Saturday, March 09, 2013

William Cobbett - a common man for all seasons

From Brother Ivo:

For much of this week His Grace has been offering sound advice to our brothers and sisters of the Roman Catholic Church to assist them out of some of their current difficulties, but we must not neglect the temporal. There is still a pressing need, and significant work to be done in challenging and reforming the United Kingdom’s political elites.

Brother Ivo loves his paradox, and has long noted that the post-modern search for cultural 'individualism' appears to render folk ever more homogenised. Nevertheless, our political leaders are presently puzzling that at the same time as they are struggling to identify and capture the fabled 'middle ground' of British society, the political climate is drifting away from them towards a degree of independent thinking for which the English once used to once pride themselves. Ukip surges, Carswell analyses, Galloway confounds.

Even so, our cussedness has still not quite reached the point where we routinely ‘spit on the poop deck and call the Pope our father’, as was done in former days.

In celebration of that rugged individualism, Brother Ivo would like to invite His Grace's communicants to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Cobbett today, 9th March, by raising a glass of beer to the memory of a fine example of a prototype individual Englishman.

We might have hoped that our national broadcaster would be planning a suitable marking of this occasion, but this weekend sees the 50th anniversary of Cliff Richard's 'Summer Holiday' topping the charts, so.. you know.. priorities., etc.

The beer is appropriate, because Cobbett was a plain man born in a public house in Farnham, Surrey, to a family of modest means. Without the assistance or protection of the NUT, a private education, or Ofsted, he was nevertheless taught to read over the kitchen table before he began to demonstrate a quintessential story of social advance by a man of patience, hard work and talent.

His CV includes working as a farm labourer, gardener at Kew, legal clerk, soldier, farmer, agrarian innovator, pamphleteer, journalist, author and Member of Parliament for Oldham. His early publishing of parliamentary debate began the enterprise which became the Hansard reports of today.

Plainly, our political class might feel discomforted by such a rich life before politics, so perhaps that is why they may be content that he be left in the shadows lest they be placed in his. Mary Seacole is so much less threatening.

He was a man of his times, defending bull-baiting and slavery, but he also confounded those who suggest that, once on the wrong side of history, those of traditional values must be incapable of compassion. His early brush with notoriety began when he championed soldiers of the Ely militia who were were flogged unjustly by the Hanovarians, and he was imprisoned for treasonous libel as a consequence. Men of principle do not simply posture; they take risks and suffer the consequences. On other occasions his outspoken free thinking had him exiled in France and America.

He was at times both Conservative and Radical. He spoke up for under-paid and abused soldiers, campaigned against the Corn Laws, championed the common labourer, and argued the British case whilst resident in the United States in revolutionary times.

On return, he opposed the Peterloo massacre, supported the Reform Act of 1832, issued some of the earliest warnings against the national debt, refused to bribe voters at a time when this was commonplace, and denounced sinecures and Rotten Boroughs. While imprisoned, he wrote the pamphlet 'Paper into Gold', which was one of the earliest to warn of the dangers of granting government the power to issue paper money.

Notwithstanding being largely self-taught, he was an educator, writing a book on grammar which would greatly improve our public culture of spin if they paid heed to his words: 'Grammar, perfectly understood, enables us not only to express our meaning fully and clearly, but so to express it as to enable us to defy the ingenuity of man to give to our words any other meaning than that which we ourselves intend them to express.'

The problem is, of course, that unlike the admirably plain speaking Cobbett, the modern politician chooses to obfuscate. Cobbett sought to teach challenge and honour his listener with clarity; the knavish politician of today seeks to deceive, conceal and distort language by careful nuance and re-definition.

As a plain speaking man, Cobbett would have excoriated the modern day political culture of 'What I say is..'; 'Let me be clear..'; 'political correctness' and 'talking points'. As a vigorous thinking journalist, he would have viewed contemptuously his modern-day, pale equivalents for letting such weasel words receive the oxygen of publicity.

As a true man of the people, he spoke from their viewpoint; never to it. And this is half the problem which we have with a cadre of ruling politicians and commentators who know of little save the political game to which they have devoted their lives and sold their souls.

He would have loved the liberating possibilities of the social media and eviscerated the Hugh Grants of this world and the gutter journalists alike. He is unlikely to have been a friend of the Leveson Report.

A proud Briton and contented monarchist, he was unafraid to denounce Tory corruption while never being tempted into internationalism or the radicalism he had experienced abroad. There can be few political polemicists who have won praise from such a wide spectrum of admirers as GK Chesterton, Karl Marx. Michael Foot and AJP Taylor.

With such admiration, perhaps we are looking at an example of the Common Man for all Seasons; the kind of polymath wide thinker who embodies English ideas with true intellectual honesty and leadership within a historic cultural mindset. Dave, Ed or Nick he ain't, though, to be fair, there is a smidgen of the Nigel about him, which might be telling us something.

We can be sure that Cobbett would have been right behind 'Better Off Out', and would never have sat on the fence as many have. 'Men of integrity are generally pretty obstinate, in adhering to an opinion once adopted.'

He would have been a reformer of welfare and utterly against long-term welfare dependency: 'The tendency of taxation is to create a class of persons who do not labour, to take from those who do labour the produce of that labour, and to give it to those who do not labour.' Like Iain Duncan Smith and Frank Field, he knew and liked those he sought to champion and recognised that 'To be poor and independent is very nearly impossibility'.

He knew that promoting the good of all was the surest way to create a peaceful society at ease with itself: 'I defy you to agitate any fellow with a full stomach.' He would, however, have had scant time for the priorities and fashions of today: 'It is not the greatness of a man's means that makes him independent, so much as the smallness of his wants.'

