British and Irish Literature Richard Hurd
Andreas Mueller, Lucy Cooper
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0140


Richard Hurd (b. 1720–d. 1808) was a prominent 18th-century Anglican clergyman and influential literary scholar. Hurd’s most productive period as a literary critic came during the middle decades of the century, which saw the publication of commercially successful works such as two editions of Horace (1749, 1751), Moral and Political Dialogues (1759), four literary-critical dissertations on matters of genre, originality, and imitation (1751–1766), and the tract on which Hurd’s modern reputation has predominantly rested, Letters on Chivalry and Romance (1762). While Hurd’s critical work waned after he became bishop of Worcester in 1781, he maintained his scholarly activity by producing editions of Abraham Cowley (1772), William Warburton (1788), and Joseph Addison (posthumously published in 1811), with the latter remaining the standard edition to this day. The nature of Hurd’s literary criticism has divided modern scholarly opinion: some commentators consider Hurd’s enthusiastic promotion of Gothic poetry and the power of the imagination, in particular in his famous Letters, as an important precursor to Romanticism, while others regard Hurd’s rule-focused conceptualization of poetic genres as thoroughly neoclassical. What is beyond doubt, however, is that Hurd’s criticism was highly regarded and earned him the reputation of a rigorous critic during his lifetime. The Letters’ influential reading of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene as a Gothic text was characterized by Hurd’s insistence on the necessity of reading the poem in its original sociohistorical context for a full appreciation of its meaning and poetic power. This fundamentally historicist approach to literature was a second major contribution made by Hurd to English literary criticism.

General Overviews

In the absence of a book-length biography, the best if necessarily condensed account of Hurd’s life is Ditchfield and Brewer 2004. Penney 2011 and Penney 2017 offer a general overview of Hurd as a bibliophile and of the library he established at Hartlebury Castle after he became bishop of Worcester. Elton 1923 and Gregg and Mueller 2015 are useful for broad overviews of Hurd’s literary-critical publications and ideas, while Fairer 1981 offers a sense of Hurd’s high standing as a critic during the 18th century. Eddy 1995 and Eddy 1999 are indispensable for the serious Hurd scholar, both for specific information concerning the manner in which Hurd presented his publications and for the publication histories of individual tracts.

  • Ditchfield, G. M., and Sarah Brewer. “Hurd, Richard (1720–1808), Bishop of Worcester.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 2004.

    Succinct, authoritative account of Richard Hurd’s life. Includes a useful list of archival sources for Hurd’s correspondence and manuscripts. Full article available in printed Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 28. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, 949–951.

  • Eddy, Donald D. “Richard Hurd’s Editions of Horace and the Bowyer Ledgers.” Studies in Bibliography 48 (1995): 148–169.

    Precursor to Eddy’s full bibliography. Drawing on information offered in the Bowyer ledgers, Eddy offers full bibliographical entries for Hurd’s editions of Horace. Most useful for Eddy’s comments and speculations on various aspects of these publications (e.g., origins of engravings, Hurd’s arrangements with his printers and publishers, etc.).

  • Eddy, Donald D. A Bibliography of Richard Hurd. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll, 1999.

    Meticulously researched bibliographical information for eighty publications authored or edited by Hurd, or to which he contributed. These entries are supplemented by twenty-six Hurdiana, that is, publications to which Hurd responded, and books and pamphlets written against him and his writing. Important source for those preparing an extended study of Hurd.

  • Elton, Oliver. A Survey of English Literature 1730–1780. Vol. 2. London: Edward Arnold, 1923.

    Provides a brief overview of Hurd’s best known publications and critical principles. Incorrectly states that Hurd discusses Macpherson’s Ossian in the Letters. On Hurd, pp. 126–129.

  • Fairer, David. “The Origins of Warton’s History of English Poetry.” Review of English Studies 32.125 (1981): 37–63.

    DOI: 10.1093/res/XXXII.125.37

    While the article does not discuss Hurd’s works or influence in detail, it is indicative of his esteemed position as a critic among peers following the Letters, and his support for Warton’s forthcoming work on Spenser.

  • Gregg, Stephen H., and Andreas K. E Mueller. “Richard Hurd.” In The Encyclopedia of British Literature 1660–1789. Edited by Gary Day and Jack Lynch, 604–609. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.

    Offers a brief overview and assessment of the main thematic strands and features of Hurd’s literary criticism as well as some biographical information. Useful starting point for those unfamiliar with Hurd’s oeuvre.

  • Penney, Christine. “A Bishop and His Books.” Book Collector 60.3 (2011): 401–416.

    Useful introductory survey of Hurd’s life, social circle, and library at Hartlebury Castle. Recommended for students new to Hurd.

  • Penney, Christine. “Bishop Hurd’s Library at Hartlebury Castle.” In Princes of the Church: Bishops and Their Palaces. Edited by David Rollason, 319–331. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2017.

    Provides a combined survey of the history of Hartlebury Castle, Hurd’s early life and ecclesiastical career, and the genesis of his purpose-built library at Hartlebury as well as his book collection.

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