“Aside from his learning, which is prodigious,” Mr. Banville added, “Richardson writes a wonderfully fluent, agile prose; he has a poet’s sense of nuance and a novelist’s grasp of dramatic rhythm; he also displays a positive genius for apt quotation, the result of a total immersion in the work of his three very dissimilar yet subtly complementary thinkers.”
Mr. Richardson once said, paraphrasing Emerson, that all biography is autobiography. His very choice of subjects proved his point.
He and they had Harvard and New England in common; in addition, Mr. Richardson lived as a child at a parsonage in Medford, Mass., across the street from where Emerson and Thoreau had attended a meeting of what became known as the Transcendental Club.
Robert Dale Richardson III was born on June 14, 1934, in Milwaukee. His father was a Unitarian minister. His mother, Lucy (Marsh) Richardson, later wrote a memoir. The family moved to Massachusetts when Robert (who preferred to use the less pretentious suffix Jr.) was a young boy.
He was unimpressed by the local literati. (“My chief interests were not Emerson and Thoreau, but getting a car and meeting girls,” he once said.) Nor was he inspired by Thoreau in college.
After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, he majored in English at Harvard, where he was motivated by Prof. Walter Jackson Bate, a literary critic and biographer and later the subject of Mr. Richardson’s book “Splendor of Heart” (2013), and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1956 and a doctorate in 1961.
In 1959, he married Elizabeth Hall; their marriage ended in divorce. In addition to their daughter Anne and Ms. Dillard, his second wife, he is survived by another daughter from that marriage, Dr. Lissa Richardson Biddle, a veterinarian; three stepchildren, Carin Clevidence, Shelly Clevidence and the author Cody-Rose Clevidence; a brother, David; and three grandchildren.