|Tynton Farmhouse, c.1910!|
There is at least one Welshman whose name will be for ever linked with the struggle for freedom and liberty, more especially as this struggle revealed itself in the events of the eighteenth century. It is not unnatural that we, his compatriots, should seek an explanation for his greatness. Who was he? Where did he come from? What were his circumstances? How and why did he take up the cause for which he has been both condemned and applauded. It is not easy to obtain a satisfactory answer to these and other questions, but perhaps we can attempt to trace his steps from the beginning.
Let us cast our minds back over the years, indeed over two centuries, for it was in the year 1723, on the 23rd February, that Richard Price was born at “Tynton”, a farmhouse in the village of Llangeinor. Although the house still stands, it is well-nigh impossible for us to grasp the full extent of the changes which have taken place in this, and other localities since that time. The Industrial Revolution, and all that it implies, has happened since. His life was ended before many of the great changes, which we take for granted, had come about. In many ways his world was entirely different from ours. There were no trains, buses, motor-cars; no postal services as we know them, no news-papers, and no wireless or telephone communications. The Garw Valley itself had, as yet, not been disturbed by the great demand for coal which was to be the feature of the new age yet to come, In fact it was a neighbourhood of a few scattered homesteads and farms.
Such was the world into which Richard Price was born. His father, Rees Price, was a scholarly, God-fearing man of strong, if not stern character whose second wife was Richard’s mother. She in turn, was the daughter of a Dr. Richards of Oldcastle, Bridgend. The family, though in fairly prosperous circumstances, were subjected by the father to a very strict discipline, but there is no doubt that Richard’s early childhood was a happy one. Two of his greatest pleasures were walking and riding, and it is not difficult to imagine that his wanderings would lead him across the Garw River, via the Pandy to Bettws and Llangynwyd, for it is there at Cefn Ydfa, that his aunt lived. His cousin was Ann Thomas, the tragic figure of the story which bears the title Y Ferch o Gefn Ydfa. Or again perhaps Richard would journey to Bridgend to visit his grandfather. Indeed Llangynwyd, Bettws and Bridgend are names which figure prominently in the history of the family.
It might be useful, here, to know something of the religious influence which was to guide Richard’s whole life. His father was a Dissenter or Nonconformist and the period was marked with much confusion and dispute. Hundreds of clergymen had left their churches for refusing to conform or to accept the whole of the Prayer Book. One of these clergymen was the Reverend Samuel Jones, Vicar of Llangynwyd. He was a man of considerable learning and, when he left his church, his example was followed by some of his parishioners, including the families of Tynton and Cefn Ydfa. This same Samuel Jones afterwards opened a college or academy at his house, Brynllywarch, and one of his best students was Rees Price. When his teacher died, Price carried on the work and part of the academy was transferred to Tynton. In addition, Price became a minister and he gave much assistance to new Protestant churches in the neighbourhood. Very largely as a result of his efforts two meeting places were erected; one in Bettws and another at the foot of Newcastle Hill in Bridgend.
The religious zeal which characterized Rees Price and his circle can hardly have left the young Richard unaffected. As to his future, however, his father had planned a business career for the lad, and it was with that purpose in mind that he was sent to the Academy at Talgarth. He went there at the age of fifteen and stayed until the death of his mother in 1740. This came as a great shock to Richard who was devoted to her, and her death marks a turning point in his life. Richard had never been a great favourite of his father who had died a year before and he had benefited very little under the will.
Richard, now seventeen, set out on an arduous journey to London, travelling on foot, on horseback and by wagon! In London he was welcomed by his uncle, the Reverend Samuel Price, another of Brynllywarch’s strudents, whose co-pastor was none other than the great Isaac Watts, writer of such famous hymns as “When I survey the wondrous Cross”, and “O God, our help in ages past.”
