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I am the Watchman

Linda Colley: William Cobbett, forerunner of the Sun, 20 November 2003

William CobbettSelected Writings 
edited by Leonora Nattrass.
Pickering & Chatto, 2312 pp., £495, December 1998, 1 85196 375 8
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Rural rides 
by William Cobbett, edited by Ian Dyck.
Penguin, 576 pp., £9.99, September 2001, 0 14 043579 4
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... It is partly because so much appears to be known about William Cobbett (1763-1835) that he is insufficiently understood. Few political writers anywhere and at any time have been more prolific or had more impact on their contemporaries. His newspaper The Political Register, which appeared at intervals between 1802 and 1835, sold at its peak of popularity up to 70,000 copies an issue and was read by millions on both sides of the Atlantic ...

Everybody’s Friend

D.A.N. Jones, 15 July 1982

William CobbettThe Poor Man’s Friend 
by George Spater.
Cambridge, 318 pp., £15, March 1982, 0 521 22216 8
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... When William Cobbett was about forty he brought out a weekly paper that has dictated the style and shape of British and American journalism ever since. Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register came out almost every week from 1802 until his death in 1835. According to George Spater, this once powerful paper is now largely forgotten ‘except by historians who occasionally take a hasty glance here and there into its vast bulk of some 42,000 pages ...

Shoy-Hoys

Paul Foot: The not-so-great Reform Act, 6 May 2004

Reform! The Fight for the 1832 Reform Act 
by Edward Pearce.
Cape, 343 pp., £20, November 2003, 0 224 06199 2
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... That same summer George IV died, leaving the throne to his marginally more stable brother William. The death of the king brought a general election, and the Tories were replaced by the Whigs. The chief difference between the two parties was that the Whigs were more sensitive to the growing wrath of the unrepresented upper middle classes. They favoured ...

Why Mr Fax got it wrong

Roy Porter: Population history, 5 March 1998

English Population History from Family Reconstitution 1580-1837 
by E.A. Wrigley and R.S. Davies.
Cambridge, 657 pp., £60, July 1997, 0 521 59015 9
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The Savage Wars of Peace: England, Japan and the Malthusian Trap 
by Alan Macfarlane.
Blackwell, 427 pp., £45, May 1997, 0 631 18117 2
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... of the mad perfectibilist schemes of the French Revolutionaries and their English confrères like William Godwin, and damned by others as hardheartedness incarnate. Marie Antoinette had just told the poor to go and eat cake: Malthus trumped her, apparently sentencing them to death by starvation – and all on the strength of the ‘facts’. No wonder Thomas ...

Call Her Daisy-Ray

John Sturrock: Accents and Attitudes, 11 September 2003

Talking Proper: The Rise of Accent as Social Symbol 
by Lynda Mugglestone.
Oxford, 354 pp., £35, February 2003, 0 19 925061 8
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... a bad thing, then certainly one not worth spending time acquiring, was the no-nonsense ruralist William Cobbett, who declared that ‘the differences’ in pronunciation ‘are of very little real consequence . . . though the Scotch say coorn, the Londoners cawn, and the Hampshire folk carn, we all know they mean to say corn.’ ...

Diary

A.J.P. Taylor: From Nuclear Bombs to Samuel Johnson, 18 November 1982

... comes into my mind, not perhaps the greatest Englishman, but certainly the runner-up. This is William Cobbett, the People’s Friend. Cobbett was not, like Johnson, a great conversationalist. His conversation must have been pretty boring, being entirely about himself and his achievements, from his political ...

Chucky, Hirple, Clart

David Craig: Robert Macfarlane, 24 September 2015

Landmarks 
by Robert Macfarlane.
Hamish Hamilton, 387 pp., £20, March 2015, 978 0 241 14653 8
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... his mindset differs from that of most of the country writers who have stayed with me indelibly: William Cobbett of Rural Rides, a farmer’s son and himself a farmer from time to time; John Muir of My First Summer in the Sierra, a farmer’s son and farmer; and Lewis Grassic Gibbon of A Scots Quair, a farmer’s son from the Mearns in north-east ...

Diary

Gillian Darley: John Evelyn and his gardens, 8 June 2006

... paper chase at the British Library, where his archive arrived as late as 1995. In the early 1800s, William Bray, a solicitor and antiquarian, and William Upcott, a librarian whose address was Autograph Cottage and who was a notorious ‘collector’ of other people’s unconsidered trifles, arrived at Wotton and were invited ...

