William Cobbett returned to England in 1819, having fled to America fearing incarceration for his outspoken criticism of the British government. But Cobbett’s rage against landowners who kept wages low, and his support for the protesters who demanded the vote, was yet to find its ideal form. In 1821 Cobbett began to publish the Rural Rides in his newspaper the Political Register. The Rides are written after a day in the saddle around the countryside of southern England, the same land in which he had driven a plough as a boy. The combination of a withering attack on the causes of rural poverty, and lyrical appreciation of the landscape and its rural workers, made Cobbett the best-read journalist of the day.
The travelogue is part appreciation of merry England and part call to arms for the working poor, one that led William Hazlitt to call its author the ‘fourth estate in the politics of this country’. Sometimes entries are a short paragraph, other times longer considerations of a community, but all contain a remarkable strength and directness of style. By reading daily instalments of the Rural Rides on Journal•Lists, subscribers can follow Cobbett through the counties of England, and through the calendar of the farmer’s year, to appreciate the immediacy and brilliance of these entries as thousands of Britons did.
Cobbett’s Rural Rides begins on 30 October 2015.