William Cobbett

English pamphleteer, farmer and journalist 1763-1835

William Cobbett (9 March 176318 June 1835) was an English politician, agriculturist, journalist and pamphleteer, writing first in the Tory and then in the Radical cause.

Nothing is so well calculated to produce a death-like torpor in the country as an extended system of taxation and a great national debt.




  • However roguish a man may be, he always loves to deal with an honest man.
    • Letter, Philadelphia, to Rachel Smithers (6 July 1794), published in The Autobiography of William Cobbett: The Progress of a Plough-boy to a Seat in Parliament, ch. 5, p. 57 (1933)
  • It is not true, that the granting of the independence of America was “an advantage to England.” It was, on the contrary, the greatest evil that ever befell her. It was the primary cause of the present war, and of all the calamities which it has brought upon England and upon Europe. If England and the American States had continued united, they would have prevented France from disturbing the peace of the world. That fatal measure, though it has not curtailed our commerce, has created a power who will be capable of assisting France in any of her future projects against us, and whose neutrality, when France recovers her marine, must be purchased by us at the expense, first of commercial concessions, and, finally, by much more important sacrifices. In short, it laid the foundation of the ruin of the British empire, which can be prevented by nothing but a wisdom, and an energy, which have never yet marked the councils of our Government, in its transactions with the American States.
    • ‘A Summary View of the Politics of the United States from the close of the War to the year 1794’, Porcupine's Works; containing various writings and selections, exhibiting a faithful picture of the United States of America, Volume I (1801), pp. 47–8
  • A man of all countries is a man of no country: and let all those citizens of the world remember, that he who has been a bad subject in his own country...will never be either trusted or respected.
    • ‘Observations on Priestley's Emigration’ (August 1794), Porcupine's Works; containing various writings and selections, exhibiting a faithful picture of the United States of America, Volume I (1801), p. 169
  • After this, who will say that an Englishman ought not to despise “all the nations of Europe?” For my part I do, and that most “heartily.”
    • Porcupine's Gazette (December 1797), Porcupine's Works; containing various writings and selections, exhibiting a faithful picture of the United States of America, Volume VII (1801), p. 428

Life and Adventures of Peter Porcupine (1796)

Quotations are cited from the 1927 Nonesuch Press edition.
  • All that I can boast of in my birth, is, that I was born in Old England.
    • P. 1
  • As to politics, we were like the rest of the country people in England; that is to say, we neither knew nor thought any thing about the matter.
    • P. 21
  • But I do not remember ever having seen a newspaper in the house; and, most certainly, that privation did not render us less industrious, happy, or free.
    • P. 22
  • Men of integrity are generally pretty obstinate in adhering to an opinion once adopted.
    • P. 23
  • I would have these good people to recollect, that the laws of this country hold out to foreigners an offer of all that liberty of the press which Americans enjoy, and that, if this liberty be abridged, by whatever means it may be done, the laws and the constitution, and all together, is a mere cheat; a snare to catch the credulous and enthusiastic of every other nation; a downright imposition on the world.
    • P. 59


