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Title: William Cobbett - A Biography in Two Volumes, Vol. 1 (of 2)
Author: Smith, E. E. (Edward Elmer)
Language: English
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number 49845.

                           WILLIAM COBBETT.

                             A BIOGRAPHY.

                                VOL. I.

                          ST. JOHN’S SQUARE.

[Illustration: _J. R. Smith pinxit._

_F. Bartolozzi R.A. sculpsit._


                           WILLIAM COBBETT:

                            _A BIOGRAPHY_.

                           BY EDWARD SMITH.

                            IN TWO VOLUMES.

                                VOL. I.

                  CROWN BUILDINGS, 188, FLEET STREET.

                       [_All rights reserved._]

    “It is not by his faults, but by his excellences, that we
    measure a great man.”

                                        G. H. LEWES (_On Actors, &c._).

    “Fear never but you shall be consistent in whatever variety of
    actions, so that they be each honest and natural in their hour.
    For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike
    they seem.”

                              R. W. EMERSON (_Essay on Self-reliance_).

        “My good blade carves the casques of men,
            My tough lance thrusteth sure,
        My strength is as the strength of ten,
            Because my heart is pure!”

                                              TENNYSON (_Sir Galahad_).


The following pages need no Preface, with regard to their subject.

I am unwilling, however, to let the work go forth to the public without
a renewed word of thanks, to those who have given me any sort of
encouragement or assistance. My acknowledgments are especially due to
the venerable daughter of Mr. James Swann, for the use of some letters;
to the author of the “Handbook of Fictitious Names,” without whose apt
teaching in the art of Bibliography, the work might have wanted the
interesting appendix; to Mr. Job Swain, one of the last survivors of
Cobbett’s personal friends, for some reminiscences; and to Mr. Ellis
Yarnall, of Philadelphia, for copies of several letters, and for some
suggestions which have enabled the author to throw additional light on
the “Porcupine” days.

                                                                E. S.

London: _November, 1878_.



                              CHAPTER I.



                              CHAPTER II.


    “WHEN I HAD THE HONOUR TO WEAR A RED COAT”                      30

                             CHAPTER III.


    FRAUD OR ROBBERY”                                               56

                              CHAPTER IV.


    “I LIVED IN PHILADELPHIA”                                       94

                              CHAPTER V.


    THICK AND THIN”                                                107

                              CHAPTER VI.


    “PETER PORCUPINE, AT YOUR SERVICE!”                            146

                             CHAPTER VII.


    CAPACITY”                                                      180

                             CHAPTER VIII.


    MY SHOES”                                                      197

                              CHAPTER IX.


    “MY FAME HAD PRECEDED ME”                                      231

                              CHAPTER X.


    “I RESOLVED NEVER TO BEND BEFORE THEM”                         247

                              CHAPTER XI.



                             CHAPTER XII.


    OF THE OCEAN”                                                  284

                             CHAPTER XIII.


    “I SAW THINGS IN ANOTHER LIGHT”                                308




William Cobbett was born in the parish of Farnham, in the county of
Surrey, on the 9th of March, 1762.

       *       *       *       *       *

The town of Farnham is a hop-garden. It had, in olden days, one of the
most important corn-markets in the south of England. Before that, it
was a great clothing mart; and, early in Parliamentary history, was
called upon to send representatives to the “Collective Wisdom.” But,
at last, the mercantile spirit proper, as was the case with many towns
in Surrey, Kent, and Sussex, fled from Farnham; granaries took the
place of workshops; and manufactures declined. With the extinction
of the iron-furnaces of the Weald expired the once-flourishing trade
of the south of England; and agriculture became the staple pursuit of
the still-prosperous people, all over the fertile country which lies
between the Thames and the English Channel. Corn-fields took the place
of extensive sheep and cattle pastures; new grazing-downs succeeded to
the burnt-up forests, whilst hops took the pick of the land, upon which
they throve in a hitherto-unexampled manner. And Farnham, with its
deep, rich, light-brown soil, found itself with a title to give to the
best hops grown in England.

So Farnham is, to this day, a big hop-garden. In spite of a
railway-station and 10,000 inhabitants, and the proximity of a
garrison, the impression is, all around, the same. You enter the town
from London, and the first church you come to is nearly surrounded with
vines; the last building, at the other end of the long street, is an
oast-house. You may take a lodging down by the river-side, and find a
forest of hop-poles immediately outside your window, in the morning;
or taking stand on any elevation, you will see all the uplands around,
either in their luxuriant summer dress of vine, or else, so many square
miles of poles placed tent-wise, taking their winter rest, looking
like nothing so much as the encampment of a monstrous army.

They must have been clever enough in their generation, who planted
and built hereabouts nearly two thousand years ago; but he who did
the most on behalf of this part of Surrey was he who planted a small
field of hops on the upland towards Crondell, somewhere about the year
1600. By the middle of the eighteenth century the hops of Farnham were
already distinguished--“always at the top of the market;” and the
agricultural writers of that day wax eloquent over the praises of the
pleasing, fertile vale, and its “hazel-coloured,” loamy soil, and the
yearly-increasing number of acres given up to hop-culture. Arthur Young
calls the district between Farnham and Alton the finest in England.

The scenery around Farnham is not, in itself, unique; so far, that any
well-cultivated English river-valley is like almost any other, with its
low hills crowned along their summits with the evidences of prosperous
farming. But, from the top of one of these eminences, the eye soon
discovers certain characteristics, which compel a deep impression upon
the mind of singularity and beauty. The best view is, perhaps, to be
obtained from Hungry Hill, near Aldershot; the most prominent object
being Crooksbury Hill, rising from above the woods of Moor Park and
Waverley Abbey. A very odd-looking hill, covered with tall Scotch firs,
the like of which it would be difficult to name; a wide expanse of
sandy heath, now partly cultivated, stretches for many miles beyond,
until broken up into a tumultuous range of heath-clad hills; and
these, again, succeeded by the distant blue outlines of the Sussex and
Hampshire downs. The river Wey courses down the vale, passing through
the lower part of Farnham town; and after spinning merrily through the
meadows and hop-fields below, bends abruptly round in the direction of

The inhabitants of this district, one hundred years ago, were almost
out of the great World. The turnpike-road to Winchester and the
south-west bounded their earthly aims; upon it was situated the weekly
goal for the produce of their farms; and along it was, at a toilsome
distance, either the great metropolis at one end, or Portsmouth and her
marines at the other. With strong native prejudices, and a character
for inflexible honesty, the farmers (generally speaking) lived remote,
“equal enemies to improvements in agriculture and to relaxations in
morals;” the smallest occupiers sharing the hardest toil with their

Before the great scarcity and dearness set in, in the last quarter of
the century--when the clocks and the brass kettles began to disappear
from the parlours, and the visions of general pauperism began to
appear--the spirit of the peasantry in the remoter parts of Surrey
was high and independent--chill penury was then uncommon with the
able-bodied. In the receipt of only seven or eight shillings a week of
average money wages, such was the cheapness of food, and so light were
the burdens which Prudence had to bear, that the labourer was healthy,
cheerful, and contented; whilst he could often explain clearly enough,
from his own observation and reflection, the merits or demerits of the
different systems and practice upon the neighbouring farms.

Of this class was the grandfather of William Cobbett.

    “With respect to my ancestors, I shall go no further back than
    my grandfather, and for this plain reason, that I never heard
    talk of any prior to him. He was a day-labourer, and I have
    heard my father say, that he worked for one farmer from the day
    of his marriage to that of his death, upwards of forty years.
    He died before I was born, but I have often slept beneath the
    same roof that had sheltered him, and where his widow dwelt
    for several years after his death. It was a little thatched
    cottage with a garden before the door. It had but two windows;
    a damson-tree shaded one, and a clump of filberts the other.
    Here I and my brothers went every Christmas and Whitsuntide, to
    spend a week or two, and torment the poor old woman with our
    noise and dilapidations. She used to give us milk and bread
    for breakfast, an apple-pudding for our dinner, and a piece of
    bread and cheese for supper. Her fire was made of turf, cut
    from the neighbouring heath, and her evening light was a rush
    dipped in grease.”

George Cobbett, son of this old couple, appears to have much improved
his condition in life; and he lived to see all his boys gradually
rising in the world. WILLIAM was the third (out of four), and he gives
vivid sketches of their daily course of existence.

    “My father, when I was born, was a farmer. The reader will
    easily believe, from the poverty of his parents, that he had
    received no very brilliant education: he was, however, learned,
    for a man in his rank of life. When a little boy, he drove
    the plough for twopence a day, and these his earnings were
    appropriated to the expenses of an evening school. What a
    village schoolmaster could be expected to teach, he had learnt,
    and had besides considerably improved himself in several
    branches of the mathematics. He understood land surveying
    well, and was often chosen to draw the plans of disputed
    territory: in short, he had the reputation of possessing
    experience and understanding, which never fails, in England,
    to give a man, in a country place, some little weight with his
    neighbours. He was honest, industrious, and frugal; it was not,
    therefore, wonderful, that he should be situated in a good
    farm, and happy in a wife of his own rank, like him, beloved
    and respected.

    “So much for my ancestors, from whom, if I derive no honour, I
    derive no shame.

    “A father like ours, it will be readily supposed, did not
    suffer us to eat the bread of idleness. I do not remember the
    time when I did not earn my living. My first occupation was
    driving the small birds from the turnip seed, and the rooks
    from the peas. When I first trudged a-field, with my wooden
    bottle and my satchel swung over my shoulders, I was hardly
    able to climb the gates and stiles, and, at the close of the
    day, to reach home was a task of infinite difficulty. My next
    employment was weeding wheat, and leading a single horse at
    harrowing barley. Hoeing peas followed, and hence I arrived at
    the honour of joining the reapers in harvest, driving the team
    and holding the plough. We were all of us strong and laborious,
    and my father used to boast, that he had four boys, the eldest
    of whom was but fifteen years old, who did as much work as any
    three men in the parish of Farnham. Honest pride, and happy

    “I have some faint recollection of going to school to an old
    woman, who, I believe, did not succeed in teaching me my
    letters. In the winter evenings my father taught us all to
    read and write, and gave us a pretty tolerable knowledge of
    arithmetic. Grammar he did not perfectly understand himself,
    and therefore his endeavours to teach us that, necessarily
    failed; for, though he thought he understood it, and though he
    made us get the rules by heart, we learnt nothing at all of the

No, the book-learning was not to come yet. That was to be left until
the little world of his birthplace had become too small to hold him.
Nearly sixty years after these simple times, Mr. Cobbett is riding in
the neighbourhood, accompanied by one of his sons, and the two go out
of their way to visit the spot where he received “the rudiments of his

    “There is a little hop-garden in which I used to work when
    from eight to ten years old; from which I have scores of times
    run to follow the hounds, leaving the hoe to do the best that
    it could to destroy the weeds; but the most interesting thing
    was a sand-hill, which goes from a part of the heath down to
    the rivulet. As a due mixture of pleasure with toil, I with
    two brothers, used occasionally to disport ourselves, as the
    lawyers call it, at this sand-hill. One diversion was this: we
    used to go to the top of the hill, which was steeper than the
    roof of a house; one used to draw his arms out of the sleeves
    of his smock-frock, and lay himself down with his arms by
    his sides; and then the others, one at head and the other at
    feet, sent him rolling down the hill like a barrel or a log
    of wood. By the time he got to the bottom, his hair, eyes,
    ears, nose, and mouth, were all full of this loose sand; then
    the others took their turn; and at every roll, there was a
    monstrous spell of laughter. I had often told my sons of this
    while they were very little, and I now took one of them to see
    the spot. But, that was not all. This was the spot where I was
    receiving my education; and this was the sort of education;
    and I am perfectly satisfied that if I had not received such
    an education, or something very much like it; that, if I had
    been brought up a milksop, with a nursery-maid everlastingly at
    my heels, I should have been at this day as great a fool, as
    inefficient a mortal, as any of those frivolous idiots that are
    turned out from Winchester and Westminster School, or from any
    of those dens of dunces called colleges and universities. It is
    impossible to say how much I owe to that sand-hill; and I went
    to return it my thanks for the ability which it probably gave
    me to be one of the greatest terrors, to one of the greatest
    and most powerful bodies of knaves and fools, that ever were
    permitted to afflict this or any other country.”

In such manner the merry, sturdy, little life went on. At tying
hop-poles, or scaring birds, almost as soon as he could barely stand,
a trifling share was given to the family efforts; whilst the vigorous,
healthy senses were already open to the keenest enjoyment of nature,
and to the unexpected moments of fun which enter into the days of
boyhood. Look at this, for example (written at nearly seventy years of

    “When I was a very little boy, I was, in the barley-sowing
    season, going along by the side of a field, near Waverley
    Abbey; the primroses and blue-bells bespangling the banks on
    both sides of me; a thousand linnets singing in a spreading oak
    over my head; while the jingle of the traces, and the whistling
    of the plough-boys saluted my ear from over the hedge; and, as
    it were to snatch me from the enchantment, the hounds, at that
    instant, having started a hare in the hanger on the other side
    of the field, came up scampering over it in full cry, taking me
    after them many a mile. I was not more than eight years old;
    but this particular scene has presented itself to my mind many
    times every year from that day to this. I always enjoy it over
    again, &c.”

Cobbett’s political writings, during his whole career, were largely
illustrated by the incidents and occurrences of his life. This was the
line taken by his own peculiar egotism, and we are indebted to it for
numerous pictures similar to the above. Of this particular period there
is only space here for the following capital story:--

    “When I was a boy, a huntsman named George Bradley, who was
    huntsman to Mr. Smither, of Hale, very wantonly gave me a cut
    with his whip, because I jumped in amongst the dogs, pulled a
    hare from them, and got her scut, upon a little common, called
    Seal Common, near Waverley Abbey. I was only about eight years
    old; but my mind was so strongly imbued with the principles of
    natural justice, that I did not rest satisfied with the mere
    calling of names, of which, however, I gave Mr. George Bradley
    a plenty. I sought to inflict a just punishment upon him; and,
    as I had not the means of proceeding by force, I proceeded by
    cunning in the manner that I am presently going to describe.
    I had not then read the Bible, much less had I read GROTIUS
    and PUFFENDORF; I, therefore, did not know that God and man
    had declared, that it was laudable to combat tyranny by either
    force or fraud; but, though I did not know what tyranny meant,
    reason and a sense of justice taught me that Bradley had been
    guilty of tyranny towards me; and the native resources of my
    mind, together with my resolution, made me inflict justice on
    him in the following manner:--Hounds (hare-hounds at least)
    will follow the trail of a red herring as eagerly as that of
    a hare, and rather more so, the scent being stronger and more
    unbroken. I waited till Bradley and his pack were trailing for
    a hare in the neighbourhood of that same Seal Common. They were
    pretty sure to find in the space of half an hour, and the hare
    was pretty sure to go up the common and over the hill to the
    south. I placed myself ready with a red herring at the end of
    a string, in a dry field, and near a hard path, along which,
    or near to which, I was pretty sure the hare would go. I waited
    a long while; the sun was getting high, the scent bad; but,
    by and by, I heard the view-halloo and full cry. I squatted
    down in the fern, and my heart bounded with the prospect of
    inflicting justice, when I saw my lady come skipping by, going
    off towards Pepperharrow; that is to say, to the south. In a
    moment, I clapped down my herring, went off at a right angle
    towards the west, climbed up a steep bank very soon, where
    the horsemen, such as they were, could not follow; then on I
    went over the roughest part of the common that I could find,
    till I got to the pales of Moor Park, over which I went, there
    being holes at the bottom for the letting in of the hares. That
    part of the park was covered with short heath; and I gave some
    twirls about to amuse Mr. Bradley for half-an-hour. Then off
    I went, and down a hanger at last, to the bottom of which no
    horseman could get without riding round a quarter of a mile. At
    the bottom of the hanger was an alder moor, in a swamp. There
    my herring ceased to perform its service. The river is pretty
    rapid, I tossed it in, that it might go back to the sea, and
    relate to its brethren the exploits of the land. I washed my
    hands in the water of the moor; and took a turn, and stood at
    the top of the hanger to witness the winding up of the day’s
    sport, which terminated a little before dusk in one of the
    dark days of November. After overrunning the scent a hundred
    times, after an hour’s puzzling in the dry field, after all the
    doubles and all the turns that the sea-borne hare had given
    them, down came the whole _posse_ to the swamp; the huntsman
    went round a mill-head not far off, and tried the other side of
    the river: ‘_No! d-- her, where can she be?_’ And thus, amidst
    conjectures, disputations, mutual blamings, and swearings a
    plenty, they concluded, some of them half-leg deep in dirt, and
    going soaking home at the end of a drizzling day.”

The little life, that was destined to be such a cruel thorn in the
sides of Authority, was very near being summarily extinguished about
this time; on occasion of William getting out of his depth while
bathing in the river Wey, and from which he was “pulled out by the
foot, which happened to stick up above the water.”

By the time of his reaching ten or eleven years of age he is already
getting useful, in his way, and he takes his turn with his brothers
of going the annual visit to Weyhill Fair with their father. The fair
at Weyhill, though still considerable, is not what it was then; the
hop-growers now run off to Worcester, or Burton-on-Trent; but in those
days, long before the railways, Weyhill in October was the grand centre
for sheep, hops, &c. There the yearly hirings took place, and there
the bucolic gathering from all the neighbouring counties had an annual
dissipation. We shall presently see that it was at one of these trips
Cobbett made his first acquaintance with American politics. But the
following incident--which has often been told, but cannot on that
account be omitted here--presents his first recorded look-out upon life.

    “At eleven years of age, my employment was clipping of
    box-edgings and weeding beds of flowers in the garden of the
    Bishop of Winchester, at the Castle of Farnham, my native town.
    I had always been fond of beautiful gardens; and a gardener,
    who had just come from the King’s Gardens at Kew, gave such
    a description as made me instantly resolve to work in these
    gardens. The next morning, without saying a word to any one,
    off I set, with no clothes except those upon my back, and
    with thirteen halfpence in my pocket. I found that I must go
    to Richmond, and I accordingly went on, from place to place,
    inquiring my way thither. A long day (it was in June) brought
    me to Richmond in the afternoon. Two pennyworth of bread and
    cheese, and a pennyworth of small beer, which I had on the
    road, and one halfpenny that I had lost somehow or other, left
    threepence in my pocket. With this for my whole fortune, I was
    trudging through Richmond, in my blue smock-frock, and my red
    garters tied under my knees, when, staring about me, my eye
    fell upon a little book in a bookseller’s window. ‘TALE OF A
    TUB,’ price 3_d._ The title was so odd, that my curiosity was
    excited. I had the 3_d._, but then I could have no supper. In
    I went, and got the little book, which I was so impatient to
    read, that I got over into a field, at the upper corner of
    Kew Gardens, where there stood a haystack. On the shady side
    of this, I sat down to read. The book was so different from
    anything that I had ever read before; it was something so new
    to my mind, that, though I could not at all understand some of
    it, it delighted me beyond description; and it produced what
    I have always considered a birth of intellect. I read on till
    it was dark, without any thought about supper or bed. When I
    could see no longer, I put my little book in my pocket, and
    tumbled down by the side of the stack, where I slept till the
    birds in Kew Gardens awaked me in the morning; when off I
    started to Kew, reading my little book. The singularity of my
    dress, the simplicity of my manner, my confident and lively
    air, and, doubtless, his own compassion besides, induced the
    gardener, who was a Scotchman, I remember, to give me victuals,
    find me lodgings, and set me to work. And it was during the
    period that I was at Kew, that the present King (Geo. IV.), and
    two of his brothers laughed at the oddness of my dress, while
    I was sweeping the grass-plat round the foot of the pagoda.
    The gardener, seeing me fond of books, lent me some gardening
    books to read; but these I could not relish after my ‘Tale of a
    Tub,’ which I carried about with me wherever I went; and when
    I, at about twenty [24] years old, lost it in a box that fell
    overboard in the Bay of Fundy, in North America, the loss gave
    me greater pain then I have ever felt at losing thousands of

How long the employment at Kew lasted, and how he got home again,
does not appear. The life at Farnham was probably resumed before
the approach of winter; for, either the year before this, or that
immediately succeeding, he mentions being sent down from Farnham to
Steeple Langford, in Wiltshire, with a horse; remaining at the latter
place “from the month of June till the fall of the year.”

Cobbett must have been about fourteen years of age at the time alluded
to in the following incident:--

    “My father used to take one of us with him every year to
    the great hop-fair at Weyhill. The fair was held at Old
    Michaelmastide, and the journey was to us a sort of reward
    for the labours of the summer. It happened to be my turn to
    go thither the very year that Long Island was taken by the
    British. A great company of hop-merchants and farmers were
    just sitting down to supper as the post arrived, bringing in
    the ‘Extraordinary Gazette,’ which announced the victory. A
    hop-factor from London took the paper, placed his chair upon
    the table, and began to read with an audible voice. He was
    opposed, a dispute ensued, and my father retired, taking me by
    the hand, to another apartment, where we supped with about a
    dozen others of the same sentiments. Here Washington’s health,
    and success to the Americans, were repeatedly toasted, and this
    was the first time, as far as I can recollect, that I ever
    heard the General’s name mentioned. Little did I then dream
    that I should ever see the man, and still less that I should
    hear some of his own countrymen reviling and execrating him.”

Although we have learned, not only to look with complacency upon
the results of the attempt to coerce the Colonies, but, also, to
wonder that there could have ever been English statesmen so deluded
as to expect anything but disaster from the contest; it has not been
sufficiently observed, that the immediate effect was the partial ruin
of the labouring poor in this country; that it is from that period that
their prosperity has declined, and their comforts have become fewer and
fewer. And what is more, before their impoverishment made it obvious
to everybody, the common people and the tradesmen showed, by their
abhorrence of the war, that they were, for once, gifted with a truer
political sagacity than their precious rulers; and that there must have
been some vague general anticipation of the consequences to them, and
to their families. Prices rose, whilst wages remained stationary; and,
from the very outset, the privations of the poor were aggravated to an
intense degree. But from that date arose the thirst of the labouring
classes for political information, which has since resulted in their
possessing so general a share in representation.

So, down at quiet Farnham, the people had hitherto been, “like the rest
of the country people in England,” neither knowing nor thinking much
about politics. The “shouts of victory or the murmurs at a defeat,”
would now and then break in upon their tranquillity for a moment; but
after the American war had continued for a short time, the people began
to be a little better acquainted with subjects of that kind. Cobbett
says, that opinions were pretty equally divided concerning the war,
at first; whilst there grew up a good deal of pretty warm discussion,

    “My father was a partisan of the Americans: he used frequently
    to dispute on the subject with the gardener of a nobleman
    who lived near us. This was generally done with good humour,
    over a pot of our best ale; yet the disputants sometimes grew
    warm, and gave way to language that could not fail to attract
    our attention. My father was worsted, without doubt, as he
    had for antagonist a shrewd and sensible old Scotchman, far
    his superior in political knowledge; but he pleaded before a
    partial audience: we thought there was but one wise man in the
    world, and that that one was our father. He who pleaded the
    cause of the Americans had an advantage too, with young minds:
    he had only to represent the King’s troops as sent to cut the
    throats of a people, our friends and relations, merely because
    they would not submit to oppression, and his cause was gained.”

Old George Cobbett remained a staunch American in politics; but, as to
whether he was right or wrong, his son admits that he never, at that
period, formed any opinion. His own notions were those of his father,
which would have been as warmly entertained if they had been all on
the other side. The short autobiography of which the above forms a
part, was written during the early part of his pamphleteering career
in the United States; at which time he found it necessary to explain
that he had not been nursed in the lap of aristocracy, and that he did
not imbibe his then “principles or prejudices from those who were the
advocates of blind submission.” The story of this pamphlet will come in
its proper place, when its author was upwards of thirty years of age.

       *       *       *       *       *

Here we have, then, probably as much as we shall ever know, of William
Cobbett’s early years. The utter obscurity of his father’s social
status is, of itself, sufficient reason why there were no admiring
friends to detect precocity, and to record its achievements: until
the age of twenty his life was made up of the ordinary occupations of
a country lad. Fairs, cricket-matches, and hare-hunts filled up the
joyous periods of recreation; and it was not till the year 1782, that
an incident occurred, which, bringing him into the bustling activity
of town-life, had the same effect upon him, that a similar change of
scene has had upon many an ardent, healthy spirit; and which estranged
him from the sequestered vale of life, for ever.

There can be little doubt, however, that a very great mental stimulus
was acquired by the trip to Kew, and the reading of Swift’s wonderful
satire.[1] The poor ploughboy, very probably, read and reread the
laughable story of Peter and Martin hundreds of times without
understanding the real drift of it; but there was enough in the book,
with its entertaining accounts of grotesque fashions and weak-minded
characters, to furnish such an impressionable spirit as Cobbett’s with
an inexhaustible store of odd ideas concerning the world outside him.
Readers of his works will notice his frequent quotation of Swift: “The
celebrated Dean of St. Patrick somewhere observes, &c., &c.” is the
opening sentence of the autobiographical sketch; and the “Political
Register,” in after-years, continued to manifest evidences of the
source and character of Cobbett’s early reading. Cobbett’s literary
style, however, was not exactly that of Dean Swift; of which the
former’s ignorance, and even contempt, of Latinity is sufficient
explanation. But his alternations of sweetness and acrimony,--his
ever-ready images,--the picturesque manner of his describing individual
characters,--his constant tendency to satire,--cannot but be ascribed,
in great measure, to the little book whose loss “cost him greater pain
than losing thousands of pounds.”

So there is, now, some difference. A head and shoulders above the
average of his mates, his mind is, likewise, on a higher level. Not so
high, but as yet to be infinitely dark as to any purpose: a healthy
spirit in a healthy body, there stood, working as hard and as cheerily
as ever; but ready for the first impulse--which impulse came, in no
uncommon way; in no more romantic style than that which sets a ball
rolling, upon the impact of the foot.

    “Towards the autumn of 1782, I went to visit a relation who
    lived in the neighbourhood of Portsmouth. From the top of
    Portsdown, I, for the first time, beheld the sea, and no sooner
    did I behold it than I wished to be a sailor. I could never
    account for this sudden impulse, nor can I now. Almost all
    English boys feel the same inclination: it would seem that,
    like young ducks, instinct leads them to rush on the bosom of
    the water.

    “But it was not the sea alone that I saw; the grand fleet
    was riding at anchor at Spithead. I had heard of the wooden
    walls of Old England; I had formed my ideas of a ship and of a
    fleet, but what I now beheld so far surpassed what I had ever
    been able to form a conception of, that I stood lost between
    astonishment and admiration. I had heard talk of the glorious
    deeds of our admirals and sailors, of the defeat of the Spanish
    Armada, and of all those memorable combats that good and true
    Englishmen never fail to relate to their children about a
    hundred times a year. The brave Rodney’s victories over our
    natural enemies, the French and Spaniards, had long been the
    theme of our praise, and the burthen of our songs. The sight of
    the fleet brought all these into my mind; in confused order,
    it is true, but with irresistible force. My heart was inflated
    with national pride. The sailors were my countrymen, the fleet
    belonged to my country, and surely I had my part in it, and
    all its honours; yet, these honours I had not earned; I took
    to myself a sort of reproach for possessing what I had no
    right to, and resolved to have a just claim by sharing in the
    hardships and the dangers.

    “I arrived at my uncle’s late in the evening, with my mind full
    of my sea-faring project. Though I had walked thirty miles
    during the day, and consequently was well wearied, I slept not
    a moment. It was no sooner daylight than I arose and walked
    down towards the old castle on the beach at Spithead. For a
    sixpence given to an invalid I got permission to go upon the
    battlements; here I had a closer view of the fleet, and at
    every look my impatience to be on board increased. In short, I
    went from the Castle to Portsmouth, got into a boat, and was in
    a few minutes on board the ‘Pegasus’ man-of-war, commanded by
    the Right Honourable George Berkeley, brother to the Earl of

    “The Captain had more compassion than is generally met with in
    men of his profession; he represented to me the toils I must
    undergo, and the punishment that the least disobedience or
    neglect would subject me to. He persuaded me to return home,
    and I remember he concluded his advice with telling me, that
    it was better to be led to church in a halter, to be tied to
    a girl that I did not like, than to be tied to the gang-way,
    or, as the sailors call it, married to Miss Roper. From the
    conclusion of this wholesome counsel, I perceived that the
    captain thought I had eloped on account of a bastard.

    “I in vain attempted to convince Captain Berkeley,[2] that
    choice alone had led me to the sea; he sent me on shore, and
    I at last quitted Portsmouth, but not before I had applied to
    the Port-Admiral, Evans, to get my name enrolled among those
    who were destined for the service. I was, in some sort, obliged
    to acquaint the Admiral with what had passed on board the
    ‘Pegasus,’ in consequence of which my request was refused,
    and I happily escaped, sorely against my will, from the most
    toilsome and perilous profession in the world.

    “I returned once more to the plough, but I was spoiled for a
    farmer. I had, before my Portsmouth adventure, never known
    any other ambition than that of surpassing my brothers in the
    different labours of the field, but it was quite otherwise now;
    I sighed for a sight of the world; the little island of Britain
    seemed too small a compass for me. The things in which I had
    taken the most delight were neglected; the singing of the birds
    grew insipid, and even the heart-cheering cry of the hounds,
    after which I formerly used to fly from my work, bound o’er the
    fields, and dash through the brakes and coppices, was heard
    with the most torpid indifference. Still, however, I remained
    at home till the following spring, when I quitted it, perhaps
    for ever.

    “It was on the 6th of May, 1783, that I, like Don Quixote,
    sallied forth to seek adventures. I was dressed in my holiday
    clothes, in order to accompany two or three lasses to Guildford
    Fair. They were to assemble at a house about three miles from
    my home, where I was to attend them; but, unfortunately for me,
    I had to cross the London turnpike-road. The stage-coach had
    just turned the summit of a hill and was rattling down towards
    me at a merry rate. The notion of going to London never entered
    my mind till this very moment, yet the step was completely
    determined on, before the coach came to the spot where I stood.
    Up I got, and was in London about nine o’clock in the evening.

    “It was by mere accident that I had money enough to defray
    the expenses of this day. Being rigged out for the fair, I
    had three or four crown and half-crown pieces (which most
    certainly I did not intend to spend), besides a few shillings
    and halfpence. This my little all, which I had been years in
    amassing, melted away like snow before the sun, when touched
    by the fingers of the innkeepers and their waiters. In short,
    when I arrived at Ludgate Hill, and had paid my fare, I had but
    about half-a-crown in my pocket.

    “By a commencement of that good luck, which has hitherto
    attended me through all the situations in which fortune has
    placed me, I was preserved from ruin. A gentleman, who was one
    of the passengers in the stage, fell into conversation with
    me at dinner, and he soon learnt that I was going I knew not
    whither nor for what. This gentleman was a hop-merchant in the
    borough of Southwark, and, upon closer inquiry, it appeared
    that he had often dealt with my father at Wey Hill. He knew the
    danger I was in; he was himself a father, and he felt for my
    parents. His house became my home, he wrote to my father, and
    endeavoured to prevail on me to obey his orders, which were
    to return immediately home. I am ashamed to say that I was
    disobedient. It was the first time I had ever been so, and I
    have repented of it from that moment to this. Willingly would I
    have returned, but pride would not suffer me to do it. I feared
    the scoffs of my acquaintances more than the real evils that
    threatened me.

    “My generous preserver, finding my obstinacy not to be
    overcome, began to look out for an employment for me. He
    was preparing an advertisement for the newspaper, when an
    acquaintance of his, an attorney, called in to see him. He
    related my adventure to this gentleman, whose name was Holland,
    and who, happening to want an understrapping quill-driver, did
    me the honour to take me into his service, and the next day saw
    me perched upon a great high stool, in an obscure chamber in
    Gray’s Inn, endeavouring to decipher the crabbed draughts of my

    “I could write a good plain hand, but I could not read the
    pot-hooks and hangers of Mr. Holland. He was a month in
    learning me to copy without almost continual assistance, and
    even then I was of but little use to him; for, besides that I
    wrote a snail’s pace, my want of knowledge in orthography gave
    him infinite trouble: so that for the first two months I was a
    dead weight upon his hands. Time, however, rendered me useful,
    and Mr. Holland was pleased to tell me that he was very well
    satisfied with me, just at the very moment when I began to grow
    extremely dissatisfied with him.

    “No part of my life has been totally unattended with pleasure,
    except the eight or nine months I passed in Gray’s Inn. The
    office (for so the dungeon, where I wrote, was called) was so
    dark, that on cloudy days, we were obliged to burn candles.
    I worked like a galley-slave from five in the morning till
    eight or nine at night, and sometimes all night long. How many
    quarrels have I assisted to foment and perpetuate between those
    poor innocent fellows, John Doe and Richard Roe! How many
    times (God forgive me!) have I set them to assault each other
    with guns, swords, staves, and pitch-forks, and then brought
    them to answer for their misdeeds before our sovereign Lord
    the King seated in his Court of Westminster? When I think of
    the saids and soforths, and the counts of tautology that I
    scribbled over; when I think of those sheets of seventy-two
    words, and those lines two inches apart, my brain turns.
    Gracious Heaven! if I am doomed to be wretched, bury me beneath
    Iceland snows, and let me feed on blubber; stretch me under the
    burning line and deny me thy propitious dews; nay, if it be thy
    will, suffocate me with the infected and pestilential air of a
    democratic club-room; but save me, O save me from the desk of a
    pettifogging attorney!

    “Mr. Holland was but little in the chambers himself. He always
    went out to dinner, while I was left to be provided for by the
    _laundress_, as he called her. Those gentlemen of the law, who
    have resided in the inns of court in London, know very well
    what a _laundress_ means. Ours was, I believe, the oldest and
    ugliest of the officious sisterhood. She had age and experience
    enough to be Lady Abbess of all the nuns in all the convents of
    Irish-Town. It would be wronging the witch of Endor to compare
    her to this hag, who was the only creature that deigned to
    enter into conversation with me. All except the name, I was
    in prison, and this Weird Sister was my keeper. Our chambers
    were to me, what the subterraneous cavern was to Gil Blas: his
    description of the Dame Leonarda exactly suited my Laundress;
    nor were the professions, or rather the practice, of our
    masters altogether dissimilar.

    “I never quitted this gloomy recess except on Sundays, when
    I usually took a walk to St. James’s Park, to feast my eyes
    with the sight of the trees, the grass, and the water. In one
    of these walks I happened to cast my eye on an advertisement,
    inviting all loyal young men, who had a mind to gain riches
    and glory, to repair to a certain rendezvous, where they might
    enter into his Majesty’s marine service, and have the peculiar
    happiness and honour of being enrolled in the Chatham Division.
    I was not ignorant enough to be the dupe of this morsel of
    military bombast; but a change was what I wanted; besides, I
    knew that marines went to sea, and my desire to be on that
    element had rather increased than diminished by my being penned
    up in London. In short, I resolved to join this glorious
    corps; and, to avoid all possibility of being discovered by my
    friends, I went down to Chatham, and enlisted into the marines
    as I thought, but the next morning I found myself before a
    captain of a marching regiment. There was no retreating: I had
    taken a shilling to drink his Majesty’s health, and his further
    bounty was ready for my reception.

    “When I told the captain (who was an Irishman, and who has
    since been an excellent friend to me) that I thought myself
    engaged in the marines: ‘By Jasus, my lad,’ said he, ‘and you
    have had a narrow escape.’ He told me that the regiment into
    which I had been so happy as to enlist was one of the oldest
    and boldest in the whole army, and that it was at that moment
    serving in that fine, flourishing, and plentiful country,
    Nova Scotia. He dwelt long on the beauties and riches of this
    terrestrial Paradise, and dismissed me, perfectly enchanted
    with the prospect of a voyage thither.”


[1] It is a noteworthy circumstance that Moor Park and “my
grandmother’s cottage” should be almost within hail of each other; for
it was among these very scenes that Swift spent some of his earliest
and best years--a nice little item for any ingenious believer in

When Cobbett wrote “The Life and Adventures of Peter Porcupine,” he was
not aware of this coincidence, otherwise his humour would have happily
played around the topic.

[2] Afterwards Admiral Sir George Berkeley. He entered the navy at
twelve years of age, and saw a good deal of service, including the
glorious 1st of June. Died 1818, æt. sixty-five.



From the point of view which Englishmen usually take, in speaking of
success in life, it may remain an open question as to whether the
hero of this story ever really attained it. But let such question be
narrowed down to a point, from which is excluded all notions of wealth,
and personal aggrandizement: the placing of one’s feet upon a given
spot from which others have been ousted--the thing becomes clearer. The
attainment of objects upon which one has set the heart, from time to
time, can alone be called SUCCESS.

Now, this reflection is hazarded, because it is necessary for the
reader of William Cobbett’s history to observe a leading feature in his
character, from this stage onward; consisting in what may be called
the instinct of discipline. Money-making (as such) was ever with
him a process which he treated with contempt; the whole future, as
it stood before him year after year, was to promise only the comfort
of his family, and the welfare of his countrymen. All the blunders
which he committed, in the untiring pursuit of this twofold object,
were the result of undue impetuosity, the rashness of the soldier in
the heat of strife: the temporary derangement of discipline, in the
rear of a discomfited enemy. But in spite of ridicule and opposition,
and long-deferred anticipation, and, besides, slanders of the foulest
character, one after another were the dearest wishes of his heart
fulfilled; and at seventy years of age he could write:--


So, if we think of the soldier’s career; what it is for the idle and
the devil-may-care; what it is to the mere adventurer; what it is
to the drudge; and what it is, as a last resource, to the outlaw;
and, then, what it is to him who deliberately makes it a school of
self-discipline, then we shall have some likelihood of understanding
why this man, only twenty years after leaving the plough-tail, had
become the Mentor of English statesmen, and wielded a pen so powerful
that no price could buy it.

It cannot be said, however, that there had been any want of parental
control in the little household at Farnham. In the foregoing chapter
are clearly to be found traces, on the part of Cobbett’s father, of
his duty in this respect; and to the gentle discipline of home must
be ascribed the readiness, with which the sterner apprenticeship of
army life was undertaken. All the sons of George Cobbett did well in
after-life. Whilst this WILLIAM, going into a rougher school than his
brothers, and submitting for a term to its rough lessons, not only with
a good grace, but with a happy foresight, distances them all.

His own testimony to the quality of his early moral training is,
by-the-bye, worth quoting:--

    “When in the army I was often tempted to take up the cards. But
    the words of my father came into my mind, and rescued me from
    the peril.… During this part of my life I lived amongst, and
    was compelled to associate with, the most beastly of drunkards,
    where liquor was so cheap, that even a soldier might be drunk
    every day; yet I never, during the whole time, even _tasted_ of
    that liquor: my father’s, and especially my mother’s precepts
    were always at hand to protect me.”

But there is one other factor to be taken into account. It seems
that among his few acquaintances in London, was a young man who could
give him friendly counsel, from a superior social standpoint; and
consequently, with a far better knowledge of the world upon which they
were both emerging;[1] and Cobbett declares that it was to his advice
that he owed all that he ever possessed beyond the lot of a common
soldier. For after the enlistment,--

    “Upon being informed by me of what I had done, he began his
    answer to me in somewhat these words:--‘Now then, my dear Bill,
    it is for you to determine whether you shall, all your life,
    yield an abject submission to others, or whether you yourself
    shall be a guider and leader of men. Nature has done her part
    toward you most generously; but her favours will be of no
    avail without a knowledge of grammar. Without that knowledge
    you will be laughed at by blockheads; with it, you may laugh
    at thousands who think themselves learned men.’ The letter was
    long, full of urgent recommendation, and seasoned with the
    kindest of expressions, all which I knew to be sincere. I was,
    at that time, much more intent upon the beauty of my cap and
    feathers, than upon anything else; but, upon seeing my friend
    afterwards to take leave of him, he renewed his advice in such
    a strain as to make a thorough impression upon me; and I set
    about my study in good earnest.”

Not, then, of mere chance, nor even because he possessed certain
advantages in the shape of a robust, elastic frame, and a healthy mind
therein dwelling, did this man eventually put such a powerful shoulder
to the wheel of liberty. Without the personal influence of his noble
peasant-father, the affectionate firmness of his friend, the soldier’s
round of duty cheerily performed, and supplemented by self-discipline,
these natural advantages were valueless; and he no leader and guider of

       *       *       *       *       *

The year 1784 opened, with England at peace. The American States had
achieved independence, or as it is sometimes euphemistically put, King
George had granted it to them. Soldiers were getting their discharge,
or were being sent out to colonize New Brunswick. Recruiting was
comparatively sluggish work, and there was little need to complement
the full strength of regiments on foreign stations. The 54th, that in
which William Cobbett found himself, was then serving in Nova Scotia,
whilst the depôt was in garrison at Chatham; and here he remained about
a year. Of this life at Chatham, learning his drill, &c., there are
abundant materials for a picture, as Cobbett never tired of referring
to this period, when in after-years he would, again and again, point
a moral from his own career. The story was told at seventy years of
age, to the young men of England, as it had been told to his irritated
American neighbours, in 1796.

    “My leisure time, which was a very considerable portion of
    the twenty-four hours, was spent, not in the dissipation
    common to such a way of life, but in reading and study. In
    the course of this year I learnt more than I had ever done
    before. I subscribed to a circulating library at Brompton,
    the greatest part of the books in which I read more than once
    over. The library was not very considerable, it is true, nor
    in my reading was I directed by any degree of taste or choice.
    Novels, plays, history, poetry, all were read, and nearly with
    equal avidity.[2] Such a course of reading could be attended
    with but little profit: it was skimming over the surface of
    everything. One branch of learning, however, I went to the
    bottom with, and that the most essential branch too, the
    grammar of my mother-tongue. I had experienced the want of a
    knowledge of grammar during my stay with Mr. Holland; but it is
    very probable that I never should have thought of encountering
    the study of it, had not accident placed me under a man whose
    friendship extended beyond his interest.

    “Writing a fair hand procured me the honour of being copyist to
    Colonel Debbieg, the commandant of the garrison. I transcribed
    the famous correspondence between him and the Duke of Richmond,
    which ended in the good and gallant old colonel being stripped
    of the reward bestowed on him for his long and meritorious
    servitude.[3] Being totally ignorant of the rules of grammar,
    I necessarily made many mistakes in copying, because no one
    can copy letter by letter, nor even word by word. The colonel
    saw my deficiency, and strongly recommended study. He enforced
    his advice with a sort of injunction, and with a promise of
    reward in case of success. I procured me a Lowth’s grammar, and
    applied myself to the study of it with unceasing assiduity, and
    not without some profit, for, though it was a considerable time
    before I fully comprehended all that I read, still I read and
    studied with such unremitted attention, that, at last, I could
    write without falling into any very gross errors. The pains I
    took cannot be described; I wrote the whole grammar out two or
    three times; I got it by heart; I repeated it every morning and
    every evening, and, when on guard, I imposed on myself the task
    of saying it all over once every time I was posted sentinel.
    To this exercise of my memory I ascribed the retentiveness of
    which I have since found it capable, and to the success with
    which it was attended, I ascribe the perseverance that has
    led to the acquirement of the little learning of which I am
    master. This study was, too, attended with another advantage:
    it kept me out of mischief. I was always sober and regular in
    my attendance; and not being a clumsy fellow, I met with none
    of those reproofs which disgust so many young men with the

These efforts at self-education would be wonderful enough, in a
person surrounded with the comforts of life, but when we recollect
what the life of a private soldier was, until very recently, with
the temptations presented by poverty, and by dissolute associates,
and by the almost utter want of sympathy between the soldier and his
aristocratic superiors, the extreme difficulty of the case is evident.

    “Of my sixpence nothing like fivepence was left to purchase
    food for the day. Indeed not fourpence. For there was washing,
    mending, soap, flour for hair-powder, shoes, stockings, shirts,
    stocks and gaiters, pipe-clay and several other things, all
    to come out of the miserable sixpence!… The whole week’s food
    was not a bit too much for one day. It is not disaffection,
    it is not a want of fidelity to oaths, that makes soldiers
    desert, one time out of ten thousand; it is hunger, which will
    break through stone walls; and which will, therefore, break
    through oaths and the danger of punishment. We had several
    recruits from Norfolk (our regiment was the West Norfolk); and
    many of them deserted from sheer hunger. They were lads from
    the plough-tail. All of them tall; for no short men were then
    taken. I remember two that went into a decline and died during
    the year; though when they joined us they were fine hearty
    young men. I have seen them lay in their berths, many and many
    a time, actually crying on account of hunger.

    “The edge of my berth, or that of the guard-bed, was my seat
    to study in; my knapsack was my book-case; a bit of board
    lying on my lap was my writing-table.… I had no money to
    purchase candle or oil; in winter-time it was rarely that I
    could get any evening light but that of the fire; and only _my
    turn_ even of that.… To buy a pen or a sheet of paper I was
    compelled to forego some portion of food, though in a state
    of half-starvation: I had no moment of time that I could call
    my own; and I had to read and to write amidst the talking,
    laughing, singing, whistling, and brawling of at least half a
    score of the most thoughtless of men, and that, too, in the
    hours of their freedom from all control. Think not lightly of
    the _farthing_ that I had to give, now and then, for ink, pen,
    or paper. That farthing was, alas! a great sum to me. I was
    as tall as I am now; I had great health and great exercise.
    The whole of the money, not expended for us at market, was
    _twopence a week_ for each man. I remember (and well I may!)
    that upon one occasion I, after all absolutely necessary
    expenses, had, on a Friday, made shift to have a halfpenny in
    reserve, which I had destined for the purchase of a red-herring
    in the morning; but, when I pulled off my clothes at night, so
    hungry then as to be hardly able to endure life, I found that
    I had lost my halfpenny! I buried my head under the miserable
    sheet and rug, and cried like a child.”

And yet the life had its amenities. Tender recollections come up, when
he visits Chatham again, nearly forty years after, of the pretty girls
of his “cap-and-feather days.” How they evinced a sincere desire to
smooth the inequalities of life; and particularly to serve out the beer
more fairly than their masters or husbands. His superior officers, too,
inspired him with a certain amount of respect and affection; whilst the
Colonel’s discovery of the _willing horse_ was, undoubtedly, a fount of
pleasure and gratification to the young recruit.

Cobbett tells, somewhere, of a poor little drummer-boy who gambled.
He gambled away all his pay, his shirts, his stockings, and all his
necessaries, even to his loaf, which was served out to him twice a
week. At last, to prevent him from begging through the streets of
Rochester and Chatham, the men were compelled to take his loaf from
him, to serve it out a slice at a time, and to see that he ate it. Here
is about the lowest depth of degradation to which a private soldier
could descend; but the moralist will see, in this anecdote, only one
other instance in which the weight or the deficiency of moral stamina
is dependent, whether in private soldier or in prince, upon the habit
of mind acquired in childhood. Beneath the parental roof must the
parental duty be done; no “prayer,” and no idle talk of reliance
on providence (so very, very often put forth, when only a plea for
laziness and indifference) will avail, unless the dictates of common
prudence are heeded, and a straightforward principle, in example, daily
shown. The riff-raff of society, in all grades, is composed of those
whose childhood was neglected.