His attitude towards the casino banking culture of recent years may safely be inferred from his observation that 'Another great evil arising from this desire to be thought rich; or rather, from the desire not to be thought poor, is the destructive thing which has been honoured by the name of "speculation"; but which ought to be called Gambling.'

Incontinent spending and borrowing by government would have equally caught his ire: 'Nothing is so well calculated to produce a death-like torpor in the country as an extended system of taxation and a great national debt.'

He was an Anglican of plain gospel practical priority: 'The Christian religion, then, is not an affair of preaching, or prating, or ranting, but of taking care of the bodies as well as the souls of people; not an affair of belief and of faith and of professions, but an affair of doing good, and especially to those who are in want; not an affair of fire and brimstone, but an affair of bacon and bread, beer and a bed.'

There are many more illustrations of his home-spun common sense (eg here and here). So it is that Brother Ivo invites all English folk of good character, and all who wish us well, to celebrate the anniversary of this fine compatriot, with a bacon sandwich and a raised pint of beer, toasting him in the words of another fully paid-up member of the English awkward squad, Charles Dickens: "God bless us every one."

(Posted by Brother Ivo)


Blogger no longer anonymous said...

Farnham is in Surrey!

9 March 2013 at 10:13  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

No Longer Anonymous,

Quite so. Surrey is mentioned throughout Cobbett's 'Rural Rides'. His Grace has corrected and will have a word with Brother Ivo for his sloppy grasp of geography.

9 March 2013 at 10:39  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Ivo, alas, modern coverage would have been disastrous to Cobbett as an MP. This able man would have been offered the trinkets of a position in Government but only if he toned down his message by the carrot and stick party leadership. He would have been told to tow the line, not be controversial and to vote for gay marriage.

He would have done what was asked of him. And how do we know that ? Because the commons is awash with MEDIOCRITY thanks to the received wisdom of our time.

Then again, he might have surprised and resigned his seat in disgust.

As Sir Patrick Moore would oft say, “We might never know”

9 March 2013 at 11:52  
Blogger Mr Integrity said...

Brother Ivo,
Cheers. A Blog of interest without contention. As Inspector intimates, he would have not survived the party whips of today. God Bless Him. Neither would the politicians of today have survived his early life. There are just no guts for hard work or maintaining Integrity.

9 March 2013 at 13:40  
Blogger Richard Gadsden said...

It is particularly poignant that the long-standing law firm founded by William's sons, and which bore his name, has recently gone under after its long-standing conservative management was replaced by go-getting modern types.

9 March 2013 at 15:29  
Blogger non mouse said...

Your best yet, Brother Ivo! Thank you.

And that bacon butty is a splendid notion; though shandy or cider will work for me. However, there's clearly something of a wake about it all too: Thanks to Mr. Gadsden for bringing the darker side of this paradox to light- it heightens the importance of our mission.

Oh -- and while we're on about navigating Home from the euSSR and all its works -- let's not forget about Harrogate and Dr. North's work back on! We do still have something of our character left,(and it's still out in the rest of the world too) ...

9 March 2013 at 18:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One cannot but feel that men like 'William Cobbett' would be despised by Cameron and his(posh) cronies in the Conservative Party.
It is Cameron`s level of detachment from the 'working class'that allows him to administer savage cuts to those least able to bear them.
Unless the Conservative Party goes through some radical changes they will find themselves unelectable in the future.His Grace has already administered actions which will put the Catholics back on track he needs to deal with politicians in like manner.

9 March 2013 at 18:15  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Savage cuts ?

We might get to the stage where it once again pays to work...

9 March 2013 at 18:31  
Blogger Edward Spalton said...

You mention G K Chesterton's view of Cobbett. I am sure he wrote a great deal more but all I can remember without looking it up is
"I saw great Cobbett riding,
The horseman of the shires
His face was red with judgement
And the light of Luddite fires"

9 March 2013 at 18:47  
Blogger bluedog said...

Brother Ivo says, 'There is still a pressing need, and significant work to be done in challenging and reforming the United Kingdom’s political elites.'

Never was a truer word spoken, and the most effective tool is the blogosphere, the ultimate focus group. Time and again this communicant notices that the blogosphere is far ahead of the political elite in its assessment of all manner of situations. It is undoubtedly the blogosphere that has lead the debate in turning around opinion on the EU, aided and abetted by the sheer incompetence of Brussels. Other contentious issues beckon, and the SSM debate is another on which the blogosphere is the polar opposite of the elites. We shall overcome.

Is there a role for a re-incarnated William Cobbett as an internet shock-jock?

With OIG in full flight there is possibly no need!

9 March 2013 at 20:05  
Blogger Peter Damian said...

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9 March 2013 at 20:18  
Blogger Peter Damian said...

A great British Bulldog!

Edward Spalton
Chesterton also said of William Cobbett:

“He could see before he could read. Most modern people can read before they can see. They have read about a hundred things long before they have seen one of them.

By a weird mesmerism ... what people read has a sort of magic power over their sight. It lays a spell on their eyes, so that they see what they expect to see. They do not see the most solid and striking things that contradict what they expect to see ...

Cobbett was a man without these magic spectacles. He did not see what he expected to see, but what he saw. He liked books; but he could not only read between the lines but through the book."

9 March 2013 at 20:35  
Blogger carl jacobs said...

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9 March 2013 at 21:01  
Blogger carl jacobs said...

