I’ve come rather later to reading Cobbett. To be blunt, I used to find him unreadable, but an invitation to address the William Cobbett Society in his native Farnham has got me going. Living in London myself, I was pleased to see that he begins his Rural Rides from Kensington—albeit a Kensington in which he kept turkeys. My old stumbling block had been the turnips. The state of them was an obsession, together with poor rates, Malthus, the gentrification of farmers, rotten boroughs, the evils of the potato, the Wen, and the undesirability of education.
A practical man, he was nevertheless a Utopian, facing in the opposite direction from the way the world would develop. His great horror was the national debt. He saw evidence of it everywhere. With paper money, it was driving the old order of the countryside to extinction. Stock jobbers and loan dealers replaced the gentry and small farmers. Debt would blow up the whole putrid fabric of finance and government. ‘Ah! It is in vain, THING’—by ‘thing’, he meant the prevailing system—‘that you thus are making your preparations; in vain that you are setting your trammels. The Debt, the blessed debt… will break them all.’ Nothing contemporary there, then. Nor in his rude words about the ‘Scotch feelosophers’ and ‘feenanceers’ who were behind it. Nothing at all.