The profession of arms is always the most honourable.
  • I began my editorial career with the presidency of Mr. Adams, and my principal object was to render his administration all the assistance in my power. I flattered myself with the hope of accompanying him through [his] voyage, and of partaking in a trifling degree, of the glory of the enterprise; but he suddenly tacked about, and I could follow him no longer. I therefore waited for the first opportunity to haul down my sails.
    • Porcupine's Gazette, No. 799 (13 January 1800)
  • Marat was a chemist, Le Bon a lawyer, Collet d'Herbois a player, and not one of them a bull-baiter, I dare be sworn.
    • Letter to William Windham (5 January 1802), quoted in Lewis Melville, The Life and Letters of William Cobbett in England and America: Volume I (1913), p. 146
  • In one point, and that too of more importance than is generally attached to it, the puritans of the two epochs bear a critical resemblance, namely, their hostility to rural and athletic sports: to those sports, which string the nerves and strengthen the frame, which excite an emulation in deeds of hardihood and valour, and which imperceptibly instill honour, generosity, and a love of glory, into the mind of the clown. Men thus formed are pupils unfit for the puritanical school; therefore it is, that the sect are incessantly labouring to eradicate, fibre by fibre, the last poor remains of English manners. And, sorry I am to tell you, that they meet with but too many abettors, where they ought to meet with resolute foes. Their pretexts are plausible: gentleness and humanity are the cant of the day. Weak men are imposed on, and wise men want the courage to resist. Instead of preserving those assemblages and those sports, in which the nobleman mixed with his peasants, which made the poor man proud of his inferiority, and created in his breast a personal affection for his lord, too many of the rulers of this land are now hunting the common people from every scene of diversion, and driving them to a club or a conventicle, at the former of which they suck in the delicious rudiments of earthly equality, and, at the latter, the no less delicious doctrine, that there is no lawful king but King Jesus.
    • Political Register (27 February 1802)
  • Of all the bull-baiting in England one half is carried on in Staffordshire and Lancashire. The best soldiers in the kingdom, the most brave and the most faithful to their colours, come out of those counties, particularly Staffordshire. The bravery and fidelity of Staffordshire men are proverbial through the army, and has been so for two hundred years past. The Staffordshire Regiment of Militia is not only the finest but best-behaved regiment of militia in the kingdom. Wherever this regiment goes, it is followed by a score or two of bull-dogs, no bad emblem of the character of the soldiers themselves.
    • Memorandum to William Windham (May 1802), quoted in Lewis Melville, The Life and Letters of William Cobbett in England and America: Volume I (1913), p. 157
  • When, from the top of any high hill, one looks round the country, and sees the multitude of regularly distributed spires, one not only ceases to wonder that order and religion are maintained, but one is astonished that any such thing as disaffection or irreligion should prevail.
    • Letter to William Windham (27 May 1802), quoted in J. C. D. Clark, English Society. 1688-1832. Ideology, Social Structure and Political Practice during the Ancien Regime (1985), pp. 89-90
  • It is time the nation should be roused from its philanthropic dream; that it should see this matter in the true light; and that some means should be taken to put a stop to the increase of Blacks in this country, at any rate, where they have made no little progress in changing the colour of the inhabitants. It is truly shocking to see the number of English women, who are married to Negroes: our streets and public walks are continually disgraced by the disgusting spectacle; and whom are we to blame but ourselves for foolishly yielding to the importunities of those who have the address to make us pay for the genteel education of these sable intruders?
    • Political Register (5 June 1802), p. 702
  • The ancient nobility and gentry of the kingdom...have been thrust out of all public employment...a race of merchants, and manufacturers and bankers and loan-jobbers and contractors have usurped their place.
    • Political Register (10-17 July 1802), quoted in Karl W. Schweizer and John W. Osborne, Cobbett and His Times (1990), p. 8
  • Nothing is so well calculated to produce a death-like torpor in the country as an extended system of taxation and a great national debt.
    • Letter (10 February 1804)
  • There is a Bill before the House of Commons which, under disguise, is intended to eradicate boxing, bull-baiting, and everything that Mr. Bowles, or his coadjutor Mr. Perceval, chooses to call a misdemeanour. I have not time to communicate what I wish to say; but I have the Bill here, and, if you will be so good as to call any time to-day or to-morrow, I will point out the danger. There is no time to be lost; because I dare say that this Bill, which goes to the rearing of puritanism into a system, would, if you did not lay hold of it, pass unnoticed.
    • Letter to William Windham (2 May 1804), quoted in Lewis Melville, The Life and Letters of William Cobbett in England and America: Volume I (1913), pp. 205–6
  • Amongst the great and numerous dangers to which this country, and particularly the monarchy, is exposed in consequence of the enormous public debt, the influence, the powerful and widely-extended influence, of the monied interest is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it necessarily aims at measures which directly tend to the subversion of the present order of things...I mean an interest hostile alike to the land-holder and to the stockholder, to the colonies, to the real merchant, and to the manufacturer, to the clergy, to the nobility and to the throne; I mean the numerous and powerful body of loan-jobbers, directors, brokers, contractors and farmers-general, which has been engendered by the excessive amount of the public debt, and the almost boundless extension of the issues of paper-money.
    • Political Register (8 September 1804), quoted in Karl W. Schweizer and John W. Osborne, Cobbett and His Times (1990), p. 29
What, for instance, induced me, when so far distant from my country, voluntarily to devote myself to her cause? ... It was the name and fame of England. Her laws, her liberties, her justice, her might; all the qualities and circumstances that had given her renown in the world, but above all her deeds in arms, her military glory.
  • What, for instance, induced me, when so far distant from my country, voluntarily to devote myself to her cause? Her commerce? I neither knew nor cared any thing about it. Her funds? I was so happy as hardly to understand the meaning of the word. Her lands? I could, alas! lay claim to nothing but the graves of my parents.—What, then, was the stimulus? What was I proud of? It was the name and fame of England. Her laws, her liberties, her justice, her might; all the qualities and circumstances that had given her renown in the world, but above all her deeds in arms, her military glory.