       *       *       *       *       *

Early in 1785, a detachment from the depôt at Chatham was forwarded to
head-quarters, and the event is thus described in the autobiography:--

    “There is no situation where merit is so sure to meet with
    reward as in a well-disciplined army. Those who command are
    obliged to reward it for their own ease and credit. I was
    soon raised to the rank of corporal; a rank which, however
    contemptible it may appear in some people’s eyes, brought me
    in a clear twopence _per diem_, and put a very clever worsted
    knot upon my shoulder too.… As promotion began to dawn, I grew
    impatient to get to my regiment, where I expected soon to bask
    under the rays of Royal favour. The happy day of departure
    at last came: we set sail from Gravesend, and, after a short
    and pleasant passage, arrived at Halifax in Nova Scotia. When
    I first beheld the barren, not to say hideous, rocks at the
    entrance of the harbour, I began to fear that the master of
    the vessel had mistaken his way; for I could perceive nothing
    of that fertility that my good recruiting captain had dwelt on
    with so much delight.

    “Nova Scotia had no other charm for me than that of novelty.
    Everything I saw was new: bogs, rocks, and stumps, mosquitoes
    and bull-frogs. Thousands of captains and colonels without
    soldiers, and of squires without stockings or shoes.… We stayed
    but a few weeks in Nova Scotia, being ordered to St. John’s, in
    the province of New Brunswick. Here, and at other places in the
    same province, we remained till the month of September, 1791,
    when the regiment was relieved, and sent home.”

Cobbett repeatedly declared, in after-life, that during these eight
years he was never accused of the slightest fault. As his numerous
opponents, in all their violence and unscrupulousness, never succeeded
in raking up anything, in the smallest degree, derogatory to his high
character as a soldier, the statement is, probably, as perfectly true
as need be. But he also boasts that he never wilfully disobeyed his
father or his mother. These two things are so interdependent (in the
mind of the biographer), that the reader must once more be recalled
to the idea presented in the early part of this chapter, of the
prominence due to the illustrious results of self-discipline. An idea,
which is _only_ an idea with the great majority of mankind, to their
latest hour. An idea, which gains prominence in some minds only just
in time to enable them to warn their younger fellows, of the certain
consequences of its neglect. An idea, which is eagerly embraced by some
few, who, by a happy inspiration, note that the world has been led and
guided, and governed, by the men who first put the bit and the bridle
upon their own unruly selves.

       *       *       *       *       *

So William Cobbett goes to his regiment. And while others are
swilling, or gambling, or idling, he is continually training. Rapid
promotion is the result. At the end of little more than a year, he is
Sergeant-Major, having been placed in that proud position over the
heads of fifty other sergeants.

While, however, he was only corporal, he was made clerk of the
regiment, a post which brought him in an immensity of labour, a great
deal of which was due to the ignorance or unworthiness of his superior
officers. The studies, too, were not neglected:--

    “I was studying at one and the same time, Dr. Lowth’s
    _Grammar_, Dr. Watts’s _Logic_, the _Rhetoric_ of some fellow
    whom I have forgotten, a book on _Geometry_, … Vauban’s
    _Fortifications_, and (_ex-officio_) the famous Duke of York’s
    _Military Exercise and Evolutions_, explaining these latter
    by ground-plans.… Never did these cause me to neglect my
    duty in one single particular; a duty of almost every hour in
    the day, from daylight till nine o’clock at night.” … “When
    I was sergeant-major … I found time to study _French_ and
    _Fortification_. My _chef-d’œuvre_ in the latter was the plan
    of a regular sexagon with every description of outwork. When
    I had finished my plan, on a small scale, and in the middle
    of a very large piece of drawing-paper, I set to work to lay
    down the plan of a siege, made my line of circumvallation,
    fixed my batteries and cantonments, opened my trenches,
    made my approaches, covered by my gabions and fascines,--at
    last effected a mine, and had all prepared for blowing up
    the citadel.” … “When I was in the army, I made, for the
    teaching of young corporals and sergeants, a little book on
    _arithmetic_; and it is truly surprising in how short a time
    they learned all that was necessary for them to know of that
    necessary department of learning. I used to make each of them
    copy the book.”

Those were days when a man might rise above the rank-and-file.[4]
Cobbett himself had the promise of an ensigncy, when he came to make
application for his discharge. As a matter of course, such officers,
through their skill, prudence, and general knowledge, became the crack
men of their regiments; the best practically-instructed men, perhaps,
in the army. For the rest, the average officer must have been a
curious make-up; sent into the army, often as early as fourteen years
of age--without any special training--he was there for his social
position; and, except when on active service, passed a frivolous sort
of existence; often so ignorant of his professional duties (_i.e._
everything beyond daily routine) that they were habitually shirked,
excepting when the colonel was a Tartar, or when a clever _factotum_
could be found among his subordinates.

Such a _factotum_ was the new clerk to the 54th regiment:--

    “In a very short time, the whole of the business, in that way,
    fell into my hands; and at the end of about a year, neither
    adjutant, paymaster, or quarter-master, could move an inch
    without my assistance. The _military_ part of the regiment’s
    affairs fell under my care in like manner. About this time, the
    new _discipline_, as it was called: (that is to say, the mode
    of handling the musket, and of marching, &c., called _Dundas’s
    System_) was sent out to us, in little books, which were to
    be studied by the officers of each regiment, and the rules
    of which were to be immediately conformed to. Though any old
    woman might have written such a book, though it was excessively
    foolish from beginning to end, still it was to be complied
    with; it ordered and commanded a total change, and this change
    was to be completed before the next annual review took place.
    To make this change was left to me, who was not then twenty
    [24] years of age, while not a single officer in the regiment
    paid the least attention to the matter; so, that when the
    time came for the annual review, I, then a _corporal_, had to
    give lectures of instruction to the officers themselves, the
    colonel not excepted; and, for several of them, if not for all
    of them, I had to make out, upon large cards which they bought
    for the purpose, little plans of the position of the regiment,
    together with lists of the words of command, which they had to
    give in the field.… There was I, at the review, upon the flank
    of the grenadier company, with my worsted shoulder-knots, and
    my great, high, coarse, hairy cap, confounded in the ranks
    amongst other men, while those who were commanding me to move
    my hands or my feet, thus or thus, were, in fact uttering words
    which I had taught them; and were, in everything excepting mere
    authority, my inferiors, and ought to have been commanded by

Several references to this period are made in the “Advice to Young
Men;” and need not be reproduced here. But the following racy story
(from the “Political Register” of Dec. 1817) must be laid under
contribution to illustrate this period of Cobbett’s life.

    “The accounts and letters of the Paymaster went through my
    hands, or, rather, I was the maker of them. All the returns,
    reports, and other official papers were of my drawing up. Then
    I became the sergeant-major to the regiment, which brought me
    in close contact at every hour, with the whole of the _epaulet_
    gentry, whose profound and surprising ignorance I discovered in
    a twinkling. But I had a very delicate part to act with these
    gentry; for, while I despised them for their gross ignorance
    and vanity, and hated them for their drunkenness and rapacity,
    I was fully sensible of their _power_; and I knew also the envy
    which my sudden rise over the heads of so many old sergeants
    had created. My path was full of rocks and pit-falls; and, as I
    never disguised my dislikes or restrained my tongue, I should
    have been broken and flogged for fifty different offences,
    given to my supreme jackasses, had they not been kept in awe
    by my inflexible sobriety, impartiality, and integrity, by
    the consciousness of their inferiority to me, and by the real
    and almost indispensable necessity of the use of my talents.
    First, I had, by my skill and by my everlasting vigilance,
    eased them all of the trouble of even _thinking_ about their
    duty; and this made me their master,--a situation in which,
    however, I acted with so much prudence, that it was impossible
    for them, with any show of justice, to find fault. They, in
    fact, resigned all the discipline of the regiment to me, and
    I very freely left them to swagger about, and to get roaring
    drunk out of the profits of their pillage, though I was, at the
    same time, making preparations for bringing them to justice for
    that pillage, in which I was finally defeated by the protection
    which they received at home.

    “To describe the various instances of their ignorance, and the
    various tricks they played to disguise it from me, would fill
    a volume. It is the custom in regiments to give out _orders_
    every day from the officer commanding. These are written
    by the adjutant, to whom the sergeant-major is a sort of
    deputy. The man whom I had to do with was a keen fellow, but
    wholly illiterate. The orders, which he wrote, most cruelly
    murdered our mother tongue. But, in his absence, or during
    a severe drunken fit, it fell to my lot to write orders. As
    we both wrote in the same book, he used to look at these. He
    saw _commas_, _semi-colons_, _colons_, _full-points_, and
    _paragraphs_. The questions he used to put to me, in an obscure
    sort of way, in order to know why I made these divisions, and
    yet, at the same time, his attempts to disguise his object,
    have made me laugh a thousand times. As I often had to draw up
    statements of considerable length, and as these were so much in
    the style and manner of a _book_, and so much unlike anything
    he had ever seen before in man’s handwriting, he, at last, fell
    upon this device: he made _me_ write, while he pretended _to
    dictate_! Imagine to yourself me sitting, pen in hand, to put
    upon paper the precious offspring of the mind of this stupid
    curmudgeon! But here a greater difficulty than any former
    arose. He that could not _write_ good grammar, could not, of
    course, _dictate_ good grammar. Out would come some gross
    error, such as I was ashamed to see in my handwriting. I would
    stop; suggest another arrangement; but this I was, at first,
    obliged to do in a very indirect and delicate manner. I dared
    not let him perceive that I saw, or suspected his ignorance;
    and, though we made sad work of it, we got along without any
    very sanguinary assaults upon mere grammar. But this course
    could not continue long, and he put an end to it in this way:
    he used to tell me _his story_, and leave me to put it upon
    paper; and thus we continued to the end of our connexion.

    “He played me a trick upon one occasion, which was more
    ridiculous than anything else, but which will serve to show how
    his ignorance placed him at my mercy. It will also serve to
    show a little about Commissioners sent out by the Government.
    There were three or four Commissioners sent out to examine into
    the state of the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
    Their business was of a very extensive nature. They were to
    inquire into the number of the people, the extent of their
    settlements, the provisions expended upon them, and a great
    variety of other matters. Upon all these several heads they
    were to make _a Report_, and to subjoin to it a detail in
    figures. It required great ingenuity to frame these tables
    of figures, to bring the rude and undigested materials under
    general heads, dividing themselves into more particular
    sections, and then again subdividing themselves, and so on,
    and showing, at last, a sort of total, or result of the whole.
    To frame this appendix to the Report, and to execute in any
    moderate space of paper required a _head_, an _eye_, and a
    _hand_; and to draw up _the Report itself_ was a task of a
    still superior order. The Commissioners, the name of one of
    whom was Dundas … who or what he was besides, I know not; and
    I have forgotten the names of the rest. But they closed their
    work at Fredericton in New Brunswick, where I was with my
    regiment. As the arrival of every stranger was an excuse for a
    roaring drunk with our heroes, so this ceremony now took place.
    But the Commissioners had their _Report_ to make. And what did
    my ass of an adjutant do, _but offer to do it for them_! They,
    who in all likelihood, did not know how to do it themselves,
    took him at his word; and there was he, in the sweetest mess
    that ever vain pretender was placed in. He wanted to get some
    favour from these Commissioners, and relied upon me, not only
    to perform the task, but to keep the secret. But then, the
    part he had to act now was full of difficulty. The Report of
    these fellows was no concern of mine. It could not, by any
    contrivance, be hooked in amongst my _duties_. He therefore
    talked to me, at first in a sort of ambiguous manner. He said
    that the Commissioners wanted him to do it,--and, d----n them,
    he would not do it for them. Then, when I saw him again, he
    _asked_ me something about it, showing me their rude mass of
    papers at the same time. I now began to find what he would be
    at; but I affected not to understand him, turned the matter
    as soon as I could, and so we parted. At this time I had
    long been waiting to go and see an old farmer and his family,
    and to shoot wild pigeons in the woods; and, as the distance
    was great, and a companion on the journey necessary, I wanted
    a sergeant to go with me. The leave to do this had been put
    off for a good while, and the adjutant knew that I had the
    thing at heart. What does he do now, but come to me, and after
    talking about the Report again, affect to lament, that he
    should be so much engaged with it, that there was no hope of
    my being permitted to go on _my frolic_, till he had finished
    the Report. I, who knew very well what this meant, began to
    be very anxious for this _finishing_, to effect which I knew
    there was but one way. Tacked on to the pigeon-shooting the
    report became an object of importance, and I said, ‘_Perhaps
    I can do something_, sir, in putting the papers in order for
    you.’ That was enough. Away he went, brought me the whole
    mass, and tossing them down upon the table: ‘There,’ said he,
    ‘do what you like with them; for, d----n the rubbish, I have
    no patience with it!’ Rubbish it really was, if we looked
    only at the rude manner of the papers; but the matter would
    to me, at this day, have been very interesting. I d----d the
    papers as heartily as he did, and with better reason; but they
    were to bring me my week’s frolic; and, as I entered into
    everything with ardour, this pigeon-shooting frolic, at the
    age of about 23 [27], was more than a compensation for all
    the toil of this Report and its appendix. To work I went, and
    with the assistance of my shooting-companion sergeant, who
    called over the figures to me, I had the appendix completed
    in rough draft, in two days and one night. Having the detail
    before me, the Report was short work, and the whole was soon
    completed. But before a _neat copy_ was made out, the thing had
    to be shown to the Commissioners. It would not do to show it
    them in my handwriting. The adjutant got over this difficulty
    by copying the report; and having shown it, and had it highly
    applauded,--‘Well then,’ said he, ‘here sergeant-major, _go and
    make a fair copy_.’ This was the most shameless thing that I
    ever witnessed. This report and appendix, though I hated the
    job, were, such was my habit of doing everything well, executed
    with so much neatness and accuracy, that the Duke of Kent,
    who afterwards became Commander-in-chief in those provinces,
    and who was told of this report, which was in his office at
    Halifax, had a copy of it made to be kept in the office, and
    carried the original with him to England as a curiosity; and of
    this fact he informed me himself. The duke, from some source
    or other, had heard that it was I who had been the penman upon
    this occasion, though I had never mentioned it to anybody.
    It drew forth a great deal of admiration at Fredericton, and
    the Lieutenant-governor, General Carleton,[5] asked me in
    plain terms, whether it was I who had drawn up the Report. The
    adjutant had told me that I _need not say_ but it was he,
    _because_ he had promised to do it himself. I was not satisfied
    with his logic; but the pigeon-shooting made me say, that I
    certainly would say it was done by him if any one should ask
    me. And I kept my word with him; for, as I could not give the
    question of the governor the _go-by_, I told him a lie at once,
    and said it was the adjutant. However, I lied in vain; for,
    when I came to Halifax, in my way from the United States to
    England, _ten years_ afterwards, I found that the real truth
    was known to a number of persons, though the thing had wholly
    gone out of my mind; and after my then late pursuits, and the
    transactions of real magnitude in which I had been concerned,
    I was quite surprised that anybody should have attached any
    importance to so trifling a thing.”

It appears that the Duke of Kent, who was Commander-in-chief at that
station a few years later, was one of the “persons” who got wind
of this affair; and in 1800, when Cobbett was returning to England
the second time, the Duke saw him, and showed that he had kept the
veritable copy as a curiosity, having had it transcribed for the use of
the Governor. Further--

    “When I told him the whole story, he asked me _how much the
    Commissioners gave me_; and when I told him not a farthing, he
    exclaimed most bitterly, and said that thousands of pounds had,
    first and last, been paid by the country for what I had done.”

It must be noted, too, that there were individual cases of benefit
arising from the example of our very smart sergeant. Several men
caught the “grammar”-fever, whilst an increasing zeal appeared, in
the performance of duty, on the part of many of his comrades. So far,
indeed, that his services to the regiment were at last recognized in
public orders. When the regiment was relieved and sent home in the
autumn of 1791, Cobbett applied for his discharge; which he obtained,
accompanied by a flattering testimonial from his major,[6] to his “good
behaviour, and the services he had rendered the regiment.”

And, with all his duties, Cobbett found time for his share of sports;
skating, fishing, shooting, and even gardening, took some portion of
his hours of liberty. He could work, and he could play, but could never
be idle for a minute.

       *       *       *       *       *

It must have been in the year 1787, when Cobbett was about twenty-five
years of age, that he first saw his future wife. She was the daughter
of an artilleryman, and then only about thirteen, and, although so very
young, won the heart of our sergeant in a twinkling. Her character,
too, had been moulded by careful and untiring parents; and when the
lover came by, there was the promise of a genuine helpmeet for one, who
required in that respect a woman of unquestioned propriety, of great
industry, and of unfailing discretion. How quickly he prospered, and
the whole story of his courtship, with the one great risk that it ran
of being annulled, is all told in the “Advice to a Lover;” suffice it
to say here, that not only was there never a moment’s regret, but that
Cobbett, to the last day of his life laid all his fame and all the
earthly prosperity which he had enjoyed, to the happy choice which he
had made in his wife. The first trial came, early enough in the history
of the affair, to be a real trial, when the artillery were sent home,
and carried the sergeant’s hopes along with them, besides 140 or 150
guineas of his savings in the girl’s pocket.


[1] This was Mr. Benjamin Garlike, who afterwards became envoy to two
or three foreign courts. He died in 1815, unmarried, ætat. forty-nine.
For a notice of him, _vide Gent. Mag._ lxxxv. 564. Cobbett met him
again, when in the full tide of fame, and says that “he had lived
so long in courts, had so long had to do with superior power, and
had so long lived in submission to the mandates of others, that he
became nervous when he heard my ordinary talk, about men in place and

[2] Some clever _lecturer_ has said that “he had but little knowledge
of books, and even less of other men’s thoughts.” We find, however,
in “Porcupine’s Works” (1794-1800), quotations from, or references
to, Swift, Shaftesbury, Pope, Sterne, Butler, Dryden, Shakespeare,
Somerville, Racine, Montesquieu, Le Sage, Cervantes, Congreve, and
Bishop Watson, besides minor names. But such is the way of these clever
historical lecturers--cooking a man’s reputation in their own pot, and
taking the skimmings for truth.

[3] Colonel Debbieg was himself no ordinary man, and had seen active
service in various parts of the world. He entered the army in 1746,
at the age of fourteen, served in the Low Countries, and afterwards
in North America under General Wolfe, whose friendship and entire
confidence he soon acquired. He was gazetted Colonel-Commandant of
the Engineers early in 1783, but retired in a year or two; gazetted
Major-General, 1798, General 1803. He died in 1810, at an advanced age,
having employed his retirement in ingenious studies in fortification.
The circumstance in the text refers to certain letters of Debbieg
(who was a high-spirited fellow) which were addressed to his superior
officer, the Duke of Richmond, then Master-General of the Ordnance.
The Duke took offence, and demanded a court-martial on Debbieg, “for
using indecent and disrespectful expressions towards him, and injurious
and groundless expressions imputing partiality and oppression in the
discharge of his duty.” The Colonel was found guilty, and reprimanded
in open court, and ordered to apologize to the Duke, which he did, and
his arrest was then terminated. It is pretty clear that this affair,
however, did him no injury; and it is not unlikely that there was some
ground for the “expressions” which he had used. No doubt the members
of the court felt bound to protect the Duke in his official character,
even if they thought that Colonel Debbieg had right on his side; and
Cobbett must have very early learnt that military discipline did not
always go along with even-handed justice. The sequel will show what
opinion he acquired concerning the impartiality of military courts.

[4] “When I was in the army, the Adjutant-general, Sir William Fawcett,
had been a private soldier; General Slater, who had then recently
commanded the Guards in London, had been a private soldier; Colonel
Picton, whom I saw at the head of his fine regiment (the 12th, at
Chatham) had been a private soldier; Captain Green, who first had the
command of me, had been a private soldier. In the garrison of Halifax
there were no less than seventeen officers that had been private
soldiers. In my own regiment the quarter-master had been a private
soldier; the adjutant, who was also a lieutenant, had been a private
soldier. No man of sense need be told what powerful motive there was
here for good conduct in the soldiers.”

[5] General Carleton, a “very wise, mild, and just man,” as Cobbett
said of him. The General, many years afterwards, renewed acquaintance
with his quondam subaltern. He was created Baron Dorchester in 1786.

[6] Major Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Cobbett declared that Fitzgerald was
a really conscientious and humane man. He makes repeated testimony to
this effect. In point of fact, he was one of the most amiable of men,
besides a very promising young officer. His unfortunate end, a few
years after this period, is matter of history. (_Vide_ his “Life,” by
Thomas Moore.)



Seven years of army-life had completed the drill of William Cobbett.
Master of himself, in every sense of the word, his campaign was now
to begin. Putting off his red-coat, of which he had been proud enough
withal, he entered upon the last stage of that educational process
which, sooner or later, was to bear some fruit. He had studied men
in the world of books, and he had seen something of them in the
circumscribed arena of one class, viz. the military. But of mankind
as a whole he knew almost nothing: and he would blunder on, for long
years, before getting that sort of wisdom.

However, he came back from Nova Scotia with two closely-linked ideas
uppermost in his mind--an intense affection for the soldiery and for
the classes from which they were drawn, and the deepest disgust at
the peculation which added to their natural privations. He had never
read the newspapers, and was ignorant of politics; he did not know that
the public service was at that period eaten into by corruption as far
up as the Treasury Bench, and that the specimens of venality that he
had witnessed were only examples of a system that pervaded all classes
of officialism. In point of fact, he did not know that returning to
England and obtaining his discharge, with the determination to expose
peculation, he had set his foot upon a track which would in after-years
give him the distinction of having mainly contributed to the disgrace,
the utter confusion, of “the race that plunder the people.” Beyond
all, he did not know that, far from getting any credit from any soul
upon earth, the sure reward for raking up the misdeeds of the “public
plunderers” was contumely and malignity to the bitterest degree.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first thing, of course, which Cobbett attended to upon reaching
England in December, 1791, was his love affair with ANN REID. He
found her in service, with his money unbroken; and “admiration of
her conduct, and self-gratulation on this indubitable proof of the
soundness of my own judgment, were now added to my love of her
beautiful person.” So that matter was settled, from that moment, and on
the 5th of February, 1792, they were married at Woolwich. They appear
to have lived in London for a few weeks. Here is one anecdote of the

    “I was about two months in London; and some one led me to spend
    two or three evenings in the week at Coachmakers’ Hall, where
    there was a debating society[1] that held its regular sittings.
    The ‘Cruelties of the Slave Trade’ was the standing subject; it
    was the fashionable cant of the day; the country was in peace
    and in great prosperity, and this was a sort of overflowing of
    the idle feelings of the nation. The hall used to be crowded to
    excess, and with as many women as men. It did not require much
    talent to be eloquent upon such a subject, especially as there
    was perfect _freedom as to facts_, and as to _contradiction_,
    that was nearly as much as a man’s life was worth.… In
    consequence of the _intense_ oratory of the Coachmakers’ Hall,
    and of little lying books, and delightfully-disgusting pictures
    … my _wisdom_ decided that my wife and I should never more use
    sugar or coffee, these being, as the orators assured me, highly
    impregnated with the sweat and blood of the poor blacks.”

The young couple adhered to this resolve until some time after they had
settled in Philadelphia.

The debating societies in London had other subjects, too, to occupy
their minds; the progress of the French Revolution having strongly
excited the popular mind. In May a proclamation was issued against
meetings and seditious writings, and as the year went on there was
increasing ferment. Although the country was at peace, His Majesty’s
ministers were really contemplating war against France; and the
Government had enough on its hands, endeavouring, at one and the
same time, to quell these feelings and to humour the military and
naval forces. It was found necessary, early in the year, to make some
important changes in the Navy Victualling Department, in consequence
of wholesale corruption, and prostitution of the public money, being
unexpectedly brought to light.[2] The sister service had also its
grievances, a stringent warrant having been issued regulating the
soldiers’ equipment, and reprobating extravagance and waste.[3] In
February, a curious item appeared in the discussion on the estimates of
the year, in the shape of an additional allowance to the soldiers’ pay,
which was distinctly a bait thrown out to humour the private soldier,
victim of the said extravagance or something worse.--Concerning which
item in the estimates we shall see presently.

Meanwhile, William Cobbett was spending his honeymoon in completing
the plans he had designed several years before, for bringing certain
officers of the 54th Regiment before a court-martial. And, as to the
history of this affair, we must have full details, because we cannot
otherwise see very clearly how he came to fail in this his first
onslaught upon public fraud.

Rapid writers have been content to say that he was bought off; that
he carefully avoided all reference to the affair; that no trace of
any allusion to it occurs in his subsequent writings; that there was
something unpleasant which would tell against himself, and so he
stopped short, &c. Indeed, the paragraph-monger began it; for the
_London Chronicle_ of the 28th March, after mentioning the holding of
the court-martial, adds that “the person who was to have prosecuted the
above officers was formerly sergeant-major of the regiment. It is said
that he has fled to France on account of some misconduct.”

No such thing at all, paragraph-monger! And, no such things at all, ye
rapid writers! You don’t know this man. You don’t know how he retires
from the unequal conflict with money, prescription, aristocratic
influence. Let him flee from anticipated vengeance, and see him return
one day, himself always incorruptible, with such a budget, such a
quiverful!--come back and tell you, with absolute calmness, that he
lays his account with “being calumniated, and with being the object of
the bitterest and most persevering malice.” And why? Because he has
made the war upon CORRUPTION his own particular business, and has found
out that the cruelties which wounded his earnest soul, in those hapless
Nova Scotia days, were just part of a system which was sapping his
country’s strength. No part nor lot would he have in it. And, rather
than seem to support it, he has spurned brilliant offers, which would
have made him rich and high-stomached; and has chosen the part, the
reward of which is calumny and annoyance of every description. See how
he glories, at last, in the conflict, and how fully he knows the nature
of his foe:--

    “No sooner does a man become in any degree formidable to her
    [‘corruption’], than she sets to work against him in all the
    relationships of life. In his profession, his trade, his
    family; amongst his friends, the companions of his sports, his
    neighbours, and his servants. She eyes him all round, she feels
    him all over, and if he has a vulnerable point, if he has a
    speck, however small, she is ready with her stab. How many
    hundreds of men have been ruined by her without being hardly
    able to perceive, much less name, the cause; and how many
    thousands, seeing the fate of these hundreds, have withdrawn
    from the struggle, or have been deterred from taking part in

In the year 1809, Mr. Cobbett was at about the zenith of his fame.
Completely emancipated from the aristocratic influence under which he
had, several years before, appeared as a political writer in England,
his eyes were thoroughly opened to the need of Parliamentary Reform.
Early this year his energies had been principally directed on behalf
of this popular cause, but he had also dealt hardly with certain
notorious scandals. When our history comes to that period, we shall
see the various means made use of by his opponents in the endeavour to
silence him; but it is necessary now to refer to that year, because one
of those means was the circulation of a pamphlet with the following

    “Proceedings of a General Court Martial held at the Horse
    Guards, on the 24th and 27th of March, 1792, for the trial
    of Captain Richard Powell, Lieutenant Christopher Seton, and
    Lieutenant John Hall, of the 54th Regiment of Foot, on several
    charges preferred against them respectively, by William
    Cobbett, late Sergeant-Major of the said regiment; together
    with several curious letters which passed between the said
    William Cobbett and Sir Charles Gould, Judge-Advocate-General;
    and various other documents connected therewith, in the order
    of these dates.” [London, 1809.]

Copies of the pamphlet were distributed broadcast over the country,
and in Hampshire, where Cobbett was then living, carriage people
threw them out to the passers-by as they drove along. A very great
number must have got into circulation; and, as pamphlets go, it is not
now a particularly rare one. Of government pamphleteering we shall
have more to say anon; for the present, we will confine ourselves to
Cobbett’s full and complete answer as given in an address to the people
of Hampshire, in the “Political Register” for June 17, 1809. Full,
complete, and satisfactory it was; nobody referred to the matter again.
Even the pamphleteering system itself fell into desuetude for several
years. Other and more arbitrary means were adopted, in the attempt to
stifle this voice--to shut this mouth.

The pamphlet consisted chiefly of a selection of letters, which
passed between the accused officers, the Judge-Advocate-General, and
William Cobbett; and concluded with an account of the trial. The
three officers appeared perfectly willing to meet the charges; and
as for the prosecutor there could be no doubt as to the earnestness
of his intention,[4] _up to within about a week of the date_ first
appointed for the court-martial. That date was the 24th of March; and,
on the court assembling, no prosecutor appeared, the result being a
postponement to the 27th. On that day, the court having reassembled,
the Judge-Advocate-General was himself sworn, and deposed that he
had made ineffectual efforts to discover the prosecutor, whilst the
landlady at whose house Cobbett had lodged stated that he had removed
the previous week. This witness also produced the three last letters
of the Judge-Advocate-General to William Cobbett, unopened; which
letters stated (1) that an important witness for the prosecution was
not likely to be well enough to attend, (2) that the day of the trial
was fixed, and (3) that the trial was postponed. The charges were
then read, to the effect that the accused had made false musters,
mustered persons who were not soldiers, made false returns to the
Brigadier-general commanding at New Brunswick, misapplied work-money
earned by the non-commissioned officers and men, deducted firewood from
the allowance, and disposed of it for their own purposes, disposed
of clothing belonging to the men, and obliged them (whilst they were
clothed in rags) to accept of an inadequate sum in lieu of the said
clothing, signed false certificates respecting the clothing, and
defrauded the men of bread. After the “acquittal,” a memorandum was
submitted to the law officers of the crown, upon the whole case. Their
opinion was, that, unless there were proof of conspiracy with others,
Cobbett could not be criminally prosecuted; but that the parties
injured by his conduct, which was certainly most highly blamable, might
maintain actions upon the case against him.

Such was the offending pamphlet: on the 3rd of June, 1809, a notice
appears in the “Political Register,” of its publication, evidently
under the sanction of Government; also, that Mr. Cobbett will take
the earliest opportunity of giving a full account of the matter. He
repudiates positively every insinuation of having acted, at any time
of his life, dishonestly or dishonourably; at the same time, had the
whole of the papers connected with this affair been published without
misrepresentation he never would have noticed the thing at all, but
have left the documents to speak for themselves. A fortnight later
a double number of the “Register” contains the full account, with a
great deal more in the shape of commentary, touching the topics of
the day;--it occupies the fifth of a series of Letters to the people
of Hampshire, which Cobbett was then writing, on the subject of
Parliamentary Reform. And it is necessary, in order to do justice to
the whole story, to reproduce a great portion of it here.

After repeating the tale of his honourable discharge from the army, he
proceeds to say:--

    “The object of my thus quitting the army, to which I was,
    perhaps, more attached than any man that ever lived in the
    world, was to bring certain officers to justice for having, in
    various ways, wronged both the public and the soldier. With
    this object in view, I went straight to London the moment I
    had obtained my liberty and secured my _personal safety_,
    which, as you will readily conceive, would not have been the
    case if I had not first got my discharge.… This project was
    conceived so early as the year 1787, when an affair happened
    that first gave an insight into regimental justice. It was
    shortly this: that the quarter-master, who had the issuing of
    the men’s provisions to them, _kept about a fourth part of it
    to himself_. This, the old sergeants told me, had been the case
    for _many years_; and they were quite astonished and terrified
    at the idea of my complaining of it. This I did, however; but
    the reception I met with convinced me that I must never make
    another complaint, till I got safe to England, and safe out
    of the reach of that most curious of courts, a COURT-MARTIAL.
    From this time forward I began to collect materials for an
    exposure, upon my return to England. I had ample opportunities
    for this, being the keeper of all the books, of every sort,
    in the regiment, and knowing the whole of its affairs better
    than any other man. But the winter previous to our return to
    England, I thought it necessary to make extracts from books,
    lest the books themselves should be destroyed. And here begins
    the history of the famous court-martial. In order to be able to
    _prove_ that these extracts were correct, it was necessary that
    I should have a _witness_ as to their being _true copies_. This
    was a very ticklish point. One foolish step here would have
    sent me down to the ranks with a pair of bloody shoulders. Yet
    it was necessary to have the witness. I hesitated many months.
    At one time I had given the thing up. I dreamt twenty times, I
    daresay, of my papers being discovered, and of my being tried
    and flogged half to death. At last, however, some fresh act
    of injustice toward us made me set all danger at defiance.
    I opened my project to a corporal, whose name was _William
    Bestland_, who wrote in the office under me, who was a very
    honest fellow, who was very much bound to me for my goodness
    to him, and who was, with the sole exception of myself, the
    only sober man in the whole regiment. To work we went, and
    during a long winter, while the rest were boozing and snoring,
    we gutted no small part of the regimental books, rolls, and
    other documents. Our way was this: to take a copy, sign it
    with our names, and clap the regimental seal to it, so that we
    might be able to swear to it when produced in court. All these
    papers were put into a little box, which I myself had made for
    the purpose. When we came to Portsmouth there was a talk of
    searching all the boxes, &c., which gave us great alarm, and
    induced us to take out all the papers, put them in a bag, and
    trust them to a custom-house officer, who conveyed them on
    shore to his own house, whence I removed them in a few days

    “Thus prepared, I went to London, and on the 14th of January,
    1792, I wrote to the then Secretary at War, Sir George Yonge,
    stating my situation, my business with him, and my intentions;
    enclosing him a letter or petition from myself to the King,
    stating the substance of all the complaints I had to make; and
    which letter I requested Sir George Yonge to lay before the
    King. I waited from the 14th to the 24th of January without
    receiving any answer at all, and then all I heard was that he
    wished to see me at the War-office. At the War-office I was
    shown into an antechamber amongst numerous anxious-looking
    men, who, every time the door which led to the great man was
    opened, turned their eyes that way with a motion as regular and
    as uniform as if they had been drilled to it. These people
    eyed me from head to foot, and I never shall forget their look,
    when they saw that I was admitted into paradise, without being
    detained a single minute in purgatory. Sir George Yonge _heard
    my story_; and that was apparently all he wanted of me. I was
    to hear from him again _in a day or two_, and after waiting
    for _fifteen days_, without hearing from him or any one else
    upon the subject, I wrote to him again, reminding him that I
    had from the first told him that I had _no other business in
    London_; that my stock of money was necessarily scanty; and
    that to detain me in London was to ruin me. Indeed, I had in
    the whole world but about 200 guineas, which was a great deal
    for a person in my situation to have saved. Every week in
    London, especially as, by way of episode, I had now _married_,
    took at least a couple of guineas from my stock. I therefore
    began to be very impatient, and, indeed, also very suspicious
    that military justice, in England, was pretty nearly akin to
    military justice in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The letter
    I now wrote was dated on the 10th of February, to which I
    got an answer on the 15th, though the answer might have been
    written in a moment. I was, in this answer, informed that
    it was the intention to try the accused upon only _part of
    the charges_ which I had preferred; and from a new-modelled
    list of charges sent me by the Judge-advocate, on the 23rd of
    February, it appeared that, even of those charges that were
    suffered to remain, _the parts the most material were omitted_.
    But this was not all. I had all along insisted that, unless
    the court-martial were held in _London_, I could not think of
    appearing in it; because, if held in a garrisoned place like
    Portsmouth, the thing must be a mere mockery. In spite of this,
    however, the Judge-advocate’s letter of the 23rd of February
    informed me that the court was to be held at Portsmouth or
    Hilsea. I remonstrated against this, and demanded that my
    remonstrance should be laid before the King, which, on the
    29th, the Judge-advocate promised should be done by himself;
    but, on the 5th of March, the Judge-advocate informed me that
    he had laid my remonstrance before--_whom_, think you? _Not the
    king_, but _the accused parties_, who, of course, thought the
    court ought to assemble at Portsmouth or Hilsea, and doubtless
    for the very reasons that led me to object to its being held

    “Plainly seeing what was going forward, I, on the 7th of March,
    made, in a _letter to Mr. Pitt_, a representation of the whole
    case, giving him a history of the obstacles I had met with,
    which letter concluded thus: ‘I have now, sir, done all a man
    can do in such a case. I have proceeded regularly, and I may
    add, respectfully, from first to last; if I am allowed to serve
    my country by prosecuting men who have injured it, I shall do
    it; if I am thwarted and pressed down by those whose office it
    is to assist and support me, I cannot do it; in either case, I
    shall be satisfied with having done my duty, and shall leave
    the world to make a comparison between me and the men whom
    I have accused.’ This letter (which, by-the-bye, the public
    robbers have not published) had the effect of changing the
    place of the court-martial, which was now to be held in London;
    but, as to my other great ground of complaint, the leaving
    of the _regimental books unsecured_, it had no effect at all;
    and it will be recollected that, without those books, there
    could be, as to most of the weighty charges, no proof adduced
    without bringing forward _Corporal Bestland_, and the danger
    of doing that will be presently seen. But now, mark well as to
    these books: as to this great source of that kind of evidence
    which was not to be brow-beaten, or stifled by the dangers of
    the lash. Mark well these facts, and from them judge of what I
    had to expect in the way of justice. On the 22nd of _January_
    I wrote to Sir George Yonge, for the express purpose of having
    the books secured; that is to say, taken out of the hands and
    put out of the reach of the parties accused. On the 24th of
    January he told me that HE HAD _taken care to give directions_
    to have these documents secured. On the 18th of February, in
    answer to a letter, in which I (upon information received from
    the regiment) complained of the documents not having been
    secured, he wrote to me--and I have now the letter before me,
    signed with his own hand--that he would write to the colonel
    of the regiment about the books, &c.: ‘although,’ says he, ‘I
    cannot doubt but that the regimental books _have been_ properly
    secured.’ This was on the 18th of February, mind; and now it
    appears, from the documents which the public-robbers have put
    forth, that the first time any order for securing the books was
    given was on the _15th of March_, though the Secretary told
    me he had done it on the _24th of January_, and repeated his
    assertion in writing on the _18th of February_. There is quite
    enough in this fact alone, to show the public what sort of a
    chance I stood of obtaining justice.

    Without these written documents nothing of importance could be
    proved, unless the non-commissioned officers and men of the
    regiment should happen to get the better of their dread of
    the lash; and, even then, they could only speak from memory.
    All, therefore, depended upon those written documents, as to
    the principal charges. Therefore, as the court-martial was to
    assemble on the 24th of March, I went down to Portsmouth on
    the 20th, in order to know for certain what was become of the
    books; and I found, as indeed I suspected was the case, that
    they had _never been secured at all_; that they had been left
    in the hands of the accused from the 14th of January to the
    very hour of trial; and that, in short, my request as to this
    point, the positive condition as to this most important matter,
    had been totally disregarded. There remained, then, nothing
    to rest upon with _safety_ but our extracts, confirmed by the
    evidence of Bestland, the corporal, who had signed them along
    with me; and this I had solemnly engaged with him not to have
    recourse to, unless he was first out of the army; that is to
    say, out of the reach of the vindictive and bloody lash. He was
    a very little fellow, not more than about five feet high, and
    had been set down to be discharged when he went to England;
    but there was a suspicion of his connexion with me, and
    therefore they resolved to keep him. It would have been cruel,
    and even perfidious, to have brought him forward under such
    circumstances; and, as there was no chance of doing anything
    without him, I resolved not to appear at the court-martial,
    unless the discharge of _Bestland_ was first granted.
    Accordingly, on the 20th of March, I wrote from Fratton,
    a village near Portsmouth, to the Judge-Advocate, stating
    over again all the obstacles that had been thrown in my way,
    complaining particularly that the books and documents had been
    left in the possession of the accused, contrary to my urgent
    request and to the positive assurances of the Secretary at
    War, and concluding by demanding the discharge of a man, whom
    I should name, as the only condition upon which I would attend
    the court-martial. I requested him to send me an answer by the
    next day, at night, at my former lodging; and told him,[5]
    that unless such answer was received, he and those to whom my
    repeated applications had been made, might do what they pleased
    with their court-martial; for that I confidently trusted that
    a few days would place me beyond the scope of their power.
    No answer came, and as I had learned in the meanwhile that
    there was a design to prosecute me for _sedition_, that was an
    additional motive to be quick in my movements. As I was going
    down to Portsmouth I met several of the sergeants coming up,
    together with the music-master; and as they had none of them
    been in America, I wondered what they could be going to London
    for; but, upon my return, I was told by a _Captain Lane_, who
    had been in the regiment, that they had been brought up to
    swear that at an entertainment given to them by me before my
    departure from the regiment, I had drunk ‘_the destruction of
    the House of Brunswick_.’ This was false; but I knew that that
    was no reason why it should not be _sworn_ by such persons, and
    in such a case. I had talked pretty freely upon the occasion
    alluded to; but I had neither said nor thought against the
    King; and, as to the _House of Brunswick_, I hardly knew what
    it meant. My head was filled with the corruptions and the
    baseness in the army. I knew nothing at all about politics. Nor
    would any threat of this sort have induced me to get out of
    the way for a moment, though it certainly would if I had known
    my danger, for glorious ‘Jacobinical’ times were just then
    beginning. Of this, however, I knew nothing at all. I did not
    know what the _Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act_ meant. When
    you have a mind to do a thing, every trifle is an additional
    motive. Lane, who had enlisted me, and who had always shown
    great kindness toward me, told me they would send me to Botany
    Bay; and I now verily believe, that if I had remained, I should
    have furnished a pretty good example to those who wished to
    correct military abuses. I did not, however, leave England from
    this motive. I could not obtain a chance of success, without
    exposing the back of my poor faithful friend Bestland, which
    had I not pledged myself not to do, I would not have done. It
    was useless to appear, unless I could have tolerable fair play;
    and, besides, it seemed better to leave the whole set to do as
    they pleased, than to be made a mortified witness of what it
    was quite evident they had resolved to do.

    “Such is the _true_ history of this affair, which had the
    public-robbers given it as it stood, unmutilated, not a word
    should I ever have published, by way of defence or explanation.”

Cobbett then proceeds to show the hollow and tricky nature of the
attack, by summing up the points which tend obviously to show that the
whole is a trumped-up charge against his honour and his reputation;
first stating that the five letters from himself, which appear in the
pamphlet, were the least important of twenty-seven which he actually
wrote, including one to Mr. Pitt, and one, in the shape of a petition,
to the King. He then reminds his readers that he would have scarcely
put himself to the expense of two or three months’ living in London,
and to the trouble of writing so many letters and of dancing attendance
at the Horse Guards, if he hadn’t a good case and were not in earnest
about it; that nine years had elapsed since his return to England, and
no process had been taken upon the opinion of the Attorney-General and
his colleague; that his “Life and Adventures of Peter Porcupine” was
reprinted in London, in 1796, at the express desire of Mr. Canning,
_i.e._ only four years after the incident, and yet nothing had been
done to supply the omission (in that publication) of the court-martial
story; that he had, when dining with Mr. Pitt in August, 1800, talked
freely about Fitzgerald and about the army “for the express purpose of
leading him on to talk about the court-martial, but it was avoided. In
fact, they all well knew that what I had complained of was true, and
that I had been baffled in my attempts to obtain justice only because I
had neither money nor friends.” That General Carleton (late Governor of
Nova Scotia) had visited him in England, since his return, and that the
Duke of Kent had talked to him in Halifax about the regiment and its
affairs in the year 1800; yet both these distinguished officers must
have known all about the court-martial, the Governor’s name, in point
of fact, having occurred in one of the “charges.” Besides this, there
could be little doubt that the whole facts were not put before Sir
John Scott and Sir John Mitford, or their opinion would have been very
different from what it was.

Finally, he reminds his readers that he had, in the year 1805, himself
given the cue. Which was certainly the case, as may be seen by
referring to his writings of that date:--

    “In the printed account of my life, there is a small chasm.
    When I published that account I was in the midst of the
    revilers of England, and particularly of the English army; or,
    I should have then stated, that the primary cause of my leaving
    the army, that the circumstance which first disgusted me, and
    that finally made me resolve to tear myself from a service, to
    which my whole mind and heart were devoted, was, the abuses,
    the _shocking_ abuses as to money-matters, the _peculation_, in
    short, which I had witnessed in it, and which I had, in vain,
    endeavoured to correct. What those abuses were, by whom they
    were committed, and how, after I quitted the army, I failed in
    obtaining redress, it would not now, after many of the parties
    are dead, be proper for me to state; but, if the ‘Society of
    Gentlemen’ have, as it is more than probable they have, access
    to the records of the War Office, and can obtain leave to
    publish the correspondence upon the subject, the public will
    then see that I have all my life, and in all situations, been
    the enemy of peculation. It is, however, incumbent upon me to
    state, that I have good reason to believe that my failure upon
    that occasion was in no way to be ascribed to Mr. Pitt, who,
    as far as a person in so obscure and perfectly friendless a
    situation as I then was, could judge, was, as to the matter in
    question, the friend of fair inquiry and of justice.”

We may safely dismiss this matter. Should the reader find it worth
his while to rake up this old pamphlet, and compare it with Cobbett’s
“full account,” he may find a stray divergence of date or of trifling
fact; but nothing more than, as a careless omission, will serve to
establish the good faith of the man--a class of evidence which is often
as serviceable as a statement clear and unfaltering to the minutest
detail. Why the affair went off as it did is obvious to any one who
knows the world, and the rules of society, better than Cobbett did: it
was a hopeless task, from the very first, to undertake it upon his own
responsibility, without professional assistance. A mistake, however,
which he seldom corrected through life; and the consequence being that
he as seldom succeeded in gaining a cause: he persisted, to the very
last, in being his own advocate--and with the proverbial result.

Let us turn, then, to another incident of this year. An incident which
has given the biographer a good deal of trouble; as it presents an
occasion upon which it has seemed difficult to reconcile two statements
which, at first sight, seem to vary.

For this purpose, we must again refer to a later date in the history.
In the year 1805, Mr. Cobbett made himself very offensive to the
Government over the unfortunate difficulties of Lord Melville. The
whole contest, between the Government and its opponents, was of the
hottest; and the choicest Billingsgate passed between them. One
periodical, inspired by the Pitt and Melville party, made it its
business to assail Cobbett in particular; and, on the 27th of July of
the above-mentioned year, the following passage occurred:--

    “As Mr. Cobbett can hardly fail to read this review, I beg
    leave, through its medium, to ask that worthy patriot if he
    knows who was the author, and industrious circulator through
    the army, of a pamphlet entitled _The Soldiers’ Friend_,
    published about the same time, but fraught with ten times more
    mischief than Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’? A pamphlet calculated to
    render soldiers discontented with their situation, and incite
    them to mutiny and rebellion; a pamphlet which, in short, I
    have no hesitation in saying, was a considerable source of the
    naval mutiny at the Nore.”

Now, by the time this effusion appeared in public, Cobbett had begun to
incur the severest displeasure of his opponents; he had created mortal
enemies by the development of his warfare upon “corruption.” Caricature
was at work, keeping pace with the most virulent attacks on the part of
the ministerial press. For all which he did not care a pin, but this
charge of sedition was more than he could stand. Perfectly happy (as
his letters of that date will show), both in his domestic pursuits and
in the general public appreciation which he was then possessing, he
enjoyed fair fight; but this beginning of dark insinuation roused him;
and, for the first time since his return to England, he entered upon a
proud and energetic boast of the services which he had rendered to his
country. The part with which we have at present to do is the answer to
the charge of sedition, which is as follows:--

    “During the interval of my discharge and of my departure for
    France, a proposition, preceded by a speech of the Secretary
    at War, was made in parliament to augment the pay of the army.
    Some parts of the speech contained matter which a person,
    with whom I was acquainted, and to whom I had communicated my
    information upon such subjects, thought worthy of remark in
    print. Hence arose a little pamphlet, entitled the _Soldiers’
    Friend_. Of this pamphlet I was not the author; I had nothing
    to do either with the printing or the publishing of it; and
    I never had in my possession, or ordered to be sent to any
    person, or to any place, three copies of it in my life; and
    I do not believe that 500 copies, in the whole, ever went
    from the bookseller’s shop; a fact, however, that may easily
    be ascertained by application to Mr. Ridgway, who was the
    publisher of it.”

