Picture of William Cobbett

William Cobbett

places mentioned

Nov. 12th to 20th, 1825: Petersfield to Kensington

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Saturday, Nov . 12, 18 25.

I WAS at this town in the summer of 1823, when I crossed Sussex from Worth to Huntingdon, in my way to Titchfield in Hampshire. We came this morning from Petersfield, with an intention to cross to Horsham, and go thence to Worth, and then into Kent; but Richard's horse seemed not to be fit for so strong a bout, and therefore we resolved to bend our course homewards, and first of all to fall back upon our resources at Thursley, which we intend to reach to-morrow, going through North Chapel, Chiddingfold, and Brook.

At about four miles from Petersfield we passed through a village called Rogate. Just before we came to it, I asked a man who was hedging on the side of the road how much he got a day. He said, is. 6d.: and he told me that the allowed wages was 7d. a day for the man and a gallon loaf a week for the rest of his family ; that is to say, one pound and two and a quarter ounces of bread for each of them; and nothing more! And this, observe, is one-third short of the bread allowance of gaols, to say nothing of the meat and clothing and lodging of the inhabitants of gaols. If the man have full work; if he get his eighteen-pence a day, the whole nine shillings does not purchase a gallon loaf each for a wife and three children, and two gallon loaves for himself. In the goals, the convicted felons have a pound and a half each of bread a day to begin with: they have some meat generally, and it has been found absolutely necessary to allow them meat when they work at the tread-mill. It is impossible to make them work at the tread-mill without it. However, let us take the bare allowance of bread allowed in the gaols. This allowance is, for five people, fifty-two pounds and a half in the week; whereas, the man's nine shillings will buy but fifty-two pounds of bread; and this, observe, is a vast deal better than the state of things in the north of Hampshire, where the day-labourer gets but eight shillings a week. I asked this man how much a day they gave to a young able man who had no family, and who was compelled to come to the parish-officers for work. Observe, that there are a great many young men in this situation, because the farmers will not employ single men at full wages , these full wages being wanted for the married man's family, just to keep them alive according to the calculation that we have just seen. About the borders of the north of Hampshire they give to these single men two gallon loaves a week, or, in money, two shillings and eightpence, and nothing more. Here, in this part of Sussex, they give the single man sevenpence a day, that is to say, enough to buy two pounds and a quarter of bread for six days in the week, and as he does not work on the Sunday, there is no sevenpence allowed for the Sunday, and of course nothing to eat: and this is the allowance, settled by the magistrates, for a young, hearty, labouring man; and that, too, in the part of England where, I believe, they live better than in any other part of it. The poor creature here has sevenpence a day for six days in the week to find him food, clothes, washing, and and lodging! It is just sevenpence, less than one half of what the meanest foot soldier in the standing army receives; besides that, the latter has clothing, candle, fire, and lodging into the bargain! Well may we call our happy state of things the "envy of surrounding nations, and the admiration of the world!" We hear of the efforts of Mrs. Fry, Mr. Buxton, and numerous other persons to improve the situation of felons in the gaols; but never, no never, do we catch them ejaculating one single pious sigh for these innumerable sufferers, who are doomed to become felons or to waste away their bodies by hunger.

