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This article presents four manuscript essays from the mid-1750s, three of which are attributed to Edmund Burke for the first time. In doing so, the article aims to reconstruct Burke's earliest political thought during a period often described as the ‘missing years’ of his biography. These essays cover themes that would later occupy places of central importance in Burke's thinking, and so form a bridge between his early intellectual development and his subsequent political career. After presenting the grounds for ascribing these writings to Burke, the article then sketches their main lines of argument and situates them in their political context. It also briefly establishes their significance with reference to their enlightenment intellectual milieu. Covering such themes as the nature of party, the functioning of the mixed constitution, and the terms on which Ireland was subjected to the English crown, these early essays address a set of political and constitutional issues that were major areas of controversy in British politics in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Corresponding author
School of History, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London E1
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I am grateful to John Brewer, John Dunn, Istvan Hont, F. P. Lock, P. J. Marshall, Nicholas Phillipson, J. G. A. Pocock, Chris Reid, and John Robertson for discussing the documents presented here. I am also grateful to Julian Hoppit and to my anonymous readers for their constructive suggestions. I would like to thank the Director of Culture, Sheffield Libraries Archives and Information Service, for permission to publish the material referred to in this article from their collections.

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1 Somerset H. V. F., A notebook of Edmund Burke: poems, characters, essays and other sketches in the hands of Edmund and William Burke now printed for the first time in their entirety (Cambridge, 1957).

2 Ibid., p. ix.

3 Morley John, Burke (London, 1909), p. 8. Among Burke's biographers prior to Morley, the period had been sparsely covered, and largely populated with rumour, by Bisset Robert, The life of Edmund Burke (London, 1798), pp. 23–7; Prior James, Life of the right honourable Edmund Burke (London, 5th rev. edn, 1854), pp. 3245; Macknight Thomas, History of the life and times of Edmund Burke (3 vols., London, 1858), i, pp. 4063.

4 The material can be found at Wentworth Woodhouse Muniments (WWM), on deposit at the Sheffield Archives: WWM, BkP 40–7. These papers were transferred from Sheffield Central Library in 1989, having been deposited there from the Fitzwilliam family archives at Wentworth Woodhouse by the ninth earl in 1949.

5 For example, the material is not discussed in George C. McElroy's entry on William Burke in the Oxford dictionary of national biography. A brief sketch of its contents appears in Dixon Wecter, Edmund Burke and his kinsmen: a study of the statesman's financial integrity and private relationships, University of Colorado Studies, Series B: Studies in the Humanities (Boulder, CO, 1939), i, no. 1, pp. 76–7n.

6 The reference to ‘notebooks and scraps of juvenilia’ appears in Wecter Dixon, ‘The missing years in Edmund Burke's biography’, Publications of the Modern Languages Association of America, 53 (1938), pp. 1102–25, at p. 1103.

7 Wecter, ‘The missing years’, passim.

8 Presumably the sixth and seventh books, WWM BkP 46 and 47 respectively, originally appeared as a single bundle before its division into separate folders.

9 WWM BkP 40, ‘Contents’.

11 WWM BkP 43, Cover.

12 WWM BkP 44, Cover.

13 WWM BkP 40, ‘Contents’. This item is in fact a political diary rather than a commonplace book.

15 An attempt to apply stylometric methods to discriminate between the writings of William Burke, Edmund Burke, and his brother Richard has been undertaken in McElroy G. C., ‘Edmund, William, and Richard Burke's first attack on Indian misrule, 1778’, Bodleian Library Record, 13 (1988), pp. 5265.

16 See Burke William, An examination of the commercial principles of the late negotiation between Great Britain and France in 1761 (London, 1761), passim. See also [William Burke?], Remarks on the letter address'd to two great men (London, 3rd rev. edn, 1760), pp. 16–17. For convenient access to a selection of correspondence, see the William Burke letters included in Hoffman Ross J. S., Edmund Burke: New York agent, with his letters to the New York Assembly and intimate correspondence with Charles O'Hara, 1761–1776 (Philadelphia, PA, 1956). William Burke made somewhere in the region of 173 interventions in parliamentary debate between 1768 and 1774. These can be consulted at the British Library, Egerton Manuscripts 215–63, ‘Parliamentary diary of Sir Henry Cavendish, 1768–1774’.

