Thursday, 18 March 2010

HCJ: Cobbett and Dickens.

William Cobbett
• William Cobbett was born in Farnham, Surrey in 1763 and died in June 1835.
• He worked as a farm labourer in Hampshire, which gave him extensive knowledge about the countryside.
• Cobbett began his career as a journalist in America, working under the name of Peter Porcupine, where he published 12 books criticising American democracy.
• After 20 years abroad, Cobbett returned to England in 1800 and he began to publish the weekly newsletter The Political Register. He first supported the Tories but then became more radical.
• By 1806 he was an advocate of parliamentary reform. Cobbett was not afraid to criticise the government and campaigned against newspaper taxes and government restraints on free speech.
• Cobbett began publishing the Political Register as a pamphlet and it soon had a circulation of 40,000. It became the main newspaper read by the working class.
• Cobbett continued publishing controversial material in the Political Register and was charged with libel on numerous occasions, escaping conviction twice, once by fleeing the country and once by conducting his own defence so successfully the jury had no means to convict him.
• For extracts from Cobbett’s Political Register and other works use the below link.
• Cobbett’s best-known book was Rural Rides.
• He had no time for the Government that taxed farmers or the army whom he said were free loaders, or for the Church and it's tithes. He was nearly 60 when he began Rural Rides.
• It was first published as a serial within The Weekly Political Register, running from 1822 to 1826. It was then later published as a book in 1830.
• At the time of publication Cobbett was a radical anti-corn law campaigner, Cobbett opposed solutions to agricultural troubles that were being addressed within parliament and he believed the industrial revolution was taking precedence over the economy, leaving many farmers financially unstable.
• Cobbett wanted to evaluate the situation and find a solution himself.
• Cobbett believed industrialisation was destroying a rural way of life.
• Cobbett viewed the argument from both a farmer’s and social reformer’s point of view. The book is seen to be a factual document that gives an insight into the lives of those living in the countryside in early nineteenth century.

*For an easy to read format of Rural Rides visit the below link.

Charles Dickens
• Charles Dickens was born 7th February 1812 and died 9th June 1870.
• He was an English Novelist.
• Dickens was interested in particular times of reform, which can be seen in his works: Oliver Twist related to Benthamite Utilitarian Poor Law, Bleak House has a focus on the Court of Chancery and Nicholas Nickelby criticised Yorkshire schools where pupils were mistreated.
• Dickens was of the belief that the poor should be given decent homes and education, in conjunction with this, his writing attempted to spur the middle classes into action.
• He was continuously disappointed with the law.
• He relied on his reader to take action!

A tale of two perspectives... Rural (Cobbett) vs. Urban (Dickens)
• England fared well out of the French Revolution, however during the Napoleonic War it was very expensive so income tax was introduced to pay for the war effort in 1779.
• British Naval power was absolute, particularly after 1805 and the blockades of the French ports created a boom for British exports, so the British began to build their empire.
• The Transatlantic Triangular Trade was highly profitable for Britain. In the 16th Century one million slaves were transported from Africa to America. This number then increased to three million in the 17th Century and then again to seven million in the 18th Century. The Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833 stopped the Transatlantic Triangular Trade.
• Textiles made up 60% of exports and coal outputs doubled between 1750 and 1800.
• Manchester’s population rapidly increased due to the need for more workers to process raw materials coming into the ports.
• The population rose from 17,000 to 180,000 between 1760 and 1830.
• Marx and Engels held an interest in Manchester's population explosion and poor treatment of its workers as a possible start of a working class revolution.
• Cotton was the key to the industrial revolution. The raw material originated from American slave plantations and was processed in North England, mostly for export.
• Inventions such as the gas light, allowed the process to continue and become more efficient as workers could continue working throughout the night, mostly women and children.
• The end of the war meant the end of the boom and this in turn lead to widespread unemployment and a decrease in wages.
• As response to this, the Government brought in the Corn Laws, which put a tariff on imported grain, to give farmers a better chance. However, this made bread very expensive, which meant many of the poor starved.
• The conditions in towns and cities became dire. Most people lived in bad conditions and diseases such as Cholera were common.
• There was a policy of brutal repression on any sort of dissent and strict penal penalties were effective in the short term.
• Protesters demanded growing industrial towns should have a right to elect MP's, as less than 2% of the population had a vote at the time. 'Rotten Boroughs' had too many MP's whereas Manchester and Leeds had none. Reform Act in 1832.
• The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 meant that bread became cheaper, but this in turn meant that wages could be lowered because workers would be able to survive on less.

• Enclosures had ended the idea of landholding peasantry- and there was nothing to stop the transfer of the workforce from non-industrial to industrial.
• Population had been rising slowly, or not at all, from approximately 5 million at the end of the 17th century up until the middle of the 18th Century. After 1770 it started to rise considerably, doubling every 50 years.
• Swing Riots - rural labourers began riots across the south of England as they were against the use of advanced technology like threshing machines.

The Poor
• The poor were looked after by the Speenhamland system, which was devised as a means to alleviate the distress caused by high grain prices. Families received extra to top up wages, it varied according to the number of children and the price of bread but the immediate impact of paying this poor rate fell on the landowners of the parish concerned.
• The New Poor Law Act was introduced in 1834 by Bentham. The Act that stated that no able-bodied person was to receive money or other help from the Poor Law Authorities except in a workhouse.
• Bentham believed people would do what was pleasant and not do what was unpleasant. He effectively criminalised the poor by making relief so unpleasant that they would not want it.

Ireland- Act of Union 1801
• The Famine was between 1845 and 1850 - over a million people died of malnutrition and two million emigrated.
• During the Famine, Ireland was a net exporter of food and the export of livestock actually increased. Armed troops had to escort the food to the ports to be exported to England. This increased the famine, leaving the Irish starving to death.

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