Hello there. Hope you’re feeling well today.
When I started my history GCSE’s oh those so many years ago the starting focus was British parliamentary reform around the early nineteenth century (I can tell you’re riveted already).
One of the books that I remember my teacher mentioning in passing detailing the lives of ordinary people at the time was Rural Rides by William Cobbett. A book about his travels over foot and horseback through Southern England. I didn’t read it then.
And I still haven’t read it now…..
But I have it on my Kindle. And as is my way if I can get a classic book free on Kindle I tend to download other free books by the same author. Hence Cottage Economy comes my way.
Now in essence it’s a self-help book (published in 1821) for working class people with a small bit of land to farm with. So it’s audience is shall we say limited. Cobbett was an unusual man. He was a farmer but he seemed to treat the poor with more understanding than a lot of the landowners of his (and every other) decade.
Indeed in it’s introduction he attacks the rich for imposing poverty on the working class yet implying it’s a good thing. The sort of post crash austerity propaganda which the right imposed on us all.
He starts off properly by discussing tea. Regular readers know that tea is my hot beverage of choice. Indeed as I’m tap tap tapping away I have a cuppa of the sacred liquid by my side. William Cobbett doesn’t just dislike tea however. He hates it.
He gives a list of what he says tea does to you. It includes insomnia (not true), debauchery (no hope for me then) and that it makes men effeminate.
Now I’m not and never have been homophobic but I’m not teaophobic either (no such definition really made it up). I suspect there have been many heterosexual men on reading that passage who contemplated having (consensual) sex there and then.
One of the reasons why Cobbett doesn’t like tea is that it has according to him reduced the consumption of what he assumes should be Britain’s favourite drink. What’s this drink? Is Cobbett the ancestor of a Starbucks director? Well no it’s not coffee. It’s actually beer. This entire chapter, the first you should note, is on how to brew beer (priorities) and not just how to brew beer but how to brew beer for the family.
Similar mad statements litter this book. Women. Don’t you know how to cook the insides of a pig? Then you’re a slattern. Just look at a mirror and admit it.
Kids don’t want to go to school? Fine. If you can wrap bales of wheat…even if you’re six… pay attention there… you don’t have to go to school because you’re in the school of life instead working on the farm.
I could go on but you get the drift.
This is actually a surprisingly readable book for someone like me who has no knowledge of the subject matter but really if you have to keep wondering what is the good farming advice and what’s plain bonkers then what’s the point? A book like this is not there for the reader to have to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
Entertaining though it was.
Now back to my cuppa.
Until the next time.