William Cobbett and observations

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The mind is truly amazing and one of its unique abilities is the way it filters extraneous information allowing us to function uninterrupted unlike an overloaded circuit breaker that abruptly shuts down. And although we are constantly bombarded both internally and externally, our minds ability to sort allows us to carry on. However, as we sort we are also apt to miss certain things which do not always take a prominent position of importance. Traveling in a vehicle requires us to look forward, as when we are the driver of car in contrast to times we don’t look around at all but rather stay to ourselves, such as riding in a subway. Here wondering eyes that happen upon another may be considered nosy or even rude.

There are specific moments however when observing one’s surroundings is initiated with a more than a casual interest; when something is new, when we are lost, or when we reminisce; otherwise many are quite content simply getting to and fro from one destination to another without taking additional time out for the sights. For example our observations become enhanced if we are in a location that we have never ventured, such as on a vacation. We are more relaxed, allowing our minds to examine the new, the different, and the picturesque. Our senses are heightened; we permit curiosity to take over and our adventurous spirit to be released.

When we are lost our observational skills resemble those of Sherlock Holmes. We look for clues, familiar sights, locations, people that may lead us back on to the correct path. The physical beauty of our surroundings are irrelevant and no matter how much the sun may be shining upon the landscape, our observational mission is primarily directed to uncovering where we have gone astray.

Then there are those of us who return to places and locations after so many years away; here we find that our observations are directed into comparison mode. We endeavor to find a street, a house, even a tree that once existed and when it is not there we try to make sense out of the new thing in its place. We rummage through our mind comparing our yesterday with today.

How quickly does the day go by. How often have we arrived at a destination and the very act of traveling was like a dream since we are so preoccupied with matters at hand or matters that are weighing on our mind we don’t even remember the act of getting from one place to another. How curious is it that one can go through a season and not remember seeing the buds awakening on the winter trees, or the migration of robins returning, or even the full moon against the black sky even when it was directly over head.

Perhaps all this filtering is like censorship and we have managed to censor what may be the most remarkable part of our days. Perhaps we need to turn off our “auto pilot” just so we don’t miss the show.

William Cobbett by John Raphael Smith Today’s blog returns the esteemed thinker: William Cobbett (1763-1835) English born political reformer, writer, and editor. Although he is not widely read today, he is not a man to be dismissed. His outspoken editorials and mouthpiece for the general population during England’s Industrial Revolution, one finds him dodging prison and “escaping” to the United States for a period of time. His ability to connect to people may have originated from his innate and keen ability to observe. From 1821 to 1836 Cobbett traveled on horseback through rural England whereby he documented his observations of daily life and surroundings.

From his book titled Rural Rides I bring you a sampling of his work. Though it is but a brief passage, it is written with rich details whereby we too have become an observer. I present to you, Mr. Cobbett…

“This, to my fancy, is a very nice country. It is continual hill and dell. Now and then a chain of hills higher than the rest, and these are downs, or woods. To stand upon any of the hills and look around you, you almost think you see the ups and downs of sea in a heavy swell (as the sailors call it) after what they call a gale of wind. The undulations are endless, and the great variety in the height, breadth, length, and form of the little hills, has a very delightful effect.—The soil, which, to look on it, appears to be more than half flint stones, is very good in quality, and, in general, better on the tops of the lesser hills than in the valleys. It has great tenacity; does not wash away like sand, or light loam. It is a stiff, tenacious loam, mixed with flint stones. Bears Saint-foin well, and all sorts of grass, which make the fields on the hills as green as meadows, even at this season; and the grass does not burn up in summer.—In a country so full of hills one would expect endless runs of water and springs. There are none: absolutely none. No water-furrow is ever made in the land. No ditches round the fields. And, even in the deep valleys, such as that in which this village is situated, though it winds round for ten or fifteen miles, there is no run of water even now. ..”

Second image: National Portrait Gallery (London) William Cobbett by John Raphael Smith ,chalk, engraved 1812

5 thoughts on “William Cobbett and observations

  1. Yes, some of us lost our observational skills. I think our attention span has been shorter nowadays than decades ago when technology had not been a big factor in our modern lives.

  2. I must admit this is one of my favorite things to do, observe. The eyes we have been given can bring us such great delight exploring this amazing world of ours. Thanks for sharing.

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