Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Levi, Leone

LEVI, LEONE (1821–1888), jurist and statistician, was born of Jewish parents at Ancona on 6 June 1821. His father, Isaac Levi, belonged to the middle class, and Leone, after receiving the ordinary commercial education of the day in his native town, was placed at the age of fifteen in the office of his elder brother, who carried on the business of commission agent and merchant there. The business prospered, and Levi in 1844 was sent to England to extend it. He settled at Liverpool, was naturalised, mastered the English language, and established a connection, but was unfortunate in some speculations, and after the commercial crisis of 1847 came back to Ancona to find his brother ruined. He returned to England, and found employment as a clerk in a mercantile house at Liverpool. Some letters to the ‘Liverpool Albion’ newspaper in 1849, advocating the establishment in our chief commercial centres of general representative chambers of commerce and permanent tribunals of commerce, constituted of a legally trained judge, with mercantile assessors, brought him before the public, and formed the basis of two pamphlets, one on ‘Chambers and Tribunals of Commerce, and proposed General Chamber of Commerce in Liverpool,’ London, 1849, 8vo, the other ‘On the State of the Law of Arbitrament, and proposed Tribunal of Commerce,’ London, 1850, 8vo. One half of Levi's scheme was at once carried into effect by the establishment of general and representative chambers of commerce at Liverpool, Leeds, Bradford, Hull, and other important centres of industry. Of the Liverpool chamber Levi became the honorary secretary. Levi's suggestions for the reform of the law of arbitration, then in a very defective condition, bore fruit in the arbitration clauses of the Common Law Procedure Act of 1854, which have only recently been superseded by the Arbitration Act of 1889. Levi was not slow to avail himself of his position at the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce to obtain through official channels exact information about foreign chambers of commerce and the laws applying to commercial transactions in their respective countries. Materials thus accumulated on his hands for a synopsis of the commercial law of Christendom similar to Anthoine de Joseph's ‘Concordance des Codes de Commerce,’ but on a larger scale, and such as might serve as a step towards an international code of commerce. He secured with difficulty a sufficient number of subscribers; gained admission to the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, where he worked from sixteen to eighteen hours a day; interested the prince consort in his design, and ventilated it in a letter addressed to chambers of commerce and in lectures which he delivered in London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and elsewhere in 1851 and 1852, and afterwards printed. The work itself appeared under the title ‘Commercial Law: its Principles and Administration; or the Mercantile Law of Great Britain compared with the Codes and Laws of Commerce of the following Mercantile Countries’—fifty-nine are enumerated, in alphabetical order, from Anhalt to Würtemberg—‘and the Institutes of Justinian,’ London, 1850–2, 4to. The publication was recognised as an event of national and international importance. The king of Prussia, the emperor of Austria, the Society of Arts, and College of Physicians awarded Levi gold medals or prizes. At Levi's suggestion Lord Harrowby, to whom the book was dedicated, arranged with Brougham, then president of the Law Amendment Society, the congress of 16 Nov. 1852, in order to discuss practical measures for harmonising the laws of the three kingdoms. A royal commission was issued, and resulted in the Mercantile Law Amendment Acts of 1856 (19 & 20 Vict. cc. 60 and 97), by which some of the more glaring discrepancies between English and Scotch and Irish law were removed (see Parliamentary Papers, Reports from Commissioners, 1854, vol. ix., and 1854–5, vol. iv.) The commission also considered the expediency of introducing the principle of trading with limited liability into the law of partnership, and Levi, who had already given evidence in its favour before a committee of the House of Commons in 1850, was examined by the commissioners, who, however, reported adversely to the proposal. Levi also gave evidence before a committee of the House of Lords in 1853 in favour of the collection of agricultural statistics, which was not earnestly taken in hand until 1866. He also attended the International Congresses of Statisticians at Brussels in 1853 and 1855, in the latter year read before the Law Amendment Society a paper ‘On Judicial Statistics,’ and at Brougham's request drafted a bill on the subject which Brougham introduced into the House of Lords, but eventually withdrew.