Brother Ivo

A strange man, this William Cobbett. And stranger still that the name Thomas Paine does not appear in your post. For how many have made off with the body of a famous man already ten years dead with hopes of using his bones as the unifying symbol of reform? And he never even had the body reburied.

His attitude towards religion seems to have been utilitarian. He valued the temporal more than the eternal. He was not so much interested in the propagation of truth as he was in propagation of good behavior. In a sense he was the perfect modern Anglican - the church of any and every belief where the lowest common denominator is a shared sense of right and wrong.

An interesting historical character? Definitely. Admirable? I don't know. Perhaps my reticence is the result of my not-so-latent hostility to journalists. In the meantime, I shall withhold the raised pint and the bacon sandwich.

I await with much interest your post on that Great English Statesman, Edmund Burke.


who notes that a proper bacon sandwich is made with bacon and lettuce and mayo on toasted bread. None of those retched tomatoes, thanks.

9 March 2013 at 21:02  
Blogger carl jacobs said...

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9 March 2013 at 21:26  
Blogger carl jacobs said...

As an aside, I should mention that Charles Dickens was in no wise an orthodox Christian either, and his "God bless us every one" must be read according to "the teaching of the New Testament in its broad spirit, and to put no faith in any man’s narrow construction of its letter here or there." Scrooge after does not find salvation by encountering God. He finds salvation by encountering himself.


9 March 2013 at 21:27  
Blogger Rasher Bacon said...

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9 March 2013 at 23:48  
Blogger Rasher Bacon said...

Bacon is the way forward- sacrificial for some... Why don't we do something useful and each follow this chap's prompt with a meal for someone who needs it on Monday when it's cold?

9 March 2013 at 23:50  
Blogger Peter Damian said...

Carl Jacobs

If you shared those thoughts with our William, he would look you in the eye and say, "There's no time to theologise with colonial scoundrels trying to talk and think their way to Heaven. Not while there's God's work to be done."

10 March 2013 at 01:09  
Blogger carl jacobs said...

Peter Damian

Exactly my point. Which is greater? The feeding of the 5000, or the teaching that so offended the 5000 that they turned away from the Son of Man? As it is written: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Eternal life was not found in five loaves and two fish.

The primary purpose of the Church is not to tend to the temporal needs of man. No doubt the crowd would happily follow a Bread King, but what benefit thus accrues to a well-fed man who dies in his sins? The purpose of the Church is to preach the Gospel. This is the work of God, to believe on Him whom God has sent.


10 March 2013 at 02:11  
Blogger IanCad said...

Brother Ivo,

If my memory serves me right Cobbett lived for several years at his Farm in Hampshire, doubtless that is from where the confusion arises,

I find William Cobbett, like Ben Franklin, somewhat depressing. In their initiative, industry and self-discipline I find a reproach to my own comfortable sloth. They both give lie to the eternal excuse that society is elitist.
Cream always rises to the top.
When it first came out, my wife borrowed a copy of Daniel Geen's "Great Cobbett." It is one of the very best biographies that I have read; I bought the book later. It is out of print but Amazon has some copies.
Small point; but Cobbett was the first - as far as I know - to make the observation that American vegetables don't taste as good as the British varieties.

OIG, In those days men had hair on their chests. Were a whipersnapper like Andrew Mitchell foolish enough to threaten a man such as Cobbett an ashplant would be applied in short order. His means of egress would be the quickest.

10 March 2013 at 08:10  
Blogger Rambling Steve Appleseed said...

I happily live in the village of Botley in Hampshire where Cobbet lived. He is commemorated by a stone in the high street, a potrait in the village hall and a bar in the Bugle inn is named for him.

His views on London politicians were robust, describing them as 'unhanged rogues' and asserting that his horse could run the country better. A man for our times indeed. Today he would be a leading figure in UKIP. I shall raise a glass to his memory today.

10 March 2013 at 08:37  
Blogger IanCad said...

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10 March 2013 at 10:02  
Blogger IanCad said...


"--Today he would be a leading figure in UKIP."

I think not.

Like most who have "risen through the ranks" Cobbett shared a profound distrust of the mob.
Alexander Hamilton is another prime example whose scepticism bordered on contempt.
So also, Ernest Bevin.

UKIP is a populist movement, make no mistake.
Were Donald Duck to form a political party whose platform was based on sticking it to the Frogs and the Krauts and kicking all the foreigners out, he would be where Nigel Farage is today.

Already we can see where this appealing to the masses is leading. During the recent riots Farage was the only party leader who wanted to draft the army to help put them down.
His grandstanding at the EU, shown in his cowardly, unstatesmanlike attack on the odious Van Rompuy was a disgusting play to the lowest of our natures.

Believe me, if UKIP gets legs, our great, liberal society will be no more.

The Conservatives have a lot to answer. Its wretched leadership must go. But please! neither Boris or Theresa May will cut it.

A new party platform must be articulated. Predicated on the re-establishment of civil liberties, repatriation of our legal system and a restatement of the principle that less government is better government.

Oh Dear! It's too late.

10 March 2013 at 10:28  
Blogger bluedog said...

Still got no time for Phillip Hammond, Mr IanCad @ 10.28?

Agreed that Boris has peaked, early, and now seems to be declining into irrelevance.

The problem is that the natural generation of power, the 50 - 65 year olds have been eclipsed and demoralised by a younger generation lead by Cameron. And Cameron bluffed his way in to the leadership at least a decade before he was ready for it.

10 March 2013 at 11:10  
Blogger Peter Damian said...

Carl Jacobs
Feeding the body and preparing the soul for God's word are not in opposition to one another. Jesus did both. What use preaching to a man facing starvation?

