Richard Boston

Natural Born Protestor

The Life and Adventures of William Cobbett

By

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There’s a Marx Brothers film in which Groucho sings a song with the refrain, ‘Whatever it is, I’m against it.’ William Cobbett was like that. He was a one-man protest movement, but not a single-issue one. The things he was against included economists, enclosures, military officers (for their sadism and peculation), the Establishment (which he called ‘the Thing’), London (which he called ‘the great wen’), doctors, schools, Quakers, Jews, book reviewers (‘the old shuffling bribed sots’), tea (‘a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debaucher of youth and a maker of misery for old age’), Shakespeare, Dr Johnson, and potatoes (‘soul-degrading’).

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