Richardson, Joseph (1755-1803) (DNB00)

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RICHARDSON, JOSEPH (1755–1803), author, born at Hexham, Northumberland, in 1755, was the only child of Joseph Richardson, a tradesman in that town. He was educated at Haydon Bridge school, and admitted sizar at St. John's College, Cambridge, on 4 July 1774. His father's means were insufficient for the complete education of his son, and the cost of his residence at college was borne by a titled lady of Northumberland who discovered his talents, but in 1778 she cut off her contributions. Although he was readmitted as pensioner on 25 Sept. 1780, he left the university without taking a degree.

Richardson, although intended for the church, adopted the law as his profession, and entered himself on 24 March 1781 as a student at the Middle Temple, where he was duly called. He was considered at that time ‘a remarkably fine, showy young man,’ possessed of an admirable understanding, and able to express his opinions in forcible language. In later life he was called, on account of his geniality, and in spite of his love of disputation, the ‘well-natured Richardson.’ On his arrival in London he mainly devoted himself to journalism, and although he appeared as counsel in a few contested election petitions, when he is said to have excelled in cross-examination, he soon abandoned the legal profession.

Richardson's earliest journalistic engagement was on the staff of the then whig journal, the ‘Morning Post,’ and he afterwards became one of its proprietors. While connected with this journal he fought a duel in Hyde Park with Sir Henry Bate Dudley [q. v.], and was wounded in the right arm. He also contributed letters, signed ‘Englishman,’ to a paper called ‘The Citizen.’ As a satirist he is chiefly known by his contributions to the ‘Rolliad’ and the ‘Probationary’ odes—publications each of which passed through twenty-one editions. For the former Richardson wrote Nos. 4, 10, and 11 in part i. and 3 and 4 in part ii.; while for the latter he wrote Nos. 4 and 19, the ‘Delavaliad,’ several other poems, and much of the prose. He wrote many other fugitive pieces for the whigs, and contributed to the ‘Political Miscellanies’ (1790). His best-known satire was entitled ‘Jekyll, an Eclogue’ [see under Jekyll, Joseph]. He published for his party in 1787 an anonymous pamphlet, called ‘The complete Investigation of Mr. Eden's Treaty,’ which embodied expert commercial statistics.

Through the introduction of Richard Wilson, M.P. for Ipswich, an early and intimate friend, Richardson became known to the Duke of Northumberland, and by his influence represented the borough of Newport in Cornwall from 1796 until his death. He never spoke in the House of Commons, partly through diffidence, and partly through anxiety lest the Northumbrian burr, which he never could shake off, should expose him to ridicule. For many years he assisted Sheridan in the management of Drury Lane Theatre, and ultimately acquired, at the cost of 2,000l., a share in the property. The money for this purchase was chiefly found by his friends, and mainly by the Duke of Northumberland, and on Richardson's early death the duke cancelled the loan. His animated comedy, ‘The Fugitive,’ was brought out at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket by the Drury Lane Company with much success on 20 April 1792, and, when printed, passed through three editions. The prologue was by Richard Tickell [q. v.] and the epilogue by Burgoyne. Richardson also wrote the prologue to the ‘Glorious First of June,’ the after-piece which was acted at Drury Lane on 2 July 1794 for the benefit of the widows and children of the men who perished under Earl Howe on 1 June in that year.

Despite failing health, Richardson adhered to a parliamentary life. On one occasion he remained in the House of Commons until five o'clock in the morning to record his vote in the small minority with Fox. He then went to the Wheatsheaf Inn, near Virginia Water, and died on 9 June 1803. He was buried in Egham churchyard on 13 June. His death was keenly felt by Sheridan, and the story told by Moore (Life of Sheridan, ii. 317) that Sheridan, through his own negligence, arrived too late for the funeral, is contradicted by John Taylor. Richardson's wife, Sarah, was a relative of Dr. Isaac Watts. She survived him, with four daughters. Their necessities were in some measure relieved by the publication, with a good list of subscribers, of a volume, edited by Mrs. Richardson, called the ‘Literary Relics of the late Joseph Richardson’ (1807). This included ‘The Fugitive,’ a few short poems, and a sketch of his life, written by John Taylor. Prefixed to it is a portrait, painted by M. A. Shee, and engraved by W. J. Newton. The picture was also engraved in 1800 by Ridley. Some letters by Richardson are in Parr's ‘Works’ (viii. 320–2), and in Moore's ‘Sheridan’ (ii. 76–90).

Mrs. Sarah Richardson, besides preparing for the press her husband's ‘Relics,’ published in 1808 ‘Original Poems,’ for the use of young persons on a plan recommended by Dr. Watts, and (by subscription), after the destruction of Drury Lane Theatre by fire had ruined the family, ‘Gertrude, a Tragic Drama,’ and ‘Ethelred, a legendary Tragic Drama,’ in 1809. She died late in 1823 or early in 1824.

[Life prefixed to Relics, 1807; Fraser Rae's Sheridan, ii. 184–6; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. iii. 334; Gent. Mag. 1803 i. 602–3, 1824 i. 186; Courtney's Parl. Representation of Cornwall, p. 385; Genest's English Stage, vii. 55–6; information from Mr. R. F. Scott, St. John's College, Cambridge.]

W. P. C.