    • Political Register (27 October 1804)
  • It would be tedious to dwell upon every striking mark of national decline: some, however, will press themselves forward to particular notice; and amongst them are: that Italian-like effeminacy, which has, at last, descended to the yeomanry of the country, who are now found turning up their silly eyes in ecstacy at a music-meeting, while they should be cheering the hounds, or measuring their strength at the ring; the discouragement of all the athletic sports and modes of strife amongst the common people, and the consequent and fearful increase of those cuttings and stabbings, those assassin-like ways of taking vengeance, formerly heard of in England only as the vices of the most base and cowardly foreigners, but now become so frequent amongst ourselves as to render necessary a law to punish such practices with death; the prevalence and encouragement of a hypocritical religion, a canting morality, and an affected humanity; the daily increasing poverty of the national church, and the daily increasing disposition still to fleece the more than half-shorne clergy, who are compelled to be, in various ways, the mere dependants of the upstarts of trade; the almost entire extinction of the ancient country gentry, whose estates are swallowed up by loan-jobbers, contractors, and nabobs, who, for the far greater part not Englishmen themselves, exercise in England that sort of insolent sway, which, by the means of taxes raised from English labour, they have been enabled to exercise over the slaves of India or elsewhere; the bestowing of honours upon the mere possessors of wealth, without any regard to birth, character, or talents, or to the manner in which that wealth has been acquired; the familiar intercourse of but too many of the ancient nobility with persons of low birth and servile occupations, with exchange and insurance-brokers, loan and lottery contractors, agents and usurers, in short, with all the Jew-like race of money-changers.
    • Political Register (27 October 1804)
  • ...the existence of a 'system' that was ruining the country. The system of upstarts; of low-bred, low-minded sycophants usurping the stations designed by nature, by reason, by the Constitution, and by the interests of the people, to men of high birth, eminent talents, or great national services; the system by which the ancient Aristocracy and the Church have been undermined; by which the ancient gentry of the kingdom have been almost extinguished, their means of support having been transferred, by the hand of the tax gatherer, to contractors, jobbers and Jews; the system by which but too many of the higher orders have been rendered the servile dependents of the minister of the day, and by which the lower, their generous spirit first broken down, have been moulded into a mass of parish fed paupers. Unless it be the intention, the solemn resolution, to change this system, let no one talk to me of a change of ministry; for, until this system be destroyed...until the filthy tribe of jobbers, brokers and peculators shall be swept from the councils of the nation and the society of her statesmen...there is no change of men, that can, for a single hour, retard the mighty mischief that we dread.
    • Political Register (20 April 1805), quoted in Karl W. Schweizer and John W. Osborne, Cobbett and His Times (1990), pp. 27-28, 71-72
  • [O]ne may confidently hope, that this will not be the instance, in which the last blow will be struck at that manly, that generous mode of terminating quarrels between the common people, a mode by which the common people of England have, for ages, been distinguished from those of all other countries. ... [T]he occasion calls for some remark upon those exertions, which, of late, have been, and which yet are, making in every part of the country, with the obvious, and, in many instances, with the declared, intention, of utterly eradicating the practice of boxing; than which, I am thoroughly persuaded, nothing could be more injurious, whether considered as to its effects in civil life, or in its higher and more important effects on the people regarded as the members of a state, and, of course, always opposed to some other state, and therefore always liable to be called upon to perform the duties of war.
    • ‘Boxing’, Political Register (10 August 1805), p. 195
  • Commerce, Opulence, Luxury, Effeminacy, Cowardice, Slavery: these are the stages of national degradation. We are in the fourth; and, I beg the reader to consider, to look into history, to trace states in their fall, and then say how rapid is the latter part of the progress! Of the symptoms of effeminacy none is so certain as a change from athletic and hardy sports, or exercises, to those requiring less bodily strength, and exposing the persons engaged in them to less bodily suffering; and when this change takes place, be assured that national cowardice is at no great distance, the general admiration of deeds of hardihood having already been considerably lessened.
    • ‘Boxing’, Political Register (10 August 1805), p. 197
  • The profession of arms is always the most honourable.
    • ‘Boxing’, Political Register (10 August 1805), p. 199
  • Not only boxing, but wrestling, quarter-staff, single-stick, bull-baiting, every exercise of the common people, that supposes the possible risk of life or limb, and, of course, that tends to prepare them for deeds of bravery of a higher order, and, by the means of those deeds and of the character and consequence naturally growing out of them, to preserve the independence and the liberties of their country; every such exercise seems to be doomed to extirpation. ... Every thing calculated to keep alive the admiration, and even the idea, of hardihood, seems to have become offensive and odious in the sight of but too many of those, whose duty it is to endeavour to arrest, and not to accelerate, the fatal progress of effeminacy. ... That cuttings and stabbings are more fatal than boxing, to say nothing of the disgrace, every one must agree; and, it cannot be denied, that the former have increased in proportion as the latter has been driven from amongst the people.
    • ‘Boxing’, Political Register (10 August 1805), p. 200
  • I have always said, that, without commerce...this island could not possibly continue to be great...but, it is the system of rendering every thing commercial; of making merchants and bankers into Lords; of making a set of fund-dealers the distributors of honours and rewards...it is this system that I reprobate.
    • Political Register (11 January 1806), quoted in Karl W. Schweizer and John W. Osborne, Cobbett and His Times (1990), p. 15
  • I cannot...perceive any ground for hoping that any practical good would, while the funding system exists in its present extent, result from the adoption of any of those projects, which have professed to have in view what is called Parliamentary Reform...when the funding system, from whatever cause, shall cease to operate upon civil and political liberty, there will be no need of projects for parliamentary reform. The parliament will, as far as shall be necessary, then reform itself.
    • Political Register (15 March 1806), quoted in Karl W. Schweizer and John W. Osborne, Cobbett and His Times (1990), p. 11