Here, then, is a distinct disavowal: a circumstance that is calculated
to worry the impartial biographer, anxious to be fair toward a
good (though sometimes ill-advised) man; the reason for its being
a disturbing factor lying in this, that the _Soldiers’ Friend_ is
enumerated, on two distinct occasions during the closing years of
Cobbett’s life, among the writings by which he had helped to benefit
his fellow-men. Let us have his own words (June, 1832):--

    “The very first thing I ever wrote for the press in my life was
    a little pamphlet entitled the _Soldiers’ Friend_, which was
    written immediately after I quitted the army in 1791, or early
    in 1792. I gave it in manuscript to Captain Thomas Morrice (the
    brother of that Captain Morrice who was a great companion of
    the Prince of Wales); and by him it was taken to Mr. Ridgway,
    who then lived in King Street, St. James’s Square, and Mr.
    Ridgway (the same who now lives in Piccadilly) published it. I
    do not know that I ever possessed the pamphlet, except for a
    week or two, after it was published, &c., &c.”

Now these two statements cannot, on a superficial reading, be easily
reconciled; and they form, together, an instance which may be eagerly
seized upon, on the part of those who would continue to represent
Cobbett as a man who would wilfully utter contradictory things.
But, upon examining the matter somewhat more closely, we know, even
better than Cobbett himself, something of the actual circumstances.
In the first place, the great probability is that Cobbett was not the
_originator_ of the pamphlet; that this Captain Thomas Morrice, or
somebody else (still more interested in awakening the public mind on
army-frauds) had instigated him to put his ideas upon paper. The speech
of the Secretary-at-War, above referred to, occurs in a debate upon the
army estimates, on the 15th February, 1792--a debate in which Mr. Fox,
among others, took part; and the item of an additional allowance to the
soldiers was that which was the immediate inspiration of the pamphlet;
besides being, in all likelihood, productive of some little excitement
in military circles generally.[6]

Secondly, it will be observed that the sting of the charge against
Cobbett lay in this: that he had been instrumental in spreading
sedition in the naval and military services. Now, this was totally
false. It _is_ a fact that the “Soldiers’ Friend” was afterwards
circulated largely, and provoked antagonism; but of this Cobbett
knew nothing, and could not know anything, for he had long been safe
in Philadelphia, far away from English domestic politics, and much
more concerned in earning his bread-and-cheese by hard work, than in
spreading the principles of the French Revolution. Those who made it
their business to circulate clever and spicy pamphlets, saw the merit
of this one, and reprinted it for their own objects.

How we come to be satisfied upon this point is this: the pamphlet
published by Ridgway (8vo, 6_d._) was mentioned among “new
publications,” in the “Scots Magazine” for June, 1792; and reviewed
by the “Monthly” and the “Critical” of the same month. Although
the “Critical Review” professes to know the person who had been
distributing it “on the parade in St. James’s Park,” this sixpenny
pamphlet did not long continue to burden Mr. Ridgway’s shelves. It is
possible that there is now no copy in existence. But, in the following
year, a cheap reprint appeared, without printer’s or publisher’s
name--which had an extensive circulation; for it was answered by
anti-reform tracts, such as “A Few Words to the Soldiers of Great
Britain,” “The Soldier’s and Sailor’s Real Friend,” &c.

So, the matter seems clearer. Cobbett is in London, preparing for the
grand exposure; he has sympathizers, who durst not, however, show
themselves. This Captain Morrice (or somebody) thinks that the speech
on the army estimates contains “matter worthy of remark in print.”
William Cobbett not only agrees with him (somebody), but he is burning
with the desire to set right certain cases of practical injustice, with
which he is only too familiar: (of the quarter-master of the regiment
defrauding the men of their rice and peas by means of short weights,
and so forth,--to the tune of unutterable meannesses.) William Cobbett
has the pen of a ready writer, and a grasp of hard facts withal. Hence
arises a “little pamphlet:” a little pamphlet, published in respectable
octavo form, by a highly respectable house; addressed to the
aristocratic and well-to-do section of society, and published at their
very doors. With this printing and publishing W. Cobbett has “nothing
to do;” and he never sees it again after a week or so. But there’s some
real stuff in it; and, next year, real stuff is much in vogue!

Those were lively times, in 1792. The extreme “horrors” of the French
Revolution had not yet been displayed; and the news from France, with
the new and glorious doctrines of Liberty and Equality, were being
eagerly embraced by a large section of the English people. Besides
the Society of Free Debate, there were others established in London,
which soon caused alarm on the part of the Government; for their
influence and consequence rapidly grew, on account of the frequency
and publicity of their meetings, and the readiness with which all
persons were invited to come and deliver their sentiments. Of course,
ministerial alarm soon took action. The king’s proclamation appeared in
May: new life was put into the magisterial office; the trumpery police
force of that day was reorganized; and prosecutions for libel became
frequent. “Not a pamphlet or paper was published, in which any measure
of government was animadverted on or disapproved of, but proceedings
were immediately commenced against the parties who either wrote,
edited, printed, or published it.”[7]

So, London is no place for our ex-sergeant, even if his plans are not
already formed. With all his loyalty, he is beginning to think there
must be something in republicanism. And he will carry out his notion
of going to the United States of America; after having visited France,
with the object of perfecting himself in the language of that country:--

    “From the moment that I resolved to quit the army, I also
    resolved to go to the United States of America, the fascinating
    and delusive description of which I had read in the works
    of Raynal. To France I went for the purpose of learning to
    speak the French language, having, because it was the language
    of the military art, studied it by book in America. To see
    fortified towns was another object; and how natural this was
    to a young man who had been studying fortification, and who
    had been laying down Lille and Brisach upon paper, need not be
    explained to those who have burnt with the desire of beholding
    in practice that with which they have been enamoured in theory.”

As matters stood, then, in March, 1792, there was no longer any
occasion for delay; and it appears that he landed in France before the
month was out: very much startled and amused, by the way, at seeing
written up over a shop-door in Calais,--“_Ici l’on a des Assignats, dès
cent francs à un sou._” He settled at Tilq, a little village near St.
Omer, and remained there for about five months. He found the people so
unexpectedly kind and hospitable, to a degree that he had never been
accustomed to, that all those prejudices, with which Englishmen, at
that time, regarded their brave and impulsive neighbours, and which
prejudices were fully developed in his own breast--were dispelled
in a few weeks. What with his newly-married bliss, and his perfect
health, and his zealous reading and study, this must have been the very
happiest period of Cobbett’s life. He did intend to go to Paris for
the winter, but the troublous times prevented that purpose:--

    “I perceived the storm gathering: I saw that a war with England
    was inevitable, and it was not difficult to foresee what would
    be the fate of Englishmen in that country, where the rulers
    had laid aside even the appearance of justice and mercy. I
    wished, however, to see Paris, and had actually hired a coach
    to go thither. I was even on the way, when I heard at Abbeville
    that the king was dethroned and his guards murdered. This
    intelligence made me turn off towards Havre-de-Grâce, whence I
    embarked for America.”



“THE SOLDIERS’ FRIEND; or, Considerations on the late pretended
Augmentation of the Subsistence of the private Soldiers.

    “[Motto] ‘Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the

“Written by a Subaltern. Price Twopence, or one hundred copies, 10_s._
6_d._ 1793.

    “Amongst the many curious manœuvres of the present
    administration, I do not recollect one that marks more
    strongly its character than the late alteration in the pay
    and establishment of the army. The augmentation (as they
    would insinuate it is) of the pay of the British soldiers is
    represented as arising from a consideration of the wretchedness
    of their situation; and the pretended reduction of the foot
    forces is held out to the public as an act of œconomy. The
    people, I am much afraid, are satisfied with this.… The
    situation of the privates in our marching regiments of foot
    was really so miserable, that every one endued with the least
    compassion, must rejoice to find that a _morsel of bread_ has
    been by any means added to that scanty meal; and the enormous
    load of taxes, that press out the very vitals of the people,
    ensures a favourable reception to every reduction, or pretended
    reduction, of public expense, let it be ever so trifling or

    “I propose to make a few observations on the alteration that
    has taken place in the soldiers’ pay; in doing which, although
    I shall be very concise, I have the vanity to think I shall
    discover a little better information on the subject than the
    Secretary at War did at his opening of it in the House of
    Commons; when he observed (after having stated the saving that
    would arise from the reduction in the infantry) that ‘against
    this saving he had to mention an increase that had been made to
    the pay of the private soldiers to the amount of 23,000_l._ The
    situation of the privates had long been admitted to have been
    extremely hard. It had in _former years_ been the regulation
    that a soldier should receive three shillings a week for his
    subsistence. It has _of late years so happened_ that he had not
    had for that purpose above eighteenpence or two shillings. This
    was evidently too little for the bare purpose of existence.
    By the late regulation his pay was to be made adequate to the
    subsistence the common soldier _formerly enjoyed_, an object
    which he was confident would meet with the warm approbation of
    every man.’…

    “As the Secretary observed, ‘the situation of the privates
    had long been admitted to have been extremely hard;‘ but
    people had not the least notion that it ’had so happened of
    late years, that the soldier had only eighteenpence or two
    shillings a week for his subsistence.’ Men of humanity thought
    the soldier’s situation hard, but every one thought that he
    received _three shillings a week_ for his subsistence; and why
    any man unacquainted with the abuses of the army should think
    otherwise I cannot imagine, seeing that there is an Act of
    Parliament, a law of the land, that declares it shall be so.”

[After reciting the regulations that existed, and which were yearly
renewed in each Mutiny Act, he proceeds:--]

    “It has _so happened!_ and for years too! astonishing! It
    has _so happened_ that an Act of Parliament has been most
    notoriously and shamefully disobeyed for years, to the extreme
    misery of thousands of deluded wretches (our countrymen), and
    to the great detriment of the nation at large; it has _so
    happened_ that not one of the offenders has been brought to
    justice for this disobedience, even now it is fully discovered;
    and it has _so happened_ that the hand of power has made
    another dive into the national purse, in order--not to add to
    what the soldier ought to have received; not to satisfy _his_
    hunger and thirst; but to gratify the whim or the avarice of
    his capricious and plundering superiors.”

[After a good deal more, to the same effect, the writer reverts to the
new demand upon the national purse by the Secretary at War:--]

    “This is certainly the most curious mode of rectifying abuses
    that ever was heard of; and it points out in the clearest
    light the close connexion that exists between the _ruling
    Faction_ in this country and the military officers; and this
    connexion ever must exist while we suffer ourselves to be
    governed by a _Faction_. If any other body of men had thus
    impudently set the laws of the land at defiance,--if _a gang
    of robbers_, ornamented with red coats and cockades, had
    plundered their fellow-citizens, what would have been the
    consequence? They would have been brought to justice, hanging
    or transportation would have been their fate; but, it seems,
    the Army is become a _Sanctuary_ from the power of the law.
    Nor shall we be at all surprised at this, if we consider that
    a standing army is the great instrument of oppression, and
    that a very numerous one may in a little time be necessary. I
    am not, therefore, blaming the ministry for this proceeding.
    I really think they have acted with a great deal of prudence
    in procuring the 23,000_l._ for their supporters; but (as it
    was all amongst friends) I think the business might have been
    opened in a more unequivocal manner; as thus, in the language
    of truth:--

    “‘The situation of the privates has long been admitted to
    be extremely hard. It is a law (which in former years was
    obeyed) that a soldier shall receive three shillings a week
    for his subsistence. It has so happened that of late years
    the officers have thought proper to despise this law, and to
    give the soldier only eighteenpence or two shillings. This is
    evidently too little for the bare purpose of existence; and
    though he has subsisted on it of late years, and might with
    our good will have done so to the day of judgment, as there
    now is a necessity to humour the wretch a little, _for reasons
    best known to ourselves_; we have, by a late regulation, made
    his pay adequate to what he always ought to have enjoyed: an
    object that we are confident must meet the warm approbation of
    our majority in this House. The public burden will, indeed, be
    increased by this, but it is certainly much better to tax the
    people to their last farthing than to wound the _honour_ of
    our trusty and well-beloved, the officers of the army, by any
    odious and _ungentlemanlike_ investigation of their conduct.’

    “It particularly becomes you, the British Soldier, to look upon
    this matter in its proper light. The pretended addition to
    your subsistence is, in fact, no addition at all; you will now
    receive no more than you always ought to have received.… If you
    should have the fortune to become a non-commissioned officer,
    and were to deduct but a penny from a man unlawfully, you know
    the consequences would be breaking and flogging, and refunding
    the money so deducted; but here you see your officers have been
    guilty of the practice for years, and now it is found out not a
    hair of one of their heads is touched; they are even permitted
    to remain in the practice, and a sum of money is taken from the
    public to coax you with, now it seems likely that you may be

    “Soldiers are taught to believe everything they receive _a
    gift from the Crown_. Cast this notion from you immediately,
    and know that there is not a farthing you receive but comes
    out of the _public purse_. What you call your _King’s Bounty_,
    or _Queen’s Bounty_, is no bounty from either of them: it
    is 12_s._ 2_d._ a year of the public money, which no one can
    withhold from you; it is allowed you by an Act of Parliament,
    while you are taught to look upon it as a present from the King
    or Queen!--I feel an indignation at this I cannot describe--I
    would have you consider the nature of your situation, I would
    have you know that you are not the servant of _one man_ only;
    a British soldier never can be that. You are a servant of the
    whole nation, of your countrymen, who pay you, and from whom
    you can have no separate interests. I would have you look upon
    nothing that you receive as _Favour_ or a _Bounty_ from Kings,
    Queens, or Princes; you receive the wages of your servitude; it
    is your property, confirmed to you by Acts of the Legislature
    of your country, which property your rapacious officers ought
    never to seize on, without meeting with a punishment due to
    their infamy.”



[1] This was The Society of Free Debate, one of several which had just
been set on foot. For some interesting particulars of these societies
_vide_ “Memoirs of John Thelwall” (London, 1837).

[2] _Public Advertiser_, April 10, 1792.

[3] _Scots Magazine_, Jan., 1792.

[4] “I have placed myself in London, sir, and have continued here ever
since the 26th December last, for no other purpose than the prosecution
of this affair” (Letter of 23rd February).

“I must beg leave, sir, _once more_ to request that you will be pleased
to lay my representation of this matter [_locale_ of the court-martial]
before the King, and that as soon as possible” (4th March).

“If my accusation is without foundation, the authors of cruelty have
not yet devised the tortures I ought to endure” (11th March).

The letter of the 16th March expresses the astonishment of the writer
that _the greatest part of the charges were to be left out_!--which
throws much light on the subject.

[5] This accounts for the paragraph in the _London Chronicle_; a thing
which is inexplicable till one comes to this sentence.

[6] Not to interrupt the thread of the narrative, we will append
to this Chapter one or two extracts from the “Soldiers’ Friend”--a
course which will at one and the same time tell the whole story of the
grievance, and introduce us to the first essay of Cobbett’s pen.

[7] “Memoirs of John Thelwall,” i. 89.



The Quaker city may well be the pride of the American nation. Founded
by William Penn, shortly after his settlement of Pennsylvania in the
year 1682, it has become, after the lapse of two centuries, the most
important town in the United States. Second to New York only in the
matter of population, it is, at present, the first manufacturing
city in the whole country; whilst it has long held supremacy as the
centre of literary and philosophical activity. In the centenary year
of 1876, Philadelphia possessed no less than 146 daily and weekly
newspapers, and twenty public libraries: no bad sign of the state of
intellectual advancement of a town containing about seven hundred
thousand inhabitants. The population consists largely of members of
the Society of Friends, or of their descendants; but there is always
a considerable foreign element in the city: the Irish numbering about
one-seventh, the Germans one-thirteenth, and the English one-thirtieth.
There are at least 400 churches and chapels, and more than 400 public
schools; and 100 hospitals and asylums.

The causes of the prosperity of Philadelphia are not difficult to
be discovered. It is noticeable, that all flourishing capitals are
marked by strong cosmopolitan features, with a background of national
characteristic. The characteristic basis of the Pennsylvanian is
his Quaker ancestry; and upon this has been grafted, in varying
proportions, the religious and political notions, the manners,
customs, and national prejudices, of English, Scotch, German, Irish,
Welsh, Swedish, and other emigrants, ever since the middle of the
last century. The capital of the state took the full-flow of this
tide of immigration; further augmented during and after the war of
independence, by a number of French people seeking for that peace and
security which was denied them in their native land. With all these
varying elements, however, the frugal, patient, industrious Quaker
spirit has pervaded the place; and reduced all this complexity to
some sort of harmony. Of party spirit there has, naturally, been much
activity; indeed, at the period of our history, it prevailed more
extensively than in almost any other town in the United States; but
the cultivation of knowledge, of the useful arts, and of commercial
enterprise, have been the agents in producing the prosperous and
beautiful capital of Pennsylvania.

The city of Philadelphia would appear to have been the pole, one
hundred years ago, which attracted alike the inquiring traveller and
the political fugitive. The Abbé Raynal had collected and published, in
1770, an account of the American colonies,[1] which produced a profound
sensation in Europe. It was translated into almost every European
language. The literary characteristics of the book were great animation
and plausibility; and, although it excited many strictures, from the
political facts being largely mixed up with rhetorical allusions to
the wrongs and errors of past generations, the work was, for a time,
exceedingly popular, and furnished a basis for much of the cotemporary
information on America. The unfortunate Jean Pierre Brissot, who was
at Philadelphia in or about the year 1788, declared that Raynal had
exaggerated everything; and Cobbett always qualified any allusion to
the Abbé’s writings by some expression or other, to a similar effect.
Brissot adds, however, his own impressions of the city, which were high
enough, both with reference to the beauty of its situation and of its
public buildings, and to the prosperity of its inhabitants.

An English traveller,[2] who visited the States in 1795-6, gave some
curious particulars of the condition of society in Philadelphia at
that period. Quakers appeared to number about one quarter of the
whole population. The average Philadelphian was represented as being
deficient in hospitality and politeness towards strangers:--

    “Amongst the uppermost circles in Philadelphia, pride,
    haughtiness, and ostentation are conspicuous.… In the manners
    of the people in general, there is a coldness and reserve, as
    if they were suspicious of some designs against them, which
    chills to the very heart those who come to visit them. In
    their private societies a _tristesse_ is apparent, near which
    mirth and gaiety can never approach. It is no unusual thing,
    in the genteelest houses, to see a large party of from twenty
    to thirty persons assembled, and seated round a room, without
    partaking of any other amusement than what arises from the
    conversation, most frequently in whispers, that passes between
    the two persons who are seated next to each other. The party
    meets between six and seven in the evening; tea is served with
    much form; and at ten, by which time most of the company are
    wearied with having so long remained stationary, they return
    to their own homes. Still, however, they are not strangers to
    music, cards, dancing, &c.”

Until about 1779 no public amusements were suffered in the city; but,
after a few years later, Philadelphia would seem to have got a little
gayer,[3] at least in the winter time--when the Congress and the State
Assembly were sitting, and President Washington made his annual stay
of some weeks. The President’s birthday became a special anniversary,
when all the citizens (except Quakers) would make a point of paying him
a visit. Concerts and public assemblies were held, and two or three
theatres, even, were started. The great political revolution, in point
of fact, produced a social one of quite as definite a character, even
in prim Philadelphia. As concerning the manners of the lower classes,
Weld records a sad deficiency: they would return impertinent answers to
questions couched in the most civil terms, and would insult a person
bearing the appearance of a gentleman, on purpose to show how highly
they estimated the principles of liberty and equality. Hostlers and
servants always appeared to be “doubtful whether they ought to do
anything for you or not;” civility was not to be purchased with money;
it seemed incompatible with freedom, and with the ideas which would
convince a stranger that he was really in a land of liberty.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, Mr. William Cobbett, late of his Majesty’s 54th Regiment,
had heard of this new country. His reading, hitherto, had been
purely literary; but, plunged into the world of London--a novice in
politics--he imbibes the then popular notions of republicanism, and
is an enthusiastic admirer of the new ideas. The eloquent pages of
Tom Paine,--unanswerable in themselves, yet, at that day, rigorously
proscribed,--help to intoxicate; and, boiling with indignation (as
he says) at the abuses he had witnessed, he has, indeed, become a
republican. That is, a theoretical republican: for, when he soon comes
to see all sides of republicanism, he reverts to his intrinsic love for
the constitution under which he was born.

And to this new land of liberty he will go.

He landed in Philadelphia in October, 1792, and, for a short time, took
up his residence at Wilmington, a little port[4] on a creek of the
Delaware, about twenty-eight miles below Philadelphia. Here Cobbett
found the very thing to give him a start in life; for the place was
swarming with French emigrants, who wanted, above all things, to learn
the English language. After a little time it appears that he found
Philadelphia itself a better field for his energies; and, accordingly,
having removed thither, he soon had as many pupils as he could attend
to. This occupation was the occasion, also, which produced the “English
Grammar for Frenchmen:”--

    “When I afterwards came to teach the English language to French
    people in Philadelphia, I found that none of the grammars,
    then to be had, were of much use to me. I found them so
    defective, that I wrote down instructions and gave them to my
    scholars in manuscript. At the end of a few months, this became
    too troublesome; and these manuscript instructions assumed the
    shape of a grammar in print, the copyright of which I sold
    to Thomas Bradford,[5] a bookseller in Philadelphia, for 100
    dollars (or 22_l._ 11_s._ 6_d._); which grammar, under the
    title of _Maître d’Anglais_, is now in general use all over

Cobbett seems to have held a rather qualified opinion upon this French
grammar: for he elsewhere says it was “a very hasty production,” and
that it was so defective that he was almost ashamed to look into it
[1829]; but that it had the great merit of “_clearness_, and of making
the learner see the _reason_ of the rules.” Yet the book still holds
its own; and it has been repeatedly reprinted in France, Belgium, &c.[6]

Besides the teaching of English to the emigrants, there was some
translating done for the booksellers. The first of any importance,
and which Cobbett alludes to somewhere as his “_coup d’essai_ in the
authoring way,” was the work of Von Martens on the “Law of Nations;” at
that date a book of considerable authority:--

    “Soon after I was married, I translated, for a bookseller
    in Philadelphia, a book on the Law of Nations. A member of
    Congress had given the original to the bookseller, wishing for
    him to publish a translation. The book was the work of a Mr.
    Martens, a German jurist, though it was written in French. I
    called it _Martens’s Law of Nations_.… I translated it for a
    quarter of a dollar (thirteenpence halfpenny) a page; and, as
    my chief business was to go out in the city to teach French
    people English, I made it a rule to earn a dollar while my wife
    was getting the breakfast in the morning, and another dollar
    after I came home at night, be the hour what it might; and I
    have earned many a dollar in this way, sitting writing in the
    same room where my wife and only child were in bed and asleep.”

Another task of similar character was the translation of “A
Topographical and Political Description of the Spanish part of St.
Domingo,” the author of which was Moreau de St. Méry,[7] one of the
more distinguished of the French emigrants. This worthy man’s shop,
at No. 84, South Front Street, was probably a favourite resort of the
_literati_, as he was a person of considerable attainments, and a
member of the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia; whilst the bulk
of his expatriated fellow-countrymen consisted, without doubt, of a
cultivated class of men. Louis Philippe and his brothers were there.
Talleyrand was there for a time,[8] and Cobbett recalls the fact, many
years after, of having met him in St. Méry’s house.

Several of Cobbett’s best anecdotes of Philadelphian life are
associated with Frenchmen; here is one:--

    “A Frenchman, who had been driven from St. Domingo to
    Philadelphia, by the Wilberforces of France, went to church
    along with me one Sunday. He had never been in a Protestant
    place of worship before. Upon looking round him, and seeing
    everybody _comfortably seated_, while a couple of good stoves
    were keeping the place as warm as a slack oven, he exclaimed,
    ‘_Pardi! on se sert Dieu bien à son aise ici!_’”

It need not be imagined, however, that he had no American friends. On
the contrary, as we shall see in the sequel, he made some friendships
that lasted through life.


[1] “Histoire philosophique et politique des établissements et du
commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes.” The author was assisted by
Diderot, and others; and, at last (about 1780) the work was forbidden
in France. Raynal lived to regret the extreme notions which he had
advocated, and actually appeared at the bar of the National Assembly
(in the month of May, 1791), there, to the surprise and displeasure
of his audience, boldly to expostulate with them on their rash
and ruinous courses; the principal charge being that they had too
literally followed his principles, and reduced to practice the reveries
and abstracted ideas of a philosopher, without having previously
adapted and accommodated them to men, times, and circumstances!
Raynal exercised a great deal of influence upon his generation, and
may be considered as having contributed largely to the uprooting of
institutions which resulted from the French Revolution; and this
singular piece of moral courage was displayed at an advanced period of
his life, when he had little to fear from any possible violence; the
usual consequence, in those days, of reaction in opinion.

[2] Isaac Weld. See his “Travels through the States of North America,
and the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, during the years 1795,
1796, and 1797” (2 vols., London, 1800).

[3] According to Brissot, even the Quakers were getting less strict,
some of them being inclined to lapse into luxury, and have carpets!

[4] Now a flourishing town, with several newspapers, and extensive

[5] Thomas Bradford, a leading Philadelphian of the period, was one of
the members of a family that exercised a good deal of influence in the
city for a long course of years. He died in 1838, at the advanced age
of ninety-four. His father was Colonel William Bradford, a hero of the
Revolutionary War, and his great grandfather William Bradford, one of
the fellow-emigrants of Penn. This founder of the family was the first
printer in Pennsylvania, and he lived to see some of his descendants
amongst the most useful and esteemed citizens of Philadelphia. The
Bradfords, during an entire century (1719-1819), published and
conducted a newspaper in the city. Thomas Bradford was among the
founders of the American Philosophical Society. His son, Thomas, became
a judge of the United States.

[6] The actual title, at first, was “Le Tuteur Anglais, ou grammaire
regulière de la langue Anglaise, en deux parties, &c. (à Philadelphie,
chez Thomas Bradford, 1795).”

The 35th Edition (Paris, 1861: Baudry) has the following remarks in
the preface, after alluding to the original success of the work: “La
clarté de sa méthode l’a fait accueillir en France avec un plus vif
empressement encore qu’en Amerique; ce qui s’explique parfaitement, car
cette grammaire étant à l’usage des Français, il fallait que son mérite
fut bien réel pour obtenir dans un pays étranger un succès qui n’a
fait que grandir depuis. Sa supériorité incontestable sur les autres
ouvrages du même genre ne peut donc faire doute, et ce qui le prouve,
c’est que le public et la plupart des professeurs les plus en renommée
parmi ceux qui ont conservé leur libre arbitre n’ont cessé de se servir
de cette grammaire.”

A republication of this grammar was undertaken by Mons. L. H. Scipion,
Comte Du Roure, who made large additions, with critical emendations,
to Cobbett’s book (5th Edit. Paris, 1816). This gentleman adds his
testimony to the general estimation in which the work was held, both
in America and Europe, and says, “Ce qui distingue avantageusement
le travail de M. Cobbett, c’est qu’il _raisonne_ souvent, et oblige,
plus souvent encore, le lecteur à raisonner.” But he must needs
give currency to a report which he had heard, that Cobbett was not
the real author of the _Maître d’Anglais_:--“Plusieurs personnes,
bien dignes de foi, m’ont assuré qu’il était tres-eloigné, surtout
en 1795, de posséder suffisamment la langue Française pour pouvoir
écrire dans cette langue; et que d’ailleurs M. Cobbett, très-célèbre
écrivain politique sans doute, n’avait pas fait dans sa jeunesse
toutes les études classiques que la composition d’une Grammaire rend
indispensables. _Peut-être ai-je été mal informé_”! A little bit of
national pique, let us suppose. Of course we know more about Mons.
Cobbett’s classical studies. And Mons. Du Roure got a little wiser on
that point, if he read the No. of the “Political Register” for Feb. 21,

[7] Médéric Louis Elie Moreau de St. Méry, a Frenchman of good family.
He had passed a somewhat distinguished career as a legislator, in his
native country, until the period of the Revolution; when he had to flee
from Robespierre. Having safely reached the United States with his
family, he became a merchant’s clerk for a short time, and eventually
opened a bookseller’s shop, to which was afterwards added a printing
office. He wrote and published several works in Philadelphia, and
returned to France in 1799. Died 1819, ætat. sixty-nine.

[8] The residence of Talleyrand in America is an obscure period in his
history. We may learn more of it when the long-expected memoirs are
published. The first part of his exile was spent in the neighbourhood
of New York, and time hung heavily on his hands, for his pecuniary
resources were scanty; and, indeed, this period was afterwards one
of the most painful memories of his life. There does not appear any
foundation for the suspicion that Talleyrand was a spy in the pay of
the French Government, although it is probable enough that he kept
his eyes open on his own account. At last he determined (as he wrote
to Madame Genlis) to try and retrieve his fortunes with mercantile
speculations; and in this he was successful. Towards the close of
1795, he sent a petition for the revocation of his banishment,
which was ultimately granted, and he returned to France in the
course of the following year. (_Vide_ “Biographie Universelle;” also
Touchard-Lafosse: “Hist. Polit. de Talleyrand.”)

A singular contribution to Talleyrand’s history occurs in “Men and
Times of the Revolution,” by Elkanah Watson (New York, 1856, pp. 387,
388). It will serve to refute the notion that he had any particular
mission. “In the years 1794 and 1795, I resided in the northern suburbs
of Albany, known as the Colonie. Monsr. Le Contaulx, formerly of Paris,
a very amiable man, was my opposite neighbour. His residence was the
resort of the French emigrants. During that period, Count Latour Dupin,
a distinguished French noble, made a hair-breadth escape from Bordeaux
with his elegant and accomplished wife, the daughter of Count Dillon.
They were concealed in that city for six terrible weeks, during the
sanguinary atrocities of Tallien, and arrived at Boston with two trunks
of fine towels, containing several hundred in each, the only property
they had been able to save from the wreck of an immense estate.… They
purchased a little farm upon an eminence nearly opposite Troy. Here
they were joined by Talleyrand, who had arrived about the same time
in Albany, also an exile and in want. I became intimate with them.…
They avowed their poverty, and resided together on the little farm,
suffering severe privations, bringing to Albany the surplus produce
of their land, and habitually stopping, with their butter and eggs,
at my door. They yielded with a good grace to their humiliating
condition. In the year following, I was surrounded in my office by a
group of distinguished Frenchmen; the Count, Talleyrand, Volney, the
philosophical writer and traveller, Mons. Pharoux, … and Desjardins,
a former Chamberlain of Louis XVI.” This intercourse at length
terminated, through the avowed dislike of the _émigrés_ to American
institutions, habits, and customs.



Nearly two years had elapsed, before Cobbett’s life was disturbed by
any greater excitement than would be furnished by his daily pursuits
as a teacher of the French language. Even in Philadelphia, where party
spirit was strong, and antipathy to England was particularly manifest,
a busy, hard-working man, with his bread to earn, and who had no
natural taste for politics, had no need to interfere--and Cobbett would
not have interfered, probably, had not the occasion been brought about
almost by accident. The little republicanism which had leavened his
mind, whilst in London, had disappeared, when he came to see more of
human nature in his new country; and the municipal contests, and the
flaring speeches and writings, which excited less industrious minds,
had no charm for him. “Newspapers,” he says, “were a luxury for which
I had little relish, and which, if I had been ever so fond of, I had
not time to enjoy.”

But a circumstance occurred, about the middle of the year 1794, which
aroused Cobbett’s native spirit; and offered, at the same time, an
opportunity for its exercise:--

    “One of my scholars, who was a person that we in England should
    call a coffee-house politician, chose, for once, to read his
    newspaper by way of lesson; and, it happened to be the very
    paper which contained the addresses presented to Dr. Priestley
    at New York, together with his replies. My scholar, who was a
    sort of republican, or at best, but half a monarchist, appeared
    delighted with the invectives against England, to which he
    was very much disposed to add. Those Englishmen who have been
    abroad, particularly if they have had time to make a comparison
    between the country they are in and that which they have left,
    well know how difficult it is, upon occasions such as I have
    been describing, to refrain from expressing their indignation
    and resentment; and there is not, I trust, much reason to
    suppose, that I should, in this respect, experience less
    difficulty than another.

    “The dispute was as warm as might reasonably be expected
    between a Frenchman, uncommonly violent even for a Frenchman,
    and an Englishman not remarkable for _sang-froid_; and, the
    result was, a declared resolution, on my part, to write and
    publish a pamphlet in defence of my country, which pamphlet
    he pledged himself to answer; his pledge was forfeited; it is
    known that mine was not. Thus, sir [he is addressing Mr. Pitt],
    it was, that I became a writer on politics. ‘Happy for you,’
    you will say, ‘if you had continued at your verbs and your
    nouns.’ Perhaps it would: but the fact absorbs the reflection;
    whether it was for my good, or otherwise, I entered on the
    career of political writing; and, without adverting to the
    circumstances under which others have entered on it, I think
    it will not be believed that the pen was ever taken up from a
    motive more pure and laudable. I could have no hope of gain
    from the proposed publication itself, but, on the contrary, was
    pretty certain to incur a loss; no hope of remuneration, for
    not only had I never seen any agent of the British government
    in America, but was not acquainted with any one British subject
    in the country. I was actuated, perhaps, by no very exalted
    notions of either loyalty or patriotism; the act was not much
    an act of refined reasoning, or of reflection; it arose merely
    from _feeling_, but it was that sort of feeling, that jealousy
    for the honour of my native country, which I am sure you will
    allow to have been highly meritorious, especially when you
    reflect on the circumstances of the times and the place in
    which I ventured before the public.

    “Great praise, and still more, great success, are sure to
    operate, with young and zealous men, as an encouragement to
    further exertion. Both were, in this case, far beyond my
    hopes, and still farther beyond the intrinsic merits of my
    performance. The praise was, in fact, given to the boldness of
    the man who, after the American press had, for twenty years,
    been closed against every publication relative to England, in
    which England and her king were not censured and vilified,
    dared not only to defend but to eulogize and exalt them; and,
    the success was to be ascribed to that affection for England,
    and that just hatred of France, which, in spite of all the
    misrepresentations that had been so long circulated, were still
    alive in the bosoms of all the better part of the people; who
    openly to express their sentiments, only wanted the occasion
    and the example which were now afforded them.”

JOSEPH PRIESTLEY was one of the most estimable of men. Among those who
have thrust back the barriers of Ignorance, he holds no mean place,
whether as a student of natural philosophy, or as a Christian teacher.
But he belongs to a period when the Pioneer had to suffer for his

Born in 1733, he early evinced the qualities of a thorough student,
mastered several European and Eastern languages, spent his spare cash
in scientific instruments, and entered the ministry as an inflexible
opponent of the cruel notions of “eternal wrath.” He was a man rather
inclined to take always the heterodox side of things, as one who had
discovered that most popular doctrines, in politics and religion, were
founded on baseless traditions. Priestley’s contributions to science
brought him within the fold of the Royal Society; and he was pursuing
his studies at the same time that he had charge of an important
dissenting congregation at Birmingham, when the French Revolution
broke out, in 1789. By this time he was known as an ardent and honest
controversialist, and had numerous warm friendships among the advanced
Liberals of London and Paris; and his position at Birmingham was
becoming hazardous, on account of the denunciations he underwent on
the part of the orthodox in Church and State. Matters came to a crisis
in the summer of 1791; when, a feast being held for the purpose of
celebrating the fall of the Bastille, a mob assembled, highly strung
with loyalty; which, after disturbing the diners, broke the windows of
the hotel, proceeded to demolish Priestley’s and another meeting-house,
his dwelling, and the houses of several other influential dissenters.
In short, there was a genuine riot, for which the county had to pay.

And Dr. Priestley had to leave Birmingham. Nor did three years of
London life, with the fierce controversies of the day, serve to console
him. Having succeeded his friend, the celebrated Dr. Richard Price,
as pastor of a meeting at Hackney, he fought alternately with French
sceptics and with English “divines;” but age was creeping upon him;
his beloved scientific pursuits were being neglected; and he looked
wistfully to the new land of liberty and toleration. His domestic
hearth was a happy one, and he could at least take that with him
wherever he went. So, in the spring of 1794, he set sail for America.

His departure, however, was the signal for a good deal of affectionate
demonstration. Addresses were presented to him, and he left his
native shores with the good wishes and the regrets of thousands. But,
flattering as this was, it was nothing to the reception Priestley
experienced on his arrival at New York. He found himself welcomed to
“a country worthy of him;” to a land where reason had “successfully
triumphed over the artificial distinctions of European policy and
bigotry;” by those who had “beheld with the keenest sensibility the
unparalleled persecutions” which had attended him in his native country.

So, the Philadelphia newspapers of June, 1794, published these
addresses--the most noted of which were from the Tammany Society of
New York, the Democratic Society of the same, the Republican Natives
of Great Britain and Ireland resident in the City of New York, the
Medical Society of New York, and the American Philosophical Society
of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia newspapers, ready for all sorts of
fiery attack upon England, printed these addresses in full, along with
Dr. Priestley’s grateful replies. One of Mr. Cobbett’s intelligent
pupils, in his studious zeal, produces such a newspaper, that his
English exercises may be presented in the English of the day. As one of
his own omelettes, he will have his English served up fresh; no musty
Addison nor dry Delolme for him; no stale oligarchical stuff, ready
for hatching into villainy and oppression; but the sweet, new-laid
principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Which principles,
as exemplified in their latest fruits, Monsieur le Maître d’Anglais
abhors, with all his heart and soul.

Accordingly, there forthwith appeared an anonymous pamphlet, under
the title of “Observations on Priestley’s Emigration;” consisting
of a review of the circumstances which had driven the Doctor from
Birmingham, and eventually from England; and a running commentary upon
the republican addresses which had been presented to him. The whole
tenour of the tract, however, consisted in its expressed horror of the
ruin and desolation which the theorists had brought upon France, and
in pointing out what would be (in the mind of the writer) the logical
result of the new ideas being disseminated in England. Priestley’s
emigration, in point of fact, was made the peg on which to hang an
anti-revolution tirade. Certain sound principles, however, were
enunciated: an extract or two will serve to show this, and, by the
felicitous terms in which they are conveyed, to display the wonderful
command which Cobbett had already acquired over his native tongue.

    “System-mongers are an unreasonable species of mortals; time,
    place, climate, nature itself, must give way. They must have
    the same governments in every quarter of the globe; when,
    perhaps, there are not two countries which can possibly admit
    of the same form of government at the same time. A thousand
    hidden causes, a thousand circumstances and unforeseen events,
    conspire to the forming of a government. It is always done by
    little and little. When completed, it presents nothing like a
    system; nothing like a thing composed, and written in a book.
    It is curious to hear people cite the American government as
    the summit of human perfection, while they decry the English;
    when it is absolutely nothing more than the government which
    the kings of England established here, with such little
    modifications as were necessary on account of the state of
    society and local circumstances. If, then, the Doctor is come
    here for a change of government and laws, he is the most
    disappointed of mortals. He will have the mortification to
    find in his ‘_asylum_’ the same laws as those from which he
    has fled, the same upright manner of administering them, the
    same punishment of the oppressor, and the same protection of
    the oppressed. In the courts of justice he will every day see
    precedents quoted from the English law-books; and (which to
    him may appear wonderful) we may venture to predict, that it
    will be very long before they will be supplanted by the bloody
    records of the revolutionary tribunal.”

    “Even supposing his intended plan of improvement had been the
    best in the world, instead of the worst, the people of England
    had certainly a right to reject it. He claims as an indubitable
    right, the right of thinking for _others_, and yet he will not
    permit the people of England to think for _themselves_.… If the
    English choose to remain slaves, bigots, and idolaters, as the
    Doctor calls them, that was no business of his; he had nothing
    to do with them. He should have let them alone; and, perhaps
    in due time, the abuses of their government would have come
    to that ‘natural termination,’ which he trusts, ‘will guard
    against future abuses.’ But no, said the Doctor, I will reform
    you--I will enlighten you--I will make you free.--You shall
    not, say the people.--But I will! says the Doctor. By ----, say
    the people, you shall not! ‘_And when Ahithophel saw that his
    counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and
    gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household
    in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the
    sepulchre of his father._’”

    “I am one of those who wish to believe that foreigners come
    to this country from choice, and not from necessity.… The
    most numerous, as well as the most useful, are mechanics.
    Perhaps a cobbler, with his hammer and awls, is a more valuable
    acquisition than a dozen philosophi-theologi-politi-cal
    empirics, with all their boasted apparatus.”

Mr. Thomas Bradford was again his publisher. The circumstance is fully
related in the American autobiography:--

    “When the ‘Observations’ on the Emigration of this ‘martyr to
    the cause of liberty’ were ready for the press, I did not,
    at first, offer them to Mr. Bradford. I knew him to retain a
    rooted hatred against Great Britain, and concluded, that his
    principles would prevent him from being instrumental in the
    publication of anything that tended to unveil one of its most
    bitter enemies. I therefore addressed myself to Mr. Carey.[1]
    This was, to make use of a culinary figure, jumping out of the
    frying-pan into the fire. Mr. Carey received me as booksellers
    generally receive authors (I mean authors whom they hope to
    get but little by): he looked at the title from top to bottom,
    and then at me from head to foot.--‘_No, my lad_,’ says he, ‘I
    don’t think it will suit.’”--_My lad!_ God in heaven forgive
    me! I believe that, at that moment, I wished for another yellow
    fever to strike the city; not to destroy the inhabitants, but
    to furnish me too with _the subject of a pamphlet_, that might
    make me rich. Mr. Carey has sold hundreds of the ‘Observations’
    since that time, and therefore I dare say he highly approved of
    them, when he came to a perusal. At any rate, I must not forget
    to say, that he behaved honourably in the business; for, he
    promised not to make known the author, and he certainly kept
    his word, or the discovery would not have been reserved for the
    month of June, 1796. This circumstance, considering Mr. Carey’s
    politics, is greatly to his honour, and has almost wiped from
    my memory that contumelious ‘my lad.’

    “From Mr. Carey I went to Mr. Bradford, and left the pamphlet
    for his perusal. The next day I went to him to know his
    determination. He hesitated, wanted to know if I could not
    make it a little _more popular_, adding that, unless I could,
    he feared that the publishing of it would endanger _his
    windows_. ‘More popular,’ I could not make it. I never was of
    an accommodating disposition in my life. The only alteration
    I would consent to was in the title. I had given the pamphlet
    the double title of ‘The Tartuffe Detected; or, Observations,’
    &c. The former was suppressed, though, had I not been pretty
    certain that every press in the city was as little free as that
    to which I was sending it, the ‘Tartuffe Detected’ should have
    remained; for the person on whom it was bestowed merited it
    much better than the character so named by Molière.

    “These difficulties, and these fears of the bookseller, at
    once opened my eyes with respect to the boasted liberty of the
    press. Because the laws of this country proclaim to the world,
    that every man may write and publish freely, and because I
    saw the newspapers filled with vaunts on the subject, I was
    fool enough to imagine that the press was really free for
    every one. I had not the least idea, that a man’s windows
    were in danger of being broken, if he published anything that
    was _not popular_. I did, indeed, see the words _liberty_ and
    _equality_, the _rights of man_, the _crimes of kings_, and
    such like, in most of the booksellers’ windows; but I did not
    know that they were put there to save the glass, as a free
    republican Frenchman puts a cockade tricolor in his hat to save
    his head. I was ignorant of all these _arcana_ of the liberty
    of the press.

       *       *       *       *       *

    “The work that it was feared would draw down punishment on
    the publisher, did not contain one untruth, one anarchical,
    indecent, immoral, or irreligious expression; and yet the
    bookseller feared for his windows! For what? Because it was
    not _popular enough_. A bookseller in a _despotic_ state fears
    to publish a work that is ‘too popular,’ and one in a free
    state fears to publish a work that is not ‘popular enough.’ I
    leave it to the learned philosophers of the ‘Age of Reason’ to
    determine in which of these states there is the most liberty
    of the press; for, I must acknowledge, the point is too nice
    for me: fear is fear, whether inspired by a Sovereign Lord the
    King, or by a Sovereign People.

    “The terms on which Mr. Bradford took the ‘Observations,’
    were what booksellers call _publishing it together_. I beg
    the reader, if he foresees the possibility of his becoming an
    author, to recollect this phrase well. Publishing it together
    is thus managed: the bookseller takes the work, prints it, and
    defrays all expenses of paper, binding, &c. and the profits,
    if any, are divided between him and the author.--Long after
    the ‘Observations’ were sold off, Mr. Bradford rendered me an
    account (undoubtedly a very just one) of the sales. According
    to this account, my share of the profits (my share only)
    amounted to the enormous sum of _one shilling and sevenpence
    halfpenny_, currency of the State of Pennsylvania (or, about
    elevenpence three farthings sterling), quite entirely clear of
    all deductions whatsoever!

    “Now, bulky as this sum appears in words at length, I presume,
    that when 1_s._ 7½_d._ is reduced to figures, no one will
    suppose it sufficient to put a coat upon my back. If my poor
    back were not too broad to be clothed with such a sum as this,
    God knows how I should bear all that has been, and is, and
    is to be, laid on it by the unmerciful democrats. Why! 1_s._
    7½_d._ would not cover the back of a Lilliputian; no, not even
    in rags, as they sell here.”

The allusion to the _coat_ was occasioned by a report, which Cobbett
thought fit to notice, that Mr. Bradford had provided him with the
means of procuring one. Whether the “Observations” proved remunerative
or not, it is certain that the tract was immediately reprinted in
London, by Stockdale, and noticed in the magazines; and we will
presently refer to the comments which were raised in England by the new

Meanwhile the pamphlet was read, and became notorious; and its author
had discovered where his strength lay. He would prepare another
onslaught upon the anti-federalists.

In order, however, that we may understand the position which Cobbett
soon came to occupy as a politician, it will be necessary to take
a glimpse of the leading questions which were agitating the public
mind of America. The chief cities of the United States, receiving, as
they did, the overflowings of European ebullition, had also their own
internal squabbles, and were become so many centres of revolutionary
intrigue; and the perils and the strife thus engendered opened the
field of political adventure to many an aspiring mind. It was a period
of terrible personal animosities, both in Europe and America: men’s
friendships, and men’s reputations, never had a harder lot, in the
face of differences of opinion.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Revolution, which culminated in the Declaration of Independence in
the year 1776, did not, in all respects, ultimately suit the tastes
of the whole American people. A numerous section, after the immediate
cause of the quarrel with the mother country had been despatched,
remained “loyal;” and would have been well pleased to see re-union with
England. Others, again, satisfied with Independence, were yet desirous
that the Constitution should be as near as possible on a monarchical
plan, with a basis of government centralized at the capital. A still
larger class,--daily augmented, too, by the arrival of English, Irish,
and French refugees,--were for republicanism pure and simple.

France had given support to the infant republic, from the first; having
recognized “Independence” in 1778, and, from that date, continued to
give aid in the shape of food supplies and war material, during the
progress of the conflict. The treaty of peace being concluded with
Great Britain, in the year 1783, and the States settling down to
consider their future, it was soon discovered that the Constitution,
which had first been hastily framed, was inadequate for the purposes
of good government; there was no power to compel individual states,
where unanimity, or, at least, general consent, was desirable.[2] A new
Constitution was therefore promulgated, by which absolute power was
lodged in a central Federal Congress of the States. From that date the
two prominent political parties came into existence: the one, known as
the Federalist, strongly in favour of centralization; the other, the
anti-Federalist or Democratic party, which was for independent state
sovereignty, and which was too deeply republican in its nature not to
fear the risks, which centralized power would entail upon the new-born
liberties of the nation. The leading partisans on the former side were
Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay; whilst Thomas
Jefferson and James Madison were the most eminent among the Democratic
leaders. It must be noted, however, that the statesmen of both parties
were unanimous on the point of republicanism _per se_: their aim was
one object, about which there could be no further question; their
differences consisted in the consideration of the best means of
attaining it.

