Richard Watson was educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford and at Magdalen College, Oxford. After two years as a teacher of English at Loretto School near Edinburgh, he became a post-graduate student at the University of Glasgow, gaining his PhD (1966) with a study of William Wordsworth. He was lecturer in the English departments at the Universities of Glasgow (1962-66) and Leicester (1966-78), moving to Durham as Professor of English, 1978-99; Public Orator, 1989-99; and Emeritus Professor since 1999: his inaugural lecture (1981) was entitled The Victorian Hymn.
Among his publications are articles on Milton, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Larkin, Gaskell and others; books, including Picturesque Landscape and English Romantic Poetry (1970); Victorian Poetry (ed. with N.P.Messenger, 1974); Browning: Men and Women, a casebook (1974); A Leicester Calendar: poems (1978); Everyman’s Book of Victorian Verse (ed., 1982); Wordsworth’s Vital Soul (1982); English Poetry of the Romantic Period, 1789-1830 (1985, 1992); The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1987); Romanticism and War (2003).
Professor Watson is an undisputed authority in the field of hymnody, a position that was fully confirmed with the publication by the Clarendon Press (the academic imprint of the Oxford University Press) of The English Hymn, a Critical and Historical Study (1997), followed soon after his retirement by An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (Oxford, 2002). He is the General Editor of the Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology, a successor to Julian’s massive Dictionary of Hymnology (1892, 1907).