To suppose such a thing possible as a society, in which men, who are able and willing to work, cannot support their families, and ought, with a great part of the women, to be compelled to lead a life of celibacy, for fear of having children to be starved; to suppose such a thing possible is monstrous.
  • The very hirelings of the press, whose trade it is to buoy up the spirits of the people … have uttered falsehoods so long, they have played off so many tricks, that their budget seems, at last, to be quite empty.
    • “The Last Ten Years,” Political Register (4 January 1812)
  • It has long been a fashion amongst you, which you have had the complaisance to adopt at the instigation of a corrupt press, to call every friend of reform, every friend of freedom, a Jacobin, and to accuse him of French principles. ... What are these principles?—That governments were made for the people, and not the people for governments.—That sovereigns reign legally only by virtue of the people's choice.—That birth without merit ought not to command merit without birth.—That all men ought to be equal in the eye of the law.—That no man ought to be taxed or punished by any law to which he has not given his assent by himself or by his representative.—That taxation and representation ought to go hand in hand.—That every man ought to be judged by his peers, or equals.—That the press ought to be free. ... Ten thousand times as much has been written on the subject in England as in all the rest of the world put together. Our books are full of these principles. ... There is not a single political principle which you denominate French, which has not been sanctioned by the struggles of ten generations of Englishmen, the names of many of whom you repeat with veneration, because, apparently, you forget the grounds of their fame. To Tooke, Burdett, Cartwright, and a whole host of patriots of England, Scotland and Ireland, imprisoned or banished, during the administration of Pitt, you can give the name of Jacobins, and accuse them of French principles. Yet, not one principle have they ever attempted to maintain that Hampden and Sydney did not seal with their blood.
    • ‘To the Merchants of England’, Political Register (29 April 1815), pp. 518–19
  • We want great alteration, but we want nothing new.
    • Political Register (2 November 1816), pp. 454–55
  • Having still in my recollection so many excellent men, to whose grandfathers, upon the same spots, my grandfather had yielded cheerful obedience and reverence, it is not without sincere sorrow that I have beheld many of the sons of these men driven from their fathers' mansions, or holding them as little better than tenants or stewards, while the swarms of Placemen, Pensioners, Contractors, and Nabobs...have usurped a large part of the soil.
    • Political Register (21 December 1816), quoted in Karl W. Schweizer and John W. Osborne, Cobbett and His Times (1990), p. 31
  • Never will I own as my friend him who is not a friend of the people of England. I will never become a Subject or a Citizen in any other state, and will always be a foreigner in every country but England. ... [M]y beloved Countrymen, be you well assured, that the last beatings of that heart will be, love for the people, for the happiness and the renown of England; and hatred of their corrupt, hypocritical, dastardly and merciless foes.
    • Mr. Cobbett's Taking Leave of His Countrymen (28 March 1817), pp. 30–31
  • It is no small mischief to a boy, that many of the best years of his life should be devoted to the learning of what can never be of any real use to any human being. His mind is necessarily rendered frivolous and superficial by the long habit of attaching importance to words instead of things; to sound instead of sense.
    • “To Mr. Benbow,” Political Register (29 November 1817)
  • I say...upon this point, what JUDGE BLACKSTONE says; and that is, that the right to resist oppression always exists, but that those who compose the nation at any given time must be left to judge for themselves when oppression has arrived at a pitch to justify the exercise of such right.
    • ‘To the Freemen of Coventry’, Political Register (4 April 1818), p. 404
  • What did Brandreth do more than was done by the Whigs at the Revolution?
    • ‘Letter X to John Cartwright’, Political Register (26 December 1818), p. 427
  • To suppose such a thing possible as a society, in which men, who are able and willing to work, cannot support their families, and ought, with a great part of the women, to be compelled to lead a life of celibacy, for fear of having children to be starved; to suppose such a thing possible is monstrous.
    • “To Parson Malthus,” Political Register (8 May 1819)
  • All my plans in private life; all my pursuits; all my designs, wishes, and thoughts, have this one great object in view: the overthrow of the ruffian Boroughmongers. If I write grammars; if I write on agriculture; if I sow, plant, or deal in seeds; whatever I do has first in view the destruction of those infamous tyrants.
    • Political Register (14 August 1819), quoted in Karl W. Schweizer and John W. Osborne, Cobbett and His Times (1990), p. 18

