Cobbett's Early Life, Part 2 to the Life & Works of
Born at Farnham, 35 miles southeast of London, halfway between London and Portsmouth; "bred," as Cobbett wrote, "at the plough-tail."3 William came from no fancy line of people; his grandfather was a laborer and worked for the same farmer all his life as "a road wagoner"; his father ran a public house in Farnham, the "Jolly Farmer," a place in which William and his three brothers were born. William received little in formal schooling, learning, as he accounts, from his father how to read and write. When but sixteen years of age, William was sent along to work for a Rev. James Barclay who resided in the nearby community of Guildford. Rev. Barclay had a reasonably well stocked library and William was thus introduced to what we might suppose to be good reading material, and, not only was William encouraged to read but also to write; his first project written when he was but a teenager was pretty ambitious, "he made a small manuscript book containing a history in epitome of all the kings and queens of England."4 In 1783, our young adventurer struck out for London and there he found employment in a barrister's office: "Holland ... did me the honour to take me into his service, and the next day saw me perched on a great high stool, in an obscure chamber in Gray's Inn, endeavouring to decypher the crabbed drafts of my employer." This work did not much appeal to Cobbett and he took his leave of Mr. Holland within the year.5
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