Mr. Jefferson had been minister to France; and returned to America in
1790, to take a part in the administration. He has left upon record
his experience, upon resuming his place in society, of the reaction
against extreme republicanism which had already taken place;[3] other
testimony, of similar bearing, could be adduced, but it is hardly
necessary for our purpose, considering the amount of support which
Cobbett received during the whole period of his residence in America.
There seems to have been, in point of fact, a Federal majority from
the very first,--and, when the European war broke out, early in 1793,
this section of the nation sympathized, generally speaking, with the
English. A strong anti-British feeling prevailed, however, among the
Democrats, which was displayed in the most fiery and intemperate
language,[4] and found particular vent in a hearty enthusiasm for the
French cause. The first outbreak of the French revolution was hailed
with joy by the extreme republicans; and, at last, when Mr. Pitt came
to think that England was called upon to declare war against France,
in defence of the old European doctrines, this hatred of England was
naturally intensified. Washington’s proclamation of neutrality was in
vain, to check the ardour of the pen-and-ink warriors; and the constant
arrival of proscribed persons was just so much fuel added to the
flames. Another outbreak of war, between England and America, was even
apprehended; and would have taken place, but for the moderate counsels
which prevailed in the minds of Washington and his advisers.

At this juncture, there arrived as ambassador to the United States,
one GENEST,[5] a man eminently fitted for the useful task of
stirring up strife; and it is, indeed, difficult to believe that
the man was not selected with this object in view. Of the strongest
republican principles, he thoroughly scorned the traditions of
diplomacy; and landed at Charleston [April 1793] more with the air
of a newly-appointed provincial governor than with that of envoy
from a friendly nation. Several weeks elapsed before he presented
his credentials to Washington: meanwhile, he was actually engaged in
superintending the fitting-out of privateers! And on his arrival
at Philadelphia there were festivities and congratulations, and
speeches, to be attended to, before he could condescend to wait upon
the President. His subsequent conduct was all of a piece with this;
till, the President having found it necessary to repudiate a French
vice-consul on account of his gross infractions of neutrality, Genest’s
high-toned appeal upon the matter obliged Washington, at last, to
consider the question of demanding his recall. This was effected in the
following year.[6]

But all this did not happen without largely affecting the temper of the
American people. Although Washington generously distinguished between
the conduct of the minister and “the friendly spirit of the nation
which sent him;” although, as Jefferson records, the Government were
“determined to see, in these proceedings, but the character of the
individual, and not to believe that they were by instructions from his
employers,” yet it was undoubtedly a new spur to the active spirit of
democracy. The Philadelphia politicians, especially, raved and stormed
over the iniquities of Britain and the virtues of France.

A more serious trouble to the American Government arose, soon after
the war between England and France had continued some time. As, when
the young Republic was fighting for its life, they had been assisted
by the French, so they now shipped large aids, chiefly in the shape
of provisions, to the French ports. These cargoes were unquestionably
contraband; and the British Government, holding that view, ordered
that all American vessels be detained,--those laden with corn to
be seized,--and a reasonable price to be paid for the cargoes and
freights. Later on, another order was issued, directed against American
cargoes which consisted of provisions and stores for the French
colonies. All this naturally irritated the Americans; they considered
it simply an infraction of their independence; and they were not
disposed tamely to yield to a power which, in the eyes of many, was not
unlikely to dream of future reconquest.

Some alarm was also aroused by the conduct of the British troops in
Canada, who retook possession of certain frontier forts, which had
been ceded to America at the treaty of peace. At the same time, public
attention was directed to a conference held between Lord Dorchester,
the Governor of Canada, and several Indian tribes; on which occasion
language was held by the Governor, which seemed to carry with it a
willingness on the part of England to proceed to hostilities, upon a
given contingency.

Fortunately, however, the disposition of the American Administration
was such, that the fury of the Democrats was powerless to disturb its
equanimity; and the only serious step, which the Government was induced
to take, was to lay an embargo upon the British shipping in American
ports, for the space of thirty days.[7] It was necessary, however, to
come to an understanding; accordingly, an envoy, in the person of Mr.
Jay, repaired to England with full powers, in the hope that existing
difficulties might be removed, and a proper feeling of amity be
secured, between the two nations.

Mr. Jay’s mission was eminently successful, as regarded the two
Governments; but the Treaty in which it resulted only served to
make the breach wider, that existed between the Democrats and their
opponents. His return to America was signalized by an unexampled
storm of invective and abuse; and Jay had, in fact, to retire from
public life.[8] The principle that the flag does not cover the
merchandise was the feature which gave the greatest offence; but the
real objections were sentimental, and were, in fact, brewing as soon as
Jay’s appointment as envoy became known.[9] The treaty was the work of
the Washington administration, the members of which were known to be
favourably disposed towards England; and it was considered likely to
injure the relations existing between America and France. Its opponents
maintained, from the first, that the disposition of Great Britain being
naturally hostile to the United States, there could be no prospect of
real reciprocity; and, when the document arrived, their first thought
was that its ratification would give umbrage to the French. That,
if the United States could convert the evil disposition of England
into one of amity and peace, the projected treaty would be too high
a price to pay for the change; and if there must be war with either
Great Britain or France, it were “more politic for the state, and more
congenial with the sentiments of the people, to engage the former,” as
France would give aid “with all the energy of her triumphant arms;”
whilst, in the case of a war with France, the Americans could neither
count upon the affections, nor rely upon the power, of Great Britain.

But what served, much more, to augment the numbers and vehemence of the
Radical party, and to foment bad feeling between the two countries,
was the constant stream of refugees from the United Kingdom. Mr.
Pitt’s repressive measures were in full force; and the year 1794
witnessed some of the most glaring instances of tyranny that had been
displayed in England since the days of James the Second. Frequent
trials for “sedition” only served to inflame and to energize the spirit
of free inquiry; and men boldly talked of revolution. Some suffered
imprisonment, many more managed to escape; and of those who escaped,
many found a free asylum in Pennsylvania. Some of these men were of
good education and great natural ability; and all were inspired with
the hopes of the day: an imminent deliverance of mankind, generally,
from all kinds of despotism whatsoever.

So, this is how it was in Philadelphia, in these lively times. The most
enlightened and philosophical city in the United States was, at the
same time, the hot-bed of democracy: the home of all that was aspiring
in the human heart and mind. Thus, we can understand something of
the feelings which animate the breast of Mr. William Cobbett, ardent
Loyalist. He knows little of theoretical politics; his short experience
of republicanism has only, at present, served to show him that man
is little better off as the subject of a sovereign people, than as
a subject of a sovereign king; provided that similar constitutional
principles prevail. His recollections of Tom Paine’s animated book,
and his former enthusiasm for republicanism, are--as in the minds of
thousands of his cotemporaries--crushed and buried beneath the torrent
of blood and tears which has been shed in France. A natural reaction
has set in: his native land, with all her faults, comes back to his
memory as a land of average comfort and well-being; and the thought is
uppermost that, perish “liberty and equality,” if all their results
are to consist in a murdered king, and in the home of his childhood
desolated by the bloodthirsty apostles of progress.

One of these emigrants was Mr. James Thomson Callender. His reading
of English history had caused his mind to dwell, somewhat heavily,
upon the underhand means which ministers and parties had used, to
carry their points, during the last century. Abuses in Church and
State: this is the sort of _pabulum_ for the public taste, and Mr.
Callender, accordingly, undertakes to put them all into a popular
form, under the title of “The Political Progress of Britain.”[10] The
result is, that he is a fugitive before many weeks are over his head,
and any further attacks which he has to make, upon the government of
Mr. Pitt and his predecessors, must be offered from the other side of
the Atlantic. The pamphlet, republished in Philadelphia, comes under
the eye of our neophyte politician, and Mr. Cobbett sniffs war. The
“Political progress” presented just the sort of topic which would serve
as provocation: here was another villain maligning his country, and the
wretch must be made an example of.

Accordingly, on the 8th of January, 1795, Mr. Thomas Bradford has for
sale, “A Bone to Gnaw for the Democrats;” consisting of a review of
Callender’s book, followed by a still more daring attack upon the
democratic press and upon the numerous clubs connected with the party.

The “Bone to Gnaw” was a distinct advance upon the “Observations.”
The writer had evidently begun to discuss, and to wrangle. And the
discovery that he had the power to wield a very vigorous pen soon
brought the inclination to use it. There is a good deal of coarseness,
as we should look at it now-a-days, but that was the temper of the
times. The pamphlet raised up a host of enemies, whilst the number of
Cobbett’s admirers proportionately increased; and readers were found,
both in England and America, to give their warmest approbation.

But, among others, was “one Smith, a malignant democrat,” who had
started an “American Monthly Review.” In reviewing “A Bone to Gnaw,”
he endeavoured to weaken the writer’s nerve by attacking his grammar
and composition. To very little purpose, except to bring Mr. Cobbett
up, smiling, with a rejoinder. For, in February, was published “A Kick
for a Bite,” consisting principally of a humorous lesson in the art of
criticism, addressed to the editor of the _Review_; and in March, Part
II. of “A Bone to Gnaw for the Democrats.”

It was about this date, January or February, 1795, when some newspaper
correspondent likened the new federalist writer to a porcupine. The
idea was instantly adopted; and Cobbett announces himself to the
editor of the “American Monthly Review,” as “PETER PORCUPINE, at your
service.” Thus arose one of the most famous of pseudonyms.[11] It was a
long while before the bearer of it was generally known, _i.e._ beyond
a very small circle of acquaintances; yet it appears that the “British
Critic,” as early as Dec. 1795, had discovered the owner of the name.
But the publication of a name, pseudonymous or otherwise, furnished
as it were a handle for opponents; one insisted on calling him “Mr.
Hedgehog,” another styled him “the pork-patriot,” and so on. Beyond
the play upon words, however, and fresh showers of Billingsgate upon
the British name, there was very little talent in these early attacks
upon Mr. Cobbett. One of them, which has survived, is excessively tame,
although the writer undertakes to wring Porcupine’s nose, and humble
his vanity and presumption; and proceeds to insinuate, that he conceals
himself through fear of the horsewhip; and that he is neither more nor
less than an obscure pedagogue, whose moral rectitude would not bear
the test of scrutiny beyond the Atlantic.”[12]

“A Bone to Gnaw, Part II.,” is taken up by a denunciation of the
Society of United Irishmen, a democratic club in Dublin, which had
published an account of its proceedings; and of the acts of the
French Convention at Lyons, where unheard-of cruelties had just been
perpetrated. The following bit of humour conveys so many ideas,
illustrative of the prevailing topics of controversy, that it is worth
while reproducing here:--

    “It would have been unpardonable in a society like that of
    the _United Irishmen_, if, among their numerous addresses,
    none was to be found to the firebrand philosopher, Priestley.
    ‘Farewell,’ say they, in their consolatory address to
    him,--‘farewell, great and good man! Your change of place
    will give room for the matchless activity of your genius; and
    you will take a sublime pleasure in bestowing on Britain the
    benefit of your future discoveries.’ Every honest man ought
    to wish that this were true; for the doctor has already made
    some discoveries of the utmost importance to future chemical
    emigrants, if he could be prevailed on to publish them. He
    might let his brethren into the secret of buying land (or
    rather _rock_) at a dollar an acre, and selling it again at
    ninepence-halfpenny. This is a sort of anti-chemistry, by which
    copper is extracted from silver; and the process by which it is
    accomplished must certainly be a _desideratum_ in the learned
    world. The doctor might also favour curious foreigners with the
    feats of those American magi, vulgarly called land-surveyors,
    whose potent art levels the mountain with the valley, makes the
    rough way smooth, the crooked straight; whose creative pencil
    calls into being nodding woods and verdant lawns; and, like the
    rod of Moses, makes rivulets gush from the solid rock.

    “‘Farewell,’ continue the _United Irishmen_, ‘farewell, great
    and good man; but, before you go, we beseech a portion of your
    parting prayer’ (down upon your marrow-bones, reader) ‘for
    Archibald Hamilton Rowan, Muir, Palmer, Margarot, and Gerald,
    who are now, like you, preparing to cross the bleak ocean.
    Farewell! soon will you embrace your sons on the American
    shore, Washington will take you by the hand, and the _shade_
    of Franklin look down, with calm delight on the first statesman
    of the age, extending his protection to its first philosopher.’
    Here is certainly some mistake in the close of this farewell.
    What do they mean by the shade of Franklin looking _down_? To
    look _down_ on a person one must be in an elevated situation;
    and I fancy it is pretty generally believed, by those who
    understand the geography of the invisible world, that
    Franklin’s _shade_, as it is termed, has taken a different
    route, &c.”

Meanwhile, the ferment of the public mind over the British Treaty was
now so intensified, that the people were becoming frantic with rage.
Jay was hung in effigy, and the democratic press poured forth upon his
head an untiring volley of misrepresentation and abuse. In Virginia,
there was an open threat of secession, in case of the treaty being
ratified. At Boston, there were riots. The treaty reached America in
March, but was not presented to the Senate till early in June; but its
articles got wind, in some way or other, and were fully discussed by
the press and the radical clubs long before being entertained by the

An opportunity soon occurred, for Mr. Cobbett to produce another
apology for Anti-Gallic principles. A pamphlet appeared, in the course
of the summer, under the title of “The Letters of Franklin,” dealing
with the treaty question, in a strongly dissuasive manner.[13]

In August, therefore, Mr. Bradford had another work, at the hands of
the now-celebrated Peter Porcupine, entitled, “A Little Plain English,
addressed to the People of the United States, on the Treaty, &c., in
answer to ‘The Letters of Franklin.’” This is, in some respects, one
of the best of Cobbett’s writings. It is almost purely argumentative,
and there is a sobriety of tone, and a seriousness about its logic,
which contrast well with the humour, and even buffoonery, in which he
had previously indulged. There was less to joke about. His opponents
(and especially this “Franklin”) were becoming illogical in their rage.
Mr. Madison wanted to force all the nations of Europe, and especially
Great Britain, into the acceptance of a commercial treaty; and this
one, alas! was positively being carried through in a friendly spirit.
England was noted for her perfidy and double-dealing, and they
therefore could not make a treaty with her; but, as Mr. Cobbett pointed
out, her bad character was rather a reason for binding her hands, and
controlling her overreaching ways. And, as to the magnanimity of the
French Republic, and its desire to “protect” its sister, it was clear
that little could be hoped for on that score, seeing that she was
losing part of her own colonies and making war upon the remainder;
besides that it was notorious that French privateering was quite as
bad as English, as far as it could go, in its depredations on American
commerce. In reality, Cobbett’s aim was to deter the Americans from
a French alliance, as “Franklin’s” desire was to secure it. And
“Franklin,” so ridiculous as to urge the impeachment of the President,
for not having courted the French, and for having sent “the slave, the
coward, the traitor” Jay (of all men) as envoy to Great Britain, is
fairly, but mercilessly exposed.

“A Little Plain English” soon appeared in London, being reprinted by
Rivington, and was instantly welcomed with the applause it deserved.
It was considered to prove, to every impartial mind, that the
engagement entered into between the two countries was honourable to
both. The eloquent and sparkling language, in which his ideas were
conveyed, raised the author into the first rank of English writers.
And, on account of his loyal sentiments, with their anti-revolutionary
bias, Mr. Cobbett was declared, by people at home, to have rendered
inestimable services to his native land.

       *       *       *       *       *

The British Treaty was, however, in far greater peril than could be
averted by the soundest arguments or the warmest loyalty. Whilst
the treaty was being discussed throughout the States, an incident
occurred which eventually laid bare the real source of the danger which
threatened the amicable negotiations; that danger proved to be French

The incident alluded to was one of that class which furnish the
sensational parts of a melodrama, where a fortunate chance renders
nugatory the craftiest of plans, and buries your villain beneath the
ruin of his own devices. One Captain Goddard (the hero of the piece,
and, of course, a British Tar) has the ill-luck to fall into the
hands of a French privateer. The latter, proceeding homeward from the
American shores, and in charge of despatches from Fauchet, the French
envoy at Philadelphia, is herself obliged, in turn, to strike her
colours to a British frigate, almost within sight of home. Her captain,
pursuant to instructions, goes below to secure Fauchet’s despatches;
and, as the frigate’s boat approaches, commits the precious documents
to the waves. But there’s a British Tar aboard, who, with instinctive
readiness understanding the situation, plunges into the sea, and
secures the packet, is picked up by the boat, and checkmates “Mossoo.”
And Captain Goddard, as he stands dripping on the deck, little knows
what a prize has fallen to his turn!

For, these intercepted despatches contained highly-compromising matter.
A certain member of Washington’s administration, EDMUND RANDOLPH,[14]
Secretary of State, was a thorough-paced Radical, and an opponent of
the President’s policy. Up to the end of July, or the beginning of
August, 1795, he had led the opposition to the treaty; and, although
the Senate and the people had become not only reconciled to its
provisions, but desirous that the affair should be settled, Washington
still felt unable to conclude it, on account of the dissensions in
his Cabinet. But, on the 14th of August, Randolph being absent from
the council, the treaty was ratified. The surprise of the latter was
great, when he heard of this sudden deliberation; and, on learning
the cause, his only resource was to resign his appointment, and to go
home and consider his future. For it actually appeared, that one of the
French Minister’s letters thus intercepted described an interview with
Randolph, in which the latter, and two or three other persons, expected
pecuniary assistance in return for their support of French ascendancy.
So, when the English Embassy produced these precious documents, just
received from London, and urged the immediate ratification of the
treaty, there was only one course for Washington to pursue, viz. to
accede to the request. Mr. Randolph was in sufficient disgrace; but he
was foolish enough to make it widely known, by devoting more than a
hundred pages of octavo to full details of the circumstances which led
to his abrupt departure from office.[15] These pages were given to the
public about the middle of December; and among that eager public was
Mr. William Cobbett,--who saw his opportunity.

So, on the 1st of January, 1796, is announced “A New Year’s Gift to
the Democrats; or, Observations on a Pamphlet, entitled, ‘A Vindication
of Mr. Randolph’s Resignation,’ by Peter Porcupine;” which turns out to
be a very smart piece of writing, calculated to disturb the equanimity
of every French sympathizer in the States.

The preface to “A New Year’s Gift,” &c. is worth giving in full:--

    “The Democrats and I have long been in the friendly habit of
    making presents to each other; and, this being a season of the
    year when an interchange of civilities of this kind is more
    particularly looked for, I was just turning about me for a
    subject that might serve as some little mark of my attention,
    when the vindication of Mr. Randolph’s resignation made its
    long-looked-for appearance.

    “If the reader knows anything of the Democrats, he will allow
    that this vindication is most eminently calculated to furnish
    me with the means of making them a grateful offering: and I
    was the more anxious to be prompt in the performance of this
    duty of etiquette, as, from their present formidable situation,
    it was to be feared, that they might have the will as well as
    the power to turn their vengeance against me, in case of the
    slightest neglect.

    “When we take a view of their affairs for a year past, it is
    impossible not to perceive that they are wonderfully improved.
    They have had address sufficient to stir up the mob to burn the
    greatest part of the Federal senators in effigy; they have
    dared publickly and vilely to traduce the President of the
    United States; their own President has been elected a member of
    the legislature of Pennsylvania; the legislature of Virginia
    has declared in their favour; and a fresh importation of
    thieves and traitors from Ireland is daily expected to arrive.
    These are great and solid advantages, and when we add to them
    the ‘_precious confessions_,’ which they may, by the help of
    ‘_some thousands of dollars_,’ be able to draw from their new
    and communicative brother, we cannot help regarding their club
    as the rising sun of this country.

    “To this great luminary, then, I kneel; not to ask a boon, but
    to offer one; and such a one as I hope will be acceptable, as
    its great object is to commemorate actions flowing from the
    purest principles of democracy.”

As for the pamphlet itself, it was in Porcupine’s best style; running
through the items, _seriatim_, to which Randolph had inconsiderately
given needless publicity. Mr. Bradford himself admired it, and showed
it gleefully to his leading customers; several of whom stated that it
had been intended to answer Randolph’s “Vindication,” but that it was
now unnecessary, seeing that Peter Porcupine was in the field; also
that the officers of government were exceedingly delighted with his


[1] Matthew Carey, an Irishman, born in Dublin, 1760. At a very early
age he was prosecuted for a “libel” on the Government, and retired
to Paris for a time, where he made the acquaintance of Franklin and
Lafayette. He emigrated to Philadelphia in 1784, and in the following
year started the _Pennsylvania Herald_. In 1793 he commenced the
bookselling and printing business, which he continued prosperously
for thirty years. Carey was a public-spirited citizen of Philadelphia
for more than half a century. At his death, in his eightieth year,
his remains were followed to the grave by thousands who recollected
with gratitude his philanthropic labours. Carey’s family is still
represented among the leading Philadelphians.

[2] As Cobbett himself very correctly says, “The war once ended, and
the object of that war obtained, … the Congress became an inefficient
body, and each State, having carefully retained its independent
sovereignty, looked to its particular regulations, and its separate
interests, which were often (not to say always) opposed to the
regulations and the interests of all the other States.--“P. P. Works,”
i. 38.

[3] “Being fresh from the French Revolution, while in its first
and pure stage, and consequently whetted up in my own republican
principles, I found a state of things, in the general society of the
place (New York), which I could not have supposed possible. Being
a stranger there, I was feasted from table to table, at large set
dinners, the parties generally from twenty to thirty. The Revolution
I had left, and that we had just gone through in the recent change of
our own Government, being the common topics of conversation, I was
astonished to find the general prevalence of monarchical sentiments,
insomuch that in maintaining those of republicanism, I had always the
whole company on my hands, never scarcely finding among them a single
co-advocate in that argument, unless some old member of Congress
happened to be present. The furthest that any one would go, in support
of the Republican features of our new Government, would be to say, ‘The
present Constitution is well as a beginning, and may be allowed a fair
trial; but it is, in fact, only a stepping-stone to something better.’
Among their writers, Denny, the Editor of the _Portfolio_, who was a
kind of oracle with them, and styled the Addison of America, openly
avowed his preference of monarchy over all other forms of government,
prided himself on the avowal, and maintained it by argument freely and
without reserve, in his publications.”--T. J. to Wm. Short, Jan. 8,
1825: Jefferson’s “Writings,” vii. 390.

[4] “In the year 1794, or 5, a Mr. Rutledge, who was a judge in South
Carolina, made a speech, in which he besought his country to join
itself with the Republic of France in a mortal war against England.
‘She will,’ said he, ‘never forgive us for our success against her,
and for our having established a free constitution. Let us, therefore,
while she is down, seize her by the throat, strangle her, deliver
the world of her tyranny, and thus confer on mankind the greatest of
blessings.’ As nearly as I can recollect them, these were his very
words. I am sure that I have the ideas correct. I and many more cried
aloud against the barbarity of such sentiments. They were condemned in
speeches and pamphlets innumerable.”--“Political Register,” xxvi. 422.

[5] Edmond Charles Genest, born 1765, died 1834. He possessed
remarkable abilities from his youth, and early entered the diplomatic
service. After four years in Russia as _Chargé d’Affaires_, he was
sent to America, as related in the text; and, having been eventually
superseded, he elected to remain and become naturalized. His life was
thenceforth occupied in promoting improvements in agriculture and
in the arts and sciences. (Vide “Biog. Universelle,” also Drake’s
“American Biography.”)

[6] For full details of this curious episode, see Jefferson,
“Writings,” iv., pp. 32-46; Cobbett, “P. P. Works,” x. 101, _et seq._;
also the “Annual Register,” for 1793-94.

[7] Vide “Annual Register,” 1794, for the interesting state papers on
these topics.

[8] Mr. Jay was a genuine patriot. He was moderate in politics, but no
trimmer. After his retirement he devoted himself to questions of social
improvement, especially the abolition of slavery.

[9] For a complete analysis of the opposition views on the British
Treaty, _vide_ “Life of A. J. Dallas,” pp. 160 _et seq._ As a specimen
of the mad and vindictive feelings then current, see a letter to the
editor of the New York _Argus_, signed “An Individual,” and dated Jan.
17, 1796, in which he informs the editor that the Treaty meets with
his entire disapprobation; and continues, “I have come to a solemn
resolution, that I will not hereafter import, sell, or consume any
goods, wares, or merchandise, the produce or manufacture of Great
Britain and her dependencies. I leave others to act as they please, but
this is my firm determination with respect to myself whilst the said
Treaty continues in force.”

[10] “The Political Progress of Britain; or, An Impartial History of
Abuses in the Government of the British Empire, in Europe, Asia, and
America. From the Revolution in 1688 to the present time: the whole
tending to prove the ruinous Consequences of the popular System of
Taxation, War, and Conquest.” It was a little too violent for its
purpose; and, although it contained a good deal of truth, the tract was
malevolent and unpatriotic, and the author deserved to be prosecuted
(from a ministerial point of view).

The preface to the American edition is worth reading, as telling some
of the story of the times:--“Advertisement.--The first edition of ‘The
Political Progress of Britain’ was published at Edinburgh and London,
in autumn, 1792. The sale was lively, and the prospect of future
success flattering. The plan was, to give an impartial history of the
abuses in government, in a series of pamphlets. But, while the author
was preparing for the press a second number, along with a new edition
of the first, he was, on the 2nd of January, 1793, apprehended, and
with some difficulty made his escape. Two booksellers, who acted as
his editors, were prosecuted, and, after a very arbitrary trial, they
were condemned, the one to three months, and the other to six months of
imprisonment. A revolution will take place in Scotland before the lapse
of ten years at farthest, and most likely much sooner. The Scots nation
will then certainly think itself bound, by every tie of wisdom, of
gratitude, and of justice, to make reparation to these two honest men
for the tyranny which they have encountered in the cause of truth. In
Britain, authors and editors of pamphlets have long conducted the van
of every revolution. They compose a kind of forlorn hope on the skirts
of battle; and though they may often want experience, or influence, to
marshal the main body, they yet enjoy the honour and the danger of the
first rank, in storming the ramparts of oppression.

“The verdict of a packed jury did not alter the opinions of those who
had approved of the publications. Five times its original price hath,
since its suppression, been offered in Edinburgh for a copy. At London,
a new edition was printed by Ridgway and Symonds, two booksellers,
confined in Newgate for publishing political writings. They sell the
pamphlet, and others of the same tendency, openly in prison. It is next
to impossible for despotism to overwhelm the divine art of printing,”
&c., &c.

Mr. Callender eventually became a newspaper editor at Richmond,
Va., and distinguished himself as an uncompromising opponent of the
Federalist administrations.

[11] It cannot be said that the title of “Porcupine” was altogether
appropriate. The vulgar notion (derived from Pliny) that this harmless
animal had the power of shooting its quills at an adversary was
probably the origin of the appellation.

[12] “A Rub from Snub; or, a Cursory Analytical Epistle; addressed to
Peter Porcupine, author of the Bone to Gnaw, Kick for a Bite, &c.,
&c. Containing Glad Tidings for the Democrats, and a word of comfort
to Mrs. S. Rowson, wherein the said Porcupine’s moral, political,
critical, and literary character is fully illustrated.” (Philadelphia,
1795.) Here is a little specimen of the style:--“Nature must have
had the hysterics when you were born; mastiffs howled, and owls sang
anthems to congratulate you into existence, and your jaws must have
been furnished with indissoluble tusks expressive of the disposition
that was inspired within you.”

Mrs. Rowson was an English emigrant, who had arrived in Philadelphia
in 1793, and soon blazed forth as an actress and novelist, and enjoyed
great popularity. One of her novels is still reprinted. Cobbett had
made a review of the “roma-drama-poetic works of Mrs. S. Rowson” the
object of some humour in “A Kick for a Bite.”

[13] It does not appear to be known who was the author of these
anonymous “letters.” Cobbett charged A. J. Dallas with the authorship;
and they certainly have the same stamp as Dallas’s “Features of the
English Treaty.” But it must be left to conjecture. Cobbett gives his
reason for selecting the “Letters” to write down, out of all “the
volumes, or rather _bales_,” that had already appeared, because these
seemed to him the fairest sample of the opinions and language of the
opposers of the treaty. They had originally appeared in the _Aurora_

[14] Edmund Randolph, sometime governor of Virginia, and a very eminent
lawyer of his day. He supported the Revolution, and was disinherited
by his father for deserting the royal cause. He was Secretary of State
1794-5. Born 1753, died 1813.

[15] “A Vindication of Mr. Randolph’s Resignation.” (Philadelphia, S.
H. Smith, 1795.) Mr. Smith advertises afterwards (_Aurora_ of Feb. 17,
1796) that a copyright had been taken out for the “Vindication,” so
that as many entire copies might be diffused as possible; also to cover
the cost of printing. Also, he now gives permission to all the printers
in the United States to republish it if they like.



Mr. Thomas Bradford’s Political Book Store, No. 8, South Front
Street, is furnished with all the latest publications. The works of
Paine, Volney, Godwin and others, fill his shelves, and those of the
new Federal light enliven his counter. He is doing a roaring trade;
senators look in and gossip, and laugh over Porcupine; members from the
House of Representatives come in and flatter the writer, and want to
be blessed with a sight of him--“one wanted to treat me to a supper,
another wanted to shake hands with me, and a third wanted to embrace

But Mr. Cobbett is getting too independent. On the next proposal to
publish, he actually wants to have a voice in the matter, over some
detail; and, early in 1796, their engagements are sundered.

The plan for opening the new year was a commentary on the debates in
Congress, under the title of “The Prospect from the Congress Gallery.”
The first number appeared at the end of January. The circumstances
under which Cobbett broke off with his publisher are thus given in the
American autobiography (published in the ensuing August):

    “My concerns with Mr. Bradford closed with “The Prospect from
    the Congress Gallery;” and, as our separation has given rise
    to conjectures and reports, I shall trouble the reader with an
    explanation of the matter. I proposed making a mere collection
    of the debates, with here and there a note by way of remarks.
    It was not my intention to publish it in numbers, but at the
    end of the session, in one volume; but Mr. Bradford, fearing
    a want of success in this form, determined on publishing
    in numbers. This was without my approbation, as was also a
    subscription that was opened for the support of the work. When
    about half a Number was finished, I was informed that many
    gentlemen had expressed their desire, that the work might
    contain a good deal of original matter, and few debates. In
    consequence of this, I was requested to alter my plan; I said I
    would, but that I would by no means undertake to continue the

    “The first Number, as it was called (but not by me) was
    published, and its success led Mr. Bradford to press for a
    continuation. His son offered me, I believe, a hundred dollars
    a Number, in place of eighteen; and, I should have accepted
    his offer, had it not been for a word that escaped him during
    the conversation. He observed, that their customers would
    be much disappointed, for that, his _father had promised_ a
    continuation, and _that it should be made very interesting_.
    This slip of the tongue opened my eyes at once. What! a
    bookseller undertake to promise that I should write, and that
    I should write to please his customers too! No; if all his
    _customers_, if all the Congress with the President at their
    head, had come and solicited me; nay, had my salvation depended
    on a compliance, I would not have written another line.

    “I was fully employed at this time, having a translation on my
    hands for Mr. Moreau de St. Méry, as well as another work which
    took up a great deal of my time; so that, I believe, I should
    not have published the _Censor_ had it not been to convince the
    _customers_ of Mr. Bradford, that I was not in his pay; that I
    was not the puppet and he the showman. That, whatever merits or
    demerits my writings might have, no part of them fell to his

The “Prospect” was pretty successful; and it was resolved to continue
it occasionally. The next number was not published, however, till the
end of March; and the title was changed to “The Political Censor.” But
we now find on the title-page the name of Benjamin Davies, at No. 68,
High Street--so it appears that the dissatisfaction with Mr. Bradford
had some meaning in it. Between the first and second numbers of the
“Censor,” Peter Porcupine produced a little book on French “horrors,”
which had a great sale both in America and England, under the name of
“The Bloody Buoy, thrown out as a Warning to the Political Pilots of
all Nations: or, a faithful Relation of a Multitude of Acts of Horrid
Barbarity, such as the Eye never witnessed, the Tongue expressed,
or the Imagination conceived, until the Commencement of the French
Revolution,” &c. This was published at Davies’ Book-store, and its
announcement in the papers was probably the first intimation that Mr.
Bradford had of the impending loss of Porcupine’s custom.

The later transactions between Cobbett and Bradford are thus disposed
of in the autobiography:--

    “After the ‘Observations,’ Mr. Bradford and I published
    together no longer. When a pamphlet was ready for the press,
    we made a bargain for it, and I took his note of hand, payable
    in one, two, or three months. That the public may know exactly
    what gains I have derived from the publications that issued
    from Mr. Bradford’s, I here subjoin a list of them, and the
    sums received in payment.

                                  Dollars.  Cents.
    Observations                      0       21
    Bone to Gnaw, 1st part          125        0
    Kick for a Bite                  20        0
    Bone to Gnaw, 2nd part           40        0
    Plain English                   100        0
    New Year’s Gift                 100        0
    Prospect                         18        0
                              Total 403       21

    “The best way of giving the reader an idea of the generosity
    of my bookseller is, to tell him, that upon my going into
    business for myself, I offered to purchase the copyrights of
    these pamphlets at the same price that I had sold them at. Mr.
    Bradford refusing to sell, is a clear proof that they were
    worth more than he gave me, even after they had passed through
    several editions. Let it not be said, then, that he put a coat
    upon my back.”

Upon Mr. Bradford finding that “The Political Censor” was to be carried
on without his assistance and patronage, he wrote to Cobbett requesting
him to fulfil the contract, which, he alleged, existed between them by
the sale of the first “Prospect,” and threatened an “applycation” to
the laws of his country, &c. Mr. Cobbett, remarking on this, says,--

    “It is something truly singular, that Mr. Bradford should
    threaten me with a prosecution for not writing, just at the
    moment that others threatened me with a prosecution for
    writing. It seemed a little difficult to set both at open
    defiance, yet this was done, by continuing to write, and by
    employing another bookseller. Indeed, these booksellers in
    general are a cruel race. They imagine that the soul and body
    of every author that falls into their hands is their exclusive
    property. They have adopted the birdcatcher’s maxim: ‘A bird
    that can sing, and won’t sing, ought to be made sing.’ Whenever
    their devils are out of employment the drudging goblin of an
    author must sharpen up his pen, and never think of repose
    till he is relieved by the arrival of a more profitable job.
    Then the wretch may remain as undisturbed as a sleep-mouse in
    winter, while the stupid dolt, whom he has clad and fattened,
    receives the applause.”

An influential and respectable citizen of Philadelphia, at this period,
was Benjamin Franklin Bache;[1] a strong Democrat, and particularly
zealous on behalf of French opinions. He conducted a daily newspaper,
the _Aurora_, and kept a political book-store. The _Aurora_ was one of
the ablest and most influential journals on the American Continent;
besides being, in its general appearance, a newspaper which put to
shame even the London ones of that day. And the Editor and publisher of
the _Aurora_, in his capacity of chief-whipper-in to the Democrats of
Pennsylvania, among other matters, thought proper to allow his paper to
become the vehicle for abusing Peter Porcupine. This newspaper, having
escaped the usual fate of ephemeral publications, will furnish us with
the means of judging exactly what Peter’s opponents thought of him.

As a specimen of the opposing factions, however, we will, at present,
only refer to two New York papers.

                       _Minerva_, Jan. 15, 1796.

    “PETER PORCUPINE has given an excellent key to Mr. Randolph’s
    Vindication. Never was a present better timed, than his New
    Year’s Gift to the Democrats. Every man who has read the
    Vindication, should read Peter’s explanations and comments upon
    it, especially all _Whigs_, to whom the _Argus_ recommends the
    perusal of the Vindication. We recommend Peter’s gift to the
    Democratic Society, and trust that, at their next meeting, they
    will publish resolutions expressing their approbation of the
    work, as they have lately done with respect to the president’s
    answer to the French minister.”

                        _Argus_, Jan. 18, 1796.

    “An impartial correspondent desires us to say, that of all the
    vulgar catchpennies that ever he saw in print, the late one
    of PHINEAS PORCUPINE bears off the bell! This Porcupine or
    Hedgehog, after having fled (on account of his vile treachery
    to this his native country) for mere bread, became a garreteer
    writer for the refugees in London, and a clerk to an Old
    Bailey solicitor there; and it was through the interest of
    those refugees that this Hedgehog was returned upon us, in
    the character he now sustains! His views manifestly are to
    get himself tarred and feathered, that he may go back howling
    to England, for further promotion; but, from this hint, it
    is hoped that he will be disappointed by the democratic

Mr. Cobbett’s design of opening a shop of his own was, probably,
formed very early in this year, 1796, and it may be set down as one
result of the discovery that Bradford was making capital out of him.
The plan appears to have been delayed for some months, and it was
not until July that it was carried out. Meanwhile, several numbers
of the “Censor” appeared, at the shop of Mr. Davies, and obtained
considerable popularity. The original idea was a review of the
political transactions of the past month; with an “account of every
democratic trick, whether of native growth, or imported from abroad.”
All of which meant, a defence of Great Britain with vigorous Federal
partisanship.[2] Here is one extract from the first number, which
will illustrate one of the leading topics that occupied the public
mind. It must be recollected that the French Government were now
more anxious than ever to court American alliance, they having been
specially exasperated at the happy result of the treaty negotiations
with England. They accordingly instructed Adet, their envoy, to begin
the new year by presenting the national colours to the United States.
Washington received the attention very graciously, and informed the
minister that the colours would be deposited with the archives of the
States. But he also considered it right “to exhibit to the two houses
of Congress, these evidences of the continued friendship of the French
republic.” This was accordingly done, on the 5th of January; and here
is Porcupine’s account of the proceedings:--

    “I was rather late in my attendance in Congress this day; a
    circumstance the more distressing, as I found not only the
    gallery, but even the passage also, full of spectators.… Every
    person within the walls of this House seemed to be waiting
    for the development of some great and important mystery.
    The members were paired off, laying their heads together,
    whispering and listening with great eagerness; while the
    Speaker, seated with his chin supported between his right
    finger and thumb, and his eyes rivetted to the floor, appeared
    lost, buried alive, as it were, in profundity of thought. Never
    did wisdom appear more lovely in my eyes.… The seriousness of
    the members of the House naturally produced the most anxious
    expectation in the minds of the good citizens in my quarter.
    A thousand ridiculous inquiries were made, in the twinkling
    of an eye, which were answered by a thousand still more
    ridiculous conjectures. One said that a law was going to be
    read to oblige the Virginians to free their slaves and pay
    their just debts; but another swore that was impossible. A
    third declared a second embargo was to be laid; and a fourth
    observed that it was to hinder the cruel English from carrying
    off our poor horses, to eat them in the West Indies.… To tell
    the reader the truth of my opinion, I was afraid that some new
    confiscating or sequestrating project was on foot; and when
    Mr. Dayton, the Speaker, awoke from his reverie, and began
    to speak,--‘Lord have mercy,’ said I, ‘upon the poor British
    creditors.’ My fears on this account were soon dissipated. The
    Speaker told us that this message was of the most _solemn_ and
    _serious_ nature, and he therefore requested both the members
    of the House and the strangers in the gallery to observe the
    profoundest silence.

    “The reader will easily imagine that a warning like this
    increased the torture of suspense. It was now that we felt
    the value of the hearing faculty. I observed my neighbours
    brushing aside their matted and untutored locks, that nothing
    might impede the entrance of the glad tidings. We were, as the
    poet says, ‘all eye, all ear.’ But there was a little man down
    below, whose anxiety seemed to surpass that of all the rest.
    He crept to within a very few paces of the leeward side of the
    chair, and, turning himself sideways, lifted up the left corner
    of his wig, placing the auricular orifice open and extended,
    in a direct line with the Speaker’s mouth, so that not a
    single breath of the precious sounds could possibly escape
    him. His longing countenance seemed to say, in the language of
    his countryman, Macbeth:--‘Speak! Speak! had I three ears, by
    heaven I’d hear thee.’ …

    “All at once, as if by the power of magic, the doors flew open,
    ‘grating on their hinges harsh thunder,’ and the President’s
    secretary was introduced with an American officer bearing
    a flag, which I took to be a representation of the day of
    judgment. It had a _thunderbolt_ in the centre, with a _cock_
    perched upon it! the emblems of Almighty vengeance and of
    watchfulness. At two of the corners the _globe_ was represented
    in a flame. The staff was covered with black velvet, sad colour
    of death, and crowned with a Parisian pike,--fatal instrument,
    on which the bleeding and ghastly heads, nay, even the
    palpitating hearts of men, women, and children, have so often
    been presented to the view of the polite and humane inhabitants
    of that capital.

    “Curiosity now gave way to another passion, that of fear.
    For my part, I am not ashamed to confess, that I never was
    in such trepidation since I first saw the light of day. Nor
    were my companions in a more enviable state. I looked round,
    and beheld the affrighted group huddled up together, like a
    brood of chickens waiting the mortal grip of the voracious
    kite. In this general picture of consternation one object
    attracted particular notice. It was a democrat, who was so
    fully persuaded that the flag was the harbinger of fate, that
    he began to anticipate the torments of the world to come.
    Never did I before behold such dreadful symptoms of a guilty
    conscience. He was as white as paper, his knees knocked
    together, his teeth chattered, he wrung his hands, and rolled
    his eyes, but durst not lift them towards heaven. His voice was
    like the yell of the inhabitants of the infernal regions. ‘Oh,
    Franklin Bache! Franklin Bache! Oh! that infernal atheistical
    calendar!’ This was all we could get from him; but this was
    enough to assure me that he was one of those unhappy wretches,
    who had been led astray by the profligate correspondents of
    Mr. Bache, and by the atheistical decadery calendar; which
    that gentleman has, with so much unholy zeal, endeavoured to
    introduce amongst us, in place of the Christian one we, as yet,
    make use of.

    “My attention was called off from this terrific picture of
    despair by a voice from beneath. A tall spare man, dressed
    all in black from head to foot … was beginning, in a hollow
    voice, to read (as I expected) the decrees of fate, but to my
    agreeable surprise I found it was a decree of the National
    Convention: it was in the following words, &c.”

It was soon after this date that Cobbett made the acquaintance of
Monsieur Talleyrand. The notion that the latter was a spy, was at once
formed in Cobbett’s mind; and he long continued to have that idea, on
the ground that Talleyrand was received with open arms, very soon after
his return to France, by the very men who had proscribed him. There is
no real basis for the suspicion (which, indeed, has been entertained in
other quarters), but Mr. Cobbett gives very colourable reasons for his

    “First he set up as a _merchant and dealer_ at New York, till
    he had acquired what knowledge he thought was to be come at
    among persons engaged in mercantile affairs; then he assumed
    the character of a _gentleman_, at the same time removing to
    Philadelphia, where he got access to persons of the first
    rank,--all those who were connected with, or in the confidence
    of, the Government. Some months after his arrival in this city,
    he left a message with a friend of his, requesting me to meet
    him at that friend’s house. Several days passed away before the
    meeting took place. I had no business to call me that way,
    and therefore I did not go. At last this modern Judas and I
    got seated by the same fireside. I expected that he wanted to
    expostulate with me on the severe treatment he had met with
    at my hands. I had called him an apostate, a hypocrite, and
    every other name of which he was deserving; I therefore leave
    the reader to imagine my astonishment, when I heard him begin
    with complimenting me on my _wit_ and _learning_. He praised
    several of my pamphlets, the ‘New Year’s Gift’ in particular,
    and still spoke of them as mine. I did not acknowledge myself
    the author, of course; but yet he would insist that I was; or,
    at any rate, they reflected, he said, _infinite honour_ on the
    author, let him be who he might. Having carried this species
    of flattery as far as he judged it safe, he asked me, with a
    vast deal of apparent seriousness, whether I had received my
    education at _Oxford_ or at _Cambridge_! Hitherto I had kept
    my countenance pretty well; but this abominable stretch of
    hypocrisy, and the placid mien and silver accent with which it
    was pronounced, would have forced a laugh from a quaker in the
    midst of meeting. I don’t recollect what reply I made him, but
    this I recollect well, I gave him to understand that I was no
    trout, and consequently was not to be caught by tickling.

    “This information led him to something more solid. He began
    to talk about _business_. I was no _flour merchant_,[3] but
    I taught English; and, as luck would have it, this was the
    very commodity that Bishop Perigord wanted. If I had taught
    Thornton’s or Webster’s language,[4] or sold sand or ashes, or
    pepper-pot, it would have been just the same to him. He knew
    the English language as well as I did; but he wanted to have
    dealings with me in some way or other.

    “I knew that, notwithstanding his being proscribed at Paris, he
    was extremely intimate with Adet; and this circumstance led me
    to suspect his real business in the United States. I therefore
    did not care to take him as a scholar. I told him that being
    engaged in a translation for the press, I could not possibly
    quit home. This difficulty the lame fiend hopped over in a
    moment. He would very gladly come to my house. I cannot say
    but it would have been a great satisfaction to me to have seen
    the _ci-devant_ Bishop of Autun, the guardian of the holy oil
    that anointed the heads of the descendants of St. Louis, come
    trudging through the dirt to receive a lesson from me; but, on
    the other hand, I did not want a French spy to take a survey
    either of my desk or my house. My price for teaching was six
    dollars a month; he offered me _twenty_, but I refused; and
    before I left him, I gave him clearly to understand that I was
    not to be purchased.”

Preparations were now being made for opening the bookselling business;
and after midsummer the house was ready. The shop was opened on the
11th of July, and Mr. Cobbett took advantage of the opportunity thus
furnished to make a grand demonstration. The account of this new start
in life is better told in his own words:--

    “Till I took this house I had remained almost entirely unknown
    as a writer. A few persons did indeed know that I was the
    person who had assumed the name of Peter Porcupine; but the
    fact was by no means a matter of notoriety. The moment,
    however, that I had taken the lease of a large house, the
    transaction became a topic of public conversation, and the eyes
    of the Democrats and the French, who still lorded it over the
    city, and who owed me a mutual grudge, were fixed upon me.

    “I thought my situation somewhat perilous. Such truths as I
    had published, no man had dared to utter in the United States
    since the rebellion. I knew that these truths had mortally
    offended the leading men amongst the Democrats, who could, at
    any time, muster a mob quite sufficient to destroy my house,
    and to murder me. I had not a friend to whom I could look
    with any reasonable hope of receiving efficient support; and
    as to the law, I had seen too much of republican justice to
    expect anything but persecution from that quarter. In short,
    there were in Philadelphia about ten thousand persons, all of
    whom would have rejoiced to see me murdered; and there might
    probably be two thousand who would have been very sorry for it;
    but not above fifty of whom would have stirred an inch to save

    “I saw the danger, but also saw that I must at once set all
    danger at defiance, or live in everlasting subjection to the
    prejudices and caprice of the democratical mob. I resolved on
    the former, and as my shop was to open on a Monday morning, I
    employed myself all day on Sunday in preparing an exhibition
    that I thought would put the courage and the power of my
    enemies to the test. I put up in my windows, which were very
    large, all the portraits that I had in my possession of kings,
    queens, princes, and nobles. I had all the English ministry,
    several of the bishops and judges, the most famous admirals,
    and, in short, every picture that I thought likely to excite
    rage in the enemies of Great Britain.

