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V.: Independence and Marriage - 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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Independence and Marriage
When Ricardo was twenty the family moved from the home in Bury Street in the City where he had been since early childhood and went to live at Bow. Their house in Bow was ‘not far from that of an eminent surgeon of the name of Wilkinson’, as we are told by the author of a forgotten obituary of Ricardo.3 This writer goes on to say that ‘Ricardo formed an honourable attachment to one of the daughters of this gentleman; she was beautiful, accomplished, and amiable’. Edward Wilkinson, the father, was a Quaker, and Ricardo’s marriage to his eldest daughter, Priscilla Ann,4 on 20 December 1793 resulted in a breach with his own family and his departure from the Jewish community.1
On the actual steps by which this estrangement occurred there is little evidence: the Memoir, as will have been noticed, is singularly reticent, while the biographers who have followed it have added little. The usual story is that ‘the old man forbade his son’s union with a Christian; and upon his persevering, deprived him of his share of the business.’2 A glimmer of light, however, is shed upon the event by a work compiled during Ricardo’s lifetime, the Public Characters of All Nations. After stating that his father had given him ‘an excellent education’, it adds: ‘Young Ricardo was thus enabled to think for himself, and he was not long before he shewed no great attachment to the Jewish faith. To complete his separation, he married a Christian lady, which gave so much offence to his mother, that she compelled the father to drive him from his home’.3 This story of maternal sternness has no direct confirmation from any other source; but while we know from a reliable witness that the ‘breach between father and son...was afterwards entirely healed’,4 the earliest sign of this reconciliation that we have is shortly after the death of Ricardo’s mother, which took place in October 1801, in the form of a token bequest in Abraham Ricardo’s will of February 1802 to his son David of £50 ‘as he is well established and does not need more’. The reconciliation was carried a stage further in 1807, when by a codicil to his will he added David as one of his executors.
It was not only Ricardo’s family who were offended by the marriage; Priscilla Wilkinson’s relations ‘were equally displeased at the temerity of the young couple, who were thus...left unsupported on all sides.’1
The marriage took place at the parish church of St Mary Lambeth. This did not imply that they belonged to the Church of England, for under Lord Hardwicke’s Act of 1753 all marriages had to be performed according to the rites of the established church, with exceptions only for Jews and Quakers, who might be married according to their own forms: but neither of these would be open to a mixed marriage. The marriage was by ‘licence’, which required that one of the parties should have resided in the parish for fifteen days previously. Ricardo is, in fact, described in the marriage register as ‘of this Parish’.
As we have seen, the Public Characters represents Ricardo’s marriage as having merely ‘completed’ a process of waning attachment to Judaism. This is confirmed by McCulloch, who for the early period of Ricardo’s life gives in other respects little more than a paraphrase of the Memoir, but in this connection says that Ricardo’s ‘freedom and independence of mind’ led him to differ from his father on many important points, ‘and to become a convert to the Christian faith’. He goes on to speak of Ricardo’s marriage as having taken place ‘not long after this event’. We may therefore conclude that although the marriage was the immediate occasion of the breach, this represented the culmination of a gradual estrangement which had been in progress for some time before.
There is another point of interest in McCulloch’s statement. The words quoted are from the earliest versions (1824 to 1842) of his ‘Life and Writings of Mr Ricardo’.1 But in the next revision of it (1846)2 the phrase ‘and to become a convert to the Christian faith’ is significantly toned down to ‘and even to secede from the Hebrew faith’. It may well be that this cautious formulation was due to McCulloch having in the meantime learnt, what quite likely he had not known before, that Ricardo in abandoning Judaism had gone no further than Unitarianism; a fact which all his biographers, with the exception of a few obscure contemporaries presently to be quoted, have ignored.
