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IV.: Ricardo’s Childhood and Education - David Ricardo, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 10 Biographical Miscellany 
The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Piero Sraffa with the Collaboration of M.H. Dobb (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 10 Biographical Miscellany.
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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’s Childhood and Education
David Ricardo was born in the City of London, the third child of Abraham Ricardo’s large family, on 18 April 1772 (and not on the 19th, as all his biographers from McCulloch to Hollander have followed the Memoir in saying).4 At the time of his birth the family home was at 36 Broad Street Buildings,5 in the parish of St Botolph without Bishopsgate; from there they moved a few months later (sometime between 15 July and October) to No. 1 Bury Street, St Mary Axe,1 where he spent his childhood and youth. Of his early education in London all we know is what the Memoir says of his having received a ‘common school-education’ and altogether to have had such advantages as were the usual lot of boys ‘destined for a mercantile line of life’.
When in 1783 peace with Holland was restored, he was sent there to stay with his father’s relatives for two years to continue his education. As he wrote from Holland in 1822, when he visited his cousin Mrs Rebecca Da Costa: ‘From the age of 11 to 13 I resided in Amsterdam in the house of my uncle and this cousin was then an inmate of his home’.2 There were two of his father’s brothers living in Amsterdam in 1783—Samuel and Moses. Since the former was married and had children, while the latter was unmarried, they may well have formed a single household. However that may be, only Moses Israel Ricardo appears in the Amsterdam directories of the time; his profession being given as a stockbroker (‘in publicque Fondsen’) and his address ‘in de Rapenburgerstr.’ up to 1783, and, from 1784, ‘op de Keizersgraft bij Brands Hofje’.3 A third brother, the eldest of them, David Israel Ricardo, was the father of the cousin Rebecca; he had died in 1778, whereupon his daughter had become a member of the uncle’s household in which Ricardo was placed.
Some light on the purpose of the visit is thrown by the Memoir when it says that his father, ‘who had designed him to follow the same business in which he was engaged’ and which was chiefly connected with Holland, ‘sent him thither not only with a view to his becoming acquainted with it, but also that he might be placed at a school of which he entertained a very high opinion.’1 There may have been some commercial object in arranging for Ricardo to become acquainted with the language and the customs of the country; but if we consider the age at which he was sent there (eleven to thirteen) and the fact that his father was an orthodox Jew, there can be little doubt that the school in Amsterdam to which old Ricardo was so keen to send his son was the Talmud Tora, a school of great reputation which had been founded in 1616 and was attached to the Portuguese Synagogue there. To it boys were sent, from the age of five upwards, in preparation for their ‘initiation’ at the age of thirteen. The teachers were Rabbis and the curriculum included, besides the Bible and the Talmud, Hebrew literature and rhetoric. This was a seven-class school and pupils could continue their studies in the higher school, Ets Haim, which was linked with it.2 While the latter school is said to have been ‘the pride of the community’, it has a greater claim to fame in that it is regarded as certain by its historians that Spinoza was a pupil there, although there is no direct evidence of this in the archives: his father, Michael d’Espinoza, however, was one of the Managers of the Talmud Tora in 1635, and the family was otherwise connected with these schools. As to the family of Ricardo, his cousin Joseph, who was only two years junior to him and possibly a schoolmate, became one of the Managers in 1798;1 while his uncle Moses had been appointed to that office in 1789, but declined to serve. When Ricardo was there in 1784 one of the Managers was Dr Immanuel Capadose, ‘a very friendly man’ whom he knew at the time, as he writes on meeting him again in 1822.2
His two years in Amsterdam left a deep impression on Ricardo. And when he returned there in 1822, he wrote to Mrs Thomas Smith that despite the lapse of years ‘he remembered his way through the town as if it had been yesterday.’3 Of his schooldays in Holland Ricardo told Maria Edgeworth in 1822 an anecdote which she relates in a letter as follows:4 ‘Speaking of the little incidents which make an impression in childhood and through life he told me that he could never forget a circumstance that happened to him when he was nine years old1 about a pair of shoes. He was in Holland at the time at the Hague. He saw in a shop window a pair of shoes with an edging of fur to which he took a fancy and he entreated that they might be bought for him. It was represented to him that he did not see exactly what sort of shoes they were and that they would not suit him. He persisted—and they were bought upon condition that he should wear them. He found that they had wooden soles and these made such a clatter upon the pavement that every body turned to look at him as he walked—and instead of the fur shoes proving a gratification to his vanity they became a daily mortification. He would have given anything to have got rid of them but he had no others—and he says none but himself can conceive the pains he took to slide in walking so as to prevent the noise of his wooden soles from making the disgraceful clatter.’2
