A Blupete Biography Page

Second Flight To America, 1817-19, Part 7 to the Life & Works of
William Cobbett

On December 16th, 1816, there unfolded an event known to history as the Spa Fields Riot. Certain agitators for reform had called a meeting to take place in Spa Fields located in the north of London. Six to eight thousand people had gathered to hear the stirring speeches. The meeting was peaceful enough but that evening a bunch of rowdies broke into "some bakers' and butchers' shops." This event was by itself not enough to get the authorities too nervous but it came in the wake of "two years of sporadic riots and violence, at a time when the excesses of the French Revolution were hardly ancient history." The nervous legislators established "secret committees" and to these committees there reported a small army of spies and spies-turned-provocateurs whose job was to track down Luddites and attend meetings of the suspected reform clubs. On February 18, this secret meeting of the House of Lords, based on reports that it had received, found that the Spa Fields meetings were part of a traitorous conspiracy formed for "the purpose of overthrowing, by means of a general insurrection, the established government ... and of effecting a general plunder and division of property." There then came about the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act and a determination by the authorities to round up the "chief incendiary writers" so that they might be put in "safe custody." Cobbett was to find out he was on the government's list, so, he once again, this time with two of his sons, fled to America. He arrived there on May 5th 1817.

While choosing to live in America28, Cobbett still kept up his connections in England and promised his readership that he would, after a short interval, keep the Political Register going by sending his written pieces from America. Cobbett, who was always on the edge of financial disaster, with his move to America, was to lose most everything that he owned in England. The family he left behind found quarters in London, as they were put out of possession of their home at Botley; the farm, stock and equipment were seized together with the furniture and other effects including Cobbett's books: all of it to be sold to satisfy Cobbett's many creditors.29

Cobbett situated himself on Long Island there to live the simple life: "rising before the sun, eating mainly the vegetables he grew, drinking nothing but water and milk."30 Nancy and the five younger children followed Cobbett out, arriving around the end of the year. However, by the following summer, 1818, Mrs Cobbett and most of the children returned to England; Cobbett, himself, was to return a year after that, in 1819. On his return to England, Cobbett was to have as part of his luggage a bag of bones; he had disinterred Thomas Paine who had been laid in American ground ten years earlier.31

During his stay in America, Cobbett was to write two books: Journal of a Year's Residence in the United States of America and Cobbett's English Grammar. His Grammar was much more then a little book of grammar: "it contained some excellent advice on both substance and style, warning the reader against writing about any matter which he does not well understand and against the use of figures of speech, superlatives, and the type of affection which from the beginning of the written word has characterized official communications."

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Peter Landry
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2011