Book Review: From Dover to the Wen by William Cobbett

From Dover to the Wen
William Cobbett

This is the third of 20 volumes of the Penguin English Journeys series. I plan to read all 20 in the month of April.

At the risk of offending fans of William Cobbett, I wanted to retitle this book From Dover to the Wen Will This Be Over? Since it is an extract from Rural Rides and is only 110 pages you might wonder why it was such a problem for me. I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but I just found it tedious. So at page 52, I invoked the Rule of 50 and decided I would not spend anymore of my reading time trying to finish it.

The book chronicles Cobbett’s rides/walks through southern England with plenty of radical political rants thrown in for good measure. One of these rants, written in 1823 could apply to economic realities of 2010. The U.S. and perhaps the rest of the industrialized world is in a race to the bottom, paying workers as little as we possibly can with no regard to the impact. We may be able to buy things more cheaply, but at what price? It is a little sad to realize that this state of affairs appears to be eternal. Cobbett describes the problem in his day as he describes the house of a newly grand squire:

One end of the front of this once plain and substantial house had been moulded into a ‘parlour’; and there was the mahogany table, and the fine chairs, and the fine glass…And I dare say it has been ‘Squire Charington and the Miss Charingtons; and not plain Master Charington, and his son Hodge, and his daughter Betty Charington, all of whom this accursed system has, in all likelihood, transmuted into a species of mock gentle-folks, while it has ground the labourers down into real slaves. Why do not farmers now feed and lodge their work-people, as they did formerly? Because they cannot keep them upon so little as they give them in wages…The land produces, on an average, what it always produced; but there is a new distribution of the produce. This ‘Squire Charington’s father used, I dare say, to sit at the head of the oak-table along with his men, say grace to them, and cut up the meat and the pudding. He might take a cup of strong beer to himself, when they had none; but, that was pretty nearly all the difference in their manner of living. So that all lived well.

I’m not advocating for socialism, but there does come a point where quality of life for all should have some impact on the impersonal decisions made by corporations in the never ending quest for increased profits.

Next up: The Pleasures of English Food by Alan Davidson

3 thoughts on “Book Review: From Dover to the Wen by William Cobbett

  1. verity April 15, 2010 / 8:02 am

    Sorry that this was disappointing – Cobbett is certainly a key character so I must give him a go. Onto food though – yum!


  2. Jodie April 16, 2010 / 11:48 am

    How scary that you had to make sure everyone knows you're not advocating socialism before making that totally sensible and moral point. Oh what an odd world.


  3. Thomas at My Porch April 17, 2010 / 9:24 am

    Verity: Two other books in this series so far have mentioned Cobbett, so I do feel bad about abandoning him.

    Jodie: You are so right. It is a knee-jerk reaction to all those dunderheads who refer President Obama as a socialist because he thinks that people should have healthcare.


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