The early years of the 19th-century were ones of misery and oppression. The common people were forced into conditions of extreme poverty by enclosures and the Agricultural Revolution, and the long Tory administration of Lord Liverpool saw its task as keeping law and order at all costs. The cause of reform was a dangerous one, as William Cobbett was to find. Cobbett is best known for his ‘Rural Rides’, a classic account of early-19th-century Britain which has never been out of print. But he was a much greater figure than that implies, being the foremost satirist and proponent of reform of the time. He had a taste for provoking the deceit and vanity of the supposedly good and great, and had an abiding hatred of the establishment, or ‘The Thing’, as he christened it. In the pages of his ‘Political Register’ he lambasted corruption and excoriated hypocrisy, and was forever in fear of prosecution for libel, for which he was sent to Newgate prison for two years, which was the cause of his bankruptcy and forced him to flee to America. For all that the establishment loathed and feared him, the people loved him, and he was greeted by adoring crowds wherever he went. He was a hero of his time, and Richard Ingram’s admirable biography is both judicious, moving, sometimes funny and always utterly engaging.
Reviews of The Life and Adventures of William Cobbett
‘This is a wonderful portrait of a great Englishman…Richard Ingrams’s biography does a fantastic job of fleshing out this bold, bacon-eating, bloody-minded and often very funny writer.’ Independent on Sunday
‘The publicity hype – “a perfect match of author and subject” – really is spot-on. Both are supreme satirists, masters of the vituperative arts and excellent writers of plain, vigorous English.’ Mail on Sunday
‘It is a packed and combative life, and Richard Ingrams, who knows all about people trying to silence you with libel writs, is the ideal man to write it. He does so spiritedly and entertainingly.’ Daily Mail
‘CK Chesterton remarked: “The man who does not find one of Cobbett’s books amusing is doomed to find every book dull.” The same applies to anyone who reads this entertaining biography.’ Independent
‘There have been many biographies of Cobbett but the story is a good one, full of adventures, and few can have told it with the succinctness of Ingrams.’ Guardian
‘Cheerful and enthusiastic…an entertaining read. Ingrams…shows us a man of quite extraordinary passion, energy and principle.’ Daily Telegraph