by the sudden discovery that a portly old gentleman of
Pickwickian appearance, by whose side they have taken a seat on a bench, is not one of themselves, but a replica in wax of a famous personage of the later Georgian era. The figure represents William Cobbett. Mr. E. I. Carlyle was well advised in undertaking a new Life of that gifted political weathercock, who, Defoe perhaps excepted, was the most prolific of English writers. With his lively style, know- ledge, and impartiality, and his knack of illustrating facts with suitable reflections, this author was well qualified for his task, and he has provided his readers with the auxiliary apparatus which our book-makers mostly disdain.
Born in 1763 at Farnham, where his father was a small farmer who kept a pothonse, Cobbett was successively garden boy, ploughman, attorney's clerk, soldier in a regiment in Nova Scotia, resident in France, emigrant to Philadelphia, English master to French refugees, farmer, shopkeeper, prisoner in Newgate, landowner, fugitive in America, bankrupt in England, bookseller, and then, after other vicissitudes in town and country, for his two closing years Member of Parliament. But through these hetero- geneous elements of the career in which, like Dryden's Zimri, he was "everything by starts and nothing long," there ran an unbroken thread of literary production. In his periodicals, books, pamphlets, addresses, and varied mis- cellaneous works he attained a rare mastery in polemical and artistic composition. In politics Cobbett was a weathercock. At first a disciple of Tom Paine, on leaving the Army he dropped his Republican faith, brought charges of malversation against some of his late officers, and pub- lished a pamphlet erroneously said to have caused the Mutiny of the Nore of 1797. Rapidly ending a visit to France, which, he said, was "blasted with the principles of the accursed revolution," he retired to America, where the ovation accorded by the populace of New York to Dr. Priestley after that agitator had escaped from the Birmingham Tory mob drew him into a new groove, and he allied himself to the ultra-Federalists, violently assailing with a rain of pamphlets the Democrats Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, who, with their adherents, wished the States to support France in her war with England. Cobbett's controversial American publications, in some of which he assumed the pseudonym of "Peter Porcupine," included a libel which coat the fiery rodent five thousand dollars as the price of a discharge of his quills at a Dr. Rush, a local Sangrado with a nostrum for the cure of the yellow fever. Of the bookselling enterprise in Philadelphia, which provoked dangerous out- bursts of popular wrath and the jeers of "Paul Hedgehog" and others, the " Porcupine " wrote :—
"I resolved to put the power and the courage of the democracy to the test by opening shop with a grand exhibition of the por- traits of kings, queens, princes, nobles, and bishops, and, in short, with every portrait, picture, or book, that I could obtain, and that I thought likely to excite rage in the inveterate enemies of Great Britain, particularly a large, coarse, sixpenny representa- tion of Lord Howe's victory over the French. Never since the beginning of the American rebellion had any one before dared to exhibit at his window the portrait of George the Third."
The facility with which the "Porcupine" shifted his quills is illustrated by his attitude towards Tom Paine, his early political preceptor. On that person's second arrival in
America, Cobbett in his Scare Crow called him "the Right Irreverent Father in the Devil Tom Paine," also loading him with obloquy in a funeral ode. When the said "Ragamuffin Deist," on the ground of his neglect by the • William Oebbett : a Study of his Life as Shown in his Writings. By E. L Carlyle, F.B.Hirt.S., Fellow of Merton College, Oxford. Illustrated. London, A. Constable and Co. [7e. 6d. net.] ton, there appeared in Cobbett's Censor a reply to that missive which contained the following apostrophe :— "Now, atrocious, infamous miscreant, 'look on this picture and on this.' I would call on you to blush, but the rust of villainy has eaten your cheek to the bone, and dried up the source of suffusion. Are these the proofs of your disinterestedness and consistency ? Is it thus that you are always the same and that you preserve through life the right-angled character of man ? "
Justly remarking that the last sentence has a flavour of the Eatanswill Gazette, the present biographer quotes a paragraph in Cobbett's Political Register which specially ascribes to Paine the merit of consistency! Washington, it seems, thought his apologist's reply rather strong and coarse, but called it "not a bad thing." For all this, at the close of Cobbett's second sojourn in the States he dug up the bones of
the" miscreant," which had been buried in unconsecrated ground, and took them with him to England, where they encountered a muster of cavalry and artillery arranged by the authorities lest their arrival at Manchester should cause a popular tumult.
Mr. Carlyle gives an interesting account of the subsequent history of these treasures, which, for reasons connected with Cobbett's death, were knocking about above ground for twenty-five years. Cobbett later on tried to put money in his purse by advertising gold rings containing a guaranteed lock of the hair of the "infamous miscreant"
(who was almost bald), but an intelligent public declined to give the guinea, plus a charge or gold and workmanship, asked for the relics.
Canadian sympathisers subscribed to cover Cobbett's loss from the Dr. Sangrado libel, and he made an attempt to improve things by starting a new periodical
appropriately called the Rushlight ; but he was as
good as ruined, and returned to England in 1800. His fame as a champion of order and throne ran high.