17 Lock F. P., Edmund Burke, i: 1730–1784 (Oxford, 1998), p. 127; P. J. Marshall, ‘Introduction’, Policy of making conquests for the Mahommedans (1779), in Writings and speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. Paul Langford et al. (8 vols. to date, Oxford, 1981–), v, p. 43.

18 Edmund Burke to Charles O'Hara, 1 Mar. 1766, The correspondence of Edmund Burke, ed. Thomas W. Copeland et al. (10 vols., Chicago, IL, 1958–78), i, p. 241.

19 Burke, Correspondence, i, p. 255n.

20 Lock, Burke, i, pp. 77–8.

21 For the dating of both works, see Writings and speeches, i, pp. 321, 332.

22 Edmund Burke, ‘National character and parliament’, see below p. 640.

23 On this, see Forbes Duncan, Hume's philosophical politics (Cambridge, 1975), passim; Conniff James, ‘Hume's political methodology: a reconsideration of “That politics may be reduced to a science”’, Review of Politics, 38 (Jan. 1976), pp. 88108.

24 Charles Lucas, Tenth address to the free citizens and free-holders of the city of Dublin (1749), in The political constitutions of Great-Britain and Ireland, asserted and vindicated (2 vols., London, 1751); [Richard Cox], The Cork surgeon's antidote against the apothecary's poyson, for the citizens of Dublin, no. 6 (Dublin, 1749).

25 ‘Hints of Ireland’, see below p. 643.

27 Burke Edmund, An essay towards an history of the laws of England (c.1757), in Writings and speeches, i, pp. 512–13.

28 Ibid., p. 456.

29 Ibid., p. 323.

30 Ibid., p. 324.

31 [Hutcheson Archibald], Three treatises: I. a speech made in the House of Commons, April 24 1716, which Mr. Hutcheson owns to be agreeable to his then and present position (London, 1722), p. 2.

32 [Anon.], The fitness of repealing the septennial act at this juncture consider'd (London, 1740), p. 4.

33 Henry St John Bolingbroke, A dissertation upon parties (1735), in Political writings, ed. David Armitage (Cambridge, 1997), p. 115. The letters that make up the Dissertation were originally published in The craftsman in 1733–4.

34 Burke, ‘National character and parliament’, see below p. 641.

35 David Hume, ‘Of the independency of parliament’ (1741), in idem, Essays moral, political, and literary ed. Eugene F. Miller (Indianapolis, IN, 1985, 1987), p. 45.

36 For opposing accounts of the operation of corruption under Walpole and the Pelhams, see Plumb J. H., The growth of political stability in England, 1675–1725 (London, 1967), pp. 188–9, and Owen John B., The rise of the Pelhams (London, 1957), p. 62. Also John B. Owen, ‘Political patronage in eighteenth-century England’, in Paul Fritz and David Williams, eds., The triumph of culture: eighteenth-century perspectives (Toronto, 1972), which is closest to Hume's picture.

37 Burke, ‘National character and parliament’, see below p. 642.

39 Namier Lewis, England in the age of the American revolution (1930) (London, 1961, 1970), p. 51. For a historical contextualization of Namier's intervention, see Butterfield Herbert, George III and the historians ((London, 1957). For an analysis of the transition between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, see O'Gormon Frank, The emergence of the British two-party system, 1760–1832 (London, 1982). Cf. Smith Goldwin, ‘Burke on party’, American Historical Review, 11 (1905), pp. 3641, at p. 39; Lewis Namier, ‘Monarchy and the party system’, in idem, Personalities and powers (London, 1955), p. 14.

40 On this, see Brewer John, Party ideology and popular politics at the accession of George III (Cambridge, 1976), p. 131. Also Hill B. W., ‘Executive monarchy and the challenge of parties, 1689–1832: two concepts of government and two historiographical interpretations’, Historical Journal, 13 (1970), pp. 379401; Dinwiddy John, ‘Party politics and ideology in the early years of George III's reign’, Historical Journal, 20 (1977), pp. 983–9; Colley Linda and Goldie Mark, ‘The principles and practice of eighteenth-century party’, Historical Journal, 22 (1979), pp. 239–46; Clark J. C. D., ‘The decline of party, 1740–1760’, English Historical Review, 93 (1978), pp. 499527; Clark J. C. D., ‘A general theory of party, opposition and government, 1688–1832’, Historical Journal, 23 (1980), pp. 295325.