The Unitarians at this time formed the most liberal section of that ‘Wide Dissent’, as it was called, which was accused of ‘paving the way to irreligion pure and simple’; and during the French Revolution they came to be regarded as a centre of rationalism and republicanism.3 According to one account, ‘Mr Ricardo, in relinquishing the religious sentiments of his ancestors, is said to have adopted the principles of Unitarianism’.4 A second writer adds that he attached himself ‘to the Unitarian Chapel, in Essex-street, where he and his family have regularly attended the instructions of Mr Belsham.’1 Another Unitarian meeting with which Ricardo was connected at a later time was the New Gravel Pit Chapel in Hackney; the minister of which, Robert Aspland, mentions him twice in his diary. The first is an entry for 29 December 1809: ‘I was introduced at Mr Foster’s, Bromley Hall, to my new hearer, Mr David Ricardo, and his lady. He is sensible and she is pleasant.’ The second is dated 4 January 1810: ‘Walked to Mile-end Road to dine, for the first time, with my new hearer, Mr David Ricardo. Dr Lindsay and Mr T. Foster of the party. After tea, we had a long debate on the natural evidences of a future state.’2 Ricardo was a regular contributor to the New Gravel Pit Chapel, subscribing five guineas in 1809, ten in 1810, eleven in 1811 and ten in 1812. Then, when he went to live in the West End, his subscription lapsed; but he sent donations of eight guineas in 1820 and four guineas in 1821.3
The characters who have just been mentioned as acquaintances of Ricardo were important figures in the Unitarian world. Thomas Belsham (1750–1829) had adopted Unitarianism in 1789 when he was Professor of Divinity at the Dissenting Academy at Daventry, and became minister of the Gravel Pit Chapel in Hackney in 1794 and of Essex Street Chapel in 1805. In later years Ricardo met him again when, in 1817 and 1819, they were both guests of Ricardo’s friends the Thomas Smiths of Easton Grey, who were also Unitarians.4 Robert Aspland (1782–1845) had been minister of the Gravel Pit Chapel since 1805, and as the editor for many years of the Monthly Repository was an active political reformer, being the prime mover of the ‘Christians’ Petition against the Prosecution of Unbelievers’, which was the occasion of Ricardo’s last speech in the House of Commons.1 Thomas Foster, who had been born and educated a Quaker, later embraced Unitarianism, after which proceedings were taken against him at the quarterly meeting of the Society of Friends in 1813, as a result of which he was formally disowned. He died in 1834 in his seventy-fifth year.2 Dr James Lindsay (1753–1821), minister of the Chapel in Monkwell Street, belonged to the Unitarian branch of the Presbyterian body. He was a friend of James Mill,3 and an advocate of Parliamentary Reform. There is in Ricardo’s Papers a letter from him, dated from Grovehall, Bow, 29 Jan. 1815, in which he solicits Ricardo’s support for a new institution:4 ‘I do not ask, or indeed wish, that you should give your money. For I have already been the cause of your giving so much, that I am ashamed to think of it. But I understand that you are very soon to divide among several charities, the sum arising from the Cochrane hoax,5 and you must have a strong voice in the allotment.’6
Mrs Ricardo, on her part, maintained some connection with the Quakers. As we shall see below, she continued for many years to attend the Friends’ meetings. It is also notable that the birth of their children was registered with the Society of Friends; although the Quaker birth-certificates, which are preserved in Ricardo’s Papers, contain a note stating, ‘The Parents not Members of our Society’.1
Ricardo’s position in matters of religion is illustrated by the attitude which he took when in November 1817 he was nominated as High Sheriff of Gloucestershire for the following year, an office which involved taking the Sacrament according to the rites of the established church. This Ricardo was unwilling to do. There was some doubt, however, as to the best course in the circumstances: whether to apply under the Toleration Act for exemption as a dissenter from serving as High Sheriff; or to accept the office but decline the Sacrament, relying for protection on the Indemnity Bill which was annually passed by Parliament for offences against the Test Act. The first course, in the opinion of his solicitors, was the safer,2 but Ricardo was unwilling to adopt it: as he wrote to Malthus at the start of his term of office, ‘Under all circumstances I think it best not to offer an objection to it.’3 He, accordingly, instructed his solicitors to take Counsel’s opinion on the question, at the same time ascertaining the position with regard to the Sacrament in the event of his entering Parliament. The solicitors, Bleasdale, Lowless and Crosse, replied as follows on 10 December 1817: ‘On the receipt of your Letter we immediately prepared a Case in a fictitious name, and endeavoured to procure the opinion of Sir Samuel Romilly thereon, but he having declined to answer it, we have since laid it before Sir Arthur Piggott; with whom we had a Consultation last Evening. Sir Arthur appeared to think that the acts of Indemnity which are very full, will be a sufficient protection for you; and with respect to Members [of Parliament] he is of opinion that they are not under any legal obligation to take the Sacrament’.1
Most of Ricardo’s own brothers and sisters, who had come to look to him as to an elder brother for advice or support, eventually followed him in leaving the Jewish community, usually through marriage, as will be seen from the biographical notes of each of them which are given below.
