242.: ricardo to mill1[Reply to 236.—Answered by 245] - David Ricardo, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 7 Letters 1816-1818 
The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Piero Sraffa with the Collaboration of M.H. Dobb (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 7 Letters 1816-1818.
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First published by Cambridge University Press in 1951. Copyright 1951, 1952, 1955, 1973 by the Royal Economic Society. This edition of The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo is published by Liberty Fund, Inc., under license from the Royal Economic Society.
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ricardo to mill
[Reply to 236.—Answered by 245]
Gatcomb Park 18 Decr. 1817
My dear Sir
The long desired book has at length arrived, and I have been engaged upon it for several days. Before I proceed further in its perusal, I am desirous of acquainting you with the impression which it has already made upon me. I have read as far as the 468th. page, and think it admirable.
To express my feelings I should have recourse to the high sounding words of the people whose history you have been writing, but unfortunately I am not master even of sufficient sober English, to enable me to express coldly, and justly, what I wish to say on this occasion. My gratification has been great, and I need the talents of a Locke, or a Hume, to explain from what simple ideas this compound one is made up. That which gives me most pleasure, is the anticipation that the public will ratify the opinion which I myself entertain of your performance, and that it may award you a dignified place amongst the distinguished of our country men who have contributed to the happiness and well being of society, and to which your perseverance, and your talents, so well entitle you. Nothing can be more interesting than your account of the extraordinary people whose history you write:—Your comparison of their Government, Laws, Customs and Religion, with what should be the Government, Laws, Customs and Religion, of an enlightened, and highly civilized people, is exceedingly curious, and instructive, and is in an uncommon degree clear, and perspicuous. Where it attacks the received opinions too, on which the multitude are so exceedingly susceptible, it is temperate, at the same time that it is powerful in argument. The frequent reference to the state, and exertions of other people, to enable us to form correct conclusions respecting the civilization of the Hindus, brings a grand picture to our view; and tends to improve our knowledge not only of Government, Law, Religion, Arts, and Literature, as things common to all mankind, but also to increase the interest with which we regard the state of each.
The knowledge of each country is not only interesting in itself, but also on account of its becoming a sort of standard by which we may estimate the state of other countries. To this I should add that I think the Political Economy, wherever it is scattered, excellent; had you not brought a blush into my cheek, by mentioning me with such unmeasured approbation as you have done.
I have to thank you for your last excellent letter. I hope you do not suppose me sceptical with respect to the practicability of improvements in legislation. I have the most sanguine expectations on that subject, but then they must be introduced and recommended by those who are able to judge of their effects, and not by the ignorant and inexperienced. If I before had had doubts of what legislation might do, to improve society, I should have none after reading what I have read of your book, but an unskilful, or a designing man, might add to those evils which he pretended to remove, and therefore I would know something of his honesty, and more of his qualifications. My plea for caution and timidity was ignorance, a plea of which you would allow the force, although you would endeavour to remove it.—Legislation may not be so difficult as I imagine,—I wish it may not be, for I am anxiously disposed to understand it. One of the great difficulties of the science appears to me to be that which you remark somewhere, (but for which I have been looking over the book in vain) of the Government and laws of one state of society being often very ill adapted for another state of society. You I think apply it to the Tartar hordes.—
I observe you speak with admiration of Berkeley’s theory of ideas. I admire exceedingly the ingenuity with which Hume shews from Locke’s doctrines that we have no proof of the existence of external objects,—but I wish to know whether you see no weight in the objections, offered by Reid, and I believe by Dugald Stewart, to the mind perceiving only ideas, and not external objects? Why should we as it is said perceive always the image of an object, and never the object itself? This must form the subject of some of our conversations,—I suspect that I do not understand the language that is applied to the operations of the mind.— Your view I observe of the manner in which mankind become acquainted with the idea of a Supreme Being is much the same as that of Hume, if they may be said to have an idea of such a Being, for as you so ably remark the language in which they speak of him, and the adulatory expressions in which they address him afford no proof whatever of any just or sublime conception of him.—We go to London in the middle of Jany., when shall I meet you there?—Have you seen the British Review.