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ii: ‘Ricardo’s Letter to the Old Doctor’ - 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 Letter to the Old Doctor’
This remarkable letter was written by Ricardo at the age of 31 to his father-in-law, who was then 75. Besides its interest for the light which it throws on Ricardo’s character, it gives a clearer and fuller picture of the family situation than was available hitherto (cp. above, p. 44–5). It was found by Canon Wilkinson among his family papers, and kindly communicated to the editor, while the present volume was in the press (May 1954). The manuscript is a copy, partly in Ricardo’s handwriting (fromp. 122, n. 1), and partly in another hand and spelling. It is endorsed ‘D. Ricardo’s letter to the Old Doctor,’ and one of the sheets is watermarked 1802.
Of the three children of Edward Wilkinson mentioned in the letter, Josiah is the Wilkinson to whom the preceding group of letters was addressed, Priscilla is Ricardo’s wife and Fanny who had left her father’s home was a few years later to marry Moses Ricardo.
ricardo to his father-in-law edward wilkinson
12 Sepr 1803
As a spectator of the scene now before me, and as a friend to all parties, allow me, without disguise, to offer my sentiments to you; and if in the course of so doing, you shoud observe anything bordering on severity, attribute it to a sincere desire on my part of producing harmony and peace to a divided family. Let me begin, by laying before you a history of the system which you have followd, and to which may be attributed the unfortunate result which you now experience.
From the earliest infancy of yr children you have exacted from them the most painful obedience; you have taught them to consider you as their master, rather than their friend, and affectionate father. You have never encouraged them to confide their cares to you as to a sympathizing friend. How could they consider you in that light, when your will was made the absolute rule for their conduct? You wishd to be considerd as the fountain of power: no enjoyments, no comforts, no pleasures were to be obtaind by the highest or lowest in yr family unless they emanated from you. Yr. system was that of an eastern monarch ruling over abject slaves. When you smiled, they were to smile:—when you felt sad, they were to shew grief; they were to participate in yr. resentments, and were to be humbly thankful for the favors you bestowd. This system was too fatally encouraged by that good woman your wife, who, instead of resisting these imperious claims, was the foremost in submission, and by her example, led your children, one and all, to acquiesce in your authority. But, as they were growing to manhood, it might easily have been foreseen that this extravagant power could not be much longer unquestiond. How did you at this period participate yr. fortune with them? Humble as you say it was, would not candour and confidence have taught them, that their claims upon it ought to be moderate? But no,—these were virtues not necessary to be practised towards those whom you had placed at so degrading a distance. You were satisfied with giving them the most scanty pittance, and that too in a manner most painful to their feelings, as it tended to convince them of their dependance on your bounty. How could you flatter yourself that this order of things would have long duration, or that you could, in this way, secure the affection of your children. They considerd you as their tyrant, the source from whence flowed every affliction, instead of the guardian, and anxious promoter of their happiness.
Josiah, at length, under the most discouraging circumstances broke from his chains, and after combatting obstacles which would have overwhelmed a mind with less energy, has, without the assistance of a parent, with all the disadvantages of an unfinishd education, happily placed himself in a situation respected and courted by all who know him. If he had become profligate and vicious, a dreadful responsibility would have laid with you.—Priscilla left you without a pang of regret; her only painful feeling was commiseration at leaving her sister under the rod of a man who knew so little how to appretiate the good qualities of those about him, doomed to live with a parent who contrivd to destroy all sympathy, and to banish all affection from the breasts of his children.—Fanny has borne her trials with exemplary patience, as the letters, which Priscilla still has, can testify: she has accused you of bringing upon her a premature old age. In your family dissentions she has been the principal sufferer. If a child offended you; if a servant committed the slightest fault, she had daily to witness the effects of an ungovernable temper. Amidst all these her sufferings, her friends were silent. For her sake, they were in some measure influenced by the prejudice which the world entertains against children, in any difference they may chance to have with their parents; but, without their interference the crisis at length arrivd, beyond which Fanny woud endure no more. She then resolved to leave you. It was at this period, that we all pressd forward to offer her a home, but that her motives might not be misinterpreted, she preferrd that of her brothers.—She is in search of peace only. Against you she harbours no resentment, neither do any of yr children;—they attribute the evils which they have sufferd, to causes which are antecedent to their birth. They request you still to live near them, still to come amongst them. They wish not ever to be possessed of any part of yr. property,—they would rather that you would buy an annuity on your life which woud produce you a handsome income. Live with them as a friend. Let them no longer look upon you with dread, or stand in awe of what you may think or say. Relinquish every idea of having Fanny home again, and be persuaded that one mark of pure affection1 which proceeds from a natural impulse is worth all that can be exacted from the most slavish submission. Too long, Sir, have you tried what authority on one side and humility on the other will produce; What has been the result? Without fortune or any flattering prospect of obtaining any, your children have shaken off your yoke as too heavy and oppressive. Such a uniformity of conduct can proceed only from a similarity of causes. The most partial of your friends cannot acquit you of blame. You have mistaken their silence for an approval of your conduct. Your system has not been attended with happiness to yourself, and to others it has been productive of misery. You still insist on every reliance being placed on your affection, at the same time that you refuse to place the least on that of Fanny. Think no more of unconditional subjection,—the very sound is repulsive to a liberal mind. No father should exact it,—No child arrived at years of discretion can be expected to submit to it. Try the opposite course, trust every thing to affection and exact nothing. Come among us as a friend and a father and confide in our willingness to sooth your cares and contribute to your happiness,—so shall the remainder of your days be passed in comfort and in peace, and at the end of them you will confess your regret at not having made this simple experiment at an earlier period of your life.—These, sir, are the impressions which have been made on my mind from what I have heard and seen since I have been in the family.—I have to request that you will excuse the frankness with which I have made you acquainted with them, having nothing more in view than by tracing the evil to its source to remedy it for ever. With sincere wishes for your happiness I am Sir
[1 ]From this point the copy is in Ricardo’s handwriting.