Richard Price (172391) was a dissenting minister and political radical who is generally agreed to be one of the greatest thinkers Wales has ever produced. Yet to contemporary readers, he is little known, a situation that Paul Frame aims to change with Liberty’s Apostle, a close look at Price’s life and work.
Frame explores Price’s philosophical thoughtwhich crucially prefigured some of Kant’s central ideasas well as his political activity, which saw him invited to the nascent United States to assist with its financial administration. Though he declined that offer, he was nonetheless friends with key American figures like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, and, when he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws by Yale in 1781, his fellow honoree was George Washington. Within Britain, meanwhile, one of his claims to fame comes from the groundwork he laid for the modern insurance industry. Frame’s book sets these achievements and experiences in the context of Price’s times, and, in so doing, draws fascinating and instructive parallels between that era and our own.
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Richard Price, his Life and Times
By Paul Frame
University of Wales PressCopyright © 2015 Paul Frame
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A Background of Dissent
And because the passion and uncharitableness of the times have produced several opinions in religion, by which men are engaged in parties and animosities against each other (which, when they shall hereafter unite in a freedom of conversation, will be composed or better understood), we do declare a liberty to tender consciences, and that no man shall be disquieted or called in question for differences of opinion in matter of religion, which do not disturb the peace of the kingdom.
When in May 1660 King Charles II entered London, the city where eleven years before his father had been publicly executed as a tyrant and an enemy of the Protestant Church, hopes were high that he would be able to keep his promise, made at Breda the previous month, to 'declare a liberty to tender consciences' and that no one would, any longer, be 'called in question for differences of opinion in matter of religion'. Instead, however, the Cavalier Parliament of 1661 set about passing a series of acts aimed at restoring the supremacy of the Anglican Church, enacting revenge upon the Puritan dissenters and continuing the persecution of Catholics and Quakers.
Under the terms of the Corporation Act of 1661 anyone who did not receive communion according to the rites of the Church of England was excluded from holding municipal office. In 1662 the Act of Uniformity, perhaps the most divisive of the canon of legislation and the one having the most immediate impact on the forebears of Richard Price, decreed that all ministers of religion and teachers were obliged to give 'unfeigned assent, and consent to all, and everything contained, and prescribed' in the Book of Common Prayer. The 1664 Conventicle Act made religious meetings outside the Church of England with five or more non-family persons present punishable by imprisonment. Finally, the Five Mile Act of 1665 barred any clergyman from approaching within five miles of a city or corporate town unless he swore, under oath, not to attempt an 'alteration of government either in Church or State'. He was also forbidden from teaching in any school. The impact of this legislation, known as the Clarendon Code, and the Act of Uniformity in particular, was felt throughout Wales and England with as many as 2,000 clergy losing their livings in England (one fifth of the total). In Wales, although the effects were less trenchant thanks to a more lenient interpretation and imposition of the legislation, thirty-one ministers were ejected.
Among those who suffered under the expulsions in Wales was one Samuel Jones who had been posted to his living of Llangynwyd, a small hamlet in the Llynfi Valley in Glamorganshire, in 1657. Unable to conform to the demands of the Act of Uniformity, he was removed from his position and only by the good fortune of his marriage to Mary Powell, the daughter of a man of means, was he able to move a few miles away to a dowry property of Mary's at Brynllywarch. Here he established a Dissenting meeting place at which he preached and an academy at which he taught. Born in Chirk, Denbighshire, and educated at Merton and Jesus College oxford, Jones was a philosopher, linguist and orientalist and came well qualified to his role as teacher.
Among those of Jones's Llangynwyd congregation who moved with him to Brynllywarch were Rees and Katherine Price, the paternal grandparents of Richard. The couple seem to have been of the 'middling sort' and they lived quite prosperously at Tynton, a substantial late seventeenth-century farmhouse still standing on the banks of the Garw River at Llangeinor, a village just north of Bridgend and in the next valley to Brynllywarch. It was at Tynton that Katherine gave birth to five children. The eldest, Rice Price, was Richard's father, born in 1673. He was followed in 1676 by Samuel, who would later play a part in Richard's early life in London, and then three daughters: Catherine c. 1675, Jennet in 1683 and Barbara (date unknown).
Rice first married Mary Gibbon, a lady said to be of a parsimonious nature despite significant personal wealth. Before her early death she gave birth to four children: John, Samuel, Mary and Ann. Rice's second marriage was to Catherine Richards, the reputedly beautiful daughter of David Richards, a doctor from old Castle, near Bridgend, and a lady much loved by the three of her six children who lived to adulthood: Richard, Sarah and Elizabeth.