When we came into the village of Rogate, I saw a little group of persons standing before a blacksmith's shop. The churchyard was on the other side of the road, surrounded by a low wall. The earth of the churchyard was about four feet and a half higher than the common level of the ground round about it; and you may see, by the nearness of the church windows to the ground, that this bed of earth has been made by the innumerable burials that have taken place in it. The group, consisting of the blacksmith, the wheelwright, perhaps, and three or four others, appeared to me to be in a deliberative mood. So I said, looking significantly at the churchyard, "It has taken a pretty many thousands of your forefathers to raise that ground up so high." "Yes, sir," said one of them. "And," said I, "for about nine hundred years those who built that church thought about religion very differently from what we do." "Yes," said another. "And," said I, "do you think that all those who made that heap there are gone to the devil?" I got no answer to this. "At any rate," added I, "they never worked for a pound and a half of bread a day." They looked hard at me, and then looked hard at one another; and I, having trotted off, looked round at the first turning, and saw them looking after us still. I should suppose that the church was built about seven or eight hundred years ago, that is to say, the present church; for the first church built upon this spot was, I dare say, erected more than a thousand years ago. If I had had time, I should have told this group that, before the Protestant Reformation, the labourers of Rogate received fourpence a day from Michaelmas to Lady-day; fivepence a day from Lady-day to Michaelmas, except in harvest and grass-mowing time, when able labourers had sevenpence a day; and that, at this time, bacon was not so much as a halfpenny a pound : and, moreover, that the parson of the parish maintained out of the tithes all those persons in the parish that were reduced to indigence by means of old age or other cause of inability to labour. I should have told them this, and, in all probability, a great deal more, but I had not time; and, besides, they will have an opportunity of reading all about it in my little book called the History of the Protestant Reformation . From Rogate we came on to Trotten, where a Mr. Twyford is the squire, and where there is a very fine and ancient church close by the squire's house. I saw the squire looking at some poor devils who were making "wauste improvements, ma'am," on the road which passes by the squire's door. He looked uncommonly hard at me. It was a scrutinising sort of look, mixed, as I thought, with a little surprise, if not of jealousy, as much as to say, "I wonder who the devil you can be?" My look at the squire was with the head a little on one side, and with the cheek drawn up from the left corner of the mouth, expressive of anything rather than a sense of inferiority to the squire, of whom, however, I had never heard speak before. Seeing the good and commodious and capacious church, I could not help reflecting on the intolerable baseness of this description of men, who have remained mute as fishes, while they have been taxed to build churches for the convenience of the cotton-lords and the stock-jobbers. First, their estates have been taxed to pay interest of debts contracted with these stock-jobbers, and to make wars for the sale of the goods of the cotton-lords. This drain upon their estates has collected the people into great masses, and now the same estates are taxed to build churches for them in these masses. And yet the tame fellows remain as silent as if they had been born deaf and dumb and blind. As towards the labourers, they are sharp and vigorous and brave as heart could wish; here they are bold as Hector. They pare down the wretched souls to what is below gaol allowance. But as towards the taxers they are gentle as doves. With regard, however, to this Squire Twyford, he is not, as I afterwards found, without some little consolation; for one of his sons, I understand, is like Squire Rawlinson of Hampshire, a police justice in London ! I hear that Squire Twyford was always a distinguished champion of loyalty; what they call a staunch friend of government; and it is therefore natural that the government should be a staunch friend to him. By the taxing of his estate, and paying the stock-jobbers out of the proceeds, the people have been got together in great masses, and as there are justices wanted to keep them in order in those masses, it seems but reasonable that the squire should, in one way or another, enjoy some portion of the profits of keeping them in order. However, this cannot be the case with every loyal squire; and there are many of them who, for want of a share in the distribution, have been totally extinguished. I should suppose Squire Twyford to be in the second rank upwards (dividing the whole of the proprietors of land into five ranks). It appears to me that pretty nearly the whole of this second rank is gone; that the stock-jobbers have eaten them clean up, having less mercy than the cannibals, who usually leave the hands and the feet; so that this squire has had pretty good luck.