    “Early on the Monday morning I took down my shutters. Such a
    sight had not been seen in Philadelphia for twenty years. Never
    since the beginning of the rebellion had any one dared to hoist
    at his window the portrait of George the Third.…

    “I had put up a representation of Lord Howe’s victory in a leaf
    of the ‘European Magazine;’ but a bookseller with whom I was
    acquainted, and who came to see how I stood it, whispered me,
    while the rabble were gazing and growling at my door, that he
    had two large representations of the same action. They were
    about four feet long and two wide: the things which are hawked
    about and sold at the farm-houses in England.… The letters were
    large; the mob, ten or twenty deep, could read, and they did
    FLEET;’ and, therefore, though the price was augmented from
    sixpence to two dollars each, I purchased them, and put one up
    at the window.… The other I sold to two Englishmen, who were
    amongst the numbers that went to America about the years 1794
    and 1795, misled by the representations of Paine and others,
    and being, as they frankly acknowledged to me, enemies of
    their country when they left it. They had mixed amongst the
    crowd, had taken the part of their country, and had proposed
    to maintain their words with their fists. After the quarrel
    had in some degree subsided, they, partly, perhaps, by way of
    defiance, came into the shop to purchase each of them a picture
    of Lord Howe and his victory. Finding that I had but one for
    sale, they would have purchased that; but as it amounted to
    more money than both of them were possessed of, they went and,
    in their phrase, which I shall never forget, _kicked their
    master_,--that is to say, got money in advance upon their
    labour.… Having thus obtained the two dollars, each of them
    took an end of the print in his hand, displayed it, and thus
    carried it away through the mob, who, though they still cursed,
    could not help giving signs of admiration.”

The result of all this was just what was to be expected. Threats of
personal violence, with plenty of abuse in the newspapers, at once
ensued. On the 16th of July, Cobbett’s landlord, John Oldden, received
a threatening letter, to the effect that that “daring scoundrell,” his
tenant, was about to be punished; and with a view of preventing Mr.
Oldden’s feeling the blow designed for Porcupine, his correspondent
addresses him; as, when the time of retribution arrives, “it may not be
convenient to discriminate between the innocent and the guilty,” and
his property may suffer. As a friend, therefore, he advises him to save
his property by either compelling Mr. Porcupine to leave his house, or
at all events oblige him “to cease exposing his abominable productions
or any of his courtly prints at his window for sale.” On the same day,
a correspondent of the _Aurora_ informs the readers of that paper that
the “hireling writer of the British Government” has just refused to pay
his taxes, and was behaving very saucily; until the tax-collector began
to bully him, and call him a d----d rascal, and threaten to break every
bone in his skin. At which display of spirit, Peter was cooled, &c.

In vain all this. Before the week is out, all this is brought before
the Philadelphia public. A pamphlet appears on the 22nd, entitled “The
Scare-Crow; being an infamous letter, &c., with remarks on the same,”
in which Mr. Cobbett makes fun of the affair, has another fling at the
French and the Democrats, and announces that his taxes are paid up to
January, 1797.

The charge of being in British pay had now been cropping up for some
time, and it was necessary to take some notice of it, if only for the
sake of British credit. At length, a very abusive paragraph having
appeared in the _Aurora_ about this time, presuming to identify the
agent who was supplying Peter with the gold of Pitt, the matter became
imperative. Accordingly, Cobbett took the opportunity of publishing the
history of his life;[5]--a thing which he says he had determined to do,
whenever a fair occasion offered.

The communication to the _Aurora_ newspaper stated, among other
things, that Porcupine had been “obliged to abscond from his
darling old England to avoid being turned off into the other world
before his time;” that his usual occupation at home was that of a
“garret-scribbler” (excepting a little “night-business” occasionally,
to supply unavoidable contingencies); and that he had to take French
leave for France; that he was obliged as suddenly to leave that
Republic, and figured some time in America as a pedagogue; “but as this
employment scarcely furnished him salt to his porridge, he having been
literally without hardly bread to eat, and not a second shirt to his
back, he resumed his old occupation of scribbling, having little chance
of success in the _other employments_ which drove him to this country.”
He is a fugitive felon; but his sudden change of condition shows that
secret-service money has been liberally employed; “for his zeal to make
atonement to his mother country seems proportioned to the magnitude of
his offence, and the guineas advanced.” And so on.

The first announcement of “The Life and Adventures of Peter Porcupine”
appears in the _Gazette of the United States_[6] of the 9th August;
and its publication was the signal for a fresh outburst of spleen on
the part of Peter’s opponents. And no wonder; for, as a mixture of
artlessness and cool impudence, the “Life and Adventures” has seldom
been equalled. Gaily daring, he begs his opponents to come on, and
fire away at his reputation “till their old pens are worn to the
stump,” and expresses his extreme sorrow that lies and threats will be
all in vain, for he is “one of those whose obstinacy increases with
opposition.” In point of fact, Peter was just now somewhat intoxicated
with success. The applause of friends, and of that large class in every
community that is ready to worship successful impudence--along with
the virulence of his opponents, and the consciousness of honourable
and patriotic motives--had their natural results in the mind of an
ardent and earnest man who has recently emerged from obscurity,
and who has suddenly learnt how easy it is to become famous--in a
country, too, where a spade might be called a spade without fear of an
Attorney-General--in a land where existed (at that period) the only
semblance of liberty in the whole world.

And, as it turned out, years after, this daring “scoundrell” was the
only man found worthy--because the only one with pluck enough--to do
good work when he got face to face with his country’s enemies at home.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Cobbett’s reply to the charge of being in the pay of the British
Government was easy enough:--

    “It is hard to prove a negative; it is what no man is expected
    to do; yet I think I can prove that the accusation of my being
    in British pay is not supported by one single fact, or the
    least shadow of probability.

    “When a foreign Government hires a writer, it takes care that
    his labours shall be distributed, whether the readers are all
    willing to pay for them or not. This we daily see verified
    in the distribution of certain blasphemous gazettes, which,
    though kicked from the door with disdain, fly in at the window.
    Now, has this ever been the case with the works of Peter
    Porcupine? Were they ever thrusted upon people in spite of
    their remonstrances? Can Mr. Bradford say that thousands of
    these pamphlets have ever been paid for by any agent of Great
    Britain? Can he say that I have ever distributed any of them?
    No; he can say no such thing. They had, at first, to encounter
    every difficulty, and they have made their way supported by
    public approbation, and by that alone. Mr. Bradford, if he
    is candid enough to repeat what he told me, will say that
    the British Consul, when he purchased half a dozen of them,
    insisted upon having them _at the wholesale price_! Did this
    look like a desire to encourage them? Besides, those who know
    anything of Mr. Bradford will never believe that he would have
    lent his aid to a British agent’s publications; for, of all the
    Americans I have yet conversed with, he seems to entertain the
    greatest degree of rancour against that nation.

    “I have every reason to believe that the British Consul was far
    from approving of some at least of my publications. I happened
    to be in a bookseller’s shop, unseen by him, when he had the
    goodness to say that I was a ‘_wild fellow_.’ On which I shall
    only observe, that when the king bestows on me about five
    hundred pounds sterling a year, perhaps I may become a _tame
    fellow_, and hear my master, my countrymen, my friends, and my
    parents, belied and execrated, without saying one single word
    in their defence.

    “Had the Minister of Great Britain employed me to write, can
    it be supposed that he would not furnish me with the means of
    living well, without becoming the retailer of my own works?
    Can it be supposed that he would have suffered me ever to
    have appeared on the scene? It must be a very poor king that
    he serves, if he could not afford me more than I can get by
    keeping a book-shop. An ambassador from a king of the gipsies
    could not have acted a meaner part. What! where was all the
    ‘gold of Pitt’? That gold which tempted, according to the
    Democrats, an American envoy to sell his country and two-thirds
    of the Senate to ratify the bargain--that gold which, according
    to the Convention of France, has made one half of that nation
    cut the throats of the other half--that potent gold could not
    keep Peter Porcupine from standing behind a counter to sell a
    pen-knife or a quire of paper.

    “Must it not be evident, too, that the keeping of a shop would
    take up a great part of my time--time that was hardly worth
    paying for at all, if it was not of higher value than the
    profits on a few pamphlets? Every one knows that the ‘Censor’
    has been delayed on account of my entering into business; would
    the Minister of Great Britain have suffered this, had I been
    in his pay? No; I repeat that it is downright stupidity to
    suppose that he would ever have suffered me to appear at all,
    had he even felt in the least interested in the fate of my
    works, or the effect they might produce. He must be sensible
    that, seeing the unconquerable prejudices existing in this
    country, my being known to be an Englishman would operate
    weightily against whatever I might advance. I saw this very
    plainly myself; but, as I had a living to get, and as I had
    determined on this line of business, such a consideration
    was not to awe me into idleness, or make me forego any other
    advantages that I had reason to hope I should enjoy.

    “The notion of my being in British pay arose from my having now
    and then taken upon me to attempt a defence of the character of
    that nation, and of the intentions of its Government towards
    the United States. But have I ever teazed my readers with this,
    except when the subject necessarily demanded it? And if I have
    given way to my indignation when a hypocritical political
    divine attempted to degrade my country, or when its vile
    calumniators called it ‘an insular Bastile,’ what have I done
    more than every good man in my place would have done? What have
    I done more than my duty--than obeyed the feelings of my heart?
    When a man hears his country reviled, does it require that he
    should be paid for speaking in its defence?

    “Besides, had my works been intended to introduce British
    influence, they would have assumed a more conciliating tone.
    The author would have flattered the people of this country,
    even in their excesses; he would have endeavoured to gain over
    the enemies of Britain by smooth and soothing language; he
    would ‘have stooped to conquer;’ he would not, as I have done,
    have rendered them hatred for hatred, and scorn for scorn.

    “My writings, the first pamphlet excepted, have had no other
    object than that of keeping alive an attachment to the
    Constitution of the United States and the inestimable man who
    is at the head of the Government, and to paint in their true
    colours those who are the enemies of both; to warn the people,
    of all ranks and descriptions, of the danger of admitting among
    them the anarchical and blasphemous principles of the French
    revolutionists--principles as opposite to those of liberty
    as hell is to heaven. If, therefore, I have written at the
    instance of a British agent, that agent must most certainly
    deserve the thanks of all the real friends of America. But, say
    some of the half Democrats, what right have you to meddle with
    the defence of our Government at all?--The same right that you
    have to exact my obedience to it, and my contributions towards
    its support.”

It does not appear that Porcupine had the battle entirely on his own
hands. Mr. Fenno’s _Gazette_ occasionally ventured into the arena;
and the presidential following was still strong, even in democratic
Philadelphia. Still, Peter seems to have borne the brunt of it for a
few months, before others dared to follow. That others did, after a
time, he expressly states. But the position he occupied, in the public
mind, for a short period in 1796, is almost unexampled. Scarcely a
week passed, in the months of August and September, without some new
attack upon him, on the part of the _Aurora_ newspaper;[7] and there
is one day in September upon which that great “public instructor”
had two anti-Porcupine paragraphs, and several advertisements of such
productions as these:

    “A Pill for Porcupine; being a specific for an obstinate
    itching, which that hireling has long contracted for lying and
    calumny, containing a vindication of the American, French, and
    Irish characters, against his scurrilities.”

    “Porcupine, a print; to be had at Moreau de St. Méry’s

    “The Blue Shop, or Impartial and Humourous Observations on the
    Life and Adventures of Peter Porcupine; with the real motives
    which gave rise to his abuse of our distinguished patriotic
    characters; together with a full and fair view of his late
    Scare-Crow. [Illustration] This is interesting to all parties.”

    “The Impostor Detected, or a review of some of the writings of
    Peter Porcupine. By Timothy Tickletoby.

        “‘He is a monster of such horrid mien,
          As to be hated needs but to be seen.’--_Pope._”

    “This day is published, price one quarter of a dollar,
    embellished with a curious frontispiece,--

    “The Adventures of Peter Porcupine, or the Villain Unmasked;
    being the Memoirs of a notorious Rogue lately in the British
    Army, and _ci-devant_ member of an extensive _light-fingered_
    association in England. Containing a narrative of the most
    extraordinary and unexampled depravity of conduct perhaps ever
    exhibited to the world, in a letter to a young gentleman in New

        “‘These things are strange, but not more strange than true.’

    “To which is added a postscript to Peter Porcupine, being
    remarks on a pamphlet lately published by him, entitled his
    ‘Life and Adventures.’ By Daniel Detector.

        “‘I’ll tell the bold-faced villain that he lies.’

    “[Illustration] As this pamphlet was _hurried_ through the
    press, several mistakes were unavoidable: particularly, in the
    first three hundred which were sold, the word England instead
    of France appeared in the first line of the paragraph beginning
    in the forty-fifth page.”

Mr. Bradford was the publisher (if not the author) of one of these,
viz., “The Impostor Detected;” and it seems that Cobbett had, when
“The Bone to Gnaw, part ii.” appeared, written a letter to the editor
of the _Aurora_ (as an indirect puff), running down the pamphlet. But
Mr. Bradford omitted to state that the bookseller had instigated the
author. Cobbett, however, acknowledges the fact, in the “Political
Censor” for September; and, after duly spitting Mr. Bradford for the
breach of confidence, proceeds to justify the “puff indirect” by
appealing to precedents, instancing Addison and Pope as persons who had
done that sort of thing.

Here is a bit on the Porcupine side, from Mr. Fenno’s _Gazette_:--

    “The enemies of the President of the United States, and of the
    Federal Government, pretend to be affronted that a man born in
    England should presume to say a civil thing of the character of
    George Washington. The consistency of this will appear when the
    public are assured that very few of the abusive scribblers who
    slander his reputation have one drop of American blood in their

Which of course brings up the _Aurora_, the editor of which is desirous
of assuring the public that his contributors are all native Americans.

But this is, perhaps, enough for our purpose, in showing the
acrimonious feelings which existed at the period. Suffice it to say
that any person who defended George Washington was certain of getting
the foulest abuse from his opponents; whilst the idea of a discharged
British non-commissioned officer entering the lists was not to be
borne. As one correspondent of the democratic newspaper said, “While
I am a friend to the unlimited freedom of the press, when exercised
by _an American_, I am an implacable foe to its prostitution to a
_foreigner_, and would at any time assist in hunting out of society
any meddling foreigner who should dare to interfere in our politics.”
These writers, however, did not allow their principles to govern them
so far, that they could deny themselves the duty of interfering in
foreign politics, especially those of England. Rounds of abuse follow,
from day to day, upon everything that is not revolutionary and
anti-monarchical. As for Mr. Pitt’s new notion of uniting Ireland with
Great Britain, a more “atrocious and diabolical project” never entered
the mind of man.

Peter Porcupine, however, stands all this with calm audacity. The
advertisements of his new business appear in the _Gazette of the United
States_; and he announces,--among “New Drawing Books from the Best
Masters,” Watson’s “Apology for the Bible,” &c.,--“The Blue Shop,”
“The Impostor Detected;” besides a full supply of all “the Grub-street
pamphlets vomited forth from the lungs of filth and falsehood against
Peter Porcupine.” And this game was carried on, more or less, for
a month or two longer; but its very violence was fatal to its
continuance, and the combatants seemed to get weary of throwing so much
dirt at each other. At the end of September, the “Political Censor,”
No. 5, was devoted, partly, to a review of some of the anonymous
pamphlets[8] against Porcupine, and to a brisk rejoinder to the
misrepresentations of Bradford and his son, relative to his pecuniary
transactions with Cobbett. The number concluded as follows:--

    “I now take leave of the Bradfords, and of all those who have
    written against me. People’s opinions must now be made up
    concerning them and me. Those who still believe the lies that
    have been vomited forth against me are either too stupid or too
    perverse to merit further attention. I will, therefore, never
    write another word in reply to anything that is published
    about myself. Bark away, hell-hounds, till you are suffocated
    in your own foam! Your labours are preserved, bound up together
    in a piece of bear-skin with the hair on, and nailed up to a
    post in my shop, where whoever pleases may read them gratis.”

Besides, other matters wanted attention: the French Embassy was again
becoming a disturbing factor, and Washington had announced that he
should retire from public life at the approaching close of his second
term of office.


[1] His father, Richard Bache, was a zealous revolutionist who had
emigrated from Settle, in Yorkshire, and settled in America as a
merchant. He married Sarah Franklin, and succeeded her distinguished
father as Postmaster-General of the United States. Died at Settle,
Penn., in 1811. Sarah Franklin Bache was long remembered for her
patriotic services during the revolutionary war. Their son, Benjamin
Franklin Bache, accompanied his grandfather to Paris, gained a
knowledge of printing at Didot’s, and returned to America in 1785.
Five years later, he started the _General Advertizer_, subsequently
called the _Aurora_, which paper exercised considerable influence in
opposition to the administration of Washington and Adams. Born 1769,
died 1798, of the fever which was then devastating the city.

[2] “The _Censor_, a work by Peter Porcupine, administers his monthly
correction to our disorganizers. The author is said to be an Englishman
who has kept a school in this city.”--Letter from C. Goodrich to Oliver
Wolcott, printed in “Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and
Adams,” by O. W.

[3] Certain mysterious flour-contractors are heard of in Randolph’s
“Vindication,” and Porcupine used the term afterwards to signify
persons who could take French money.

[4] Thornton’s language--this is an allusion to a prize dissertation
on written and printed language, by one Wm. Thornton, M.D. It was
published in Philadelphia in 1793, and introduced some new symbols.
Cobbett’s objection to it was, that it was an attempt to make an
_American_ language, as an improvement on English. For the curious in
such matters, the title of the Essay is “Cadmus; or, a Treatise on the
Elements of Written Language,” &c.

Noah Webster, long before the great Dictionary made him famous, had
written “Dissertations on the English Language” (1789), which included
an Essay on Spelling Reform, a capital advantage of which reform would
be the “making a difference between English and American orthography.”
(_Vide_ Allibone; also Duyckinck’s “Cyclo. Amer. Lit.”)

[5] This is the short autobiography from which some of the preceding
information as to Cobbett’s early life has been derived:--“The Life and
Adventures of Peter Porcupine.” [Philadelphia, 1796.]

[6] A Federalist evening paper, edited by John Fenno. This newspaper
was not so distinctively political as the _Aurora_; it dealt much more
with mercantile affairs.

[7] The reader will be entertained, no doubt, by a specimen or two:--

    “An outcast e’en in hell, and order’d thence,
      The skulking Peter hides,” &c.

“Mr. Bache,--You will excuse me for expressing my regret on seeing a
character who styles himself Peter Porcupine so often noticed in your
paper. What have the people of the United States to do with this man?…
What importance can a British sergeant-major acquire in this country
by traducing the heroes and counsellors of our late revolution?… His
pamphlets are a libel upon common decency and common sense.… Is such a
man worthy of being noticed in your paper, Mr. Bache? The best and only
way would be to treat him with a silent contempt.”

“Anecdote of Peter Porcupine.--The British renegado was met one day by
a French gentleman, who asked him if he was not Peter Porcupine. The
question disordered the nerves of this assassin exceedingly, and with
trembling accent he declared he was not. The French gentleman told
him he doubted him; however, said he, ‘I will whip you, and you whip
Peter Porcupine;’ and he horsewhipped him severely. This must have been
trifling as to its effect upon Peter’s back, who had been used to a
cat-o’-nine-tails when he served in the ranks in the British army, and
before he deserted, &c.”

“Such a contemptible wretch as Peter Porcupine, who never gave any
specimen of _his_ philosophy, but in bearing with Christian patience a
severe whipping at the public post, &c.”

“The infamous Peter Porcupine, whose life has been one continued series
of disgraceful crimes.”

But the most outrageous piece of “sarcasm” was this: the _Aurora_
of Sept. 13th inserted a pretended communication from Cobbett, in
the following terms:--“Whereas it has been falsely asserted in the
_Aurora_ that I had suffered the lash for certain misdemeanours, I beg
leave, through the same channel, to deny the assertion, and to invite
those who may still be tempted to place confidence in the calumnies
of my enemies to favour me with a visit at any time between nine in
the morning and one in the afternoon, or from three to six in the
evening, when I shall be able to afford them _ocular demonstration_
that the charge is unfounded, and to prove Mr. Bache’s correspondent _a
liar_.--(Signed) P. Porcupine.” The next evening, in Fenno’s _Gazette_,
appears the following, evidently to show merely that Cobbett has seen
the above, and affects contempt for it:--“Mr. Fenno,--I see that poor
Richard’s grandchild published a notice yesterday morning, signed Peter
Porcupine. Pray, sir, inform your readers that this wayward splinter
from old lightning-rod never published an advertisement for me, and
never will.--I am, &c., Peter Porcupine.” Mr. Bache, however, thinks
he has started too good a joke, and proceeds, in his paper of the
16th, to inform his readers that “Peter Porcupine’s levée yesterday
and the day before, it is said, was more crowded than that of the
President’s generally is. All his visitors, however, are not satisfied
with the proofs he has exhibited of his never having been scourged
_à la militaire_; some indeed appear to be fully convinced that his
skin is absolutely whole. Some pretend to have perceived on his back
slight transversal marks, which they think resemble old scars; but he
assures that, if any such are to be observed, they must have been the
effects of the trifling flagellation he received in this city from
the Frenchman. His considering that accident as a trifle strengthens
the belief that he speaks from experience and by comparison. Others
of his visitors cannot see the marks observed by the first; but, in
the stubborn spirit of determined unbelievers, declare that they have
heard of a chemical preparation which, by persevering application,
will remove the largest scars, and they maliciously surmise that Peter
Porcupine must be in possession of the secret.”

[8] For the use of any possible bibliographer, it may be well to name
other squibs which appeared, besides those already enumerated:--

“The History of a Porcupine.”

“The Little Innocent Porcupine Hornet’s Nest.”

“The Last Confession and Dying Speech of Peter Porcupine, with an
Account of his Dissection.”

“A Roaster; or, A Check to Political Blasphemy: intended as a Brief
Reply to Peter Porcupine, alias Billy Cobbler. By Sim Sansculotte.”

“The Political Massacre; or, Unexpected Observations on the Writings
of our present Scribblers. By James Quicksilver, Author of the ‘Blue

“British Honour and Humanity; or, American Patience, as exemplified
in the Modest Publications, and Universal Applause, of Mr. William
Cobbett, &c., &c. By a Friend to Regular Government.”

On the other side we find,--

“Tit for Tat; or, A Purge for a Pill. Being an Answer to a scurrilous
pamphlet lately published, entitled ‘A Pill for Porcupine,’ &c.”

There was also a temperate answer to “The Bloody Buoy:--“Reflections
on French Atheism and on English Christianity. By William Richards,
A.M., Member of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of

Besides the straight hits above-mentioned, Mr. Cobbett complains
(_Porcupine’s Gazette_, 7th March, 1797) of an attack on Christianity
which had been published some months before, entitled “Christianity
contrasted with Deism. By Peter Porcupine;” the thing being no work of
his, and his assumed name being placed on the title-page, either to
discredit his own performances, or for the more innocent purpose of
promoting the sale of the work.



The popular clamour against the Government of Great Britain was now
at its height. The very name of England was such a by-word, that even
immigrants learnt to evade a direct confession that that was their
native land,--unless it so happened that the vengeful Pitt, by the
advice and verdict of twelve good men and true, had been the cause
of expatriation. The marble statue of Chatham had been hanged and
afterwards beheaded, and the effigies of King George II. had been
solemnly desecrated. The name of George III. was seldom heard in
Philadelphia without being graced by some contumelious epithet.

But there were not wanting signs, at the close of the year 1796,
that the tide was turning in favour of reconciliation with the old
country. The insolence of each successive French envoy was becoming
too apparent--too ridiculous--for any but the blindest partisans to
overlook; and the present representative of the French Convention,
Adet, having announced that the Directory were highly incensed at the
ratification of the British treaty, many reflecting Americans began to
consider that “fraternity” was one of those good things of which they
might have, on occasion, too much. The best of it was, that French
privateering did quite as much harm as English, whilst the American
prize-courts persisted in dealing fairly and impartially with all cases
brought to their knowledge, irrespective of nationality.

A certain estrangement naturally grew between the two republics, and
the high-toned conduct of Adet--more like that of a spoiled child than
anything worthy of his dignified office--was highly characteristic
of the then rulers of the French nation. The American administration
was first startled by reading, in the newspaper, a note from the
French Convention which had not yet been submitted to the Secretary of
State--a document which, indeed, it was in their discretion to publish
at all. The ground of complaint being the new position of English and
American merchant-vessels flowing from the new treaty, the answer of
the Secretary of State was by no means conciliatory. After a few days’
consideration, therefore, Mons. Adet informed the American Government
(and the public by means of an advertisement[1] in the _Aurora_!) that
he “suspends himself from his functions” as minister-plenipotentiary
of the French Republic. This measure, he subsequently adds, is “not to
be considered in the light of a rupture, but as a mark of the sense
of injury” felt by the Convention … “which is to last until they can
obtain satisfaction.”

Now, a jealousy of British supremacy, and a watchful eye upon the
dealings of that perfidious nation, were a very proper state of
consciousness for a patriotic Frenchman; but the attempt to enforce,
time after time, French dictation, was quite another thing. And
when, a few months after, the fact came out that three American
envoys to Paris were refused the usual diplomatic courtesies, because
they refused to pledge the present of a large sum of money to the
impecunious Directory, it is no wonder that coolness and indifference
began to spread, on the part of Americans generally, toward the sister
Republic.[2] In the course of two or three years, contrariwise,
England began to occupy that place in the hearts of the American people
from which she had been excluded for a quarter of a century.

There were many circumstances which contributed to heal the differences
between the two countries; but the failure of French intrigue, and
the steady consistency of the Federalist statesmen, were the leading
factors. It is clear that Washington had great suspicion of the
motives of France, and was anxious to control the tendency of many
of his fellow-citizens to be led away by the delusive fancies of
that regenerated country. His farewell address to the people of the
United States (one of the noblest papers of the kind ever penned)
counsels them to steer clear of permanent alliances with other nations,
especially with those of Europe, as their interests could have but a
remote relation one with another. He adds,--

    “Foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of
    republican government.… Excessive partiality for one foreign
    nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom
    they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to
    veil and even to second the arts of influence on the other.
    Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favourite,
    are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools
    and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to
    surrender their interests.”[3]

So, from this period, the Federal press began to gain upon its
opponents, and one of its acknowledged leaders was Mr. William Cobbett.

       *       *       *       *       *

The “Political Censor” was continued to the eighth number, being
published monthly, excepting when interrupted by a pamphlet with some
distinctive aim. One of these latter was a collection of Adet’s notes
and proclamations above alluded to, under the title of “The Diplomatic
Blunderbuss.” The “Censor,” besides a running commentary on the debates
in Congress, was occupied by violent attacks on Tom Paine (including a
reproduction of George Chalmers’s biography of that worthy), and upon
the French sympathizers; one whole number being devoted to “Remarks on
the Blunderbuss.”

But the tardy publication of a monthly protest against his opponents
was not enough for the now full-fledged powers of Peter Porcupine.
He feels his feet: he knows his strength. Friends and admirers are
flocking to his shop, urging him to the fray.

The political part of the daily press which possessed the best literary
talent was, in Philadelphia, mainly on the side of the Democrats;
whilst many Englishmen were there, disinclined to be known as such, and
none daring (except this “daring scoundrell”) to utter a word in public
in defence of his native country. There must, therefore, be a daily
Federal paper, of most distinctive principles, established in the camp.

Accordingly, an announcement appears, in Mr. Fenno’s _Gazette_ of the
1st of February, 1797, as follows:--

    “Proposals by William Cobbett, opposite Christ Church,
    Philadelphia, for publishing a newspaper, to be entitled,--


    “Methinks I hear the reader exclaim: ‘What! have we not
    gazettes enough already?’ Yes, and far too many; but those that
    we have are, in general, conducted in such a manner that their
    great number, instead of rendering mine unnecessary, is the
    only cause that calls for its establishment.

    “The gazettes in this country have done it more real injury
    than all its enemies ever did, or can do. They mislead the
    people at home, and misrepresent them abroad. It was these
    vehicles of sedition and discord that encouraged the counties
    in the west to rebel; it was they that gave rise to the
    depredations of Britain, by exciting the people to such acts of
    violence against that nation as left no room to doubt that we
    were determined on war; and it was they, when an accommodation
    had been happily effected, that stirred up an opposition to it
    such as has seldom been witnessed, and which was overcome by
    mere chance. These gazettes it was that, by misrepresenting the
    dispositions of the people, encouraged the French to proceed
    from one degree of insolence to another, till at last their
    minister braves the President in his chair, and a bullying
    commander comes and tells us that his only business is to seize
    our vessels, in violation of a treaty, in virtue of which alone
    he claims a right to enter our ports: and it is these gazettes
    that now have the impudence to defend what their falsehood and
    malice have produced.

    “I shall be told that the people are to blame; that they are
    not obliged to read these abominable publications. But they
    _do_ read them; and thousands who read them read nothing else.
    To suppress them is impossible; they will vomit forth their
    poison; it is a privilege of their natures that no law can
    abridge, and therefore the only mode left is to counteract its

    “This must be done, too, in their own way. Books, or periodical
    publications in the form of books, may be of some service, but
    are by no means a match for their flying folios. A falsehood
    that remains uncontradicted for a month begins to be looked
    upon as a truth, and when the detection at last makes its
    appearance, it is often as useless as that of the doctor who
    finds his patient expired. The only method of opposition,
    then, is to meet them on their own ground; to set foot to foot;
    dispute every inch and every hair’s breadth; fight them at
    their own weapons, and return them two blows for one.

    “A gazette of this stamp is what I have long wished to see,
    but I have wished and expected it in vain. Indignation at
    the supineness of others has at last got the better of all
    diffidence in my own capacity, and has determined me to
    encounter the task. People have heard one side long enough;
    they shall now hear the other.”

Then follow the conditions of publication, subscription, &c. Sufficient
support was given to the project to enable the publisher to issue the
first number on the 5th of March; indeed, there were more than one
thousand subscribers’ names on his books by that date.

John Adams had just succeeded to the Presidential chair, and Mr.
Cobbett determined that his paper should be the means by which all the
assistance in his power might be rendered to the new administration. It
was to be a rallying-point for the friends of Government. The editor’s
introductory address announced that he was not going to be a mere
newsmonger; although he certainly expected, from the encouragement
he had received, to be behind no other in the early possession of
intelligence, whether home or foreign. It was to be an unmistakably
partisan paper, and to be at the service of all correspondents who were
disposed to assist him.

_Porcupine’s Gazette_ had a course of nearly three years. It was
consistent in its principles from beginning to end of its career,
but it was violent toward its adversaries--too violent, in point of
fact, for many of Peter’s friends; and there were some, indeed, who
believed him to be really hostile to American politics altogether--many
considered him a dangerous ally; and, in those days of terrible
political animosity, a friend might be turned into a foe at a moment’s

In truth, Mr. Cobbett’s determination was to take the side of England,
whatever happened, in all the international questions which were at
that time constantly arising; and he meant to make his paper the
vehicle of his passionate feelings on such topics. According to his
own account, often repeated in after-years, he was mainly instrumental
in preventing America from joining France in the war then raging;
and it is probable that he really had a very considerable share in
restoring the bonds of good feeling between America and England. The
proof of this lies, to a great extent, in the evidences of opposition
which have survived. It was, indeed, far into the nineteenth century,
before the democratic newspaper-writers of America ceased to defame the
“pensioned” British corporal.[4]

It is not necessary, however, to dwell any longer upon the stormy
events of that era. Suffice it to say that even Americans themselves
recommend the study of Cobbett’s writings, in order to understand the
history of parties.

       *       *       *       *       *

Amid all this exciting warfare, Mr. Cobbett’s life in Philadelphia was
full of amenities of one kind or other. He did not like the Americans:
their republican insolence was too much for him; but among the families
of the older settlers he found much excellence of character. “A part of
the people of the United States,” he says, “always appeared to me to
be among the best of mankind. Scrupulously upright, hospitable, kind
and generous to excess, and most nobly steady in their friendships.”
But the riff-raff, composing many of the newer emigrants, disgusted
him with republicanism; and he would meet their violence with manifold
vigour. The coarseness which too often disgraced his writings in later
life--after his temper had been soured by outrageous tyranny--is to
be traced back to this period, when threats of being murdered, or
tarred-and-feathered, poured in upon him; and when slander after
slander was invented, and which did not even spare his wife, in order
to induce him to give up British advocacy.

Some of the friendships he made in America lasted till death. His
landlord, Oldden (already mentioned), wanted him to take the house
off his hands as a free gift. James Paul, another Quaker and a farmer,
gave a name to Cobbett’s second son. Several men followed him to
England, and had some share in his future fortunes. And, as time went
on, the members of the British Embassy were not ashamed to honour him
with their acquaintance. As early as 1798, Mr. Liston,[5] who was
then envoy, informed Cobbett that the Government at home were fully
sensible of the obligations which the country owed him--that they were
prepared to advance his interests, or those of his relatives. To all
such offers he persisted in a firm and honourable refusal--a conduct
which naturally served to produce feelings of respect and admiration
on their part. Lord Henry Stuart, another member of the Embassy, was
likewise a great supporter of Cobbett, besides having certain sporting
sympathies, which were revived in after-years. Business relations were
also commencing with several London booksellers.

Several good anecdotes might be reproduced here, to illustrate the
manner of Cobbett’s life in Pennsylvania. He was always ready to
recall, in his later years, the incidents of that period, when he would
point a moral or adorn a tale. Here, for example, is a “shooting”

    “I was once acquainted with a _famous shooter_, whose name was
    William Ewing. He was a barrister of Philadelphia, but became
    far more renowned by his gun than by his law cases. We spent
    scores of days together a-shooting, and were extremely well
    matched--I having excellent dogs, and caring little about my
    reputation as a shot--his dogs being good for nothing, and he
    caring more about his reputation as a shot than as a lawyer.
    The fact which I am going to relate, respecting this gentleman,
    ought to be a warning to young men how they become enamoured of
    this species of vanity. We had gone about ten miles from our
    home to shoot where partridges were said to be very plentiful.
    We found them so. In the course of a November day, he had,
    just before dark, shot, and sent to the farm-house, or kept
    in his bag, _ninety-nine partridges_. He made some few double
    shots, and he might have a _miss_ or two, for he sometimes
    shot when out of my sight, on account of the woods. However,
    he said that he killed at every shot; and, as he had counted
    the birds, when we went to dinner at the farm-house and when
    he cleaned his gun, he, just before sunset, knew that he had
    killed ninety-nine partridges, every one upon the wing, and
    a great part of them in woods very thickly set with largish
    trees. It was a grand achievement; but, unfortunately, he
    wanted to make it _a hundred_. The sun was setting, and in
    that country darkness comes almost at once; it is more like the
    going out of a candle than that of a fire; and I wanted to be
    off, as we had a very bad road to go; and as he, being under
    petticoat government--to which he most loyally and dutifully
    submitted--was compelled to get home that night, taking me
    with him, the vehicle (horse and gig) being mine. I therefore
    pressed him to come away.… No, he would kill the _hundredth_
    bird! In vain did I talk of the bad road and its many dangers
    for want of moon. The poor partridges, which we had scattered
    about, were _calling_ all around us; and, just at this moment,
    up got one under his feet, in a field in which the wheat was
    three or four inches high. He shot, and _missed_. ‘That’s it,’
    said he, running as if to pick up the bird. ‘What!’ said I,
    ‘you don’t think you killed, do you?’ ‘Why, there is the bird
    now, not only alive, but _calling_, in that wood,’--which was
    about a hundred yards distance. He, in that _form of words_
    usually employed in such cases, asserted that he shot the bird
    and saw it fall; and I, in much about the same form of words,
    asserted that he had missed; and that I, with my own eyes, saw
    the bird fly into the wood. This was too much! To miss once
    out of a hundred times! To lose such a chance of immortality!
    He was a good-humoured man; I liked him very much; and I could
    not help feeling for him when he said, ‘Well, sir, I killed the
    bird and if you choose to go away and take your dog away, so
    as to prevent me from finding it, you must do it; the dog is
    yours, to be sure.’ ‘The dog,’ said I, in a very mild tone,
    ‘why, Ewing, there is the spot, and could we not see it upon
    this smooth green surface if it were there?’ However, he began
    to _look about_, and I called the dog, and affected to join
    him in the search. Pity for his weakness got the better of my
    dread of the bad road. After walking backward and forward many
    times upon about twenty yards square, with our eyes to the
    ground, looking for what both of us knew was not there, I had
    passed him (he going one way and I the other), and I happened
    to be turning round just after I had passed him, when I saw
    him, putting his hand behind him, _take a partridge out of his
    bag and let it fall upon the ground_! I felt no temptation to
    detect him, but turned away my head, and kept looking about.
    Presently he, having returned to the spot where the bird was,
    called out to me, in a most triumphant tone, ‘Here, here! Come
    here!’ I went up to him, and he, pointing with his finger down
    to the bird, and looking hard in my face at the same time,
    said, ‘There, Cobbett; I hope that will be a warning to you
    never to be obstinate again!’ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘come along;’ and
    away we went as merry as larks. When we got to Brown’s, he told
    them the story; triumphed over me most clamorously; and, though
    he often repeated the story to my face, I never had the heart
    to let him know that I knew of the imposition, which puerile
    vanity had induced so sensible and honourable a man to be mean
    enough to practise.”

One of Mr. Cobbett’s warmest adherents, in Philadelphia, was the Rev.
James Abercrombie, minister of the American Episcopal Church, and
incumbent of Christ Church, opposite which was situated Porcupine’s
shop. He was a man held in great esteem as a preacher, and as a teacher
of the young.[6] But he got into disgrace with the Democrats, who
called him “one of Peter Porcupine’s news-boys.” A correspondence was
kept up between Cobbett and the doctor, for some time after the return
of the former to London. It must be noted, by the way, that, soon after
Porcupine had set up the defiant British standard, there were not
wanting many to support him;[7] but, as he says, they kept suitably
in the rear. A complaint of the _Aurora_ newspaper speaks for itself,
as to the power and number of its opponents:--“The British faction,
composed of apostate Whigs, old Tories, toad-eaters of Government,
British riders and runners, speculators, stock-jobbers, bank-directors,
mushroom merchants, &c., &c.” There is no doubt, however, that Mr.
Cobbett’s boast, of being the forlorn hope to less adventurous spirits,
was true enough; and that his admiring fellow-countrymen, both at home
and in America, considered that his undaunted British advocacy merited
the highest encomiums and rewards. What they did say in England may be
reserved to another chapter.

Meanwhile, we must now consider the circumstances which ultimately led
to Mr. Cobbett’s return home. He persisted, from the first, in being
looked upon as an alien; rightly thinking that the taking out letters
of naturalization would impair his right to defend his native country.
But the intention to return to England was, at this time, very distant
from his mind.


[1] An act justly stigmatized by Oliver Wolcott as “the grossest insult
ever offered to a nation not yet subjugated.”--“Memoirs, &c.,” i. 380.

[2] In July, 1797, the French treaties then existing were solemnly
repudiated by Act of Congress.

[3] For this and other interesting State papers the student may consult
the _Annual Register_, where they are printed in full.

[4] One of the most violent of Cobbett’s adversaries was no less a
person than Matthew Carey. The latter was at this time a hot-headed
young Irishman, and _would not_ have his toes trodden upon. He seems
to have taken particular offence at the story of his having refused to
publish Cobbett’s first pamphlet; and afterwards, when J. W. Fenno had
included his name among a list of the United Irishmen, and Cobbett had
reproduced it with sarcastic reference to the “O’Careys,” he burst out
into a fearful display of ill-temper. His Billingsgate was terrible. He
produced “The Porcupiniad: a Hudibrastic Poem,” and “A Plumb Pudding
for the Humane, Chaste, Valiant, Enlightened Peter Porcupine.” The
latter is embellished with a vignette, exhibiting a porcupine suspended
from a street lamp-post; and it would be impossible to exceed the
virulence of its style or the vileness of its language, whilst, in
truth, Cobbett had endeavoured to avoid falling foul of Carey. But
time healed all this. Thirty years later, Cobbett and Carey were
corresponding in their old age as if there had never been anything of
the sort.

Another opponent was William Duane, also an Irishman of some talent,
who had succeeded Bache as editor of the _Aurora_. And there are some
curious effusions among the poems of Philip Freneau, a man whose
writings breathe the most virulent hatred, not only against Great
Britain, but against the Washington and Adams administrations.

The poet of the other side was William Cliffton, who died at an early
age in 1799. He was a warm admirer of Cobbett, and a hearty Federalist.
When Gifford’s “Baviad and Mæviad” was republished in America, he
composed, at Cobbett’s request, an Epistle Dedicatory, addressed to Mr.

[5] “A gentleman for whom I entertained a very high respect, and whose
conduct constantly evinced that he was not merely a receiver of the
public money, but one who had the interest and honour of his king and
country deeply at heart.”--_Political Register_, viii. 548.

[6] Dr. Abercrombie died in 1841, at a very advanced age.

[7] By the month of August, 1797, the _Gazette_ had more than 2500



As a champion of the liberty of the press, Mr. Cobbett holds a place
among the very foremost; and, indeed, a minor object of the biographer,
in this history, is to establish his claim to that place. But it may
still remain open to question how far that liberty is to go: perhaps it
will always vary, according to each particular judge and jury,[1] as to
what is “liberty” and what is “libel.” It is certain that the two cases
in which Cobbett was involved, while a newspaper-writer in America,
were decided without much consideration of their real merits. One went
in his favour, the other against him; and both the prosecutions were
undertaken, instigated by political rancour. We have got the better of
this sort of thing, at last, in England; but only after much shame. And
we are not perfect yet.

Mr. Cobbett’s career of “crime,” during these tumultuous days in
Philadelphia, consisted in his being a genuine satirist. In this
respect he was unapproachable by any of his scribbling brethren; and
there lay the fundamental reasons for the hatred of those who were
amongst his opponents. He had imported into the arena of political
controversy the squibbing propensities of his great master, Jonathan
Swift; and, armed with the results of his laborious study of grammar
and logic, it was useless for any one to expect successfully to
contend with him on his own ground. The weapons, therefore, to which
they resorted were lies and filth of most abominable character. The
phlegmatic, practical, native Pennsylvanian could sit and laugh over
Porcupine’s hard hits, for they did not, as a rule, touch him. But
the hot-blooded importations since the Revolution--soured with the
mortified feelings occasioned by unwilling expatriation--rendered more
and more violent by the intoxicating influence of French principles,
and, to some extent, made reckless by the exigencies of change, were
a different class. The vocabulary of personal abuse formed their
resource. It is not very surprising, then, to find after a time some
disposition, on the part of Cobbett, to yield to a similar indulgence
in coarse language. Upon the whole, however, a perusal of his American
writings does not justify the calumnious epithets which have been
bestowed upon them. All true humourists, from Rabelais downwards, have
suffered a similar penalty. The knave, even more than the fool, both
fears and hates your lampooner, and can only resort to base imputations
in the expectation that a part of his slime must stick. We, in these
later days, will take to heart the maxim of Montesquieu: _To judge
justly of men, we must overlook the prejudices of their times._ We
know Mr. Cobbett to have been an earnest, honest, high-spirited man,
whose whole life, both public and private, was governed by principles
of conduct which were far in advance of his times; an uncorrupt
politician, who may be placed by the side of Andrew Marvel; a husband
and a parent, whose example cannot be excelled; in a day when most
public writers had their price, and when the bonds of family ties were
exceptionally loose.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Chief Justice of the State of Pennsylvania, at this date, was
one Thomas M’Kean: a violent democrat, and a somewhat unscrupulous
character. Every democratic state, in the early stages of its history,
is much like a simmering pot; and it is not improbable that Mr. M’Kean
belonged to that portion of its contents which floats on the surface.
Cobbett’s account of him is so bad, and the freedom with which he
denounced him to his face was so uncompromising, that the historian
would naturally hesitate to make any needless reference to the chronic
feud which existed between them. At the period of the Revolution M’Kean
had distinguished himself by cruelty to all political opponents, and
particularly to any Quakers who ran foul of him.[2] Besides being hated
for his partiality, he is alleged to have been a notorious drunkard;
he had been horsewhipped by a fellow-citizen; and it was stated that a
number of members of the bar had signed a memorial to the effect that
“so great a drunkard was he that, after dinner, person and property
were not safe in Pennsylvania.” According to Oliver Wolcott, a leading
member of the Washington and Adams administrations, Peter Porcupine’s
exposure of M’Kean was not by any means undeserved; and that he openly
supported the seditious clubs which were ever seeking to undermine the
Federal Constitution.[3] It is certain that Cobbett spared no pains
to remind the public of the little defects in M’Kean’s character. The
Chief Justice, therefore, made it his business to attend closely to the
sayings and doings of Peter Porcupine.

He was not long in finding an opportunity which might serve to bring
the latter within his power. The Chevalier D’Yrujo, envoy from Spain,
had written a dictatorial letter to Pickering, Secretary of State,
after the pattern of the French, and tending, likewise, to reduce the
independence of the United States to a mere shadow. Mr. Cobbett at once
undertakes to keep a vigilant eye upon the affair; and his _Gazette_
gleams forth with such paragraphs as this:

    preparing another _Diplomatic Blunderbuss_. Forewarned,
    forearmed;--but, whether armed or not, it is to be hoped that
    nothing discharged from that most contemptible quarter will
    ever scare the people of America.”

At length, the editor receives two or three communications, which
he prints: being strong appeals against foreign interference, and
reflecting too plainly upon the persons who were causing the liability
to that danger. That danger, however, is not so great, in the eyes of
Chief Justice M’Kean, as the danger of allowing Britishers to interfere
in American politics. Accordingly, the printer and publisher of
_Porcupine’s Gazette_ is served with a bill of indictment; charging him
with defaming His Catholic Majesty the King of Spain, his envoy, and
the Spanish nation, with the object of alienating their affections and
regard from the Government and citizens of the United States.

The heat of the judge’s resentment was, perhaps, intensified by the
feelings of a father-in-law; for his daughter, one of the belles of
Philadelphia, had espoused the distinguished Chevalier. It was several
months before the case was brought to trial; but, at length, at the
November sessions (1797) the bill of indictment was presented to the
Grand Jury, and Chief Justice M’Kean proceeded with his charge. He
began with a “definition of the several crimes which generally fall
under the cognizance of such a court, as treason, rape, forgery,
murder, &c., &c. But these his honour touched slightly upon. He brushed
them over as light and trifling offences, or, rather, he blew them
aside as the chaff of the criminal code, in order to come at the more
solid and substantial sin of LIBELLING,” and proceeded to attack the
defendant with the greatest bitterness. It was in vain, however. The
Grand Jury threw out the bill, to the judge’s great discomfiture.

Mr. Cobbett, with his usual alacrity and fearlessness, at once
proceeded to draw up a statement of the whole affair, and produced a
pamphlet under the title of the “The Republican Judge; or the American
Liberty of the Press, as exhibited, explained, and exposed, in the
base and partial prosecution of William Cobbett, for a Pretended
Libel against the King of Spain and his Ambassador.” On reading the
judge’s charge, it is difficult to believe how an honest man could have
selected the comparatively mild effusions of _Porcupine’s Gazette_ for
prosecution; seeing that his own partisans had used with impunity the
vilest epithets toward the “The Father of his country;” one paper,
indeed, charged Washington with murder. Here is one passage from
M’Kean’s speech, for example: “Libelling has become a national crime,
and distinguishes us not only from all the states around us, but from
the whole civilized world. Our satire has been nothing but ribaldry
and Billingsgate; the contest has been, who could call names in the
greatest variety of phrases; who could mangle the greatest number of
characters; or who could excel in the magnitude or virulence of their
lies,” &c., &c. And Mr. Cobbett showed pretty plainly, by a judicious
selection of recent anti-federal blackguardisms,[5] what was the real
nature of the fight. For himself, he writes in his best manner, as the
following will show:--

    “As to my writing, I never did slander any one, if the
    promulgation of useful truths be not slander. Innocence and
    virtue I have often endeavoured to defend, but I never defamed
    either. I have, indeed, stripped the close-drawn veil of
    hypocrisy; I have ridiculed the follies, and lashed the vices
    of thousands; and have done it sometimes, perhaps, with a rude
    and violent hand. But these are not the days for gentleness and
    mercy. Such as is the temper of the foe, such must be that of
    his opponent. Seeing myself published for a rogue, and my wife
    for a * * * * *; being persecuted with such infamous, such base
    and hellish calumny in the philanthropic city of Philadelphia,
    merely for asserting the truths respecting others, was not
    calculated, I assure you, to sweeten my temper, and turn my ink
    into honey-dew.

