“When cordially united, a father and sons, or a family of brothers and sisters, may, in almost any state of life, set what is called misfortune at defiance.”
William Cobbett, The Cottage Economy

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The other evening we sat down as a family for the first time in a few weeks to read together in the evening. It had been too long.

It gave me occasion to reflect on priorities in my life, and in my household. I thought to myself: surely I can do more to ensure a greater regularity of such times together.

I often come back in my mind to these words from William Cobbett, especially the phrase ‘cordially united’—united in heart. There are different ways or contexts in which families can be cordially united. Cobbett wonders if there is anything so pleasing as when “the laborer, after his return from the toils of a cold winter day, sits with his wife and children round a cheerful fire, while the wind whistles in the chimney and the rain pelts the roof?” But such contexts are no longer common–happening today neither by custom nor even by accident, and indeed can seem difficult to reproduce.

It is incumbent on me to find equivalent practices and contexts, and intentionally to orchestrate their coming about. Regularly. This is in my power.

We tend to become absorbed in the hurly-burly of having so much to do. And meanwhile, this precious time of our life, and in our home—whichever time it is—is passing away.

It is striking, and in my experience almost universally true: what people most remember, and treasure, is simple times with the people they love; at home. We can choose those times now. And being cordially united, we can set what is called misfortune at defiance.


William Cobbett
(1763-1835) was an English author, farmer, and social activist. His works include Rural Rides, a kind of Bellocian diary of his travels around England, and the classic Cottage Economy, in which he gives a practical examination of the arts of the household.

Image: Albert Anker (1831-1910), Switzerland.

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