Richard Price, the eldest of Catherine's surviving children (David, an older brother by one year, having died when Richard was six), was born at Tynton on 23 February 1723. Little is known of his formative years but his education certainly started at home; first under a governess, then with a Mr Peters who lived locally. Whether Price spoke Welsh at this time is unknown. Certainly he is likely to have first had the Bible in that language, and his library in later life contained a number of Welsh language bibles. We also know that his sister Sarah spoke the language fluently; as did at least one of her sons (William Morgan) who was so fluent he could transpose a Welsh song into English on the spur of the moment. In such a linguistic environment it seems likely that Price was bilingual. Indeed, this may have proved a necessity for, by the age of eight, he had been taken out of a school in nearby Bridgend 'on account of the moroseness and ill temper of his master' and sent away to a succession of schools, each progressively further from home but within the western heartland of the language. First came the school of the Revd Mr Simmons at neath, where he remained for four years. Then he attended Pentwyn, near Llan-non in Carmarthenshire, a school run by the second Samuel Jones to enter Richard's life and a man renowned for possessing candid and liberal religious views. Although no details of Price's time at Pentwyn survive some idea of his life there can be gleaned from the occasional diary and notebooks kept by another student, Thomas Morgan, who entered the school in September 1741 while it was still under the tutelage of Samuel Jones.
A typical day began with prayers at eight o'clock followed by a theology lesson during which biblical extracts for translation by the students were read in Hebrew, Greek and Latin – a course of study borne out by the significant number of classical textbooks Morgan purchased while at Pentwyn (his acquisition of an Italian Grammar at 2d. And a copy of Robinson Crusoe at 1s. must have represented a welcome departure into modernity and light relief). The afternoon teaching session began at three and was given over to both theoretical science and to practical experimentation.
Science plays a pivotal role in the life of Richard Price and his interest in it was encouraged during his time at Pentwyn. He did not forget the debt he owed to this early encouragement. Many years later, in 1773, a gentleman informed the Cambrian Magazine of the acquisition by another Dissenter institution, the Carmarthen Academy, of 'the most curious Philosophical, optical, and Mathematical Instruments and Machines'. not only were these scientific apparatus 'the most curious things of art' with an elegance that could 'scarcely be conceived', they were also 'made under the direction of the judicious, and learned Dr. Price'. It is not clear whether Price actually donated these instruments to the Carmarthen Academy or whether he simply oversaw their manufacture and purchase. A combination of both is certainly possible since in 1789 he would undertake a similar commission for yale University in America.
Having completed a week of theological and scientific study at Pentwyn, Sunday was spent practising the preacher's art at Dissenter places of worship. Unfortunately for Richard the liberal religious views of his tutor Samuel Jones, upon which he probably drew for his sermonizing, proved too liberal for his father Rice Price. Barely a year after enrolling his son at Pentwyn, Rice removed Richard and sent him instead to the school at Chancefield near Talgarth in Breconshire established by Vavasour Griffiths, a man whose religious convictions were more in line with Rice's own (Richard Price's nephew, William Morgan, would later describe them as 'narrow, selfish and gloomy'). Rice Price certainly held High Calvinist views and there is little doubt that he wished to instil in his son their central doctrine of predestination and the concept of an elect: that God had chosen some for salvation.
Rice Price had been born in 1673, the year in which a final piece of Clarendon Code legislation passed through Parliament and a Declaration of Indulgence declared by Charles II in 1672, which had attempted to suspend the Code's worst elements, was revoked. As a fourteen-year-old in 1687 Rice may well have hoped to see the Code's restrictions changed as a result of further 'Indulgences' declared by James II in 1687 and 1688. But he would also have sensed the unease that grew in the country as the king's tolerance came to be seen as support for Catholicism rather than a move toward religious freedom and Dissenter rights. This unease ultimately led to James's exile and the accession to the throne of Protestant William III in 1689, whose reign would begin with the passing of a Toleration Act allowing limited freedom for Dissenting worship (other than for Catholics).
Yet, despite this limited toleration, the Clarendon Code legislation still denied Rice a university place, the chance to teach openly and the opportunity to better himself through gaining a position in civic society. Furthermore, he lived through these events in a Welsh and British society that, although changing, remained strongly conservative in its beliefs and practices. It was a stratified society in which one's position in the hierarchical structure was generally considered to be divinely ordained. It is no surprise therefore that he, and others like him, should embrace a Calvinistic belief system which gave him a place in a different hierarchy, one preordained by God, and which assured him of a better life to come. He would have been anxious to pass on the perceived benefit of these High Calvinist beliefs to his son Richard, who seemed destined to face the same social, educational and religious discrimination as he grew older. Yet, although Richard followed his father in becoming a convinced and lifelong dissenter from established religion, he would, with the benefit of his more liberal education and his intellect, subject his father's views to rational analysis and clearly find those views wanting. In a sermon many years later he publicly dissected the High Calvinist view of Christianity before reaching the conclusion that it was 'a system inconsistent with reason, injurious to the character of the ever-blessed deity, and, in the highest degree, comfortless and discouraging'.
Such contrasting views between father and son on a subject as central to eighteenth-century family life as religion appear to have created some tension at Tynton, as evidenced by an incident Richard later recounted to his nephew William Morgan. Returning home to Tynton one day, Rice Price came upon Richard sitting besides the fire reading a volume of the works of Samuel Clarke, another man of liberal theological views. Rice grabbed the book and threw it into the fire while uttering 'bitter invectives' against his son 'for his want of faith and orthodoxy'. Even at a young age, Richard was clearly well advanced along the road of religious exploration and freethinking that would soon take him away from his father's Calvinism to Arianism, with its controversial denial of the Trinity and unorthodox views of Christ's divinity.