A Grammar of the English Language (1818)

  • Grammar, perfectly understood, enables us, not only to express our meaning fully and clearly, but so to express it as to enable us to defy the ingenuity of man to give to our words any other meaning than that which we ourselves intend them to express.
    • Page 14
  • Nouns of number, or multitude, such as Mob, Parliament, Rabble, House of Commons, Regiment, Court of King's Bench, Den of Thieves, and the like.
    • Page 96
  • Sit down to write what you have thought, and not to think what you shall write.
    • Page 180


Rural rides in the southern, western and eastern counties of England, 1930
  • They were more than a thousand in number, including the mere partizans of my enemies. Several attempts were made to press me down. I got many blows in the sides; and if I had been either a short or a weak man, I must have been pressed under foot, and inevitably killed. ... I had, when I left the Booth, my snuff-box in my right hand. It is oblong square, and has very sharp corners. The Savages pressed me side-ways towards my left; and I had to fight with my right hand, in order to prevent them from getting me down. I had to strike back-handed. One of the sharp corners of the snuff-box, which stuck out beyond the bottom of my little finger, did good service. It cut the noses and eyes of the Savages at a famous rate, and assisted mainly in securing my safe arrival, on the raised pavement, on which I got just opposite to the door of a shop. Just at this time, one of the Savages, foaming at the mouth like a mad dog, exclaimed: “damn him, I'll rip him up.” He was running his hand into his breeches pocket, apparently to take out his knife, but I...drew up my right leg, armed with a new and sharp-edged gallashe over my boot, dealt Mr. Ellice's ripping Savage so delightful a blow, just between his two eyes, that he fell back upon his followers.
    • ‘History of the Coventry Election’, Political Register (25 March 1820), pp. 102–3
  • Born amongst husbandmen, bred to husbandry, delighting in its pursuits even to the minutest details, never having, in all my range through life, lost sight of the English farm-house and of those scenes in which my mind took its first spring, it is natural that I should have a strong partiality for a country life, and that I should enter more in detail into the feelings of labourers in husbandry than into those of other labourers.
    • ‘To Mr. Attwood’, Political Register (5 May 1821), p. 343
  • But what is to be the fate of the great wen of all? The monster, called, by the silly coxcombs of the press, "the metropolis of the empire"?
    • Cobbett's Weekly Political Register (5 January 1822)
  • Good government is known from bad government by this infallible test: that under the former the labouring people are well fed and well clothed, and under the latter, they are badly fed and badly clothed.
    • Political Register, XLVI, pp. 513-514 (31 May 1823)
  • You make your appeal in Piccadilly, London, amongst those who are wallowing in luxuries, proceeding from the labour of the people. You should have gone to the gravel-pits, and made your appeal to the wretched creatures with bits of sacks around their shoulders, and with hay-bands round their legs; you should have gone to the roadside, and made your appeal to the emaciated, half-dead things who are there cracking stones to make the roads as level as a die for the tax eaters to ride on. What an insult it is, and what an unfeeling, what a cold-blooded hypocrite must he be that can send it forth; what an insult to call upon people under the name of free British labourers; to appeal to them in behalf of Black slaves, when these free British labourers; these poor, mocked, degraded wretches, would be happy to lick the dishes and bowls, out of which the Black slaves have breakfasted, dined, or supped...Talk, indeed, of transmuting the wretched Africans into this condition! ...Will not the care, will not the anxiety of a really humane Englishman be directed towards the Whites, instead of towards the Blacks, until, at any rate, the situation of the former be made to be as good as that of the latter?
    • ‘Letter to William Wilberforce’, Political Register (30 August 1823), quoted in G. D. H. Cole, The Life of William Cobbett (Greenwood, 1971), p. 259

