Peter Porcupine, Grammarian

Posted by jlubans on October 22, 2023

Marjorie Bowen* writes eloquently of William Cobbett, (1763-1835), the indefatigable critic of England's elites and champion of the many men, women and children exploited by the ruling classes.
As a soldier, he saw the not uncommon practice of officers stealing soldier food allowances, leading to a half-starved military. Questions were met with floggings and worse.
Another example was the common practice of children working 12 hour days.
When a ten-hour day was proposed the notion was squashed by the government!
So, Peter Porcupine had much to agitate about and he did so relentlessly by authoring, as the quill-throwing Peter Porcupine, hundreds of pamphlets, many books and publishing and editing several newspapers including the immensely popular and easily affordable, "Two-Penny Trash".
In these he expressed his dissatisfaction with England?s industrialization and economic unfairness to the great dismay of those living off the fat of the land.
He was sued, imprisoned and scorned. But he never gave up.
No incipient Marxist-type, he was always a champion for the small, land-owning farmer.
Biographer Bowen explains how a self-declared, uneducated "peasant" could possibly be such a force:
"This literary achievement in so unlikely a person is less
surprising when we consider that it was founded on grammar.
William Cobbett had a great deal to say; he was the born journalist always
ready with eager commentary on what was passing about him, and the
born political writer always willing to rush into a debate or to
accept a challenge, and his native shrewdness told him that if he
was to write effectively he must learn grammar. He had not that
smattering of education which deceives so many into trusting their
own ignorance.
Handicapped by no oddments of ill-digested learning
and humbly conscious of his own lack of knowledge, he set his
strong mind the task of learning grammar as he set his strong hands
the task of planting and sowing, pruning and reaping.
The labour was easily accomplished and gave him vast and lasting
He was an egoist and nothing seems to gratify the
egoist mere than a knowledge of grammar; the pride of the
grammarian seems to exceed all other pride, he is like a man armed
with a stick and everlastingly using it on others, even on those
who may be his superiors in all but this.
So the acquisition of this power gave a great sense of superiority to the self-taught
peasant and deeply pleased his simple vanity; there was hardly
anyone that he met who might not be caught up on some point of
grammar, hardly any book that might be opened which was not
sadly deficient in grammar.
He was able to laugh at those better born, better educated, more powerful than himself because he could detect in their speech or writing slips of grammar.

So, AI now, presumably, arms all of us with the grammarian?s sledgehammer.
Use it wisely.

*Marjorie Bowen

Peter Porcupine: A Study of William Cobbett.
Longman & Co., London, 1935
Available online here.

Check my grammar in my Fables for Leaders, only a click away:

Copyright John Lubans 2023

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