Meanwhile in 1852, on the recommendation of Lord Harrowby, Levi had been appointed to the newly created chair of commerce at King's College, and removing to London had taken chambers in Doctors' Commons. He discharged his duties with conspicuous ability and zeal in spite of inadequate remuneration. The close study of English mercantile law which his lectures involved was proved by his ‘Manual of the Mercantile Law of Great Britain and Ireland,’ published at London in 1854, 8vo. Of the Statistical Society he became fellow in 1851, one of the council in 1860, and vice-president in 1885, and contributed sixteen of the papers in its journals, frequently representing the society at foreign congresses. He was also elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1854, was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1859, and received from the university of Tübingen the degree of doctor of economical and political science in 1861. Levi was also a member of the Society of Arts, of the Law Amendment Society, of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, of the Royal Geographical Society, of the International Statistical Institute, honorary secretary of the metric committee of the British Association, and of the International Association for Promoting one Uniform System of Weights, Measures, and Coins, and a knight of the Italian orders of SS. Mauritius and Lazarus, and of the Crown of Italy. He was a friend and enthusiastic admirer of Cobden, to whose memory he paid a warm tribute when advocating the establishment of an international lectureship on economics in 1865 (On Richard Cobden, an Introductory Lecture delivered in King's College, London, 22 Oct. 1865, London, 1865, 8vo). He disapproved of capital punishment, and believed in the practicability of settling international disputes by arbitration. These views he ventilated in ‘The Law of Nature and Nations as affected by Divine Law,’ London, 1855, 8vo; ‘Peace the Handmaid of Commerce, with Remarks on the Eastern Crisis. An Introductory Lecture delivered at King's College, London, 12 Oct. 1876,’ London, 1876, 8vo; ‘War and its Consequences, Economical, Commercial, Financial, and Moral. With Proposals for the Establishment of a Court of International Reference and Arbitration,’ London, 1881, 8vo, and ‘International Law, with Materials for a Code of International Law,’ London, 1887, 8vo. He was also a warm advocate of the Channel tunnel. His principal work on statistics was a periodical summary of parliamentary papers, entitled ‘Annals of British Legislation, being a Classified and Analysed Summary of Public Bills, Statutes, Accounts, and Papers, Reports of Committees and of Commissioners, and of Sessional Papers generally of the Houses of Lords and Commons, together with Accounts of Commercial Legislation, Tariffs, and Facts relating to Foreign Countries,’ London, 1856–1865, fourteen vols. 8vo, continued on a larger scale, under the title ‘Annals of British Legislation, being a Digest of the Parliamentary Blue Books’ to 1868, 4 vols. 8vo. He took a lively interest in the working classes, and investigated their economic position and prospects in the following works: 1. ‘Wages and Earnings of the Working Classes, with some facts illustrative of their Economic Condition, from Authentic and Official Sources, in a Report to Michael T. Bass, esq., M.P.,’ London, 1867, 8vo. 2. ‘Estimate of the Amount of Taxation falling on the Working Classes of the United Kingdom. A Report to M. T. Bass, esq., M.P.,’ London, 1873, 8vo. 3. ‘Work and Pay, or Principles of Industrial Economy. Two Courses of Lectures delivered to Working Men in King's College, London, with the Report of the Committee of the British Association on Combinations of Labourers and Capitalists,’ London, 1877, 8vo. 4. ‘The Economic Condition of Fishermen,’ London, 1883, 8vo (a paper read at a Conference at the International Fisheries Exhibition). 5. ‘Wages and Earnings of the Working Classes. A Report to Sir Arthur Bass,’ London, 1885, 8vo.

Levi's magnum opus, however, was his ‘History of British Commerce and of the Economic Progress of the British Nation, 1763–1870,’ London, 1872, 8vo; 2nd edit., with continuation to 1878, and graphic tables, 1880, 8vo, a work which, with little or no pretension to literary style, sets forth clearly and methodically the results of a lifetime of study.

Soon after his arrival in England Levi changed his faith, and became an active member of the religious body which before 1876 styled itself the ‘Presbyterian Church in England,’ and has since adopted the title of ‘Presbyterian Church of England.’ A ‘Digest of the Actings and Proceedings of the Synod of the Presbyterian Church in England, 1836–1876,’ was published under his supervision in 1876, 8vo. But while thoroughly identifying himself with the land of his adoption, Levi retained a lively interest in that of his birth, and founded, in connection with the Technical Institute at Ancona, a free scientific library, and a lectureship ‘on the laws of commerce in relation to science and moral international laws.’ He revisited Italy in 1887 as member of a deputation from the Statistical Society to the congress of European statisticians held at Rome in that year. Soon after his return to England grave symptoms manifested themselves, and after an illness of several months he died at his house, 31 Highbury Grove, on 7 May 1888. He was buried on the 12th in Highgate cemetery.

Levi married in 1856 Margaret, daughter of James Ritchie of Edinburgh.

Besides the works mentioned above Levi published many separate lectures on economic or commercial subjects. He also edited ‘The Theory and Practice of the Metric System of Weights and Measures,’ London, 1871, 8vo; ‘A Treatise on the Office and Practice of a Notary of England, with a full Collection of Precedents, by Richard Brooke, esq., F.S.A.,’ London, 1867, 8vo; and was author of ‘An Introductory Paper’ prefixed to the Pears prize essays on ‘The Present Depression of Trade; its Causes and Remedies,’ London, 1885, 8vo.

[The principal authorities are an autobiographical fragment, entitled The Story of my Life, the first Ten Years of my Residence in England, 1845–55, printed for private circulation, London, 1888, 8vo; Vapereau's Dict. des Contemporains; Men of the Time, 10th edit.; Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, li. 340–2.]

J. M. R.