PETER PORCUPINE IN AMERICA
Pamphlets on Republicanism and Revolution
by William Cobbett, edited and with an introduction by David A. Wilson , Cornell University Press, 288 pages .
The political writer William Cobbett arrived in America from England in 1792, a republican in a new republic. In less than two years the country changed him into an embittered monarchist. “Instead of that perfect freedom” promised by Thomas Paine, Cobbett said he had found “a set of petty, mean, despots, ruling by a perversion of the law of England.” Writing under the pseudonym Peter Porcupine, he lit into almost every democratic figure and fad in Federal America. He cautioned women: “ Politics is a mixture of anger and deceit, and these are the mortal enemies of Beauty . The instant a lady turns politician, farewell the smiles, the dimples, the roses; the graces abandon her.…” He attacked the French Revolution, which offered “a striking and experimental proof of the horrible effects of anarchy and infidelity.” And he turned to his favorite subject—his cranky, hyperbolic self—in “The Life and Adventures of Peter Porcupine,” skewering Benjamin Franklin and his other enemies along the way. The editors have mostly chosen longer pieces but also include a taste of Cobbett’s short, poisonous portraits of Thomas Paine, Noah Webster, and Thomas McKean, as well as his “Last Will and Testament of Peter Porcupine” (“I leave my body to Doctor Michael Leib, a member of the Legislature of Pennsylvania, to be by him dissected [if he knows how to do it] in presence of the Rump of the Democratic Society”). Having made himself the most widely read pamphleteer in a country that largely repelled him, Cobbett traveled back to England in 1800. At his death thirty-five years later, Karl Marx called him “the greatest pamphleteer England has ever produced.”