It was fortunate that Richard should have his uncle as guide and together they agreed that the young man should continue his education at a dissenting academy in London. After four years’ study here, Richard Price became chaplain. This was the beginning of a long period of writing and preaching. As time went on, his name spread and he was recognised as a preacher of force, eloquence and sincerity. More and more, his mind was occupied with ideas about liberty and independence. It was a time when men were refusing to accept the belief that things were necessarily better when left to those in authority; on the contrary, they were claiming that all men were born equal. It is not surprising that Richard Price should enter into these discussions with eagerness for his whole upbringing had been in a home where ideas of freedom and justice were cherished. He gradually became an enthusiastic worker in this cause and a leader of thought. However, many years were to pass before events took place, which were to bring the name of Richard Price to the fore.
The first of these was England’s quarrel with her American Colonies and the results of that quarrel. The colonists objected to the way in which they were treated by the Government in London. They protested vehemently because they were made to pay taxes which others had levied. If it was right for them to pay, then they considered it only fair and reasonable that they should have people in London to speak for them. This was the immediate cause of the quarrel and of the War which broke out on 9th April 1775. From the outset, Richard Price showed himself to be a keen supporter of the American point of view. He believed that justice was on their side, and that people should have a voice in decisions which ruled their lives. With many others, he saw no reason for the war but, once it had broken out, he defended the Americans. As the struggle continued and sharpened, Price looked upon its result as of vital importance to both Britain and America. To him, liberty was a sacred thing and in 1776, he wrote a book which had considerable influence in both countries. I was called Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America. The book had a remarkable reception; over sixty thousand copies were sold, and it was translated into a number of languages. For this work, Richard Price was granted the Freedom of the City of London. Leaders of the American cause like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson appreciated his support, and the work no doubt did much to assist them in drafting their Declaration of Independence. Price, himself, carried his arguments still further and he foresaw the idea of a league or union of nations.
It is worth noting that Richard Price was not the only Welshman to play an important part in the American struggle. Many Welshmen signed the Declaration and two of these, namely John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, succeeded George Washington as Presidents.
Something of Richard Price’s fame is revealed when we consider the many honours in which he received from America. In 1781, he was honoured by the University of Yale. In 24th April of that year, the Corporation of the University decided to confer the degree of Doctor of Laws on two men; the one, George Washington, and the other, Richard Price. In 1782, Price was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston, and three years later, a Fellow of the American Philosophical Society at Philadelphia. Before this he had received another and greater honour. The American Congress had asked him to be a Citizen of the United States and to become their adviser in matters of finance.
This brings us to another aspect of Dr. Price’s great qualities and ability. He had, for a considerable time, shown himself to be an able mathematician. His plan on insurance was looked upon as a work of great merit. It became the basis of Life Insurance in this country. He had also made any useful suggestions to help the country out of its financial difficulties, and Prime Ministers like Lord Shelburne and Pitt sought his advice.
|Dr. Richard Price|
Other honours were bestowed on Dr. Price. The Honorary Degree of D.D. was conferred upon him by the University of Glasgow, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Altogether, we can see that he was held in high esteem both here and abroad.
In 1786, his wife died after a long period of suffering. She had, in fact, been a victim of partial paralysis since the year of their marriage in 1757. The couple were devoted to each other and Dr. Price never recovered from this great sorrow. In the five years which remained of this life, two things happened which gave him faith and renewed hope in the future of mankind.
The first of these was the outbreak of the Revolution in France. To Price, this was another indication that the forces of freedom and liberty were marching from strength to strength. His beliefs were such that he derived great satisfaction from any event which seemed to signify that oppression and tyranny were gradually being removed. This new cause in France received his wholehearted support but he did not live to see the end of the Revolution, and, when he died in 1791, the National Assembly of France express their deep sorrow in an address of appreciation.
Another interest which occupied him in his last difficult years was the completion of a new academy for dissenters in London. He became one of its first tutors. It is appropriate that this effort should occupy his last years, because it reveals the essential unity and purpose of Dr. Richard Price’s life. He was ever guided by the great principles of freedom, justice, equality, and independence. To him, these principles were universal and indivisible – they knew no bounds of time or distance From London his fame and inspiration had spread to many parts if the world. He was indeed a great Welshman but his greatness transcends nationality and, in the words of the plaque on the Bridgend Public Library, He was truly :
(Friend of Mankind)
D.H. Harries, Writing for The Festival of Britain Guide of Bridgend, 1951!