He visited Holland again in 1788 at the age of 16, when ‘he was entrusted with the care of two of his younger brothers’, to convey them to that country. One of these brothers was probably Moses himself who records the event,3 and who was then eleven years old and may well have been going to the same school as Ricardo had gone to at that age. There may have been a third visit in 1792, since Ricardo in 1822 speaks of ‘one or two visits’ there since his schooldays, the last having been 30 years before.4
His education, however, did not end when he went into business. The Memoir tells us1 that when young he showed a ‘taste for abstract and general reasoning’, a taste which influenced his reading. About the age of twenty-five, after marriage, he turned his attention to scientific subjects, particularly to mathematics, chemistry, geology and mineralogy. His interest in the last two subjects continued into later life, and led him, as we shall see below, to take an active part in the management of the Geological Society of London. His study of science at this time (about 1797) arose, we are told, from ‘the example and instigation of a friend with whom he was then very intimate’. The identity of this interesting character is unknown. It would be tempting to suppose that it was William Frend, the expelled Cambridge tutor who had been in trouble at the University first as a Unitarian and later as a radical and at this time was giving private lessons in London.2 He was a mathematician and the author of pamphlets on taxation and on the quantity theory of money. That he knew Ricardo is shown by a rather didactic letter from him, which is in the Ricardo Papers, on a logical point concerning a game of chance.3 However, its tone is too formal and Frend (who was born in 1757) was too much senior to Ricardo quite to fit the character. If we reject Frend, of all Ricardo’s early companions known to us the least improbable as prompter of his early studies seems to be George (or Joshua) Basevi, who was only one year senior to him and of whom Ricardo speaks in a letter to Mill as his oldest friend.1 It is a sign of Ricardo’s attachment to him that he shares with Mill and Malthus the distinction of being the only persons outside the family who are remembered in Ricardo’s will. Basevi was a member of the Geological Society,2 and appears to have been a member of the Political Economy Club,3 and like Ricardo seceded from Judaism (though at a much later date). It must be confessed, however, that there is no positive evidence to support the conjecture.
In any case, these early mathematical and scientific studies (whoever may have inspired them) must have been a more decisive influence on Ricardo’s characteristic cast of mind than the teachings of his later mentors, James Mill and Bentham, whose approach was essentially that of jurisprudence and moral philosophy.
The well-known story that Ricardo’s interest in political economy was first awakened by his taking up a copy of the Wealth of Nations by chance while on a visit to Bath in 17994 gains additional credibility from its being reported independently by two persons who heard it directly from Ricardo: one the statement of his brother Moses in the Memoir5 and the other an entry in the Diary of John Cam Hobhouse. After a dinner at the house of J. G. Lambton, the Member for Durham, Hobhouse writes (2 March 1822): ‘I sat next to Ricardo, who told me he never thought of political economy till happening one day, during an illness of his wife, to be at Bath, he saw an Adam Smith in a circulating library, and turning over a page or two ordered it to be sent to his house. He liked it so much as to acquire a taste for the study.’1 Of his interest in the subject in the early years of the century we find Ricardo writing to Trower some fifteen years later: ‘I remember well the pleasure I felt, when I first discovered that you, as well as myself, was a great admirer of the work of Adam Smith, and of the early articles on Political Economy which had appeared in the Edinburgh Review. Meeting as we did every day, these afforded us often an agreeable subject for half an hour’s chat, when business did not engage us.’2
[4 ]The 18th is established as the date both by the Registers of the Bevis Marks Synagogue and by Ricardo himself in an allusion to his own fiftieth birthday (below, p. 164, n. 1).
[5 ]No. 36 was the NW. corner house at the intersection of Broad Street Buildings with Old Bethlem (now Liverpool Street). This part of Broad Street Buildings still exists under that name, but in a much reduced state, between Broad Street Station and Liverpool Street Station. Cp. Horwood’s Plan of London, 1799, which shows the street-numbers.
[1 ]Information kindly supplied by the Guildhall Librarian from the Rate Books of the period.
[2 ]Below, p. 206–7. This confirms the statement in the Memoir that he was sent to Holland ‘when very young’, returning home ‘after two years’ absence’ (above, p. 3).
[3 ]Naamregister van alle de Kooplieden...der Stad Amstelredam...als meede de Naamen en Woonplaatsen der Joodsche Kooplieden. The entries in question are respectively in the editions from 1779 to 1783 and from 1784 to 1787.