Advice to Young Men (1829)

Full title: Advice to Young Men, and (Incidentally) to Young Women, in the Middle and Higher Ranks of Life
  • As to the power which money gives, it is that of brute force, it is the power of the bludgeon and the bayonet, and of the bribed press, tongue and pen.
    • Letter 1, p. 36
  • Another great evil arising from this desire to be thought rich; or rather, from the desire not to be thought poor, is the destructive thing which has been honoured by the name of “speculation”; but which ought to be called Gambling.
    • Letter 2
  • Women are a sisterhood. They make common cause in behalf of the sex; and, indeed, this is natural enough, when we consider the vast power that the law gives us over them.
    • “To a Husband,” letter 4
  • Perhaps there are none more lazy, or more truly ignorant, than your everlasting readers.
    • “To a Father,” letter 5


I set out as a sort of self-dependent politician. My opinions were my own. I dashed at all prejudices. I scorned to follow anybody in matter of opinion.... All were, therefore, offended at my presumption, as they deemed it.
  • My dislike of the Jews is that which our forefathers had of them: I dislike them as insolent ruffians, who mock the religion and morality of Christians; I dislike them as people that never work, and form a body of wretches who live by trick; I dislike them as usurers, and the great agents of those systems of usury by which so many nations have so severely suffered; and this nation, above all others; in France they were the rapacious farmers of the taxes; in Poland, in Germany, in Hungary; every where, where they have been allowed to practise their arts of plunder, they have produced ruin to the people, and very frequently to the state.
    • Political Register (5 June 1830), p. 730
  • [T]he very best and most virtuous of all mankind, the agricultural labourers of this land, so favoured by God Almighty, and for so many ages the freest and happiest country in the world!
    • ‘To the Labourers of England, on their duties and their rights’, Political Register (29 January 1831), p. 288
  • If all men were upon an equality in point of means, England would become what the wilds of America are, inhabited by wild men; nobody would work except just to provide food and raiment for the day; and our country would become the most beggarly upon the earth, instead of being what it formerly was (and I hope and trust will be again) the pride of its people and the envy of the world.
    • ‘To the Labourers of England’, Political Register (2 April 1831), p. 8
  • I am no citizen of the world. It is quite enough for me to think about what is best for England, Ireland and Scotland. I do not like those whose philanthropy is so enlarged as to look, as Rousseau said, to Tartary for objects of affection and commiseration, while their own countrymen are starving, or existing on sea-weed and nettles. I do not approve of any efforts to urge our Government to interfere at all in the affairs even of Poland: it is too distant, too out of the way of our affairs, that we should take one single meal from a weaver or a ploughman for the sake of doing good to the Poles.
    • ‘Belgium and Poland’, Political Register (20 August 1831), p. 496
  • I set out as a sort of self-dependent politician. My opinions were my own. I dashed at all prejudices. I scorned to follow anybody in matter of opinion.... All were, therefore, offended at my presumption, as they deemed it.
    • Political Register, LXXV, pp. 364-365 (4 February 1832)
  • [W]hen our country shall have got a good and cheap government, we can, with clear consciences, recommend the paring of their nails, and the making of them bow to that power which, freed from infernal boroughmongering, will again claim and enforce her dominion of the seas. No American that ever conversed with me upon this subject will deny, that I always said, that I should never die in peace without making them again bow to England; and that bow to her again they should, whenever we shook off the power of the hellish boroughmongers. ... ENGLAND is my country: I must share in all her glory and in all her disgrace; and when it is a question of her honour and well-being, I must cast aside all private recollections and feelings. ... I always said...I never would rest until I saw the Americans acknowledge, explicitly our right to dominion on the seas. I wish them all the happiness that men can enjoy in this world; but a nation may be very happy without being permitted to swagger about and be saucy to England.
    • Political Register (2 June 1832), p. 545
  • I...had strong feelings excited in my mind against Scotland generally (always expressly making great exceptions) by observing that the scoundrelly “feelosofers”, who preached up a doctrine, tending to cause the people of England to be treated like cattle.
    • Political Register (27 October 1832), p. 225
  • I have a rooted hatred to this police establishment; that I hate it, because it is of foreign growth, and because it is French; that I hate it because it really tears up the government; that good-natured government, that gentle, that confiding, that neighbourly and friendly government, under which I was born, and under which my forefathers lived.
    • Political Register (17 August 1833), p. 386
  • Now, this free Government of America...imposed a duty of fifty per cent on foreign wool; and not a word of complaint was heard from any party against that protecting duty. Why, therefore, was all this outcry about the duties which were enforced in this country for the protection of the land, and which, after all, was no protection at all? ...the landlord and farmer had nothing whatever to do with the increase in the price of bread. If the petitioners were rational persons, they would not have asked for cheap bread; they would have asked for a reduction of those taxes that caused the bread to be so high...He did not know but he ought to vote for the repeal of the Corn-laws, upon account of their foolishness, their utter absurdity, and inefficiency. He explained all these things to his constituents, who were just as fond of a cheap loaf as the people of Liverpool, or any other place. He said to them, "Don't go to the landlords to ask for cheap bread, because they cannot give it you. Go to the Government, and tell them to take off the taxes, that the baker may be enabled to give you cheap bread." This was the language he addressed to his constituents. He recollected perfectly well when this Corn Bill was first brought forward he gave it his most strenuous opposition, not because he objected to the principle of the Bill, but solely because he conceived it would be wholly inoperative
    • Speech in the House of Commons on a petition in favour of free trade (21 March 1834)
  • [I]f you maintain that the poor have no right, no legal right, to relief, you loosen all the ligaments of property; and begin that career, which must end in a contest for property between the poor and the rich: you loosen all the bonds of allegiance; you get rid of all its duties; you proclaim that might, and not right, is to prevail; and, in short, you do all in your power to break up the social compact; to produce confusion; and to leave to chance a settlement anew.
    • Legacy to Labourers: Or, What is the Right which the Lords, Baronets, and Squires, Have to the Lands of England? (1835), p. 124
  • [T]he duty of allegiance implies the reciprocal duty of protection; and we have now seen, that it is the duty of a state to give protection to all the citizens, or persons, living under it, and owing it allegiance. Not only protection against violences committed against the property, or the person, of a man: not only protection against assaults, arsons, and robberies; but against hunger, nakedness, and all those things which expose life and limb to danger. This protection is a condition inseparable from the duty of allegiance; and, if the condition be not observed, the bond in this, as in all other cases, is forfeited.
    • Legacy to Labourers: Or, What is the Right which the Lords, Baronets, and Squires, Have to the Lands of England? (1835), p. 124
  • [T]he labourers have a right to subsistence out of the land, in all cases of inability to labour; that all those who are able to labour have a right to subsistence out of the land, in exchange for their labour; and that, if the holders of the land will not give them subsistence, in exchange for their labour, they have a right to the land itself.
    • Legacy to Labourers: Or, What is the Right which the Lords, Baronets, and Squires, Have to the Lands of England? (1835), p. 140
  • [B]efore the passing of the Poor-Law Bill, I wished to avoid [a] convulsive termination. I now do not wish it to be avoided.
    • Letter to John Oldfield (6 June 1835), quoted in Ian Dyck, William Cobbett and Rural Popular Culture (1992), p. 208