10 March 2013 at 12:11  
Blogger IanCad said...


Because of his high profile, Phillip Hammond is open to criticism, and, I have previosly done exactly that over his deployment of missiles during the Olympics.
His complicity in allowing ladies to serve on submarines I also hold against him as well as his lack of initiative in reconciling the defence budget with the realities of modern warfare.
That said, he seems to me, to be an honourable man who is capable of reversing course when a better way is presented.

All in all, he would be a huge improvement over Cameron.
But, maybe, so would Donald Duck.

10 March 2013 at 12:37  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Marvellous imagery, IanCad 08:10

The idea of a minion from the whips office refusing to have a word with a recalcitrant MP on the grounds the last time he tried it, he was given a sound beating for his troubles...

Are we the only men who see this as the true stuff of democracy ?

10 March 2013 at 12:42  
Blogger David Hussell said...

I agree that Cobbett would indeed be an enthusiastic supporter of Ukip, the only party that is in tune with the feelings of many in the country, calls a spade a spade and is truly concerned with the ordinary people. It is prepared to do what is necessary to put the country back on a path to long term success and prosperity. However we, or at least the educated, have all become so deeply indoctrinated into masking our true feelings, never speaking the plain truth, and slipping into political correctness that when someone does speak the full, plain truth, it is it is a considerable shock and not considered "polite". Ukip is a libertarian party. Originally, before the distortions of the last few decades, liberalism was about freedom, but nowadays our so called liberal society is actually about foisting a godless, secularism on to everyone.

10 March 2013 at 13:05  
Blogger carl jacobs said...

Peter Damian

I didn't say otherwise. But to feed the soul, you must "theologise with colonial scoundrels." You have thus already denied this assertion: that Christianity "is not an affair of belief and of faith and of professions, but an affair of doing good." It very much is an affair of belief and faith. In fact, Christianity is primarily an affair of belief and faith. Good works proceed from these things.


10 March 2013 at 13:47  
Blogger David Hussell said...

Absolutely, Carl. The majority of non-Christians, in which I include the peripheral "fuzzy faithful", and indeed many observant Christians, believe that the religion is about doing good works, and that's it. Read and obey the letter of James and ignore the rest of it. There are fewer and fewer who understand that primarily, and above all else, Christianity is about accepting the Gospel, believing the faith, following Jesus and trusting in The Trinity. The good works flow from that core belief. Although deeply concerned with social injustices Jesus was not a religious social worker. Maybe some of the C of E bishops need reminding of that ?

10 March 2013 at 14:14  
Blogger Ian R. Thorpe said...

Always been a fan of Cobbett.

Another Englishman who does not get the regognition he deserves these days is G K Chesterton. His poem Secret People contains the prophetic lines:

stanza 6 (into 7)

They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger or honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs.

We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street ...

10 March 2013 at 20:10  
Blogger The Dude Lives said...

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10 March 2013 at 20:55  
Blogger non mouse said...

Thanks for that Mr. Thorpe @ 20:10.

10 March 2013 at 21:02  
Blogger David Hussell said...

Ian. R. Thorpe,

Seems as if G.K.Chesterton was a very prescient poet, methinks.

But just how did such a strong disconnect, twixt governor and governed develop ? What has caused this estrangement of the elite from their cultural roots ? Is is down to educational differences, an urban/rural split, a decline in attendance at organized religious services or what ?

Now there's a subject for some research.

10 March 2013 at 21:16  
Blogger Ivan said...

Cobbett took up the cause of the disenfranchised Catholics. Reading his History of the Protestant Reformation (available here ), I began to understand that Communist propaganda is small beer when compared to the Protestant variety. Among the nuggets in that book:

We have bowed, for years, to a DUTCHMAN,
who was no heir to the crown any more than one of our workhouse paupers, and who
had not one drop of English blood in his veins; and we now send annually to
Hanoverians and other foreigners, under the name of half-pay, more money than was
ever sent to the POPE in twenty years.

I cannot find the hilarious send up of George 1 of Hanover, promoted to the English throne, by the Whigs over fifty Catholics with greater claim. George's character can be judged by his refusal to take his loyal servant, the great Gottfried Liebniz with him to England quite possibly in fear of the equally great but hopelessly paranoid Isaac Newton.

11 March 2013 at 03:10  
Blogger Brother Ivo said...

Brother Carl,

It is not Scrooge who calls God's blessing down upon us but Tiny Tim, Unless you become as little children.....

11 March 2013 at 07:58  
Blogger Rambling Steve Appleseed said...

But IanCad

you wrote that Cobbett owuld not have joined UKIP and that

>>>A new party platform must be articulated. Predicated on the re-establishment of civil liberties, repatriation of our legal system and a restatement of the principle that less government is better government. <<<

But that is EXACTLY what UKIP stands for! Farage is not 'sticking it to the Frogs and Krauts' but sticking it to overbearing big government in Brussels, who are a perfect match for 'The Great Bullfrogs and tax-eaters' against whom Cobbett railed.

Cobbett (whom I have read extensively, not just Rural Rides) hated big government. He would have been against LibLabCon and in Brotain today that means for all its imperfections UKIP.

We cannot 'repatriate our legal system' as you would wish until we leave the EU beaurocratic tyranny. Its is against the law-EU law-for us to do so.

I'm going to re-read Rural Rides, I suggest others do as well.

11 March 2013 at 09:28  
Blogger Rambling Steve Appleseed said...

PS IanCad

>>>>His grandstanding at the EU, shown in his cowardly, unstatesmanlike attack on the odious Van Rompuy was a disgusting play to the lowest of our natures.

