Richardson, William (1743-1814) (DNB00)

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RICHARDSON, WILLIAM (1743–1814), professor of humanity at Glasgow, was born on 1 Oct. 1743 at Aberfoyle, Perthshire, being son of the parish minister, James Richardson, and his wife Jean Burrell, a native of Northumberland. Educated at the parish school, Richardson entered Glasgow University in his fourteenth year, and distinguished himself as a student, besides winning repute for a nimble gift of versifying. After graduating M.A., he began the study of theology, which he relinquished on being appointed tutor to Lord Cathcart's two sons. With his pupils he spent two years at Eton; and when Lord Cathcart, in 1768, was appointed ambassador-extraordinary to the Russian empress, Richardson accompanied them to St. Petersburg. There he acted as secretary to Lord Cathcart, as well as tutor to his sons.

One of the youths having died in St. Petersburg, Richardson returned to Glasgow with the survivor in 1772; and the same year, on the initiative of Lord Cathcart, who was lord rector, was appointed to the vacant chair of humanity in Glasgow University. He was recognised by his students as ‘a most amiable and accomplished man’ (Macleod, Highland Parish, p. 68); ‘as a man of the world he stood unrivalled among his colleagues’ (Cyril Thornton, chap. vii.). When a student he had interested himself in the prosperous business of the brothers Foulis, the printers and publishers, and one of his letters is the main source of information regarding these notable publishers (Literary History of Glasgow, p. 32). He worked hard, not only as a professor, but as a citizen, and he was a zealous member of the ‘Literary Society of Glasgow’ (ib. p. 132). He died unmarried 3 Nov. 1814.

Richardson's contributions to literature were considerable; his essays on Shakespeare are thoughtful and vigorous; his paper on Hamilton of Bangour, in the ‘Lounger’ (ii. 51), helped to reveal a true poet. Richardson's poems display culture, sense of form, and appreciation of good models, but they lack inspiration. He published: 1. ‘A Philosophical Analysis of some of Shakespeare's Remarkable Characters [Macbeth, Hamlet, Jaques, and Imogen],’ 1774. 2. ‘Cursory Remarks on Tragedy, Shakespeare, and certain Italian and French Poets,’ 1774. 3. ‘Poems chiefly Rural,’ 1774; 3rd edit. 1775. 4. ‘Essays on Shakespeare's Dramatic Characters of Richard III, King Lear, and Timon of Athens, with an Essay on the Faults of Shakespeare,’ 1783; 1784; 1785, 2 vols. 5. ‘Anecdotes of the Russian Empire, in a series of letters,’ 1784. 6. ‘Essays on Shakespeare's Dramatic Character of Falstaff, and on his Imitation of Female Characters,’ 1789. 7. ‘The Indian, a Tragedy,’ 1790. 8. ‘Essays on Shakespeare's Dramatic Characters’ (combining Nos. 1 and 4), 1797, 1812. 9. ‘The Maid of Lochlin, a Lyrical Drama, with Odes and other Poems,’ 1801. 10. ‘The Philanthrope, a Periodical Essayist,’ 1797. 11. ‘Poems and Plays,’ 2 vols. 1805. Richardson furnished an acute and suggestive article on Ossian's ‘mythology’ for Graham's ‘Essay on the Authenticity of Ossian's Poems,’ 1807, and a biographical sketch of his colleague, Professor Arthur, to accompany that author's ‘Discourses on Theology and Literary Subjects.’ A paper of Richardson's on ‘The Dramatic or Ancient Form of Historical Composition’ appears in the ‘Transactions of the Edinburgh Society’ for 1788; and he was a contributor to Stewart's ‘Edinburgh Magazine and Review,’ the ‘Mirror,’ and the ‘Lounger.’

[Chambers's Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen; Scott's Fasti Eccl. Scot.; Anderson's Scottish Nation.]

T. B.