William Cobbett Criticism - Essay

Francis Jeffrey (review date 1807)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Cobbett's Political Register, in The Edinburgh Review, Vol. X, No. 20, July, 1807, pp. 386-421.

[Jeffrey was a founder and editor of the Edinburgh Review, one of the most influential nineteenth-century British magazines. A liberal Whig, he often allowed his political beliefs to color his critical opinions. In the following excerpt, Jeffrey writes of Cobbett as a political opportunist who overstates the issue of corruption in British politics.]

We are induced to take some notice of [CobbeUt's Political Register] because we are persuaded that it has more influence with that most important and most independent class of society,...

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Leigh Hunt (essay date 1820)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mr. Cobbett, and What is Wanted in Parliament," in Leigh Hunt's Political and Occasional Essays, edited by Lawrence Huston Houtchens and Carolyn Washburn Houtchens, Columbia University Press, 1962, pp. 228-35.

[An English poet and essayist, Hunt as literary critic encouraged and influenced several Romantic poets, especially John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Hunt was a cofounder of the weekly liberal newspaper the Examiner. In the following excerpt from an essay originally published in the Examiner in 1820, Hunt proclaims the salutary effect of Cobbett's pending election to Parliament.]

There are things in Mr. Cobbett which are not to our...

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William Hazlitt (essay date 1821)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Character of Cobbett," in The College Book of Essays, edited by John Abbott Clark, Henry Holt and Company, 1939, pp. 517-28.

[One of the most important commentators of the Romantic age, Hazlitt was an English critic and journalist. He is best known for his descriptive criticism in which he stressed that no motives beyond judgment and analysis are necessary on the part of the critic. In the following essay, originally written in 1821, Hazlitt examines Cobbett's character as reflected in his writings, offering numerous illustrations.]

People have about as substantial an idea of Cobbett as they have of Cribb. His blows are as hard, and he himself is as...

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William Cobbett (review date 1829)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "On His Writings," in The Opinions of William Cobbett by William Cobbett, edited by G. D. H. Cole and Margaret Cole, The Cobbett Publishing Co. Ltd., 1944, pp. 42-3.

[In the following excerpt from an essay originally published in 1829, Cobbett expresses contempt for critics while stating the intent of his own writing.]

As to merit, as an author or writer, I have always despised what is generally called criticism. I know well that those who carry on the trade of critics are a base and hireling crew; more corrupt, perhaps, than any other set of beings in the world. The only critics that I look to are the public; and my mode of estimating a writing, is by the...

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James Fitzjames Stephen (review date 1866)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Selections from Cobbett's Political Works, in The Saturday Review, London, Vol. 22, No. 558, July 7, 1866, pp. 17-20.

[James Fitzjames Stephen was an English jurist and literary critic, best known for his Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (1873), a detailed, conservative counterblast to John Stuart Mill's On Liberty (1859). In the following excerpt, he attempts "to give some estimate of the man [Cobbett] himself and some account of his more characteristic opinions. "]

If we had to take a representative man from each of the three kingdoms, Cobbett, O'Connell, and Walter Scott would be by no means bad men to choose. Cobbett was a...

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Hugh E. Egerton (essay date 1885)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Scarce Book," in The National Review, London, Vol. V, No. 27, May, 1885, pp. 413-28.

[In the following excerpt, Egerton discusses Rural Rides, citing several lengthy quotations to illustrate Cobbett's handling of various concerns and emphases.]

Were the well-meaning persons to have their way who long for the establishment of an English Academy, one wonders what would be the attitude of such an august body towards a writer like Cobbett. And yet his claim to rank as a classic admits, I suppose, of little question. The position he holds among the immortals he has taken, as it were, by storm; and what no favour of literary clique helped to gain, no...

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George Saintsbury (essay date 1891)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "William Cobbett," in The Collected Essays and Papers of George Saintsbury, 1875-1920, Vol. I, J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1923, pp. 269-301.

[Saintsbury was a late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century English literary historian and critic. Hugely prolific, he composed histories of English and European literature as well as numerous critical works on individual authors, styles, and periods. In the following essay, originally published in Macmillan's Magazine in 1891, Saintsbury discusses Cobbett's career and significance.]

To acquaint oneself properly with the works of Cobbett is no child's play. It requires some money, a great deal of time, still...

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Leslie Stephen (essay date 1893)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "William Cobbett," in The New Review, Vol. 9, No. 54, November 1893, pp. 482-93.

[Stephen is considered one of the most important English literary critics of the late Victorian and early Edwardian era. In his criticism, which was often moralistic, he argued that all literature is nothing more than an imaginative rendering, in concrete terms, of a writer's philosophy or beliefs. It is the role of criticism, he contended, to translate into intellectual terms what the writer has told the reader through character, symbol, and plot. In the following excerpt, Stephen provides an overview of Cobbett's beliefs regarding numerous social issues.]