Cowardly? I thought it was quite brave. He was thrown out of the chamber and fined heavily for it. As for unstatesmanlike, the unelected beaurocrat Van Rompuy is not worthy of respect, nor is his office nor institution. The EU is an incompetent fraud ridden tyranny that exists for the benefit of its officials and the godless Fabian socialists who are using it to build a socialist superstate, which is going to fail ruinously. Then we'll see who is the statesman.

I share your concern about the risks of demaguogery and mob rule. as His Grace has warned of in Greece. But our political class from Westminster to Brussels are a bunch of creeps and incompetents who are ruining everything and they need stopping. If its not the populist libertarian democrat Farage now, it will be someone much nastier later after his reasonable approach has failed or been spiked. Golden Dawn anyone?

11 March 2013 at 09:39  
Blogger bluedog said...

RSA @ 09.39, perhaps a digitally remastered and computer simulated vision of the late Benny Hill could be persuaded to win 25% of the vote in 2015.

11 March 2013 at 11:05  
Blogger carl jacobs said...

Brother Ivo

It is not Scrooge who calls God's blessing down upon us but Tiny Tim

The question is rather "To which god does Dickens refer?" He does not refer to the God who revealed Himself in Scripture. For the tale he tells is a tale of Scrooge's self-redemption. Scrooge encounters himself and through that encounter resolves to do good.

Unless you become as little children.....

The verse to which you refer describes the nature of faith and not its object. Faith in and of itself is nothing. A man can have faith that a head of cabbage will save him. His faith is vain. As Jesus said: God so loved the world he gave his only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." Dickens however did not believe the Scriptures in the particular but only in the 'broad spirit.' For thus did he charge his children at the hour of his death.

Dickens was much possessed of Unitarianism.


11 March 2013 at 12:01  
Blogger IanCad said...


As we both seem to agree on the outline of an ideal party platform, the the question remains: To which party should we entrust our future freedoms?
I would further suggest that, as the document would be a classic liberal/libertarian statement, then the party most closely reflecting those principles should be the one of choice.

You appear to confess populism and democracy as being essential parts of UKIP's creed, I would contend that would eliminate any further consideration of Farage's party on the grounds that both doctrines are wholly incompatible with classic liberalism/libertarianism.
Thus leaving a, hopefully, reformed Conservative Party as the only viable choice.

When there are no consequences for an action, and when an opponent can't strike back I hold that to be reprehensible.
The hallmarks of leadership are courtesey and rectitude.
Mr. Farage displayed neither.

Generally I don't like to get personal but this is serious stuff.
Nigel Farage's physiognomy must be addressed.
He is a relatively young man yet, already, he has a most dissipated look.
Baggy-eyed, jowly and altogether unhealthy.
Now if he has some underlying disease he has my sympathy and I wish him well. However, as every time I see him on camera a glass of booze is either in, or at, hand, then the reason for his rather dissolute appearance is rather obvious. If he keeps up this habit then I do not think it speaks well for his judgement.

I know, I know; Churchill drank two gallons of scotch every day and we won the war.

11 March 2013 at 13:17  
Blogger Rasher Bacon said...

Is it just me or is Cobbett the spitting image of Michael Winner? Hope that's not blasphemous...

11 March 2013 at 13:48  
Blogger non mouse said...

Mr. Jacobs @12:01 - you knew I'd have to get to that eventually! It's your turn now: you have me re-seeing Dickens for the first time in quite a few years!
It is not Scrooge who calls God's blessing down upon us but Tiny Tim
The question is rather "To which god does Dickens refer?" He does not refer to the God who revealed Himself in Scripture. For the tale he tells is a tale of Scrooge's self-redemption. Scrooge encounters himself and through that encounter resolves to do good.

Oh, but I say he does refer to the God of the New Testament, Mr. J. Dickens actually expressed his acceptance of the Gospels - in a letter (1856) to Rev’d. R.H. Davies (qtd. in Rowell 19).*

So I took time out for Scrooge, and I do agree with your insight as to his ‘self’-encounter in what can be called a ‘dream-vision.’ There weren’t many mozzies or post-mods around Portsmouth and London in those days, though, so I hasten to point out that Dickens was a product of traditional English Christianity (here Victorian), and thus of the concepts of ‘goodness’ and God which inform it.

Scrooge, then, is a similar product - his life is surrounded by weddings, funerals, graveyards, churchgoings, and yes,
Christmas services: why, he even lives and dreams right next to the church and its bells - which ring out the ultimate joy of his story. It is perhaps not irrelevant, either, that Scrooge’s three ‘guides’ are “Spirits” - as in “spirit of Christmas”: the author attracts our attention to that with a little secular wordplay at the end.

*Rowell, Geoffrey. “Dickens and the Construction of Christmas.” History Today. 43.12 (1993). 17-24. EBSCO Web. 11 Mar. 2013.

** gast being the OE for breath, soul, spirit, life; it has been used to mean angel, or the Holy Ghost (s.v. J. R. Clark Hall, ed. A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary).

12 March 2013 at 00:44  
Blogger non mouse said...


However, I suggest that Scrooge’s encounter with himself parallels his own unhappy boyhood with the more physical problems of Tiny Tim; it also juxtaposes the gentleness of his sister with the kindness of her son: thence to Scrooge's enlightenment.

In the dream/pilgrimage, when Tim ‘dies,’ one of his brothers reads a line from Mark 9:36 (highlighted below). From a context of disciple rivalry, the full quotation is:
And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.
And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them,
Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me”
(35-37 KJV).