Although we can only guess how Catherine, Richard's mother, may have reacted to such moments of tension, we might speculate that she sided with her son and so set herself, however reluctantly, against the will of her husband. It is a suggestion that would go some way to explaining the comparatively harsh treatment she received under the terms of her husband's last will and testament.
Rice Price died on 28 June 1739 and his will makes clear his wish to be buried next to his first wife. To Catherine he left only a feather bed and its bedclothes, together with all the other goods she had brought to Tynton at the time of their marriage. Tynton itself he left to Samuel, his son by his first marriage and the executor of his will. The only obligation on Samuel was to provide Catherine with meat, drink, washing and lodging at Tynton for one year from the day of Rice's death, provided 'she be contented to dwell with [Samuel] so long'; she was not. Within a short time of her husband's death Catherine left Tynton with her daughters Sarah and Elizabeth and went to live closer to her own family at old Castle in Bridgend; although not so close as to invalidate her husband's bequest to her daughters, who were each left £200 to be received on their coming of age, on condition that they would not live at old Castle because Rice desired them to have above all things 'a pious education in a religious family'. This seems as much a sideswipe at Catherine's family as it is an instruction to his daughters. Richard received a cash sum of £50 in order to complete his education and to establish himself 'in a way of business trade or profession which his inclination shall lead him too [sic].' He also received two houses at Bridgend, which he thoughtfully put aside for use by his mother and his sisters. The remaining and more substantial part of Rice's estate went to the children of his first marriage.
Following his father's death and the settling of his mother at Bridgend Richard Price returned to Chancefield to continue his education. His stay was soon cut short by news that his mother was ill. During 'the great frost' of the winter of 1739/40 he walked home to visit her and a short time later, on 4 June 1740, found himself at her bedside with his sisters when she died aged forty-seven, two weeks before the first anniversary of her husband's death. In barely a year Richard's whole world had been torn apart. We might expect such tragedies to have given him cause to question his most deeply held religious beliefs. If they did, they did not undermine them, for he would later recount how much he admired the tranquillity with which his mother had viewed her approaching death and, with it, the prospect of a better world. From this time on the thought of a better world after death becomes a lifelong preoccupation for Richard and one of the principal reasons for his continuing, though never unquestioned, belief in Christianity. He did not return to Chancefield. Instead, eschewing the business life his father had suggested for him, he set out for London.CHAPTER 2
A London Life
Y ddinas ddihenydd, bedlam fawr yr holl ddaear, cysgod o uffern ei hun. (The city of destruction, the world's great bedlam, a reflection of hell itself.)
London – this vast emporium of happiness and misery, splendour and wretchedness, the mart of all the world, the residence of the voluptuous and the frugal, the idle and the busy, the merchant and the man of learning.
Richard Price entered London at the age of seventeen sitting atop a conveyance he described as little more than a broad-wheeled wagon. Although he would return nearly every year to visit his family in south Wales, London now became home for the rest of his life: A city in which he eventually became so well known that the costermongers of Covent Garden would clear a path for him as he rode by on his half-blind horse and from which, in a wonderfully Hogarthian moment, he was once thrown into a basketful of their beans.
Like many a Welsh émigré to the metropolis, Price was not without his London-Welsh contacts. Before leaving south Wales he sought the advice of his uncle Samuel, who had settled in London in 1703. It was Samuel who now procured spartan lodgings for his nephew above a barber's shop in Pudding Lane while at the same time enrolling him in the Tenter Alley Academy in Moorfields, near the modern Barbican. This first taste of city life was brief for, within a few months, Price developed a case of jaundice. This was quite possibly hepatitis contracted either from the drinking water, the unsanitary conditions in which he lived at Pudding Lane – 'a close and confined abode, which was rendered more noxious by the want of those ordinary conveniences which are necessary to health and cleanliness' – or through swimming in the less-than-clean pools and rivers of the city. Whatever the cause, he went home to Wales to recuperate before returning to London and the Tenter Alley Academy in the winter of 1741, anxious to continue his education with the aim of entering the Dissenting ministry.
Excerpted from Liberty's Apostle by Paul Frame. Copyright © 2015 Paul Frame. Excerpted by permission of University of Wales Press.
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Table of ContentsIntroduction: Rediscovering Richard Price 1 A Background of Dissent 2 A London Life 3 The Virtues of Virtue 4 The Equitable Life 5 Science and Society 6 Freedoms Denied 7 Price, Franklin and the Honest Whigs 8 On a Perilous Edge 9 Revolution In America 10 Reaction at Home and Abroad 11 Reform and Contribution at Home 12 Peace with America 13 Advising Ireland, Scotland and America 14 Pitt and the Sinking Fund 15 The Watershed Years 16 Revolution in France 17 On the Love of Our Country 18 Burke and his Reflections 19 The Close