"Knowledge Against Paper: Forgery, State Violence and Radical Cultural Resistance in the Romantic Period"
This essay firstly examines the strategy of radical education in the early nineteenth-century plebeian public sphere around the issue of paper money, illustrated by William Cobbett in his article series "Paper Against Gold," published in the Political Register during 1810-11. Cobbett’s role as a counter-hegemonic intellectual in the series and the conception of popular knowledge it championed is highlighted, in part through his attempts to expose the complex workings of the wider financial system he described as a "place . . . of a sort of mysterious existence; a sort of Financial Ark; a place not, perhaps, to be touched, or even seen." The second part of the essay demonstrates how this form of critical publicity was transformed in the postwar years into an active project of resistance against the worst abuses of the paper money system, culminating in Cobbett’s "puff out" campaign in the Register to materially undermine Bank of England paper currency and T.J. Wooler’s print protests in The Black Dwarf directly confronting the enforcement of the "bloody code" in the capital forgery trials of late 1818. This postwar print campaign against the paper money system illustrates key aspects of the wider radical intellectual project in the plebeian public sphere, highlighting how the radical press "converted" popular public debate into a new form of cultural currency in the Romantic period, a currency that emblematized a continuing concern for the material welfare of its readers and listeners in the face of a corrupt and bloody political and economic system.