Book Review: William Cobbett … the greatest Englishman, ever?

William Cobbett is best known as a political satirist, a champion of the working man especially agricultural labourers who he called his “chopsticks”. Born in 1763, across his life he was … a soldier, a pamphleteer, a convict, a journalist, a farmer and a member of Parliament before he died in 1835. He wrote many books, his most famous and still in print today was “Rural Rides” in which he wrote about his travels around England on horseback, engaging with farmers and his “chopsticks” as he observed the landscape, the quality of the soil and crops and the quality of life of the farm workers. He wrote about them in his pamphlets, angry about their suppression via the Enclosure Acts, The Corn Laws, and their general conditions of work. He attacked the clergy, the aristocratic land owners and the politicians, my goodness how he attacked the politicians satirically which got him into trouble many times as they used biased laws of libel, corrupt lawyers and bribed witnesses against him. He fled to France on one occasion and America on another to escape, but in 1810 was jailed for two years in Newgate Prison for “treasonous libel”. By 1817 his pamphlet, The Political Register, had a circulation of 40,000 and was the main reading of the working class ….. making him a very dangerous man!

I have not read Rural Rides, but I have just finished reading The Life and Adventures of William Cobbett by Richard Ingrams. (If you don’t know Ingrams he was the joint founder of Private Eye, the modern day satirical magazine attacking the government of the day in Britain, exposing corruption and ridiculing pomposity of the so called “elites”). The book IS relevant to my ancestry from this period both in Kent as agricultural labourers (chopsticks) and in Cornwall as tin miners.

I couldn’t put the book down and read it over three days during our trip to Cornwall. It’s easily readable, with Ingram’s personal style blending historical facts and incidents with Cobbett’s actual writing of them. In fact it reads like a novel as it describes this bold, bloody-minded, bacon-eating great Englishman who was a very funny writer. Some of the tales are horrific though and you will come to realise how Cobbett gave his whole life standing up for the oppressed working class as he was persecuted himself.

As I read about Cobbett’s life I found myself drawing parallels with modern times. Do we have an unbiased press standing up for the people or with balanced reporting of all sides, are politicians honest hard working folks full of integrity, do they pass laws to enable or to suppress, do we even live in a democracy any more which works to the principle of “no taxation without representation”? Cobbett would have been outraged and vitriolic about the politics of the UK today especially over an incident in our “great parliament” yesterday in which a vote was taken to suspend our leaving the EU and seek a very long delay before we could do so. Here’s a report of the vote and the “incident” involving one criminal MP:

“It passed by 313 votes to 312, rammed through Parliament in just one day. Those who voted to block No Deal included 229 Labour MPs, 14 Conservative MPs and Peterborough MP Fiona Onasanya who was convicted in January for perverting the course of justice, released from prison early and is currently wearing a tag to monitor her movements! A former MP for Peterborough, Stewart Jackson, responded by saying: “Special message for Labour voters in Peterborough: The lying criminal Fiona Onasanya wearing a tag was the deciding vote in the division blocking Brexit last night in the House of Commons. Well done. Great work.”

Having read the life story of William Cobbett he would not be short of words to expose such an abomination and slap in the face for the people of this country, many now being prosecuted and losing jobs in the name of political correctness. I may have to put him above Isaac and Oliver as my all time greatest Englishman. If you have even the vaguest interest in how politics and politicians have NOT changed in 250 years, in USA as well as UK, I commend this book to you.

Categories: 1800s, books, English History

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7 replies

  1. Oh nothing changes in politics. A bunch of bloviating fools, completely ripe for satire. Sounds like an interesting book.


  2. Interesting. Would you know if Cobbett’s Rural Rides covers Cheshire and North Wales (where most of my farming ancestors came from)?


  3. Offensive I agree but let’s not forget that many MPs voting yesterday were guilty of fiddling their expenses. Equally as offensive.

    I am always reminded of the wise words of Sir Thomas More in Utopia – “Anyone who campaigns for public office becomes disqualified for holding any office at all”


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