Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ford, Richard

FORD, RICHARD (1796–1858), critic and author of 'The Handbook for Travellers in Spain,' was the son of Sir Richard Ford, a descendant of an old Sussex family, who was M.P. for East Grinstead in 1789, and for some time an under-secretary of state, and eventually chief police magistrate of London. He died, at the age of forty-seven, on 3 May 1806, leaving a family of three children. Richard, the eldest, born in 1796, was educated at Winchester School, from which he went to Trinity College, Oxford, where he graduated (B.A. 1817, M. A. 1822). He afterwards entered at Lincoln's Inn, and read in the chambers of Pemberton Leigh and Nassau Senior, but though called to the bar he never practised. In 1824 he married, and six years later he took up his quarters with his family in the south of Spain, where he spent the next four years, and acquired his extraordinary knowledge of the country by a series of long riding tours made between 1830 and 1834 from his headquarters in the Alhambra or at Seville. Shortly after his return from Spain he bought a small property at Heavitree, near Exeter, where his brother, the Rev. James Ford, a prebendary of the cathedral, was living. He there built himself a house and laid out grounds with an artistic taste which made his residence one of the local lions of East Devon. His employment suggested an essay on cob walls, in which he traced the analogy between the earthen walls of the Devonshire peasantry and the tapia or concrete structures of the Moors and Phoenicians, and this, written in 1837, was the first of a series of articles that continued to appear in the 'Quarterly Review' until the year before his death, when it ended with his genial review of 'Tom Brown's School Days.' He was an occasional contributor also to the 'Edinburgh,' 'British and Foreign Quarterly,' and 'Westminster' reviews, and for the 'Penny Cyclopædia' he wrote the admirable article on Velazquez. In 1840 he undertook to write a 'Handbook for Travellers in Spain,' and finished it in 1845. Of this an article in the 'Times' on his death, commonly attributed to Sir W. Stirling Maxwell, truly said that 'so great a literary achievement had never before been performed under so humble a title;' and a sale of two thousand copies within a few months proved the public estimate of its merits. Its only fault was that it gave too much for the convenience of the traveller, for the two stout volumes of over a thousand closely-printed pages contained in the guise of a manual the matter of an encyclopædia. In the next edition (1847) it was cut down to the ordinary dimensions of Murray's 'Handbooks for Travellers,' and the parings, with the addition of some new matter, made the delightful little volume published in 1846 under the title of 'Gatherings from Spain.' In 1855 it was restored to its first shape, but in the interval alterations had been found necessary, and the use of a somewhat larger type made the exclusion of much of the preliminary matter unavoidable; and thus the 'Handbook for Spain' in its original form has now come to be included among those treasures that book lovers covet. The revision was nearly his last work; his health had latterly shown signs of failing, and he died at Heavitree on 1 Sept. 1858. The year before his death he had been nominated as one of the committee to decide upon a site for the National Gallery, but resigned on account of his health. He was three times married: first, in 1824, to a daughter of the Earl of Essex; secondly, in 1838, to the Hon. Eliza Cranstoun, eldest daughter of Lord Cranstoun; and in 1851 to Mary, only daughter of Sir A. Molesworth. Ford's love of art was hereditary. His maternal grandfather, Mr. Booth, was an eminent connoisseur and collector of pictures, and his mother, Lady Ford, an amateur artist of exceptional ability; and in the opinion of competent judges he himself might have been no less distinguished as a painter than as a man of letters. His sketches, brought home from Spain, often served as the originals of his friend David Roberts's illustrations of Spanish architecture and scenery. He was an indefatigable collector of pictures, etchings, drawings, and prints; his collection of majolica ware was reckoned one of the choicest in existence, and in all matters of cpnnoisseurship there was no higher authority. Spain at the time of his visit was an unworked mine of artistic treasure. He may be said to have been the first to make Velazquez known to English readers, for in Madrid alone Velazquez is to be seen, as he says, 'in all his protean variety of power.' His article upon Velazquez in the 'Penny Cyclopædia' was followed by one in the 'Quarterly Review' (No. clxv.) upon the predecessors of Velazquez and Murillo, and the history of the various schools of painting in Spain; and these, with the masterly article in No. cliv. upon the history of Spanish architecture, make up a treatise on Spanish art no less remarkable for its learning than for its lucidity and brilliancy. In the handbook the infectious spirit of enjoyment is perhaps the quality that most of all commends it to the ordinary reader, but there too the critical faculty and the artist's eye always make themselves felt. He was a kindly critic, severe in cases of pretended erudition, but always generous and cordial in his recognition of genuine work.

Besides the writings already mentioned he wrote in 1837 a pamphlet called 'Historical Enquiry into the Unchangeable Character of a War in Spain,' a trenchant reply to 'The Policy of England in Spain,' a pamphlet in support of Lord Palmerston. He also wrote the explanatory letterpress for 'Apsley House and Walmer Castle, illustrated by plates,' 1853; for the 'Guide to the Diorama of the Campaigns of the Duke of Wellington,' 1852; and for 'Tauromachia, or the Bull Fights of Spain, illustrated,' 1852.

[Times, 4 Sept. 1858; Fraser's Mag. October 1858.]

J. O.