Cantankerous crusader

An English friend here in Carboneras lent me this book about a crusading, cantankerous and extremely energetic journalist who had a lot to do with establishing the ground rules for pamphleteers, journalists and today's bloggers -- nearly two centuries ago.

Ingrams, Richard. The Life and Adventures of William Cobbett. London: HarperCollins, 2005.

This is a very detailed bio, focused almost entirely on Cobbett himself (1763-1835), his movements and his voluminous writings, to the point that it is easy to lose sight of the wider context and why any of it mattered. It did matter, however, tremendously. Cobbett's vigorous journalism taking on powerful figures got him into many troubles, including a 2-year jail term, but ended up helping establish truth as a defense in libel actions and thus widen freedom of press in England. His campaign for parliamentary reform was a major contributor to its triumph in 1832 (elimination of rotten boroughs and much else), and his reports on country life in his late collection of articles, Rural Rides, includes vivid portraits of rural life in England, Scotland and Ireland on the brink of the industrial-urban revolution.

It would probably be best to read this after something like E. P. Thompson, so as to get the context and analysis before diving into so much detail of one man's life and career.

Above: Caricature of Cobbett (standing on cart and waving copies of his newspaper to beat his drum) and fellow reformer Francis Burdett (sitting on cart and waving his hat) at the 1806 Middlesex election. Click on image to enlarge.

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