    “My attachment to order and good government, nothing but the
    impudence of Jacobinism could deny. The object, not only of
    all my own publications, but also of all those which I have
    introduced or encouraged, from the first moment that I appeared
    on the public scene to the present day, has been to lend some
    aid in stemming the torrent of anarchy and confusion; to
    undeceive the misguided, by tearing the mask from the artful
    and ferocious villains, who, owing to the infatuation of the
    poor, and the supineness of the rich, have made such a fearful
    progress in the destruction of all that is amiable, and good,
    and sacred among men. To the Government of this country, in
    particular, it has been my constant study to yield all the
    support in my power. When either that Government, or the worthy
    men who administer it, have been traduced and vilified, I have
    stood forward in their defence; and that, too, in times when
    even its friends were some of them locked up in silence, and
    others giving way to the audacious violence of its foes. Not
    that I am so foolishly vain as to attribute to my illiterate
    pen a thousandth part of the merit that my friends are inclined
    to allow it.”

There was, however, another string to the bow, in the hand of Mr.
Cobbett’s enemies--which bow, being handled with dexterity and
resolution, eventually sent its weapon home.

It would appear, from an insight into the local and personal history
of these stormy times, that a man’s reputation depended entirely
upon the nature of his political leanings. There was not a single
public character, then living, who did not suffer the penalties of
partisanship. In all professions, the man who emerged ever so slightly
from obscurity found himself, on one side or another, involved in a
stupendous party conflict--a conflict in which no feelings were spared
by his opponents, and no fulsome praise left out by his friends.
His faults exposed, his weaknesses magnified, and his best actions
distorted--he, in turn, heaped upon his adversaries similar contumely.
To take by itself (if it were possible) the general sum of abuse,
one would conclude that society was a collection of base ruffians,
aiming at mutual extermination; on the other hand, ignoring all that
opponents said, it would be easy to prove that everybody was a truly
disinterested patriot. And Americans have such a strong tendency to
eulogize the departed, that, strange to say, the grave no sooner
closes over one of their statesmen or politicians, and his part in the
struggle for place and power is no more, than his name is at once

There is no doubt at all, that many unscrupulous men were in the
front, at the time in which we are now interested--many who, having
once made their influence felt, were enabled with the assistance of
fortune and audacity to hold their own; in spite of public exposure,
their vigour and native abilities made them necessary to their
party.[6] This was the class of men that Cobbett loved to fight--a
class unknown in the land whence he came: indeed, unknown to the
world of men which he had himself created; for it must be noted that
Mr. Cobbett had a very limited acquaintance with human nature in its
depths. The reading and study, which he had gone through some years
before, were all of too abstract a character to make a man of the
world (as it is called). Mankind from books he knew well, an ideal
Mankind, which the self-educated are especially liable to conjure up,
and by means of its gigantic and perfect form, to hide that subtle,
wayward, self-absorbed creature of many motives, called MAN. In this
superficiality, as regards the hidden springs of human action, and the
consequent inability to transfer himself, mentally, into the standpoint
of his antagonist, lies the key to Cobbett’s frequent failure, just
when a little considerate yielding to the feelings of that antagonist
would have produced conviction. There were certain rough notions of
perfectibility about his conceptions of Humanity which did not admit of
the smallest incline toward what he thought to be wrong. In short, he
was a Soldier, from beginning to end; and as a soldier he lived, and
worked, and wrote, and fought, with his face to the enemy;--which enemy
must needs be dealt with uncompromisingly, if it meant fighting at all.

       *       *       *       *       *

The city of Philadelphia, with all its native and acquired advantages,
at last got an unenviable distinction, toward the close of the last
century, as a plague-spot. As in all such capitals, increasing almost
too rapidly, the population crowded together in limited space; and the
dissolute and the very poor, as those classes always do under similar
circumstances, began to be a detriment to the health of the city.
Sluggish drainage and indifferent water-supply did their fell work.
Nearly half of the children born in the city died under two years of
age, with stomach or bowel complaints. At last, in 1793, the yellow
fever, which had not visited the city for thirty-one years, reappeared,
and carried off 4000 inhabitants in the course of about three months.

And with the yellow fever came the doctors, of course; who, amongst
themselves, roused one of those curious disputes for which the history
of medical science is somewhat famous. A yellow-fever literature sprang
up; statistics were brandished about; wonderful and novel remedies were
suggested; and one of the more ingenious of the doctors came to the
front in the person of Benjamin Rush.

Dr. Rush is one of the highly-eulogized. His benevolence was
unexampled, and he was “honoured and esteemed, both at home and
abroad. It was his constant object to popularize and render attractive
the principles of medicine.”[7] He gave away his Sunday fees in
charity;--and had a more intimate acquaintance with the human pulse
than any man living!

After several attempts to master the yellow fever, of which violent
purging formed the leading idea, Dr. Rush hit upon the plan of copious
bleeding; and so successful was it (according to his own account) that
ninety-nine out of every hundred of the cases he treated recovered! The
other doctors said that Rush’s treatment was certain death. And so on.

The yellow fever went away for that time, but returned in 1797
with similar fatal results. Phlebotomy became again the rage,
and the doctors still disagreed. Dr. William Currie implored his
fellow-citizens to “open their eyes.” A Scotch physician, passing
through Philadelphia, wrote a long letter to _Porcupine’s Gazette_,
in which he argued strongly against this artificial hemorrhage, and
declared that the physicians of the city had sunk from a position of
eminence to “a condition bordering on contempt.”

But Dr. Rush had other merits, for he was a zealous republican, and a
member of the Democratic Society of Philadelphia. He had supported
Independence from before the Revolution, and was now one of that set
of politicians who opposed Federalism; and, having thus incurred the
displeasure of the British Corporal, that eminent writer resolved
to have a fling at the doctor--a matter which was not so difficult,
seeing that Rush had already inspired some amount of ridicule on the
part of his fellow-citizens. Cobbett’s reading enabled him at once to
find a parallel to the zealous phlebotomist. “Gil Blas” had already
furnished him with many a happy stroke of humour, and, now that a rash
bleeder was to be taken to task, where could be found anything so
appropriate as the character of _Dr. Sangrado_, who would draw from a
patient several porringers of blood in one day, who would bleed in a
dropsy, who thought bleeding the proper means for supplying the want
of perspiration, and who stood alone in his strange opinions? The
picture was complete; and when to this jest was added the epithet of
“quack,” besides an insinuation that Dr. Rush killed and tortured with
purgatives more patients than he cured, the latter found it necessary
to speak out, lest his fame and practice should be irretrievably

Besides Cobbett, another editor made himself obnoxious to Dr.
Rush. This was Mr. J. W. Fenno, who had succeeded his father in
the proprietorship of the _Gazette of the United States_, and who
was firing away against bleeding in much the same spirit as Peter
Porcupine. Also, “many gentlemen of Philadelphia (not physicians)
expressed to me their dread of the practice and their indignation at
the arts that were made use of to render it prevalent. They thought,
and not without reason, that it was lawful, just, and fair to employ
a newspaper in decrying what other newspapers had been employed to
extol. In fact, I wanted very little persuasion, to induce me to combat
the commendations of a practice which I had always looked upon as a
scourge to the city in which I lived; but this practice and the wild
opinions of the inventor and his followers really appeared to me to be
too preposterous, too glaringly absurd, to merit serious animadversion;
while, therefore, I admitted the sober refutations of those medical
gentlemen who thought Rush worth their notice, I confined myself to
squibs, puns, epigrams, and quotations from ‘Gil Blas.’ In this _petite
guerre_ I had an excellent auxiliary in Mr. Fenno, Jun. Never was a
paper war carried on with greater activity and perseverance, or crowned
with more complete success.”

So, in October, 1797, the fever being at its worst, Dr. Rush makes the
following communication to the _Philadelphia Gazette_:--

    “Mr. Brown,--Having brought actions against John Fenno, junior,
    and William Cobbett, for their publications against me in their
    papers, I request you not to insert anything in your paper
    which may be offered, in answer to those publications, or in
    defence of my character.

                                                      “BENJ. RUSH.”

Well, this was “libel,” certainly. A man who was compelled to ask
his friends to desist from repartee must be suffering either in his
sensibilities or in his income; and whatever justification there may
have been, it is always held that a charge of libel can be entertained
in such cases.

The suit against Fenno was never heard of more. Mr. Fenno was an
American, although a political opponent. Not so, however, with Peter
Porcupine’s case; for there were others behind Dr. Rush who wanted some
old scores paid off. But the trial was put off from time to time, until
two years had elapsed.

    “At last, on the 13th December, 1799, it was resolved to bring
    it to an issue. The moment I saw the jury-list, ‘Ah,’ said I
    to a friend that happened to be with me, ‘the action of Rush
    is to be tried this time.’--We looked over the list again and
    again, and, after the most mature consideration, we could find
    but seven men out of the forty-eight whom we thought fit to be
    trusted on the trial; but, as I had the power of rejecting no
    more than twelve, there were left, of course, twenty-nine whom
    I disapproved of; and, as every one of these seven was struck
    off by Rush, there remained not a single man on the jury in
    whose integrity I had the slightest confidence.”

Meanwhile, Peter Porcupine had been for some time considering a
plan for removal from Philadelphia. The Chief Justice M’Kean was a
candidate for governorship of the State, and Cobbett openly stated his
determination not to remain, in the case of his election, any longer a
resident of Pennsylvania. The event proved that the Democratic element
was the stronger, for M’Kean was elected by a small majority over
his Federal opponent. Accordingly, _Porcupine’s Gazette_ having been
discontinued at the end of October, Mr. Cobbett made preparations for
transferring his business to New York. It would almost appear that
advantage was wilfully taken of his temporary absence from Philadelphia
to bring the cause to an issue; “it was known that my books, furniture,
&c., &c., were already sent off to New York, but I remained in the
neighbourhood of the city (where I was seen every day) in order to
be present at the trial, if it should come on. On the 7th of December
there was no prospect of the cause being brought to trial; on the
8th, therefore, I came off for New York, where my affairs required my
presence. On the 11th, my correspondent wrote me that the cause was put
off to another court; but the very next day it was all at once resolved
to bring it to trial immediately.” He attributes this sudden decision
to the advertisement in the newspapers, signifying his arrival in New
York, and his resolution not to revive his _Gazette_.

Mr. Cobbett’s leading counsel was EDWARD TILGHMAN, a gentleman who had
acquired distinction at the bar, and whose name is still remembered
with honour. He had been recently a candidate for representing the
state in Congress, but was beaten by John Swanwick, Democrat. Mr.
Tilghman took up Cobbett’s side _con amore_; but there is no record
of his speech.[8] _Claypoole’s Advertiser_ goes so far as to say that
“the pleadings on both sides were lengthy, ingenious, and eloquent,”
but does not reproduce them. Mr. Harper, however, another counsel for
the defendant, is stated by Brown’s _Gazette_ to have spoken as though
he had a bad cause in hand, and “appeared resolved not to defend it at
the sacrifice of his honour and character as a gentleman.” The judge’s
summing-up has not, likewise, gone into oblivion; for Mr. Cobbett took
pains to preserve it, and it appears among his reprinted American

The judge (Shippen) dwelt strongly upon the imputation of personal
malice, which had been advanced by the prosecution, and urged that
no attempt had ever been made to combat the doctor’s arguments
with regard to the system he had pursued with his fever-patients.
To call the plaintiff a quack and an empiric--to charge him with
intemperate bleeding, and the injudicious administration of mercurial
purgatives, and with “puffing himself off,” besides calling him the
Samson of medicine, for he had “slain his thousands”--was slander,
and a pernicious abuse of the liberty of the press. He concluded with
reminding the jury that offences of this kind had, for some time past,
too much abounded in the city, and it was high time to restrain them;
and, to suppress so great an evil, it would not only be proper to give
compensatory, but exemplary damages! Which the jury did, to the tune
of five thousand dollars, and to the dismay of the defendant.

The court was crowded with the plaintiff’s friends, and the
announcement of the verdict was received with great applause. Outside
there was also much rejoicing, although the newspaper-men heard the
news with mingled feelings. They professed to “derive pleasure and
satisfaction” therefrom, and behaved very tenderly to each other for
several days. Mr. Duane’s paper, the _Aurora_, which had been fifty
times as bad as _Porcupine’s Gazette_, was subdued and silent; its old
opponent, the _Philadelphia Gazette_ ironically observed that “not a
single sally of wit or sprightliness, and, what is more surprising, not
many lies or much impudence, have appeared in it since this memorable
verdict was given.… No wonder Master Duane looks pale, &c., &c.” But
the same paper was somewhat rash to continue in the following strain,
referring to Dr. Priestley:--

    “The _repose-seeking_ philosopher of Northumberland
    [Pennsylvania] will hardly exult at the late verdict. He, too,
    may be the subject of future litigation; and, although his grey
    hairs should rise in frightful hostility with the infamy of his
    pen, justice insulted, violated justice, may alight upon the
    head of the venerable Jacobin.”

In a week or so, however, the papers recovered their tone; Brown’s
_Gazette_ reviled Governor M’Kean; the _Aurora_ abused the British
Embassy; whilst Mr. Woodward, of 17, Chesnut Street, advertised a full
report of the trial, price 2_s._ 9½_d._

As for the benevolent plaintiff, he obtained immediate execution;
for the Sheriff was disposing of Mr. Cobbett’s goods nine days after
the verdict was given.[9] And Mr. Cobbett himself made further
advertisement that he would, in a few days, recommence his bookselling
business, at New York, “with an assortment which his late importations
from London have rendered even more extensive and elegant than that
which he usually kept in Philadelphia.”

The oddest thing of all was, that George Washington departed this life
during the time the trial was proceeding, having been bled and purged
to death on the Rush system! According to the medical certificate,
published in the _New York Daily Advertiser_ of the 30th of December,
several doses of tartar emetic were administered, and upwards of
forty ounces of blood drawn, between Friday night and Saturday night,
the 13th and 14th of that month! The reputed cause of his death was
inflammatory sore throat.

Several letters are extant, written by Cobbett to his counsel, which
the biographer is enabled to present to the reader.[10] The first is
dated from Bustleton, a small place (at that date), a few miles out of
Philadelphia, where Cobbett had for some time past occasionally dwelt,
when business would let him get out into the fields to ruralize.

              WM. C. to EDWARD TILGHMAN (_Dec. 9, 1799_).

    “Sir,--I am this moment setting off for New York. In case of
    a decision against me, in both or in either of the cases,[11]
    you and the other gentlemen will please to remove the causes
    into the High Court of Errors and Appeal, where I think I shall
    stand a better chance of justice. If Quack Rush should obtain a
    verdict for any sum less than _four hundred dollars_, you tell
    me, that sum must immediately be paid,--and you will please,
    sir, to apply in that case to Mr. John Morgan, No. 3, So. Front
    Street, who will provide the money without delay. If security
    be wanted, the same gentleman will be my security; he is worth
    more than ten times the sum, and will cheerfully pay attention
    to anything you request of him in my name. The other gentleman,
    of whom I spoke to you, I could not see, and, as I was obliged
    to leave town, another friend was necessary to be applied to.
    All you will have to do will be to give Mr. Morgan timely
    notice, and explicit instructions, and he will fail in nothing
    that you may desire him to perform for my service.

    “I am perfectly well assured that, by leaving my causes in such
    hands, I have taken all the precaution that can be taken; but
    if he should finally prevail against me, I shall not be much
    disappointed; and, let the matter go how it will, I will most
    honourably discharge every demand my counsellors shall make,
    and I shall for ever retain a due sense of the obligations I am
    under to them.--I am, &c.”

The following is dated New York, and was written, apparently, as soon
as the news of the verdict came:--

             WM. C. to EDWARD TILGHMAN (_Dec. 18, 1799_).

    “Sir,--If anything, done by a Philadelphia Court and Jury,
    could astonish me, the decision in Rush’s case certainly
    would. It is, however, in vain to complain.… My friend North
    will tell you that I at once resolved _not to flee_ from the
    worst. It was, doubtless, your anxiety for my welfare that led
    you to advise me to this step, and, therefore, I sincerely
    thank you for it, more especially as it was, on your part, a
    striking proof of disinterestedness; but, sir, it would never
    do. No, the republicans may rob me, and probably they will, of
    everything but my _honour_, but that is, in these degenerate
    times, too scarce a commodity to be sold for 5000 dollars. In a
    sovereign citizen, flight from a writ might be very becoming;
    but in me, who have the honour to be an Englishman, and the
    greater honour to be a subject of George the Third, it would be
    esteemed a most cowardly and disgraceful act. It would indicate
    a consciousness of guilt; it would blast the fair reputation
    which I have hitherto preserved, and which it is my duty to
    transmit untarnished to my children.

    “North tells me that you say they will come here and seize my
    body. Blessed be God, the villains cannot seize my soul. Let
    them come. Imprisonment in such a cause has no horrors for me.
    Were I to be put to death, I should only share the fate of

    “It cannot be many days, ere every man of sense will be
    convinced that I am not mulcted in this shameful manner for
    being a _libeller_, but for being an _alien_, an _Englishman_,
    a _royalist_, and for having had the ‘_audacity_,’ as it is
    termed, to come into a republican country and swear that I
    still retained my allegiance to the sovereign, whose paternal
    arm protected me in my infancy, and nursed me to manhood. This
    is my great crime; and that an attempt to ruin me has been made
    for this, and for this alone, I shall not fail to prove to the
    conviction of every impartial mind.

    “In the meantime, sir, I earnestly request that you will be
    pleased to forward me (under cover to Mr. Thomas Roberts,
    No. 134, Pearl Street, New York) the following papers duly

    “1. A transcript of the declaration.

    “2. A copy of the petition and affidavit, presented for the
    purpose of removing the cause into the Federal Court, with the
    decision of the Court hereon.

    “3. A transcript of the judgment, as soon as recorded.

    “4. A minute of the motion (which North says you will make) for
    a new trial, with the decision hereon.

    “5. A list of the jury.

    “From the account I have received from my friend North, I think
    myself under great obligations to you for your exertions in my
    behalf. I wish I could say the same with respect to the conduct
    of Mr. Harper.--I am, &c.”

                 WM. C. to E. TILGHMAN (_30th Dec._).

    “Sir,--I wrote you some time ago, but have as yet received no
    answer, which I impute to the time which it requires to get the
    papers. I now take the liberty to trouble you for advice on the
    following points:--

    “1. Morgan was in advance to me in a much greater sum than all
    the property in his hands amounts to. Cannot he dispose of that
    property before the Court meets?

    “2. By now selling my debts (in Pennsylvania) to some one here,
    cannot the person whom I sell them to have them collected
    there, without being subject to any annoyance?

    “3. Having an article of considerable value in Pennsylvania,
    suppose I sell it to some one here, cannot this person go
    and claim it and bring it away (if he finds it not already
    attached) without accounting for it to any one?

    “I mean not to budge an inch, but to stand and face everything
    that can be done against me; and the more injustice that is
    committed against me, the better I shall like it; but I want
    to hamper them as much as possible, in order to obtain as many
    facts against them as I can get.

    “They have not brought Fenno’s affair to trial, you see! But he
    is not an Englishman; he is a citizen; he has not avowed his
    allegiance to King George.

    “I hear that the rascally sovereign people hissed you while you
    were pleading on my behalf; you, undoubtedly, understood this
    as a very high compliment, and trust that the day will yet come
    when you will have no need to be afraid of such base miscreants.

    “Be assured that, though I may be embarrassed a little for a
    few months (by being obliged to be prepared for the worst), I
    will not fail to discharge to the full every demand you may
    have against me. My business here is very flourishing, and my
    reception, in every respect, forms a striking contrast with
    what I experienced at Philadelphia. In hopes of hearing from
    you soon,--I remain, &c.”

                         E. TILGHMAN to WM. C.

    “I have yours of yesterday. My answer to your other letter is
    in the post-office, and was written immediately on the receipt
    of it.

    “1. Mr. Morgan may pay himself out of any partnership property,
    for whatever he is in advance to you in consequence of such
    partnership. Other property of yours in his possession, and
    not appropriated by you to the payment of him, is liable to
    attachment, unless he turns it into money and carries it to his
    own credit before an attachment comes.

    “2. A _bonâ-fide_ sale for a full consideration of your debts
    in Pennsylvania to a person in New York will certainly be good.
    Such person may compel your debtors to pay the money to him,
    unless an attachment has been laid in the hands of the debtor
    previously to such sale.

    “3. What has been said (2) applies to the third query. It is
    to be understood that the sale must be a real one, for a full
    value, and not with intention to defeat a creditor of his debt.
    A court and jury will judge what was the intention.

    “I do not believe I was hissed by the gods. Such gods I have
    never either feared or worshipped, from my youth upwards, nor
    shall my grey hairs be disgraced by either. There was a clap
    when the verdict was given. It was rather a faint one, and the
    court declared its disapprobation of it.--I am, &c.”

Mr. Cobbett was not ruined by the verdict. The enforced sale of the few
effects left in Philadelphia fetched a trifling sum; and was the cause
of unnecessary annoyance, in that a large quantity of newly-printed
matter, in sheets, was thus disposed of at a sacrifice. But the
damages[12] were discharged by voluntary subscription.

    “The decision was, in America, regarded as unjust; and, that I
    was regarded as a person most grossly injured, was fully proved
    by the offer that was made me at New York, to pay the damages
    in my stead. This offer I did not accept of, a similar offer
    having been before made by some of my own countrymen in Canada
    and the United States, of which offer I had accepted.”

The expenses of the trial, however, were some three thousand dollars
more; and this liability hampered his efforts, for a time. But Mr.
Cobbett seems, at the end of the year, to have begun to think of
revisiting England, at least for a time. The following (unpublished)
letter is evidently written in haste, in reply to one from London:--

                          “Wm. C., New York,
        to John Wright, Bookseller, Piccadilly (Jan. 4, 1800).

    “Dear Sir,--I have but two moments to tell you of a very
    infamous affair. You heard, about two years ago, of a
    villainous quack, by the name of Rush, having sued me for
    scandal. The trial has been studiously put off till since I
    came here, and the villains have sentenced me to pay 5000
    dollars damages! Never mind. They cannot ruin me, while I have
    my soul left in me. Be not uneasy. We have given bail here,
    where I have good friends. They will get the money from us in
    April next. I shall, if I live, be in London in June. You will
    have many things from me next packet. Washington is dead. Adieu.

    “P.S.--When you tell Mr. Gifford this news, assure him that I
    am not cast down. I will fight as I retreat to the very water’s
    edge. North and the things came safe. Another packet is in,
    and will leave this in about two weeks. Then you will get the
    things that I am preparing. Continue my monthly supply, but
    confine yourself in your letters to mere matters of business.
    The _Wodrop Sims_ is not yet arrived, and, of course, I have
    not those things. I shall leave an agent here, and a good one;
    a good, honest Englishman. Expect to hear from me next packet,
    and to receive several valuable things, with the plan of my
    future operations.”

From the energy with which Cobbett was laying the foundation of a
new business in New York, one is inclined to believe that he did not
meditate a permanent return to England. Sundry advertisements appear,
which show that he was desirous of extending his American connexion.
But the idea of resuscitating _Porcupine’s Gazette_ was finally
abandoned, and a farewell number was distributed to the subscribers in
January, 1800, in which he gave an account of recent events, and of his
plans for the future. In February, he commenced a new periodical under
the name of the _Rushlight_, which was much relished by the public, and
had a very large sale.[13] This was, however, a not very creditable
publication, being so full of the editor’s personal grievances against
the Philadelphians that there was scarce room for anything else.

In point of fact, the severity of the verdict upset Mr. Cobbett; he did
not recover his equanimity again. The invitations from England, to come
home, were pressing; there seemed to be far better prospects for him
here, and it is probable that he found a good deal in New York to make
him dissatisfied with his equivocal position as a Royalist.

One of the great plans, interrupted by the breaking up of his
Pennsylvanian business, was a collected edition of his American
writings. As far back as February, 1799, Cobbett had issued a
prospectus, announcing the republication of “a new, entire, and neat
edition of PORCUPINE’S WORKS,” and its preparation was going on during
the whole of that year.[14] But the seizure of his goods, by order of
the sheriff, included the principal portion of this new “edition,”
in sheets; and all this was sacrificed. An announcement, therefore,
appears on the cover of _Rushlight_, No. II., that PORCUPINE’S WORKS
would be published in London.

Orders for English books were invited, and subscription lists opened
for the leading magazines and periodicals, during the early part of
the year. But it was quite clear that Porcupine was finding himself
out of his element. The loss of his immediate neighbours helped to
unsettle him, and his best friends were left behind in Philadelphia.
That he was making money, and getting a business together once more, is
evident from the following note.

             “Wm. C. to John Wright, London (May 9, 1800).

    “Dear Sir,--I have had the good luck to be able to fulfil my
    intention of making you another remittance by this packet
    (which is to sail to-night) in good bills of exchange, which I
    enclose in this letter, to the amount of 93_l._ 9_s._ 4½_d._
    sterling. I have written you a good deal this time, but I
    cannot … [torn] without once more requesting you not to forget
    our _order_, because … pends upon its immediate execution. I
    remain, &c.

    “P.S.--If I have not mentioned _Weld’s Travels_ in my order,
    send twenty of them, neatly bound.”

However, in the course of this month Mr. Cobbett issued a farewell
address to the American public; and, on the 1st of June, set sail for
England, taking Halifax on his way.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not many years before Cobbett found that his affections
were bound up in transatlantic memories. And, although he despised
republicanism to the last day of his life, he very soon came to admire
much of the American character, and to follow with deep interest
the fortunes of the republic. A few short years after this date his
experience of mankind was getting riper; and his political education
was beginning to enlighten his mind concerning those objects which are
most worth the struggles of a people.

In a letter to the people of the United States of America, February,
1803, he says,--

    “With some few exceptions, I have long forgiven and forgotten
    all the injuries, with which the worst of you, in your folly
    and your madness, endeavoured to load me; while, on the other
    hand, I cherish the remembrance of all those acts of indulgence
    and of friendship which I have, in greater abundance than any
    other person, experienced at American hands.… If no man ever
    had more enemies, no one ever had half so many friends, and
    these the warmest and most sincere. Never, therefore, does
    America, and Pennsylvania in particular, come athwart my mind
    unaccompanied with the best wishes for their prosperity and


[1] “Is he a man I choose to punish?--I make it a libel. Is he a man I
choose not to punish?--I make it a non-libel.”--_Bentham_: _Works_, v.

[2] There is one incident of the Revolutionary War (for the catastrophe
of which M’Kean is held responsible) which arouses the old Adam in
the breast of the Pennsylvanian Quaker to this very day. John Roberts
and Abraham Carlisle, two very worthy members of the Society of
Friends, were arraigned, condemned, and hanged, ostensibly for having
given assistance and comfort to the British troops when occupying
Philadelphia--a perfectly groundless charge. The thing was done to
“save the country,” _à la Française_.

[3] _Vide_ Wolcott’s “Memoirs, &c.,” i. 231, ii. 388, &c.

[4] “Dansons la _Carmagnole_” was one of the French revolutionary songs.

[5] Both Mifflin, the Governor of Pennsylvania, and M’Kean himself,
had many a time committed themselves to the foulest aspersions against
Britain, as well as their own country, on occasion, “after the cloth
was removed.” But Mr. Bache, whether at a civic feast, or in the
columns of the _Aurora_, was a real professor of venom. Britain is
a “perfidious nation;” its people are “bloody savage islanders;”
the Government “a mixture of tyranny, profligacy, brutality, and
corruption;” and he would heartily rejoice if the Royal family “were
all decently guillotined.” And concerning Spain, for several years
preceding the new amicable arrangements, we read of the “slaves of
Madrid,” the “most cowardly of the human race;” the “ignorant soldiery
of the infamous tyrant of Castile!” &c.

[6] There was one William Blount, for example, who was expelled the
Senate, on account of intrigue, or downright treachery, went home to
Tennessee, was received with acclamations, and re-elected Governor of
the State!

[7] _Duyckinck_, i. 294. See also “An Eulogium upon Benjamin Rush,
M.D.,” by David Ramsay, M.D. (Philadelphia, 1813), for some particulars
of his life and career. He died in April, 1813, aged sixty-nine.
Several members of his family attained distinction, the most notable
being his son Richard, who was ambassador to London in 1821, and who
filled that office with great dignity and credit. His “Recollections of
a Residence at the Court of London” has been several times reprinted.
Dr. Rush and his systems had much opposition to contend with, in
England as well as in America; _vide_, _inter alia_, a pamphlet by
Dr. William Rowley, a London physician, who calls him the celebrated
professor of singularities, &c.: “Treatise on Putrid, Malignant,
Infectious Fevers” (London, 1804).

[8] It was usual at that time for the offices of attorney and counsel
to be united in one person. The practice is not even now discontinued;
and there must be some advantages connected therewith which would
recommend it in England.

[9] Advertisement from the _Aurora_ of Dec. 24:--“Philadelphia, Dec.
20, 1799.--By virtue of a writ of Fieri Facias to me directed, will
be sold by public vendue, on Tuesday, the 24th of Dec. inst., at one
o’clock in the afternoon, at the house lately occupied by William
Cobbett, editor of _Porcupine’s Gazette_, &c. A quantity of books,
types and type-boxes, two printing-presses, sundry books in sheets;
also 1 mahogany desk, 1 dining do., 1 octagon card-table, 1 walnut
book-case, 8 pictures, 14 windsor chairs, sundry pine-tables and old
chairs, 2 writing-desks, and printing-stands. Also a smoke-jack and
spit, one ten-plate stove and pipes, &c. Seized and taken in execution
as the property of said Cobbett, and sold by Jonathan Penrose, Sheriff.”

[10] Through the courtesy of Mr. William M. Tilghman, a grandson of the
great lawyer.

[11] “Both of the cases:” there is no trace of anything to explain this.

[12] According to Duyckinck, Dr. Rush is said to have distributed the
5000 dollars amongst the poor (i. 294).

[13] _Vide_ Duyckinck, i. 294, art. Rush.

[14] A copy of the original circular has fallen into the hands of the
present writer. It is dated Feb. 5th, 1799. The volumes were expected
to reach sixteen in number, and the price (to subscribers) was to be
twenty dollars, or four and a half guineas. The following extracts from
this prospectus will give some idea of the extent to which Cobbett’s
writings had been already circulated:--

“Of each pamphlet, published under my assumed name of Peter Porcupine,
about six thousand copies, upon an average, have been printed and
sold in America. The sale of those which have been honoured by a
republication in England has probably been much greater. All of them,
I believe, have passed through three or four, and some, in an abridged
state, have attained to ten, twelve, and even seventeen editions.… As
to the _Gazette_, such has been the increasing demand for it that,
though for a long time I laid by a hundred files for sale, I can
at this moment make up but three complete for the first year. Thus
situated, the orders which I have received from all parts for complete
sets of the pamphlets and complete files of the paper have been a
mortification to me rather than a pleasure,” &c.



The reader is probably aware, that your “public-instructor” who,
at the close of the last century, essayed to lead his fellow-men,
had no hold upon the daily press. An occasional jerky paragraph,
or covert insinuation, was all that the newspaper ventured upon,
when its feelings impelled it to break through the traditions of
its calling. Indeed, things were changing at this period, although
not so extensively in London as in France and in America; but the
self-constituted leaders of public opinion were, as yet, restricted
to the pamphlet, or to the periodical review. The student of history
will notice, at least as regards the last quarter of the eighteenth
century, that current opinion on politics is fully represented only in
these journals. Their influence, however, speedily waned soon after
the commencement of the nineteenth century; and, although the popular
review, weekly or monthly, still supposes itself in the van, in our own
days, its thoughts and ideas are appropriated, and often superseded, on
the morrow of their publication.

The “Monthly Review,” redolent of GOLDSMITH and of Griffiths;
the “British Critic,” and the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” of high
Tory principles: and the “Analytical Review,” organ of modern
enlightenment,--were the principal publications of this kind, which
had the ear of the public, at the period of our history. And we shall
be unable to proceed properly with the study of Mr. Cobbett’s life,
without having first traced, from these sources, the rise and progress
of his reputation, ere his return to England.

The “Observations on Dr. Priestley’s Emigration,” appears to have been
reprinted in London immediately after its publication in Philadelphia.
Matters were especially troublesome to the ministry just then, and
the partisans of loyalty eagerly, frantically, seized upon anything
new, in the shape of argument or of declamation, with which to bind
up their rotting timbers. Yet, mark the wonderful inconsistency of
human affairs! The author of this poor plank, groping after political
justice (according to his light), was also the author, or part author,
of a pamphlet which was said to be doing infinite mischief among the
soldiers and sailors,--a pamphlet against which, _at this very time_,
they were actually writing and printing loyal antidotes.

The “British Critic,” then, appears to have been the first to draw
public attention to the new writer. The number for November, 1794,
dedicated several pages to a review of the “Observations,” beginning
with these appropriate remarks:--

    “We sometimes elevate a pamphlet, on account of its importance,
    to a rank among our primary articles, and this honour is
    peculiarly due to a stranger, who comes forward to give his
    decision as an umpire, on points wherein the passions of
    Englishmen may be supposed sufficiently interested to bias
    their judgment. Of this nature is the acute and well-written
    American pamphlet here announced, in which the author, while
    he addresses himself to Dr. Priestley, as a new settler in
    the country, speaks very forcibly on many subjects respecting
    England and its public sentiments and conduct. We do not,
    therefore, consider the tract as an attack on an individual,
    but as a decision upon principles.”

The writer proceeds to express his opinion that the pamphlet is
indeed of American origin, and not fabricated in London. He considers
the fable of the pot-shop [introduced into the Observations, being
an account of the various articles in a crockery-shop, some formed
to honour and others to dishonour, falling out with each other,
and having a general smash] as “strongly in the style of Swift.” He
concludes with a pious hope that the time was coming when, to “excite
discontent and rebellions against government will be universally
considered as a crime too atrocious to be palliated by any speciousness
of theory.”

The “Gentleman’s Magazine” followed suit in its number for January,

The “Monthly Review,” well-known for the flexibility of its opinions,
was just then on the side of toleration, and considered that there
could be no justification for such abuse of Dr. Priestley; it did not
admire the vulgar fable of the pitcher haranguing the pans and jordans;
and concluded:--

    “We have no doubt that London has the honour of being the
    native place of this production; although it is pretended, at
    the bottom of the title-page, that it was originally printed at

The notice taken of the “Observations,” on the part of the “Analytical
Review,” was in a tone of the severest condemnation. The writer, also
considering that this was no American production, but “engendered
at home in some murky brain,” justly remarked that it was unfair to
continue the persecution of Dr. Priestley, after he had left his
native shores. With much ingenuity, the writer proceeded to point out
that no American would extol the English constitution, nor speak of
reformers as regenerated politicians, nor display such jealousy for the
Church of England, nor discourage the emigrating spirit,--as the author
of the “Observations” had done; and he proceeds to insinuate that
George Chalmers must be the culprit:--

    “From the similarity of spirit and style, which we observe
    between this production and Oldys’s ‘Life of Thomas Paine,’
    were we to indulge ourselves in conjecture, we should conclude
    these two pieces to have come from the same pen. But, whoever
    be the author of such gross scurrility, and malignant calumny,
    it is much to be wished that he were known to the public, that
    every honest man might be able to say to his neighbour,--

        “Hic niger est: hunc tu, Romane, caveto.”

The “Critical Review,” another respectable “defender of morality and
taste,” did not condescend to notice Peter Porcupine for several
years; and it was not till October, 1798, that the “Observations” (4th
Edition) found occupation for its discriminating pen,--the reviewer
having taken up this pamphlet “to observe scurrility throwing off all

Of all these public guides, the “Analytical” appears to have possessed
the most talent, and the “Monthly” to have been the most independent;
but all were, more or less, ranged on party lines. According to the
political leanings of each writer, so would go his indulgence toward
Peter’s forcible expressions, or his contempt for Peter’s vulgar

The “Bone to Gnaw,” when republished in London, was supported by a long
preface: “A Rod for the Backs of the Critics, containing a Historical
Sketch of the present state of political criticism in Great Britain,
as exemplified in the conduct of the Monthly, Critical, and Analytical
Reviews, &c. Interspersed with anecdotes. By Humphrey Hedgehog.[1]
‘_Melius non Tangere._’” The Historical Sketch (so-called) was a
general attack on revolutionary principles, and their supporters
in the press,--with especial reference to the publications named,
which had “reviewed, or to speak more correctly, _reviled_” the
“Observations.” It is not particularly elegant; and as to any power,
it is milk-and-water against strong ale, compared with the work to
which it is prefixed. But that was the conceit of this Hedgehog; who, a
feeble scarabæcide, had just wit enough to fancy that his little spines
gave him a sort of relationship to him of the quills.

Peter Porcupine was more fortunate in the advocacy of the “British
Critic.” That journal, albeit highly prejudiced, was a formidable
opponent of the ideas of the day. Intense horror of infidelity, united
to warmest loyalty to the Throne and to the Church, pervaded all its
articles. It is no wonder, then, that the editor of this review[2]
made it his business to patronize the trenchant pen of Peter. On the
occasion of noticing “A Little Plain English,” the writer records the
struggles he has had, to maintain that the new politician was from
America,--how “We” were assailed, both in public and private, for “our”
supposed credulity. And when the “Life and Adventures” appeared, the
satisfaction of the reviewer was complete. He continued, from time to
time, to congratulate himself and the public that he had been the first
to discover Peter’s merits; and was by no means disposed to lose sight
of him.

    “They who chose at that time to doubt of his existence, would
    be very glad, if they could, to disprove it now; but to their
    annoyance, and to the vexation of all Jacobins, he undoubtedly
    exists; and has done more towards the subversion of the French
    interest in America, and consequently towards restoring the
    ancient cordiality between that country and Great Britain,
    than could possibly have been expected from the efforts of any
    single writer. Truth,--Truth was with him; and what can long
    subsist against the powers of Truth and Honesty?” &c., &c.

As to his style, the reviewer is indulgent:--

    “That this writer is occasionally a little coarse in his style
    and expressions, cannot be denied; but, perhaps, he could not
    easily attain more refinement except at the expense of some
    strength; his object also appears to be to write in a popular
    and familiar manner.”

On the other hand, the independent and radical reviewers noticed
Peter with severe animadversions:--“To look into the writings of this
author for _facts_ would be a waste of time.”--“We meet with a strange
_farrago_ of petulance, abuse, false reasoning, and absurdity, into
which it would be disgusting to enter.”--“Absurd comments, gross
misrepresentations, and impudent attacks, both upon the dead and the
living.”--“A writer so weak and infatuated as Peter Porcupine.”

But it must be said, that these despisers of Peter had little of
argument wherewith to withstand him. His positions were generally
just, though sometimes exaggerated; and his violence was thoroughly
consistent from beginning to end,--excepting in this: that he as yet
knew nothing of the wicked oppressions which were going on, in some
quarters, at home. The “Analytical” justly called him to account for
his unfortunate allusions to the freedom of the press in England:--“He
complains that he was allowed _only_ an hour and a half to go out
and find bail. Here, under a similar prosecution, he might have
been arrested, and detained for several days, until his Majesty’s
servants found time to inquire into the securities offered:” with
further comparisons of the American and English procedures, very
disadvantageous to the latter. But this is almost a solitary example of
fair argument; and it looks very much, upon a reperusal of the various
comments which appeared from time to time, that it was only a question
of the richness of one’s vocabulary, as to who could be the most
foul-mouthed in dispute.

But, seeing that sober and respectable SYLVANUS URBAN could uphold
Peter thus: “This lively and animated writer, offensive to some of our
brethren because he tells the truth.”--“Concerning the writer as the
truest patriot in his own country, and the truest friend to honesty
and integrity.”--“If the mercenaries in England and their employers
can confute these just and animated assertions, we will give them
leave to heap harsher abuse than they have yet done on their natural
enemy, Peter Porcupine:”--we may be fully justified in believing that
his vigour and courage were admired, on all hands, not less by his
adversaries than by his friends. As long as he appeared to support a
Party this was natural enough; they could not do less, at the same
time, than attack him with all the force at their disposal.

There does not appear to be any record of the actual, direct, means by
which Porcupine’s writings were introduced to the British public. The
earlier tracts were printed for John Stockdale, and for the Rivingtons.
The “Life and Adventures” are said to have been republished at the
express desire of Mr. Canning; it is probable, therefore, that it is
due to the zeal and acumen of Mr. John Gifford,[3] that Cobbett’s
writings were discovered to be of incalculable value to the supporters
of monarchy. Mr. Gifford was Canning’s right-hand man, as editor. On
the upper floor of the house of Mr. Wright, publisher, of Piccadilly, a
room was rented by the celebrated contributors to the “Anti-Jacobin;”
and here sat Mr. Gifford, conducting the mechanical part of that
undertaking. Mr. Upcott, Wright’s assistant, was here occupied in
transcribing the writings of Canning, Frere, and Ellis, so that their
_incognito_ might be preserved. And Mr. Wright’s book-shop was the
constitutional book-shop of the day.

So it came to pass that Mr. Gifford wrote a lengthy preface to “A Bone
to Gnaw” (as already mentioned), and henceforward attended to the
reproduction of Porcupine’s tracts, which were, of course, published at
the shop of the monarchical bookseller, at 169, Piccadilly. After the
“Anti-Jacobin” was discontinued, Mr. Gifford commenced the publication
of the “Anti-Jacobin Review;” which, supported by Bowles,[4] Whitaker,
Dr. Bisset, and other Tory writers of the day, became the leading
party journal during the remainder of Mr. Pitt’s career. The very
first article in the new magazine was an elaborate review of Cobbett’s
anti-republican struggles, founded upon one of his later tracts; and
it was succeeded, from time to time, by frequent references to “this
staunch friend of social order.” The second volume bears the imprint of
“W. Cobbett, Philadelphia.”

Another celebrity of that day, John Heriot,[5] editor of the _True
Briton_, had some interchange of civilities with Cobbett, the latter
having desired him to supply his paper regularly to Philadelphia. Here
is an extract from Heriot’s answer to the application:--

    “Permit me now, sir, to return you my best acknowledgments
    for the numbers of your political work, which you did me the
    favour to transmit. Of the great merits of Peter Porcupine I
    was not before ignorant. I had read some of his political works
    with very high satisfaction. I shall be at all times happy,
    sir, through the medium of my papers (for I am proprietor of
    two), to recommend writings so deserving to the notice of the
    British public, and you will, perhaps, admit I can do this with
    some success, when I inform you that the circulation of my two
    papers extends to nearly 6000 per day. I had an opportunity
    lately of making some inquiries respecting you of a gentleman
    in my office here, and who formerly held a high diplomatic
    mission in America. He seemed to know you well, and spoke
    very highly both of your probity and talents. I have only to
    repeat, sir, that I shall think myself highly honoured by
    your correspondence, and you may at all times rely upon the
    best wishes and services of, sir, your most obedient, humble
    servant, JOHN HERIOT.”

From a letter to Mr. Nichols, printed in the “Gentleman’s Magazine” for
September, 1835, it appears that Cobbett also sought business relations
in that quarter. The letter (dated August 1, 1797) encloses a file of
_Porcupine’s Gazette_, and proposes to have a monthly exchange of their
respective publications; adding that the writer would be willing to
promote the sale of the “Gentleman’s Magazine” in America, if he could
come to any arrangement with his correspondent.

The following (unpublished) letter to Mr. T. J. Mathias[6] will
also be of great interest to the reader, as tending to show the
authoritative position which he had acquired as a bookseller and

       “Wm. C. to the Author of ‘The Pursuits of Literature:’--

    “Philadelphia, 12th Mar. 1799.--Sir,--The ‘Translation,’ with
    your obliging note in the blank leaf, is come safe to hand.
    Nothing that I can address to you can possibly be looked upon
    as flattery; you will therefore be assured of my sincerity
    when I say that a testimony of approbation under the hand
    and seal of the king himself could not have given me greater

    “Your matchless poem on the pursuits of literature is become
    very fashionable in the libraries of the Americans; and,
    amongst my ‘public services,’ as you are pleased to think them,
    I regard my having been the first to introduce this work as
    one of the greatest. But neither your awful voice nor that of
    an angel, were one to descend, can save America from another
    revolution! Your words will, indeed, be like bread thrown upon
    the waters; but they will produce no immediate effect here.

    “It is with much regret I see the pirating booksellers of
    Ireland carrying off the profits which, from this country,
    ought to return into the pocket of your bookseller. They send
    out cheap editions, by which means they obtain a preference;
    and the worst of the business is, they disgrace the work by
    publishing it incorrectly.

    “If you have seen my papers for a twelvemonth past, you will
    not require from me any additional proof of my respect; the
    file of papers, which I take the liberty to send you, I
    therefore beg you to receive as mere vehicles of intelligence.
    Nothing from this country can be a proper return for your
    present, unless you will have the goodness to regard as such,
    the unfeigned thanks of, sir, your most obliged, &c.”

Allusion has been made, in a previous page, to the offers made, on the
part of the Government at home, to advance Mr. Cobbett’s interests. One
of his own frequent references to that subject will help to illustrate
the subject of this chapter:--

    “MR. LISTON, our minister in America, informed me, in the year
    1798, I think it was, that the ministers at home were fully
    sensible of the obligations due to me from my country, and
    that, if I would accept of nothing for myself, they wished me
    to point out any of my relations, in the army or elsewhere,
    whom they might serve. To which I answered, as nearly as I can
    recollect, in the following words:--

    “‘As to my relations in the army, I can ask for no promotion
    for them, because I have no opportunity of knowing whether such
    promotion would be consistent with the good of the service;
    and, with respect to my relations out of the army, a sudden
    elevation might, perhaps, be very far from contributing to
    their happiness, besides which, though it would be my duty to
    assist them by means of my own earnings, I should not think it
    just in me to be instrumental in throwing them as a burden upon
    the nation.’

    “I may now have expressed myself with more perspicuity and
    conciseness than I did then; but this was the substance of my
    answer; and, if I may judge from what I have since witnessed
    amongst public writers, I must suppose that Mr. Liston was
    utterly astonished. It should be observed, too, that, if there
    was a man in the world, through whom such an offer could have
    had a chance of success, that man was Mr. Liston--a gentleman
    for whom I entertained a very high respect, and whose conduct
    constantly evinced that he was not merely a receiver of the
    public money, but one who had the interest and honour of his
    king and country deeply at heart. I had been a witness of his
    zeal, of his real public spirit, of his unremitted attention to
    his duty, of the great mischiefs he prevented, and of the great
    good which he did; and I respected him accordingly; but neither
    that respect, nor any other consideration, could induce me to
    depart from that line of perfect independence which I had at
    first chalked out to myself, and from which I never have, to
    the best of my recollection, for one moment deviated.”