From Trotten we came to Midhurst, and, having baited our horses, went into Cowdry Park to see the ruins of that once noble mansion, from which the Countess of Salisbury (the last of the Plantagenets) was brought by the tyrant Henry VIII to be cruelly murdered, in revenge for the integrity and the other great virtues of her son, Cardinal Pole, as we have seen in Number Four, paragraph 115, of the History of the Protestant Reformation . This noble estate, on of the finest in the whole kingdom, was seized on by the king, after the possessor had been murdered on his scaffold. She had committed no crime. No crime was proved against her. The miscreant Thomas Cromwell finding that no form of trial would answer his purpose, invented a new mode of bringing people to their death; namely, a bill brought into parliament, condemning her to death. The estate was then granted to a Sir Anthony Brown, who was physician to the king. By the descendants of this Brown, one of whom was afterwards created Lord Montague, the estate has been held to this day; and Mr. Poyntz, who married the sole remaining heiress of this family, a Miss Brown, is now the proprietor of the estate, comprising, I believe, forty or fifty manors , the greater part of which are in this neighbourhood, some of them, however, extending more than twenty miles from the mansion. We entered the park through a great iron gate-way, part of which being wanting, the gap was stopped up by a hurdle. We rode down to the house and all round about and in amongst the ruins, now in part covered with ivy, and inhabited by innumerable starlings and jackdaws. After viewing the ruins, we had to return into the turnpike-road, and then enter another part of the park, which we crossed, in order to go to Petworth. When you are in a part of this road through the park, you look down and see the house in the middle of a very fine valley, the distant boundary of which, to the south and south-west, is the South Down Hills. Some of the trees here are very fine, particularly some most magnificent rows of the Spanish chestnut. I asked the people at Midhurst where Mr. Poyntz himself lived; and they told me at the lodge in the park, which lodge was formerly the residence of the head keeper. The land is very good about here. It is fine rich loam at top, with clay further down. It is good for all sorts of trees, and they seem to grow here very fast. We got to Petworth pretty early in the day. On entering it you see the house of Lord Egremont, which is close up against the park-wall, and which wall bounds this little vale on two sides. There is a sort of town-hall here, and on one side of it there is the bust of, Charles II, I should have thought, but they tell me it is that of Sir William Wyndham, from whom Lord Egremont is descended. But there is another building much more capacious and magnificent than the town-hall; namely, the Bridewell, which, from the modernness of its structure, appears to be one of those "wauste improvements, ma'am," which distinguish this enlightened age. This structure vies, in point of magnitude, with the house of Lord Egremont itself, though that is one of the largest mansions in the whole kingdom. The Bridewell has a wall round it that I should suppose to be twenty feet high. This place was not wanted when the labourer got twice as much , instead of half as much, as the common standing soldier. Here you see the true cause why the young labouring man is "content " to exist upon 7d. a day, for six days in the week, and nothing for Sunday. Oh! we are a most free and enlightened people; our happy constitution in church and state has supplanted Popery and slavery; but we go to a Bridewell unles we quietly exist and work upon 7d. a day!

Sunday, Nov . 13.

To our great delight we found Richard's horse quite well this morning, and off we set for this place. The first part of our road, for about three miles and a half, was through Lord Egremont's park. The morning was very fine; the sun shining; a sharp frost after a foggy evening; the grass all white, the twigs of the trees white, the ponds frozen over; and everything looking exceedingly beautiful. The spot itself being one of the very finest in the world, not excepting, I dare say, that of the father of Saxe Cobourg itself, who has, doubtless, many such fine places. In a very fine pond, not far from the house and close by the road, there are some little artificial islands, upon one of which I observed an arbutus loaded with its beautiful fruit (quite ripe) even more thickly than any one I ever saw in America. There were, on the side of the pond, a most numerous and beautiful collection of water-fowl, foreign as well as domestic. I never saw so great a variety of waterfowl collected together in my life. They had been ejected from the water by the frost, and were sitting apparently in a state of great dejection: but this circumstance had brought them into a comparatively small compass; and we, facing our horses about, sat and looked at them, at the pond, at the grass, at the house, till we were tired of admiring. Everything here is in the neatest and most beautiful state. Endless herds of deer, of all the varieties of colours; and, what adds greatly to your pleasure in such a case, you see comfortable retreats prepared for them in different parts of the woods. When we came to what we thought the end of the park, the gate-keeper told us that we should find other walls to pass through. We now entered upon woods, we then came to another wall, and there we entered upon farms to our right and to our left. At last we came to a third wall, and the gate in that let us out into the turnpike-road. The gate-keeper here told us that the whole enclosure was nine miles round ; and this, after all, forms, probably, not a quarter part of what this nobleman possesses. And is it wrong that one man should possess so much? By no means; but in my opinion it is wrong that a system should exist which compels this man to have his estate taken away from him unless he throw the junior branches of his family for maintenance upon the public.

