William Cobbett 1763-1835
William Cobbett was an empiricist and like other empiricists such as Locke he believed we had to gain knowledge through our own sensory experiences. When looking at Cobbett it's important to understand why he felt the need to challenge the political system, and why he felt Britain was in such shambles.
His father was a farmer therefore he was bought up on rural land. He joined the army in 1784 but soon had to flee to America in 1791. Whilst living here he wrote 12 volumes of attacks on American democracy.
In 1800 Cobbett moved back to England and started writing for his own magazine, The Political Register. At first he was sided towards the Tories but eventually moved towards a radical view.
Cobbett was angry with parliament and their actions on rural life. He described farm workers as 'walking skeletons.' When the government introduced Corn Laws in 1815 Cobbett saw these laws as a threat to rural life.
Corn laws was introduced after the war had ended. Before it had ended food was being imported from abroad and people could afford the food. After the war there was huge unemployment. Citizens were unable to buy the imported food as it was too expensive. The government introduced the corn law to put a tariff on the amount of food being imported, therefore British farms had to produce all of the food for Britain. This meant the food was expensive and people could only buy very little of it. During the industrial revolution people living on rural land had to flee to cities such as London and Manchester. This left rural land isolated.
Cobbett arrived back in England just after the Peterlou massacre, he joined other radicals with their attracts on the government. When writing for the Political Register Cobbett did not want newspaper stories to come at him. He returned to his old routes and like a modern journalist and empiricist he went out and found his stories. He took to traveling around on his horse and made observations of what was happening in rural villages. He was against the industrial change that was taking place in Britain and argued that people were ignoring the natural beauty of our land. This was his most famous work called Rural Rides which was published in 1830.
Cobbett campaigned with many others for parliamentary reform. He wasn't as successful as the famous Dickens was however the Government were afraid riots would start so they introduced the Reform Act in 1832.
Rousseau was an important figure and included The Romantic Movement. The views Rousseau held were similar to Cobbett's. He was against industrialism and believed the more civilised society was the greater the problem. He was fascinated by the novel savage and how they lived outside of society. Similarity to Cobbett he believed mankind would live better in the state of nature. Rousseau wanted to take things further than Cobbett did, he wanted land ownership to be demolished so that people could work freely on the land.
Dickens and Cobbet were on equal grounds. They were both campaigning for change however Dickens was looking at the future and Cobbett looked at the past. Dickens work seemed to be more successful than Cobbett's. His writing was more strategic he wrote about the urban areas therefore his audience were much larger than Cobbett's. Cobbett's writing was aimed at people living in small rural villages therefore a much smaller audience. They were both against industrialism and how the state was treating the poor. Both Dickens and Cobbett gave the voiceless a voice.