464.: ricardo to mill1[Answered by 469] - David Ricardo, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 9 Letters 1821-1823 
The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Piero Sraffa with the Collaboration of M.H. Dobb (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 9 Letters 1821-1823.
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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
[Answered by 469]
Gatcomb Park 14 Octr. 1821
My Dear Sir
I have read your article on the Liberty of the Press with great pleasure, and am very much enlightened by it. It has always appeared to me a subject full of difficulty, but I think you have shewn with great skill that the difficulty is not in defining the offence, but in ascertaining the fact whether the offence has been committed, and for that you must depend on the evidence, as in all other cases of offences complained of. The principles you lay down naturally follow from those which you had before established in your article on Government, and you clearly shew that without a liberty almost unbounded for the Press, one of the most important securities for the peoples interests being attended to by their Governors would fail, and that without this security all others would be unavailing.
I was startled at the extent of your proposition respecting the liberty to be allowed of exhorting the people by means of the Press to resist their Governors, and to overthrow the Government. I understood full well that without great facilities being afforded to a people to resist, there could be no real freedom, but between this, and openly allowing exhortations to resistance, is a great stride, and notwithstanding the good reasons given by you in favor of it, I hesitate in agreeing to it before I have given it more consideration. I fear you would make the overturning of a Government too easy, which would certainly be an evil, as well as the making it too difficult.
I have only one other remark to make. You admit that truth should be a justification for all writings tending to disturb the peace of individuals, but you speak of some exceptions which it might perhaps be wise to allow against the general rule. Of the cases you mention as exceptions you speak I think much too favorably. Why should a vain man be protected in the concealment of the poverty and lowness of his birth, because an undue regard is paid to rank and riches. Why should his foible be excused more than the foibles of all the rest of mankind which you are willing should be made public. I think I could have brought forward a stronger case than yours, and yet I would not on any account exempt it from the general rule. You are too indulgent too to the feelings of a man who privately infringes the religious ordinances of the society of which he is a member. Why throw a veil over him? He has his choice either to be satisfied with his own approbation and that of the few who think like him and openly to profess his principles, or to pay the price for obtaining that of the multitude. It surely would be a dangerous principle to establish that duplicity and deceit should be encouraged and upheld by a positive law. I know that your own conclusion is that truth without any exception should be the sole criterion by which writings hurting the feelings of individuals should be tried, but in your argument you appear to me to lean too favorably to some of the cases which others might wish to except.
I am glad to hear that the printing of your Polit. Econ. is now immediately to commence.
I wish you had told me what Murray has agreed upon respecting the publication of Mr. Place’s book.
We have lately been very gay here. We have been down the Wye with the girls and Osman and his wife, and Clutterbuck with his. Since which we have passed a week at Bromesberrow, and have been at Malvern and Worcester. Next week we go for a few days to Bath. I do not yet relinquish the hope of seeing you here. Miss Edgeworth has written to me to ask me respecting my engagements—she intends accepting an invitation which I gave her when I met her last year at Mr. Smiths and to pass a few days with her two sisters at Gatcomb. Perhaps you may like to meet her, if so I will let you know the time she fixes upon for her visit. That or any other time will be agreeable to me to receive you. You recollect John is to come with you if you come, and alone if you do not.—We are undertaking further improvements in our grounds, and you will be just in time to give an opinion of them before they are carried into execution if you come soon.