Is there a health crisis?

Roy Porter, 19 May 1988

The Public Health Challenge 
edited by Stephen Farrow.
Hutchinson, 160 pp., £12.95, November 1987, 0 09 173165 8
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The Truth about the Aids Panic 
by Michael Fitzpatrick and Don Milligan.
Junius, 68 pp., £1.95, March 1987, 9780948392078
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Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-Moral Politics in England since 1830 
by Frank Mort.
Routledge, 280 pp., £7.95, October 1987, 0 7102 0856 1
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Medicine and Labour: The Politics of a Profession 
by Steve Watkins.
Lawrence and Wishart, 272 pp., £6.95, May 1987, 0 85315 639 5
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... that matter – spotting conspiracies where others see epidemics: no less a man of the people than William Cobbett was adamant that Asiatic cholera itself was a fiction invented by the powers-that-be to hold the masses in terror. Indeed, as Steve Watkins underlines in his book, the Left in many of its moods has traditionally suspected that the medical ...

Invader

Linda Colley, 9 July 1987

Richard Cobden: A Victorian Outsider 
by Wendy Hinde.
Yale, 379 pp., £14.95, April 1987, 0 300 03880 1
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Richard Cobden: Independent Radical 
by Nicholas Edsall.
Harvard, 479 pp., £23.95, February 1987, 0 674 76879 5
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... a fault.’ A special train was laid on from London to take the great and the good to his funeral; William Gladstone helped to carry his coffin; statues were raised by public subscription; and the London and provincial presses enshrined his memory in laudatory poems and improving books for the young. But it was not to last. When John Morley published his ...

The Statistical Gaze

Helen McCarthy: The British Census, 29 June 2017

The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick-Maker: The Story of Britain through Its Census, since 1801 
by Roger Hutchinson.
Little, Brown, 352 pp., £20, February 2017, 978 1 4087 0701 2
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... in 1821 that the population had surged from ten to fourteen million over the previous two decades, William Cobbett responded that ‘a man that can suck that in will believe, literally believe, that the moon is made of green cheese.’ As late as 1931, it was discovered that one enumerator, committed to a mental hospital, had prepared fictitious returns ...

High Taxes, Bad Times

John Pemble: Late Georgian Westminster, 10 June 2010

The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1820-32 
by D.R. Fisher.
Cambridge, 6336 pp., £490, December 2009, 978 0 521 19314 6
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... falling into contempt with the people.’ Taxes were high and times were bad, and journalists like William Cobbett were radicalising popular opinion by lambasting ‘Old Corruption’. Parliament, Cobbett stormed, was ruining the nation it no longer represented. An oligarchy of aristocrats and financiers, having ...

Blush, grandeur, blush

Norma Clarke: One of the first bluestockings, 16 December 2004

Hannah More: The First Victorian 
by Anne Stott.
Oxford, 384 pp., £20, September 2004, 0 19 927488 6
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... three weeks; a second and third followed rapidly. ‘Holy Hannah’, as Horace Walpole called her (William Cobbett called her ‘the Old Bishop in petticoats’), was already a celebrity. William Roberts, the family friend entrusted with the task of producing the book, made her into a saint. He presented her as a vessel ...

Golden Dolly

John Pemble: Rich Britons, 24 September 2009

Who Were the Rich? A Biographical Directory of British Wealth-Holders. Vol. I: 1809-39 
by William Rubinstein.
Social Affairs Unit, 516 pp., £20, May 2009, 978 1 904863 39 7
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... William Rubinstein is an expatriate New Yorker who has spent his academic life investigating wealth and the wealthy in modern Britain and overturning cherished ideas by looking at the British from the top down rather than from the bottom up. Who Were the Rich?, compiled from probate records, will identify everyone who died in Britain between 1809 and 1914 leaving personal assets of £100,000 or more – which is equivalent to between £8 and £10 million today ...

How They Brought the Good News

Colin Kidd: Britain’s Napoleonic Wars, 20 November 2014

In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 739 pp., £25, November 2014, 978 0 571 26952 5
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... he only needed control of the Channel for six hours to effect an invasion of England. After all, William of Orange had managed it in the autumn of 1688; and Bonnie Prince Charlie had got as far south as Derby with his ragamuffin army in December 1745. The notion of an impregnable island fortress was less convincing when 1688 and 1745 remained fresh in the ...

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