Conclusions, Part 9 to the Life & Works of
His son wrote, well after Cobbett's death:
"He had great influence over every body about him; & inspired inferiors with awe ... he inspired confidence in circumstances of difficulty, & had a way of speaking of undertakings that made others fancy him capable of every thing he resolved to on. -- Equally attached (or won) by affection, and subdued by fear. -- His manner, when about to set to at any active pursuit, was full of resolution: stamping his feet as he got up, and calling out "Now, then!"39
George Spater in his introduction:
"[Cobbett] consistently stood in opposition to the establishment. He was for wider suffrage and the ballot; for the selection of civil servants on the basis of merit rather than rank or family; for the correction of such church abuses as nonresidency and plural livings; for the elimination of sinecures and the public workhouse; for the abolition of the Bank of England as a privately owned establishment profiting from its dealings with the government; for stricter child labour laws; for the termination of the unfair game laws; for the cessation of flogging in the army; for the freedom of Ireland from Protestant domination. ... [it is necessary to disregard] the calumnious charges of his enemies which have been thoughtlessly repeated so many times as almost to become gospel. This is not to claim he was a saint, Far from it. He was often wrong; he was a supreme egotist; he was harder on both his friends and his enemies than he should have been ... his attainment frequently fell short of his goals. Yet there were elements of greatness in the man."40
Spater, in his conclusion of his two volume work, recapped the life of Cobbett:
"[Cobbett] quickly proved his superiority as a soldier, rising from private to sergeant major in three years and establishing himself, in the process, as a dominant force in the regiment, even among the officers. He just as rapidly proved superiority as a writer, first in America and then in England. But he was not content to be a superior soldier, or a superior writer; he insisted on his superiority as a husband, as a father, as an employer, as a farmer, as an economist, as a teacher, as a ... whatever role he was playing at the moment. The introduction of a better fireplace or domestic straw plait, or a demonstration of how the laws should be enforced against wrongdoers, were means of proving his superiority in the same way as were the introduction of a better tree or a better apple or a better method of cultivating turnips, or a sounder system of currency. ..."
Throughout his life, Cobbett had fixed notions of what was right and what was wrong. This fixation, as we have seen, got him into difficulty with society at large. If he could not bring people around to thinking his way, then, especially in later life, and especially subsequent to his imprisonment, not thinking for a moment that he should make any compromise, he would become bitter and unforgiving. As hard as this was on him in his public activities, it might well be concluded, it was harder on him in his personal relationships. Between his duties in the House of Commons and the making of his constant rounds he was not to see much of his family, this estrangement was to become more complete in the last years of Cobbett's life. His biographer wrote:
His effort to expose the corruption that existed in the army forced him to flee from England in 1792. His attacks on Rush's [Benjamin Rush, the American physician and politician] false cure for the yellow fever stripped him of his earnings and drove him back to England in 1800. His condemnation of flogging put him in prison from 1817 to 1819. Not only were good deeds met with punishment, but the punishment was accompanied by vilification from the press and from the establishment to which the press pandered. The vilification did not stop with known facts; outright falsehoods were circulated."41
"... his great egotism, his suspicious nature, his readiness to see conspiracies against him, his extreme aggressiveness, his desire for revenge, his lack of emotional attachment to others, and his strong sense of unrivalled power and superiority ... these characteristics, observable in some degree from Cobbett's youth, grew steadily with the years, and reached a new level in 1833, when -- as we have seen -- he began to find conspiracies against him among member of his own family."42
In the final analysis, Englishmen and those throughout the world who inherited their unique form of government, owe much to William Cobbett. Cobbett, always the farmer, in his digging and rooting up of the political corruption of his day, especially in public affairs, laid the ground work for the political reform that unfolded in England during the 19th century, reform which only first started to take hold as Cobbett's life ended. The Great Reform Bill of 1832 saw to the elimination of the small boroughs, but much was to be done after that, and much, for that matter, needs yet to be done. William Cobbett showed the way; he showed how political agitation and the spread of discussion, would ultimately drive parliament to reckon with the sentiments of the people at large.
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Biographical Sketches: The Thinkers
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