These are the words of Dr Richard Price: moral and political philosopher, mathematical genius, and one of the architects of the American Declaration of Independence. He wrote these words in 1776 – the year in which that momentous document was signed.
Price was a friend and confidante of Benjamin Franklin (right), John Adams and Lord Shelburne (Prime Minister of Britain, 1782–83). He knew, and was an important influence on, Mary Wollstonecraft, and he was praised by Thomas Paine on the opening page of The Rights of Man (1792). He discovered, edited, and developed the work of Thomas Bayes, becoming in the process co-founder of the so-called ‘Bayes Theorem’: a significant contribution to probability theory, still used today in the calculation of risk and setting of insurance premiums.
Born in the village of Llangeinor, near Bridgend, Price is honoured there in memorial railings, and in the name of the village community centre, but most people in his homeland have never heard of him. Chris Williams of Swansea University has observed: ‘If Richard Price had been born a hundred years later, then quite possibly we'd be hailing him as the father of the modern world’.
In these days of powerful campaigns against injustice such as #me too and Black Lives Matter, we could do worse than to remember the Welshman who put universal liberty above all other human values, and who campaigned against oppressive laws and practices despite public attacks, often orchestrated by an Establishment keen to defend its privilege.
Along with my brother, Vic, and our small theatre company Contemporancient Theatre, I am working on a new drama that celebrates Price’s life and work. My contribution is a series of dramatic poems. Below is an extract from one of them. Giving voice to thoughts Price expressed in his pamphlet Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution (1785), the poem renders them in verse which is intended to be reminiscent of eighteenth-century poetry.
The world must quake to see the day, the hour
when falls America’s dream to lust for power.
May God forbid that it should arm for war,
the nation that was meant for so much more,
that promised tolerance, freedom, dignity,
that promised welcome to the refugee,
that promised broken chains and sweet release,
religious freedom, universal peace.
I’d go barefoot, I’d sleep out in the field,
endure all hardship sooner than I’d yield
the hope that fashions futures, shapes our ends,
the final fight on which our world depends.
Should there upon the earth be nowhere found
where justice reigns when the last trump shall sound?
Professor Kevin Mills focuses on issues of language and representation with a particular interest in the cultural residues of biblical interpretation. He has explored these interests in relation to critical theory, Victorian literature and twentieth-century texts. Professor Mills teaches undergraduate English modules on Nineteenth-Century and English Renaissance Literature, and a third-year module on Myth and Narrative, and is the course leader for the MPhil in Writing. His latest poetry collection is available from Cinnamon Press.
Please visit the Contemporancient Theatre website to learn more about the group or the Richard Price project