Born on 9th of March 1793
Died on 18th of June 1835
Those who know Cobbett only through his description of changing agricultural Britain, Rural rides (published in 1830) may be surprised by the life he led, a life of political endeavour, reforming zeal, and no little conflict and trouble.
Born in Farnham on March 9 1763, the son of an innkeeper and smallholder, Cobbett received little formal education until he joined the army and used his leisure when posted to Canada to study. He rose to be Sergeant Major, and was more honest and capable than many of his officers, some of whom on his return to England and discharge he sought to bring to court for their corruption. The case was fixed, and he fled to France in March 1792 and thence to America the same September.
In America he bravely but perversely took a pro-British stance in pamphleteering, and after a disastrous legal case fled back to Britain, where in 1802 he established a weekly newspaper (in time turned into a pamphlet to escape newspaper tax) Cobbett’s Political Register. He was the pioneer of parliamentary reporting in 1806, and of trial reporting in 1809.
The purchase of a farm in Botley in Hampshire was one of the ups in a life of frequent downs, the worst of which was imprisonment in Newgate for two years for treasonous libel. Fearing a further spell in prison he fled to America for two years again in 1817.
Partly through his personal experience he became a great advocate of political reform (he was four times an unsuccessful candidate for Parliament), especially of the rotten boroughs. He also campaigned for Catholic emancipation, for the rights of farm labourers, and against government tyranny as he saw it.
In 1832 he was finally elected to Parliament, winning Oldham, but his success was brief, he died on June 18 1835, his mental health disturbed by a life of living on his wits with the weight of the establishment against him.
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1 Response to William Cobbett
From Marcus on 30th April 2009
Forced to leave army and fled to America. Began career as journalist, attacking American democracy, known as Peter Porcupine. Returned to England in 1800, began publishing weekly newsletter, the Political Register. Active in grassroots radicalism and supported labourers' riots in 1830, tried for sedition but acquitted. Elected to Parliament in 1832.
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