Plan to celebrate venerated book dropped over writer’s Jew-hate

History group founder says William Cobbett's Rural Rides contains 'gratuitous antisemitic and racist comments'


Enthusiasts intending to celebrate the 200th anniversary of a 19th century book by “progressive” political commentator William Cobbett have dropped their plans after realising his works were riddled with Jew-hate.

Cobbett’s Rural Rides, in which he writes of his encounters with labourers in southern England to highlight the agricultural crisis of the early 1820s, has become a touchstone work for some on the left. However, his speeches to rural labourers quoted in the book are peppered with antisemitic rants, as Cobbett blames the crisis on “Jewish money” in the City.

Edward Fennell, founder of Hyde900, a Winchester history group, had been among those planning a festival to commemorate the publication of Rural Rides. He told the Hampshire Chronicle: “Within Rural Rides there were a number of gratuitous antisemitic and racist comments which seemed at odds with Cobbett’s generally ‘progressive’ opinions [and] organisers thought that they needed to be investigated further.”

Mr Fennell added that research showed that several of Cobbett’s other works – which have been largely forgotten and are no longer in print – were also filled with antisemitic rants.

He said: “As a result, it was decided that it could not be justified to hold an event which, as one person observed, ‘put him on a pedestal’.

Nonetheless the decision was taken with considerable disappointment.# “As an activist, Cobbett exposed corruption, stood up for justice for ordinary people, suffered imprisonment for challenging oppressive authorities and was a champion of the poor. His observations about life in Hampshire in the 1820s still has much value and is worth study. But his extreme (and truly vile) attitudes mean that a celebration of his life would now be completely inappropriate.”


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