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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 6 Number 6, 1976.

I. A. Richards: First Principles John Paul Russo


EARLY MODERN writers, Hulme, Pound and Eliot, had already aligned themselves against esoteric impressionism in poetry and criticism when l. A. Richards began his career. His 'Art and Science' was a philosophical reply to Roger Fry in an ongoing debate on that subject in the pages of Athenaeum. Its editor Middleton Murry placed it among 'communications'. It was June 1919 and in a few months Richards would begin lecturing on 'Modern Novels' and 'Theory of Criticism' in the newly founded English School at Cambridge. He was setting down ideas on what would become an important opposition - or perhaps we should say pairing - in his work, poetry and science. 'Art and Science' is characterized by the terms of Cambridge realism and the experience of the moral sciences in which he received first-class honours four years before. No reference to an author or to a work of art may be found in this or his subsequent appearance in this journal. To pioneer experiments in the close reading of texts Richards needed the lecture-hall and discussion classes.

Many of the issues that Richards examined in later books come into focus in these pieces from Athenaeum: the cleavage between science and poetry, the concept of the 'vehicle', the need for method in criticism, multiple definition of words, the critique of expressionism and personality theories of poetry, the emphasis on works of art as in themselves 'vastly complex systems' and 'wholes', and the notion of truth in poetry. The ...


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