Academic journal article History of Economics Review

Sarah Ricardo's Tale of Wealth and Virtue

Academic journal article History of Economics Review

Sarah Ricardo's Tale of Wealth and Virtue

Article excerpt

Abstract: The paper reconstructs the life and activity of the author of a famous novel for boys as well as of a textbook of arithmetic and of essays on educational issues, who was also the sister of a famous economist. The bulk of the paper is dedicated to Alfred Dudley, a novel for boys about wealth, status, speculation, poverty, manual work, emigration and the role of virtue in making a decent society possible. Also the author's educational views are discussed, highlighting her opposition to Benthamite programs and her proposal for an interdenominational religious education, and arguing that her contributions to plans for a general education system were meant to respond to what had been Smith's, Malthus's, and perhaps also her brother's question, namely, how may wealth and virtue go together?

1 Introduction: The Life of a Nineteenth-Century Literary Lady

Sarah Ricardo Porter, or, allowing for increasing doses of male chauvinism, Sarah Porter nee Ricardo, Sarah Porter or Mrs G.R. Porter, was the youngest daughter of Abraham Ricardo. The latter had married Abigail Delvalle in 1769 and they had a huge family, even by eighteenth-century standards, of fifteen children (Sraffa 1955: 24). Sarah was born on 22 December 1790, twenty years after her famous brother, David Ricardo (ibid: 60). Her father was a man of considerable wealth and on his death left a fortune of 45,000 [pounds sterling]. It is of interest that a letter written in Sarah's handwriting and signed jointly with Esther, her sister, refusing a present in money from David has been preserved. It may date from some time after Abraham Ricardo's death in 1812 and before Sarah's marriage in 1814. The reason why David felt he had to offer some financial help was that Abraham had established that the younger children's share should be left in trust until they came of age or married, and as a consequence Sarah and Esther had an annual allowance of only 90 [pounds sterling] each to rely upon. The reasons for refusal, besides the opinion that they did not really need any more money, was an awareness of the undesirable side-effects of the gift relationship, 'for while one party is constantly receiving obligations from the other, there certainly cannot subsist that perfect equality so necessary to the unrestrained affection we at present feel towards each other' (Ricardo 1951-73, 10: 133). No information about the kind of education she received is available, and we may only guess, starting with what we know about the family. Given the practice among London upper-class Jewish families of hiring private tutors for their children (Black 1998: 4), we may conjecture that Sarah probably enjoyed not too bad a general education, with rather limited Jewish content, at home under private tutors.

In 1814 or earlier Sarah married George Richardson Porter (Sraffa 1955: 60). The story that she 'married a school friend of her brothers' (Anonymous 1862) may be inaccurate, for she was the youngest in the family and the groom was two years younger than her. She was one of six among the Ricardo siblings who married outside the Jewish Community and we may assume that she became a member of the Church of England (Sraffa 1955: 54-61; Henderson 1994: 140). Her husband, born in London in 1792 and the son of a merchant, was employed for many years with the Board of Trade statistical department, and became in 1841 one of the secretaries in the railway department. He had strong political opinions, those of a staunch liberal and enthusiastic free-trader, and was the author of several publications, including a renowned statistical overview of the British Society (Hewins 1959-60 [1882]; Waller 1877; McCulloch 1845: 80, 220, 222). (1) We are told by the Gentleman's Magazine that the Porters lived at Putney Heath in 1852 (Anonymous 1852), and that Sarah lived at West-hill, Wandsworth, when she died on 13 September 1862 (Anonymous 1862).

Not surprisingly, no entry is dedicated to her in the Dictionary of National Biography. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.