William Cobbett was the most widely read popular journalist of the early nineteenth century; in the history of journalism he is considered to be responsible for the development of the editorial or leading article. One of the most influential, informed, and controversial political writers of his age, Cobbett is important for a number of disciplines: literature, politics, economics, agriculture, and social and political history, which provide endless dimension and interest for a gathering of Cobbett materials.
Publications from the pens of William Cobbett and his children, and other Cobbett imprints, form the major part of the Adelphi collection, which now has over 300 titles and editions in approximately 500 volumes, and 43 manuscripts. Included in the manuscript materials are 33 letters written by William Cobbett from 1809 to 1829 to Henry Hunt, which are considered to be an important holding of Cobbett letters by an American library. Cobbett and Hunt were both leaders of the parliamentary reform movement, Cobbett being the master of the press of his day, and Hunt the master of oratory.
The collection contains material about the Cobbetts and their time: Cobbett related pamphlets and Cobbett biography, criticism, and bibliography. Also in the collection are numerous examples of anti-Cobbett literature, which appeared at all periods of Cobbett's life and which forms a significant facet of his history, reflecting in its own manner the extraordinary power of his influence and the independence of his character.
Cobbett achieved fame as an author, politician, and farmer, and was noted in his day as a radical, defender of the poor, crusader extraordinaire, and "the noblest" of agitators. But his true profession became journalism and pamphleteering, and it is surely by his writing style that he will be longest remembered. The late Marion N. Groves founding and long-time president of the Friends and member of the English Department, and her late husband, Dr. Owen G. Groves, chairman of the English Department, have been credited with the suggestion that Adelphi collect Cobbett. In a sense Cobbett belongs to Adelphi, for he lived for two and half years (from 1817 to 1819) in New Hyde Park, scarcely a mile from our present campus. It was here also that he wrote one of his greatest works, The English Grammar, which became a best selling grammar of the English language and is considered to be still the best grammar for anyone who is teaching himself.
The book for which Cobbett is best known today, Rural Rides, has seldom been out of print since it was first published in 1830. This single title represents less than a hundredth part of Cobbett’s voluminous body of published work, estimated to be in excess of 20 million words and larger than that of any writer since that time or for centuries before. Although he was a prolific author in his own right, Cobbett also produced a long list of compilations and translations of the works of others.
The incisive, trenchant, and pungent writing that flowed so effortlessly and so cleverly from Cobbett’s pen could often be prickly and filled with invective and venom, which makes his pen name Peter Porcupine most appropriate and descriptive.
(from the "Preface" to The William Cobbett Collection at Adelphi University: A Bibliography by Donald V. L. Kelly. Adelphi University Libraries, Garden City, New York, 1982)