Historian uncovers rare writings by 18th century political icon

Sep 21, 2012
Edmund Burke (1729-97).

(Phys.org)—Three political essays by one of the greatest British statesmen of the last 250 years have been discovered by a historian at Queen Mary, University of London.

The new finds constitute the earliest political writings by Edmund Burke (1729-97), dating from around 1757, when he was 27-years-old, a period often described as the 'missing years' of his biography.

Professor Richard Bourke, from the School of History at Queen Mary, came across the early essays among a series of notebooks belonging to William Burke, a close friend and distant relation of parliamentarian, Edmund.

"No new essays by Edmund Burke have been found since the 1930s, so these chance survivals are significant; offering a glimpse of the means by which a gifted orator grew into a respected political sage," says Professor Bourke, who found the collection of works during the course of his research in the Sheffield Archives.

The newly attributed manuscripts are significant as they hint at the philosophical thinking and intellectual themes that influenced Burke's subsequent 30-year parliamentary career. The discovery features in the September 2012 edition of The Historical Journal*

Professor Bourke adds: "It has always been known that in the middle of the 1750s Burke applied himself to the study of philosophy and history as he pursued a literary career in London. It now emerges that he deliberately sought to deepen his understanding of the contemporary political world through the philosophical lens developed by his forefathers from the age of Enlightenment."

An MP for the Whig Party from 1766 to 1794, Burke is a "great and controversial political icon", having enjoyed cult status in both the history of conservatism and the history of liberalism. Unlike almost every other parliamentary speaker from the age of Fox and Pitt, Burke's speeches are still read today, while memorable quotes such as "the age of chivalry is dead" are forever ingrained into English language.

One reason for his enduring appeal is that he managed to combine outstanding eloquence with potent political insight. The essays that Bourke identified concern the nature of political parties, the role of citizen armies in the modern states, and the constitutional relationship between Britain and Ireland.

These serious themes were much-debated in British politics in the second half of the 18th century, and formed the political backdrop to Burke's long and illustrious career in the House of Commons.

Explore further: Awarded a Pell Grant? Better double-check

More information: Party, Parliament, And Conquest in Newly Ascribed Burke Manuscripts': The Historical Journal, 55, 3 (2012), pp. 619-652, Cambridge University Press 2012. doi: 10.1017/S00118246X12000209. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8656781&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0018246X12000209

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Beauty through the ages

Mar 21, 2011

Teeth whitening and anti-wrinkle treatments were as sought after in Renaissance times as they are today, a historian claims.

Research sheds light on new employees

Jan 29, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Starting a new job is never easy. However, research by Victoria University graduate Dr Sarah Burke shows that not only does an organisation need to help new employees assimilate into the environment, but ...

Recommended for you

Awarded a Pell Grant? Better double-check

12 hours ago

(AP)—Potentially tens of thousands of students awarded a Pell Grant or other need-based federal aid for the coming school year could find it taken away because of a mistake in filling out the form.

Perthites wanted for study on the Aussie lingo

20 hours ago

We all know that Australians speak English differently from the way it's spoken in the UK or the US, and many of us are aware that Perth people have a slightly different version of the language from, say, Melbournians - but ...

User comments : 0