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Evil Man

Simon Schaffer: Joseph Priestley, 21 May 1998

The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley: A Study of His Life and Work from 1733 to 1773 
by Robert Schofield.
Pennsylvania State, 328 pp., £35.95, January 1998, 0 271 01662 0
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... productive Yorkshire visionary inspired intense admiration and loathing in roughly equal measure. William Hazlitt, no mean polemicist himself, judged Priestley ‘the best controversialist in his day, and one of the best in the language’. Youthful intellectuals of the Revolutionary epoch such as Coleridge saw him as their ‘patriot and ...

Before Darwin

Harriet Ritvo, 24 May 1990

The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine and Reform in Radical London 
by Adrian Desmond.
Chicago, 503 pp., £27.95, March 1990, 0 226 14346 5
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... unhappiness of their readers. The Lancet, for example, modelled its aggressive style on that of William Cobbett, who constituted one quarter of its editorial board; perhaps for this reason, a libel lawyer constituted another quarter. The contentious columns of these publications were not, however, exclusively devoted to matters of class interest, at ...


Alison Light: In Portsmouth, 7 February 2008

... during the wars against the French. Portsea’s fortunes followed those of the navy. When William Cobbett surveyed ‘that hellish assemblage’ of Portsmouth, Gosport and Portsea on one of his rural rides a few years after the peace of 1815, house-lettings had already dropped to rock bottom and an ‘absolute tumbling down’ was taking ...

Mother Country

Catherine Hall: The Hostile Environment, 23 January 2020

The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment 
by Amelia Gentleman.
Guardian Faber, 336 pp., £18.99, September 2019, 978 1 78335 184 8
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Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation 
by Colin Grant.
Cape, 320 pp., £18.99, October 2019, 978 1 78733 105 1
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Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Become Scapegoats 
by Maya Goodfellow.
Verso, 272 pp., £12.99, November 2019, 978 1 78873 336 6
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... from significant sections of the English population, including some working- class radicals. William Cobbett, one of the most popular journalists of the day, was also one of the most virulent racists. His Political Register echoed the themes that preoccupied Edward Long, and which have been staples of racist discourse ever since. Black people were ...

Missing Pieces

Patrick Parrinder, 9 May 1991

Mr Wroe’s Virgins 
by Jane Rogers.
Faber, 276 pp., £13.99, April 1991, 0 571 16194 4
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The Side of the Moon 
by Amanda Prantera.
Bloomsbury, 192 pp., £13.99, April 1991, 0 7475 0861 5
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... and the beginnings of adult education. The narrative includes a public meeting addressed by William Cobbett, and a letter from New Harmony, Indiana, giving a graphic account of jealousies and discords in the Owenite model community. John Wroe himself is the sort of preacher whose divinations and vaticinations were denounced by Carlyle, and at the ...

Never Seen a Violet

Dinah Birch: Victorian men and girls, 6 September 2001

Men in Wonderland: The Lost Girlhood of the Victorian Gentleman 
by Catherine Robson.
Princeton, 250 pp., £19.95, June 2001, 0 691 00422 6
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... was agreed that England’s competitive advantage could not be allowed to depend on their labour. William Cobbett spoke with an ironic edge in the House of Commons in 1833: A most surprising discovery has been made, namely, that all our greatness and prosperity, that our superiority over other nations, is owing to 300,000 little girls in Lancashire. We ...


Jonathan Parry, 21 September 1995

The City of London. Vol. II: Golden Years, 1890-1914 
by David Kynaston.
Chatto, 678 pp., £25, June 1995, 0 7011 3385 6
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... the fundholders who had financed the war. Taxpayers suffered badly in the post-war depression, and William Cobbett led a bitter national protest at the stockholding leeches who, he claimed, were sucking the lifeblood from John Bull. At times of economic tension over the following twenty years, the fundholder and the landowner competed to be the most ...

Too Many Alibis

James Wood: Geoffrey Hill, 1 July 1999

by Geoffrey Hill.
Penguin, 76 pp., £7.99, September 1996, 0 14 058786 1
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The Truth of Love: A Poem 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Penguin, 82 pp., £8.99, January 1997, 0 14 058910 4
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... like the Cambridge critics who have written so well about him in the past. In Canaan, he praises Cobbett for ‘your singular pitch where labour is spoken of’, and the reader, rolling around ‘singular pitch’, murmurs to himself: ‘Christopher Ricks.’ Nothing is more Ricksian than Hill’s phrase in The Triumph of Love about Ruskin’s ...