Cobbett somehow or other...

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John Freeman (essay date 1921)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "William Cobbett," in English Portraits and Essays, Hodder and Stoughton, 1924, pp. 61-86.

[In the following excerpt from an essay originally published in the London Mercury in 1921, Freeman surveys Cobbett's career and his reputation among his contemporaries.]

Born in 1762 at Farnham (Surrey) in a house upon which amused and affectionate eyes may, I think, still fall; guiltless of any enforced education other than lessons at a dame's school and, on winter evenings, from his father at home; walking to London when he was about thirteen and spending his last coppers on A Tale of a Tub by that earlier pamphleteer whose more powerful and sombre genius...

(The entire section is 2952 words.)

Leonard Woolf (review date 1923)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "An Englishman," in Essays on Literature, History, Politics, Etc., Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1927, pp. 26-30.

[Woolf is best known as one of the leaders of the Bloomsbury Group of artists and thinkers, and as the husband of novelist Virginia Woolf with whom he founded the Hogarth Press. A Fabian socialist during the World War I era, he became a regular contributor to the socialist New Statesman and later served as literary editor of the Nation and the Athenaeum, in which much of his literary criticism is found In the following essay, originally published in 1923 in the Nation and the Athenaeum, he focuses on Rural Rides in discussing Cobbett's...

(The entire section is 1310 words.)

G. D. H. Cole (essay date 1924)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Advice to Young Men," in The Life of William Cobbett, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1924, pp. 306-18.

[Cole wrote extensively on Cobbett's life and work and was the author of a Cobbett biography long considered definitive. In the following excerpt, he comments on Advice to Young Men.]

[Advice to Young Men] was not intended mainly for a working-class public. The advice was addressed "to young men and (incidentally) to young women in the middle and higher ranks of life." It took the form, a favourite form with Cobbett, of letters to "a Youth, a Bachelor, a Lover, a Husband, a Father, a Citizen or a Subject." Its purpose was not primarily...

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G. K. Chesterton (essay date 1926)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Revival of Cobbett" and "Last Days and Death," in William Cobbett, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1926, pp. 3-25, 219-54.

[Regarded as one of England's premier men of letters during the first half of the twentieth century, Chesterton is best known today as a colorful bon vivant, a witty essayist, and as the creator of the Father Brown mysteries. Chesterton shared Cobbett's belief that the Reformation brought on many of modern Europe's social problems. In the excerpt below, Chesterton discursively examines the paradoxes ofCobbett's beliefs and the significance of his work as a reformer, comparing Cobbett's thought with that of Edmund Burke and Thomas Carlyle.]

It is but...

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Edmund Blunden (essay date 1930)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Rural Rides," in Votive Tablets: Studies Chiefly Appreciative of English Authors and Books, Cobden-Sanderson, 1931, pp. 268-80.

[Blunden was associated with the Georgians, an early twentieth-century group of English poets who reacted against the prevalent contemporary mood of disillusionment and the rise of artistic modernism by seeking to return to the pastoral, nineteenth-century poetic traditions associated with William Wordsworth. As a literary critic and essayist, he often wrote of the lesser-known figures of the Romantic era as well as of the pleasures of English country life. In the following essay, originally published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1930,...

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Crane Brinton (essay date 1933)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Revolution of 1832: Cobbett," in English Political Thought in the Nineteenth Century, Ernest Benn Limited, 1933, pp. 61-74.

[In the following excerpt, Brinton provides an overview of Cobbett's political thought, especially in regard to its effect on the Reform Bill of 1832.]

To write about Cobbett as a political thinker implies, in a sense, a false start. For, properly speaking, Cobbett never thought at all. Let us hasten to add that this remark is not a snobbishly intellectualist condemnation of Cobbett, but an attempt to give to the word thought a decently precise meaning. To think implies an effort on the part of the thinker to construct a coherent...

(The entire section is 4611 words.)

A. R. Orage (essay date 1934?)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Purified Talk," in Selected Essays and Critical Writings, edited by Herbert Read and Denis Saurat, Stanley Nott, 1935, pp. 23-4.

[Orage was an English editor, reviewer, and essayist who edited the influential periodical New Age from 1907 to 1922. In 1932 he founded the New English Weekly, which he edited until his death two years later. In the following essay, he praises the simplicity and naturalness of Cobbett's prose.]

Cobbett does not deserve what Green says of him, that he was 'the greatest tribune the English poor ever possessed'. Cobbett had not sufficient appreciation of the real enemy of the English poor, and it is safe to say of his...

