a1 Queen Mary, University of London
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.
* 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.