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Cobbett, William (1763–1835)

H. T. Dickinson


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William Cobbett was an advocate of parliamentary reform and of England's poor. Born poor himself, he received almost no formal education, but read voraciously and learned to write. In 1783 he joined the British army, rising to the rank of sergeant major. On leaving the army, he wrote The Soldier's Friend (1792), a passionate indictment of the pay and treatment of the common soldier. Fearing retribution, he fled first to France and then to the United States, where he lived until 1800. In America Cobbett became a campaigning journalist, often writing as “Peter Porcupine.” Faced with prosecution for libel, he returned to England and, from January 1802 until his death, published the weekly Political Register , in which he set out his political and social views and serialized most of his more substantial publications. By 1804 Cobbett was becoming increasingly critical of political corruption and by 1807 was prominent among the London-based radicals who were reviving the campaign for parliamentary reform. Political Register became increasingly concerned about the plight of the rural poor and for many years was one of the bestselling radical publications in the country. When the government passed repressive legislation in 1817, Cobbett again fled to America. While there, he published his Grammar of the English Language , which sold well for over a century. When he returned to England ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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