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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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William Cobbett

COBBETT, William, British journalist, born in Farnham, Surrey, 9 March, 1762" died there, 18 June, 1835. His father was a farmer and innkeeper, and a man of some intelligence, who gave his son such rudimentary education as he could. At the age of twenty-one, having spent his boyhood working in the fields, Cobbett went to London and got a place as clerk in an attorney's office. But, unable to endure the confinement of this place, which he called a " hell on earth," he enlisted in the 54th infantry regiment and was sent to Chatham. Here he devoted every spare moment to learning English grammar. He went to Canada with his regiment and served till 1791, when he obtained an honorable discharge, having reached the grade of sergeant-major. On 5 February, 1792, he married, at Woolwich, Anne, daughter of Thomas Reid, a sergeant-major of artillery. She was a woman of remarkable force of character. Cobbett's object in quitting the army was to bring certain officers to justice for having in various ways wronged both the public and the soldiers. With this purpose he visited London and laid his complaints before the govern-merit, but with little or no success. He then went to France and remained there six months, learning the language" but the anarchy of 1792 made it so uncomfortable there that he crossed the ocean and settled in Philadelphia. Here he advocated the cause of the federalist party, and under the name of "Peter Porcupine" wrote a series of powerful pamphlets, in which the French revolutionists and their sympathizers were severely criticised. He also attacked Dr. Benjamin Rush, who advocated the cure of yellow fever and other dangerous maladies by wholesale bleeding. Cobbett compared him very effectively to Dr. Sangrado ; but the irascible Rush brought suit for libel, arid obtained a verdict for $5,000 damages. As the costs of suit amounted to $8,000 more, this was a heavy blow. In 1800 Cob-bett returned to London, opened a book-shop, and published the " Works of Peter Porcupine" (12 vols.), which had an immense sale. He soon founded the "Weekly Political Register," which continued to be published during his lifetime. The success of this paper was so great that Cobbett grew rich and was able to buy a large estate in the country. He wrote with great asperity, but usually with much justice and good sense. His command of English was extraordinary, and he was an inveterate foe to humbug and tyranny. Thus he made himself obnoxious to the government, and was often prosecuted for libel. One of these cases became celebrated. In July, 1810, for sharply denouncing the flogging of English militiamen by German officers, he was fined £1,000 and sentenced to two years' imprisonment in Newgate. His friends immediately raised the money as-a testimonial of their sympathy, but he was kept in prison during the whole of the two years. In 1816 he established an occasional paper, called " Twopenny Trash," which had so great a sale and produced such effect upon workingmen as to rouse the hostility of the government, so that Cobbett felt it necessary to retreat for two years to the United States, where he leased a farm on Long Island. In 1819 he returned to England, and devoted himself to authorship. In 1832, being then seventy years old, Mr. Cobbett was elected to parliament for the borough of Oldham. He had distinguished himself as an advocate of Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform, but, in spite of his personal celebrity, his influence in the house of commons was but slight. On 25 May, 1835, in the midst of a debate on the malt tax, he was struck down by heart disease, and died soon after being removed to his country house at Farnham. As a writer of English prose, Mr. Cobbett ranks among the highest. He was extremely industrious and temperate in his habits, and thus acquired a good deal of learning and accomplished a great amount of literary work. Among his published books are a " History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland." a "History of England," " A Year's Residence in America, .... Advice to Young Men and Women," "Cottage Economy," and especially his English and French grammars, which are of themselves very entertaining. He also compiled twenty volumes of parliamentary debates. As a satirist he has had few if any superiors, after Swift and Junius, and he was so ready to wield his stinging pen that Sir Henry Bulwer calls him. in the title of an essay, "The Contentious Man." Yet he was very domestic in disposition, and devotedly loved by his family and friends. See " William Cobbett ; a Biography," by Edward Smith (2 vols., London, 1878), and " Historical Characters," by Sir Henry L. Bulwer (London, 1868).

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