Richards, Alfred Bate (DNB00)

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RICHARDS, ALFRED BATE (1820–1876), dramatist, journalist, and a chief promoter of the volunteer movement of 1859, was born on 17 Feb. 1820 at Baskerville House, Worcestershire, where his father was then residing. He was eldest son of John Richards, esq., of Wassell Grove near Stourbridge, in that county, who was M.P. for Knaresborough in the West Riding of Yorkshire from 1832 to 1837. Alfred was educated at the Edinburgh high school and Westminster School, where he was admitted on 18 Jan. 1831. He matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford, on 19 Oct. 1837, and entered his name as a law student at Lincoln's Inn on 16 May 1839. He graduated B.A. in 1841, and on 18 Nov. brought out an anonymous pamphlet entitled ‘Oxford Unmasked,’ in which he denounced abuses in the organisation of the university, which were afterwards removed by parliament. This brochure rapidly passed through five editions. On its authorship becoming known, Richards deemed it prudent to close his academic career and move to London. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn on 20 Nov. 1845, and for a brief time he went on circuit, but soon devoted himself entirely to literature. His maiden work, published in 1845, was a five-act tragedy called ‘Crœsus, King of Lydia.’ Four other five-act dramas followed—namely, ‘Runnymede’ in 1846, ‘Cromwell’ in 1847, ‘Isolda, or Good King Stephen’ in 1848, and ‘Vandyck, a Play of Genoa,’ in 1850. In 1846 there appeared his first volume of poems, called ‘Death and the Magdalen,’ and in 1848 another, entitled ‘The Dream of the Soul.’

From 1848 to 1850 he gained his earliest experience as a journalist by editing a weekly newspaper named ‘The British Army Despatch.’ Of patriotic temperament and strongly opposed to the Manchester school of politicians, he issued in 1848, in the form of a letter addressed to Richard Cobden, a fierce denunciation of the peace-at-any-price party, under the title of ‘Cobden and his Pamphlet considered,’ as well as a volume called ‘Britain Redeemed and Canada Preserved,’ in which he foreshadowed, some thirty years before its actual construction, the interoceanic railway between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

On 3 Aug. 1850 he started a new weekly journal called ‘The Mirror of the Time,’ which lasted only a year. His chief contributions to it he reissued under the titles of ‘Poems, Essays, and Opinions’ (2 vols.), and ‘Essays and Opinions’ (2 vols.). During the Crimean war he brought out, in 1854, a collection of lyrics called ‘The Minstrelsy of War.’ From 29 June to 31 Dec. 1855 he held the office of first editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’

Already Richards had advocated at every opportunity the enrolling of rifle corps throughout the three kingdoms as a precaution against invasion; and, when editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph,’ he brought the subject prominently into public notice. In 1858 he was appointed secretary of the National and Constitutional Defence Association, which was formed to give effect to the scheme. A public meeting was held, through his energy, in St. Martin's Hall, Long Acre, on 16 April 1859; Admiral Sir Charles Napier [q. v.] presided, and, as a result, the war office issued, on 12 May 1859, a circular which authorised the enrolling all over the United Kingdom of rifle volunteers. On the publication of that circular, Richards hired rooms in the city of London, and enlisted one thousand working-men volunteers, who were formed into the 3rd city of London rifle corps. Of this corps Richards was at once appointed major, and soon afterwards colonel. He held his commission until 1869, when a testimonial was presented to him in recognition of his efforts. The poet laureate, Alfred (afterwards lord) Tennyson, wrote to Richards: ‘I most heartily congratulate you on your having been able to do so much for your country, and I hope you will not rest from your labours until it is the law of the land that every man-child born in it shall be trained to the use of arms.’ The rifle-volunteer movement grew rapidly, and in November 1895 no fewer than 231,704 volunteers were enrolled.

In 1869 Richards published ‘Medea,’ a poetic rhapsody on the well-known picture by Frederick Sandys, R.A.; a photograph of the painting formed the frontispiece to the volume. In 1870 Richards was appointed editor of the ‘Morning Advertiser,’ in succession to James Grant, and held that position until his death. In 1871 his only novel, ‘So very Human,’ was published, its title having been suggested by a chance phrase from the lips of Charles Dickens. He died on 12 June 1876, in his fifty-seventh year, at 22 Brunswick Square, London, and was buried in St. Peter's churchyard, Croydon. Besides the five dramas enumerated, Richards produced four others. One of these, his tragedy of ‘Norma,’ founded upon the libretto of Bellini's opera, was performed for the first time on 5 Feb. 1875 at Belfast, Miss Wallis impersonating the title rôle. His other dramatic works, which were not published, were ‘The Prisoner of Toulon,’ ‘King Pym, or the Great Rebellion,’ and ‘Love and Patience.’

[Personal recollections; Payne's Proofs of A. B. Richards's Claim to be Chief Promoter of the Volunteer Movement of 1859; Westminster School Register, 1764–1883; Morning Advertiser, 14 and 15 June 1876; Athenæum, 1876, i. 832.]

C. K.