Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cottage Economy

I have no idea where I got this book, but must have picked it up because I am intrigued by the author, William Cobbett. He was the subject of much admiration by G.K.Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, and the inspiration behind distributism, the economic system they championed. Chesterton wrote a biography of Cobbett, which I half-read a while ago. His Rural Rides is considered a classic and back in the olden days of the 60s and 70s appeared on lists of set texts for public examinations. I remember seeing piles of the book in the literature section of our school stockroom, though I never read it. (I had an intimate acquaintance with the stockroom due to ... ahem ... repeated punishment duty sorting and mending books).

Oh boy, was Cobbett opinionated! Cottage Economy is his attempt to educate cottagers and labourers in how to use a small amount of land to increase their standard of living. He can't resist digressing into purple passages on his pet hates and loves. Tea, potatoes, and Methodist preachers are out; home-brewed beer, home-baked bread and fat bacon are in - beer, because of its significant nutritional value, not its alcoholic content!

For your delectation and delight, a touch of Cobbett on tea ...

It is notorious that tea has no useful strength in it; that it contains nothing nutritious; that it, besides being good for nothing, has badness in it, because it is well known to produce want of sleep in many cases, and in all cases, to shake and weaken the nerves.

... It must be evident to every one, that the practice of tea drinking must render the frame feeble and unfit to encounter hard labour or severe weather.

... The tea drinking fills the public-house, makes the frequenting of it habitual, corrupts boys as soon as they are able to move from home, and does little less for the girls, to whom the gossip of the tea-table is no bad preparatory school for the brothel. At the very least it teaches them idleness.

... The girl that has been brought up merely to boil the tea-kettle, and to assist in the gossip inseparable from the practice, is a mere consumer of food, a pest to her employer, and a curse to her husband, if any man be so unfortunate as to fix his affections upon her.
Perhaps I had better stick to coffee. Or then again, I suspect Cobbett might have been able to find a fair few things to say on that subject, too!


Romany said...


I really want to read him now! I suspect I'd enjoy his opinions.{g} I am wondering what the connection between tea-drinking and the pub is, though.

One of my jobs at school was to prep all the books for the library. I am fully acquainted with the Dewey system and sticky-back plastic. But that's because I could stay in off the playground at lunch times when the weather was bad!

Our gels don't know what they are missing!

The Bookworm said...

Tea drinking and the pub? Apparently tea drinking meant people no longer brewed their own beer, but inevitably still drank some, so had to go to the pub for it. The pubs were owned by the brewers, who were a dodgy lot according to Cobbett, adulterating their beer with assorted "drugs" such as licorice!

Romany said...

And a brain on licorice is a terrifying thing.

Faith said...

Cobbett sounds fascinating! I suppose this is out of print and you have to search alibris for a copy?

Faith said...

Me again! I have been watching Schama's A History of Britain and just got to the 12th episode, Force of Nature, where Schama talks about Cobbett! I had no memory of the connection between Cobbett and Thomas Paine. So interesting!

The Bookworm said...

How's that for timing, Faith!

Cottage Economy is still in print, though not with the Chesterton foreword. I think it has been adopted by the self-sufficiency movement. Amazon stock it (both US and UK), though it is not cheap. I would guess you could get it from the library. It has made me really want to read his History of the Protestant Reformation. I found an ancient copy lurking on my Mum's bookshelves, but the print is on the small side for my elderly eyes, and I'm not sure I can face it!