chapter  I
THE TIMES
Pages 13

THE life of William Cobbett spans the gulf between two worlds-between the aristocratic feudalism of the eighteenth century and the plutocratic absolutism of the new industrial system. In first manhood he saw the fall of aristocratic feudalism in France, and heard the new watchword of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity proclaimed amid the smoke of the burning chateaux and the flight of noble emigres to all the courts of Europe. He heard then the revolutionary voices calling for a world-wide crusade against the tyrants and the privileged orders. He watched the French Revolution through its successive phases, from the taking of the Bastille to the rise and fall of the Napoleonic Empire, felt the thrill which passed through Europe at the Terror and the execution of the King, marked the changes by which the war of Europe against Jacobinism and republican principles became a struggle against the revolutionary Imperialism of Napoleon, the military broom with which France swept out the petty courts and principalities, and cleared the way for a new Europe not of its planning, but largely the product of the forces which it had set in motion. From 1789 to r8r5 the politics and the political thinking of Europe were dominated by the great fact of France, by the power of the ideas which the French Revolution, drawing some inspiration from its American predecessor, had set abroad in the world, by the struggle of the older order against that new power, and by the internal conflicts engendered by the breakdown of the established conventions and principles of eighteenth century politics.