North Chapel is a little town in the Weald of Sussex where there were formerly post-chaises kept; but where there are none kept now. And here is another complete revolution. In almost every country town the post-chaise houses have been lessened in number, and those that remain have become comparatively solitary and mean. The guests at inns are not now gentlemen, but bumpers , who, from being called (at the inns) "riders," became "travellers," and are now "commercial gentlemen," who go about in gigs , instead of on horseback, and who are in such numbers as to occupy a great part of the room in all the inns in every part of the country. There are, probably, twenty thousand of them always out, who may perhaps have, on an average throughout the year, three or four thousand "ladies" travelling with them. The expense of this can be little short of fifteen millions a year, all to be paid by the country-people who consume the goods, and a large part of it to be drawn up to the Wen, From North Chapel we came to Chiddingfold, which is in the Weald of Surrey; that is to say, the country of oak-timber. Between these two places there are a couple of pieces of that famous commodity called "government property." It seems that these places, which have extensive buildings on them, were for the purpose of making gunpowder. Like most other of these enterprises, they have been given up, after a time, and so the ground and all the buildings, and the monstrous fences, erected at enormous expense, have been sold. They were sold, it seems, some time ago, in lots, with the intention of being pulled down and carried away, though they are now nearly new, and built in the most solid, substantial, and expensive manner; brick walls eighteen inches through, and the buildings covered with lead and slate. It appears that they have been purchased by a Mr. Stovell, a Sussex banker; but for some reason or other, though the purchase was made long ago, "government" still holds the possession; and, what is more, it keeps people there to take care of the premises. It would be curious to have a complete history of these pretty establishments at Chiddingfold; but this is a sort of history that we shall never be treated with until there be somebody in parliament to rummage things to the bottom. It would be very easy to call for a specific account of the cost of these establishments, and also of the quantity of powder made at them. I should not be at all surprised if the concern, all taken together, brought the powder to a hundred times the price at which similar powder could have been purchased. When we came through Chiddingfold the people were just going to church; and we saw a carriage and pair conveying an old gentleman and some ladies to the churchyard steps. Upon inquiry, we found that this was Lord Winterton, whose name, they told us, was Turnour. I thought I had heard of all the lords, first or last; but if I had ever heard of this one before, I had forgotten him. He lives down in the Weald, between the gunpowder establishments and Horsham, and has the reputation of being a harmless, good sort of man, and that being the case I was sorry to see that he appeared to be greatly afflicted with the gout, being obliged to be helped up the steps by a stout man. However, it is as broad, perhaps, as it is long: a man is not to have all the enjoyments of making the gout, and the enjoyments of abstinence too: that would not be fair play; and I dare say that Lord Winterton is just enough to be content with the consequences of his enjoyments. This Chiddingfold is a very pretty place. There is a very pretty and extensive green opposite the church; and we were at the proper time of the day to perceive that the modern system of education had by no means overlooked this little village. We saw the schools marching towards the church in military order. Two of them passed us on our road. The boys looked very hard at us, and I saluted them with "There's brave boys, you'll all be parsons or lawyers or doctors." Another school seemed to be in a less happy state. The scholars were too much in uniform to have had their clothes purchased by their parents; and they looked, besides, as if a little more victuals and a little less education would have done as well. There were about twenty of them without one single tinge of red in their whole twenty faces. In short I never saw more deplorable looking objects since I was born. And can it be of any use to expend money in this sort of way upon poor creatures that have not half a bellyfull of food? We had not breakfasted when we passed them. We felt, at that moment, what hunger was. We had some bits of bread and meat in our pockets, however; and these, which were merely intended as stay-stomachs, amounted, I dare say, to the allowance of any half dozen of these poor boys for the day. I could, with all my heart, have pulled the victuals out of my pocket and given it to them; but I did not like to do that which would have interrupted the march, and might have been construed into a sort of insult. To quiet my conscience, however, I gave a poor man that I met soon afterwards sixpence, under pretence of rewarding him for telling me the way to Thursley, which I knew as well as he, and which I had determined, in my own mind, not to follow. We had now come on the turnpike-road from my Lord Egremont's park to Chiddingfold. I had made two or three attempts to get out of it, and to bear away to the north-west, to get through the oak-woods to Thursley; but I was constantly prevented by being told that the road which I wished to take would lead me to Haslemere. If you talk to ostlers, or landlords, or post-boys; or, indeed, to almost anybody else, they mean by a road a turnpike-road ; and they positively will not talk to you about any other. Now, just after quitting Chiddingfold, Thursley lies over fine woods and coppices, in a north-west direction, or thereabouts; and the turnpike-road, which goes from Petworth to Godalming, goes in a north-north-east direction. I was resolved, be the consequences what they might, not to follow the turnpike-road one single inch further; for I had not above three miles or thereabouts to get to Thursley, through the woods; and I had, perhaps, six miles at least to get to it the other way; but the great thing was to see the interior of these woods; to see the stems of the trees, as well as the tops of them. I saw a lane opening in the right direction; I saw indeed that my horses must go up to their knees in clay; but I resolved to enter and go along that lane, and long before the end of my journey I found myself most amply compensated for the toil that I was about to encounter. But talk of toil! It was the horse that had the toil; and I had nothing to do but to sit upon his back, turn my head from side to side and admire the fine trees in every direction. Little bits of fields and meadows here and there, shaded all over, or nearly all over, by the surrounding trees. Here and there a labourer's house buried in the woods. We had drawn out our luncheons and eaten them while the horses took us through the clay; but I stopped at a little house and asked the woman, who looked very clean and nice, whether she would let us dine with her. She said "Yes," with all her heart, but that she had no place to put our horses in, and that her dinner would not be ready for an hour, when she expected her husband home from church. She said they had a bit of bacon and a pudding and some cabbage; but that she had not much bread in the house. She had only one child, and that was not very old, so we left her, quite convinced that my old observation is true, that people in the woodland countries are best off, and that it is absolutely impossible to reduce them to that state of starvation in which they are in the corn-growing part of the kingdom. Here is that great blessing, abundance of fuel at all times of the year, and particularly in the winter.