Not Biographable

Patrick Collinson: The Faithful Thomas Cromwell, 29 November 2007

Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister 
by Robert Hutchinson.
Weidenfeld, 360 pp., £20, February 2007, 978 0 297 84642 0
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... Cromwell. His contemporary Cardinal Reginald Pole called him ‘an agent of Satan’, while for William Cobbett he was ‘the most mean and dastardly’ of ‘all the mean and dastardly wretches that ever died’. He had, after all, overseen the dissolution of the monasteries, whose absence from the landscape ...

Outside the text

Marilyn Butler, 19 December 1985

The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in Historical Method and Theory 
by Jerome McGann.
Oxford, 352 pp., £19.50, May 1985, 0 19 811730 2
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The Politics of Language: 1791-1819 
by Olivia Smith.
Oxford, 269 pp., £19.50, December 1984, 0 19 812817 7
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... densely informative in a very particularised way. Its heroes are the popular rhetoricians Paine, Cobbett, Spence and Hone; its leading theorist, John Horne Tooke. A book concerned with so many minor figures may seem discouragingly narrow, not perhaps to political and social historians, but to most critics, even those who specialise in Romanticism or in ...
The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age 
by Gertrude Himmelfarb.
Faber, 595 pp., £20, March 1984, 0 571 13177 8
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... the Tory radical, Carlyle, could not make up his mind one way or the other; the radical populist, William Cobbett, was unequivocally opposed, on the grounds that the new law took away the last property rights of its intended beneficiaries; the Poor Man’s Guardian and the Chartists subsumed poverty in more general considerations about the political and ...

Tragedy in Tights

Rosemary Hill: Poor Queen Caroline, 22 June 2006

Rebel Queen: The Trial of Caroline 
by Jane Robins.
Simon and Schuster, 370 pp., £20, June 2006, 0 7432 4862 7
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... and focusing the discontent of the country at large. In this they were immensely successful. Soon William Cobbett was writing Caroline’s propaganda and she was receiving numerous ‘addresses’ or petitions of support from the ‘loyal voices of Suffolk’, the people of Sunderland and many more. To Sunderland she – or rather ...

Violets in Their Lapels

David A. Bell: Bonapartism, 23 June 2005

The Legend of Napoleon 
by Sudhir Hazareesingh.
Granta, 336 pp., £20, August 2004, 1 86207 667 7
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The Retreat 
by Patrick Rambaud, translated by William Hobson.
Picador, 320 pp., £7.99, June 2005, 0 330 48901 1
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Napoleon: The Eternal Man of St Helena 
by Max Gallo, translated by William Hobson.
Macmillan, 320 pp., £10.99, April 2005, 0 333 90798 1
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The Saint-Napoleon: Celebrations of Sovereignty in 19th-Century France 
by Sudhir Hazareesingh.
Harvard, 307 pp., £32.95, May 2004, 0 674 01341 7
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Napoleon and the British 
by Stuart Semmel.
Yale, 354 pp., £25, September 2004, 0 300 09001 3
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... fiercest vilifier. Somewhere in the course of this ideological journey, incidentally, he passed William Cobbett travelling in the opposite direction, from his original Napoleon-hating conservatism to an endpoint of Napoleon-loving radicalism. By September 1815, Cobbett was publishing odes in the exiled emperor’s ...
What is Love? Richard Carlile’s Philosophy of Sex 
edited by M.L. Bush.
Verso, 214 pp., £19, September 1998, 1 85984 851 6
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... the Utilitarians, when we think of the period as an era of freedom. There is the great anarchist William Godwin, whose treasured insight it was that our impulses are the artefacts of society and who didn’t hesitate to carry that insight into the sexual domain. His feminist partner Mary Wollstonecraft applied the same thought to women’s sexual ...

An Address to the Nation

Clive James, 17 December 1981

... I’m shattered by the impact of re-entry.) A news flash. In the latest by-election The Liberal William Pitt has won the seat. His personal appeal defies detection. At previous attempts he met defeat. Clearly it is the SDP connection Which has supplied the upsurge of white heat That melts the Tory vote to a minority And Labour’s to abject ...

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