Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Porcupine & The Hedgehog

I’ve just finished reading a biography of the eighteenth-century author, pamphleteer, farmer and Tory-turned-Radical, William Cobbett, who once buggered off to North America after a failed attempt to expose corruption in the British army - writing many a scathing article about the fledgling USA under the pseudonym of Peter Porcupine.

It was a very interesting read but I couldn’t help but be distracted by the fact that the more I read about Cobbett, the more he reminded me of someone. What’s more, the various descriptions of his pet publishing project The Political Register seemed equally appropriate to a more contemporary publication not a million miles from this blog - Cobbett’s single-minded passion for his own editorial voice, the constant threat of libel actions hanging over the paper (not helped by Cobbett’s inability to treat any information he was passed either in confidence or, necessarily, with absolute accuracy) and, of course, the bloody relentless use of erroneous italics.

For all his faults (shifting between political extremes, ludicrous patriotism, casual sexism and an ego the size of the monumental farming experiments that eventually bankrupted him), there are things to admire about Cobbett’s vigour - The Political Register became the most read periodical amongst the working classes, whilst its editor managed to get himself charged with both treasonous libel and sedition, serving two years in Newgate for the former. If you can’t bring yourself to admire him you can at least apply the J Edgar Hoover approach to him that you’d rather have had him inside your tent pissing out than outside pissing in.

Our own Cobbett-esque character is coming under increasing criticism for many of the peccadillos that have seen the original airbrushed from history in favour of far less interesting and certainly far less challenging ‘social commentators’ and I would like to have accompanied this with something in the style of Gilray’s merciless cartoon satires on Cobbett but I don’t have the artistic prowess.

Instead I’ve used another image to represent our ‘Peter Porcupine’, which, in the appropriate vernacular (and, of course, italics) might bear the caption ’Umble ’Edge’og. The problem is, this poor creature seems to have had its erinaceous fingers burned and I hope this doesn’t happen to anyone it might represent. Or, more to the point, that inflammatory rhetoric doesn’t burn those it carelessly quotes and/or criticises - we’ve got enough problems with the Mark Kennedys and ‘Officer As’ of this world, without getting dropped in it by ‘one of our own’.

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