We came on for about a mile further in these clayey lanes, when we renewed our inquiries as to our course, as our road now seemed to point towards Godalming again. I asked a man how I should get to Thursley ? He pointed to some fir-trees upon a hill, told me I must go by them, and that there was no other way. "Where then," said I, "is Thursley?" He pointed with his hand, and said, "Right over those woods; but there is no road there, and it is impossible for you to get through those woods." "Thank you," said I; "but through those woods we mean to go." Just at the border of the woods I saw a cottage. There must be some way to that cottage; and we soon found a gate that let us into a field, across which we went to this cottage. We there found an old man and a young one. Upon inquiry we found that it was possible to get through these woods. Richard gave the old man threepence to buy a pint of beer, and I gave the young one a shilling to pilot us through the woods. These were oak-woods with under-wood beneath; and there was a little stream of water running down the middle of the woods, the annual and long overflowings of which has formed a meadow sometimes a rod wide, and sometimes twenty rods wide, while the bed of the stream itself was the most serpentine that can possibly be imagined, describing, in many places, nearly a complete circle, going round for many rods together, and coming within a rod or two of a point that it had passed before. I stopped the man several times to sit and admire this beautiful spot, shaded in great part by lofty and wide-spreading oak-trees. We had to cross this brook several times, over bridges that the owner had erected for the convenience of the fox-hunters. At last, we came into an ash-coppice, which had been planted in regular rows, at about four feet distances, which has been once cut, and which was now in the state of six years' growth. A road through it, made for the fox-hunters, was as straight as a line, and of so great a length that, on entering it, the further end appeared not to be a foot wide. Upon seeing this, I asked the man whom these coppices belonged to, and he told me to Squire Leech, at Lea. My surprise ceased, but my admiration did not.

