Most critics have agreed that the character of Ryland is based at least in part on William Cobbett (1763?-1835), the journalist and popular political reformer. His Political Register was an extremely influential journal, famous for being deliberately priced at two pence, in part to reach a working-class audience (and to avoid a tax). Cobbett fled to America to escape prosecution in 1817, but returned as one of the leaders of the parliamentary Reform movement.
A model close at hand (and in the press) for Shelley's fictional demagogue, he conducted failed political campaigns in both 1820 and 1826, and was elected to parliament only after the Reform Bill of 1832. During the time the Last Man was being written, he was also making a series of tours around the country on horseback, the accounts of which were printed and later collected as Rural Rides (1830). His "homespun" populist rhetoric, which he deployed in publications as well as political speeches, was famous.