The Autobiography of William Cobbett (1833)

Full title: The Autobiography of William Cobbett: The Progress of a Plough-boy to a Seat in Parliament
  • Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada are the horns, the head, the neck, the shins, and the hoof of the ox, and the United States are the ribs, the sirloin, the kidneys, and the rest of the body.
    • Ch. 2, p. 28
  • I was a countryman and a father before I was a writer on political subjects.... Born and bred up in the sweet air myself, I was resolved that [my children] should be bred up in it too.
    • Ch. 8, p. 99
  • A full belly to the labourer was, in my opinion, the foundation of public morals and the only source of real public peace.
    • Ch. 12, pp. 185-186

Quotes about Cobbett

  • At this time [1815–16] the writings of William Cobbett suddenly became of great authority; they were read on nearly every cottage hearth in the manufacturing districts of South Lancashire, in those of Leicester, Derby, and Nottingham; also in many of the Scottish manufacturing towns. Their influence was speedily visible. He directed his readers to the true cause of their sufferings—misgovernment; and to its proper corrective—parliamentary reform. Riots soon become scarce, and from that time they have never obtained their ancient vogue with the labourers of this country.
    • Samuel Bamford, Bamford's Passages in the Life of a Radical, and Early Days: Vol. II (1905), pp. 11–12
  • [H]e is always a hearty Englishman. He may vary in his opinions as to doctrines and as to men, but he is ever for making England great, powerful, and prosperous—her people healthy, brave, and free. He never falls into the error of mistaking political economy for the whole of political science. He does not say, “Be wealthy, make money, and care about nothing else.” He advocates rural pursuits as invigorating to a population, although less profitable than manufacturing. He desires to see Englishmen fit for war as well as for peace. There is none of that puling primness about him which marks the philosophers who would have a great nation, like a good boy at a private school, fit for nothing but obedience and books. To use a slang phrase, there was “a go” about him which, despite all his charlatanism, all his eccentricities, kept up the national spirit, and exhibited in this one of the highest merits of political writing. The immense number of all his publications that sold immediately on their appearance, sufficiently proves the wonderful popularity of his style; and it is but just to admit that many of his writings were as useful as popular.
    • Henry Lytton Bulwer, ‘Cobbett, The Contentious Man’, Historical Characters: Talleyrand, Cobbett, Mackintosh, Canning [1867] (1900), pp. 355–56
  • Born and bred in a rural district, and never wavering in his preference for a farmer's life, he naturally excelled in depicting country scenes. Posterity has recognised this, and out of all his writings the Rural Rides alone are familiar to the public to-day. Even at an earlier time the more keen-sighted of his contemporaries felt that though his political reputation might pass away, his pictures of rustic England could hardly be forgotten.
    • E. I. Carlyle, William Cobbett: A Study of His Life as Shown in His Writings (1904), p. 295
  • The pattern John Bull of his century, strong as the rhinoceros, and with singular humanities and genialities shining through his thick skin.
    • Thomas Carlyle, in "Sir Walter Scott" (1838), collected in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1857) vol. 4, p. 148
  • William Cobbett is the noblest English example of the noble calling of the agitator.
    • G. K. Chesterton, ‘Preface’ (1916), William Cobbett, Cottage Economy (1979), p. vii
  • It is especially his bad language that is always good. It is precisely the passages that have always been recognized as good style that would now be regarded as bad form. And it is precisely these violent passages that especially bring out not only the best capacities of Cobbett but also the best capacities of English.
  • His Rural Rides contain some of the best, most vivid and vigorous writing that has ever appeared in the English language.
    • Lord Denning, Leaves from my Library: An English Anthology (1986), p. 207
  • A print by Bartollotzi, executed in 1801, conveys a correct outline of his person. His eyes are small and pleasingly good-natured. To the French gentleman he was attentive; with his sons familiar; to his servants easy; but to all, in his tone and manner resolute and determined. He feels no hesitation in praising himself, and evidently believes that he is eventually destined to be the Atlas of the British nation. His faculty of relating anecdotes is amusing.—Instances when we meet. My impressions of Mr. Cobbett are, that those who know him would like him, if they can be content to submit unconditionally to his dictation. “Obey me, and I will treat you kindly; if you do not, I will trample on you,” seemed visible in every word and feature. He appears to feel, in its fullest force, the sentiment, “I have no brother, am like no brother, I am myself alone.”
    • Henry Bradshaw Fearon, Sketches of America (1818), pp. 68–9
  • William Cobbett, a man of genius in the use of his pen but gifted too in his knowledge of the new phenomenon of popular politics.
    • Michael Foot, The Politics of Paradise: A Vindication of Byron (1988), p. 265
  • What distinguished Cobbett was that he saw more vividly than anybody else what was happening in England: how the England in which he had been born, where he had played on his father's farm, was changing all its features; how the old ways, the old faces, the old charities of life were disappearing; how the new England which was springing up was an England unkind and inhospitable to the poor. ... In everything that he did and wrote he set himself, by every means that could bring him into touch with the imagination of the people, to arrest the impoverishment of a race and to dethrone the fatal doctrine that the rich could be trusted to act for the poor.
    • J. L. Hammond, ‘William Cobbett’, The Edinburgh Review, Vol. CCVI (1907), pp. 138, 148
  • One has no notion of him as making use of a fine pen, but a great mutton-fist; his style stuns his readers…He is too much for any single newspaper antagonist; "lays waste" a city orator or Member of Parliament, and bears hard upon the Government itself. He is a kind of fourth estate in the politics of the country. He is not only unquestionably the most powerful political writer of the present day, but one of the best writers in the language. He speaks and thinks plain, broad, downright English.
  • Cobbett will more and more appear what he really was—a great English patriot. The paramount object of his life was the well-being of England. To that end he devoted all he possessed; to it he sacrificed his own interests, and the interests of those who were dearest to him. ... When the waves of time have passed again and again over the records of this century, obliterating much that now fills the minds of men, the memory of William Cobbett and his endless struggles will appear in their true significance, and his countrymen will assuredly enrol his name among their worthies as one who lived and fought and died in the service of England.
  • I saw Cobbett twice [in 1817]. His upright figure indicated the drill of a soldier, his ruddy complexion and homely accent the subsequent character of a farmer as well as his original condition. Neither countenance nor conversation (at least at this time) were at all of a piece with the sprightliness of his style, the shrewdness of his remarks, or the closeness of his reasoning in written compositions. His objects were, the co-operation of the Whigs in public meetings for a change of Ministry, and their protection and countenance if he wrote in their favour. In such objects I told him Whigs could not but concur, but I avoided all appearance of any closer connection. He was alarmed at the threatened suspension of the Habeas Corpus. He very unaffectedly acknowledged his distrust of his own nerves, and a dread of behaving meanly and basely if arrested; he, therefore, hinted at an intention, which he afterwards executed, of retiring to America. He earnestly asseverated that he never had, and never would, belong to any political Opposition whatever.
    • Lord Holland, Further Memoirs of the Whig Party, 1807-1821, with some Miscellaneous Reminiscences (1905), p. 253
