Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
Why Leave England?
By William Cobbett (17631835)
From Taking Leave of his Countrymen
THE GIFFORDS, the Southeys, the Walters, the Stuarts, the Stoddarts, and all the hireling crew, who were unable to answer with the pen, now rush at me with their drawn knife, and exclaim, write on! To use the words of the Westminster Address, they shake the halter in my face, and rattle in my ears the keys of the dungeon, and then they exclaim with a malignant grin: Why do you not continue to write on, you coward? A few years ago, being at Barnet fair, I saw a battle going on, arising out of some sudden quarrel, between a butcher and the servant of a west-country grazier. The butcher, though vastly the superior in point of size, finding that he was getting the worst of it, recoiled a step or two, and drew out his knife. Upon the sight of this weapon, the grazier turned about and ran off till he came up to a Scotchman who was guarding his herd, and out of whose hand the former snatched a good ash stick about four feet long. Having thus got what he called a long arm, he returned to the combat, and, in a very short time, he gave the butcher a blow upon the wrist which brought his knife to the ground. The grazier then fell to work with his stick in such a style as I never before witnessed. The butcher fell down and roared and kicked, but he seemed only to change his position in order to insure to every part of his carcase a due share of the penalty of his baseness. After the grazier had apparently tired himself, he was coming away, when, happening to cast his eye upon the knife, he ran back and renewed the basting, exclaiming every now and then, as he caught his breath: Dra thy knife, wot! He came away a second time, and a second time returned and set on upon the caitiff again; and this he repeated several times, exclaiming always when he recommenced the drubbing: Dra thy knife, wot! Till at last the butcher was so bruised that he was actually unable to stand or even to get up; and yet such, amongst Englishmen, is the abhorrence of foul fighting, that not a soul attempted to interfere, and nobody seemed to pity a man thus unmercifully beaten.
It is my intention to imitate the conduct of this Grazier; to resort to a long arm, and to combat corruption, while I keep myself out of the reach of her knife. Nobody called the Grazier a coward, because he did not stay to oppose his fists to a pointed and cutting instrument. My choice, as I said before (leaving all considerations of personal safety out of the question) lies between silence and retreat. If I remain here, all other means will be first used to reduce me to silence; and, if all those means fail, then will come the dungeon. Therefore, that I may still be able to write, and to write with freedom, too, I shall write, if I live, from America; and, my readers may depend on it, that it will not be more than four months from the date of this address, before the publication of the weekly Pamphlet will be resumed in London, and will be continued very nearly as regularly as it has been for years past.