An Interview With I. A. Richards

"I think we have a better way of teaching English, but while you're teaching beginning English, you might as well teach everything else. That is to say, a world position, what's needed for living, a philosophy of religion, how to find things out and the whole works-mental and moral seed for the planet."

(Iver Armstrong Richards was born in Sandbach, Cheshire, England; he was educated in Cambridge where he also served as one of the first lecturers in English literature. Since 1939 Professor Richards has taught at Harvard, first as lecturer (1939-44) and then as University Professor (1944-63).

After 30 years in the Cambridge community. Richards and his wife plan to return to his old Cambridge next summer.

In his publications Richards employs psychological elements to study language; his theories have exerted immense influence on textual criticism. A concern for world literacy and the use of English as a basic implement of international technology and learning has led him in his more recent work away from literary criticism into the fields of education and semantic engineering.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Richards to be published at length this spring. The interview arose from a discussion of Richards' later work--especially Design for Escape, a study of world education through mass media, at the Dunster House Humanities Table last December.

John Paul Russo '65 is a resident tutor in English in Dunster House; B. Ambler Boucher '70 is an undergraduate in Classics and English.)

INTERVIEWER: At Dunster House last month, you mentioned that you were were going to Utopia in a short while.

RICHARDS: Well, I think I said a better world; we don't know yet how good it will be. Anguilla is an island which used to belong to a group--St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla. Atyrannic type called Bradshaw on St. Kitts has been ruling there for donkey's years, and Nevis has voted unanimously against him but has not seceded. Anguilla has seceded and has applied to Britain for colonial status. It is very small, about five thousand native inhabitants. It had no luck at all--Whitehall in London wants to get rid of colonies, not acquire them. Also, no other power (they always talk about other powers meaning the U.S.) will do anything unless Britain says O.K. And Britain says nothing; so they've got to start again. Independence Day is January 8th, and I'm going to get there before the New Year.

I: Will you be their Minister of Culture?

R: I should hope not. I don't intend to be anything; just a visitor. It is apparently an island with perfect beaches and might be an ideal position for a gambling hell. . . .

I: One of the main premises in your recent Design for Escape is the population problem.

R: It is, and the fact that the gap between the rich section of the planet and the poor section is widening. Alas! the publisher has got it wrong on the cover. It isn't the case at all that world population is outstripping productivity. No, the point is that the poor parts of the world are getting poorer and the rich richer. That's one of the first premises--that things are getting worse.

I: What of the education on the planet?

R: Most things get worse as far as I can see. This shirt I'm wearing is not half as good as the ones I could buy years ago. The things that are getting better are cars and perhaps airplanes--I hope so, I'm going up in one Sunday. We only fly upon the crashes of former planes. It's the detailed reports on crashes that keep one in the air.

I: How did you get interested in Basic English?