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William Cobbett Biography, Life Story, Works And Facts

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Who is William Cobbett? Information on William Cobbett biography, life story, works and facts.

William Cobbett William Cobbett; (1763-1835), English journalist, publisher, political radical, and agriculturist. Known in his day as the most forceful English radical in the reform movement, Cobbett now is recognized for his burly prose in Rural Rides (1830) and Advice to Young Men (1829), his archetypical English personality, and his knowledge of rural life.

William Cobbett biography, life story, works and facts.


The son of a farmer and innkeeper, Cobbett was born on March 9, 1763, at the sign of The Tolly Farmer in Farnham, Surrey. In 1783 he became an attorney’s copyist in London and after a few months, he enlisted in the infantry and became copyist to the commandant. His regiment was sent to Canada in 1785, where he stayed until 1791, having risen to the position of sergeant major.


As sergeant major, Cobbett knew of the corruption in the army and, after his honourable discharge in England in 1791, he tried to get a court-martial to expose abuses. Becoming aware of the official malice his action had aroused, he went with his bride to France in March 1792. He lived there until August, learning the language, and then, seeing the trend of the French Revolution and the inevitability of war between England and France, he retreated to America.


Settling first in Wilmington, Del., he became popular as a teacher of English to French refugees. He then moved to Philadelphia, continuing to teach until, with the arrival of Dr. Joseph Priestley, recently driven from England for his pro-French views, he found his vocation as a pamphleteer and champion of Britain against Jacobin sentiment. His attack on Priestley, Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley (1794), brought him notoriety and a public.


In 1796 he founded an antiradical periodical, the Political Censor, which was superseded by his Porcupine’s Gazette (1797)—Cobbett’s pseudonym being “Peter Porcupine.” He became known as an anti-Jacobin and anti-Democrat and a journalist of alarming skill. He attacked Dr Benjamin Rush, the famous physician and politician, as a killer rather than a healer. Rush sued him for libel and won the suit. In spite of the fine of $5,000, Cobbett continued his harassment in public print, and as a result, had to depart for England in 1800 to avoid severe punishment.


The British government offered him the editorship of, and shares in, a political paper, the True Briton, but Cobbett refused and started his own publication, Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register (1802), which eventually turned into a radical antigovernment journal. After 1806, Cobbett, having seen the misery of the rural workers, turned to reform radicalism. He was charged with sedition in 1810 for protesting in the Register the flogging of militiamen in Ely. The government won its case, and he was sentenced to two years in Newgate Prison and heavily fined.


On his release, he again fought for working-class demands through a cheap Register, selling for two pence. The government, fearful over the workers’ unrest, in 1817 suspended the Habeas Corpus Act. This action caused Cobbett to fear arrest as an enemy of the government, and he escaped to a farm in Hempstead, Long Island, N. Y., where he lived until 1819, when he returned to England, bearing with him the bones of Thomas Paine, whom he now regarded as a hero. After the Reform Act of 1832, Cobbett was elected to Parliament. He died on June 18, 1835, of influenza, at his farm near Guildford.

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