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V. S. Pritchett (essay date 1941)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Current Literature," in The New Statesman and Nation, Vol. XXI, No. 517, January 18, 1941, pp. 62, 64.

[Pritchett, a modern British writer, is respected for his mastery of the short story and for what critics describe as his judicious, reliable, and insightful literary criticism. In the following excerpt, he focuses on the paradoxical nature of Cobbett's character as reflected in his writings.]

In the panorama of English history from the time of the French revolution to the Reform, the huge steam-rolling person of Wm. Cobbett stands out among his contemporaries like a figure drawn out of scale. There are more sensational, more momentous and more intricate...

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W. Baring Pemberton (essay date 1949)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A chapter in William Cobbett, Penguin Books, 1949, pp. 180-85.

[Below, Pemberton summarizes Cobbett's accomplishment as a rough-hewn thinker and his significance to the future of English culture.]

With the death of William Cobbett it was as if a blustering gale from off the saltings had ceased abruptly. It had been a gale which, according to the politics of a man, intoxicated him like wine or doubled him up as with a blow in the pit of the stomach. In either case it had been a gale to which all had become accustomed and when it blew no more it was as if a familiar sound had ended. With his Weekly Political Registers, his rural ridings, his...

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James Sambrook (essay date 1973)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Rural Rides and Advice to Young Men: 1830," in William Cobbett, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973, pp. 143-64.

[In the following chapter from his critical biography of Cobbett, Sambrook examines Rural Rides and Advice to Young Men, quoting at length from each to illustrate the characteristics of Cobbett's thought.]

Towards the end of 1829 Cobbett announced the forthcoming publication of a collection of the 'Rural Rides' which had first appeared in the Political Register, but the book did not appear until October 1830. Though the confused pagination and unaccountable omission of parts of certain 'Rides' indicate some...

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George Spater (essay date 1982)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Writer," in William Cobbett: The Poor Man's Friend, Vol. 2, Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp. 427-56.

[Spater's William Cobbett: The Poor Man's Friend (1982) is considered the definitive biography of Cobbett. In the following excerpt, he offers a broad, thematic survey of Cobbett's writings.]

Nearly all of Cobbett's writing that was published in book form was for the purpose of instruction, and nearly all the instruction related to four subjects: language, gardening or farming, personal behavior, and government affairs, with a goodly amount of overlap among categories. The language books of this period include a grammar for use by those who...

(The entire section is 10079 words.)

Daniel Green (essay date 1983)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Climactic Years," in Great Cobbett: The Noblest Agitator, 1983. Reprint by Oxford University Press, Inc., 1985, pp. 423-54.

[In the following excerpt, Green discusses Cobbett's skill as a writer and the characteristics of his thought, touching on a wide range of Cobbett's writings.]

Because Cobbett's most enduring achievement was to turn author at a comparatively late stage in his career, it is, in the end, not his politics nor his journalism nor even his character that we have to examine, but his books. There is more of the real William Cobbett in them than there was in the ageing, failing and increasingly erratic man who finally achieved what...

(The entire section is 5015 words.)

Roger Sale (essay date 1986)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "William Cobbett," in Closer to Home: Writers and Places in England, 1780-1830, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986, pp. 67-86.

[In the following essay, Sale discourses on Cobbett's significance and the nature of his philosophical outlook, referring recurrently to Rural Rides.]

Cobbett wrote a shelf of books, including the Political Register, which once a week for many years offered itself as the political and economic conscience of England. He was born in 1763 and had a long career that to some looks like failure and to others like success. For instance, it is frequently said that Cobbett was the single person most responsible for the...

(The entire section is 8018 words.)

David A. Wilson (essay date 1988)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Epilogue," in Paine and Cobbett: The Transatlantic Connection, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1988, pp. 184-92.

[Below, Wilson summarizes the findings of his full-length comparison of Paine and Cobbett's political thought.]

Tom Paine and William Cobbett, founding fathers of British popular Radicalism, developed their ideology in an Anglo-American context during the Atlantic Revolution. They responded to the American Empire of Liberty in separate and distinct ways, although they eventually came to share many ideas about political liberty in the United States and its relevance to Britain. For Paine, the American experience was central. He became aware of Real...

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Ian Dyck (essay date 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Cottage Economy," in William Cobbett and Rural Popular Culture, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 107-24.

[In the following chapter, Dyck discusses the background, intent, and critical reception of Cottage Economy.]

In 1823 The Edinburgh Review imposed a sudden if temporary ceasefire in its fifteen-year battle with Cobbett's politics and economics by declaring his new work Cottage Economy to be 'an excellent little book … abounding with kind and good feelings, as well as with most valuable information'. The Review (Henry Brougham was the author of the praise) recognized that Cobbett's work was addressed to 'them', or 'the labouring...

(The entire section is 7319 words.)