[1] _I.e._ John Gifford.

[2] The _British Critic_ was the joint undertaking of Archdeacon Nares
and the Rev. William Beloe, Prebendary of St. Paul’s. Both these
gentlemen were staunch supporters of Pitt, and received their due
reward in this life. They were also accomplished bibliographers and
literary students, and rendered great service to literary history. The
_British Critic_ lived far into the nineteenth century.

[3] This gentleman (whose original name was John Richards Green) had
got rid of his patrimony, with the assistance of the Jews, at an
early age. To avoid his creditors, he took the surname of Gifford;
and, having discovered acuteness and talent in writing, he soon found
himself under the wing of Pitt, and became one of that statesman’s
ablest supporters in the press. Having been bred to the bar, Mr. Pitt
was enabled to reward his services by the magistracy of a London
police-court, which he held for many years. Gifford wrote, besides
several other historical works, a biography of his distinguished
patron:--“A History of the Political Life of the Right Honourable
William Pitt, including some Account of the Times in which he lived” (3
vols. 4to, London, 1809).

[4] John Bowles, barrister, was the author of several anti-gallican
pamphlets. In one of these he warmly praises the author of “The Bloody
Buoy,” who had executed a “useful and benevolent, though a most painful
and disgusting task.”

[5] Mr. Heriot was a Scotchman of great native ability. He had held
a commission in the Marines, and subsequently produced a novel and
some poems. When the Pitt Ministry resolved to set up a newspaper, the
_Sun_ and the _True Briton_ were established, and Mr. Heriot was chosen
editor, and under his management the papers soon reached a brilliant
circulation. After his retirement from the press, Mr. Heriot held a
valuable appointment in Barbadoes, and subsequently became Comptroller
of Chelsea Hospital, where he died in 1833.

[6] From a collection of letters received by the publisher of “The
Pursuits of Literature,” which was formerly in the possession of
Mathias, and now in the British Museum (Addl. MSS. 22,976).



The _Times_ newspaper for July 8th, 1800, announced, under date of
Falmouth, July 4th, the arrival of the _Lady Arabella_ packet from New
York, _viâ_ Halifax; adding that, “on the 20th, in lat. 50.30, long.
28.10, she was chased by a large vessel, which gained so much on her
that she found it necessary to heave her guns, shot, lumber, &c.,
overboard, by which means she was considerably lightened, and on the
following day got so much ahead that the pursuer gave up the chase.”
Among the passengers, who thus escaped the rigours of a French prison,
were “Mr. and Mrs. Cobbet.”

The following note is to Mr. Wright, the bookseller in Piccadilly,
dated Falmouth, 8th July:--

    “DEAR SIR,--I arrived here, with my family, last Friday, by
    the _Lady Arabella_ packet-boat, and shall set off for London
    to-morrow morning, travelling by the way of Bath, &c. … in a
    post-chaise, with Mrs. Cobbett and my two children, so that you
    may expect to see me in town on Saturday or Sunday next.

    “I have taken the liberty to give a draft on you for 20_l._
    I brought off only 50_l._ in cash; and, as I have remained
    here and at Halifax much longer than I thought there would be
    any occasion for, I was apprehensive I should fall short. Mr.
    Pellew, of this place, who, by-the-bye, is a brother of the
    gallant Sir Edward Pellew, offered me whatever I might want,
    and I gave him the above-mentioned draft. Do not fail to accept
    it, and I will be careful to lodge the cash with you before the
    time of payment arrives. Indeed, I will do it immediately upon
    my arrival.

    “Pray make my most respectful compliments to Mr. William
    Gifford, and believe me, though in haste, your very sincere
    friend and most obedient servant,

                                                  “WILLIAM COBBETT.

    “P.S.--That part of my baggage, which I am not able to carry
    with me, I have sent to a waggon warehouse, directed to your
    care. I shall, undoubtedly, be in town before it, but if, by
    some accident, I should be detained longer on the road than
    the 17th instant, I beg the favour of you to go and claim the
    things (two trunks, one bale, one deal box, and one band-box)
    at the Swan-and-two-Necks, Lad Lane.”

Mr. Cobbett’s arrival in England was early signalized by an
opportunity of carrying out his principles, long since determined on,
concerning the disposal of the public money:--

    “From my very first outset in politics, I formed the resolution
    of keeping myself perfectly independent, whatever difficulty
    or calamity might be the consequence of it.… With the same
    resolution in my mind I returned to England. The first
    opportunity of putting it in practice was in a little matter
    with which OLD GEORGE ROSE[1] had something to do. I had
    brought home with me books, printed in America, enough to fill
    a couple of large trunks; and, having been informed by Mr.
    Pellew, the collector at Falmouth, that as to books _not for
    sale_, it was usual, upon an application made to the Secretary
    of the Treasury, to obtain a remission of the duties, I wrote
    to Old Rose, informing him of the circumstance, and stating
    to him the ground upon which my claim was founded. George did
    not admit the claim; he made some difficulty about it; but,
    finding that I had, at once, paid the duty, amounting to about
    ten pounds, perhaps, he caused it to be notified to me that
    _the money should be returned to me_. This offer I would not
    accept of, not perceiving how, except by way of a _Treasury
    gift_, such a return could be made.”

Cobbett has made several references to Mr. Pellew, the collector of
customs, who appears to have lodged and entertained him, with much

       *       *       *       *       *

Upon his arrival in London, in the middle of July, Mr. Cobbett took
a lodging in St. James’s Street, and began to deliberate upon his
future. He had scarcely, when everything was counted up, five hundred
pounds with which to begin the world anew. But he had not to wait long
for a certain sort of encouragement. His fame was very widely spread
among the adherents of Government; besides that, numerous gentlemen of
Tory principles sought him out. Others, of independent politics, but
admiring his talents and his daring, came to pay court. The Government
press hailed him, and congratulated their countrymen “on the arrival of
an individual … whom no corruption can seduce, nor any personal danger
intimidate from the performance of his duty.”

Among these visitors were Baron Maseres; Dr. Ireland (shortly
afterwards Dean of Westminster), who was especially gracious to him;
the Rev. G. H. Glasse, rector of Hanwell, a well-known pamphleteer of
the day, a good scholar, and chaplain to the Earl of Radnor; the Rev.
William Beloe; Mr. John Penn, Sheriff of Buckinghamshire (who “took me
by the hand the very week I came to England”); &c. So that, along with
the immediate officials of Government, there was quite enough to turn
Mr. Cobbett’s head, had he not been possessed of supreme self-command.
At that moment, together with his native and acquired capacities, he
had the means and the opportunity, if so disposed, of carving out an
easy fortune.

But, of all his admirers, no one seems to have equalled Mr. WINDHAM, in
the warmth and eagerness with which that gentleman courted Cobbett’s

The Right Hon. William Windham (“the first gentleman of the age …
the ingenious, the chivalrous, the high-souled,” according to one of
Macaulay’s juster judgments) was an enthusiast; and, in the eyes of
those persons who shrug their shoulders when a man acts as though he
had some faith in his own opinions, _whimsical_. Deeply reverential
toward the memory of Mr. Burke, his own genius was not unfitted to bear
forth, to another generation, the name and the principles of that
great man. Windham was beloved and admired by all persons of refinement
and sensibility; and if he has left a name not so widely known as some
of his cotemporaries, it must be laid to the account of an extreme
self-consciousness, and an honourable delicacy, which prevented him
from serving always in the ranks of party with unreasoning devotion.

Mr. Windham’s peculiar scare was French Jacobinism; and he, along
with the leaders of the party who held similar views, thought that
there could be no lasting cessation of hostilities with Buonaparte,
whilst the ascendancy of the latter involved the spread of Democratic
principles. Mr. Windham was, naturally, a zealous admirer of that arch
anti-Jacobin, whose writings had so disturbed the bile of American
Democrats; and, upon Porcupine’s arrival in London, he immediately
sought his acquaintance. With Windham was associated Dr. French
Laurence, another intimate friend of the lamented Burke, who also ably
represented in Parliament the opinions of that statesman.

Mr. Windham was, at this time, Pitt’s Secretary-at-War; and, according
to the entry in his diary,[2] he appears to have met Cobbett for the
first time on the 7th of August, 1800 (probably at Windham’s official
residence). Mr. Cobbett’s references to this occurrence represent
Mr. Pitt as having been very polite to him on the occasion, and as
having inspired him with great admiration for his person and manners.
He was altogether pleased and gratified by his reception, and by the
ready condescension with which the company present conversed with him.
But, of course (as he said more than thirty years afterward), “it was
natural for Pitt and his set to look at me a little, to see what they
could make of so efficient a piece of stuff.” Mr. Pitt’s habitual
austerity and hauteur pretty generally disappeared at the dinner-table;
and Cobbett saw him, for the first time, at one of these happy
moments. So that, what with his very natural pride at the invitation,
and his satisfaction at finding that the King’s ministers were such
highly-agreeable fellows, he felt more than ever disposed to use his
talents in the support of monarchy. He resolved to set up a daily
paper; and left Mr. Windham’s dinner-table with that resolve uppermost
in his mind.

       *       *       *       *       *

That Mr. Pitt miserably erred, in the prosecution of the European
war, has long since been established, with all minds not wedded to
the notion that our rulers are of Divine appointment. What opposition
there was to his ideas, in his own day, was considered to proceed only
from the partisans of revolution; and it was easy to apply the term
“_disaffected_,” to humanitarians who hated war, or to the suffering
poor who wanted bread. But, notwithstanding that the Government
expenditure was over fifty millions per annum,[3] and that the ordinary
expenses of housekeeping had increased 300 per cent. in seven years,
the war was popular with all classes that had anything to fear from
modern doctrines. The political ignorance of even the majority of the
House of Commons of that day would put to shame the very students
of our time. And it is not too much to say that, had Lord Grenville
been anything of a statesman beyond the name, he would scarcely have
treated Napoleon’s overtures for peace, made at the close of the
year 1799, with mere contempt, and allowed a fair opportunity for a
general pacification to pass away because he must have, as a basis,
the reinstatement of the Bourbons upon the throne of France. Ministers
wanted to come out of the contest, in point of fact, with GLORY;
and any peace, which did not involve the attainment of the objects
with which the war was, professedly, being carried on, was certain
also to involve their prestige, if not their places. This may be said
without any disparagement to their honour. Mr. Pitt, Mr. Windham, Lord
Grenville,--all of them and their supporters, honestly believed that
their mission was, not only to keep French principles out of England,
but to smother them throughout Europe. Sternly, earnestly, they kept
to their purpose; forgetting, or, more probably, never having taken
to heart, the prodigious expansion which the eighteenth century had
produced in the human mind, and the certainty of its development in the
line of liberty; whilst confounding, in one heterogeneous estimate,
the unstable Gaul, the restless Pole, the high-spirited Celt, and the
conservative Briton.

       *       *       *       *       *

So Mr. Pitt’s supporters in the press, reflecting the fearsome notions
of their chief, and dreading, as from the Evil One himself, the
faintest breath of democracy, could only regard the “masses” as unfit
for more than the mere semblance of political rights. The impossibility
of phlegmatic JOHN BULL ever permitting, on his own soil, such follies
and excesses as the French Jacobins had perpetrated never entered
their minds. “Law and Order,” as personified in George III. and his
ministers, was the only antithesis to “Anarchy.” Some of these writers
lived to see the perilous consequences of the repressing system;
and a few survived to note the blessings which flowed from general
political enlightenment. Some, to the very last, shut their eyes to
the inevitable, and could prognosticate only decay; others, sooner or
later, discerned the signs of the times, and served worthily in the
van of progress. Of these latter, one of the first, one of the most
earnest, one of the bravest, was Mr. William Cobbett.

And it is not uninteresting to note that, on the very morrow of Mr.
Windham’s dinner-party, the dimness began to clear away from Cobbett’s
mind. Better and nobler hopes for the future of England, founded upon
something more solid than class-prescriptions, unfolded themselves;
the veil began to part, behind which was hidden the framework of
misgovernment alike with the skeletons of its framers; a glimmer
of dawn, the expansion of which was soon to light up a path, so
startlingly and unexpectedly distinct from his previous conceptions,
appeared,--a path, not upon the mossy turf of favour and privilege,
leading on to other mossy turves, but one trending up-hill, among
stones and briers--which stones would, at last, beaten down into the
earth by later footsteps, provide a firm foot-hold--which briers,
refreshed by successive showers, would yet emit a sweet and blessed

Here is his own account; and the man, or the woman, who can read it
without emotion, need scarcely go on with this history:--

    “When I returned to England, in 1800, after an absence from
    the country parts of it of sixteen years, the trees, the
    hedges, even the parks and woods, seemed _so small_! It made
    me laugh to hear little gutters, that I could jump over,
    called _rivers_! The Thames was but a _creek_! But when, in
    about a month after my arrival in London, I went to Farnham,
    the place of my birth, what was my surprise! Everything was
    become so pitifully _small_! I had to cross in my post-chaise
    the long and dreary heath of Bagshot; then, at the end of it,
    to mount a hill, called Hungry Hill; and from that hill I knew
    that I should look down into the beautiful and fertile vale
    of Farnham. My heart fluttered with impatience, mixed with a
    sort of fear, to see all the scenes of my childhood; for I
    had learnt, before, the death of my father and mother. There
    is a hill, not far from the town, called Crooksbury Hill,
    which rises up out of a flat, in the form of a _cone_, and is
    planted with Scotch fir-trees. Here I used to take the eggs
    and young ones of crows and magpies. This hill was a famous
    object in the neighbourhood. It served as the superlative
    degree of height. ‘_As high as Crooksbury Hill_’ meant, with
    us, the utmost degree of height. Therefore, the first object
    that my eyes sought was this hill. I could not believe my eyes!
    Literally speaking, I, for a moment, thought the famous hill
    removed, and a little heap put in its stead; for I had seen, in
    New Brunswick, a single rock, or hill of solid rock, ten times
    as big, and four or five times as high! The post-boy going
    down hill, and not a bad road, whisked me in a few minutes
    to the Bush Inn, from the garden of which I could see the
    prodigious _sand-hill_ where I had begun my gardening works.
    What a _nothing_! But now came rushing into my mind, all at
    once, my pretty little garden, my little blue smock-frock, my
    little nailed shoes, my pretty pigeons that I used to feed
    out of my hands, the last kind words and tears of my gentle
    and tender-hearted and affectionate mother. I hastened back
    into the room. If I had looked a moment longer, I should have
    dropped. When I came to reflect, _what a change_! I looked down
    at my dress--what a change! What scenes I had gone through! How
    altered my state! I had dined the day before at a Secretary
    of State’s in company with Mr. Pitt, and had been waited upon
    by men in gaudy liveries! I had had nobody to assist me in
    the world--no teachers of any sort--nobody to shelter me from
    the consequences of bad, and no one to counsel me to good,
    behaviour. I felt proud. The distinctions of rank, birth, and
    wealth, all become nothing in my eyes; and from that moment
    (less than a month after my arrival in England) I resolved
    never to bend before them.”

The determination to start a daily paper was wise on the part of
Mr. Cobbett, as far as his experience in Philadelphia had shown how
possible it was for him to entertain a large circle of readers; but
unwise, in that he had scarce capital enough with which to print
the numbers for a single week. Yet the opportunity for carrying out
his plan without risk was placed at his disposal; and there are few
incidents in Cobbett’s whole career which redound so greatly to
his credit as the refusal of this offer. The pride with which, in
after-years, he told and retold the story, may be estimated very
differently by different minds; but the spirit with which the refusal
was made is unexceptionable. There was no other way out of it, if he
meant Independence. If glimpses of grandeur had really not contaminated
that honest heart, nor weakened the impulses of that patriotic soul,
how should he live, and move, and work, and fight, with his hands not

And this is the story [he is addressing Mr. George Rose]:--

    “John Heriot was at that time the proprietor of two
    newspapers, called the _Sun_ and the _True Briton_--the former
    an evening and the latter a morning paper. I had heard that
    these two papers had been set on foot by _you_, who were then
    one of the Secretaries of the Treasury, and that, when set on
    foot, the profits of them had been given to Heriot. Now mark,
    that Mr. Hammond, who was then Under-Secretary of State in
    the Foreign Department, offered to me the _proprietorship_
    of one of those papers _as a gift_; and I remember very well
    that he told me that this offer was made in consequence of a
    communication with you, or your colleague Mr. Long, I forget
    which. This was no trifling offer. The very types, presses,
    &c., were worth a considerable sum. Mr. Hammond, who was a very
    honest as well as a very zealous and able man, had behaved with
    great kindness to me; had invited me frequently to his house,
    where I dined, I recollect, with Sir William Scott, with Lord
    Hawkesbury (now Lord Liverpool), and several other persons of
    rank; and, in short, had shown me so much attention, that I
    felt great reluctance in giving the following answer to his
    offer:--‘I am very much obliged to you, and to the gentlemen
    of whom you speak, for this offer; but, though I am very poor,
    my desire is to render the greatest possible service to my
    country, and I am convinced that, by keeping myself wholly
    free, and relying upon my own means, I shall be able to give
    the Government much more efficient support than if any species
    of dependence could be traced to me. At the same time, I do
    not wish to cast blame on those who are thus dependent; and
    I do not wish to be thought too conceited and too confident
    of my own powers and judgment to decline any advice that you,
    or any one in office, may at any time be good enough to offer
    me; and I shall always be thankful to you for any intelligence
    or information that any of you may be pleased to give me.’ Mr
    Hammond did not appear at all surprised at my answer; and I
    shall always respect him for what he said upon hearing it. His
    words were nearly these:--‘Well, I must say that I think you
    take the _honourable_ course, and I most sincerely wish it may
    also be the _profitable_ one.’ I ought not, upon this occasion,
    to omit to say that I always understood that Lord Grenville,
    who was then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, was not
    one of those who approved of the baseness and dependence of the

He also ventured to remind Mr. Hammond

    “of the fable of the wolf and the _mastiff_, the latter of
    which, having one night, when loose, rambled into a wood, met
    the former all gaunt and shagged, and said to him, ‘Why do you
    lead this sort of life? See how fat and sleek I am! Come home
    with me and live as I do, dividing your time between eating and
    sleeping.’ The ragged friend having accepted the kind offer,
    they then trotted on together till they got out of the wood,
    when the wolf, assisted by the light of the moon, the beams
    of which had been intercepted by the trees, spied a _crease_,
    a little _mark_, round the neck of the mastiff. ‘What is your
    fancy,’ said he, ‘for making that mark round your neck?’
    ‘Oh!’ said the other, ‘it is only the mark of my collar that
    my master ties me up with.’ ‘Ties you up!’ exclaimed the wolf,
    stopping short at the same time; ‘give me my ragged hair, my
    gaunt belly, and my _freedom_;’--and, so saying, he trotted
    back to the wood.”

Opportunities for reflecting upon the comparative states of dependence
and independence crowded apace. He could scarcely turn, among his
new circle of friends, without discovering some new Government
parasite, some new candidate for ministerial favour, some new
office-hunter or aspiring sinecurist. Mr. Pitt disdained the society
of newspaper-people, but was only too willing to pay them for their
praises. And it must not be left unnoticed that the practice of
liberally rewarding this class of writers has often been justified by
circumstances. The case in point, viz. the fight which was going on
against democracy, required that the enemy should be fought with his
own weapons; only it very unfortunately happened that all the talent
was on the other side, and, where quality was lacking, the fight must
needs be kept up with the aid of gold and silver. Mr. Cobbett would,
indeed, have been worth buying, if his price could have been named;
while there was a Paine, or a Thelwall, or a Godwin to be withstood.

The following brilliant and humorous passage of Cobbett’s, written in
his old age, will complete our illustration of this topic:--

    “At the time of my return, the great Government writers and
    political agents were John Reeves, who had been chairman of the
    _Loyal Association against Republicans and Levellers_; John
    Bowles; John Gifford; William Gifford; Sir Frederick Morton
    Eden, Bart.; the Reverend Mr. Ireland, now Dean of Westminster;
    the Reverend John Brand; the Reverend Herbert Marsh, now
    Bishop of Peterborough; Mallet Du Pan; Sir Francis D’Ivernois;
    and Nicholas Vansittart. These were all pamphlet-writers,
    supporting Pitt and the war through thick and thin. They,
    looking upon me as a fellow-labourer, had all sent their
    pamphlets to me at Philadelphia; and all of them, except Marsh,
    Vansittart, and the two Frenchmen, had written to me laudatory
    letters. All but the parsons called themselves ’SQUIRES in the
    title-pages of their pamphlets. Look at me now! I had been bred
    up with a smock-frock upon my back; that frock I had exchanged
    for a soldier’s coat; I had been out of England almost the
    whole of my time from the age of [twenty]. We used to give
    in those times the name of ’SQUIRE to none but gentlemen of
    great landed estates, keeping their carriages, hounds, and so
    forth: look at me, then, in whose mind my boyish idea of a
    ’SQUIRE had been carried about the world with me: look at me,
    I say, with letters from four ’SQUIRES and from REVERENDS on
    my table; and wonder not that my head was half turned! Only
    think of me (who, just about twelve years before, was clumping
    about with nailed shoes on my feet, and with a smock-frock on
    my back) being in literary correspondence with four ’SQUIRES,
    two REVERENDS, and a BARONET! Look at me, and wonder that I did
    not lose my senses! And if I had remained in America, God knows
    what might have happened.

    “Luckily I came to England, and that _steadied_ my head pretty
    quickly. To my utter astonishment and confusion, I found all my
    ’SQUIRES and REVERENDS, and my BARONET too--all, in one way or
    other, dependents on the Government, and, _out of the public
    purse, profiting from their pamphlets_. John Reeves, ESQUIRE,
    who was a barrister, but never practised, I found _joint
    patentee of the office of King’s Printer_--a sinecure worth,
    to him, about 4000_l._ a year, which he had got for thirty
    years, just then begun. John Bowles, ESQUIRE, (also a briefless
    barrister) I found a _Commissioner of Dutch Property_; and the
    public recollect the emoluments of that office, as exposed in
    1809. John Gifford, ESQUIRE, I found a _Police Magistrate_,
    with a pension of 300_l._ a year besides. William Gifford,
    ESQUIRE, I found sharing the profits of Canning’s anti-Jacobin
    newspaper (set up and paid for by the Treasury), and with a
    sinecure of 329_l._ a year besides. My BARONET I found with
    rent-free apartments in Hampton Court Palace, and with what
    else I have forgotten. My REVEREND John Brand I found with the
    living of St. George, Southwark, given him by Lord Loughborough
    (then Chancellor), he already having a living in Suffolk. My
    REVEREND Ireland I found with the living of Croydon, or the
    expectancy of it, and also found that he was _looking steadily
    at old Lord Liverpool_. The REVEREND Herbert Marsh I found a
    pension-hunter, and he soon succeeded to the tune of 514_l._
    a year. Mallet Du Pan I found _dead_, but I found that he had
    been a _pensioner_, and I found his widow a pensioner, and his
    son in one of the public offices. And Nicholas Vansittart,
    ESQUIRE, who had written a pamphlet to prove that the war had
    enriched the nation, I found, O God! a _Commissioner of Scotch
    Herrings_! Hey, dear! as the Lancashire men say; I thought it
    would have broken my heart!

    “Of all these men, REEVES and WILLIAM GIFFORD were the only
    ones of talent--the former a _really learned_ lawyer, and,
    politics aside, as good a man as ever lived--a clever man; a
    head as clear as spring water; considerate, mild, humane; made
    by nature to be an English judge. I did not break with him on
    account of politics. We said nothing about them for years. I
    always had the greatest regard for him; and there he now is in
    the grave, leaving, the newspapers say, _two hundred thousand
    pounds_, without hardly a soul knowing that there ever was such
    a man! The fate of WILLIAM GIFFORD was much about the same:
    both lived and died bachelors; both left large sums of money;
    both spent their lives in upholding measures which, in their
    hearts, they abhorred, and in eulogizing men whom, in their
    hearts, they despised; and, in spite of their literary labours,
    the only chance that they have of being remembered, for even
    ten years to come, is this notice of them from a pen that both
    most anxiously wished to silence many years ago. Amongst the
    first things that Reeves ever said to me was: ‘I tell you what,
    Cobbett, we have only two ways here; we must either _kiss_,--or
    _kick_ them; and you must make your choice at once.’ I resolved
    to kick. William Gifford had more asperity in his temper, and
    was less resigned. He despised Pitt and Canning and the whole
    crew; but he loved ease, was _timid_; he was their slave all
    his life, and all his life had to endure a conflict between his
    pecuniary interest and his conscience.

    “As to the rest of my _’Squires_ and other dignified
    pamphleteers, they were a low, talentless,
    place-and-pension-hunting crew; and I was so disgusted with the
    discoveries that I had made, that I trembled at the thought of
    falling into the ranks with them. Love of _ease_ was not in
    me; the very idea of becoming _rich_ had never entered into my
    mind; and my horror at the thought of selling my talents for
    money, and of plundering the country with the help of the means
    that God had given me wherewith to assist in supporting its
    character, filled me with horror not to be expressed.”


[1] The Right Hon. George Rose, M.P., a Government official, and one
of the luckiest sinecurists of his day. His “success” in life aroused,
alternately, the ridicule and the wrath of his cotemporaries:--

“George Rose, Esq., Secretary to the Treasury, &c., &c., &c., &c., &c.,
&c., &c.”--Mathias: “Pursuits of Literature.”

“_Greedy_:--George Rose’s moderation, and not satisfied.”--Pigott’s
“Political Dictionary” (1796).

“Who in his lifetime held situations worth 10,000_l._ per annum,
and whose family, it has been calculated, received in principal and
interest, nearly two millions of the public money.”--“Black Book; or
Corruption Unmasked” (1820).

Mr. Rose was, nevertheless, one of the best public servants this
country ever possessed.

[2] “Council dinner: Hammond, Canning, Frere, Malone; Cobbett, _alias_
‘Peter Porcupine,’ whom I saw for the first time; Pitt, and George
Ellis; Canning’s cousin.”--“Diary of the Right Hon. William Windham”
(Longmans, 1866), p. 430.

[3] The total population, at the same time, being less than _eleven_



Mr. Cobbett’s facile pen could not remain completely at rest, whilst
the project of a newspaper was yet only in the bud. On the 30th August
he issued a sixth (and final) number of the _Rushlight_, wherein he
reviewed the circumstances of his career, and the tenor of his writings
in the United States. This fugitive number is not only very temperate
in style, but elegant, unless exception be taken to its strong
anti-gallican spirit; calling, as it does, upon the Americans to shun
“all connexion with that den of monsters, France.” With reference to
his own war-whoop, he says,--

    “I studied the interests of my country. To make the name of
    Englishmen a friendly sound, to recommend an imitation of our
    Government, our fashions, our propensities, and finally to
    make them pay a tribute to England, through the medium of her
    manufactures, was the object nearest my heart.”

At last, in the course of the ensuing month, an advertisement appeared
of the projected newspaper; and the public were invited to ask for a
prospectus at the house of William Cobbett, at No. 18, Pall Mall. It
was to be called THE PORCUPINE, and to appear every morning at the
office, No. 3, Southampton Street, Strand.

The prospectus of the _Porcupine_ was on the lines of
anti-Republicanism. The editor confessed that it was with the utmost
astonishment and indignation that he found a portion of the press
endeavouring to bring down upon his native country the calamity and
disgrace attendant on revolution; still preaching fanaticism and
infidelity, and “still bawling for that change which they have the
audacity to denominate Reform.” It was not for him to fold his hands
and tamely listen to the insolent eulogists of republican governments,
who had seen republican officers of state offering to sell their
country for a few thousand dollars, who had seen republican judges
become felons, and felons become judges, &c., &c. The paper should be
distinctly anti-gallican:--

    “The intrigues of the French, the servile, the insidious,
    the insinuating French, shall be an object of my constant
    attention. Whether at war or at peace with us, they still
    dread the power, envy the happiness, and thirst for the ruin
    of England.… Had they the means, they would exterminate us to
    the last man; they would snatch the crutch from our parents,
    the cradle from our children; and our happy country itself
    would they sink beneath those waves on which they now flee from
    the thunder of our cannon.… While we retain one drop of true
    British blood in our veins, we never shall shake hands with
    this perfidious and sanguinary race, much less shall we make
    a compromise with their monkey-like manners and tiger-like

The _Porcupine_ would also resist the mischievous portion of the press,
and pay much less regard to the feelings and interests of fanatical and
factious booksellers than to the cause of religion and loyalty. The
editor held it to be the duty of men in power to employ the pen, as
well as the sword, in defence of Government, yet,--

    “The peculiar circumstances, under which I now come forward,
    demand from me an explicit and solemn assertion of my
    INDEPENDENCE. My undertaking is my own; it was begun without
    the aid, without the advice, and even without the knowledge,
    of any person either directly or indirectly connected with the
    ministry; if, therefore, I hope to yield some trifling support
    to that ministry, it is not because I have received, or ever
    shall receive, any gratification at their hands; but because
    I am most sincerely persuaded that, next to the virtues of His
    Majesty and the general loyalty of his subjects, this country
    owes its preservation to the wisdom and integrity of Mr. Pitt
    and his colleagues.”

But all this should never make the _Porcupine_ “the blind instrument
of party, the trumpet of indiscriminate applause.” The prospectus
concluded with further references to the writer’s long-continued
solicitude for the happiness and glory of England.

The first number of the _Porcupine_ appeared on Thursday, Oct. 30th,
and the price was 6_d._ It bore the motto--FEAR GOD, HONOUR THE
KING. The proprietor had received five columns of advertisements,
notwithstanding a previous announcement that the “obscene and filthy
boastings of quackery” would, on no consideration whatever, be
admitted. So the paper had a very fair start. In the third week, the
early numbers were being reprinted; and on the 9th December, the
circulation had reached 1500. Also,--

    “The Porcupine cannot boast of being seen in the numerous
    pot-houses of this metropolis: but we have the superior
    advantage of being generally read by persons of _property_,
    _rank_, and _respectability_.”

This was probably the case, for the _Anti-Jacobin Review_ condescended
to back up Mr. Cobbett thus:--

    “… A daily paper, under the title of the _Porcupine_, has
    been most deservedly admitted as a desirable appendix at the
    breakfasting-table of every _true_ friend to their _king_, to
    their _country_, and to _decency_.”

Mr. Pitt’s resignation of office, early in 1801, although ostensibly
caused by his difference with the king upon the Catholic question, had
for its object, more probably, the substitution of a minister who could
consistently negotiate with Buonaparte. This was suspected by many; and
it appeared conclusive, upon the almost incredible announcement that
Mr. Addington was to take the helm of affairs. That arch-mediocrity,
owing his promotion entirely to royal favour, had filled the Speaker’s
chair with tolerable credit, but was without any of the gifts entitling
him to rank among statesmen; and, until it was discovered that Mr.
Pitt was still chief wire-puller, the nation could hardly credit the
appointment; and, as far as can now be judged, it was the beginning of
a more widely-spread distrust of Pitt.

The _Porcupine_ had consistently praised the “heaven-born” minister,
and continued to do so, more or less, during its whole career. It
began to diverge in opinion on the day of the above announcement. It
was high time “for all true Englishmen to rally round the Throne,”
for the granting of the proposed concessions to the Catholics
“would undermine and finally overthrow,” &c., &c., according to the
long-buried tenets of High-Toryism. A few weeks afterward, some
sarcasm, directed toward Pitt’s paper-financing, appeared, but was
disavowed next day by the editor, who had not seen the paragraph
before it appeared in print, and who continued to entertain, “in
common with a vast majority of the nation, the highest opinion of
that gentleman’s talents as a financier.” Upon a report that Mr. Pitt
was intending [July] to sell Holwood, he remarked that “we shall ever
continue to think that to suffer a man, who has rendered such services
to his country in particular, and to Europe in general, to feel the
consequences arising from a confined income, is to incur a national
disgrace.” But, by the end of the year, Mr. Cobbett was in opposition,
along with the new party under Mr. Windham’s leadership.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before dismissing the _Porcupine_ newspaper, the reader will be
entertained with a few characteristic illustrations. The editor very
early began to display his pugnacity toward the opposition press. Not
that he was singular, but that he excelled all his cotemporaries in the
art of hitting straight when attacked. The newspapers of that day were
largely occupied in throwing dirt at one another,[1] and one column
was often taken up by a string of paragraphs, containing laboured
sarcasms directed toward public men or the other public prints. The
_True Briton_ was especially industrious in this way. But here is

    “The DETECTOR.--Under this title, it is our intention to devote
    a column or two of our paper, once a week at least, to the
    detecting and exposing of the ignorance, perverseness, and
    falsehood of the Jacobinical and stock-jobbing prints, which,
    to the great scandal and reproach of the nation, are not only
    tolerated, but _read_. From our experience, acquired in a
    country where the spirit of Jacobinism is, if possible, still
    more daring and violent than in England, we are convinced that,
    to succeed in a warfare such as we have commenced, defensive
    measures will not do,” &c.

    “The _Times_ calls the _Chronicle_ the ‘leading print of
    Opposition,’ which compliment the _Chronicle_ returns by
    styling the _Times_ the ‘leading print of Government.’… What
    can entitle them to the epithet ‘_leading_,’ we are at a
    loss to discover, except it be their superiority in point of
    turpitude … if falsehood and hypocrisy admit of degrees of
    comparison, we are rather disposed to give the _Times_ the
    scandalous pre-eminence.”

    “The _Morning Chronicle_ was yesterday seized with the
    horrors,” &c.

    “To Correspondents.--Nimrod is surprised that we should have
    condescended to notice the _Oracle_, and advises us to pursue
    a nobler _game_; but he should do us the justice to recollect
    that, when game are not to be found, sportsmen sometimes amuse
    themselves by destroying _vermin_.”

    “Ignorance and perversity: For these two amiable qualities the
    _Morning Post_ and the _Times_ are eminently distinguished.”

    (The _Observer_): “The occupation of this print is to scrape
    together the orts of the week, and hash them up,” &c.

    “The _Monthly Magazine_, a periodical miscellany, which we have
    already mentioned with due abhorrence.”

    “The _Morning Herald_, in the delirious enjoyment of its puns
    and conundrums.”

    “Profound _Morning Post_! poor innocent! what does it know of
    the existing differences between this country and America? No
    more, we dare engage, than do the footmen and chambermaids
    who read its conundrums with such delight.… We would indeed
    earnestly recommend the _Morning Post_ to avoid politics
    altogether. Its company will always be welcome in the kitchen,
    and sometimes in the nursery.”

The _Porcupine_ had the smaller difficulties to contend with; as when
several country subscribers complained of “other papers being foisted
on them;” and “the flagrant imposition of some of the hawkers in
Wimpole Street, who have charged eightpence for the _Porcupine_.” In
fact, there was a little too much communicability on the part of the
editor toward his correspondents, at the same time that correspondents
were permitted to be very plain-spoken. One of them suggested that
satire would be more keen if conveyed in the most polished language: he
thought that “the comparison, some days ago, of _the dog returning to
his vomit_, or any ideas or expressions bearing upon coarseness, offend
the more refined inhabitants of this kingdom.”

In inviting correspondence for his paper, Mr. Cobbett adopted a course
which is not usually taken, viz. that of requesting that communications
be _not_ accompanied with the real name of the author. He was,
besides, much plagued with unpaid letters--a circumstance which he
had often to complain of both before and after this period. Some of
his correspondents were people of real distinction, among them being
Lord Grenville, who wrote letters under the name of SULPICIUS. Jeremy
Bentham, also, contributed a long article upon the projected Population
Bill; which appears in the _Porcupine_ of Dec. 1st, 1800, and is
reprinted in Bentham’s collected writings.

Toward the close of the _Porcupine’s_ career, the negotiations for
peace came to a conclusion, and that paper stood almost alone in
opposition. The perilous task of boldly attacking the First Consul was

    “We request our readers to observe that henceforth we shall
    be very particular in what we say about the most illustrious
    sovereign, Consul Buonaparte. Oh, how we shall extol him! We
    shall endeavour to give our readers the earliest information
    when he rises, breakfasts, dines, sups, and spits.”

And, as all this was in direct violation of the popular feeling of the
moment, a catastrophe occurred which, in all probability, contributed
to bring the _Porcupine and Anti-gallican Monitor_ to an untimely end.
Mr. Cobbett was repeatedly urged to bend before the blast, but that was
not in him.

The story appears to be this. Lauriston, the bearer of the despatches
containing the preliminaries of peace, received an ovation from
the mob, immediately upon his landing. On his reaching London, “a
vile, degraded rabble, miscalled BRITONS, took the horses out of the
carriage,” and dragged the vehicle round the parks and the West-end in

The _Porcupine_ was horrified: this was all in the French style, and
the nation was prostrate at the feet of Buonaparte. But, among all
reflecting politicians, the peace was derided; and, several persons
declining to light up their windows in token of rejoicing, had the
mortification of seeing them broken. On the 7th October, all the
windows on the east side of Berkeley Square were damaged; and Bond
Street and the neighbourhood displayed similar evidences of popular
displeasure. On Saturday, the 10th, a general illumination took place;
and there were few who dared to run the risk of being counter to
that displeasure. Among those few, however, was the publisher of the
_Porcupine_, who had in the morning’s paper reiterated his objections
to the proposed treaty; and now, in the evening, resolutely kept the
windows in darkness, both of the house in Pall Mall, and of that in
Southampton Street. Of course, both houses were sacked, the cheerful
rabble keeping up a siege of six or seven hours’ duration,--the person
in charge, at the newspaper office, narrowly escaping with his life.

There was a great demand for this Saturday’s paper. On Monday, however,
the editor was “under the necessity of apprising his readers that the
publication of the _Porcupine_ must cease until the ‘delirium of joy’
shall have subsided.” This interregnum lasted two days. On Thursday
commenced the publication of a series of letters, addressed to Lord
Hawkesbury, “on the peace with Buonaparte.” They were signed WILLIAM
COBBETT, and continued to appear at intervals until the 4th of November.

But the _Porcupine_ was doomed. In spite of an increasing circulation,
the paper was a financial failure; it was interfering with the
bookselling business in Pall Mall, and the proprietor was getting
dissatisfied with the annoyances entailed upon him. “He who has been
the proprietor of a daily paper for only one month wants no Romish
priest to describe to him the torments of purgatory.” So, in the course
of November, the paper became the property of Mr. John Gifford; and
on the 1st of January, 1802, it finally disappeared, being merged in
Heriot’s paper, the _True Briton_.

The “Letters to Lord Hawkesbury” have been highly extolled, and not
without reason, for they contain arguments against the peace of
Amiens, which were very shortly after their publication completely
justified by events. The “Letters” were immediately collected into
a volume (together with three letters to Mr. Addington on the same
topic), and ran through more than one edition. And the historian of the
period, when that genius arrives among us, will regard them as classic
writings, as well for their eloquence as for the clearness and cogency
of their reasoning.

       *       *       *       *       *

Among the personal matters of this year must be mentioned the opening
of Mr Cobbett’s shop in Pall Mall. On the 23rd of March, a notification
was made in the _Porcupine_ to the effect that Mr. Cobbett had

    “formed a partnership with Mr. JOHN MORGAN, late of
    Philadelphia, to whom he has been long attached by a friendship
    founded on a concurrence of political principles, and on a
    similarity of conduct at a time when few Englishmen were to be
    found loyal and bold enough openly to defend the character of
    their king and country.”

This was accompanied by an advertisement of the new business,[2] and
another announcing the forthcoming publication of Porcupine’s works in
12 vols. 8vo.

The re-crystallization of parties, which took place in consequence
of the proposed peace, drew together a band of gentlemen under the
leadership of Lord Grenville and Mr. Windham. This clique was known
as the “New Opposition;” and they became separated from their former
colleagues on the ground that Mr. Pitt had violated his solemn
declaration not to make peace with France until the political balance
of Europe should be restored.

Mr. Cobbett, then, believing in his heart that England was falling
into the grasp of France, and that the nation, besides, was in great
peril on account of the increase of the national debt, found himself in
the ranks of this new opposition party--not as a party man, however,
but solely from his own independent standpoint. They believed in his
sincerity, they applauded his wonderful courage and the fine power
of his pen, but did not exercise any dictation. They “agreed, and
sometimes disagreed, but never attempted to thwart” the course of his

The need for a new organ in the press was manifest; and the project
of a weekly review--“something between a newspaper and a magazine,”
which should give easy instruction on political topics, not only to the
multitude, but also to those who lead the multitude--was submitted by
Cobbett to Mr. Windham.

    “Such a publication,” (he continues) “conducted with great
    diligence and care, some talent, unwearied perseverance, and an
    inviolable attachment to truth, will, if anything can, awaken
    the dormant spirit of the nation, and form a rallying-point for
    the now scattered friends of the king and the country.”

The scheme will require 600_l._ to start it with. But he has already
sunk too much in the _Porcupine_, and he cannot draw any considerable
sum from the new promising partnership with Morgan. How the money is to
be raised it is not for him to say; yet, should a subscription be set
on foot, his own emolument must not be regarded as the object:--

    “I disclaim all desire to derive pecuniary advantage from the
    proposed undertaking, and all idea of _personal obligation_
    towards any one who may think proper to contribute towards
    it. I ask for nothing for myself. I myself want neither
    remuneration for the past nor aid for the future; I have a
    business quite sufficient to satisfy all my wants and all my
    wishes; I ask not for encouragement even in that business. Its
    success is so certain, and so perfectly independent of every
    one in England, that I might, without the least injury thereto,
    shut up my shop, and retire to the country, only taking a ride
    to London twice a week.… Self-interest was never a _pecuniary_
    consideration with me; and I have so long exerted myself for
    my king and country--I have endeavoured to do, and have really
    suffered, so much for them, in almost every way that a man
    can act or suffer, that to desire to promote their interest
    and their honour is become the leading propensity of my mind.
    I am, therefore, willing--I am even anxiously desirous--to
    conduct the publication now proposed; but that desire, great
    as it is, will not suffer me to do, or to accept of, anything
    that shall in the smallest degree work a forfeiture of that
    independence--to preserve which I have all my lifetime
    practised, and I still do practise, industry and economy to
    their utmost extent.”

This plan was communicated to Dr. Laurence, and to several other
gentlemen of the new opposition, by Mr. Windham. It was warmly adopted;
the money was immediately raised, and the new journal started.
The first number appeared in January, 1802, and bore the title of


[1] A practice which lasted, however, until a recent generation; _e.g._
see the following tit-bits from the _Times_ of July 26th, 1838:--Of
the _Morning Post_--“this kitchen-stuff journal;” “this cockney out of
livery;” “flippant and foolish as its brother blockheads.” And of the
_Courier_--“that abject slave and unprincipled tool of the Ministers.”
The _Post_ is also said to “proceed the entire swine,” &c.

[2] “Cobbett and Morgan, Booksellers and Stationers, at the Crown and
Mitre, Pall Mall, having commenced business under the patronage of
their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales, the Dukes of Clarence,
Kent, and Cumberland, and Prince Augustus, beg leave to express a
hope that by their earnest and constant endeavours to render their
undertaking not altogether unworthy of the protection of their Royal
Patrons, they shall not fail to obtain some degree of encouragement
from the nobility and gentry, and the public in general,” &c., &c.

[3] A squib of the time (from the _Morning Post_, reproduced in _Spirit
of the Journals_, 1802) illustrates this topic and the influence which
Mr. Cobbett then had with the Windham party:--

“Plan of the Campaign. From our Head-quarters in Pall Mall, April 1,
1802.--_General Orders._--The army to be formed into two divisions;
the first, commanded in person by General L----d G----e, to occupy the
_heights_; the other, under the orders of Lieut.-General W----m, to
attack the enemy in his _lower_ position. The ground to be taken by
either division to be previously marked out by Quartermaster-General
Cobbett. A copy to be given to each officer, to whom the command of
a column may be entrusted; the Quartermaster-General’s advice to be
taken, and studiously observed in every operation,” &c., &c.



William Cobbett was now in his fortieth year,[1] in the prime of life,
blessed with unfailing health, unimpaired talents, and habits of
industry, and a sturdy sense of his independence. At this beginning
of the year 1802, he could command anything he chose--not the least
matter being the ear of thousands of ready listeners. It is very easy
to understand and account for the immediate success of the _Political
Register_. The plan had long been in Cobbett’s mind. It partook of the
qualities of his Philadelphia _Censor_, joined to those of a weekly
newspaper: parliamentary debates, public official documents, foreign
intelligence, weekly prices-current, and diary of the weather, &c.,
along with the editor’s summary of politics, made up such a journal as
was wanted--not only for periodical instruction, but that might furnish
a ready means of reference. As projected and as carried out for the
first two years, the _Register_ was far in advance of anything that had
been hitherto attempted. About three hundred subscribers were found, to
start with, the price being 10_d._ per number, fortnightly. But the two
numbers for January were so far successful, that February 6th saw the
commencement of a weekly issue.

From this date until June, 1835 (excepting a break of three months,
April-June, 1817), the famous _Register_ appeared uninterruptedly. Its
form changed from time to time; but its valiant, its unconquerable
editor was the ruling spirit and the chief contributor during the long
period of thirty-three years. Its readers, its patrons, its friends,
its enemies, its own views upon public characters, its own assertions
as to the tendency of events, its own beliefs--all changed from time
to time. But, with the vicissitudes amid which its intrepid career was
run, there was one principle underlying the whole--one foundation from
which it was never removed. That was a strong conservative attachment
to the constitution of the country, allied to deep affection for its
people--sentiments which were never more necessary to be proclaimed
than during the hideous misgovernment of the first quarter of this
century, and sentiments which were never more constantly proclaimed
than through the lips, or by the pen, of William Cobbett. The reader
may, in the course of this entertaining history, be able to satisfy
himself how true--how _very_ true--is this standpoint.

Meanwhile, let us take a few soundings at the outset; let us see
what bottom the lead brings up; steering will then be an affair of
confidence--such perplexities as do arise depending mainly upon the
conditions of wind and storm, tide and current, and not upon unknown
conditions existing beneath the waters. Here, then:--

    [1802] “The throne on which God has placed our Sovereign, and
    our own prosperity, freedom, and public happiness, which have
    no other basis but that throne, are our first and greatest

    [1817] “A thousand times over have I said that we wanted
    _nothing new_. I say so still. We want the laws of England. We
    want no innovation. We want to destroy neither Kings, Nobles,
    nor Church. We want the laws of England, and _the laws of
    England we will have_.”

    [1820] “My principles, then, are as follows:--I hold that it is
    the duty of us all to do our utmost to uphold a Government in
    King, Lords, and Commons. That, as to religion, opinions ought
    to be left as God has made them in our minds, perfectly free,
    and that persecution on account of religious opinions is of
    the worst and most wicked kind. That no man ought to be taxed
    but by his own consent, agreeably to the law of the land. That
    elections ought to be free.… That the affairs of the nation
    ought to be so managed that every sober and industrious and
    healthy man ought, out of his own wages, to be able to support
    himself, wife, and family, in a comfortable and decent manner.…
    That it is the weight of taxes which produces all the miseries
    which this nation now suffers.… That the Debt and other fixed
    expenses are a mortgage on the labour of every man, woman, and
    child, in the country.… That, unless a great change speedily
    take place, this nation will become feeble and contemptible as
    well as enslaved; and that its capital will be conveyed away to
    enrich and to give power to rival nations.”

    [1833] “I hold that this, which we have here, is the best sort
    of Government in the world.”

