Thomas Cooper (1805-92) was not a man to do things by halves. His unflagging energy and enormous appetite for knowledge matched his relentless determination to do what he felt was right, whatever it might cost. That energy and that determination propelled him into the pulpit, into a Stafford jail, into the freethinking movement, and ultimately into a most improbable career that kept him constantly busy for the last thirty years of his life.
Cooper’s father died when he was young, and like many poor boys he was apprenticed to a tradesman—in his case, to a cobbler. There cannot often have been a greater mismatch between abilities and opportunities. Cooper’s intellectual gifts drove him to read voraciously, and before long he obtained a position as a lay preacher among the Wesleyans. His unusual gift for public speaking made him immediately popular. It also attracted the unfavorable attention of a less gifted superintendent who, by Cooper’s account, did what he could to thwart the younger man’s career in the church. Some unpleasant ecclesiastical wrangling ensued that left Cooper without a pulpit.Read More