It is refreshing to turn from a newspaper full of the bickerings of today’s rancid Left to this new biography of a great journalist, a much loved and much detested radical who started his career some two centuries ago. Cobbett with all his splendid idiosyncrasies has left behind him the impression of having been great fun to meet: an outspoken, impetuous man, who hated tyrants of whatever political colour and never hesitated to say so. He loathed Bonaparte; he also loathed Wellington. He thought Washington stuck-up, and Jefferson ‘a man as much fit to be a President as I am to be an Archbishop!’ Some of his sharpest early books were aimed at revolutionary Americans who preached freedom of speech, but would not let him practise it by publishing what he thought of them. Later in life he went overboard for Queen Caroline, more because he detested her husband than because he admired her burly and quarrelsome self (the best that can be said for her is that she was no worse than George IV, with whom she had been through a form of marriage, though he was already married, secretly and illegally, to Mrs Fitzherbert).
Cobbett was an enormously prolific writer. Like his previous best biographer, G D H Cole, he had over a hundred volumes of print to his credit when he died; over half of them in his case, it is true, volumes of a newspaper, the weekly Political Register which he wrote