[3 ]Sunday Times, 14 Sept. 1823.
[4 ]She was born at Bow on 5 November 1768 and was therefore over three years older than Ricardo. She survived him for many years, dying on 16 Oct. 1849 at Kiddington near Oxford.
[1 ]As Hollander points out, when the son of a Sephardic Jew married outside the faith, the prayer for the dead was recited for him (op. cit. p. 33–4). The story that this was done in Ricardo’s case was current in his own lifetime, as Tom Moore noted in his Journal when he was staying at Bowood with Lord Lansdowne in January 1823: ‘In talking of Ricardo, at breakfast, some one mentioned that he had been buried,—which is the ceremony among the Jews towards any one who quits their faith. The friends of the convert, too, go into mourning for him.’ (Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence of Thomas Moore, ed. by Lord John Russell, 1853, vol. iv, p. 40.) There is no record, however, of anything so dramatic having taken place.
[2 ]Obituary in Sunday Times, 14 Sept. 1823.
[3 ]Public Characters of All Nations; consisting of Biographical Accounts of nearly Three Thousand Eminent Contemporaries, London, Sir R. Phillips and Co., 1823, vol. iii, p. 243.
[4 ]Article on Ricardo in the Penny Cyclopaedia, 1841, attributed to his brother-in-law, G. R. Porter.
[1 ]John Gorton, A General Biographical Dictionary, London, 1826–8, article on Ricardo, vol. ii, p. 747.
[1 ]Edinburgh Annual Register for 1823, 1824, the pamphlet of 1825 and the article Ricardo in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 7th ed., published from 1830 to 1842.
[2 ]McCulloch’s edition of Ricardo’s Works, 1846. The new version is adopted in the 8th ed. of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1853–1860.
[3 ]See Élie Halévy, History of the English People in 1815, Pelican ed., Book iii, pp. 28 and 39–40. G. M. Trevelyan, speaking of the new millowner at the end of the Napoleonic War, says that ‘as likely as not he became a Unitarian, to express his intellectual and social independence’ (British History in the Nineteenth Century, p. 155).
[4 ]John Gorton, op. cit. The passage continues: ‘but he usually attended the service of the established church’, which no doubt refers to the much later Gatcomb period.
[1 ]Obituary in Sunday Times, 14 Sept. 1823.
[2 ]Memoir of the Life, Works and Correspondence of the Rev. Robert Aspland of Hackney, by his son R. Brook Aspland, London, 1850, pp. 234, 251. The author adds in a footnote: ‘Mr. Ricardo continued to attend at the Gravel-Pit until his removal to the western side of London.’
[3 ]Information supplied by Miss Ellen H. Green from the account books of the New Gravel Pit Church at Hackney.
[4 ]See above, VII, 171 and 187, and VIII, 75.
[1 ]See above, V, 324 ff.
[2 ]See Aspland, op. cit. p. 234.
[3 ]Cp. above, VIII, 84.
[4 ]The letter does not describe the institution, except by reference to a printed paper which was enclosed but has not been preserved.
[5 ]On the Cochrane hoax see above, VI, 106–7. All those who had made profits on that occasion had been required by the Stock Exchange to surrender them into a fund to be distributed to charities.
[6 ]Lindsay concludes his letter with an invitation to dinner: ‘Brougham has promised to dine with me and give us all his Paris news. I shall give you timely notice and expect you to make one of the party.’
[1 ]This statement appears only in the three earliest certificates up to the year 1800, although the later ones also are issued by the Friends.
[2 ]Letter from Bleasdale, Lowless and Crosse, 2 Dec. 1817; MS in R.P.
[3 ]Letter of 30 Jan. 1818; above, VII, 252.
[1 ]MS in R.P. Sir Arthur Piggott was a former Attorney-General. His written opinion, dated 3 Jan. 1818, in which he confirms at greater length what he had told the solicitors, is also in R.P.