I argue, then, that Scrooge follows the spirit of this lesson: from that Christmas on, he befriends his nephew, and Tim ... and so he receives Christ. He then goes on to serve his fellow-men in the spirit of those who have been good to him.


PS: Surely it is relative to the next thread, also, that Dickens wrote of what he knew? His was a time when English reformers worked to rescue those undoubtedly exploited during the Industrial Revolution: and consequently by Marx and his followers.

Dickens, whose father suffered debtor's imprisonment, also knew first hand of unhappiness and poverty in childhood, did he not? Perhaps his writing manifests his interest in suggesting how to prevent or heal the problems that broken childhood can initiate.

Methinks his solution precludes the worship of idols and moneychangers; but it recommends Christian love and behaviour in families and the community.

12 March 2013 at 01:18  
Blogger Peter Damian said...

non mouse

What a wonderfully informed and insightful presentation of Scrooge. Thank you. I enjoyed reading it immensely. It just goes to show film never surpasses the written word.

12 March 2013 at 01:55  
Blogger carl jacobs said...

non mouse

I do not deny that Dickens accepted the Gospels in some sense. But that sense was not a Christian sense. He wrote a book on the Life of Christ. The Book was called the Life of Our Lord and was written only for the spiritual education of his children. He never intended it to be published. This book does not clearly present the fundamentals of the Christian faith. It does not even clearly portray the divinity of Christ. It clearly presents Christ as human moral exemplar. He may use words like "Savior" but he doesn't define them in the way an orthodox Christian would define them. Do a Google search on 'Dickens Unitarian' and see how many hits you get.


12 March 2013 at 04:25  
Blogger Peter Damian said...


Dickens railed against the hypocrisy and falsehood of established Christianity in Victorian England. He, like Cobbett, wanted religion to make a difference to the lives of the poor and needy. He wasn't a theologian and so maybe he got the essentials wrong.

As a simple, intimate and personal book for his children, I think his last lines are a good starting point for an introduction to our faith.

"Remember! – It is christianity TO DO GOOD always – even to those who do evil to us. It is
christianity to love our neighbour as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to
us. It is christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always
to shew that we love Him by humbly trying to do right in everything.

If we do this, and remember
the life and lessons of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and try to act up to them, we may confidently hope
that God will forgive us our sins and mistakes, and enable us to live and die in Peace."

Accepted not "orthodox". No Christology, no thesis on the Trinity, no mention of atonement or original sin. It was written for children and I think in words Jesus might have used to a young audience.

Here's what Christopher Dickens wrote in the foreward of the 'Life of Our Lord' in 1996.

"Today I want to add to it a deeper understanding of who Jesus Christ was and still remains.
He is, for most of us, God-made-man for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, and with
Joseph as his chosen earthly foster father. We should strive to understand even more fully the
Salvation Jesus achieved for us and how it happened and continues to happen in the Holy
Eucharist, and in the life of Christ’s Church throughout the world."

12 March 2013 at 18:02  
Blogger non mouse said...

Thanks, Peter Damian ... both posts appreciated!

12 March 2013 at 18:13  
Blogger non mouse said...

Your Grace and Ivo: I trust in your forbearance of the following. It strikes me as relevant to the socio-religious context that Dickens shared with Cobbett, the consequences of which we see about us now (and in the next strand).

Mr Jacobs:
Conduct research by Google? ?!?!? Me? Sir, you jest! Surely your English-studying daughter doesn’t do that either?

In any case, there’s only one Judge of the quality of anyone’s Christianity, and He ain’t me. As to the Christianity Dickens displays in The Life of Our Lord - thank you for bringing the book to my attention. I shall venture a response once I’ve read it in full, which will take some time. I have ILLd a copy as it’s rare.

While reading, I will proceed on the basis that the book was written for Dickens’s children - and so I’ll assume that personal understanding underlies his mentality/experience in relation to theirs. Further, if he focuses on Christ’s Humanity and adoption of lowliness, what’s wrong with that? There are an awful lot of high and mighty types who forget it; perhaps remembering Christ’s humility worked for the writer when he was a child they had deprived.

Furthermore, one will not ignore that the title “Our Lord” carries the same connotation of Divinity, and the Dual Nature of Christ, as it did in the ninth century. In addition, I have noted that Dickens wrote the story in 1846-49; he died in 1870. Respecting the genius of the man, I shall not suppose his thinking to have been set in stone.


12 March 2013 at 18:16  
Blogger non mouse said...


Indeed, the sublimity in his work overall leads me to suspect that Dickens sought to empower individual thought in others too (rather like His Grace!). In further support of that view, I observe that he wrote in 1856: “[but] I discountenance all obtrusive professions and tradings in religion, as one of the main causes why real Christianity has been retarded in this world; and because my observation of life induces me to hold in unspeakable dread and horror, those unseemly squabbles about the letter which drive the spirit out of hundreds of thousands” ( Rowell).** [But that spirit flowered, in Scrooge ... ].

Mind you, I confess to complete ignorance about Unitarians. However I gather that Gary Colledge has, fairly recently, offered an academic treatment of the arguments surrounding Dickens and his response to it.*** I’ll take a look at that, too.

Later then. Presently, duties call.

**Rowell, Geoffrey. “Dickens and the Construction of Christmas.” History Today. 43.12 (1993). 17-24. EBSCO Web. 11 Mar. 2013.

***Colledge, Gary. Dickens, Christianity and The Life of Our Lord: Humble Veneration, Profound Conviction. New York: Continuum, 2009.