We got to Thursley after our beautiful ride through Mr. Leech's coppices, and the weather being pretty cold, we found ourselves most happily situated here by the side of an American fireplace , making extremely comfortable a room which was formerly amongst the most uncomfortable in the world. This is another of what the malignant parsons call Cobbett's Quackeries. But my real opinion is that the whole body of them, all put together, have never, since they were born, conferred so much benefit upon the country as I have conferred upon it by introducing this fireplace. Mr. Judson of Kensington, who is the manufacturer of them, tells me that he has a great demand, which gives me much pleasure; but really, coming to conscience, no man ought to sit by one of these fireplaces that does not go the full length with me both in politics and religion. It is not fair for them to enjoy the warmth without subscribing to the doctrines of the giver of the warmth. However, as I have nothing to do with Mr. Judson's affair, either as to the profit or the loss, he must sell the fireplaces to whomsoever he pleases.

Sunday, Nov . 20.

Coming to Godalming on Friday, where business kept us that night, we had to experience at the inn the want of our American fireplace. A large and long room to sit in, with a miserable thing called a screen to keep the wind from our backs, with a smoke in the room half an hour after the fire was lighted, we, consuming a full bushel of coals in order to keep us warm, were not half so well off as we should have been in the same room and without any screen, and with two gallons of coals, if we had our American fireplace. I gave the landlord my advice upon the subject, and he said he would go and look at the fireplace at Mr. Knowles's. That was precisely one of those rooms which stand in absolute need of such a fireplace. It is, I should think, five-and-thirty or forty feet long, and pretty nearly twenty feet wide. I could sooner dine with a labouring man upon his allowance of bread, such as I have mentioned above, than I would, in winter time, dine in that room upon turbot and surloin of beef. An American fireplace, with a good fire in it, would make every part of that room pleasant to dine in in the coldest day in winter. I saw a public-house drinking-room, where the owner has tortured his invention to get a little warmth for his guests, where he fetches his coals in a waggon from a distance of twenty miles or thereabouts, and where he consumes these coals by the bushel, to effect that which he cannot effect at all, and which he might effect completely with about a fourth part of the coals.

It looked like rain on Saturday morning, we therefore sent our horses on from Godalming to Ripley, and took a post-chaise to convey us after them. Being shut up in the post-chaise did not prevent me from taking a look at a little snug house stuck under the hill on the road side, just opposite the old chapel on St. Catherine's Hill, which house was not there when I was a boy. I found that this house is now occupied by the family Molyneux, for ages the owners of Losely Park, on the out-skirts of which estate this house stands. The house at Losely is of great antiquity, and had, or perhaps has, attached to it the great manors of Godalming and Chiddingfold. I believe that Sir Thomas More lived at Losely, or, at any rate, that the Molyneuxes are, in some degree, descended from him. The estate is, I fancy, theirs yet; but here they are, in this little house, while one Gunning (an East Indian, I believe) occupies the house of their ancestors. At Send, or Sutton, where Mr. Webb Weston inhabited, there is a baron somebody, with a De before his name.

When we got to Ripley, we found the day very fine, and we got upon our horses and rode home to dinner, after an absence of just one month, agreeably to our original intention, having seen a great deal of the country, having had a great deal of sport, and having, I trust, laid in a stock of health for the winter, sufficient to enable us to withstand the suffocation of this smoking and stinking Wen. But Richard and I have done something else besides ride, and hunt, and course, and stare about us, during this month. He was eleven years old last March, and it was now time for him to begin to know something about letters and figures. He has learned to work in the garden, and having been a good deal in the country, knows a great deal about farming affairs. He can ride anything of a horse, and over anything that a horse will go over. So expert at hunting, that his first teacher, Mr. Budd, gave the hounds up to his management in the field; but now he begins to talk about nothing but fox-hunting ! That is a dangerous thing. When he and I went from home, I had business at Reigate. It was a very wet morning, and we went off long before daylight in a post-chaise, intending to have our horses brought after us. He began to talk in anticipation of the sport he was going to have, and was very inquisitive as to the probability of our meeting with fox-hounds, which gave me occasion to address him thus: "Fox-hunting is a very fine thing, and very proper for people to be engaged in, and it is very desirable to be able to ride well and to be in at the death; but that is not ALL; that is not everything. Any fool can ride a horse and draw a cover; any groom or any stable-fellow, who is as ignorant as the horse, can do these things; but all gentlemen that go a fox-hunting [I hope God will forgive me for the lie] are scholars, Richard. It is not the riding, nor the scarlet coats, that make them gentlemen; it is their scholarship." What he thought I do not know; for he sat as mute as a fish, and I could not see his countenance. "So," said I, "you must now begin to learn something, and you must begin with arithmetic." He had learned from mere play to read, being first set to work of his own accord to find out what was said about Thurtell, when all the world was talking and reading about Thurtell. That had induced us to give him Robinson Crusoe ; and that had made him a passable reader. Then he had scrawled down letters and words upon paper, and had written letters to me in the strangest way imaginable. His knowledge of figures he had acquired from the necessity of knowing the several numbers upon the barrels of seeds brought from America, and the numbers upon the doors of houses. So that I had pretty nearly a blank sheet of paper to begin upon; and I have always held it to be stupidity to the last degree to attempt to put book-learning into children who are too young to reason with.

