Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Richardson, Charles (1775-1865)

RICHARDSON, CHARLES (1775–1865), lexicographer, was born at Tulse Hill in July 1775 and bred to the law, but quitted it early for scholastic and literary pursuits. He kept a well-known school on Clapham Common, and among his pupils there were Charles James Mathews [q. v.], who assisted Richardson as a copyist; John Mitchell Kemble [q. v.], and John Maddison Morton [q. v.], the dramatist. Mathews (Life of C. J. Mathews, ed. Dickens, i. 25) says: ‘Dr. Richardson was fond of horse exercise, and I was allowed a pony, and at five o'clock on summer mornings we used to sally forth together over the Surrey hills. … Among the obligations I owe to him, one of the deepest is that of first having my eyes opened by him to the real enjoyment of the ancient classics.’

Richardson was an ardent philologist of the school of Horne Tooke. In 1815 he published ‘Illustrations to English Philology,’ consisting of a critical examination of Dr. Johnson's ‘Dictionary,’ and a reply to Dugald Stewart's criticism of Horne Tooke's ‘Diversions of Purley.’ The book was reissued in 1826. In 1818 the opening portions of an English lexicon, by Richardson, appeared in the ‘Encyclopædia Metropolitana.’ In 1834 he issued the prospectus of a ‘New English Dictionary,’ and the work itself was published by Pickering in parts between January 1835 and the spring of 1837. The dictionary is a republication of the lexicon, with improvements and additions. Richardson's principle was to arrive at the original and proper meaning which was inherent in a word from its etymology. He was severely taken to task by Webster in his ‘Mistakes and Corrections’ (1837), especially for his ignorance of oriental languages. ‘Tooke's principle,’ wrote Webster, ‘that a word has one meaning, and one only, and that from this all usages must spring, is substantially correct; but he has, in most cases, failed to find that meaning, and you [Richardson] have rarely or never advanced a step beyond him.’ The spelling was antiquated, the etymologies frequently wrong; sounds were not distinguished by signs; the wrong word often headed the lemma. Nevertheless, the work was generally received with much favour, especially by the ‘Quarterly’ and the ‘Gentleman's Magazine.’ An abridged 8vo edition, without the quotations, appeared in 1839, with a new preface, but uncorrected. In quotations from authors the dictionary was far more copious than any previous work of its class in English.

Richardson gave up his school after 1827, and thenceforth lived at Lower Tulse Hill, Norwood. Before 1859 he removed to 23 Torrington Square. In 1853 a pension of 75l. a year was granted to him from the civil list. He died at Feltham on Friday, 6 Oct. 1865, and was buried in his mother's grave at Clapham. The bust of Horne Tooke at University College, by Chantrey, was bequeathed by him.

He married Elizabeth, widow of Daniel Terry, the actor, whose son was at his school. She died in 1863, and to her daughter Jane he bequeathed his house at Tulse Hill.

In addition to the above works, he published a book on the study of language, being an explanation of the ‘Diversions of Purley’ (1854). He also contributed several papers to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ and wrote essays on ‘English Grammar and English Grammarians,’ and on ‘Fancy and Imagination.’

[Notes and Queries, 8th ser. v. 144 s.v. ‘John M. Morton;’ Gent. Mag. 1865 ii. 796; Mr. H. B. Wheatley in Philological Soc. Transactions, 1865; Quarterly Review, li. 172; Times, 12 Oct. 1865; Richardson's will and publications.]

E. C. M.