41 David Hume, ‘Of the coalition of parties’ (1758), in idem, Essays, p. 493.

42 Edmund Burke, Observations on a late state of the nation (1769), in Writings and speeches, ii, p. 110.

43 Augustine, The city of God against the pagans, ed. R. W. Dyson (Cambridge, 1998, 2005), bk ii, ch. 18, pp. 71–2, analysing Sallust, Historiae, i, x.

44 Toland John, The state anatomy of Great Britain (London, 1717), pp. 34; Moyle Walter, A select collection of tracts (London, 1728), pp. 74–5. On this development, see Terence Ball, ‘Party’, in Terence Ball, James Farr, and Russell L. Hanson, eds., Political innovation and conceptual change (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 167–9.

45 Burke, Observations, p. 11.

46 Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the cause of the present discontents (1770), in Writings and speeches, ii, p. 275.

47 Edmund Burke, ‘On parties’, see below p. 644.

50 Edmund Burke, ‘The history of the present war’, in The annual register, or a view of the history, politicks, and literature, for the year 1758 (London, 4th edn, 1764), p. 10.

51 The Test, 20 Nov. 1756, p, 1. On Murphy, see Emery John Pike, Arthur Murphy: an eminent English dramatist of the eighteenth century (Philadelphia, PA, 1949); on his first meeting with Burke, see, speculatively, Straus Ralph, Robert Dodsley: poet, playright and publisher (London, 1910), p. 254; on the relationship between the two, see Lock, Burke, i, pp. 182–3.

52 Burke, ‘On parties’, see below, p. 645.

53 See Brewer John, ‘Rockingham, Burke and whig political argument’, Historical Journal, 18 (1975), pp. 188201; and idem, Party ideology, pp. 72–4. Both these texts revise the earlier argument in Brewer John, ‘Party and the double cabinet: two facets of Burke's Thoughts’, Historical Journal, 14 (1971), pp. 479501.

54 See David Thomson, ‘The conception of political party in England in the period 1740 to 1783’ (Ph.D. thesis, Cambridge, 1938), pp. 188–96. See also Robbins Caroline, ‘“Discordant parties”: a study of the acceptance of party by Englishmen’, Political Science Quarterly, 73 (1958), pp. 505–29.

55 The point is clearly articulated in Burke, Thoughts on the present discontents, p. 315, but is missed in O'Gorman Frank, ‘Party and Burke: The Rockingham whigs’, Government and Opposition, 3 (1968), pp. 92110, and Archibald Foord S., His Majesty's opposition, 1714–1830 (Oxford, 1964), p. 318, which consequently confuses Burke's purposes with those of Bolingbroke.

56 Bolingbroke, Dissertation, pp. 4–37.

57 Henry St John Bolingbroke, The idea of a patriot king (1741, 1749), in idem, Political writings, p. 257.

58 Burke, ‘On parties’, see below, p. 646.

60 Ibid., p. 645.

61 Ibid., p. 646.

62 Burke, Thoughts on the present discontents, p. 321.

63 For discussion, see Conniff James, ‘Hume on political parties: the case for Hume as a whig’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 12 (1978–9), pp. 150–73.

64 David Hume, ‘Of Parties in general’ (1742), in idem, Essays, p. 60.

65 Burke, Thoughts on the present discontents, pp. 319–20. Also Burke to Rockingham, 29 Oct. 1769, in Burke, Correspondence, i, p. 101.

66 Burke, ‘On parties’, see below p. 645. For Hume's ongoing project ‘to encourage moderate opinions’ under the Pitt–Newcastle ministry, see his ‘Of the coalition of parties’, p. 494.

67 Pares Richard, King George III and the politicians (Oxford, 1953, 1988), p. 80n.

68 Burke, ‘National character and parliament’, see below p. 642. Also Burke, Thoughts on the present discontents, pp. 293, 308–9.

69 Aylmer G. E., ‘Place bills and the separation of powers: some seventeenth-century origins of the “non- political” civil service’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 15 (1965), pp. 4569.

70 Burke, Thoughts on the present discontents, p. 310.

71 Edmund Burke, ‘Considerations on a militia’, see below p. 649.

72 Ibid., p. 648.

74 For the constitutional position of the army in the eighteenth century, see Clode Charles M., The military forces of the crown: their administration and government (2 vols., London, 1869); Rogers H. C. B., The British army of the eighteenth century (London, 1977); and John Childs, ‘The army and the state in Britain and Germany during the eighteenth century’, in John Brewer and Eckhart Hellmuth eds., Rethinking Leviathan: the eighteenth-century state in Britain and Germany (Oxford, 1999).