12 March 2013 at 18:21  
Blogger non mouse said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12 March 2013 at 18:22  
Blogger Peter Damian said...

non mouse
The book is 30 odd pages and can be read in a hour or so. It can be down loaded as a PDF file from the internet free of charge.

It portays a human Jesus, adopted by God as His son because he was a good man, not God made man.

12 March 2013 at 19:19  
Blogger non mouse said...

Peter Damian:

Thank you; couldn't find a link that worked, so I read only an abridged version online.

I've just found the full .pdf ...
"Adopted" duly noted.

12 March 2013 at 20:07  
Blogger Peter Damian said...

Enjoy. It is a delightful read if theoloically limited.

12 March 2013 at 21:08  
Blogger carl jacobs said...


You should not underestimate the power of the internet. You would be amazed at the number of primary sources you can find with a persistent Google search.


13 March 2013 at 00:53  
Blogger carl jacobs said...

Peter Damien

Accepted not "orthodox". No Christology, no thesis on the Trinity, no mention of atonement or original sin. It was written for children and I think in words Jesus might have used to a young audience.

I disagree. There is unspecified special pleading in this argument. I have children. I taught them the basics of the Gospel at an early age. I did not have to resort to a distorted image of Christianity that revolves around works. I saw no need to hide Jesus' divinity. You are finding reasons to excuse the contents of the book. Why would you not simply accept that this is what he really believed - especially since he wrote it without intent of publishing it.


13 March 2013 at 01:05  
Blogger non mouse said...

Hmmm, Gentlemen. I must differ, having read the .pdf (hard copy and Colledge pending). Mr. J: For those who have eyes to see, I see no hiding of divinity. Mr. D: Your "Theologically limited" troubles me. I can’t see this text as any more limited than scenes on old stone crosses (Ruthwell, Sandbach, etc.), or than most children’s gospel stories. Happily, too, I find support for my reading of A Christmas CarolThe Life Of Our Lord (TLOL).* Dickens even says: Never forget this, when you are grown up. Never be proud or unkind, my dears, to any poor man, woman, or child. If they are bad, think that they would have been better if they had had kind friends, and good homes, and had been better taught. So, always try to make them better by kind persuading words; and always try to teach them and relieve them if you can (28 my stress of practical purpose).

As Georgina Hogarth claimed TLOL itself paraphrases some Gospel stories (qtd. in Foreword 6). Occasional discursive comments present nothing earthshakingly anti-Anglican. So what, after all, if a man tells his children that the Jewish Sabbath is “Sunday”? I learned to understand “Sabbath” by that comparison; I learned later that Jews use Saturday, and later still why we might have changed it. Btw, Dickens apparently stands accused of antisemitism in this text, and I see only Jews who do as they do in the Gospels. But then, I say Chaucer isn’t antisemitic either: post-mods just want to drag our greatest writers to deconstructionist level.

As to Mary Magdalene, are the Gospels themselves clear? John 11:2 explains of Martha’s sister: (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Maybe anointing and wiping happened more than once, or maybe it happened when Christ cast out Mary’s seven devils ... I don’t know. We know for sure, certainly, that Dickens himself did not want TLOL publishing.

“The Publishers”(1934) suggest why:
"During his lifetime Charles Dickens refused to permit publication of "The Life of Our Lord" because he doubtless felt that it was a personal letter to his own children, and feared that a public disclosure of so intimate a document might involve the possibility of attack and defense of his deepest religious convictions" (Foreword 5).

That’s what the devils of the Frankfurt School are up to now he’s dead and can’t defend himself. Dickens (like Chaucer) was perspicacious about human nature, and he nailed this one too. So, since they have their fangs into it, I’ve cited textual references below to show that TLOL does present Christ as the Divine Son of God; as the Lord’s Anointed.

Sorry it’s long - the quotes do it. In Defence of Dickens: cont’d...
Dickens, Charles. The Life Of Our Lord Written For His Children During The Years 1846 1849 New York: Simon and Schuster, 1934. PDF. Internet Archive "Ebook and Texts Archive > Universal Library." Web. 12 March, 2013. [The page numbers I cite are those of the book, not the electronic record.]

13 March 2013 at 15:01  
Blogger non mouse said...

... "Defence of Dickens" cont’d:

Dickens refers to "Jesus Christ" throughout TLOL. Surely, this sophisticated writer was not ignorant that Christ means "The Anointed," "The Messiah," "The Saviour"; most adult English Christians of my acquaintance learned that like they learned about “sabbath.” D. also defines “saviour” with: But He was always merciful and tender. And because He did such good, and taught people how to love God and how to hope to go to Heaven after death, he was called Our Saviour (33)[My stress: Faith?]. So TLOL doesn’t cross-reference fig leaves and spiritual death ... I didn’t know about them when I was little either.

True, the Angel says to the Shepherds "There is a child born to-day in the city of Bethlehem near here, who will grow up to be so good that God will love Him as His own Son (13); however, we also witness that Angels and Stars play their divine part in indicating that this is no ordinary baby. And another angel appears after Herod dies: So Joseph and Mary, and her Son Jesus Christ (who are commonly called the Holy Family) travelled towards Jerusalem (19 my stress).

Yes, Dickens does also mention Joseph as father; however, ambiguity evaporates after John baptises Jesus: ... the sky opened, and a beautiful bird like a dove came flying down, and the voice of God, speaking up in Heaven, was heard to say, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!" (23)[Trinity Ref?]. Dickens confirms the divine relationship when identifying The Transfiguration. A voice: speaking from the cloud, was heard to say, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him!" At which the three Disciples fell on their knees and covered their faces, being afraid. (58) Dickens doesn’t use “adopted” — so why not assume, with the Gospels, that Joseph is the adopter?