At the commencement of the year 1802, that party represented by Mr.
Windham and his friends honestly believed that England was at the feet
of Buonaparte; and, so strongly did they urge their opinions, that the
advocates of peace were beginning to talk again of war, “should it be
found necessary,” even before the definitive treaty arrived in London,
in April. Mr. Cobbett’s view was that we were “a beaten and a conquered
people;” that John Bull was only a spaniel after all. Not that “Boney”
was so much to be feared, as the spirit of the French Republic, which
was sapping the foundations of English loyalty. Anti-Gallicanism seemed
dying out. Noble sentiments were being overpowered by effeminacy, cant,
and the love of money. Loyalty had become “a matter of expedience
rather than what it used to be--a principle of equal force with filial
affection or the love of life.”

But Mr. Addington and his ministry are pledged to peace, and peace must
be tried, if only to expose its inutility. So, while the ministerial
papers blow peace-bubbles, and leave off, for a while, calling “Boney”
wicked names, Mr. Cobbett sighs to think how the paths of glory do
indeed lead but to the grave: for England is approaching her final doom.

The first-fruit of all this is ruffianism in the shape of newspaper
abuse and of mob-tyranny. For the time being, Mr. Cobbett is the most
unpopular man in London, and he knows it--and he defies it:--

    “The alliterative words, _peace_ and _plenty_, sound well in a
    song, or make a pretty transparency in the window of an idiot;
    but the things which these harmonious words represent are not
    always in unison.”

Which means, of course, that he will certainly not illuminate
his windows on the forthcoming celebration of the signing of the
Definitive Treaty. His _Register_ is occupied with more letters to Lord
Hawkesbury, written, too, in magnificent style, and furnished with
arguments which might be refused a hearing, but could not be gainsaid.

So the peace-proclaiming cavalcade approaches; the order for
illumination goes forth; and the windows of No. 11, Pall Mall, are once
more shattered, and the ornamental “Crown and Mitre” once more dashed
to the ground.

This time, however, it was a more serious matter for the assailants.
Cobbett had expected something of the kind, and removed his wife and
family to the house of a friend; he gave notice to the police, and was
resolved to reach the culprits, if possible--which he did, for “six of
the villains” were brought up to Bow Street next morning. They were
all in a respectable station in life, two of them being clerks in the
Post Office, and one of these a son of the Rev. William Beloe, who had
formerly been one of Porcupine’s warmest admirers. In the end these
young men were tried at the sessions, and heavily fined.

But the incident furnished Cobbett with material for sarcasm, which
was freely dealt out at intervals. He “would rather be _compelled_ to
illuminate than have a choice, and so have his house demolished by
Government reptiles.” On the king’s birthday (4th June) the people were
not illuminating, as “the practice seems discredited on account of
recent occurrences.” And in the following year, when things were going
wrong again, and the decks were once more being cleared for action, he
ventures to remind Lord Hawkesbury (who had “smiled” at the affair)
that there was a time to weep as well as a time to laugh.

       *       *       *       *       *

The alternations of tone, on the part of public writers and speakers of
this period, with reference to Buonaparte, are very amusing. They had
called him a tyrant, a despot, a cut-throat, a murderer, an assassin, a
poisoner, a monster, an infidel, an atheist, a blasphemer, a hypocrite,
a demon, a devil, a robber, a wolf, a usurper, a thief, a savage, a
tiger, a renegade, a liar, a braggart, a cuckold, a coward, and a fool.

They now extolled his character: “his courage, his magnanimity, his
wisdom, and even his piety.” A few months later, he was “the most
abominable miscreant that ever breathed.”

No wonder, then, that the man, who had been consistent all through, and
was found to be right at last, must be put down. If there is anything
the average specimen of John Bull hates, it is the man who has caught
him tripping. Hence, from this time, Mr. Cobbett found he had the
bitterest enemies on his native soil. Early in the year 1803, Otto, the
French ambassador, wanted the Government to prosecute him, along with
Peltier. Mr. Windham was exhorted to disavow him. The “British Critic,”
which had suckled Cobbett’s infant reputation, now felt “diffident” of
much that it had said on his behalf; and the Addington ministry had
their eye upon him. As for his rivals in the press, it must be said
that their conduct was unhandsome. Here was the very first man who had
succeeded in obtaining an independent position for the craft;[2] yet
the mere fact of his having rejected the arts of Treasury corruption
was sufficient to rouse their envy. There was Mr. Heriot, for example,
who was getting fat and rich, and was looking forward to some snug
berth to which he might retire, could not bear to see Mr. Cobbett
getting fat and rich on independent principles. So far did this
feeling extend, that a very sad affair presently ensued.

There had been a debate in the House of Commons upon the Defence Bill,
on which occasion Mr. Sheridan had taunted Windham with his connexion
with the _Political Register_, and insinuated that the editor of that
journal had incited the sailors to mutiny. This latter was not only a
flat misrepresentation, but such a thing was totally contrary to Mr.
Cobbett’s habit of mind: if there was a thing he was specially earnest
about, it was the condemnation of resistance to lawful authority--more
especially with regard to the military and naval services. Mr. Windham
answered with spirit, and, for once, spoke with almost as much humour
as Sheridan himself; concluding in the following terms:--

    “As to the weekly publication to which the hon. gentleman has
    alluded, I entertain all the sentiments of respect which he
    supposes me to entertain, both for the work and for its author,
    of whom I had a high opinion long before I personally knew him.
    I admired the conduct which he pursued through a most trying
    crisis in America, where he uniformly supported all those
    principles upon which the happiness of mankind depend; where
    he uniformly opposed all those principles (including such as
    were formerly professed by the hon. gentleman) which tend to
    sap the foundations of civil society, and to spread misery and
    wickedness through the world; and where, by his own unaided
    exertions, _he rendered his country services that entitle him
    to a statue of gold_.”

This was too much. Aristocratic and plutocratic animosity had been
growing fast enough, and would have been harmless, even with the aid
of Mr. Sheridan’s gay disingenuousness; but now, this was too much for
the journalists who were struggling (where they were not subsidized)
for ministerial favour. So they echo Mr. Sheridan, and return to the
charge; the _True Briton_ going a little farther than is needed, and
indicating the appropriate punishment:--

    “Mr. Windham professes himself to be the _Soldier’s Friend_.
    We cannot suppose, however, that his attachment to a certain
    _American scribbler_ arises from his being the writer of a work
    at the beginning of the French Revolution, bearing that title,
    because that work had for its object _to excite the soldiery
    to mutiny_,--to which, it seems, the same patriotic writer now
    endeavours _to instigate the navy_. We speak merely from what
    has been said in the House of Commons, for we think no true
    Briton can read the works of the person alluded to with any
    kind of temper. The _pillory_ or the _gibbet_ we think a more
    appropriate reward than that which Mr. Windham has suggested
    for a writer of such a stamp.”

Now, all through Mr. Cobbett’s long life, there was nothing roused his
ire so much (in the way of personality) as the charge of sedition; and
all through his life he was justified in repudiating it. It was not his
way. He was a man for facing his adversaries. And, to the end of his
days, whatever his other errors, he could never be reproached with the
arts of covert warfare. So Mr. Cobbett was nettled; and,--

    “in less than three hours after the libel was published, the
    libeller, Mr. Heriot, received personal chastisement in the
    very apartment where he had fabricated the libel.”

The reader, who may feel interested in the full details of this
squabble, will find Heriot’s version in the _True Briton_ of August
15-22, and Mr. Cobbett’s account in the _Political Register_ for August
20, 1803. It is sufficient to record here, that Mr. Heriot brought an
action for assault, and did not appear to prosecute; and that “focus of
accumulated infamy, the _Political Register_,” went on its way.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just before the above incident occurred, circumstances had led to the
production of an article in Cobbett’s _Register_, which should now be
mentioned, as indicating, probably, the extremest point of time at
which he gave uncompromising support to the Government.

War had been declared in May, and the nation was again regarding
the quality of its bayonets, and the condition of its belts and its
gaiter-buttons. The fear of invasion was uppermost in the minds of
everybody who had anything to lose, so the “people” must themselves
be roused. Mr. Cobbett therefore prepared a manifesto, and placed it
(through Mr. John Reeves) at the disposal of the ministry. The paper
was not only accepted, but printed and sent round to all the clergy
in the kingdom; accompanied by an official circular, directing them
to post it on the church-doors, and to “deposit copies in the pews,
and distribute them in the aisles,” and amongst the poor, &c.[3]
This appeal to the British nation is a grand piece of writing, in
Cobbett’s best style. And no reader will wonder at the power which
he was acquiring over the public mind, after perusing the following



    “At a moment when we are entering on a scene deeply
    interesting, not only to this nation, but to the whole
    civilized world; at a moment when we all, without distinction
    of rank or degree, are called upon to rally round, and to
    range ourselves beneath, the banners of that sovereign under
    whose long, mild, and fostering reign the far greater part
    of us, capable of bearing arms, have been born and reared up
    to manhood; at a moment when we are, by his truly royal and
    paternal example, incited to make every sacrifice and every
    exertion in a war, the event of which is to decide whether
    we are still to enjoy, and to bequeath to our children, the
    possessions, the comforts, the liberties, and the national
    honours, handed down to us from generation to generation by
    our gallant forefathers; or whether we are, at once, to fall
    from this favoured and honourable station, and to become the
    miserable crouching slaves, the hewers of wood and the drawers
    of water, of these very Frenchmen, whom the valour of our
    fleets and armies has hitherto taught us to despise; at such
    a moment it behoves us, calmly and without dismay, to examine
    our situation, to consider what are the grounds of the awful
    contest in which we are engaged; what are the wishes, the
    designs, and the pretensions of our enemies; what would be the
    consequences, if those enemies were to triumph over us; what
    are our means, and what ought to be our motives, not only for
    frustrating their malicious intentions, but for inflicting just
    and memorable chastisement on their insolent and guilty heads.”
    [Here follows an account of the events which had brought Europe
    to its present disastrous enslavement, and Napoleon to his
    present height of power. Concluding with an eloquent reference
    to the results of the invasion of Germany in 1796-8, the writer
    winds up with the following appeal.]

    “Such are the barbarities which have been inflicted on other
    nations. The recollection of them will never be effaced:
    the melancholy story will be handed down from generation to
    generation, to the everlasting infamy of the Republicans of
    France, and as an awful warning to all those nations whom they
    may hereafter attempt to invade. We are one of those nations;
    we are the people whom they are now preparing to invade. Awful,
    indeed, is the warning, and, if we despise, tremendous will
    be the judgment. The same generals, the same commissaries,
    the same officers, the same soldiers, the very same rapacious
    and sanguinary host, that now hold Holland and Switzerland in
    chains--that desolated Egypt, Italy, and Germany--are at this
    moment preparing to make England, Ireland, and Scotland, the
    scenes of their atrocities. For some time past, they have had
    little opportunity to plunder: peace, for a while, suspended
    their devastations, and now, like gaunt and hungry wolves,
    they are looking towards the rich pastures of Britain. Already
    we hear their threatening howl; and if, like sheep, we stand
    bleating for mercy, neither our innocence nor our timidity will
    save us from being torn to pieces and devoured. The robberies,
    the barbarities, the brutalities they have committed in other
    countries, though at the thought of them the heart sinks and
    the blood runs cold, will be mere trifles to what they will
    commit here, if we suffer them to triumph over us. The Swiss
    and the Suabians were never objects of their envy; they were
    never the rivals of Frenchmen, either on the land or on the
    sea; they had never disconcerted or checked their ambitious
    projects, never humbled their pride, never defeated either
    their armies or their fleets. We have been, and we have done,
    all this: they have long entertained against us a hatred
    engendered by the mixture of envy and of fear; and they are
    now about to make a great and desperate effort to gratify this
    furious, this unquenchable, this deadly hatred. What, then, can
    we expect at their hands? What but torments, even surpassing
    those which they have inflicted on other nations? They remained
    but three months in Germany: here they would remain for ever;
    there, their extortions and their atrocities were, for want
    of time, confined to a part of the people; here they would be
    universal: no sort, no part, no particle of property would
    remain unseized; no man, woman, or child would escape violence
    of some kind or other. Such of our manufactories as are
    movable they would transport to France, together with the most
    ingenious of the manufacturers, whose wives and children would
    be left to starve. Our ships would follow the same course,
    with all the commerce and commercial means of the kingdom.
    Having stripped us of everything, even to the stoutest of our
    sons and the most beautiful of our daughters, over all that
    remained they would establish and exercise a tyranny such as
    the world never before witnessed. All the estates, all the
    farms, all the mines, all the land and the houses, all the
    shops and magazines, all the remaining manufactories, and all
    the workshops, of every kind and description, from the greatest
    to the smallest--all these they would bring over Frenchmen
    to possess, making us their servants and their labourers. To
    prevent us uniting and arising against them, they would crowd
    every town and village with their brutal soldiers, who would
    devour all the best part of the produce of the earth, leaving
    us not half a sufficiency of bread. They would, besides,
    introduce their own bloody laws, with additional severities;
    they would divide us into separate classes, hem us up in
    districts, cut off all communication between friends and
    relations, parents and children, which latter they would breed
    up in their own blasphemous principles; they would affix badges
    upon us, mark us in the cheek, shave our heads, split our ears,
    or clothe us in the habit of slaves! And shall we submit to
    misery and degradation like this, rather than encounter the
    expenses of war; rather than meet the honourable dangers of
    military combat; rather than make a generous use of the means
    which Providence has so bounteously placed in our hands? The
    sun, in his whole course round the globe, shines not on a
    spot so blessed as this great and now united kingdom. Gay and
    productive fields and gardens, lofty and extensive woods,
    innumerable flocks and herds, rich and inexhaustible mines, a
    mild and wholesome climate, giving health, activity, and vigour
    to fourteen millions of people: and shall we, who are thus
    favoured and endowed: shall we, who are abundantly supplied
    with iron and steel, powder and lead: shall we, who have a
    fleet superior to the maritime force of all the world, and who
    are able to bring two millions of fighting men into the field:
    shall we yield up this dear and happy land, together with all
    the liberties and honours, to preserve which our fathers so
    often dyed the land and the sea with their blood: shall we thus
    at once dishonour their graves, and stamp disgrace and infamy
    on the brows of our children; and shall we, too, make this base
    and dastardly surrender to an enemy whom, within these twelve
    years, our countrymen have defeated in every quarter of the
    world? No! we are not so miserably fallen: we cannot, in so
    short a space of time, have become so detestably degenerate;
    we have the strength and the will to repel the hostility,
    to chastise the insolence of the foe. Mighty, indeed, must
    be our efforts, but mighty also is the meed. Singly engaged
    against the tyrants of the earth, Britain now attracts the eyes
    and the hearts of mankind; groaning nations look to her for
    deliverance; justice, liberty, and religion are inscribed on
    her banners; her success will be hailed with the shouts of the
    universe, while tears of admiration and gratitude will bedew
    the heads of her sons who fall in the glorious contest.”

The wonderful activity of Cobbett’s pen, at and after this date,
can only be appreciated by a glance at the volumes of his celebrated
journal. On every topic that arose he had something to say. Much of
what he said was accepted by the reflecting part of the public; many of
his predictions were verified, and many falsified by events; and many
of his opinions he learned to alter. But underneath the whole lies a
burning desire for English prosperity, unimpaired by the faintest token
of self-seeking. To enumerate the topics of the day would involve the
delineation of his opinions thereon. They will have to be studied by
the future historian.

It will be sufficient for our purpose to note, therefore, that the
_Political Register_ had already become the vehicle for the ventilation
of most of the questions which were agitating the public mind, from
invasion down to vaccination. Often loaded with prejudice, but very
generally pervaded with liberality, the views of his correspondents
partook of his own ardent spirit, contributing largely to the
enlightenment of the public mind.

That topic which most of all contributed to revolutionize his relations
with his early political friends was the question of Finance. He began
to examine this subject in the year 1803, after having read Adam Smith,
Chalmers, and others in vain, and at last lighted upon Mr. Paine’s
“Decline and Fall of the English System of Finance.” This pamphlet, he
says, was the means of opening his eyes; and from May in this year he
began to urge a reduction of the interest on the national debt, and the
policy of discovering some means of redistributing the wealth of the

But that which, for the time, influenced Cobbett’s career, was his
unsparing criticism upon the ministry of the day. Mr. Addington had
been an object of ridicule from the moment of the first rumour of his
appointment as premier; and his puerile efforts at statesmanship only
served to confirm the original verdict of the public. Narrow-minded
and presuming, he was utterly unfit for a position of authority, in
which he would have to pass beyond the mere traditions of office.
As a personal favourite, however, of the king he was endured for a
while, until his obvious incapacity rendered it imperative that the
destinies of the country should be entrusted to other hands. The want
of decision and energy in the conduct of the war, and the waste and
mismanagement of the military and naval resources of the country, were
highly disappointing to a people whose patriotism for two whole years
was artificially stimulated by rumours of invasion. “Another inactive
and inglorious year sunk the British nation in her own eyes, and in
those of Europe.”[4] This is the general verdict of the cotemporary
chronicler, on reviewing the circumstances which led to Mr. Pitt’s
resumption of office in May, 1804. Until near the period, however, when
the crash came, the self-conceit of this clever ministry was superior
to any free comments; they seemed fated to bring upon themselves
overwhelming disgrace. It is true, there was opposition in Parliament
(as well as in the press), but opposition was ascribed to anything but
its real cause, and was treated with disdain. Upon the report of the
address, when Parliament reassembled in November, 1803, Mr. Windham
ventured to express his dissatisfaction with the incompetency of the
ministry, but “no reply was made to him.”[5]

So the _Weekly Political Register_ was in its glory. The editor was
determined to contribute his share of effort toward relieving the
country from the benefit of Mr. Addington’s services, and transmitting
his name to posterity “with all the contempt it deserved.”[6]

It is not surprising, then, that Mr. Cobbett was now being closely
watched, in order that an opportunity might arise for retaliation. Mr.
Cobbett was helping to ruin the king’s ministers; the ministers would
try and settle Mr. Cobbett. But it must be on some side issue; there
was no need for poor Mr. Addington’s name to come in. There would soon
be rope enough, one way or other.

The affairs of Ireland were again in a muddle. Robert Emmet’s
insurrection had just occurred, and martial law was eventually
proclaimed. Mr. Fox protested in vain against the system under which
that country was governed, as also did the _Political Register_.[7] A
correspondent (Mr. Robert Johnson, a Judge of the Irish Common Pleas)
sent some letters, signed “JUVERNA,” containing an able, but rather
bitter, series of comments upon recent events, to which the editor
gave a prominent place in his journal (November-December, 1803).
These letters opened the flood-gates of wrath; and Mr. Cobbett was,
accordingly, prosecuted in the following May for publishing “certain
libels upon the Earl of Hardwicke, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland,” and

“Juverna” had stated, among other matters, that “the government of a
harmless man was not necessarily a harmless government;” that Lord
Hardwicke “was in rank an earl, in manners a gentleman, in morals a
good father and a good husband;” that “he had a good library in St.
James’s Square,” and was “celebrated for understanding the modern
method of fattening sheep as well as any man in Cambridgeshire;” and
he wanted to know if the Viceroy was “one of that tribe who have been
sent over to us to be trained up here into politicians, as they train
the surgeons’ apprentices in the hospitals, by setting them at first to
bleed the pauper patients?”

Against Mr. Justice Osborne (of the Irish King’s Bench) the insinuation
of “Juverna” was that he had _wrongfully_ stated, in a recent charge,
that the progress of crime in Ireland had been effectually checked by
the “well-timed efforts and strenuous exertions of a wise and energetic

Lord Redesdale, the Irish Chancellor, was sneered at in general terms;
and alluded to as “a strong chancery pleader,” not entitled to claim
one particle of trust or confidence from the public.

The trial was like all the political trials in those days:--imputations
of the worst motives, insinuations of motives undreamt-of, graced
the Attorney General’s speech for the prosecution; Lord Ellenborough
anticipated the decision of the jury by calling the words libellous:
what more was to be expected than a verdict of guilty?[8]

The defendant’s witnesses to character were all eminent men: Mr.
Liston, Lord Henry Stuart, Mr. Windham, Mr. Charles Yorke, the Earl of
Minto, and Mr. John Reeves, successively testified to his loyalty, and
thereby practically supported the non-libellous view of the matter.
The defendant’s counsel, Mr. Adam, pointed out that the avowed object
of the writer was “the support of good government in Ireland, and the
removal of the present administration.” But in vain.

On the next day a civil action for damages was tried in the King’s
Bench, brought by Mr. Plunkett, Solicitor-General for Ireland, on a
passage in one of Juverna’s letters; the ground was all gone over
again, and with a similar result. Mr. Erskine led the prosecution.

       *       *       *       *       *

From this day Mr. Cobbett had a handle to his name, which his
unreasoning and malicious foes--his envious, his beaten foes--could
flourish at will. He was now a “Convicted Libeller.” And when you
can call a man a convicted libeller or a convicted anything, you may
fill the office of ass to the sick lion, not only with impunity, but
with credit and distinction to yourself. You will even find many base


[1] A portrait (_vide_ Frontispiece), engraved by Bartolozzi, appeared
at the close of 1801. Cobbett appears in the surtout and neckcloth of
the period, and has sufficient dignity of mien, notwithstanding his
light hair and round face, and one’s impression that he would look as
well in a smock-frock.

[2] _I.e._, independent, not only of subsidy, but of the shackles of

[3] It appears in the _Political Register_ for July 30, 1803, and may
be found sometimes in old collections of pamphlets and broadsides.

[4] “Annual Register,” 1804.

[5] Lord Colchester’s “Diary,” i. 463.

[6] A very funny pamphlet appeared about this time, which may be
noticed as the first one of its kind, aimed at Cobbett’s _Register_.
The title is “Elements of Opposition” (Hatchard, 1803), and it consists
of a series of rules, founded upon the opinions of Cobbett:--“How to
describe a prime minister;” “How to be outrageous for the public good;”
“How to talk of what you do not know,” &c., &c. The pamphlet went
through several editions.

[7] “It were idle trifling to impute the distractions and general
backwardness of that country to any other cause than the circumstances
in which she has been placed, and the example or wish of those to whose
management she has been entrusted.”--“Annual Register,” 1804.

[8] Jeremy Bentham, in an article on “The Elements of Packing, as
applied to Juries,” comments on this affair. Had he been upon the jury,
he “should not have regarded it as consistent with his oath and duty
to join in a verdict of guilty.” Bentham, also, has a capital note
on the impunity of men of family, and the punishment due to men of
_no_ family, called forth by a question of the Attorney-General. It
certainly was an unnecessary piece of meanness on the part of Perceval
to ask, “Gentlemen, who is Mr. Cobbett? Is he a man of family in this
country? Is he a man writing purely from motives of patriotism?”
&c.--“Works,” v. 66, 80, 106, &c.

The end of this affair was the prosecution of Judge Johnson himself,
in the following year. Cobbett had delivered up the anonymous MS.,
with the admission that the envelope had the Dublin post-mark. The
handwriting was then traced to the worthy judge. The newspapers which
were not slavish supporters of Government greatly disapproved of the
affair; the _Morning Chronicle_ being especially bold in the expression
of its contempt. The judge retired in 1806, upon a pension of 1200_l._
a year.



The unmistakable success which had attended the publication of “Mr.
Windham’s Gazette” (as the _Register_ was nicknamed) soon made a
revolution in Cobbett’s plans for the future. It had been his cherished
thought to resume a semi-rural life, visiting London once or twice
a week, in the case of being enabled to relinquish the bookselling

It was not until 1805 that a permanent removal was made out of London;
meanwhile, however, the shop in Pall Mall had long been relinquished.
In March, 1803 (according to a notification in the _Register_),
it appears that Mr. Harding had just taken the business over,[1]
whilst John Morgan had also returned to Philadelphia to recommence
bookselling there. Besides the ordinary trade, the firm had produced
the long-promised “Selections from Porcupine’s Works,” issued in May,
1801, and dedicated to John Reeves. The list of subscribers, printed
in the first volume, includes the Royal Princes, the chief supporters
of Government, and about 750 other names in England and America. A
second edition of his translation of Martens’ “Law of Nations” was also
published in June, 1802, with the treaties brought down to the current
date. It is pretty certain, therefore, that the business in Pall Mall
was a flourishing concern.

Among other labours, independent of the _Register_, were, a translation
of “L’Empire Germanique,” a tract of the period,[2] accompanied
by a memoir on the political and military state of Europe; and a
reproduction of the “English Grammar for Frenchmen.” And, as though he
were not yet fully occupied, Mr. Cobbett must needs undertake one more
grand scheme.

This was nothing less than a plan for publishing the parliamentary
debates. The inadequacy of the existing reports had long since
attracted Mr. Cobbett’s notice, and he had endeavoured to supply the
need by printing the bulk of the debates in the early supplements to
the _Political Register_. At last, toward the close of the year 1803,
he resolved to issue, periodically, full and accurate reports, giving
as his reason that the debates, “as at present communicated to the
world, reflect very little credit on the nation.”

Accordingly, on the 3rd of December, 1803, appeared the first number,
price one shilling, of “Cobbett’s Parliamentary Debates.”[3] The person
who was selected as reporter and editor was a man very well qualified
for the task--no other than Mr. John Wright, formerly bookseller in
Piccadilly. He had failed in 1801, and his bankruptcy was attributed
by Cobbett, partly to taking “more delight in reading of books than in
selling of them,” and partly to “the misfortune of being bookseller to
Messrs. Canning, Frere, Ellis, and the other Anti-Jacobins, by whose
works, though such a puffing was made over them, he lost many hundreds
of pounds.”… “Seeing him once more ready to begin the world afresh, I
proposed to him the editing of the parliamentary debates, of which we
have now [1810] continued the publication since the year 1803.”

One more enterprise remains to be noticed. In February, 1803, was
published the first number of “Le Mercure Anglois de Cobbett,”
containing a “translation of such parts of the _Register_ as may be
thought useful or interesting to politicians on the continent of
Europe.” There does not appear, however, any trace of the publication
of more than three numbers of this “Mercure.”

Upon leaving Pall Mall, Mr. Cobbett took a house in Duke Street,
Westminster. His country trips were few, for his work did not at
present give him opportunity to escape from town for any lengthened
period. But, in 1804, the occasion of a visit to Hampshire was
prolonged so far as to revive his ardent wish for a permanent rural
life. Mr. Wright (who occupied apartments at a tailor’s, at No. 5,
Panton Square) was getting increasingly useful to him, and their mutual
confidence was now of the closest character. And it is due to this
friendship, and its ultimate rupture, that we are indebted for an ample
insight into Mr. Cobbett’s personal and domestic history during the
succeeding years.[4]

A letter, dated 9th August, from Lord Henry Stuart’s seat, at the
Grange, near Alresford, announces the arrival of the family there,
and requesting attention to some business matters, particularly the
despatch of a parcel of London newspapers; then very full of the
famous Middlesex election, in which the contest lay between Sir
Francis Burdett and Mr. George Mainwaring. On the 13th he writes from

    “… I received the newspapers and your letter safe. By the
    enclosed you will perceive that I mean not to go up for this
    next _Register_. The reason is, I have not got Mrs. Cobbett
    and the children settled to my mind; and, besides that, I want
    to take them all to the pony-races at Lindhurst, on Friday
    next. They have begun _to breathe_. We have seen the school at
    Twyford. The master is a noisy hawbuck. He is a Burdettite,
    and so is his wife. I like the place very much, and none the
    worse because it is that very identical school that POPE
    first went to. Of this circumstance the master failed not to
    apprise us. The boys are all very well, and very desirous to
    see you--William in particular, who says you must come and see
    him every Sunday. The pony is an excellent bargain. I shall
    take the whole off from here, bag and baggage, next Saturday,
    and go to Wickham; and on Sunday night, or Monday morning, I
    shall leave Wickham for London, where I shall stay during next
    week, and then set off to fetch home the brood for the winter.
    I am in the midst of a pony country, and I think I shall pick
    up another to take home with me. I shall write to you again
    to-morrow with another parcel, and again on Wednesday, so that
    you will have all my copy by Thursday’s post; and that you
    may know how to calculate, I now inform you that my copy will
    make exactly twenty-five columns, or twenty-six at most. I
    have several interesting articles, and they all must come in.
    I shall touch the Middlesex election; the miscreants shall not
    escape.… If there be anything worth relating, pray give me a
    line upon it. My address is at Mr. Harris’s china warehouse,
    Southampton. D---- the china ware! William was out walking with
    me by the beach yesterday morning, and after a long and pensive
    silence, he said, ‘Pa, why do you have a china-shop in your
    house?’ He is by no means reconciled to the crockery-ware yet.…”

This period (the summer and autumn of 1804) is also to be noted as that
during which Mr. Cobbett’s political opinions underwent a change. Much
twaddle has been written and uttered, during the last seventy years,
upon this celebrated “change.” The present biographer, heedless of
all that has been said, does not intend to argue out any calumnies,
from beginning to end of the story; but it is necessary here to note
the first appearance of the change in question, because the selection
from the correspondence, which will now be placed before the reader,
makes occasional reference to Mr. Cobbett’s growing animosity to “the
race that plunder the people,” to the “court-sycophants, parasites,
pensioners, bribed senators, directors, contractors, jobbers, hireling
lords, and ministers of state,” which, he was now beginning to
discover, were not the people of England, in the strict sense of the
word. He had been leading the opposition to Mr. Pitt for a year or two
past, and was now for the first time showing an inclination to break
altogether from the shackles of party.

During his absence, Mr. Wright acted as sub-editor of the _Register_;
and it will be seen that even his labours could not have been light.
Nearly every letter to him, enclosing copy for the _Register_, implores
him to read the MS. carefully, and “make corrections as to grammar or
phraseology, and supply omissions; for I cannot read a word of it.”

    [Wm. C. to J. Wright.] … “I thank you for sending the selection
    of newspapers. They afford me excellent matter for comment. I
    think I have posed them about the car project.[5] They know not
    what to say. There are some very good things in the _Chronicle_
    upon this subject. The little letter in Wednesday’s paper is
    delicious. The Methodist meeting[6] is not less so. That’s
    the tone to take. I cannot enough abhor the wretches who would
    revive, at this critical moment, the hideous cry of Jacobinism.
    This is a subject upon which the selfish dogs ought to be
    incessant lashed, till all the nation hates them--and the time
    is most proper for it. I wish you would endeavour to inculcate
    this notion with all whom you know. Nothing would tend more to
    the subjugation of the country than the revival of this most
    mischievous cry. I shall not cease my endeavours; but do you
    use yours also.

    “Before you come down, which will be about the 7th of
    September, I suppose, I will tell you what we do about leaving
    the house. I like your idea very well. In order that you may
    be quite clear by Saturday, or the Friday afternoon, you shall
    have the last of my copy for next _Register_, on Wednesday
    morning. But you must read the proofs.…”

       *       *       *       *       *

    “… I beg you not to be out in the evening, lest some robbery
    should be committed. If anything should be the matter of James,
    pray send to Mr. Teggart immediately.…”

       *       *       *       *       *

    “… Urry received his money. And you will send me another just
    such sum by next post. I have had entrance money and fees
    to pay for seven children, clothing, trunks, &c., &c., to
    pay for; and we have been obliged to buy table and bed linen
    for ourselves, together with a suit of clothes for John and
    another for me, lest people should take me for a _heathen
    philosopher_.… We go to church here. I hope the saints will not
    be jealous at this!”

       *       *       *       *       *

    “… My articles do not make so much as I expected I should have
    time to write. I began yesterday at nine o’clock, and I finish
    now at six for the post--thirty-three hours, including eating,
    drinking, and sleeping time.… Pray read the whole with great
    care, before and after it is set up.

    “We went our journey yesterday, and it is now fixed that
    Nanny goes to school at Winchester, and the boys at Twyford,
    on Saturday the 22nd instant. We shall stay at Botley till
    about the 2nd or 3rd of October, and then we shall go and
    cram ourselves into the cursed smoke again. It is just
    possible, however, that we may stay in the country till near
    the middle of the month.… In addition to the things mentioned
    in my memorandum, I request you to send the following by the
    mail-coach, in a new parcel:--

    “My famous breeches.

    “A new pamphlet of Lord Lauderdale, in answer to the Edinburgh
    reviewers, just advertised.

    “Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws;--in the book-case, I believe.”

       *       *       *       *       *

    “… Now, as to the school project, it has failed. William tells
    me that something is continually making him cry. When he saw
    me, he was ready to burst. He is going back, but the others
    will stay. You have helped to make him so in love with home,
    and you must have the teaching of him another year or two.
    His mother cannot live without him yet, and they must be
    humoured.… Am I never to have my fine breeches, or did you mean
    only to tantalize me?”

       *       *       *       *       *

    “… I am alarmed that you have inserted HIBERNICUS[7] without my
    seeing it. I hope there is nothing violent or personal? Send
    me, in the parcel with the population abstract, the letter
    from MONTROSE; and pray put in nothing without my seeing it.
    A trip at this time would be ruinous. I am very uneasy till I
    see Hibernicus.… As the air of Botley is so favourable to the
    Muses, I shall write two more _Registers_ in it. Indeed, we
    cannot quit it sooner. I think I shall, in my letters to the
    Grand Charlatan, make good ground for us all to stand upon.
    The first point, the corner-stone, is well placed.[8] … Mrs.
    C. sends her compliments. The boys want to see you again.
    There is, we think, a large day-school mixed with boarders
    in Dean’s Yard, Westminster, for William--will you ask? He
    is too young and weak to be taken from our table to sup upon
    bread-and-cheese and water!”

       *       *       *       *       *

    “… Observe well, that two words in Mr. Bonney’s letter must
    be left out--the word ‘excellent’ in the first sentence, and
    the word ‘pensioned’ in the last. The word ‘pensioned’ would
    not be safe; the word ‘excellent’ is an injury to B.’s letter,
    and is, on every account, much better left out; as, indeed,
    compliments to myself always should be, appearing as I do in my
    own name, and not as an editor. Take care that they are both
    left out.… Insert the article upon the stamp duties, but be
    very careful of the words.”

The foregoing extracts, from letters written in September and October,
1804, throw some light for the first time on Cobbett’s happy domestic
circle; they are dated from Itchen and from Botley, at either of which
places the family were then visiting. The affectionate tenderness
towards his children is here shown to have been an active principle,
and we shall have further glimpses as we proceed. But the most striking
thing here apparent is his sensitiveness on the score of personal
offence, on the part of himself or his correspondents. The galloping
pace at which he wrote, and his negligence as to reviewing what he had
written, were sufficiently perilous; and another “Juverna” affair was
not to be thought of.

Other extracts might be made; but the references to current politics
would be too obscure, without much detailed explanation. The following
will show, however, the general drifting of Cobbett’s views:--

    “… I am happy to think that I am likely to be of some use in
    uniting men in support of the throne, the Church, and the
    real liberties of the people, against the conspirators of
    loan-makers and directors, directors of all sorts, I mean; East
    India as well as Bank … whether I shall draw them out at last I
    know not. I wish I may. But they have now such a load to toil
    against, that I am apt to think they will desist, and by-and-by
    glance at my present writing as a proof of my disaffection and
    abandonment of principle. If it please God to give me health,
    that shall not serve them, though. Pray keep a good look-out,
    for, if they say only a word, I wish to meet it instantly.”

       *       *       *       *       *

    “… Is it really true that the cowards have given up Malta?
    Why, they went to war for Malta! ‘Malta,’ said Dundas, in his
    villainous brogue, ‘Malta! Malta! en parpatooaty, es tha trewly
    Breetush oabjuct of ware!’ And now he gives it up! For God’s
    sake look at his speech, _Reg._, vol. iii. p. 1662. But be sure
    not to talk of it to any one, as I should then be anticipated.”

       *       *       *       *       *

    “… Have you seen Reeves? I think I must come to a plain
    understanding with him; for I hate cold half-friendships. I
    think my two last numbers must have staggered such people.”

Mr. Cobbett is in town in November to attend Judge Johnson’s trial; but
he is at Botley House again in January. Mr. Wright pays them another
visit, too, having been desired to bring a fine large twelfth-cake,
also “the portfolio with all the boys’ pictures in it.”

       *       *       *       *       *

That some people were getting “staggered,” as Cobbett says, is by no
means unlikely. He has been publicly called upon to “defend himself
from the charge of not having joined the opponents of Sir Francis
Burdett;” when, lo! it is discovered that an acknowledgment must be
made, of at least some claim, on the part of the latter, to represent
the Middlesex constituency, as against his opponent:--

    “The former sentiments and expressions of Sir Francis Burdett
    were not, for the most part, so wrong in themselves as in the
    season of their application. Some of them, indeed, were such
    as no time or place would justify.… His language, and many of
    his acts, during the former election, as well as previous to
    it, were seditious to a degree bordering upon treason; they
    did, in my opinion, totally incapacitate him as a member of
    Parliament.… He chose to disgrace himself and his cause by an
    appeal to the worst passions of the worst part of the people.
    But if nothing of a seditious nature has appeared in the
    conduct of Sir Francis Burdett since that election, upon what
    principle will his opponents justify their resentment against
    him, whilst they are so ready to overlook the political sins of

A few months earlier in this year, the ministerial part of the press
had classed Burdett and Cobbett together as “a party endeavouring to
create despondency.” This appears to have been the beginning of it; and
Mr. Cobbett, on looking more dispassionately into Burdett’s claims as a
politician, finds that the leading objects of both their minds are the

    “It will be recollected that, on the 2nd of July last,
    application was made to Parliament for a grant of 591,842_l._,
    wherewith to pay off the arrears of the Civil List; … Sir
    Francis Burdett took the liberty to say a few words to the
    _thirty or forty persons_ who were about to grant this
    half-million of money, which was to be raised upon the people.…
    He objected to the ground upon which the minister had made this
    application, and could not see, he said, why the rise in prices
    and the consequent abridgment of every man’s comforts should be
    urged as a reason for augmenting the amount of the Civil List.
    He complained that there was a waste of the public money.… He
    did not declaim against taxes, but against their too great
    amount, and against the misapplication of them.…”

and protests that none but a contractor, a farmer-general, a
paper-money maker, or a hired author, could find anything objectionable
in the sentiments thus expressed. In short, Mr. Cobbett has discovered
that the advocates of parliamentary reform are not, necessarily, a
faction seeking to subvert the throne. He has had his grievance,
some ten or a dozen years, against the “public-robbers;” but he has
groped about, in pursuit of them, in crooked bye-ways: has even rubbed
shoulders with them without knowing it: has now come in sight of the
highway along which are running other pursuers, whose distant shouts
have, till now, been unmeaning, because misunderstood.

He looks with abhorrence at the prospect of a revival “of those
political animosities which were, during the last war and at the
last peace, so fruitful in national calamity and disgrace, which
destroyed all freedom of discussion and almost of intercourse; and
which, while it sheltered all the follies and faults of the minister
even from inquiry, exposed every word and act of every other man to
misrepresentation and suspicion.”

Here, then, we have Mr. Cobbett fairly started upon his mission.
Parliamentary opposition, hitherto, had meant a struggle for power and
place, with the biggest share in the nation’s loaves and fishes; it
would henceforth signify a determination to watch the grasping hand,
to restrain the thirsty leech. And Mr. Cobbett will, at any cost,
keep the nation on the alert concerning the proper disposition of its

In the hope which Cobbett now indulged, of arresting, if possible, the
enormous growth of the public debt, he began to advocate a union of the
two opposition parties. We find him, then, about this time, obliged to
defend himself from the charge of supporting Mr. Fox, whose “seditious
ravings” it had once been “impossible to hear without indignation.” And
the charge would naturally be indefensible on the part of a hireling.
But the C. J. Fox that was now praised was not the C. J. Fox who once
coquetted with Jacobins. In Cobbett’s eyes, Jacobinism was now dead
and buried. The risk of anarchy had departed from British shores. The
peace of Amiens had proved a failure; and the Whigs, who had opposed
that treaty from one point of view, were beginning to coalesce with the
Windhamites, who had opposed it from another. For some time past there
had been hopes of a union of all the great men of the country, in a
strong, “broad-bottom’d” administration, as the only means of restoring
public confidence.

So, although Mr. Cobbett is ready to admit the claim of the heaven-born
minister to a place among the great, he now declines any longer to
support him, as hitherto. Not only that: he proceeds to instruct Mr.
Pitt on the causes of his failure as a statesman. Rather cool, this,
for the _quondam_ ploughboy! But he must needs prove that Mr. Pitt has
deserted his principles, in order to justify his own new position. As
to the charge of versatility, he thinks that “inconsistency” means “the
difference between profession and practice.” The best exposition of
this “difference” is found in an article of the _Register_, toward the
close of the year 1805:--

    “If I praised Mr. Pitt, it was Mr. Pitt the ‘heaven-born’
    minister, with regard to whose character I had participated in
    the adoption of those notions so prevalent amongst the ignorant
    crowd about twenty years ago. It was Mr. Pitt the corner-stone
    of the confederacy against republican France: Mr. Pitt who had
    openly and solemnly vowed never to make peace with France till
    the political balance of Europe should be completely restored,
    and till safety and tranquillity could be obtained for England;
    it was this Mr. Pitt that I praised, and not the Mr. Pitt who
    advised, who defended, and who extolled the peace of Amiens.
    The Mr. Pitt that I praised, as a financier, was the Mr. Pitt
    who, in the year 1799, declared that he would carry on the
    war for any length of time without the creation of new debt;
    and not the Mr. Pitt who, in less than two years afterwards,
    justified the peace as necessary for the husbanding of our
    resources, having, in the interim, created new debt to the
    amount of about seventy millions sterling. If I praised Mr.
    Pitt, as an upright public man, as a real patriot, it was the
    Mr. Pitt who began his career with professions of incorruptible
    purity, and who, in the warmth of his zeal, had proposed to
    reform the Parliament itself, rather than not cut off the means
    of corruption; and not the Mr. Pitt who procured to be passed
    the bill relating to the Nabob of Arcot’s debts (of which bill
    I had never yet heard); nor the Mr. Pitt who, notwithstanding
    the information of Mr. Raikes, suffered the practices of Lord
    Melville and Trotter to go on unchecked; no, no; not the Mr.
    Pitt who lent forty thousand pounds of the public money,
    without interest, to two members of Parliament--never making,
    or causing to be made, any record or minute of the transaction,
    and never communicating any knowledge of it even to the cabinet
    ministers.… The English Constitution that I extolled was that
    Constitution which, to use the words of Mr. Pitt himself (in
    his early days), carefully watches over the property of the
    people; that Constitution which effectually prevents any
    misapplication of the public money, or severely punishes those
    who may be guilty of such misapplication; and which, above all
    things, provides that the money raised upon the people, by the
    consent of their representatives, shall not in any degree, or
    under any name, be _given_ to those representatives by the
    ministers of the crown, and especially in a _secret_ manner.
    This Constitution I hope yet to see preserved in its purity;
    and were it not for that hope, neither hand nor pen would I
    move in its defence. But it will be so preserved, or we are
    the most base of mankind.”

A number of persons were now ready to support these views of Mr.
Cobbett; and a still greater number, animated by fear, or by envy,
assailed him with the utmost virulence. His friends told him that the
circulation of the _Register_ would be diminished if he persisted in
opposing Pitt; that the advocacy of Burdett would operate unfavourably
upon its reputation. He assured them all, however, that he was
receiving better support than ever, and that the great majority of
his correspondents acknowledged, that conviction of the truth of his
reasonings, and of the rectitude of his motives, was stealing into
their minds.

If there was one man who could stand up before the country with
pure hands, that man was William Pitt. But it was not given to him
to inspire other men by his example in this matter. The system of
political corruption was too strongly holden for the best-intentioned
reformer to undertake its reduction, without risking his political
existence. The creed, common to Whigs and Tories, that the king and
the country were to be ruled for the exclusive benefit of the “ruling”
families, was the basis of the system; and only a SAMSON, who should
himself perish amid the wreck, might essay its destruction.

As early as 1802 Mr. Cobbett had ventured upon a sarcasm with reference
to the clerkship to “the Pells.” This celebrated sinecure, worth
3000_l._ a year, was in the power of Pitt to take to himself without
reproach: as is well known he declined, and it fell into the hands of
Addington, who bestowed it upon his son, then only twelve years of age.
Cobbett thought this was setting decency at defiance; seeing that the
immaculate minister, about this time, persecuted a poor tradesman of
Plymouth[9] for doing what everybody around was doing.

A stray shaft or so was discharged from time to time; but not till
three years after did the fight really commence. At last, in 1805, with
the exposure of Lord Melville’s naval mal-administration, the whole
matter was ripe for discussion; and in August of that year appears the
first of those curious pension-lists,[10] which were, for the ensuing
quarter of a century, the stock-in-trade of radical grievance-mongers.
It was now open war. Mr. Cobbett, for the second time in his life,
found himself _standing alone_. Aristocratic friends were deserting
him, whilst the new ones were yet only gathering. As for the abuse,
with which he was favoured by his opponents, it was as unreasoning as
it was disgraceful.


[1] Harding was succeeded by John Budd before the year was out.

[2] Also printed in the Supplement to vol. ii. of the _Register_.

[3] This undertaking has long since made the name of Hansard famous;
but this is the place to remind the reader, that its origin, and
successful issue for a number of years, is one of the long-forgotten
public services of William Cobbett. The original form is still retained.

[4] Addl. MSS. 22,906-7, in the British Museum, is a collection,
formerly in the possession of the late Mr. Dawson Turner, from which
some of the interesting letters in the text addressed to Mr. Wright are
derived. The cause of their preservation will appear in the sequel.

[5] A curious device of Mr. Pitt’s, by which 10,000 men could be
transferred, in a few hours, to any part of the coast. It provoked a
good deal of current satire.

[6] In support of Mainwaring’s candidature for Middlesex.

[7] On the Irish Additional Force Bill, in _Register_ of Sept. 29. The
letter was not absolutely free from provocable matter.

[8] The first of a series of letters to Mr. Pitt, on the “Causes of the
Decline of Great Britain.” Cobbett upbraids the heaven-born minister
with having deserted his own principles, and thus exposed his former
staunch supporters (among whom is C.) to the charge of having deserted

[9] One Hamlin, a tinman, who had offered Addington a large sum of
money for an appointment in the Customs. He was prosecuted, fined, and
imprisoned, although he solemnly declared his ignorance of the crime,
having seen for years Government places publicly advertised for sale,
besides having probably received money for his vote from the agents of
the Government itself.

[10] After Cobbett’s first list of pensions, &c., the plan was copied
by others, and the lists at last swelled, under different hands, to
a volume of several hundred pages:--“The Black Book; or, Corruption
Unmasked. Being an Account of Places, Pensions, and Sinecures, the
Revenues of the Clergy and Landed Aristocracy; the Salaries and
Emoluments in Courts of Justice and the Police Department; the
Expenditure of the Civil List; the Amount and Application of the Droits
of the Crown and Admiralty; the Robbery of Charitable Foundations; the
Profits of the Bank of England, arising from the Issue of its Notes,
Balances of Public Money, Management of the Borough Debt, and other
Sources of Emolument; the Debt, Revenue, and Influence of the East
India Company; the State of the Finances, Debt, and Sinking Fund. To
which is added Correct Lists of Both Houses of Parliament, showing
their Family Connexions, Parliamentary Influence, the Places and
Pensions held by Themselves or Relations; distinguishing also those who
Voted against Catholic Emancipation, and for the Seditious Meeting and
Press Restriction Bills. The whole forming a Complete Exposition of the
Cost, Influence, Patronage, and Corruption of the Borough Government.”
(London, John Fairburn, 1820.) This interesting volume kept increasing
in bulk until the æra of the Reform Bill.



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