When his vessel stopped at Halifax he was graciously received by the Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of Kent, and was welcomed in London by the Ministerialists, Secre- tary Windham asking him to a select dinner to meet Pitt, who, dropping his usual snubbing manner, treated his partisan with great affability. Declining Lord Grenville's offer of a Government paper, office, types, profits, and all, he started a London Porcupine, in which he poured his Billingsgate on the
Americans of the ultra-Democratic party, the French, and the Republican emissaries who, he said, were "still preaching fanaticism and infidelity, still bawling for that change which they have the audacity to call Reform." When the King's refusal to agree to Catholic emancipation made Pitt resign,
Cobbett opposed any such religious concession, and further, when the negotiations for the Peace of Amiens were opened, published letters wherein he urged by demonstrations with which many people would agree now that the proposed Treaty would lay Continental Europe at the feet of France. In these
letters he approached to some extent the dignified method of Burke, abandoning the blunt, sardonic style of his chief master,
Swift, whose Tale of a Tub (bought by him for threepence when a little boy), as well as the Drapier Letters, much influenced Cobbett's mind. Instigated by Grenville and Windham, he next brought out the ultra-Tory Political Register, afterwards the organ of ultra-Radical preachments;
and when his windows in Pall Mall had been twice broken by
mobs clamouring for the Peace, he thrashed, in revenge, a Ministerialist editor who had raked up certain questionable passages from his early Soldiers' Friend.
How Cobbett fetched the compass which finally brought him into the vicinity of the Extremist camp is detailed in Mr. Carlyle's excellent sketch of the revolution in English parties which followed the death of "the pilot that weathered the storm," and of the Ministerial changes consequent thereon. When the Duke of Portland took office, our chameleon threw the Whigs over, and began to adopt the views of the advocates of Parliamentary reform, not, however, from any hostility to the landed aristocracy, but from a hatred of the great manu- facturers and their towns, and of what he called the sub- jection of the House of Commons to a gang of stock-jobbers, placemen, and pensioners designated by him as the "Thing."
The violent diatribes of the Political Register touching the
opening phases of the Peninsular War, and Cobbett's language on the War Office scandals of the Duke of York and Mrs. Clarke, were followed when Perceval came into power by an incident whose horrors were mitigated by his attention to outside
matters like the management of his charming estate of Botley, near Southampton, and his children's education, this
volume gives an interesting picture, which concludes with Mr.
Carlyle's opinion that as regards Cobbett's notorious offer to the Government to discontinue the Register in return for a
mitigation of his punishment, he was guilty of "a course of prevarication and actual falsehood unworthy of an upright man." After his discharge from Newgate he cheapened
the Register, which consequently attained to an immense
circulation in some of the manufacturing districts, and he stumped certain counties with considerable success, dissuading,
however, so far as we can see, artisans and labourers from acts of violence, defending, for example, in a Letter to the Luddites, the use of machinery in terms which, as Miss Martineau well remarks, "must have been more effective than a regiment of dragoons." In this and some of his other literary trans- actions it is well to remember the warning latet anguis in herbd , —the desire to convert the diggers and weavers into politicians at times carrying Cobbett too far. It is, however, plain that with all his plebeian sympathies, which, perhaps, were at times touched with a Republican bias, he was no accomplice of the Luddites, or the " blanketeers," or Orator Hunt, or the "bloodthirsty Cato Street gang," and that, in fine, as Mr. Carlyle puts it, he was never quite a democrat proper.
Lord Sidmouth's suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act threatening Cobbett with a return to Newgate, he sailed for America, whence, as we saw, he came home in 1819 with Tom Paine'a bones in his luggage, soon to be involved in heavy financial disaster, and more actions for libel. His next ten years Mr. Carlyle calls his "Great Literary Period." In 1820-30 there flowed from Cobbett's pen an unexampled drench of writings ranging from cottage economy to sermons for parsons and religious history ; from his Advice to Young Men and Women to treatises on gardening, forestry, husbandry, and English and French grammar. Many of these books attained to enormous popularity, some being translated into foreign languages, and it cannot be denied that though the trail of the serpent was not always banished from their pages, they were full of merit. To our author, the Advice is Cobbett's finest literary achievement. Undeniable is the fact that with its powerful autobiographical pictures of military, agricultural, and home life, its bright glimpses of genuine family affection, and its admirable moral counsels to parents and young people, the book has still a real value. Better known now are the Rural Rides, which are full of beauties of artistic line and colour, drawn with "the eye on the object," as Matthew Arnold says, with rare felicities of expression, which make them matchless pictures of country pleasures, scenes, and persons. Cobbett's spiteful imprecations by no means " document " the real man,—his hammer-strokes and vitriol came from his ink-bottle, but not from his heart. The pugnacious currents of his nature did not flow from a malignant source, but from the emotional temperament which drove his antipathies, and also his sympathies, out of control. The man who in his riper age wrote: "I suppose no one has ever passed a happier life than I have done," was not, as his enemies pretended, a caldron of plebeian venom.
CRUMBS FROM A SCHOLAR'S TABLE.*