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COBBETT, William

A Geographical Dictionary of England and Wales

Geographical Dictionary of England and Wales, London, 1832
Octavo (210 x 135 mm.), contemporary half calf, floral blind embossed cloth, blind ruled, spine with gilt bands and gilt title, light wear. With typographic title page, pp. lxxxiv, 546, (2), with 43 maps, consisting of 1 general and 42 of the counties of England and Wales, some light offsetting, otherwise in good condition.
The ‘Geographical Dictionary’ was written by William Cobbett (1762-1835) but the cartographer is unidentified. Cobbett was self-educated and the son of a labourer. An avid reader in his youth he served in the military from 1783 to 1791 including a spell in New Brunswick, Canada. Although rising to the rank of sergeant-major he took up the cause of the underpaid and poorly treated soldier’s in a pamphlet. This did not go down well and he fled to France before going to the United States between 1792-1800. He wrote on several subjects usually under the pen name Peter Porcupine including against the French Revolution and Thomas Paine. Being pressurized by a libel case he returned to England in 1800.

The government under William Pitt, pleased with his anti-Jacobin stance, offered him the opportunity to run a government owned newspaper. Preferring independence he later launched the ‘Political Register’, a weekly work, from January 1802. From 1804 he actively collected and printed parliamentary debates since the Norman conquest. He also launched ‘Cobbett’s Complete Collection of State Trails’. Extending himself too far he was forced to sell his interest in 1812 to T. C. Hansard and the Parliamentary debates have been known by that name ever since.

In 1805 he acquired a farm in Botley, Hampshire, and settled into the farming community with ease. Constantly willing to tackle the issues of the day he spent time in Newgate prison between 1810-12 and had to flee again to the United States in 1817. He was a prolific writer, the Oxford English Dictionary stating that he ‘wrote and published some 30 million words over the course of forty years (perhaps more than any other English writer)’.

The ‘Geographical Dictionary’ of 1832 records his thoughts in the Explanatory Preface; ‘Table No. IV. gives the names of all the rotten boroughs wholly cashiered, and also of those half-cashiered, by the Act of 4 June, 1832 [the Reform Bill], together with the counties in which they are, and the number of voters which they formerly had, this being matter which never ought to be effaced from the minds of Englishmen’. He concludes ‘it is a truly curious act that I am putting this on paper in the VERY ROOM in which Dr. Johnson wrote his plaintive preface to the prodigious production of his patient toil’.

The simple maps only show the county boundary and key towns. Indeed, their proportions are only guidelines and are not accurate. A quick look at those of Cornwall and Devon will illustrate that. There was a second edition in 1854 but none of the examples found bear any maps. Provenance: manuscript annotation of ‘John Harrison, Doddington, 1859’ on front flyleaf; blind stamp of John Harrison, Peacock Hotel, Belvoir Grantham; Doreen Green Collection; Clive A. Burden Ltd. 2011. Batten & Bennett (1996) 106; Carroll (1996) 97; Chubb (1927) 440; ODNB.
Stock number: 9939

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