  • Cobbett, whom [Benjamin Disraeli] thoroughly appreciated. He thought him superior to Junius, superior to Fonblanque, and superior to the best articles in the newly-started Saturday Review. Indeed, he availed himself very largely of Cobbett's History of the Protestant Reformation, and in Sybil he puts into Walter Gerard's mouth Cobbett's very words and arguments. But it was, of course, of the Political Register that Mr. Disraeli was thinking when he spoke of Cobbett as the first journalist of the century, and it would certainly be difficult to name anything superior to the article which appeared in the Register of July 30th, 1803, entitled, Important Considerations for the People of the Kingdom, pointing out to them the certain consequences of a French invasion.
    • T. E. Kebbel, Lord Beaconsfield and Other Tory Memories (1907), p. 25
  • A plebeian by instinct and by sympathy, his intellect rarely broke through the boundaries of middle-class reform. It was not until 1834, shortly before his death, after the establishment of the new Poor Law, that William Cobbett began to suspect the existence of a millocracy as hostile to the mass of the people, as landlords, banklords, public creditors, and the clergymen of the Established Church. If William Cobbett was thus, on one hand, an anticipated modern Chartist, he was, on the other hand, and much more, an inveterate John Bull. He was at once the most conservative and the most destructive man of Great Britain — the purest incarnation of Old England and the most audacious initiator of Young England. He dated the decline of England from the period of the Reformation, and the ulterior prostration of the English people from the so-called glorious Revolution of 1688. With him, therefore, revolution was not innovation, but restoration; not the creation of a new age, but the rehabilitation of the “good old times.” ...As a writer he has not been surpassed.
  • Cobbett's kind of Radicalism was the reverse of what it became later in the nineteenth century – a synonym for the ‘Progressive’ who was to detach himself completely from both rural and traditional roots. ... Though often in conflict and very differently placed in station and conditions of living, all three [labourer, farmer and squire], so far as they fulfil their service to the land, do throughout their history share a common point of view. In his simple forthright English, Cobbett spoke it. In fact, he embodied it. ... The rural attitude of life, in which the whole English tradition is rooted, sprang to articulate life in Cobbett at the very moment when it was beginning to crumble and give way to alien forces. And it is through him that we not only understand what it was in his time but has always been.
  • While we were there, a grand display of English games, especially of single-stick and wrestling, took place under Mr. Cobbett's auspices. ... [T]his exhibition...she termed barbarous, was the cause of his quarrel with...Mrs. Blamire. In my life I never saw two people in a greater passion. Each was thoroughly persuaded of being in the right, either would have gone to the stake upon it, and of course the longer they argued the more determined became their conviction. They said all manner of uncivil things; they called each other very unpretty names; she got very near to saying, “Sir, you're a savage;” he did say, “Ma'am, you're a fine lady;” they talked, both at once, until they could talk no longer, and I have always considered it as one of the greatest pieces of Christian forgiveness that I ever met with, when Mr. Cobbett, after they had both rather cooled down a little, invited Mrs. Blamire to dine at his house the next day. She, less charitable, declined the invitation, and we parted.
  • [He was] the Peasant Articulate. ... His central idea was that England was happier as an agricultural country.
    • J. B. Morton, ‘William Cobbett’, London Mercury, Vol. XX (1929), p. 176
  • He praised the old rural life of England. He fought against the first beginnings of Manchesterism. He felt loyalty, absolute and exclusive, to one's own country to be the one primary and inviolable duty of citizenship. He reverenced the old domestic ties. He saw the sexes separate and complementary in their functions, and if the wife whom he greatly trusted and tenderly loved had asked for a vote, he would have been very angry. He praised beer. He respected the Monarchy. He hated the Jews. These are the things which appear to Mr. Melville and other critics of like outlook inconsistent with his position as a strenuous democrat. But they are especially the points upon which the democracy of England emphatically agreed with him then, and emphatically agree with him still
    • ‘The Voice of England’, New Witness, Vol. I (1912–13), p. 375
  • In Cobbett, indeed, the Reformers had found one splendid champion. With that forceful contrariness...he had swung round from the violent anti-Burdett invective of 1802 to the no less violent pro-Burdett declamation of 1807, and now made head against the popular current. For the pacific policy of the Whigs he had as great a contempt as for the obscurantism of the Tories. Attached to no party, guided only by his own tortuous common sense, he was often a voice crying in the wilderness; but his following was large and his influence important... [I]n February 1806 he broke with his old friend and patron Windham, and allied himself with the Burdettites. It was not long before they converted him to Parliamentary Reform, and by 1807 the Whigs were compelled to endure the taunts and gibes which poured out every week in the pages of his Political Register. In the years that followed he was by far the most important educative influence with the masses, on the side of Reform.
  • He was a farmer when a politician; and throughout the hot and bitter struggle of his life, there were two kinds of Englishmen whom he always loved and laboured for, the farmer and the farm-labourer; the former not yet swollen into his present pretensions, the latter not yet dwarfed into his terrible degradation. ... He never swerved from his purpose, that of undertaking the defence of the farmer and the peasant. As a consequence, his influence was exceedingly great among the class from whom he sprung.
    • J. E. Thorold Rogers, Historical Gleanings; A Series of Sketches: Montagu, Walpole, Adam Smith, Cobbett (1869), pp. 159, 177
  • No Englishman could be a more genuine lover of honest industry. He was cut to the heart by the horrible state of degradation into which the British labourer had sunk during, and for twenty years after, the great war. ... Week by week, and year by year, he went on thundering against the governing classes; but he always inserted saving clauses in his indictment for old descent and the trappings of royalty. ... Beneath the Radical peep forth infinite possibilities of Tory prejudice. ... English literature may be searched in vain for such another miniature of southern England as the Rural Rides. ... Those transcripts of scenery never grow obsolete.
    • William Stebbing, ‘William Cobbett’, Edinburgh Review, Vol. CIL (1878–79), reprinted in Some Verdicts of History Reviewed (1887), pp. 343, 345, 347, 348
  • Cobbett...is simply the voice of the English peasant.
  • Rural Rides is one of the greatest books written in English.
  • Cobbett, the greatest tribune of the labourers. ... The emergence of an independent Radical press after the [Napoleonic] Wars was in great degree his personal triumph. ... It was Cobbett who created this Radical intellectual culture...in the sense that he found the tone, the style, and the arguments which could bring the weaver, the schoolmaster, and the shipwright, into a common discourse. Out of the diversity of grievances and interests he brought a Radical consensus. ... Cobbett did more than any other writer to preserve the Radicals and Chartists from becoming the camp-followers of Utilitarians or of Anti-Corn Law League. He nourished the culture of a class, whose wrongs he felt, but whose remedies he could not understand.
  • He is perhaps the very man whom I would select from all I have ever seen if I wished to shew a foreigner the beau ideal of an English yeoman. ... If he had not been pointed out to me by one who knew him, I should probably have passed him over as one of the innocent bacon-eaters of the New forest; but when I knew that it was Cobbett, you may believe I did not allow his placid easy eye and smile to take me in.
    • Timothy Tickler, ‘Letters of Timothy Tickler’, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, vol. XIV, July–December 1823, p. 329
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