[1 ]Fonteyraud, reading more into the Memoir than is warranted, says that Abraham Ricardo ‘mit le jeune David pendant deux ans dans une école de Hollande, où les plus saines théories du change et l’art du parfait négociant lui furent enseignées.’ (‘Notice’ prefixed to the French ed. of Ricardo’s Œuvres complètes, Paris, Guillaumin, 1847, p. xvii.) No evidence, however, has been found of the existence of any commercial schools of this type in Amsterdam at the time.
[2 ]The information about these schools is derived from a volume written for their tercentenary by M. C. Paraira and J. S. da Silva Rosa: Gendenkschrift uitgegeven ter Gelegenheid van het 300-jarig Bestaan der Onderwijsinrichtingen Talmud Tora en Ets Haïm bij de Portug. Israël. Gemeente te Amsterdam (Amsterdam, 1916). An appendix contains a complete list of the Managers of the Talmud Tora for each year.
[1 ]This was a brother of the cousin Rebecca, and like her presumably an inmate of the house in which Ricardo lived.
[2 ]Below, p. 210.
[3 ]This letter is not extant; but it was shown to J. L. Mallet when he visited Easton Grey after Ricardo’s death, and the quotation is from an entry in his MS Diary for 14 Oct. 1824. Cp. below, p. 205.
[4 ]Letter to her aunt Mrs Ruxton from London, 4 Jan. 1822. Miss Edgeworth introduces the passage quoted in the text with the words: ‘At breakfast this morning I was reminding Mr Ricardo of his having begun to tell me some anecdotes of his early life during a walk we took in a wood at Gatcomb park when we were interrupted by a beautiful view which burst upon us at an opening through the trees. I told him that I had always regretted this interruption and hated the prospect to which I had been obliged [to cry] “How beautiful!” He was diverted and has promised me that I shall lose nothing by that prospect for that he will tell me his whole history—some day—I wish that day were come.’
[1 ]This is incorrect: as we have just seen (p. 30), Ricardo says that he was in Holland from eleven to thirteen.
[2 ]Professor H. E. Butler, who in 1933 kindly supplied the transcript from the original MS in the possession of his mother, adds this comment on the story of the shoes: ‘It is curiously like Maria Edgeworth’s Rosamond and the Purple Jar written long before—as I believe she observed in another letter which my mother once saw.’
[3 ]Above, p. 4.
[4 ]See below, p. 207 and cp. p. 205 and above, IX, 210.
[1 ]See above, p. 4–5.
[2 ]See Dictionary of National Biography, sub nom., and cp. Wallas, Life of Francis Place, p. 33.
[3 ]Frend in his letter does not state fully the problem and refers to a paper ‘left’ by Ricardo (though, it would seem, not written by him). The nature of the problem can be gathered from Frend’s conclusion: ‘I will not proceed farther on so obvious a point but shall observe merely that in my answer I have I think laid down the true principle, and abide by my determination that the man in the given circumstances games against himself in the proportion of nineteen to ten.’ (MS in R.P. The letter is dated ‘Friday. 20. Feb. 1806’—probably a mistake for 1807.)
[1 ]Letter of 23 Nov. 1818, above, VII, 336. Basevi heads the list of those to whom Ricardo asked Murray to send a presentation copy of his pamphlet of 1816 (ib. 16). As we have seen (p. 15) he was consulted by Moses Ricardo in writing the Memoir. See VII, 10, n.
[2 ]H. B. Woodward, History of the Geological Society of London, p. 277.
[3 ]‘Mr. Basevi’ was elected in June 1821, being introduced by Ricardo, as Mallet records in his Diary (Political Economy Club, Centenary Volume, p. 226–7). The Club’s Minutes, 1821–1882, however, give him as having been formally nominated by Mushet (p. 41); and although they give his address correctly as 8 Montague Street, Russell Square (ib. p. 64 and cp. above, VII, 10) they always enter his name as ‘M. Basevi’, which, since there was no M. Basevi in the family at that time, presumably arose from the perpetuation of an initial mistake.
[4 ]The precise year is given by McCulloch, whose account of the story in his ‘Life and Writings of Mr Ricardo’ otherwise follows closely the Memoir.
[5 ]Above, p. 7.
[1 ]See Recollections of a Long Life, by Lord Broughton (i.e. J. C. Hobhouse), ed. by Lady Dorchester, 1909, vol. ii, p. 179.
[2 ]Above, VII, 246.