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William Cobbett
Cottage economy... to which is added The poor man's friend; or, A defence of the rights of those who do the work and fight the battles..
New York, J. Doyle, 1833.
158, 68 p. 16 cm.

Call no.: S511. C6

A journalist and firebrand political partisan, William Cobbett (1763-1835) might not seem the most obvious proponent of bee culture, but his roots as a ploughboy proved true. Born in England in 1763 and "bred at the plough-tail," Cobbett enlisted in the 54th Regiment of Foot in 1783 to see the world. A natural literary talent, though never a profound thinker, he ran into trouble while stationed in New Brunswick after he published a pamphlet criticizing the brutality and injustice of military life and followed it up with an attempt to courtmartial his officers. The result in 1792 was that Cobbett was forced to flee his opponents and seek exile in the United States.

From almost his first arrival there, Cobbett was enlisted in the vicious partisan political struggle, writing under the pseudonym Peter Porcupine, a name befitting his prickly personality. With a savage pen, he accosted democrats and lauded Federalists, but won few friends in the process. Reminiscent of his days in the army, he finally retreated from the fray -- and from a verdict for libel on Benjamin Rush -- to return to England in 1800.

Although welcomed in England by the Tory government, Cobbett drifted rapidly toward political radicalism in his reclaimed environment, opposing the Napoleonic War for its economic repercussions at home, and later in life advocating for Parliametary reform and the expansion of suffrage to the poor. Cobbett won election to Parliament after the reforms of 1832, but was never successful in winning the full measure of political openness he had wished.

Cottage Economy is typical not only of Cobbett's writing on agriculture, but of an entire genre devoted to the moral and financial betterment of the poor. In simple language and printed in a workmanlike manner, Cobbett lays out a groundwork for rural cottagers to better their lot in life and escape poverty, with the overriding themes of industry and thrift. Although he writes of bees only in passing, he nevertheless saw them as a potentially useful adjunct to the rural economy, if seen, at least, within the proper moral framework.

A good stall of bees, that is to say, the produce of one, is always worth abouyt two bushels of good wheat. The cost is nothing to the labourer. He must be a stupid countryman indeed who cannot make a bee-hive; and a lazy one indeed if he will not, if he can... Scarcely any thing is a greater misfortune than shiftlessness. It is an evil little short of the loss of eyes or of limbs.

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