75 On this, see Schwoerer Lois G., No standing armies! the antimilitary ideology in seventeenth-century England (Baltimore, MD, and London, 1974).

76 This gave rise to a substantial pamphlet debate. For a sample, see Anon., A modest address to the Commons of Great Britain … occasioned by … the want of a militia (London, 1756); Anon., A short epistle from a country gentleman … principally relative to a proper constitutional militia (London, 1756); Publicus, Some short observations on the militia bill (London, 1756); Fergusson Adam, Reflections previous to the establishment of a militia (London, 1756); Anon., A word in time to both Houses of Parliament (London, 1757); Anon., An essay on the expediency of a national militia (London, 1757); Anon., Further objections to the establishment of a constitutional militia (London, 1757); Anon., A letter to the people of England upon the militia (London, 1757); Ongley Robert, An essay on the nature and use of the militia (London, 1757).

77 For the history of the militia issue in general, including an account of its progress in the mid-1750s, see Western J. R., The English militia in the eighteenth century: the story of a political issue, 1660–1802 (Baltimore, MD, and London, 1974).

78 The parliamentary history of England from the Norman conquest in 1066 to the year 1803, ed. William Cobbett (36 vols., London, 1806–20), xv, cols. 728–34. Hardwicke's speech was later circulated as Two speeches in the House of Lords: I. on the bill for abolishing the heritable jurisdictions in Scotland II. On the militia-bill (London, 1757).

79 Edmund Burke, ‘Considerations on a militia’, see below p. 649.

80 Ibid., p. 650.

81 Ibid., p. 651.

82 Burke, History of the laws of England, in Writings and speeches, i, p. 325.

83 Burke, Abridgement of English History, in Writings and speeches, i, p. 518.

84 On this, see Burke, History of the laws of England, in Writings and speeches, i, p. 324.

85 David Hume, ‘Of refinement in the arts’, originally published as ‘Of luxury’, in idem, Essays, p. 277.

86 Ibid., p. 278.

87 David Hume, ‘Of the Protestant succession’ (1752), in idem, Essays, p. 509; and idem, ‘Idea of a perfect commonwealth’, in ibid., p. 647n. For detailed discussion, see Robertson John, The Scottish enlightenment and the militia issue (Edinburgh, 1985), ch. 3.

88 Burke, ‘Considerations on a militia’, see below p. 652.

89 Lord Dupplin to Newcastle, 26 Jan. 1757, British Library, Additional Manuscripts, 32870, fo. 115.

90 Stevenson John, Popular disturbances in England, 1700–1870 (London and New York, NY, 1979), p. 91; Rogers Nicholas, Crowds, culture, and politics in Georgian Britain (Oxford, 1998), pp. 5875.

91 The antithesis between a constitutional party of principle and factions founded on partial interests is brought out clearly by Burke in his correspondence of the 1790s. See, for example, Burke, Correspondence, vii, pp. 50–63, and ix, p. 78.

92 The word ‘last’ is added as a correction pencilled into the original MS.

93 The phrase ‘with respect to’ is added as a correction pencilled into the original MS.

94 The phrase ‘to that’ is added as a correction pencilled into the original MS amending ‘from thence’.

95 A superfluous ‘be’ appears in the text at this point.

96 The word ‘of’ is added as a correction pencilled into the original MS.

97 The number is illegible in the original manuscript.

98 This is numbered 5 in the original manuscript.

99 A verb is missing here in the text: something like ‘examine’ must be intended.

100 The word ‘regulations’ is deleted just before ‘restrictions’.

101 Replacing ‘an’.

102 Replacing ‘these’.

* I am grateful to John Brewer, John Dunn, Istvan Hont, F. P. Lock, P. J. Marshall, Nicholas Phillipson, J. G. A. Pocock, Chris Reid, and John Robertson for discussing the documents presented here. I am also grateful to Julian Hoppit and to my anonymous readers for their constructive suggestions. I would like to thank the Director of Culture, Sheffield Libraries Archives and Information Service, for permission to publish the material referred to in this article from their collections.

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