Among multiple references to Christ as Son of God, Dickens includes: the story of the Gadarene Swine(41) and Noli me Tangere and Mary Magdalene -- "Touch me not," said Christ; "for I am not yet ascended to my Father..." (116/117). And there’s Thomas, who exclaims: "My Lord and my God!" Then said Jesus, "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen me, and yet have believed" (120) [Justification by Faith?]. Earlier, Dickens even comments on the healing of the Jairus’s daughter: Oh what a sight it must have been to see her parents clasp her in their arms, and kiss her, and thank God and Jesus Christ, His Son, for such great mercy! (33)[Grace?].

When talking later about the Scribes and Pharisees, the author says: But they were afraid, as yet, to do Him any harm, because of His goodness, and His looking so divine and grand although he was very simply dressed, almost like the poor people, that they could hardly bear to meet His eyes (62 my stress).

Gospel reiteration continues through the Passion, the Resurrection, and the Assumption. It ends: And conducting His Disciples at last out of Jerusalem as far as Bethany, He blessed them, and ascended in a cloud to Heaven, and took His place at the right hand of God. And while they gazed into the bright blue sky where He had vanished, two white-robed Angels appeared among them, and told them that as they had seen Christ ascend to Heaven, so He would, one day, come descending from it, to judge the world (120/21).

That’s unorthodox? Unorthodox what? Creed? I'd rather say the subtle moral lessons in TLOL beat the filth they’re forcing on our children nowadays.

13 March 2013 at 15:38  
Blogger non mouse said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

13 March 2013 at 16:11  
Blogger non mouse said...

"Defence of Dickens" - last bit, honest:

Well. TLOL proceeds to the Persecution of Christians by unpleasant human types (122 ff.), who are of the kind Dickens knew and always illustrated so well. Through them, he presents sublime contrast with Christianity. TLOL's also sublimely presented in its gentle expression and humour,* which may draw the audience in to consider deeper matters, like why the world needs Salvation.

That's how parable and allegory work too -- and Dickens knew it: He taught His Disciples in these stories, because He knew the people liked to hear them, and would remember what He said better, if He said it in that way. They are called Parables THE PARABLES OF OUR SAVIOUR; and I wish you to remember that word, as I shall soon have some more of these parables to tell you about (TLOL 62). The levels of allegory, and so of the parables of TLOL, are: literal, symbolic, moral, and tropological (direction of spiritual progress).

Nothing unorthodox or limited about that for me, any more than about Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, or even Alfred's translation of Cura Pastoralis. But then, I’m the kind of Briton who, like Cobbett, has always responded positively to such thinking.
Dickens, Charles. The Life Of Our Lord Written For His Children During The Years 1846 1849. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1934. PDF. Internet Archive. "Ebook and Texts Archive > Universal Library." Web. 12 March, 2013.

*according to Longinus's definition, even. cf: Longinus. "On the Sublime." Aristotle’s Poetics, Demetrius on Style, Longinus on the Sublime. Ed. John Warrington. Trans. H. L. Havel. London: J. M. Dent, 1963; 135-201. See esp. 190; XXXVIII.

13 March 2013 at 17:32  
Blogger Peter Damian said...

non mouse

A robust argument and considerable worth in it too. Dicken's shared the essence of the Gospel message but maybe failed to be consistent in his theology. It was, afterall, a private book for his children.

If Dickens was a Christian surely he would have written that God sent His own son to earth to help us get to Heaven? This is the one part I cannot get past.

"There is a child born to-day in the city of Bethlehem near here, who will grow up to be so good that God will love Him as His own Son"

Thank you again for an interesting read.

13 March 2013 at 18:46  
Blogger non mouse said...

Thank you, Mr. D!
We can differ, then. I read Dickens as Christian because TLOL consistently echoes Gospel presentation of Christ as the Son of God. Prior to our dark age, England was a Christian and church-going land where most would understand that “Christ” means “Saviour,” “Messiah,” or “Anointed One.”

I see your point on Dickens’ use of “as” (TLOL13), but I further suggest it may not go amiss to remember that English syntax and punctuation are no longer as they were in the nineteenth century. On every side of that two-letter word, from first to last of TLOL, Dickens refers to “Jesus Christ.” For his children, he begins: I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him (11). And he ends, in a prayer: And pray God to bless and preserve us all, this night, and for evermore, through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN(128). Oh... and childish understanding of when a father is not a father... I remember struggling with the idea of ‘Our Father in Heaven’ for a while. I think, therefore, that to quibble further about this one word "as" is to continue, as Dickens disliked, to “those unseemly squabbles about the letter” (qtd. in Rowell 19).

But I’m not RC, of course, and perhaps you dub us all “unorthodox.” Nor do the English usually require our most popular novelists to be theologians. Geoffrey Rowell is one though (Oxford), and you have reference to his assessment of Christianity in A Christmas Carol. He there explains something of English Protestantism-RCism in Dickens’ day, but he doesn’t address your “Christology” issue. That strikes me as a modern resurgence of something very old! East and West, Catholics have been arguing about Monophysitism since at least the 3rd century, to say nothing of subsequent Arianism and Monothelitism. I think we can’t be getting into the letter of those squabbles, either!!!

I might get back to this when I’ve read Colledge. All best, meanwhile.

14 March 2013 at 02:21  

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