull a subject. Furthermore, Richards’ conclusions are based on psychology as it is today, and with the changes and development of psychology and our understanding of the human mind, this theory might lose its importance or vanish completely. Some people also doubt whether literary criticism based on individual psychology can ever explain fully
the mystic nature of the poetic experience.
Just as Shelley used Platonium to remove Plato’s objections to poets, in the same way Richards tried to use science to remove the scientist’s objections to poetry. He called his book, Principles of Literary Criticism, “a machine for thinking with,” and the arguments are expressed with scientific rigour. In the first two chapters of this book he criticises the prevalent notions about artistic value. The questions which a critic must ask, according to Richards, are “what gives the experience of reading a certain poem its value? How is this experience better than another? Why prefer this picture to that? In which ways should we listen to music so as to receive the most valuable moments? Why is one opinion about works of art not so good as another? These are the fundamental questions which criticism is required to answer, together with such preliminary questions— What is a picture, a poem, a piece of music? How can experiences be compared? What is value?—as may be required in order to approach these questions.