I began with a pretty long lecture on the utility of arithmetic; the absolute necessity of it, in order for us to make out our accounts of the trees and seeds that we should have to sell in the winter, and the utter impossibility of our getting paid for our pains unless we were able to make out our accounts, which accounts could not be made out unless we understood something about arithmetic. Having thus made him understand the utility of the thing, and given him a very strong instance in the case of our nursery affairs, I proceeded to explain to him the meaning of the word arithmetic, the power of figures, according to the place they occupied. I then, for it was still dark, taught him to add a few figures together, I naming the figures one after another, while he, at the mention of each new figure said the amount, and if incorrectly, he was corrected by me.

When we had got a sum of about 24, I said now there is another line of figures on the left of this, and therefore you are to put down the 4 and carry 2. "What is carrying ?" said he. I then explained to him the why and the wherefore of this, and he perfectly understood me at once. We then did several other little sums; and by the time we got to Sutton, it becoming daylight, I took a pencil and set him a little sum upon paper, which, after making a mistake or two, he did very well. By the time we got to Reigate he had done several more, and at last a pretty long one, with very few errors. We had business all day, and thought no more of our scholarship until we went to bed, and then we did, in our post-chaise fashion, a great many lines in arithmetic before we went to sleep. Thus we went on mixing our riding and hunting with our arithmetic, until we quitted Godalming, when he did a sum very nicely in multiplication of money , falling a little short of what I had laid out, which was to make him learn the four rules in whole numbers first, and then in money, before I got home. Friends' houses are not so good as inns for executing a project like this; because you cannot very well be by yourself; and we slept but four nights at inns during our absence. So that we have actually stolen the time to accomplish this job, and Richard's journal records that he was more than fifteen days out of the thirty-one coursing or hunting. Nothing struck me more than the facility, the perfect readiness, with which he at once performed addition of money. There is a pence table which boys usually learn, and during the learning of which they usually get no small number of thumps. This table I found it wholly unnecessary to set him. I had written it for him in one of the leaves of his journal book. But upon looking at it, he said, "I don't want this, because, you know, I have nothing to do but to divide by twelve ." That is right, said I, you are a clever fellow Dick; and I shut up the book. Now when there is so much talk about education, let me ask how many pounds it generally costs parents to have a boy taught this much of arithmetic; how much time it costs also; and, which is a far more serious consideration, how much mortification, and very often how much loss of health, it costs the poor scolded broken-hearted child, who becomes dunder-headed and dull for all his life-time, merely because that has been imposed upon him as a task which he ought to regard as an object of pleasant pursuit. I never even once desired him to stay a moment from any other thing that he had a mind to go at. I just wrote the sums down upon paper, laid them upon the table, and left him to tackle them when he pleased. In the case of the multiplication-table, the learning of which is something of a job, and which it is absolutely necessary to learn perfectly, I advised him to go up into his bedroom and read it twenty times over out loud every morning before he went a hunting, and ten times over every night after he came back, till it all came as pat upon his lips as the names of persons that he knew. He did this, and at the end of about a week he was ready to set on upon multiplication. It is the irksomeness of the thing which is the great bar to learning of every sort. I took care not to suffer irksomeness to seize his mind for a moment, and the consequence was that which I have described. I wish clearly to be understood as ascribing nothing to extraordinary natural ability. There are, as I have often said, as many sorts of men as there are of dogs; but I do not pretend to be of any peculiarly excellent sort, and I have never discovered any indications of it. There are, to be sure, sorts that are naturally stupid; but the generality of men are not so; and I believe that every boy of the same age, equally healthy, and brought up in the same manner, would (unless of one of the stupid kinds) learn in just in the same sort of way; but not if begun to be thumped at five or six years old, when the poor little things have no idea of the utility of anything; who are hardly sensible beings, and have but just understanding enough to know that it will hurt them if they jump down a chalk pit. I am sure, from thousands of instances that have come under my own eyes, that to begin to teach children book-learning before they are capable of reasoning is the sure and certain way to enfeeble their minds for life; and if they have natural genius, to cramp, if not totally to destroy that genius.

