Thomas Cooper (poet)

Thomas Cooper (20 March 1805 – 15 July 1892) was an English poet and among the leading Chartists. His prison rhyme the Purgatory of Suicides (1845) runs to 944 stanzas. He also wrote novels, and in later life religious texts. He was an autodidact, who worked otherwise as a shoemaker, preacher, schoolmaster and journalist, before taking up Chartism in 1840. He was a passionate, determined and fiery man.

Thomas Cooper
Thomas Cooper
Engraving by John Cochran
Born(1805-03-20)20 March 1805
Died12 July 1892(1892-07-12) (aged 87)
Literary movementChartism

Early years

Cooper was born in Leicester, and apprenticed to a shoemaker. In spite of hardships and difficulties, he educated himself, and at 23 was a schoolmaster.[1]

Chartist leader and lecturer

After journalistic work in Lincoln and London he joined the staff of the Leicestershire Mercury in 1840.[2] Leicester, under his leadership, became a Chartist stronghold—with its own journals, e.g. The Commonwealthman, and adult school. He became a leader and lecturer among the Chartists, and in 1842 was imprisoned in Stafford gaol for two years after the riots in the potteries, where he wrote his Purgatory of Suicides, a political epic. Cooper abandoned full-time radicalism on his release. [3]

Writing and lecturing

At the same time he adopted sceptical views, which he continued to hold until 1855, when he became a Christian, joined the Baptists, and was a preacher among them. Though still calling himself a Chartist, he sought to earn a living and a reputation as a writer. In addition to his poems he wrote several novels. However, novels like Alderman Ralph (1853) failed on both those counts. Having abandoned his religious beliefs at the time of his imprisonment, Cooper was dramatically re-converted to Christianity in 1855.

He spent the next thirty years as a lecturer in defence of Christianity, attacking the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin and Ernst Haeckel. He authored Evolution, The Stone Book, and The Mosaic Record of Creation (1878) which argued for creationism and rejected evolution.[4][5]

In his latter years he settled down into an old-fashioned Radical. His friends in 1867 raised an annuity for him, and in the last year of his life he received a government pension. He died at Lincoln on 15 July 1892.[3]


He married in 1834, but his wife died in 1880.[3]


Somewhat impulsive, he was an honest and sincere man. His autobiography (1872) is regarded as a minor Victorian classic. Thomas Cooper was buried in Lincoln.


In addition to the various papers with which he was connected, Cooper in 1850 ran Cooper's Journal, but only a few issues appeared. [3]

His major works were:[3]

  • Wise Saws and Modern Instances, London, 1845; written in Stafford jail.
  • Two Orations against Taking Away Human Life, 1846, on nonresistance.[6]
  • The Bason's Yule Feast, London, 1846.
  • Land for the Labourers, London, 1848.
  • Captain Cobbler: his Romance, London, 1848.
  • Bridge of History over the Gulf of Time, London, 1871.
  • Life of Thomas Cooper, written by Himself, London, 1872.
  • Plain Pulpit Talk, London, 1872.
  • God, the Soul, and a Future State, London, 1873.
  • Paradise of Martyrs, London, 1873.
  • Old-fashioned Stories, London, 1874. New York, 1893.
  • Evolution, The Stone Book, and The Mosaic Record of Creation, London, 1878.
  • Atonement, second series of Plain Pulpit Talk, London, 1880.
  • Thoughts at Four Score, London, 1885.

Cooper's collected Poetical Works were published in London, 1877.[3]


  1. He was a shoemaker at Gainsborough and afterwards opened a school there in 1827.--The Dictionary of National Biography: the concise dictionary ... to 1930; p. 276
  2. The Dictionary of National Biography: the concise dictionary ... to 1930; p. 276
  3. MacDonald 1901.
  4. Knight, David. (2006). Public Understanding of Science: A History of Communicating Scientific Ideas. Routledge. p. 191. ISBN 0-415-20638-3
  5. "Evolution, the Stone Book, and the Mosaic Record of Creation". The Spectator.
  6. Brock, Peter (8 March 2015). Pacifism in Europe to 1914. Princeton University Press. p. 397. ISBN 9781400867493.


  • Stephen Roberts (2008) The Chartist Prisoners: the Radical Lives of Thomas Cooper (1805–1892) and Arthur O'Neill (1819–1896)
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