I think I shall be tempted to mould into a little book these lessons of arithmetic given to Richard. I think that a boy of sense, and of age equal to that of my scholar, would derive great profit from such a little book. It would not be equal to my verbal explanations, especially accompanied with the other parts of my conduct towards my scholar; but, at any rate, it would be plain; it would be what a boy could understand; it would encourage him by giving him a glimpse at the reasons for what he was doing: it would contain principles; and the difference between principles and rules is this, that the former are persuasions and the latter are commands. There is a great deal of difference between carrying 2 for such and such a reason, and carrying 2 because you must carry 2. You see boys that can cover reams of paper with figures, and do it with perfect correctness too; and at the same time can give you not a single reason for any part of what they have done. Now this is really doing very little. The rule is soon forgotten, and then all is forgotten. It would be the same with a lawyer that understood none of the principles of law. As far as he could find and remember cases exactly similar in all their parts to the case which he might have to manage, he would be as profound a lawyer as any in the world; but if there was the slightest difference between his case and the cases he had found upon record, there would be an end of his law. Some people will say, here is a monstrous deal of vanity and egotism, and if they will tell me how such a story is to be told without exposing a man to this imputation, I will adopt their mode another time. I get nothing by telling the story. I should get full as much by keeping it to myself; but it may be useful to others, and therefore I tell it. Nothing is so dangerous as supposing that you have eight wonders of the world. I have no pretensions to any such possession. I look upon my boy as being like other boys in general. Their fathers can teach arithmetic as well as I; and if they have not a mind to pursue my method, they must pursue their own. Let them apply to the outside of the head and to the back, if they like; let them bargain for thumps and the birch rod; it is their affair and not mine. I never yet saw in my house a child that was afraid ; that was in any fear whatever; that was ever for a moment under any sort of apprehension, on account of the learning of anything; and I never in my life gave a command, an order, a request, or even advice, to look into any book; and I am quite satisfied that the way to make children dunces, to make them detest books, and justify that detestation, is to tease them and bother them upon the subject.

As to the age at which children ought to begin to be taught, it is very curious that, while I was at a friend's house during my ride, I looked into, by mere accident, a little child's abridgment of the History of England: a little thing about twice as big as a crown-piece. Even into this abridgment the historian had introduced the circumstance of Alfred's father, who, "through a mistaken notion of kindness to his son, had suffered him to live to the age of twelve years without any attempt being made to give him education." How came this writer to know that it was a mistaken notion ? Ought he not rather, when he looked at the result, when he considered the astonishing knowledge and great deeds of Alfred--ought he not to have hesitated before he thus criticised the notions of the father? It appears from the result that the notions of the father were perfectly correct; and I am satisfied that if they had begun to thump the head of Alfred when he was a child, we should not at this day have heard talk of Alfred the Great.

William Cobbett, Rural Rides (Letchworth: Temple Press, 1932)

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